There is an interesting mention made in the Sri Sai Satcharita about the grinding of wheat. It refers to a grinding stone where the lower part is one’s Karma (Fate, destiny) and the upper is Bhakti (path to achieving salvation), with the handle of the device being Jnana (knowledge). The rotation of the upper stone grinds the ego as well as impulses, desires and sins.
I pondered about the aspect of ego.
It struck me that our entire approach to life revolves around our ego, and our actions and words reflect this state. Every single action or observation invokes the ego, however subtly.
Ego binds and limits, which leads us to refer to ‘I’ and ‘my’, which in turn confines ourselves to the finite. It cares only for its own existence.
If someone smiles at us, our ego is touched; if someone ignores us, the ego gets touched, too. It is like an open wound. And, one is quick to blame anything on anyone else except ourselves.
Ego brings with it a lot of competition, power plays, control, judgment, criticism, testing, even abuse. It also comes to the surface out of fear – that we are at the mercy of the world – when, in fact, we can be the creators of our own destinies.
The ego always tries to grab what it can from the world, in the belief that it lacks, and only what is out there can fill the gaping hole inside.
Breaking this pattern is difficult, since this ego has a million tricks to keep us engaged. We tell ourselves that all our experiences, problems issues etc, are a consequence of what someone else does or does not do. We become defensive, we counter-attack.
It is ego that gives us a sense of incompleteness.
If one delves into the past, many memories come to the surface. It could be scolding from parents and teachers, unkind words that we might have been subjected to, failures of any kind, rejection, etc. These are forgotten incidents, yet they somehow fester. And, such wounds can be opened very easily through other events, as the ego rears its head.
The irony is that we permit this to happen. Sadly, it is this very same ego that prevents us from acknowledging and correcting.
One way out is to try not to react, not to reject, whatever happens. To be accepting.
Ego is not about self respect. It is a lot more. It is very basic and fundamental.
It is a battle that has to be fought and won from within.
Most people expect a bit of solitude when entering a cab and settling in for the ride. It could be a ride within the city, or a drive from/to the airport. The last thing they want is a garrulous cabbie, and if the ride is completed in silence then well and good.
That’s the ideal scenario. The reality can be quite different.
Ask the cabbie one question, and it can, often, open the floodgates. The longer the drive, the chattier they get.
It can be quite interesting, though, and I occasionally engage them in conversation – more to pass the time in a longish drive than anything else. And, often, as I have discovered, it needs little prompting.
In many ways, cabbies are similar, whichever country you travel to.
There is one category of cab drivers who are BBC, CNN, and all other major news networks rolled into one. They grandly inform you about what’s happening, and this is often garnished with their own expert interpretation and analysis of events.
There is another that falls into the social reformer category, and their views on the ills of the country and society are described in elaborate detail.
The third spends time talking about family, kids, etc.
And yet another wants to know where you are from and what it is like in the place you live in.
There is also a category of cabbie that keeps chatting, lets you lower your guard, and then fleeces you at the end of the trip – the logic being that you think he is a nice guy and will be straight and honest.
Chatting with a cabbie often gives you a unique insight into the place you are in, things that you will never garner from a travel guide. Useful tips that often come handy. It also presents a different perspective on life, and how others handle events and happenings – can be an eye opener, sometimes.
One aspect that I have observed in many cabbies is their take on family and education. There have been many who have spoken about their kids being in college and the dreams for a future that’s different from sitting behind the wheel of a taxi.
Theirs is a hard life, with many working 14-16 hours a day, seven days a week. They have to reckon with grumpy, unreasonable passengers, crazy traffic, pressures to earn enough to pay their rentals, and deal with traffic violations.
Chatting with their passengers who are willing to listen is one way for them to relieve stress, a social interaction that they otherwise lack. It is a way to kill the boredom that is so much a part of their profession.
Yes, there are occasions when I would prefer that the cabbie keeps his mouth shut. But, more often, than not, it is an interesting diversion, particularly in a new country.
It is strange how the colour of one’s skin evokes irrational and, sometimes, idiotic responses. Brings out the worst in some people.
It was an early morning flight out of Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, and the kids were sleepy. It had been a hectic, but enjoyable, four days at Euro Disney, and all one could now think of was settling into the aircraft seat and have a long nap on the eight-hour flight back.
We were booked on business class, and as I wheeled the luggage trolley towards the check-in counter, a stern looking member of the Air France staff jerked her thumb dismissively towards another counter and rudely said “Economy is that side.”
“Isn’t this the Business Class counter?” I asked.
“Yes, go to the Economy counter”, she replied, with a superior manner and a voice that dripped with irritation.
I could feel the anger welling inside me but chose to keep my composure. “Would you mind having a look at my ticket?” I asked in as measured a tone as possible.
It evoked no response since the lady had turned away and was pretending to be busy with something important.
“This does it,” I thought to myself, “these rude guys are going to get an earful from me.”
A supervisor happened to observe the exchange and came forward to ask what the matter was. I told him that I was here to check-in and showed him the tickets. To his credit, he completed the formalities. There was, however, no apology, no friendliness.
As we left the counter to head for the departure area, I told him that he and his colleague were the most impolite airline staff I had ever encountered in all my travels, and that they were an utter disgrace not only to their airline but also to the entire industry. I also told him that they were not doing anyone any favours since it was the paying passenger, irrespective of class of travel, that ultimately provided these staff with a livelihood.
He didn’t like my comment, but I couldn’t care less.
It is evident that some people have vacuum between the ears.
To the airline’s credit, the service on board was better.
Cat Among the Pigeons is the name of a book of detective fiction by Agatha Christie and features one of her best known characters – the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.
The idiom “put/set the cat among the pigeons” means “to do or say something that causes trouble and makes a lot of people angry or worried”.
Driving slowly down a quiet lane recently, I noticed a pigeon by the side of the road. Nearby was a cat. Something caught my attention, and since there was no traffic, I stopped the car and watched.
The cat was playing it cool, taking imperceptible steps, and inching its way gradually towards the pigeon. The impression it tried to convey was that it was not aware of the pigeon’s presence, or was not concerned even if it was there.
The smart pigeon, meanwhile, had one eye on the cat while continuing to peck at something on the road. Each time the cat edged closer, the pigeon moved one step away. It conveyed an air of studious indifference to the feline’s presence as if to say, “I don’t care if you are around.”
It was interesting to watch this charade playing out, though I wondered when the cat would make a move and lunge for the pigeon.
The cat appeared to be getting closer and I decided that enough was enough.
Gunning the engine of the car, I moved slowly towards where this drama was on. The pigeon took flight, while the cat scooted towards the safety of the underside of another parked car.
I drove off with the satisfaction that one pigeon had escaped being dinner, and smiled at having seen a different perspective of “cat among the pigeons”.
On a brilliant, cloudless, pleasant and sunny day, with a nice breeze blowing, in Toronto recently, I sat on a wooden bench under a tree near the Rogers Centre and watched the world go by, while a cool Coca Cola helped to keep the throat moistened.
Time stood still, and it was a wonderfully relaxed half hour.
There were several thoughts that went through my mind, and I enjoyed the peace and calm, and savoured the moment.
As I looked around, I caught sight of two people, suspended on small platforms that were strung from the roof of a tall building, cleaning the large expanse of glass. They seemed to be doing the job with a fair degree of enthusiasm, and appeared to be making rapid progress – wonder what the occupants of the building thought about someone peering into their homes, though.
It was something that one does not usually notice as we go about our busy daily lives. We tend to take a lot for granted, and expect that roads will be clean, utilities will run, buildings will somehow be maintained well, and everything will work.
We forget (or ignore) those who actually work at making things happen.
True, these two people were doing their job and cleaning the glass, and this was the source of their daily bread.
Yet, it made me think – made me think that we need to be grateful to all those people – silent, nameless, faceless, as far as we are concerned – who make our lives so much more comfortable.
It was in a thoughtful mood that I rose from the bench and walked back.
There are times when you sit and watch the world go by, and one often comes across moments that are hilarious and present a perspective on how people behave and react.
Standing in the balcony of my apartment presents me an opportunity to watch happenings on the road five floors below, and one of my pastimes is to observe people who deposit their cars in the paid parking strip across the road.
Parallel parking by reversing one’s car into a vacant slot comes naturally to some. For most, though, it is an acquired skill, and this presents moments of mirth from my vantage position.
The driver edges forward, and then tentatively reverses into the slot. Not satisfied, he edges out again and repeats the process. In all this, the fact that he is holding up traffic behind him is blissfully ignored. The process goes on a few times till, finally satisfied, he steps out of the vehicle and admires his handiwork. More often than not, the vehicle is not centred in the slot, and often enough, again, has one set of wheels blatantly transgressing the marked area. This fazes the driver not one jot as he jauntily strides off with family in tow to the restaurant nearby for some well deserved refreshment.
More hilarious is the antics of drivers who believe that it below their dignity, and decide to park for free without placing a ticket on the dashboard. They disappear into the nearby building to conduct their business. Very nonchalantly done, for sure – you must watch their swagger. However the appearance of the parking attendant witnesses the driver emerge from wherever he is like a startled rabbit. This is followed by verbose explanations accompanied by expansive shrugs, waving of arms, placing of hands on chest, etc as the driver vehemently protests his innocence, a “please do not fine me since I have just got here and am about to leave”, and an offer to drive off that very moment.
I have seen this being done so often that I almost will the attendant to write out the ticket.
As for people who double park? Well, this is something that really winds me up, and I’d rather not dwell on it.
There have been several occasions in recent days when the thought of writing came to mind, but, somehow, it did not happen. The usual inertia, perhaps.
It has been a challenging period, one of relative inactivity, and myriad emotions have passed through the mind during this period. I would have thought that one’s senses are at their sharpest when one is busy and fully occupied. It is strange, then, that realization also dawns when one is comparatively idle. The mind has nothing else to do, I suppose.
It has been decades since I have had time on my hands. Time when I have done absolutely nothing worthwhile. The daily routine has changed, and is not a desirable one.
I thought I would use the time to do all those little things that had been kept on the backburner all these years. Go through old papers and get rid of all the accumulated stuff that one had saved thinking that they would be of use some day; old acquisitions that had no utility and had not been used for years; unmarked CDs that would, perhaps, never ever be played.
Did this happen? Sadly, no.
This has also been a period when one gets on the nerves of people close to you. You have time on your hands … and assume, without consciously thinking about it, that they have time for you as well. And, you wonder why they get annoyed when you demand attention and time.
This is a period when one gets cranky, crotchety, unreasonable, irrational, and a lot more.
It was during one of those “letting the mind wander while doing nothing” periods that I was reminded of the song “Pressure” written by Billy Joel. This has been one of my all-time favorites, since it drives home a very fundamental message – the message that when you are under pressure, you are unable to handle it, but have to do it alone.
You have to learn to pace yourself
You’re just like everybody else
You’ve only had to run so far, so good
But you will come to a place
Where the only thing you feel
Are loaded guns in your face
And you’ll have to deal with Pressure
Don’t ask for help
You’re all alone
You’ll have to answer, to your own
Nowhere to look but inside
Where we all respond to Pressure
I’m sure you’ll have some cosmic rationale
But here you are with your faith
And your Peter Pan advice
You have no scars on your face
And you cannot handle pressure
I turned on the CD player and listen to this song. It reverberated in my mind.
And, I told myself, “You have to handle the pressure …. Alone.”
It has been raining quite heavily for the past two days, and conditions are perfect for relaxing with “pakoras” and a cup of hot chai.
The rains have resulted in the expected traffic chaos, with some unfortunate souls spending 4-5 hours on the road before getting home. Some of my colleagues did the disappearing act from office by 3pm today under this pretext.
A short walk to the neighborhood grocery last evening made me witness something that spoke volumes about the occasional heartlessness of humankind.
There were large pools of water by the side of the road, and pedestrians – me included – were struggling to keep moving. Suddenly, there was this large SUV that noisily drove past straight through the pools, splashing water all over the hapless pedestrians.
One would have given the benefit of doubt to the driver on the grounds that he had no choice but to drive through the water, but this sentiment vanished when one noticed the look of glee and the huge grin on the guy’s face. The words, “sadist”, “idiot”, etc flashed through the mind.
The SUV stopped at a traffic signal a few yards further up the road, and the urge to run up to the vehicle and deflate two tyres was strong.
The desire to render that vehicle hors de combat was suppressed consequent to the realization that retaliation would only mimic the actions of someone who possessed vacuum between the ears.
Letting out a deep sigh, I headed home. The rain eased off momentarily, and the desire to feast on pakoras and hot chai remained unfulfilled.
At a Toastmasters meeting recently, I did a project speech that involved “Roasting” someone. Roasting is a good natured, humorous, description of a person, and is done in jest.
On the face of it, it appeared simple enough. Till I sat down to write the Roast, that is.
It was then that I realized how hard it is to describe a person’s characteristics, traits, habits, interests, peculiarities, etc., without causing offence or hurt.
It dawned on me that we are too judgmental of others, and often describe them in terms that aren’t always gracious. And, what’s worse, we tend to be critical behind their backs. It is, perhaps, inherent in human nature to adopt a posture, and rigidly stick with it, without consideration of a different side of the other person that one is either unaware of, or one that we choose to ignore for whatever reason.
Once that position is taken, it is hard to alter one’s view or perception.
It also occurred to me that it is possible, if one chooses to make an effort, to look closer at a person, and discover many other interesting facets. It helps to reflect on why a person behaves or reacts in a particular way, and also understand why that person reacts to us in the way he/she does. For, it quite possible that the reaction/response one sees is nothing more than a mirror image of how we ourselves behave and react.
It was a sobering thought.
The person I chose is a very good human being, friendly, warm, cheerful, and helpful. How does one, therefore, roast him in a pleasant and kind manner without causing offence? It was one of the most challenging projects I have ever done as a Toastmaster.
I did manage to do the roast. Towards the end, I also asked the audience, with a smile on my face, if my words reflected their own feelings about the “Roastee”. Many faces around the room broke out into smiles, several hands went up enthusiastically, and I knew that my objective had been achieved.
A senior Toastmaster commented that I had actually honored the Roastee with my words, having chosen him as the subject, and having taken the effort to think and speak with care about the man.
The Roastee was pleased and enjoyed being at the receiving end.
I gained a friend … and a new insight into human behavior and responses.
Humans are curious by nature – some more than others. They want to know about what’s happening. The purpose of wanting to know varies, though. For some, it is a harmless natural curiosity. For others, it could be a need to obtain information that is then used as fodder for gossip. There are others who ask out of concern and a genuine desire to know.
There is the concept of “need to know” as opposed to “want to know”. It is hard, at times, to know where to draw the line when it comes to asking questions. Not surprisingly, this also places the other person in a bit of a spot about what to say and what not to. It gets awkward.
We often forget that our questions could irritate the other person who might wonder about where the line of questioning is leading to. Defenses immediately come up, and we are left with either no answers at all, or a rebuke.
It is important to recognize, however, that it is our fault for asking so many questions in the first place.
Are we going to gain something by asking? Is it relevant to us? Can we do something out of knowing?
If the answer is “no”, then the best approach, perhaps, is to shut up and not ask. In the process, we do not get a rebuke. And the other person does not feel compelled to then answer without causing offence.
It takes time and effort to understand and realize that if it is important, we will surely be told.