On Why I Run (Literally & Figuratively)

As I run, and when 

I do so, putting my body into this

rhythmic motion, my mind

consumed in the melodies of classics, or jazz

Or piercing notes of sitar, I

find myself running, moving, not

Away from nature, but

somewhere deeper into its undefinable stretch 

Of what am I made up of, 

Of earth, fire and water, of elements

That never reiterate themselves until the day

One burns on his pyre, and

All this while,

When I run away from all the life is made up of 

And what is it to be alive, 

It’s only when I run here,

That I run deeper into life 

 

 

Art: Fatime Molnar

 

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From Numbers to Recipes: Ankit Grover of Slice of Soul Walks Us Through his Inspiring Journey

We all carry stories that need to be told or at least reflected upon. This story is of a man who not only travelled three cities in pursuit of his dream but also three professions; and what diametrically opposite these professions have been. From Jabalpur to Pune via Bombay, this is a tale of Ankit Grover, founder of town’s most intriguing pizzeria called Slice of Soul, and all the ‘in-betweens’ of having nothing to having what contents.

A man, who is now an authoritative source of any knowledge regarding beer or pizzas, was once in a profession where he didn’t even have time to cherish them in his meals. A Chartered Accountant working in one of the leading companies in Bombay, Ankit found himself engrossed in numbers and data analysis. ‘I always had the dream of having my own setup but something had to be done before that’, he said. A stint as a CA was a result of not coming from an entrepreneurial background and a prospective foundation for taking a step closer to the dream. When his job became too small to contain his knack for new technologies and inventiveness, he bade adieu to a generously paying job and embraced a life where he had nothing to do.

The environment, the culture, and everything about that corporate life had become too one-dimensional for me. I anyway had to break away from that monotony today or tomorrow. I knew this job was not what I actually wanted to do’.

Months after leaving his job, Ankit started private practice and simultaneously began to think about opening up a cafe. Back at home in Jabalpur and away from the hush of a metro life, his mind was better placed and creatively more motivated. So, when he found himself at the cusp of taking a step forward and moving from numbers to recipes, he packed his bag and his mom’s faith in him and flew off to Pune.

I had absolutely no knowledge about how the entire process will actually take shape. All I had, was an idea, a concept; and yes, a name which I wanted to give to my café.’ Ankit’s background in a corporate field came handy during the establishing days of his café. Every morning, he would head out and meet different people and hunt for a perfect place that would house his dreams. ‘Field Research was of utmost importance in the establishing phase of this journey. I knew I was taking a big risk, I knew I wasn’t a seasoned rookie, so I had to equip myself with the in-depth understanding of market and the trends.’ Pune is famous for the short lived journeys of food joints. They say, every day 10 cafés open up here and 12 shut down. However for Ankit, faith in the uniqueness of his concept motivated him to survive the competition.

Despite the well guided research and trustworthy connections, there were fall outs. Failures that shatter building faith in oneself and take one back to square one. ‘I would lie if I say that these failures didn’t shake me up from inside. I was terribly disheartened. I even started questioning my methods. However, this was the time when I gathered inspiration from my past. The transition from being academically below average to becoming a CA helped me in collating my strength back and refocusing my efforts.’ There were failures and then there were opinions that discredited his ideas; but his drive to fulfil his passions did succeed and led to the creation of Slice of Soul.

I not just wanted a pizzeria; I wanted one which is authentic. My idea of wood-fired oven seemed unattractive to many and now it is my USP.’ Many features of Slice of Soul are drawn from Ankit’s personal experiences and family outings.

My mom loved pizzas; so having pizzas for lunch was quite common. However, every time we used to go out for pizzas, there used to be quarrels and disagreements over toppings and the kind of bread. In the end we all had to make small sacrifices over desired contents. This was a driving force behind the idea of coming up with Make Your Own Pizza. At SOS, I wanted a food democracy and freedom for customers to not only choose their toppings but participate in every step of making their own pizza. And then, it was followed by Make Your Own Pasta and Make Your Own Salad.’

Many people dare to follow their dreams; but often there comes an interval called ‘backup option’. For many dreamers, this backup option becomes so consuming that it translates into the sad demise of what they actually wanted. Making that shift from a backup option to the process of actualising the dream is a small but the most difficult one and Ankit was glad that he made it without much hassles. However, taking this new step and new profession didn’t mean a total forgetting of the previous one. There were many takeaways from his stint as a CA and the most important of them being his Articleship and Strategic Financial Management that he studied therein. Although to Ankit, there’s a different takeaway which is much closer to heart – ‘After becoming CA, it was easier for me to convince my fiancé’s parents to agree upon our marriage. And it was a delight to have them at the café and prove my mettle in front of them.’

Striking a balance between taking risks and committing oneself to foolproof planning is a lesson that Ankit likes to impart to dreaming entrepreneurs. As a man who believes more in hard work than destiny, quite often uses a phrase ‘Kismat Buland Hai Apni’ as a sarcastic commentary on those who solely relies on destiny.

So if you ever wish to meet this dreamer and achiever in person, you can find him at 101, Fortaleza Complex, East Avenue, Kalyani Nagar, waiting there with his mouth watering offerings and a heart warming smile.

IMG_20170918_130256_163 (1)

 

 

On Regrets in The Process of Becoming

We ponder upon regrets, or more like let them linger because we see ourselves in this journey of becoming. Like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, we see our present as a part of a larger destiny; an element in the life optimization process. 

Transcience, as preached by Buddhist philosophy mojo, is the only reality of life. The only thing that never changes is the change itself. When life is lived in moments and every passing moment is marked by a sense of decay, every thought about the ‘decayed’ is just a hindrance to the process of becoming. When we regret, we force to recollect and relive the moments we will never capture again. Such is the weakness of regrets. 

When Edith Piaf agreed to perform at her last concert after the death of her most beloved person, she chose to perform a song titled non je ne regrette rein – which translates as ‘I have no regrets left’. It’s fascinating to see a person who has met with such a profound incident of loss denying even an atom of regret in her system. Edith tells us that regret is not natural and is definitely not connected with our material reality; it’s never about what we have become. Regretting is a hedonistic activity of indulging oneself in the artificiality of the past. Such is the frivolity of regrets. 

So as I was talking about life goals with my dear friend and a fellow law student, my only advice to his long drawn out plans was to move away from the linearity of these very plans. It doesn’t matter how you would feel about your career when you are 90 because the happening of that very event in future in nothing more than a contingency. If we will dwell in anything other than present, we will be taking away our energies from the phase that matters the most in the process of becoming. And that is – now! 

 

Picture: Regrets by Jasper Johns

Oasis

I measure freedom with the

Stretch of my

Hands, my palms facing the  

Sky, fingers  

Stretched.  

I dance today in my stillness, I fly

With the winds unseen, I give up on the

Retreating rays of sun, in the sky, 

All I see, 

Is Blue.  

I whirl my storms in an utmost peace, the

Silence sings my fortunes

I flow through

My trajectories in every sip of 

My tea

Take me nowhere, but here

Take me somewhere, but there

I dawn my light in 

This evening,

See love,

In nothing

And everything

From Have-Nots to Havelock: Understanding the Alternative ‘Now’ of Life

Between ‘one pint down’ and ‘thinking about another’, a conversation happened. Like most of my social outings, I didn’t exactly plan to meet the other party to that conversation, but I guess it happened for good; or, it could not have happened any other way.

Sitting on a jute mat at a quiet Naga café, the guy across the table carried a life story that was very fascinating. In a capsule, he got drunk one night, booked a ticket to Andaman Islands with his friends and then never came back home. As much horrific it sounds at this juncture, the follow-up is just so dreamlike. He fell in love with the scenic nature of the Islands and decided to settle down there. To his good fortunes, he immediately got a job at a tourism agency with a humble pay for which he bade goodbye to his job in the States. Five years fast forward, he’s now a diving coach at Havelock Island (Andaman), has a girlfriend and is still dwelling in a small studio apartment where he comes back to sleep after his enchanting tryst with nature.

Now, with this sort of a lifestyle set as a premise, there wasn’t much left for me to boast about my life – a law student surviving on optimism and slugging through competition. However, I did feel a little hit in my wits (maybe because of that second pint that I finally decided to take) that made me think the other way; to see through the romantic construction of his life. It may have been anything else, but as of now, I think it was that one thing that he said during that conversation that caused the hit – how it feels like to live in the ‘now’.

A remote island 1220 km away from south-east Indian coast, Havelock Island is a much neglected, strategically significant and naturally gifted Indian territory in the Andaman Sea. This faraway land is much closer to nature’s bounty; devoid of accessible mobile or internet connections. It is in this environment that this friend of mine found a home like nowhere. He said that it is like living in the ‘now’; detached from the strings of past and future. The only access to the news about the ‘parallel universe’ comes from a newspaper brought to him once a month by foreigners working in his organisations who get a permit for only 30 days and need to return to their respective countries once in every month. So, it is the music of the winds and the vistas of the stretched out sea that entraps his conscience for the longest duration of time – a form of liberation, as he puts it.

Does that mean that the life I lead or is led by some of the people that I know is not lived in this idea of ‘now’? And, is it even worth harping about? Well, to each its own, can be a possible answer. However, to me, it looks more like an excuse than an explanation. So I thought more closely about it and did come across with certain explanations.

There are two ways one might feel like living a life of this diving coach from Havelock. First, it is a natural calling motivated by one’s deepest understanding of self or coming to know of the same. Second, the romantic construction of such a life in one’s head, more like a reference group, without understanding the correlation of the same with one’s understanding of self. I think for my friend, it was the first case that motivated his decision; even though I don’t know much about him. However, to a lot of people, it may be a motivation falling under the second category.

The information we receive about these referential lifestyles is mostly asymmetrical. We often tend to focus on the broader bright side of such stories to feed the voids existing in the understanding of our own life. This is how we create some sort of a mental equilibrium (or at least try to do so) by feeding hope and aspirations to an apathetic conscience. ‘Grass is always greener on the other side’ is a phrase generating from the similar mental construction. There are many philosophers and movies that have vividly romanticised this idea of ultimate liberation – a detachment from all possible human connections that take us away from nature. But is it the only form of liberation available or is it just a form of resignation disguised as one? I would say, it’s neither.

Nature itself asks to move away from structural and linear interpretations of life. The constant movement and mutations of smallest of cells is a reflection of the degree of diversity we are capable of. So, in this particular understanding of nature, the liberation and the lifestyle as fashioned by my diver friend becomes ‘one’ of the many choices available. Something which is neither smaller nor larger than the life we naturally desire to live and not romanticises about. It requires a much deeper and honest understanding of self to differentiate between the one wanted and the one fancied. So, the diving coach doesn’t live in the ‘only now’; rather, he lives in the ‘alternative now’ and so do we.

If I’m a person who seeks to outgrow his space and predictabilities associated with his identity, I’m a person of movement and not resignation. For me, liberation lies not in finding solace in a static life closer to nature but optimising my potential and energies in understanding the diversity this nature offers. This doesn’t put the orientation opposite to mine in a less important pedestal. It just gives me space and authority to respect and love the alternatives that I wish to choose for myself. There’s no pitting one ‘now’ against the other. It is about recognising self and nurturing it within the various alternatives of ‘now’.

So, as we bade goodbye to each other and I headed for an eagerly awaited family function, I settled my bill and scribbled a little note for my diver friend that read –

“I would love to walk your land, or the only land you know. I would love to wrap my head around the liberation that you understand. But I will soon grow different and might want to sail away. For the island that brought me liberation once, might also bring rising waves within that hit the rocks hard and then retreat back to the sea, defeated.’

 

A Philosophy Called Vidhisha

As I vaguely remember it, like most of my conversations with her, it kind of happened after a college party at her house. She was slightly under the bliss and I was as sober as one can be. Of course, by choice. There’s always something very distinct about the conversations I have with her; whether contextualised or not. She’s not like any other talker. She’s different; she’s her.

Just like her genealogy, words coming out of Vidhisha’s mouth are anything but predictable. She still holds the award for the funniest conversation of 2017 and I don’t see anyone coming even an inch closer to that. However, that night, and maybe during that conversation, I quite unconsciously pierced through the obvious. I did not see or measure Vidhisha by the words she spoke or the moves she displayed. I looked through all of that and found myself staring straight into her super-consciousness. That night, I could see a remorse so unapologetically surfacing on her being that no gesture could disguise it as anything else. Through the eyes that were watering and the smile that was widening, I saw a Vidhisha that I’ve never seen before – a calming disposition.  

So what was it that made that face so unrecognisable and yet so relatable? Well, it was Jay Chou. This might seem like an abrupt disconnection of sorts but I find it imperative to mention that Vidhisha is a huge K-Pop buff, and if you ever get to know her, you’ll know she doesn’t just stop there. So, it was Jay Chou and his songs that set the tone for that conversation and everything that ran parallel to it; wait, maybe tangent.

With an almost empty pint of Budweiser in her hand, we went on to sit on what I suppose was some sort of a couch right under a string of small yellow lights. After a sip or two and her smile beginning to widen, she said – ‘You know what, I hate listening to Jay Chou, this K-Pop Singer.’ ‘Then why do you listen to him’ I asked what I thought could be the most logical follow up question. ‘Because I love his songs’, she replied. ‘Hold on a second. Didn’t you just say you hate him?’ ‘I didn’t say that. I said I hate listening to his songs’. I was so baffled by this glaring contradiction in her statements, and as sober as I was, I couldn’t help but let my shallowness take control of my tongue – ‘I think you’re tired and you need to take rest Vid.’ ‘Why would you say that’ she replied with that smile still gleaming on her face. ‘Wait, let me explain it to you’ – and that’s where I got to know what layers of complexities lie in that one statement that she made so unintentionally.

Whatever she said that night, didn’t register much with the rationalising process of my mind. However, it took me almost 12 months to understand not only that conversation but the context in which it was made. Finally, I got to get hold of an idea that is so close to Vidhisha that it just silently made its presence that night and I could not help but just restrict my reaction to mere admiration.

For past few weeks I’ve been digging a lot of ancient Japanese history; Heian period to be précised. While reading The Tale of the Genji by Murasaki Shikibu, I came across this heart warming philosophy of mono no aware. Having its roots in the Japanese Buddhist and Shinto tradition, mono no aware is one term that cannot be exactly translated into any other language. It’s more like an inexpressible emotion captured in the uttering of ensemble of words. After much deliberation, historians and linguists have loosely translated it as ‘realisation of pathos’. It is when one gets a realisation of the beauty associated with fleeting nature of life that the feeling of mono no aware surfaces. It peculiarly homes two contrasting ideas, beauty and loss, under a singular bracket of emotion. One must feel the loss when one sees something beautiful in order to experience mono no aware.  This pathos of beauty concept traces itself from the Buddhist idea of impermanence; the fleeting nature of life that Murasaki Shikibu so unapologetically described in her legendary piece of literature.

There’s one thread  that is missing from associating Vidhisha’s hatred for Jay Chou with the Japanese philosophy of mono no aware – and that is – the reason why? What can be the reason that Vidhisha hates the idea of Jay Chou in her life even while not hating him as an artist or a person? She answers to this dilemma by saying that she hates listening to him because every time she does, she loses something close in her life. No matter if it’s a boyfriend or her favourite dress, something gets ruined every time she listens to Jay Chou’s music. ‘Then why do you listen to him?’I asked, ‘Isn’t holding on to things you love more important than feeding on to your hobbies’? After hearing my questions, that smile starts to resurface on her face and without any contemplation she said – ‘But there’s nothing more beautiful than Jay Chou’s music; even if it’s worth a loss. For things that are bound to go will go, but the beauty that I discover in his music, will always remain forever. For that particular moment when I’m listening to his music, there’s nothing more beautiful that I can think of.’

So, there you go, the Vidhisha I so proudly claim to know for almost 3 years, is someone way more than the words that she usually finds herself being measured by. This Vidhisha is a philosophy. She is a depth of feelings that understands inherent truths of life more than anyone I have ever met in this college.

 

 

Japanese Theater of Kabuki: Understanding the Existent Invisibles of Life

We often neglect the life led between the realisations of narrowly perceived moments. It’s like we hopscotch from one landmark to another without ever thinking about who draws the line between the two; and why? In this never ending movement of ‘becoming’ we often push much of our life to this interlude that interests no one. In other words, we construct our own invisibilities.

Not much, but some remarkable observations have been made about the existence of this invisibility. No matter how much ironic it may sound, but the phrasing of this phenomenon as existential invisibility rather than a non-existent entity is a deliberate choice. We may rightly force a non-existent thing into oblivion, but doing the same for an existent but unperceived entity calls for some serious consequences. Therefore there have been deliberate attempts to unmask the invisible and one such attempt was conducted by renowned economist Adam Smith in his theory of laissez-faire. However, the so called unmasking doesn’t involve some sort of creating a visible form of the invisibility. Rather, it endeavours to make the invisibility a part of constructive human conscious. As we can see in Smith’s idea of invisible hand, the invisibility is not given a perceivable form but is provided with a characteristic in order to recognise its existence and the effect of the same on our functioning.  

So why is it so significant to not only recognise but consciously understand this existent invisible entity? An answer to this question can be obtained by observing a practice in traditional Japanese theatre of Kabuki. Commencing during the Edo period, Kabuki is an erstwhile avant-garde theatre of Japan which is now seen as a form of classical theatre. Kabuki involves characters staging folktales and ancient Japanese classics while being dressed in elaborately designed kimonos and hair dresses. Since Kabuki is aimed to generate a cathartic feeling within the viewer, the operational activities which are not part of the main narrative are often cloaked in order to avoid distractions. One such operational activity is the job of a group of men called kurogo.

Kurogo are part of the theatrical construction but are not part of the narrative. Their task is to provide props to the actors so that they can perform their roles according to the narrative. So how are these existent invisibles incorporated? Well, kurogos are dressed in all black and their faces are covered with a black veil whenever they appear on the stage. Japanese theatrical convention considers black to be invisible, hence the dress. Kurogos, much like Smith’s invisible hand, provide the actor with all operational needs required to reach/achieve desired moments/goals. Whenever they appear on the stage, the viewer has to neglect their presence and consider them to be non-existent. They are instrumental in actor’s central decision making process. So much so, it would be hard to imagine the fluent movement of the actor’s story without the unrecognised interventions of the kurogos.  

The very practice of kurogos unsettles me to think about our own real lives. Both history and chemistry have proven the causal effect of moments in life. In this world of claiming opportunities, more like seizing them, there is a lot that happens that is often pushed aside as non-existent; as interlude. The movement from one landmark to another is physically impossible without crossing the territory that connects the two. This very territory, coupled with the mental instrumentality of self, constitutes the existent invisible of human beings. This is our kurogo.

Our kurogo doesn’t have a definite shape or form. It manifests itself both as animate and inanimate substances. Sometimes it can be your cab driver who takes you to work everyday without delay or the trees in your neighbourhood that make sure you get enough oxygen to survive another day. Just like Lego, we are scattered pieces of various shapes and sizes that are brought together to be made into a meaningful entity by these very kurogos. Our life, our journey, our becoming, all is incomplete and impossible without the effort of our existent invisibles; our kurogos.

So, now that we know that there exist some invisibles in our life that play an instrumental role, the next question is, how do we recognise them? How do we make sure that they stay forever? Honestly, the answers to these questions lie in forgetting. Yes, after consciously understanding the existence of certain invisibles, the next stage is to make your unconsciousness active. By this, I don’t mean to push humanity into neglect of its most faithful helpers. Rather, I want humanity to forget that it exists outside or independent of these very existent invisibles. I want humanity to stop perceiving its kurogos as invisible and start imbibing itself with them instead.

If you want to know how this can be done; how we can imbibe ourselves with the most selfless caretakers of universe, with our kurogos, kindly read my next post that gives an insight into achieving the same.

 

Resignation in Japanese Poetry

Murasaki Shikibu, if not dissected psychoanalytically, represents a landmark of women literacy in the history of the world. As court lady in the ancient Japanese empire of the Fujiwara period, Murasaki pens down what is seldom referred to as the first novel in the world. 
Murasaki is able to write a sort of historical account of her period due to the proliferation of Chinese language in the elite circle of Japan. Daughter of an imperial aristocrat, she was exposed to the learning of Chinese which was seen as a status symbol for the high ranking families in the region. Even though Japanese relations and actual cultural importations from China were put to halt by her time, she does create a cultural bridge between the prosperous Chinese civilisation and her own northern city of Heian Kyo (modern day Kyoto). 
 
In her massively popular The Tale of Genji, we see quite an insightful account of Japanese socio-cultural life of the early eleventh century. Out of many themes, what marks the depth of the entire novel is the spiritual element that Murasaki is able to grasp and reflect upon the circumstances of her real life. After the death of her husband we see the reflection of Buddhist ideas of impermanence and universal transience in the poetry of Murasaki who herself was a devout Buddhist.   
 
Buddhism (Tendai) came to Japan from the Chinese hills and became the dominant religious faith during Murasaki’s time. The Mahayana Buddhism and its principle of resignation from the sorrows of the world reflected heavily in the Japanese poetry of the ancient period; even though the same wasn’t followed to the letter in practice. 
 
Japanese Buddhism was fascinated with the concept of fleeting nature of the world and the same can be seen in this poem from the Nirvana Sutra:
 

Brightly coloured though the blossoms be,
All are doomed to scatter.
So in this world of ours,
Who will last forever?

So in Japanese Buddhism, the memento mori should not be a grinning skull but the images such as scattering of blossoms or the yellowing of autumn leaves, which served to remind them that all beautiful things must soon pass away.
 
Inline image 2
Izumi Shikibu 
 
The host full of women Japanese writers of the period include one of the most emotionally intellectual poetess Izumi Shikibu. In her poetry, we can find an outspoken lamentation about death and illness. This is an excerpt from a splendid and one of the heart warming poems she composed, and this one, she wrote on her death bed:
 
Yo no naka wo                                            
Nani ni tatoemu
Asaborake
Kogiyuke fune no
Ato no shiranami. 
 
Yo no naka wo
Nani nagekamashi
Yamazakura
Hana miru hodo no
Kokoro nariseba
 
Kuraki Yori
Kuraki michi ni zo
Irinubeki.
Haruka ni terase
Yama no ha no tsuki. 
 
This was translated by Arthur Waley:
 
This world of ours – 
To what shall I compare it?
To the white waves behind the boat
As it rows away at dawn
 
This world of ours – 
Why should we lament it?
Let us view it as we do the cherries
That blossom on the hills
 
Out of the dark
Into the dark path 
I must now enter:
Shine on me from afar,
Moon of the mountain fringe 
 
The same lamentation about the fleeting nature of life can be seen the sombre dispositions of Murasaki Shikibu. The Tale of Genji is heavily preoccupied with evanescence and death. She writes (in her diary) – ‘If only I had been more adoptable and respond to the pleasure of this fleeting existence with a little more youthful enthusiasm! In her verse she writes:
 
Like the waterfowl that play there on the lake
I too am floating along the surface
Of a transient world 
Apart from lamentation about the sorrows of life, we see a sense of understanding of the transience nature of the world. Another Japanese writer Sei Shonagon writes about the death of her mother – 
 
The moaning period had come to an end and as usual time was hanging heavily on hands. I took out my psaltery and, as I dusted it, plucked occasionally at the strings. Now there was no longer a taboo on playing music, and I reflected sadly on the transience of this world.
 
And finally Murasaki writes – 
 
As I walk across the bridge
That spans the Ford of Yume
I see that this world of ours too
Is like a floating bridge of dreams 
 
Japanese poetry of the ancient period cumulatively reflects the theme of resignation, an ideal so central in the teaching of Buddhism. Even though the subject matter focused on resignation, the very act of writing and creating a body of literature that is homegrown, shows a complete opposite of it. As the eleventh century marks the blossoming of Japanese indigenous culture, after centuries of Chinese and Korean imitation, the idea of democratisation of art and the aesthetics itself have something to cry and take pride at the same time.