Sunday, January 1, 2023

Reflecting back on 2022

A calendar year is just a humanly created construct. Our lives don't change dramatically from one year to the next just because a number changed on the calendar. And to a large extent that would be true about my life in the year 2022. It was a year of mostly doing the same things that I had been doing in the years before: teaching, researching, writing, exercising, singing, and spending time with my family and friends, although because of the distance constraints, the interaction with my family and some friends was only limited to phone and video calls. Does that mean that nothing really stood out in 2022?  Not quite. 2022 was a significant year in many ways that provided many opportunities to both celebrate life and learn life lessons.


A Few Achievements

2022 will go down in my personal history as being the year I published my first book, "Managing by Dharma: Eternal Principles for Sustaining Profitability"; Dr. Suresh Kalagnanam, an Accounting Professor at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada co-authored the book with me. Later in the year, I also won a small grant to write a second book. If things go well, it should be out sometime in 2023.

Music, although not my profession, is an integral part of my life, so I must reflect on whether I succeeded in developing in this area. How much I developed would be for others to judge but I was definitely more consistent with my vocal practice this year than I had been in the past. I still have a long way to go, but I believe the greater consistency did help me make some improvements in my vocal skills and music repertoire.

A significant aspect of 2022 is that I reoriented my focus back to health. Most of my friends know me to be a very fit guy who runs marathons and ultras, and is also pretty fast at that. But the truth is that I had been neglecting my health for quite some time. This decline was stark to me when I went on a hiking trip to the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks this Summer. The first day of hiking went well; it was a relatively easy solo hike. But on the second day when I decided to attempt a difficult peak, I was left behind by a couple of younger hikers who moved much faster than me while I was huffing and puffing my way up the mountain. For a man who had in the past run ultra-marathons on mountains, this was extremely frustrating. The climbs did become easier during the latter part of my stay at Yellowstone but the initial struggles were an excellent wake-up call. I realized what I had been doing wrong. Although I had stayed fairly consistent with my exercise habits, the extent to which I exercised was mostly maintenance-level. More importantly, I had been eating and drinking too much junk stuff over the past few years. The effects of these bad habits may not have been visible to others but I was starting to see a decline in my strength, speed, and stamina. Still, the realization did not lead to any overnight changes in my habits. Inertia is a  real thing and it took me months to make small incremental changes, falter, and try again. But I can say that the momentum has picked up recently. If I succeed in maintaining this, then 2023 could turn out to be the year when I succeed in achieving certain personal goals that I have related to fitness.

2022 was a significant year from a psycho-emotional standpoint as well. When you are living alone and away from your family, you occasionally feel very lonely. During these times you tend to ignore the positive aspects of your life. Your focus shifts to the one thing you don't have instead of being grateful for the many things you do have. The good news is that as 2022 progressed, the episodes of me feeling lonely reduced significantly. I started feeling greater contentment in my own company. I am not sure how this happened. Maybe some life events gave me a bit better perspective on life. Maybe it was meditation. Maybe the small modifications in dietary habits influenced it. Or maybe it was the grace of powers above. Whatever it was, I am rarely if ever lonely now. I am grateful for this and hope that I succeed in maintaining this higher level of contentment as I move into 2023.

Major Losses

In all the years that I have lived so far on this Earth, 2022 is the year where I lost the maximum number of close people to me. Death is of course an inevitable part of life, and if you live long enough, you are bound to have to say goodbye to many people you love. However, this year the numbers were staggering, even compared to the deaths that happened during the peak of the Covid-19 period.

The first death happened at the very beginning of January 2022 with the passing of my friend, Shamim Ahmed. Shamim Sir was an intellectually honest and courageous man. He was in his 70s and had become weak due to cancer, but periodically we still used to meet and engage in intellectual conversations about science, religion, philosophy, and life. He was also a big supporter and admirer of my singing. Losing him was sad.

Then in mid-February, I lost my classmate from my undergrad years, Mousumi Bhowmik. Mousumi was a very close friend and a big supporter of all my work. She had been battling cancer but had been in remission, so her death came as a huge shock. The loss of any friend is always difficult but the untimely death of Mousumi was a particularly difficult one for me to process.

Then in March, I lost my maternal grandmother. She had gotten extremely frail and was suffering a lot for the past couple of years. So her death brought a sense of relief that she no longer had to bear the pain. Still, the emptiness that she left behind was immense. The fond memories that I have of her make me believe that she will continue to shower her love and blessings from wherever she is now.

There was some respite for a few months and then suddenly in September I got the news that a colleague and close friend from my Tata Motors days, Ravi Koganti had passed away. I hadn't met Ravi in a very long time but we had stayed in touch. We shared a lot of values, including resilience and passion for Hindu dharma. An interesting fact about Ravi was that he had nicknamed me "Professor" long before I took to academics and actually become one. Obviously, he saw in me qualities that I hadn't realized myself. Again, a big loss.

In October came another bad news of the sudden tragic death of one of my Ph.D. professors, Dr. Timothy Baldwin. He had been a strong cheerleader of my teaching and research work. He had even visited me once in Fort Wayne. It was difficult to come to terms with the fact that a person who was a fountain of positive energy would suddenly not exist anymore. 

The last death happened in December and that was of my colleague in my current workplace, Dr. Max Montesino. Max was also a person bubbling with positive energy. He was planning for early retirement in December so that he could just focus on writing books, traveling, and enjoying life with his family, but in October he was suddenly diagnosed with a brain tumor. He underwent surgery and was recovering fairly well but then things suddenly took a turn for the worse and he passed away in early December.

2022 was also the year when a few of my favorite musicians passed away: Lata Mangeskar, Bappi Lahiri, KK, and Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma. These weren't people I knew personally but through their music, they had had a strong impact on my life. Generally, I feel that musicians tend to take a special place in our hearts because of the emotions they evoke in us through their music. Losing these legends was certainly not anywhere near as painful as the loss of a family member and close friends, but the untimely and sudden death of KK did force me to reflect deeply on the ephemerality and fragility of life.

Final Reflections

Looking back at 2022, I am grateful to be alive and healthy. I am grateful for the absolutely wonderful people I have in my life. But what 2022 also taught me was this: if you want to do something, don't wait for the right moment. They say life is too short. Life may not exactly be short but our current life is certainly finite and you never know when your time will be up. We human beings are extremely strong, resilient, and resourceful species, but the laws of nature are infinitely more powerful. Thus, the life force within ourselves while being very strong can also be very short-lived, especially if we do not take care of our health. Life is indeed very fragile and needs to be handled with utmost care. Of course, we all know this at an intellectual level but we tend to get caught up in unhealthy habits and patterns. We engage in meaningless pursuits that slowly and gradually decrease the quality of our lives. So, it is important to periodically take breaks from our mindless routines and reflect on our experiences, relationships, and purpose in life. Doing so might not add years to our life (if you subscribe to the idea that we are all born with a finite number of days on this planet) but it will certainly add life to the number of years we live on this planet.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Spirited



From a spirited childhood
To a spiritual adulthood 
From embodied joy
To embodying stress

From the simplicity of being 
To the complexities of doing  
You move through
The first half of your life.

You become spiritual
Not to seek the Divine
But to fulfill your material desires 
And to cope with inevitable failures.

You accept the limited
In place of the unlimited.
What should have freed you
Instead imprisons you.

This journey continues
With many twists and turns
Your spirits rise and fall
With every ebb and flow.

Until that day
When you become aware
Of your true nature
That is Sat-Chit-Ananda.

For most of us
It happens slowly but surely
You get disentangled
From your self delusions.

One by one
You drop your masks
And the defenses
You had built over the years.

They had to go
Because they could not
Hide you from Yourself
Or protect You from you.

You feel a little vulnerable
But also much lighter
You shed the dead weight
And then the Spirit soars.

This is the beginning
Of a new journey
A return to your childhood
To a life of simplicity and joy.

Where you can move
Beyond false pretensions
Of being spiritual
To being spirited again.


Photo Credit: Robert Collins on Unsplash

Monday, September 5, 2022

Why I stopped celebrating Teacher's Day? And should you too?



It's that time of year again in India (September 5th) when you see a flood of happy teacher's day messages on social media. These messages are all genuine and come from a place of deep respect and gratitude that people have for their teachers. However, it's been quite a while since I stopped celebrating teacher's day, despite myself being in the teaching profession. 

I have been teaching full-time at a university in the USA for over a decade now. And I absolutely love my job as a teacher. I also think that teachers deserve all the respect and appreciation that they receive on the different days designated to celebrate teacher's day around the world. Then, why do I seem to be against the celebration of the Indian teacher's day?

Well, before I answer that question, let me dial back the clock to one of my most memorable teacher's day celebrations. That was the year when I was a high school senior. It was a tradition at my school (Kendriya Vidyalaya) that on this day the high school seniors gave the teachers a break from teaching by taking up the responsibility of teaching all the lower classes. The teachers observed us while we were teaching and gave us feedback on how we did. I don't remember what I taught that day but I must have done a fairly good job because Ms. Binodini Mishra, one of my favorite teachers at school, who incidentally observed my teaching that day, was full of praise for me afterward. Not sure if I deserved all the praise but I was elated nonetheless. Who knows, but those positive feelings might have also influenced my decision to become a teacher later in life.

In any case, coming back to the question of why I have stopped celebrating teacher's day, let me share three main reasons.

Teacher's day in India is celebrated in memory of Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan who was the 2nd President of India. Interestingly, this tradition did not start after his death in 1975, but in 1962, the year he was elected to the office of the President of India. What kind of self-aggrandizer selects his own birthday as a national holiday to be celebrated in his honor while he is still alive?

Maybe Dr. Radhakrishnan didn't have a role in it and the Prime Minister's office decided it as a way to honor him. Choosing Dr. Radhakrishnan's birthday was in many ways appropriate. After all, he had held professorial positions at various universities in India and abroad, and was known to be a good teacher. He had also written several books on philosophy and religion. So, it must have made sense to celebrate teacher's day in India on his birthday. However, even this argument does not hold water, because in India we already had a day to celebrate teachers, which was Guru Poornima.

India has had a long tradition of honoring teachers. It is probably the only culture where teachers have been equated to the status of God. A teacher isn't literally God, but s/he is considered God-like (गुरु शाक्षात परब्रम्हा) in the Hindu tradition because of the critical role that teachers play in removing our ignorance as well as in helping realize our best self.

For thousands of years before 1962, we honored our teachers on the day of Guru Poornima. In the Yogic tradition, Guru Poornima is the day Lord Shiva became Adi Guru (or the first guru for mankind) by teaching the Sapta Rishis (the seven sages) who formed the foundation of Sanatana Dharma. Guru Poornima is also the birthday of Veda Vyasa, who not only authored the Mahabharata but was one of the rishis who made the Vedas and Puranas accessible to mankind. Even the Buddhists celebrated this day because Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon on this day. The vibrations of the Guru Tatwa  (or the energy of the guru principle) is said to be at its peak on this day, which makes it ideal for us to connect with a guru and receive his or her grace. 

What was the need to create another teacher's day when we already had a long and venerable tradition of honoring our teachers on Guru Poornima? It was most likely another one of those attempts by Nehru to remove everything Hindu from India and replace it with "secular" symbols and traditions.

Celebrating Radhakrishnan's birthday as Teacher's Day is also problematic because he was accused of plagiarism. The worst part is that he stole from his student's thesis. Radhakrishnan was one of the examiners of the doctoral thesis written by a brilliant Calcutta University student named Jadunath Sinha. In a letter published in the January 1929 issue of The Modern Review, Sinha alleged that Radhakrishnan had plagiarised his work. He provided forty examples to back up his claim and cited another seventy instances of plagiarism in the next issue. The dispute escalated to court. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan had a lot of influence, and Jadunath Sinha was under a lot of pressure to settle the plagiarism case outside of court. In the end, Sinha succumbed and settled out of court through a decree of compromise, although the terms of settled were never disclosed.

I haven't personally compared the works of Radhakrishnan and Sinha, so I can't say for certain whether or not Radhakrishnan committed plagiarism. However, the fact that he was accused of plagiarism by a student who published 110 concrete instances of plagiarism in a leading journal of the times lends some credence to the allegation. It raises serious questions about Radhakrishnan's character. Should we continue celebrating his birthday as Teacher's Day, knowing that he may have stolen from his own student?

To sum up, I believe that we should go back to celebrating Guru Poornima as Teacher's Day. It is a day that has been steeped in tradition for thousands of years, and it is a day that honors all teachers, not just one individual. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Until history repeats itself...

We feel the pain, sure... 
But choose to remain quiet about it... 
Slowly, the pain subsides... 
Then we go back to our private little security bubbles... 
Of pursuing career goals and immersing in entertainment... 
Until suddenly, our own bubble bursts... 
People mourn the tragedy that struck us... 
Then they too get busy creating their imaginary security bubbles... 
Until history repeats itself...

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Jordan Peterson's Achilles Heel: Reflections on His Interview with Decca Aitkenhead

Listening to the unedited version of Prof. Jordan Peterson's interview with Decca Aitkenhead (a journalist for The Times, UK) would make even a cold-hearted person be filled with compassion for Peterson and his family. The kind of hardship that they have gone through over the past few years makes me feel like one of the most blessed human beings on Earth (and those who are close to me know that I have been through some deep shit in life). Yet, when the feminist Decca Aitkenhead publishes her article in The Times, it is full of spite towards Peterson, and attributing his family's problems to Peterson's "Toxic Masculinity."

It would be mind-boggling for any rational human being to find even micro traces of "Toxic Masculinity" in Peterson's interview; if anything, he is extremely vulnerable in the interview, which is considered a feminine characteristic. But when you have been bitten by the feminism virus, you can't help but see anything but "Toxic Masculinity" around you. The irony is that if anyone should be more compassionate, it should be Decca Aitkenhead, because her "Toxically Masculine" partner literally gave up his life to save their son from drowning in the sea. "Enlightened" Aitkenhead, of course, had no compunctions garnering sympathies for herself when she wrote a book on the pains of losing her partner to the tragic accident, but then how could she be empathetic to Peterson, who is a "cis-gendered" white man?

Well, my ranting aside, what is the moral of the story here? It’s simple, don’t be like Jordan Peterson.

“But I thought, you admired Jordan Peterson!”

Yes, I do. I admire Peterson’s intellect, his penetrating reasoning abilities, his level-headedness, his intellectual honesty, his self-reflective nature, and his resilience. But he has a major weakness, and that is that he is a nice human being, who easily trusts people, and is compassionate towards them. In the language of Personality Psychology, he is too high on the trait of Agreeableness. That is his Achilles heel.

How do I know this? Because I’m pretty high on the Agreeableness dimension myself. Similar to Peterson, it’s this personality trait that also brought me into the helping professions of counseling and teaching. And like Peterson, I also let my high Agreeableness influence some of the major decisions in life. However, unlike Peterson, I was not very lucky, and those decisions cost me dearly. Paradoxically, my bad luck was actually lucky for me, because I have woke up to the dangers of high agreeableness sooner in life than probably Peterson has in his life.

Prof. Peterson would be able to explain it way better than me about the negative side of Agreeableness, especially for men. The paradox of life is that the most benevolent men get branded as being “toxically masculine.” That’s pretty much the reason why over the past few years, I have invested heavily on awakening the inner asshole in me. It’s high time Peterson did the same. He should know better given the experiences that he has had with Cathy Newman, Helen Lewis, and now, Decca Aitkenhead.