Saturday, 26 October 2013

5 things that help us see our true selves

In 2008, the spiritual organization I am a part of, issued the annual teaching for the youth titled, "Know Yourself." I figured that's pretty easy; after all I do spend all my time with myself, so to speak. So I was very self assured in the belief that I knew myself very well (and even more sure, that I was awesome.) The fact is that I had been pretending so much, for so long, that I genuinely believed my pretensions to be who I really was. Over the last few years life has showed me how deluded I was and disabused me of all such notions. (Mind you, I still think I am awesome, but in very different ways.) I learned, through observation or experience, that there are a  certain circumstances in life that give us a glimpse of our real selves. Here is my top 5 (in no particular order):

1. Competitive Sports:
All sports, by nature, require that we bare all on the field. While individual sports are a display of will power along with physical prowess, I find team sports are those that teach us most about ourselves. Do we take the responsibility of making up for the shortcomings of our teammates? Can we put in those dives in the field which aren't reflected on the scorecards? Are we unreservedly happy for the success of our teammates even when we aren't doing well ourselves? Are we aware of the effect our attitudes have on our dressing room? These situations do result in some soul searching, and the results surprise us, more often than not.

2. Confinement:
Put people together in a confined space for long enough, and eventually they will get tired of pretending and reveal their true colours. That's why reality shows like Big Boss grab so many eyeballs. While I don't like the system of using a person's private space to earn TRP's, I do find myself watching.  What we do when we are forced to live within four walls, sharing our space, tells us a lot about what were made of. Reading The Diary of a Young Girl was in many ways so much more compelling than a fiction novel.

3. Relationships:
It's all about how we treat people. People who matter to us, particularly those we interact with often, like a daily basis. Because  that familiarity is what makes us take them for granted, and we drop our polite facades and show a glimpse of whats behind the mask. Whether it's how we treat our coworkers or our partners, our actions towards them define us.

4. Tough times:
Points 1., 2., and 3 kind of dovetail into this one. Conflict; be it between the leaders of nations or the wills of individuals; and our thought and actions in times of conflict, lay bare who we truly are. I think that's why training periods are so severe in the armed forces. Because they mould soldiers into people who make the right choices in the worst of times. How many of us can keep our heads, hold our tongues, and stay our hands when our world is crashing down? There is no yes or no answer, we all succeed and fail to varying degrees everyday.

5. Friends:
You know what I mean. The real ones, not those pseudo-social followers. The people who we take for granted and don't need to pretend around and know us best. Ironically, they are also the ones who we tend to push away when they say something we don't like. Chuddy-buddies, schoolmates, parents, life partners, life coaches; they come in many avatars. They aren't afraid to tell us when we are toeing the line or even crossing it. Most people reading this are thinking about a few people like that in their life right now. And if you haven't met them yet, don't go looking. They find you. Can't make them, can't break them, can't buy them. Custom made, every last one of them. They  will show us the mirror when our faces turn ugly.  Then they'll put it down and look us in the eye and say,"doesn't change the fact that I love you."

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Long walk to Freedom : A book review of Nelson Mandela's autobiography

A friend of mine what's-apped(if that's not a real word yet it will be soon) me a few days back, saying "Hey, how come you aren't writing anything nowadays! " And I said hey, that's 'coz I've been reading this huge history book! As you can see from the picture, its more of a  tome than a book. Considering that I only get to read while traveling in the trains, you can understand what took me so long. As my youngest brother said, Nelson Mandela's  'Long walk to freedom' is more like the long 'read' to freedom. 

The few autobiographies I have read tended to start slowly and build up as the protagonist got older. This one however, displayed a clear momentum right from the start. Maybe it was the weight of his persona and reputation bearing down on me; maybe because his recollections are so lucid and well constructed, but within the first hour of reading, I knew this was going to be a great book (and so did my mom and my other brother; and thus ensued a short family competition about who should read it first; which I won.)

A great book it was and is. Mandela has compiled his memoirs with the care that a master craftsman might devote to his work. His strength of character, clear and accurate memory and strong command of the written medium, allow his ideals and his prose to dovetail nicely into a seamless recollection. His writing enthralled me from the first chapter, and stirred in me revolutionary thoughts and ideas I didn't think I was capable of having. For example, it was while reading this book that I took up an initiative to demand more dustbins for the colony I live in (This may be just a coincidence, but then, I don't believe in them).

Mandela describes his upbringing, and how with age and exposure, the injustices the African people suffered slowly became more and more apparent.  The imbalance of power prevalent in South Africa rankled him, and along with many educated African youth of his generation, realised that the wrong that was apartheid must be righted. He wrote of "..the sense power that comes with having right and justice on one's side."

The struggle for equal rights defined him as a man. I was touched by his all consuming commitment, and awed by his logical and open mind. His cool and systematic manner, and professional training as a lawyer, rendered him an able debater and a visionary thinker. It was inspiring to see how holistic and inclusive his ideology always was, always looking for the common ground and while dealing with other people and organisations. His choices led him to sacrifice his time with family, livelihood and eventually, his freedom. After forsaking his legal practice and living the life of an outlaw for a considerable period, he was finally imprisoned, and thus began the darkest years of his life.

The names Nelson Mandela and Robben Island are almost as synonymous as Nelson Mandela and South Africa. Robben Island, the prison where he spent much of his 27 years of incarceration, was supposed to break his spirit, and that of his comrades. But, united with his fellow prisoners, he prevailed. Not only did he prevail, but he continued to oppose the system from within and held the same ideal of equal rights just as high, even though no one on the outside could see. For me, that was the defining moment in this book. To stand strong in the face of oppression while your people and the world are watching requires courage, but to stand just as strong when they cannot see you, requires infinite inner belief. He writes, "The campaign to improve conditions in prison was part of the apartheid struggle. It was, in that sense, all the same; we fought injustice wherever we found it, no matter how large or how small, and we fought injustice to preserve our own humanity."

It was astounding how he held on to not just his own humanity, but also to the belief in the humanity of his oppressors as well. He always asserted, that the oppressive system was the real enemy, and given an opportunity, the goodness in a man would always rise above the chains that bind and blind his heart.

All through this post I have tried my best to reproduce the strengths, solidarity and successes of this man's life. But there are greater pictures of pain, loneliness, and darkness painted through words on the pages of this book. None pained me more than the personal sacrifices that he had to make. Being  a leader and freedom fighter meant it was difficult for him to fulfill the obligations he owed his family. He writes, "In South Africa, a man who tried to fulfill his duty to his people was inevitably ripped from his family and his home and forced to live a life apart, a twilight existence of secrecy and rebellion."

In short, the book is an epic. It cannot be anything else, because the lives that Nelson Mandela, and so many freedom fighters, have lived, are incredible. Simply put, if you are a fan, nay, an admirer of Nelson Mandela, you must own this book. If you are not, you must read this book. There is no way you cannot be one at the end of it.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The diary of a young girl : Book review

So this is my first book review, and since I have never learned how to write one in school (something that needs to be added to our English syllabus), please forgive me if it doesn't follow the standard pattern.

Book review is a misleading title really ; it should be "flow of thought after reading so and so book". But I won't use that as I'm worried no one will pay this post any further attention if that's the title!

So to get down to it, I was browsing my company's library when I found this book in the autobiography section. I thought to myself," Snehal Pradhan, this is one of the classics and deserves the investment of time." A week later I was almost regretting my decision. At first, Anne Frank's entries in her diary seemed childish and trivial(which is understandable ;she was only 13). She began by describing her life as a Jew in Amsterdam, Holland, having fled her native Germany. At this point she and her family had not yet gone into hiding, and her depiction of her life in school and at home, although detailed and accurate, was rather mundane.

Then it did get interesting, as Anne described in great  detail, the circumstances that forced her family into their hiding place : The  Secret Annexe. With the help of an illustration, she described how her family of four, along with another family of three, led a furtive existence in a secret warehouse for the better part of World War II.

Her account chronicled some surprising aspects of a life in hiding. While I  expected that the residents  would be relieved  at being spared the fate of most other Jews, I found that frustration, depression  and boredom were the dominant emotions in their lives. Eating the same food for weeks, telling the same jokes at the table, looking at the same faces day in and day out, all took a toll on their state of mind. Truly, we can only appreciate the value of freedom when it is taken from us.

It was touching  and yet saddening  to see how much Anne relies on her diary, as a friend. Touching, because Anne pours her heart out to her diary( who she had christened "Kitty") like one would to one's best friend, and that is what her diary becomes for her. Saddening, because it points out how lonely she is, despite being surrounded by her immediate family.

Most of all, this book grew on me as I kept reading it. I mean really grew on me. As Anne grows, I could see that she really has a talent for writing, and her entries in the last one third of the book are a treat to read, displaying a maturity seldom seen in adults, let alone adolescents. She painted clear pictures of her  interpersonal relationships within the Annexe; from her own strained relationship with her mother, to her feelings of attachment and affection for her fellow residents. She never held back while accounting the faults of people around her, but showed the same brutal honesty while looking at herself as well. Even surrounded by the clouds of war, she could still find peace of mind and beauty in a brief moment of contact with nature.

I was amazed by the strength of character and deep self-knowledge the fifteen-year-old Anne had. She was very clear about who she was, all the good and bad included, but would not resign herself to being just that and tried to change herself where she saw fit. She had her own opinions, and was not afraid of expressing them. She had an independent identity, and dreams and hopes too. If Anne had survived the war, I'm sure she would have become a person who strongly influenced her peers. The more I read, the more attached I got to Anne, which gave me a sense of foreboding, as I knew how her story ended, and dreaded reaching the page which would contain her last entries.

Anne's account of her life in such closed quarters made one fact clear to me :being cooped up is a sure way to expose our true character, whether we like it or not. It's like living in a circular room with no corners, nowhere to hide our true selves. What I admire most about Anne, is that she made no attempt to hide her inner nature behind a facade of civility or falsehood. It's probably partly due to the fact that she was a child and had not gained the inhibitions that come with age, but mostly it's because she isn't the type to hide in the first place. And that's why I will always look up to Anne Frank. Her diary will command a permanent place on my bookshelf, so I can revisit her memories for inspiration whenever I may feel the need for it.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Right way around?

To begin with let me issue an advisory : I am not an expert!  While most of my previous blogs on sports-slash-cricket have been introspective or contemplative, this one leans toward suggestive. However, this post is purely a figment of my own opinion and observations, and it's inspiration includes my coaches, teammates and friends.

Ever wonder how the number of cricketers who bowl right handed but bat left handed seems to increase? There are a number of examples in the international cricket community, across country lines. Names like Stuart Broad and Saurav Ganguly come to mind. (The reverse also seems true, as Michael Clarke's highly underestimated bowling arm indicates.) So much so, that this trend seems headed towards becoming the rule rather than the exception. And this points to a (not-so)new school of coaching, that is churning out these seemingly ambidextrous skills, creating more "hybrid-handed" cricketers.

Some coaches might cry foul here, pointing out that they usually encourage whatever their pupils naturally  choose. Fair enough, but are we asking the right questions?

Traditionally, a right handed stance means that our left hand is the top hand and our right hand is below it. One of the first things that happen in coaching is that the bat is placed on the ground in front of the pupil,with the toe facing away, and he (or she;we ladies play cricket too, but for the sake of simplicity I will henceforth use "him")  is asked to pick it up. This means that on picking up the bat, tho toe usually points upwards. This in turn naturally demands a grip in which our dominant hand is closer to the blade, to stabilise it against gravity; similar to the way one would hold up a sword, with our strong hand close to the hilt. Here, I believe lies the turning point. While a sword is always held with it's point against gravity, a bat is usually used in the direction of gravity, with its toe pointing down. In this case, a grip which places our strong hand farthest from the toe is more suitable, as this creates the longer lever, thus more bat speed.

This also makes more sense technically, as for all vertical bat shots, the top hand gives direction and control. Isn't it easier to use the hand that is already our strong hand as the top hand. It would solve a problem coaches continually moan about; that of over using the bottom hand while driving.

Perhaps when we hand the bat to a pupil, we could hold it out to him with the toe pointing down. Then, reaching for it with his strong hand may naturally nudge him toward a stance that will seem to be the opposite to what we traditionally expect(left handed for right handers), but which when you think about it, is more natural.

The advantages to this approach will not be lost on anyone who has played the game. In a sea of ubiquitous right-handed batters(I prefer using this term borrowed from baseball as it is more gender-inclusive), a southpaw poses a challenge for a bowler. It involves a change of line, angle, field and strategy; all of which are headaches any bowler would rather avoid. This very fact is the reason why most teams at all levels employ right hand-left hand opening combinations. Even purely left handed opening combinations, which don't invoke a constant change of line for the bowler, are often more successful than pure right-handed pairs, Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer being the most successful example.

Perhaps this very logic is the reason why a number of  international teams seem to have an equal distribution of right and left handed batters(which, when you think about it, is odd, as the distribution of left handers in human population is only 10 to 30%).

Judging by the number of southpaws in many international sides, I'd say this approach is already popular with many coaches. Just as parents take life changing decisions for their wards, coaches may be coaxing  young children to go against their traditional stance in favour of a "hybrid" stance. And I see nothing wrong with this, if it equips a player with an edge in the extremely competitive cricket environment.

Which approach is better?  Is it fair to young kids playing the game to ask them to change? Will we see a day when left handed batters are more common?  And if so, well that negate their advantage? Fellow players, coaches, friends, aficionados : weigh in with what you think about this. Enter your comments below! This debate is hereby declared open!

Friday, 9 August 2013

What's your frequency?

Okay, I am a self confessed fan of getting a good deal. I love shopping off the streets, and more often than not I get good value for money. One item I always buy off the streets, is headphones for my mp3 player. And mostly I've been pretty lucky, getting good sound quality and longevity, the latter of which is usually tricky with " china maal " ( chale to chaand tak, nahi to raat tak )! But off late I have observed a disconcerting pattern with regards to the point at which these headphones stop working. It seems every time someone notices these headphones and I describe how very clear the sound is and what a steal they were, and so on, they malfunction soon after! Initially I thought nothing of it, and dismissed the observation as random ( I will refrain from using the word coincidence, as I dont believe they exist ). But when this happened three times in a row, I had to sit up and take notice! What exactly was going on here? I was almost as if mere pyare se headphones ko najar lag rahi thi

Admittedly I never put much faith in this " evil eye " concept. I do however, subscribe to the concept of vibrations and can attest to their power. I have been associated with an organisation dedicated to improving the spiritual quality of people's lives for a long time now, and this connection has cemented my belief that we are influenced by so many unseen vibrations. But this was the first time I connected these two not-really-so-far-apart ideas. I realised that protecting what's precious to us from unfriendly eyes, by putting a tika or nimbu mirchi etc is something  seen across religions and cultures in the sub continent; and is nothing more than the smallest attempt to shield us from harmful vibrations.

I believe that what goes around come comes around. Not just in terms of our actions or our karma, but also our thoughts. Einstein said,"Everything is energy; that's all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot but help get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics ."  ( Disclaimer : I picked up this quote from a Facebook post, so I am not sure about its authenticity; though I can totally imagine him saying something like this ).

So what does this mean in my case? Did I invite the demise of my headphones by waxing eloquently about how wonderful they are? I don't know. Was God telling me that I should appreciate my possessions, and everything in my life, while I have them, for all is uncertain? Perhaps. Its food for thought, and maybe its just to make me more aware of the vibrations I am sending out each second; as these are alive and potent and directly affect me and the people around me.

What vibrations are we sending out right now? Which ones are we tuning into? Will they affect the next pair of headphones I buy? More food for thought. Here's to rumination..

Friday, 26 July 2013

"Boys you can break..."

"'ll find out how much they can take,
Boys will be strong,
Boys soldier on,
But boys would be gone without warmth from a woman's good,good heart..
...So fathers be good to your daughters,
And daughters will love like you do..
Girls become lovers, who turn into mothers,
So mothers be good to your daughters too.."

Daughters...sisters, mothers, girls.....women. A delicate breed aren't we? Like spiders silk, we appear slight and brittle, something that needs to be held carefully and cherished lest the slightest jerk  damage us. Yet, just as a spider cannot be defined without the silk that makes his web, our men, our priapic, self-assured, able men, are nothing without a woman's love to complete them. I love how John Mayer brings the frailty yet essentiality of a woman out in his grammy winning hit, 'Daughters'. Its a song whose message and melody has touched my soul, and moved me to write this post.

Now I can already hear the feminists protesting! "Were strong too!","We can take care of ourselves..", "We can do everything just as well!", and so on! And so we can! The silk that a spider so depends on is tougher than it looks. Spiders silk is known to be one of the toughest materials on earth; that is to say, it can withstand a huge amount of strain before breaking. And I know that everyone reading this description right now is thinking about some amazing women they know, who personify this. Women who have risen through unthinkable odds, stretching,bending, doing whatever it took to build a life for their loved ones and themselves.

I was talking to my friends yesterday about how it seems fewer women than men need to release their frustrations through addictive vices, or how many young girls of our generation look up to women role models more. And while discussing this, a thought occurred to me. Behind this facade of apparent invincible inner strength women seem to have,we must remember, we are fragile. We can break. Even as the strongest of webs can be swept away by a careless broom, we women can break if we're treated without the care and respect we deserve.

I remember a Marathi poem that I learned in school titled 'He bandha reshamache'. Very Roughly,literally translated; 'These silken relationships'. Women seem to have a God given natural ability to protect the deep yet delicate bonds that connect them to the people they love. The sheer number and depth of the bonds that each woman typically has tells you a lot about how big her heart is. So here's to all you amazing women out there, daughters, mothers, sisters and friends. You are all one of a kind. And to all the men who have these amazing women in your life, "You are the God and the weight of her world", so treasure her.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

I Love Sports...???

I know the question marks at the end of that statement are a little surprising,especially coming from someone who has spent the better part of their last 10 years playing competitive sports. But i guess no matter how much you love doing what you do, there can be some small tiny part of it that you wish was different.

Sports is something that has given me so much. I love being in a team, surrounded by people with fantastic skills and so much to learn from. I love the training involved, physical and mental. I love the single mindedness that the game demands, that every ball demands every ounce of concentration that you have,else you will see the ball disappear somewhere far, far away. This single mindedness allows me to be able to leave everything else behind when im on the top of my mark. Its a different kind of peace of mind. I love the challenge, the elation when the ball kisses the edge, the sound when it grips the pitch slightly when its released just right, the pats on the back when i've got the breakthrough.

So what's not to love?


Yes i know winning and losing is part and parcel of the game. But off late it got me thinking. Sports can never be win-win. Its always win-lose. I hate losing, but I accept defeats graciously and pick myself up and get back on the ground the next day. But every defeat is a dream dashed, loved ones let down, hours of hard work proven to be insufficient. Its an incredibly unsettling experience, especially if you have just lost a big match by a close margin.

Some of my friends work in a tough corporate environment, a dog-eat-dog world. I always felt that i would never want to have their jobs, where a step up the ladder means pushing someone down. And then i realised, i'm already there. Everytime i put in an hour at training, not only am I spending it for the benefit and glory of my team, but also spending it plotting the downfall of another. And suddenly I realised, this is a part of sports that I can't bring myself to feel good about. Where when someone has climbed a mountain and touched the peak, someone else, who is trying to climb the same mountain, has to be pushed off a ledge somewhere along the way.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Superstition Vs Sunburn..

So this is for all my friends who have played cricket, and i'm not just tallking about competitive cricket, but any cricket : gully, street, school playground, apartment balcony, Lord's, wherever. All of you will know exactly what im talking about. Its about our little, or not so little, superstitions within the game.

Now dont confuse these with routines. Putting on your left pad first, tying your laces a certain way, or praying before hitting the field are all more routines than anything,even if they do have a flavour of superstition about them. No, what im talking about is more sporadic, and yet something that is seen very uniformly across teams and i suspect across cultures as well.

The reason i got to writing this is that we were very recently playing a match in which something curious happened. Our openers were batting, and the rest of the team was sitting in the spot on the ground which we had occupied the match before as well. Incidentally, the match before was a cakewalk for us, and we were carrying in confidence from that encounter. As the sun began to beat down on us, about half the team moved to a shadier location, and the rest stayed close to their kit bags. Around this time things started going downhill in our chase. what should have been a regulation chase, turned out to be a bit more 'interesting'. Our middle order got some exercise they were not expecting, and our short tail had to pad-up in a bit of a hurry.Although we got over the line, we had our hearts in our mouths for a bit. somewhere in between, our team management called us all to sit together, in the sunny spot, and we fell in without question. Nobody said it, but everyone was thinking, "shouldnt have gotten up in the first place!" Whats a little sun burn when compared to a tension free commanding win eh?

So im asking all of you; my 'cricketer ' friends, who hasn't experienced this? Who hasn't been glued to their seats during a budding partnership? Who hasn't stopped themselves from going to the bathroom even when they were bursting, just to make sure they are not d reason our team didn't get the win? Who wants to make sure that they do everything right, even the silly things, to feel the joy and relief in the end?

Like i said, if you are a cricketer, you know what im talking about..and you are smiling right now, and thinking about the time you chose superstition over a sunburn..