The Siblings

It was on the treadmill a few days ago that I found the quiet time to ponder the Christmas vacation that had just passed.  It was a song by Paul McCartney that was playing in the background that seemed to help build up my mood.  My siblings and I seem to have a good thing going, and it was was a silly love song that brought emphasis to the way I was feeling.

The three of us arrived in the US in the 1980s as graduate students.198687Over time, we began to develop our roots in the country. We started having families.  We have been meeting each other during Christmas time ever since we got here, starting to do this more regularly in the 1990s.   At first, it was not something that was considered particularly important, but it did become a part of our lives, and by the turn of the century, it was already a ongoing tradition.   It takes something very significant, some event with higher priority, for us to miss such a gathering these days.  And even if one of us cannot be there, the others make it a point to get together.  And along the way, over the years, the group that started out as the basic unit of three has grown in its size, with families, extensions of the family, and children – many, many children!  And the bond between us has grown stronger as we keep the tradition going.

Those of us who were young at one time have now progressed into middle age, and a smaller subset of us are already well into the process of passing the ownership of the charge into the future on to others – those who have grown into their own.  Youngsters have grown up and developed their own personalities, and their sense of being, all the time feeling the love from the extended family.   And then there are the younger ones who are still in the process of coming into their own, showing the promise, and that sense of caring.  They are following in the track of their older cousins.  The future is in their hands.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe, the siblings, for some reason or the other, remain an essential element in this slowly expanding group.  It is a place we occupy joyfully.  And I celebrate every moment of it because I am not sure how long this will continue.

We are not very good at coming to a decision about where we will meet any particular year.  Very often, things happen hurriedly at the last minute, but it does happen.   People are able to come to a consensus quickly once the process gets going, and further plans for these trips are in the works pretty soon after that.   There is really no agenda that any particular person wishes to push hard.  So things have been going smoothly thus far.  And love is in the air as people once again reconnect, spend time with each other, and renew their bonds.  Other than a couple of birthdays, and the Christmas celebration, there is nothing significant planned during these trips these days.   But even those few events we celebrate together take on additional significance every year.

Very often, we tend to gather on the seashore.  We can go to the beach, or chill out by the pool, or read a book, or play cards, or listen to music, or go for a walk or a run, or take pictures of the sunrise or sunset.  We can have time to ourselves, or organically congregate into little groups that wander off for walks and catch-up time.  Any time of day is good for some of these activities.  It is all mellow!  Someone or the other seems to step up to take care of the needs.  Cooking dinners is what seems to require the most planning these days, but there may already be a new tradition underway in this regard.

At this time in my life, I am content to push back and watch the action, and the love and fellowship that is shared when we gather in our little corner of the world at the end of the year, where ever that may be.  I do not have to worry, and I just am.

It would take a lot for me to miss this one of these events these days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Mountains Are Calling

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Canyonlands National Park, Utah

There is something about the nature of the hills and the mountains that has drawn me to them over the years.  I am not sure how this happened.  My first remembrance of such feelings was when I would visit my aunt and her family in the hills of the Western Ghats in Kerala.  From the front porch of their house, in what was then the little village of Dhoni, one could see a hilltop that was untouched by development.  We, the children that we were, made one or two explorations into the hills, trying to follow the informal trails that other like-minded people had created over time.

Years later, I still feel like reliving that feeling, and that moment in time, but the world has probably changed in the meantime for the people of Dhoni and Palakkad.  Also near my aunt’s house was another forested hilltop which was a part of the forest reserve lands of the State of Kerala.  I never made it there, but it has always been a part of my imagination.  I am not sure exactly what lay there, and what remains now.

It was only as a graduate student that I was finally able to actually respond to the call of the hills.  We were able to drive from the university to the Bear Mountain area in New York State for day hikes.  About four or five miles of hiking and we would be completely exhausted because we were completely out of shape.  But it felt really great, especially relaxing with a bottle or two of beer after the whole effort.

And then there was the downhill skiing that I discovered when in graduate school.  When you are standing on top of the mountain – with the wide open snow-covered slopes lined with evergreens in front of you, with a panoramic view of the landscape all around, with the little chalet that is your destination way, way, down below you, you are in a kind of heaven on earth.  As you prepare to launch yourself off the flat top and on to the slope, you take a measure of the nature of the challenge, and the slope that you are about the conquer. As you start your way down the hill, the exhilaration  increases to the next level.  You have a smile on your face and you are whooping with happiness as you speed downhill (carefully!) – even as the icy cold wind blows across your face and freezes the tears that flow from your eyes.

I ski very rarely these years – there is a chance that the joints will not take the pounding.  But I am absolutely certain that if I were to get to the top of that hill on my skis the feeling of happiness will be renewed instantly, even if it is for a short while.  It would be as if I was experiencing all of the thrill of skiing, and of the mountaintop, once again for the first time.

I was diagnosed with CAD many years ago, and at that time I had to undergo a couple of procedures to address the problem.  A good friend from childhood called me then to chat and cheer me up.  We were talking about possible restrictions on my lifestyle in the future, and he mentioned, somewhat jokingly, that perhaps I would not be able to climb  mountains like the Himalayas in the future.  My response was – why not?!  My response was not based on reality, but even if I do not make it to the Himalayas themselves, there are plenty of other doable challenges all over the world.

Meanwhile, the mountains continue to call.  Every time I see a picture of a mountain, I wonder if there is a way to get to the top.  (And I mean get to the top on foot!  Driving a car to the top of a mountain, however high the mountain may be, is not as much fun!)  And every single time I go to a national park, I get the urge to see and experience that trail in the park that can lead to the top of its highest peak.  Of course, that does not happen most of the time these days due to many reasons.  And even I know the risks of trying to tackle a trail like the Angel’s Landing Trail in Zion National Park.  (I do have a natural fear (perhaps healthy) of narrow open spaces at great heights.  My knees get weak even looking at the pictures!)

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Bright Angel Trail, North Rim, Grand Canyon

But the good thing is that I am still able to hike today. And I can walk a trail, and climb the hills, for miles and miles – to get to the highest destination, that mountain top where my expansive view of the world awaits.

I have to continue to answer the call of the mountaintop until I am physically unable.

The Paper Shredder

My first encounter with a paper shredder was at my first place of work.  It did not take too long for me,  a person who had just become a full-time working stiff, to figure out that the device could also fit nicely into my, then still nascent, ideas for managing paperwork at home.

Consumer models for paper shredders have been around for many years.  Since it is a mechanical device that suffers constant wear and tear, I have run through and destroyed many of them over the years. And then, recently, I encountered an industrial strength paper shredder at my brother’s place, a shredder that was capable of shredding over 20 pages at a time! And I felt a little “shredder envy!”   Further contemplation on the topic of paper shredders continued at home later as I was getting rid of a whole lot of papers using my relatively itsy-bitsy paper shredder.  I considered how my structured use of this device over the years had ended up being a reflection on my general approach to the organization of things in life in general.

These days I use a paper shredder mostly to get rid of old paper documentation that I feel is not needed anymore.  I have a tendency to keep documents for a certain amount of time and then discard them as more recent versions of those documents make it into my paper filing system.  The nature of these documents in itself would say a lot about my personality.  I know a lot of people  would not even think about saving the kinds of information I do on paper, and even if they did save such information, doing so in a process similar to mine.

You may ask, why not just throw away this stuff.  Why shred?  In fact, I would have discarded things of this nature directly in the recycling bin in the past, but I prefer to use the shredder first these days to make sure that some of the more sensitive documents do not fall into the wrong hands by mistake. It has become a habit to shred almost everything.

What are the kinds of things I tend to save?  Some of them are historical in the context of personal and family life. These could perhaps have some kind of sentimental and nostalgic value going forward.  I have stuff in the basement from when I went to graduate school. I have kept both notebooks and textbooks. I don’t know how much longer I will keep them.  I have many other books, both works for fiction and non-fiction, that I will probably not read again, but which I hesitate to get rid of at this point.  One still saves letters and notes of different kinds from the past if they were special.  This kind of material, in general, tends not to be discarded.  Then I have the financial stuff which stays with me because of my tendency to try to be organized, sometimes excessively so.  I try to do as much as I can to minimize uncertainty.  Then there are the other important documents related to the official business of managing life here in the US in general – information about all kinds of accounts, benefits, taxes, insurance, etc…

I do tend to balance this tendency of mine to accumulate stuff that may or may not be useful in the future with the realization at some point or the other along the line that I may never look at this some of this stuff.   The first thing that got discarded on a mass scale in my life were the hundreds of journals and  technical papers from the early years of my career.  In retrospect, I think I had the good sense to realize the uselessness of storing this stuff even early in my career.  I had moved on.

As I mentioned before, many official documents end up going through my shredder after being saved for a certain period of time in a filing system that may be difficult for others to figure out.  Different kinds of documents also survive in this filing system for different periods of time that I decide, many times somewhat arbitrarily, and then they get shredded.

While the purpose of saving most of my documents in paper form is to make sure I have the information contained in them if and when needed, the reality is that I seldom look at these documents.  There is some other mental process going on, perhaps a sense of  security that may or may not be justified, that causes me to put things away for possible use in the future.   Besides, these days, one can also archive most of this information on the computer, perhaps “forever”, with relatively less concern about use of storage space.  But I have reached a certain comfort zone at this point in life with what I am doing. One falls back to the processes that have kept you going.  I continue with my system of organization and the use of the paper shredder.

The process of shredding can actually give you a good feeling of completion, and of moving on, when you are done with it.  If you can physically complete a task to the satisfying sounds of the shredder, then it is truly over!  A physical action has been taken from which there is no retreat.   The sound of the machine when it is in action is also a satisfying one.  In the end, you feel you are rid of the old (even if it is not really true), and you move on to the next item on your list.  There is some sense of satisfaction.  It has become a comforting habit.

The kicker in all of this is that I am also pretty good at saving most of the above information on my computer.  And there are other places to go to grab some of this information even I do not have it on myself all the time.  So, perhaps, the utility of most of what I am doing and achieving is questionable.  But this kind of a feeling is also true of a lot of other things we do in life.  Que sera sera..OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

The Unexpected Experiences

We had arrived in Florence, AL, the previous evening for a weekend event, and had spent the night in a hotel room beside the highway.  We woke up early (considering the local time) because of the difference in longitude between the place we were visiting and our home (which we had departed the previous morning).  We had traveled in a south westerly direction the previous day.   I raised the shades covering the window pane just to take a look outside. This is what I saw. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sky was an optimal mix of purple and orange and shades in-between, with the clouds at different locations in the sky passing through different frequencies of the color spectrum.   I quickly pulled up a pair of pants, grabbed my camera, and dashed out of the front door of the hotel to get another view that would hopefully not be blocked by something in front of me.  By the time I got to a clear location, the moment was gone.  This was what I saw.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAConsider the different elements that came together for me to have this experience.  First of all, I had to open up the shades of the window at the proper moment in time when the sun was at the position that it was in relative to that location on the planet.  Secondly, the window to the room that we were staying in had to be facing east so that I would indeed see the event. (Being on the third floor of the hotel also helped.)  Thirdly, the cloud formation had to be right for me to get a glimpse of all those colors.  I would probably have not enjoyed this experience if any one of the three elements had been out of place.

Some may be tempted to invoke divine intervention as the cause for the circumstances of this experience. But if this had indeed  been a set up, I would consider it a partial screw-up – at the moment when the sunrise was at its best, I could only view it through the branches of a tree, and by the time I got to a location where I could get a better view,  that moment was over.  But perhaps the screw-up was also purposeful, eh?!  We can go on and on…

Best to take it as it comes and try to be prepared for the unexpected experiences, both good and bad.

Cruelty and Injustice

Some of us have enough spare time on our hands to ruminate about what goes on around us in this world, sometimes without any “education” or any formal process that forms the basis for our lines of thinking.  I know it is a waste of time, but there is something intriguing about the search.  I have enough time on my hands that I even created this blog a few weeks ago musing about what it is all about.

But sometimes, when you see what is going on around you in the real world in real time, you can be shaken out of this somewhat disconnected and disjointed state of mind, the state of mind where you feel like generally talking about things in the abstract.  There is specificity. And your mind screams – really, is this what we are capable of?  Events that can evoke that kind of a response are happening all around us all the time. There are certain aspects of human reality, and of the nature of human unkindness, that make you want to scream – what is wrong with us?  Is it our true nature to be cruel and unjust?  Does it take a truly supreme effort for us to get away from our basic instincts?  I fear that this could be the real truth.

I do believe that if I were left to my own devices I would end up revealing the true nature of the cruelty that I myself am capable of.  I can sense it in myself, feel it lurking somewhere in the background. And I know that I have even revealed this innate element of my character to people who I have interacted with all my life.  Family, friends, relatives, and even other creatures of this earth (watch that mouse that you have trapped, or the cockroach that you have squashed, die!), have experienced it. A process of learning, forgiveness, and maybe even forgetting, can perhaps help deal with this state of being, especially as you age, but the process never ends, and some memories never go away.

But does one not have to at least try to learn that because of the nature of this society that we inhabit, because of the nature of this interconnected and interdependent world that we have built up, we need to at least try rise to a different level, and we need to work to uplift everybody around us, not just ourselves, in order to survive?  Could being good also not make you feel good?

I am in this frame of mind because of a story I read in the newspaper yesterday.  This is not an isolated story. Cruelty and injustice happens everywhere and everyday. Most of these stories do not affect us directly, but I tend to have a gut reaction and respond sometimes when hearing such stories.  Here is one such reaction I had in the past.  We can try to close our eyes because something does not affect us directly, but ultimately these things say a lot about us, and what we are willing to accept.

If you are inclined to follow the link I provided but are not inclined to read the entire article, the videos will provide you a shorter synopsis of what this particular story is all about.