Saturday, July 26, 2008

On Facing Death...

Randy Pausch, the IT Prof in Carnegie Mellon (with specialisation in Virtual Reality), died today... He succombed to pancreatic cancer, which he had harboured, looked in the eyes since long....

Since the time, when in September last year, he had given his "Last Lecture", he had become a phenomeon ("The Last Lecture" is a series at CMU, where Profs are invited to give the lecture/talk, which they would, if it was there last one... IN case of Randy Pausch, it was a real talk, since his doctors had given him just a few months to live)...

Since then, he had appeared on Oprah Winfrey show, had written a book "The Last Lecture"...etc., etc.

[To access any of those just Google "Randy Pausch"]

What struck me about his "Last Lecture" was:

1. his humaneness in the face of death, and

2. that he had prepared his lecture, not for the audience, but for his 3 kids - he was making a point about a life - lived and understood in its own context

...which reminded me about someone, I used to know intimately - in similar circumstances, who had written:
    "...It is like this - it has to be different for everyone. If twenty years back someone had told me all that I would feel, or that there was a point - I would have thrown it all out without a second thought - because nothing mattered when I was 18... Life for me began when... Then other things happened, and from time to time I lost track of the meaning behind it... I still have to put it all together. And no one else can make this story work out for me. This is a crisis even now, in fact, now larger than life.

    And still, when I am not there any, I want you to tell X__, it mattered...

    ... I think the image I have resisted putting on paper is the Confluence. Two rivers coming closer and joining for a while - but each has to take a different direction. Each absorbs the other for a while, and nothing remains the same. Yet, the point of the river is to flow. The point of the human being is to remain humane and vulnerable...

    And still I want you to tell X__, that it mattered. There was a point to the music, the chocolates, the fancy dresses, the loneliness and the hopelessness, the talks, the walks, the dreams and the mourning, the helplessness in the face of hurt...

    ...That is the point for me... don’t call it a quest for immortality or any such thing. It is not for my sake that I wrote this down. It is for her and you - but because of all that, it is for me also."

Randy Pausch's Last Lecture was his way of saying: "It mattered."!!

In any case, the Life goes on!...

[Cross-posted @ Alternative Perspective

Thursday, May 22, 2008

An Obituary - written 27-yrs too early...

Life reccurs in intriguing ways. Here is one such instance:

It was a ritualistic call back home, just when I was boarding the flight to Dubai last month - to inform my mother that I will be out of country for 4-5 days.

"Do you know? Lootu expired!," she told me, just as I was being ushered inside the aircraft cabin. "I came to know this only yesterday. He had a massive heart-attack, and died on the spot... that was in February."

There was nothing much to do with the sudden numbness. Before the flight took off, I made a quick call to the third of us teenage trio who grew-up together - long walks in Lucknow cantt, sitting on Pipra Ghat, writing/ sharing poems, discussing books, musing/discussing/fighting on our in-process-of-getting-formed perspectives on life and self - and in the process, sharpening it...

Next fortnight, when I visited his place, auntie had grown old and forgetful. His brother, in a way summarised his life, "You know that. He lived a reckless life..."

And so, during last month and a half, I have of and on thought about him, about our first meeting when we were 12-13 year old, our hitch-hiking trip together to Kathmandu, those long late-night tea sessions in hostel canteen, our growing up together, and our drifting apart and intermittent meetings once in a while...

...and then today, Recurrance happened. While doing some housekeeping of old documents, came across this piece I had written in May '81. It was like finding an obituary which was written 27 years too early!!


An Encounter with Death

When I returned from the office, the postcard with a torn corner was lying on the floor. "It is with deep sorrow that we inform you of the sad and untimely demise of Mr Asutosh Kumar…" it read in an impersonal bureaucratic tone. As if the message deliberately aimed as dissociating any personal meaning from the words.

I sat down, numb and uncertain. When you are middle-aged and an old friend dies, the feelings are mixed and confused. Emotions rushed forth within me and tripped over each other. A sense of triumph for having outlived him, a feeling of guilt for feeling so, for being alive while he was dead, a sense of despair, of time and life slipping away from between the fingers, of one's own mortality - all these combined and prepared a curious blend of crooked emotions.

Asutosh was an old friend since the hide-and-seek and marble days. We had grown up together and learned the strategies of living through common experience. Though time and adulthood had drifted us away into different compartments of life, the bond of a common past had somehow lingered through occasional new year and birthday cards. And now he was dead and it felt unreal.

Death makes so many things unreal. There were so many irrelevant, yet magically significant experiences Asutosh and I had shared with each other. Somehow, this commonality of our memories made me feel my past as more real, more concrete, more secure. As if I found a comforting validation of my life in his memories. But now, those memories were gone, irrevocably lost, with Asutosh, and along with them, the objectivity they rendered to my past. My memories could well have been my autistic fantasies.

Mechanically, I got up, mixed myself a drink and lit a cigarette. I was awed by the change in the meaning of death over time. When my father had died, and that was nearly twenty years back, I had accepted his death as natural, as the logical conclusion of a life lived. I had acted like a realist, had accepted the inevitable, and had efficiently managed the rituals of his last rites, the bank account, policies and the certificate. I had felt myself grown up and his death had been my passing test into the adult world and maturity.

But now Asutosh was dead and what I felt was an empty hole in my life-space. Death, after all, I reflected, is not the conclusion of life. It dogs through the every step of life and takes one by surprise. It had struck me now, but I will go on living. A little less, perhaps, for a portion of my life was dead with Asutosh. Perhaps, that is why we mourn death, because a part of us dies with others - just as it had lived with others. I wondered if life - my life - was only a summation of its pieces that lived and died with others…

My eyes looked through the windows. The sun had gone down and sky looked gray and dusky. In a few moments it would be dark. I looked toward the approaching night and tried to accept its inevitability…

Monday, May 05, 2008

30 years back!

seems like yesterday, actually...

Monday, March 31, 2008

My first poem...

It's funny how one (re)discovers oneself through one's progeny...

When Bitti came last time, she reminded me of the promise I had made to her - that, when she is 21+, she will have access to our old diaries...

...and that is how she discovered this poem - my first (I rediscovered it)...

I was 15-and-half year old (dated 23rd Jan, 1971) when I wrote this (and was totally unaware of the prophesy of these verses to become a reality more than a quarter of a century in my life)...

At that time, I thought that this was better than William Wordsworth 1st poem:)

I measured it from side to side,
'Twas three feet long and two feet wide


In any case, this is what I had written more than 37-years back:

The Lips that were a cup of wine,
the eyes that bore a twinkle shine,
the curls that I can ever adore,
were not that day, as they're before.

The lips had peace, a calm smile.
Her face looked as a drawn profile.
The eyes that bore a twinkle gleam,
had lost it for an endless dream.

The curls that gave a joyous thrill,
were lying on the bed, sad and still.
I sat in tears besides her bed,
and sadly wept with bent down head.

In fading light the beauty slept.
With humble steps, the darkness crept....

Thursday, March 06, 2008

For his daughter

Once in a while, one comes across words - written by someone else - which express things much better than one could have done oneself....

Shekhar Kapur wrote this for his daughter:

My wealth lies more in the faliures of my life than my succeses. My wealth lies in people I have known and lost. My wealth lies in the pain and the heartache of living.

My wealth lies in the memories of those moments of love that were given to me. And given by me. But my wealth also lies in letting those joyous moments and people go.

My wealth lies in all those unfullfilled dreams. In all those longings that aroused my passions. My wealth lies in all the passions I have ever felt and expressed. And those not expressed.

My wealth lies in every moment of guilt that I carry for actions done or imagined. That burden too is my wealth.

My wealth lies in every breath that I have ever breathed. Each imbued with doubts and questions and hopes and dreams. And fears.

All this wealth I bequeath to you. For you to squander to the winds..

Thursday, February 21, 2008

On Being a Teacher...

Today being “the first day of the rest of my life”, allow me these musings…

….somewhere as I grew up, I became a “teacher” (a term that makes more personal sense to me than being a “professor”)….

[Why? How?... well, such conclusions are always post-hoc, but perhaps I became one, because I had hoards of role-models around me – my grandfather (a theosophist who became the principal of their Varanasi school, and at one time, was the private tutor to the JK Singhanias), my grand-uncle who became the principle of the Gwaliar’s Scindia School, my two uncles who were profs at Delhi and Bombay Universities…, etc.]

… As I grew up, I also recall a dream/fantasy in my teens and early-20s of an Ashram that I would start, to teach the marginalized children… (need-less to say, the fact that I ended up teaching in a business-school where I interact with people who are “marginalized” from the rest of 95%+ of society is an irony… another story…)

But coming back to being/becoming a teacher

It was not easy… how do you “teach” – i.e., make a difference in someone else’s life? Can you?

When I read Jerry Harvey’s “Learning not to Teach”, I could resonate with him…. He wrote:

“The longer I am employed as a professor, the less sure I become as to what a teacher is supposed to do. When I stand up in front of a class and someone says explicitly or implicitly, "teach me," I become confused because I seldom feel as if I have anything to teach...

…..anything of value can't be taught, but that much of value can be learned. I suppose that's one reason I find teaching so unsatisfying and learning so much fun.“

And then I came across this quotation from Rabindra Nath Tagore, which made so much sense:

“A very great musician came and stayed in our house. He made one big mistake… (he was) determined to teach me music, and consequently no learning took place. Nevertheless, I did casually pick up from him a certain amount of stolen knowledge.”

This, of course, led me to many academic explorations into issues of learning, tacit knowledge, Nonaka, John Sealy Brown, KM, etc. – but at the heart of all this, I realized that simple – and somewhat shattering – realization as a teacher:

You can’t teach anything to anyone; people learn what they want to learn… what need to learn.

{in retrospect, it was clear; I (should have) learned it the hard/frustrating way: …when our daughter was 2-3 years old, we thought that a stimulating environment will help her to grow. And so, we got crayons, a sketch book, and plastered the walls with cardboard sheets for her… the idea was to give her a medium for “freedom of expression”… parent/teacher, the frustrating part was that she was having more fun rolling the crayons on the floor (or just dropping them to see them break) than in using them on the paper…}

I guess, she was experimenting – and learning something (maybe about gravity)… but it was definitely not what we “wanted” her to learn at that time ;0)}

I found an analogue to this as I taught courses…. Students perhaps, learn more about how to “crack” the quiz/exam, than about the subject….

So it again all boiled down to: You can’t teach, but people learn…. Though, you can “facilitate” learning.

This issue of “facilitating learning” was quite seductive. For a long time, I felt that I have (or can develop) the power to create an atmosphere/ environment, in which people feel “facilitated” to “learn” and “grow” as a human being… the issue, however, still remained:

but how??... How does one “facilitate” learning & growth?

…Life takes its own turns, and mysteriously communicates… and so, though I never thought that I will be going through someone’s private diaries … but that also happened…

…which was a learning of another kind… to quote:

“I learnt once again that the self exists in relations to the other, but not necessarily to confirm the Other, or to be confirmed by the Other. Beauty in any relationship must be achieved though truth and some amount of genuineness - it is not a part of the basic givens of life…

...I think the sun facilitates growth, the rain facilitates growth; they facilitate growth by just being there, by being what they are. The sun does not rise - and the clouds do not rain - so that the plants will grow, but their being there is invaluable to the growth…”

This seemed so simple and easy: all that facilitating learning required was to “be yourself

Over a period of years, I have come to realize that this is really not as easy and simple as it seems…

…specially when:

• You know that “being oneself” is not a statement; it is an extremely personal – often an uncomfortable - continuous, and ever-changing process of self discovery, and

• You are standing in front of a class of intelligent people – and are part of a system – which expects you to teach!!!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Growing up... in the 70s

... when we were growing - long back in the early 70s - there was a romance of life... and we would take up a line/phrase

This is what came out of this....
the line was:

भटका दिया है प्यार ने फिर प्यार पाने के लिए...

क्षितिज पर कोई चितेरा
खींचता सपना सुनहरा
हृदय छलता मार्ग मेरा
भ्रमित आशाएँ लिए.

I guess... hope... I have not changed since then...

Friday, January 11, 2008

10 years back....

....I confronted the void...

...and learned to grow to fill up that vaccuum in life

I hope - or at least I try to believe - that I have done a reasonably decent job to carry on what was left half-way...

maybe, once that gets over will also be time to leave....