Starting Over

Discovering myself, my family and friends in a foreign land, second time around


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About books

What-Now-3dI have always been amazed by commencement speeches made by famous people at colleges all across America. Amazed because they are personal and inspirational, but also because they are crafted so well. Many cover similar themes. Most sound unique. The best ones are by writers I admire.

How wonderful to live the life of a writer, utterly convinced from a young age that the purpose of your life is to write. When words arise from a deep sense of commitment to a goal, they have depth and provide insight. Writers use words to give shape to their thoughts and the writing life gives meaning to their words. Words then, are not just what they use to make a living, but make a life.

In “What now” the speech by Ann Patchett at Sarah Lawrence college, there are several themes that resonate with me.

About life:

Just because things hadn’t gone the way I had planned didn’t necessarily mean they had gone wrong.”

About the past and present:

Coming back is the thing that enables you to see how all the dots in your life are connected, how one decision leads you another, how one twist of fate, good or bad, brings you to a door that later takes you to another door, which aided by several detours–long hallways and unforeseen stairwells–eventually puts you in the place you are now.”

About the future and how we can always dream of doing more, doing better:

“What now is not just a panic-stricken question tossed into a dark unknown. What now can also be our joy. It is a declaration of possibility, of promise, of chance. It acknowledges that our future is open, that we may well do more than anyone expected of us, that at every point in our development we are still striving to grow.”

One statement that Ann has made about writing that reassures me as an amateur writer is

“Only a few of us are going to be willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagination for the stark disappointment of words.

Such is the life of a true writer.

http://annpatchett.com

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I prefer vision

woman-531212_640I am at an age where I have to admit that sometimes reading fine print becomes difficult. Let me be honest, reading regular print is a challenge these days. When presented with a large print edition of a book, I happily take that one. After all, for a voracious book worm like me, the ultimate punishment is to stay away from my beloved books

Call it vanity, arrogance or plain stupidity but I am reluctant to get reading glasses. I still read a lot more than most people I know but I am reading less than what I used to. Some days are better than others and so I carry on, refusing to bite the bullet and buy those dreaded glasses that would alleviate my discomfort.  It is possible that there will be a day when I have to capitulate but I would like to delay it as long as I can. I have managed for the last three years thanks to daily eye exercises that are supposed to strengthen the eye muscles and reverse the aging process. Doing this makes me feel a little bit in control, fully aware that nature marches in only one direction – forward.

Growing older has its rewards. Perhaps with failing eyesight, there is compensation in the form of vision. We often use the words interchangeably, equating the action of a sense organ to the ability to look deeper, further into an unknown future, seeing it happen before others can. Is it age that makes this possible? Or experience? Or self-knowledge which then translates into wisdom? Vision is not the power to predict the future but sensing of what is ahead in the maze of life without having a map. It is an internal compass that guides but does not give a recipe. Vision is what builds value in the long term regardless of losses that may happen in the interim. Vision does not necessarily come with age, some are blessed at a young age. As I lament the decline of my eyesight, I yearn for vision. If the natural consequence of growing older is acquisition of vision, I happily accept the terms of aging.

In the words of Helen Keller “It is a terrible thing to see but have no vision.”


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Wish I had written that

I came across Phyllis Theroux’s memoir The Journal Keeper earlier this year.

Her words about her mother and her new life as a divorced mom of three children gave me inspiration and a desire to put down my thoughts in a time of personal transition.

Here I would like to share some of the gems and a video link to the interview with the author.

About mothers/mothering

When I think about why people have children, I realize how little it should have to do with the future. If, before any children were conceived, we knew that our reward for raising them would be perhaps several phone calls a month, a very occasional visit, and the sense of having once been important in their lives, we might not do it. But if we realize that the rewards are given during the raising, we will calculate the cost differently. My children have taught me more than I have taught them, given me more joy than I have given them, and their not being present or even much aware of me now does not alter this.

About love

One of the strongest illusions in life is that another person’s love will liberate us. The illusion is hard to let go of, even when one lover after another has disappeared, because while they are present they do set us temporarily “free”. We do feel as if we are more talented and lovable and then they turn away and stop loving us, and we realize how much our balloon depended upon their hot air.


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About books

last lectureThe story behind one book that sits in my bookshelf is a mystery.

“The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch seemed to mysteriously appear among my books one day. I remember packing up all the books from the home I had rented for five years and unpacking the boxes in my very first apartment. I was thrilled to finally live in a place that legally belonged to me. The book seemed to be a bonus from the universe, a welcome gift for a momentous occasion.

While many have watched the lecture on youtube, I read the book first. I shared the book with DQ when she was fourteen, not sure if it was too morbid or too preachy. She read it like many of my other recommendations. And I know it made an impression on her.

Why do I like the book?

  1. Randy’s gratitude and humility

I won the parent lottery,” he says right at the beginning, grateful for his luck at being born to his parents and their impact on his life.

One particular line that DQ often paraphrases, taking a dig at me, is something Randy’s mother says after he gets his Ph.D., “This is my son. He’s a doctor, but not the kind who helps people.”

  1. Randy’s intense desire to influence his students and his children

When DQ pushes back after I repeat the same instructions or advice ten thousand times, I feel like giving up.

Then I quote from the book –“When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.”

I want her to know I will not give up on her. Ever.

  1. Randy’s faith in humanity

Some days it seems that everything I do is wrong – nothing seems to bring about the desired result, no one seems to care. At such times, Randy’s words help.

If you wait long enough, people will surprise and impress you. Almost everybody has a good side. Just keep waiting. It will come out.

To me, the book serves as a reminder that I don’t have to wait till the end to figure out the lessons from my life.

By examining my life as it happens and writing it down, I am trying to leave behind a legacy for my children after I am gone. It is my way of doing what Randy emphasized: Kids- more than anything else-need to know their parents love them. Their parents don’t have to be alive for that to happen.


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About books

Alcehmist“We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment. It is a little parenthesis in eternity.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I borrowed The Alchemist from a colleague. Mohan was a project manager by day and poet by night. Our daily reality involved project milestones but our lunch-time conversations veered towards spiritual topics. Although Mohan was several years younger, he had the demeanor of a wise old soul. With a published book of Hindi poetry, he had a proven track record of distilling the divine from the mundane. I was a scientist by training and an aspiring writer with a few articles that had been received well by the Indian diaspora during the year before I met Mohan.

We shared an appreciation for the written word. Together we tackled questions like “What is the purpose of life?” Trying to find answers in Hindu mythology, ancient religious texts, contemporary literature and everyday life.

The journey and its denouement as described by Paulo Coelho brought home a fundamental truth. We move through life because that is the nature of life itself. The final destination may be staring at you in the face but the arc of our life as we embark on our journey, shapes us and determines not just its quality but also its value.

The week after I returned the book to Mohan, my parents gifted me a copy.

Mohan then suggested Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Another character, another story set closer to home but at its heart, a tale of a seeker. Whether it is material treasure or spiritual fulfillment, both books deal with the eternal human quest for meaning.

These books are small paperbacks, without striking cover art or blurbs. But they occupy a special place in my bookshelf. And offer solace when I need it. I would say they impart wisdom but I have to agree with Herman Hesse –siddhartha

“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else. Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”


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Wish I had written that

the-faraway-nearbySomething wonderful happens to you and you instantly look back over your life and see it as a series of fortunate events stretching off into the distance like mountain peaks. Something terrible happens and your life has always been a litany of woe. The present rearranges the past. We never tell a story whole because a life isn’t a story; it’s a whole Milky Way of events and we are forever picking out constellations from it to fit who and where we are.

– Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

http://rebeccasolnit.net/book/the-faraway-nearby/


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About books

prophetI left behind my book collection when I moved to Singapore last year. I owned half a dozen bookshelves of various sizes, a tall one from Ikea with glass doors, another that could be folded into a plank, twin small ones that aged at different rates. The one in DQ’s room used to have Enid Blyton schoolgirl books, the Nancy Drew series, Gerald Durrell and such which later made room for Percy Jackson and Hunger Games boxed sets. I gave away the books that DQ had outgrown and the ones that I did not plan to read again. Most of my books lie in boxes, stored in a dark corner of my apartment in India that is now home to another family.
In this series, I would like to share my thoughts on some of the books that I own, books I revisit for their wisdom or simply for the pleasure of reading those beautiful passages again. When I pick up the book, I am transported back to the day I read it for the first time. When I read it, I am amazed at what the same words mean to me today. The book is as important as the story behind it.

The Prophet

by

Kahlil Gibran

Gibran’s masterpiece, first published over 90 years ago, continues to breathe wisdom into my life. Its beauty lies in its brevity. The insights that Gibran offers through the words of the prophet into everyday life situations are ageless.

The Prophet was a going away gift from Alan, a colleague, when I left the USA to return to India. Alan had been brought up in Trinidad and was an indophile. I brought him Indian food, he introduced me to books by Naipual. On the first page of the slim hardcover book in his neat handwriting, he wished me well on my new journey and said he had every confidence that “it will all unfold as it should.”

Neither of us could foresee the tremendous changes that lay ahead of me in my home country but the words of The Prophet have always reassured me, whether it was work or marriage, love or children on my mind. It has been my teacher who is always within reach.

On teaching

No man can reveal to you aught

but that which already lies half asleep

in the dawning of your knowledge.

 

The teacher who walks

in the shadow of the temple,

among his followers,

gives not of his wisdom

but rather of his faith

and his lovingness.

 

If he is indeed wisediyas 1

he does not bid you

enter the house of his wisdom,

but rather leads you

to the threshold of your mind.

Like a wise teacher, The Prophet helps me find the strength I need, within me.

Thank you Alan. I will continue to light a diya for you each year at Diwali.