Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Art of Self Effacement

The Art of Relinquishing .

At a social club get together, my father and his cronies were discussing about the gen next. Almost all were  bragging about their respective children and their achievements. They were all well ensconced in their careers. My father was always a shade reticent. His concepts of doing 'well' were  a trifle different. He believed in being a complete man. A man who was not slave to convention, a man who dared to try, a man who took sole responsibility for whatever happened, a man with compassion and courage, a man who evolved continously, and who competed only with himself to aim higher, go further. A man who was magnanimity personified. A man who helped graciously and gracefully never belittling or reminding the recipient of his largesse. A man who religiously visited the remand home and taught the Guru Geeta to those children of a lesser God. A man with  a tall and imposing figure.
                His friends were really gloating about how their sons had made it big in their chosen careers.
His friends' faces and demeanors indicated a sense of pride, marvelling on their skills of parenting, flaunting their pedigree as it were.
My father was an achiever in his own right. Coming from a rather mofusil village from Konkan, he was totally self made, and had groomed himself over the years into a top level executive in the corporate world. When he decided to hang up his boots, almost all his friends and well wishers expected him to live a very sedate, tranquil, retired life. That was not his call. He set off all over again. He registered his own placement firm with barely 2 employees.
  A new beginning, in an area where not many  knew him. He had to start all over again. Almost everyone was rather critical of his venture or rather 'adventure'. My mother in her own inimitable tone responded with a  'How can I convince him to take it easy' look. After being at the pinnacle of corporate hierarchy for more than two decades, he effaced himself. He divested himself off his ego, identity, position almost overnight.
He would have to go to meet prospective clients. Often it could be the very people who waited outside his office when he was in the saddle. He would sit outside their offices patiently without any trace of discomfort. His self esteem was never subservient to any position or post. His happiness, joy de vivre was in working hard, sincerely and intelligently.
As a teenager, my father was a role model in many ways. He was very disciplined, never given to any vice, kept himself abreast by subscribing to Time and Newsweek, keeping company of well read and articulate people. He would goad me to  inculcate the good points of every person I came across. He honed me to become a collage of all the virtues that could be imbibed from successful people.
In the twilight years of his life, he taught me the art of deconstructing the very identity that he had so painstakingly sculpted.
My father finally made his point in the ongoing discussion with his friends.
"All parents teach their children to become someone. Its excruciatingly  difficult  to begin all over again as a nobody. Identities are great but if one  becomes a slave of that identity then the identity works to our detriment. The real Master  is one who can discard this cloak at will and yet identify with the true Self who exists independent of any robe.
I am trying to teach my Son  the art self effacement at the appropriate time. I hope he will master the Art  of being 'No One' which is much more difficult and important than the science of being Someone.

Dedicated to my father on the occasion of Father's Day.

The Inheritance

The Inheritance

All through my life, my relatives and friends were in awe of my father. He was a role model to many. Was highly educated, had a striking overbearing appearance,was self made, highly disciplined, intelligent, and sauve. He truly had a larger than life, gregarious exuberant personality that anyone would instantly get attracted to.
My mother was not so highly educated, but was gifted in the arts domain. She was almost a professional singer, was a talented artiste and painter, and above all a very efficient home maker. She brought us up in austerity, never belittled  my father's modest means when they both were setting up their lives. Her demeanor and attitude portrayed an abundance in frugality, affluence in austerity.
With the passage of time, as i made a career as a neurosurgeon, almost everyone insinuated  my academics and intelligence being the sole legacy of my father. As i started weilding the pen and contributing in the Speaking Tree column, everyone concluded that i had inherited this legacy from my father too. He was quite a prolific writer, and had written two books
' The Lighter Side of Management'  a satirical take on the corporate culture and then another more academic one titled " Knowledge Managment".
I did garner accolades and appreciation and felt very trite and smug with the inevitable comparisons to  my father.
In a lighter moment one day, my mother happened to express a trace of regret about not contributing  anything significant as a legacy from her side.
I really felt a trifle sad as i heard these words but it triggered my thought process in a totally different and rather tangential direction.
       As i reminisced about my childhood  i remembered my mother being very happy with the smaller pleasures of life. She never harboured any greed or lust for comforts, appliances or lifestyles of  the people around, which she did not have. She had an air of contentment, a realistic, grounded attitude that had the fragrance of happiness. She was very home proud and added that  intangible element to the nest, which makes all  the difference between house and home.  She never  gave my father any indication of inadequacy, financial or otherwise. She made all of us feel rich even at the end of the month when the finances were stretched thin. She convinced me effectively, the sheer wastefulness of buying new shoes when there was a small hole in the sole of the ones I was using. She was diplomatic and skillful in ensuring that we  never got the impression of living frugally. She always ensured that there was always enough of surplus food to go around for the unexpected visitor. Never heard  the sound of insufficency, the sound of scraping the bottom of the serving bowl. We were never affluent but her resourceful, and measured approach always ensured an inexhaustible supply of the necessities of life.
After those pensive and poignant moments, I caught my ageing mothers hand and told her that she had passed on the greatest gift as her legacy.  The gift of contentment. The  wisdom of knowing that  wealth was more than  affluent lifestyles, expensive attires or swollen bank balances. Wealth was a state of happiness and contentment which money could never afford. Wealth was the value system that made all of us conscientious and conpassionate. Wealth was a state of mind.
         I was left wondering  with doubts about what was a greater legacy.Was it the virtues and skills to acquire the means of prosperity or then a mindset that saw prosperity in whatever the means could afford.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The virtually virtual reality

I never expected this from him/her.We all have experienced these
'U wrecker' moments that wreck you. They reveal a totally unexpected dimension of  people whom we hitherto considered 'close' to us. In fact such acts or deeds by these purported 'close' persons forces us to close our association with them. The treachery remains in the mind as seething embers of self- persecution after the flames of anguish and anger have died down. We curse our own judgement and feel ashamed of our naivete. Eventually, we become suspicious of all our existing relationships and skeptical about future ones. The introspection process endeavors to look for the motive, identify any subtle provocation or inadvertent hurt caused by us. The Sherlock Holmes in us goes about investigating any possible instigation or whether we are victims of some conspiracy. The thought process goes on overdrive. The ripples of such misdemeanours travel far and long disturbing the still waters of the mind.
Judgement about our colleagues and close ones is  volatile. We have to concede the fact that their reality is also changing and that effects a change in them too. If our existence  itself is fleeting and transitory, expecting eternity in the nature of our close ones is preposterous.
This realisation makes us more forgiving and goes a long way in building up our equanimity. Our own responses, reactions might have appeared as unpalatable and intolerable on occasions. It's much  easier and convenient  to play the victim. We most certainly have played the oppressor without ever  being aware of it. Our aggression or intimidation would never be cognised by our own sensitivity sensors. Judging and categorizing the people around us is inevitable.
Our judgement and assessment too has an intrinsic bias. This bias distorts the true image. Our egos serve as lenses that modify and alter reality. Our social  conditioning, public perception, further adds to  this distortion
Based on these customised and distorted assumptions one forms a core view of reality. People in our lives serve as mirrors on which we base our view of the world and ourselves. We thereafter  cling to these views as a way of keeping our world (and ourselves) constant. Often taking full responsibility for our view of reality is beyond the intestinal fortitude of most people.
Categorising and judging people is  a fundamental reflex of our reality building machine. We need to know where the other person fits into our picture, so that we can know who we are and where we are. We wish this picture to be running smoothly and unchanged perpetually. .  It is extremely disturbing to break the fourth wall of our own consciousness. It causes extreme disorientation never knowing who we are and where we are. Dealing with an ever changing ,uncertain and unpredictable world is deeply unsettling for most people.A rude shock forces us to start the painstaking work of deconstructing our own reality tunnel.The resistance we go through from ourselves (and from others) during this process is very disconcerting and painful. The reality that we had assumed suddenly starts melting into a virtuality. The images that we have formed of people and our relationship with them is constantly being redmodelled. We assume reality to be constant and unchanging. We have to reconstruct a new reality. A reality that is constantly changing. A reality that is kaleidoscopic. A reality that lasts as long as this  present moment.
The  only reality is  a virtual virtuality.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Zen and the Art of Playing the Saxaphone

Zen and the art of playing the saxophone.

The sheen of the brass could have easily been mistaken for gold. As a child when i watched an artiste playing the saxophone, he appeared larger than life. I imagined him to have the most powerful lungs and breath holding capacity. There was a touch of surreality to not just the sound that emanated but to  the aesthetics, graceful curve and the ivory keys of the instrument.
It was probably an infatuation at a tender age but any kind of romance in childhood  has  the most profound and prolonged impact.
The fascination for the instrument in teenage years almost grew to an obsession on  seeing a matinee idol  flaunting the instrument effortlessly to woo the reluctant heroine. It added to his machismo and made his  appeal irresistible. Or so I thought considering my innate fondness for the instrument.
The many stories and rumours about the saxophone being the most difficult instrument to learn made me abandon all hope to  make any attempt to pursue my dream. Hearing solo renditions of the instrument in hotel lobbies or elevators only whetted my lust for the unattainable.
Limitations of any kind are most often self imposed and my giving up any hopes of playing the saxophone was no different.
      One fine day on an impulse I just drove down to music store and bought myself the instrument that had captured my imagination for so long. Taking a few tips about assembling the neck, the reed and the mouth piece I  began courting this beauty. Just the feel of the instrument as I hooked it in the harness made me feel ecstatic. The sounds that I emanated were a cacophony. So remote from those ethereal notes that I had imagined.  It was largely like travelling on uncharted territory. Almost like getting to know another person.
As I puffed and snorted like a bull into the mouthpiece all I got in return was a high pitched squeal. This was surely not the way i had seen the  more accomplished ones play. It couldn't be so painful and exhausting. One was supposed to clasp the mouth  piece between the upper teeth and the upcurled lower lip covering the lower teeth. The so called embouchere.
     As I ran my hands along the polished metallic contours I was filled with a sense of despair.
I had to keep blowing and changing the angle of how I held the instrument every time I tried. Each day was a similar experience. Blow hard,  catch my breath, restore  the contours of my ears drums and then keep the instrument aside and leave all further attempts  for another day.
One day as I was packing the  instrument into its case, an idea flashed across my mind. Almost a divine revelation.
I hurriedly reassembled the device and instead of taking a deep bite embouchere, I closed my mouth closer to the tip of the mouthpiece and drew the breath from the inner recesses of my lower abdomen.
The sound that emerged was certainly sounding like a note. I quickly positioned my fingers as instructed and lo behold !
The notes were distinct and clear as I lifted my fingers one by one. The exhilaration was indescribable. The most fundamental lesson of getting the embouchere right was at best - serendipitous.
         As the cacophony and noise was being replaced by more coherent notes I realised the importance of technique. Technique is what enhances the mechanical advantage. Skill is  optimal deployment of force and effort. Some  are blessed with skills congenitally whilst the lesser fortunate ones have to strive to acquire them.
As my interaction  increased it decreased the intimidation by the instrument  and soon I was looking forward to the  practice sessions.  I was warned by many that it would be nigh impossible to learn this instrument without learning the chords and notes. The sharps, flats, major and minors always were confusing and I realised that I was incapable of familiarising myself with this musical jargon.
      Approach to learning can be either classical or romantic. The classical approach is method based. A series of sequential chronological steps that eventually  become established  neuronal circuits in the brain. A left brain phenomenon.
The romantic approach is one that makes learning  a process of forgetting ones inabilities. It is not necessarily the outcome of any sequential protocols. The beauty of this approach is that it is unique for each one. A path that each one makes for oneself. It has a spontaneity and a novelty. A process of discovery. It is not incremental and dawns as a realisation. A right brain phenomenon that is more intuitive than inquisitive.
Getting the appropriate note by deploying the correct embouchure and blowing from deep within is just the beginning.
All music starts in the mind. Each note with all the attributes of the tone, pitch, amplitude, sustain etc is first sounded in the mind. Using this  reference point one goes about co-ordinating the finger placement, the grip on the mouth piece and the intensity of blowing. When the sound emerges a real time comparison of the emerged sound with the reference manual of the mental note happens before the next note is contemplated upon. The mind splits into parts. One part that assesses the emerged note, one part constructs the mental image of the next note, one part determines how the fingers ought to be manipulated, as another part  subtlely reminds to take the next breath. The fragmentation of one's conscious intelligence and the delegation of responsibility to  each part is the beginning of Zen. The Zen-narrative mentions a realisation that is a "special transmission outside scriptures which does not stand upon words"
      This fragmentation is still based on a fundamental underlying unity of one's consciousness. This intellectual symphony is above all continually observed  by an impersonal consciousness. The "Witness". This impersonal witness remains non judgemental.This fragmentation process becomes more cohesive and  the process of playing successive notes becomes smoother. Each step merges imperceptibly into the other and one approaches the  Zen moment. This moment is the most ecstatic. At this moment all premeditation, deliberation fragmentation disappears and is replaced by a spontaneous effortless synchronicity. Like the pleasure the child gets when he turns back to see no one is holding the seat anymore, the  peddling continues and the away cycle speeds along. Holding the balance while cycling is a realisation. Its not knowledge. It's a state of mind. The sound becomes a kind of symphony.
There are two different ways of understanding and actually practicing Zen. These two different ways are termed in Chinese pen chueh and shih-chueh respectively. The term pen chueh refers to the belief that one’s mind is from the beginning of time fully enlightened, while shih-chueh refers to the belief that at some point in time we pass from imprisonment in ignorance and delusion to a true vision of Zen realization: “Our enlightenment is timeless, yet our realization of it occurs in time.”
I experienced  this Shih-chueh moment playing the saxophone. The realisation that I all along knew how to play this instrument and my inability to play it was merely my imaginary ignorance.

Deepak Ranade



Serendipity is a chance stumbling upon a new idea, rather accidentally. This term was first coined by Horace Walpole in 1754. It was with reference to  a Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip who were “always making discoveries, accidentally and unexpectedly  of things which they were not in quest of.
Evolution of scientific thought and ideas is replete with a number of such Eureka moments. These momentous flashes of enlightenment have a touch of serendipity. They can't be explained as a logical outcome of sequential thinking. They are maverick moments that at first have a whiff of anti conformism. They have a spontaneity that's bereft of flexing any intellectual muscle. In retrospect one realises that they actually pushed the frontiers of prevailing concepts and ideologies.
The incredible thought experiments proposed by Einstein at the iconic "Copenhagen interpretation " are truly stunning. This genius proposed concepts like Entanglement way ahead of his times even when he had scarce modalities and resources to actually verify his hypotheses. The EPR paradox was a  critique levelled against the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.  Albert Einstein and his colleagues Boris Podolsky and Nathan Rosen(known collectively as EPR) designed a thought experiment which revealed discrepancies in  the accepted formulation of quantum mechanics. This hypothesis had a consequence which looked unreasonable at the time. The thought experiment incredibly  described a  phenomenon that is now known as quantum entanglement.
The Vedas are considered by many as a similar flash of realisation that occurred to the rishis in their meditative state.
This kind of enlightening is termed as "Aparoksha Gyaan" or knowledge acquired  without the intervention of any medium.
This knowledge is almost  a celestial handout to the ripe and prepared mind. The human intellect is traditionally classified into two broad categories.
"Tarka Pradnya" and "Antah Pradnya". The former or Tarka Pradnya is logic based intellect whist the latter or Antah Pradnya is the innate intrinsic intellect. It's the substrate with which divinity gets Entangled. This coupling is termed serendipity in common parlance. Serendipity does not occur to the unprepared mind. It is effectively a kind of resonance with divinity. A  concerted effort, a quasi obsessive single minded dedication  (tapascharya) is a precondition for creating this resonance with divinity.
       Masterpieces in creative art forms like music, literature, painting are also testimony to similar trysts with divinity. They are euphemistically termed ' inspiration'. These moments are characterised by a fleeting sense of  transcending the self. Awareness expands from the personal frame to a much larger canvas.
     Recently, a neurological basis for this perplexing phenomenon has emerged. It was observed that the capacity of consciously processing visual stimuli increases significantly when the observation of the outside world is not guided by precisely defined expectations. In particular, the brain produces an enhancement of the level of consciousness amplifying and extending, in the secondary visual cortex. (An area situated at the back of the head around the primary visual cortex)
“Serendipity seems, therefore, to occur when the attention of an active observer is not tied up, based on the experience of past events consciously perceived, to precisely defined expectations of incoming sensory inputs,” explained the scientist Fabrizio Doricchi, coordinator of the study conducted in Rome. It probably indicates a mindset that's not biased and is in a deprogrammed state. It might just  be a ' quantum resonance 'with the universal consciousness. A realisation when the consciousness sees with the 'Third Eye'

Dr. Deepak M Ranade

Age of Innocence

The School Reunion

As we ambled up the drive way to the school on the auspices of a 35 year reunion, my mind was filled with a sense of nostalgia. The tall trees and the impressive building looked resplendent and yet not as intimidating as they used to back then.  As school children the buildings, the playgrounds and the entire campus loomed large. Those were times when one was timid. Times when one felt very small and vulnerable. This state of being diminutive  seemed to have magnified everything. Even minor indiscretions filled the young mind with  trepidation. The erudite priests in their cassocks lent an air of immorality to minor acts of truancy. They were  moral high priests who bestowed sanctity to the process of learning.
 Amidst this wave of nostalgia I was wondering why Schooling left such an indelible mark in my life? Was it the  because of the imposing structure and the ambience? Was it a residual  sense of pride of belonging to a tribe with a high  pedigree? Or carrying on the legacy of cult?
  As all batchmates started appearing for the occasion I could feel a surge of warmth coursing my blood. Time could only distort the container. The content was unchanged. Nicknames tumbled back into the memory as did the associated anecdotes. Those days of the languishing in the hot sun doing the most purposeless drills of mass PT, getting reprimanded for seemingly trivial acts of indiscipline played out as clearly as watching a movie.
I then realised that during those times my mind was so impressionable and absorbed each event like a sponge. It was not cluttered with any anxieties, worries about the future. There was an innocence that recorded each event without any bias. There was faith and trust that was totally malleable. A naivete that was pristine and unblemished.
Each event no matter how insignificant had a disproportionate impact. Not having completed the homework was an act of heresy. Failing in a test spelt doom.
 Happiness was popping a peppermint (bullls eye we used to call it) during class deftly avoiding the prying eyes of the teacher. Evil was restricted to pushing someone aside to get into the school bus, or fabricating a tale for not having completed the homework. Happiness was  sharing a snack from the 'dabba', reading Tintin in the lunch break, or even wearing a new pair of shoes to school.
Joy was unconditional. It was bereft of expectations, dependence. Friends were never categorised or stratified on basis of caste or creed. The mind was totally unbiased with an abysmally low threshold for contentment.
 As schoolmates we all shared these moments with an open mind filled only by a joy de vivre, fun and frolic. There wasn't a trace of malevolence or jealousy towards one another.
I quietly wondered when and how did my concept of happiness and joy mutate ? When did the recipe for  happiness become so complex?
 When did the scourge of status, position,wealth imperceptibly distort my perception? Did "maturity" mean losing my ability to find happiness in the smaller joys of life?
  As the evening progressed and the party livened up,a classmate slapped me on my back and everyone burst out in peals of laughter over a lewd joke.
I was rather rudely brought back to the present and although I painted my face with a sham smile, I gently turned away and wiped off that lonely tear. Probably homage paid on the  demise of "The age of innocence"

Legacy - An anachronism

Is cultural legacy an anachronism?

       The American declaration of Independence in  1776 was a benchmark in the evolution of mankind. It was a charter that asserted the value of equality and independence. It heralded the birth of a new religion. A religion with no legacy, but nonetheless a religion that dreamt, justified and facilitated the pursuit of Happiness.
Abraham Lincoln made it the centerpiece of his rhetoric and his policies. Since then, it has become a well-known statement on human rights, particularly its second sentence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
      Since its inception the American philosophy was free of any cultural baggage. Tradition and Culture are only as relevant as the times they are practiced. "Freedom from bondage" was as applicable to any restrictive culture, as it was to slavery. The birth of a new order was a cultural epiphany that legitimised indulgence and sanctified opulence provided they were the product of hard work. This religion taught it's followers the virtues of thinking big.
Liberty Equality and Fraternity that were the highlights of the French Revolution across the Atlantic were suffixed by America with "Faster Higher and Stronger". This society unabashedly pushed the limits of human endeavor and redefined social hierarchy based on success and wealth that was self earned. Dynasties were not lineage based. Fortunes were created, not transfered. Ayn Rand eulogised selfishness.
Rand advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge. She ostracised  faith and religion. She preached  ethical egoism, and rejected altruism. A new age philosophy  "laissez-faire "-capitalism based on recognizing individual rights was ushered in.
A religion that did not promise  heaven in after life. It promised a heaven in this life. Just that one had to create it oneself. A religion that preaches  to dream and prods to realise it. A breeze of a new world order that fanned the embers of creativity and ingenuity. A philosophy and belief that was more physical less metaphysical. A culture that did not promise the stars but rather strove to reach for them.
An ideology   that was brutally honest and accepted that the Emperor was indeed naked. An ideology that chose to drape the Emperor rather than debate on his non-existent wardrobe.
Opulent lifestyle was not anathema so long as one worked for it. Size did matter and bigger was better. Abundance had a flip side but it reigned in a need of self restraint. Restraint was not a subject of the state and did not need legislation. A society that evolves despite being spoilt for choices.Gratification has to be transcended and not avoided. Philanthropy was proactive , a by product of indulgence. It was based on true compassion and not morality based. It was not reaction based, to generate positive Karma for successive births. Renunciation based on depravity never liberates. Renunciation post indulgence does. The monk could drive the Ferrari or sell it. He sold it. But after driving it.