How to slow down time?

Dear Readers,

It has been a long time since I wrote anything and we last got in touch. There was so much to write about but I never got around to doing it. There are so many Liberia stories which still need to be told. In addition, my life has seen lot of change in the 2.5 years since the last post. I have had a beautiful daughter who is a source of eternal joy to me and my wife and I left my job to start a new company. Changing diapers while trying to figure out the nuts & bolts of building a company and while steadily going bankrupt is a highly fun, stressful and chaotic activity. It has been fun to do conference calls discussing plans for world conquest with a wailing baby in one hand providing background soundtrack. I feel that I can legitimately claim to have some idea of the life of a single mom. In short, life in the last 2 years has not been short of drama and things to write about but the mental space has certainly been in short supply.

Anyhow, I am hoping to change it and start writing more. The posts now are going to be more diverse in character and draw upon my experiences as an entrepreneur and a dad. They are going to be less about far away places and more about the far away states of mind that lie within us. With that long backgrounder, let us get started.

As I spend my days running after my daughter, Kamakshi, it is fun to notice and think about the differences between the life of an adult and a child. We, the adults, keep talking about meditation and esoteric terms like ‘mindful living’ as ways to deal with daily stresses. Most often we don’t really know what ‘mindful living’ actually means or how to go about it. When I look at my child, I suddenly understand what ‘mindful living’ is. She has no conception of yesterday or tomorrow and spends no time thinking about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow. She is fully engaged in the world around her right now, be it the Northern Cardinal or Koel cooing in the background or the fire brigade passing by. Running after a fluttering butterfly or watching a caterpillar eat a leaf is a source of tremendous joy. A few days ago when we went out in our backyard in Florida, she showed me a black & yellow grasshopper. I had never seen that grasshopper before and after she showed me one, I suddenly realized that our backyard was full of them. http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/orn/lubber.htm. It actually shocked me and I realized how much life is around us, living right under our nose, but we never even see it. That is when I realized that the child actually lives in this world while we, the adults, live in our minds. ‘Mindful living’ is nothing but beginning to live like a child and engage with our natural world and the here and now and disengage with our incessant chattering mind.

The engagement of Kamakshi with the world led me to think about the paradox of how long and vivid our childhood seems to be and how life suddenly speeds up when we become adults. Growing up from 5 to 15 feels like forever but you go from 30 to 40 in the blink of an eye. (I admit to crossing the 40 mark and am still surprised how quickly i got there). Every year from 5-15 is etched in memory but 30-40 is an indistinguishable blur. Again, looking at my child, I realized that everything in the world is new and exciting for her. We were taking a plane to come to India and she was agog with excitement all day. Everything in the airport, the train and the plane was a source of wonder and joy. She kept observing every single detail – the colors, the metallic birds hanging in the terminal, the seats , the sizes of various planes and kept exclaiming, ‘we will sit in the plane and go shooon to India’. I don’t remember the last time I was so excited about anything. And, I wonder if that is the key to the paradox.

When we were young, everything was new, there was a sense of wonder and the thrill of discovery. We didn’t know what to expect and paid attention when something was happening. We didn’t have fixed ideas, instead learnt as new things came up. But, as adults we lose that sense of wonder and behave as if we already know everything.  I have a hunch that it is the loss of this sense of wonder and the lack of attention which makes the time speed up. When I came to US 13 years ago, it was completely new to me. Me and my wife were broke graduate students but just the simple act of walking through town and discovering new streets was a joy. It was like a second childhood and we have very vivid memories of simple things like taking a bus to the Middlesex Fells just outside Boston. The memories of those first 2 years are much stronger compared to the memories of next 10 years when we got a car and had more money to go to far off places.

So, coming to the question in the title of the post, how do we make the time slow down? I think that it is easy – be more like children, learn new things, do things which you have never done before, things which interest you and, more than anything else, pay attention and the time will slow down and we will make some memories that will last a lifetime.

Thanks,

Kapil

P:S – I think that it is the same thing which makes entrepreneurship exciting. Contrary to what most entrepreneurs outwardly say, the reality is that you actually don’t know what you are doing. Trying to figure out your path in the fog of ambiguity is what actually makes entrepreneurship fun. If you already knew everything before you started, it would be so boring.

 

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Dreams and Memories

My father

My father

Most of the time, I look outside and write about far away places which most people would never visit and share slices of the lives of people most will never meet. This time I thought, let me look closer, much closer, inside myself.

As some of you know, my father passed away nearly 2 months ago. Early October, as I stepped out to go to the gym, I looked up at the night sky and saw some bright stars twinkling. Something about the stars triggered the thought that one day I will get a call informing me that my parents are no more. This is the life of an immigrant, the emotional burden that they carry. So far away from home, from people they care about, not always able to tell how much they care and not always sure why they are away. Couple of days later, the dreaded call finally came. It was 4 am and I was fast asleep. My phone was on silent and it took me a while to realize that my phone was vibrating. As I picked up the phone, I saw there were 6 missed calls. I knew what the call was about. The moment had come.

It takes nearly 24 hours of flying to get back home, plenty of time to ruminate. I took solace in the fact that my father had been hearing good news in the last few months. He had been preparing for my brother’s marriage and was in reasonable health. I also took solace that the end was quick and he did not suffer much. I could not have asked for much more.

When me and my brother made it home, the body had been on ice for nearly 36 hours already. My father’s face had turned deep purple but he looked peaceful. It looked as if he was asleep and would wake up any minute. I thought to myself, “How does one tell that he is not in deep sleep? What distinguishes this from deep sleep? The body is here all right, then what has changed so dramatically? The only thing which is different is that the body has lost its capacity to self-regulate. It can no longer maintain homeostasis.’ In one minute, I understood why so many cultures had come up with the concept of soul. I was reminded of the shlokas from Bhagwat Geeta – “Just as a person casts off worn out garments and puts on new ones, even so, the embodied soul casts off worn out bodies and takes on others that are new.” Looking at the degenerating body of my father, It kind of made sense why someone would have written that 3000 years ago. I don’t know if there is a soul or not. I don’t know if soul is nothing but another name for consciousness. But, I marveled at life itself which had found this nifty runaround mortality, jettisoning weakening bodies and bringing forth new ones and perpetuating itself till eternity. I felt as if I myself was nothing but a vehicle for life to carry itself forward.

As the sleepless night gave way to dawn, we did the ritual bathing of my father and carried him to the nearest crematorium. The body was decaying rapidly, there was some blood on the face and some flies had begun buzzing around. We quickly covered him with wood. I put the last wood and then consigned him to the god of fire for safekeeping.

The day after cremation, me and my uncles went back to the crematorium to ‘pick the flowers’. I had heard about the custom but did not know what it meant. As me and my uncles sat down by the remains of the pyre, I finally realized that the flowers that we have to pick are the remains of my father. So, we started separating the charred bones from the ashes and putting them in a white sack. At one point, my uncles debated which bone was the one that they had in hand. It was the pelvic bone.

We needed to go to Ganga to deposit the ashes in the river. As I sat in the car with the white sack containing the remains, my aunt told me to hold the ashes in my lap – ‘Your father cradled you in his lap all his life, now it is your turn.’ And, off we went, with me carrying my father in my lap. Once we got to the nearest tributary of Ganga, we distributed the ashes in the river. The river carried the remains out to the sea. What belonged to the earth had been returned to the earth. We are made of dust and to the dust we go back again.

In the last 2 months, I have often remembered my father. Last night, I saw him in my dream. I was in Delhi and I got the news that he was having a heart attack. I went to the Safdarjung Hospital and started waiting for him to get there. Then, someone told me that he died along the way. Time seemed to slow down, I waited for a long time outside the hospital, looking at the roads and trying to make sense which road went where. Finally, the auto rickshaw carrying him came up to the hospital. My relatives were trying to pull him from the auto but were having some difficulty. Finally, they managed to pull him out of the 3 wheeler. My father felt very heavy but he was very much alive. As we stood him up, he asked, ‘Kapil aa gaya?’ (Is Kapil here?). I was almost next to him by that time, so I said “Aa gaya”. He said,” End of life scenario lagta hai.” (Looks like, this is the end). I replied, “Kuch nahin, theek ho jaoge. Aap to pahle bhi kitni baar mar ke jinda ho chuke ho. Kaunsi baar hai yeh – teesri ya chauthi”. (Don’t worry, you will be fine. You have come back from the dead so many times. Which time is this – 3rd or 4th?) He smiled, and very cheerfully, almost in a singing voice said,” Kauthi baar hai bera nahin” (Don’t know which time it is).  At that moment, the dream ended and I woke up. His happy, amused voice was still ringing in my mind. It was good to hear his happy voice.

The dream perhaps referred to the first time my father had a heart attack in 1989 and both of us went to the Safdarjung Hospital in an auto-rickshaw. I remember him sitting down outside the hospital, having pain and crying I think and I stood next to him, not knowing what to do. Then, we took another auto and went to NDMC hospital in Moti Bagh. In the 1990’s, this happened a number of times, when he and I rushed to the hospital in an auto, sometimes to Safdarjung, sometimes to NDMC, sometimes to Deendayal, sometimes during the day, mostly at night. I remember spending time with him in the ICU, and, on multiple different trips, going down to the tea shop outside the hospital for some breakfast. At times, it was like deja vu, the same thing happening a few years later. I remember, once we were standing on the terrace at NDMC and he was happily telling me that he walked to the embassies in Chanakyapuri that day. This perhaps was in 1989 itself.

Yes, he had come back from the dead multiple times. Will he come back this time too? I don’t know. The dreams and memories are all intertwined now. It is no longer clear where one ends and the other begins.

As an elderly friend of mine used to say, ‘We meet to create memories and part to preserve them’. I preserve the memories. I am the speaker for the dead for now. Life continues, with me as the vessel until someone takes my place.

Kapil

It’s the season of change.

‘Change is constant’ – It may sound like a cliché but it is an undeniable aspect of our lives. If anything, the pace of change has gotten noticeably more rapid even within our lifetimes. Every 10 years, the world seems to be a different place. If I think of my growing up years in India; 20 years ago, there was no cable TV; 15 years ago, there were no cell phones or internet; 10 years ago, there was no google and 5 years ago, social networking was not really the rage it is today. Each one of these have had a significant impact on the way we lead our lives. With the rapid change has come high degree of uncertainty. I joke with my friends that in 2000, I could never have predicted where I would be and what I would be doing in 2010. Forget prediction, even the area in which I worked in 2010 did not exist in 2000. Similarly, in 2010, I found myself unable to predict what I would be doing in 2020. For the last few years, I had been thinking of doing a phd. However, in a remarkable turn of events, here I am in 2011 going to a country, Liberia, which a few months ago I couldn’t even locate on a map. It always amazes me that most of the time we plan as if life would run in a smooth, straight line but the things which end up having the biggest impact on our lives are the ones which we have never even dreamed of. The only thing one can do in such an unpredictable world is to be flexible and to adapt as the world changes. In my opinion, the concept of settling down is dead and the sooner we accept it, the better it is.

My father had a transferable job and we moved almost every 3 years. That, and the many moves I have made, would make one think that moving must come easy to me. But, even after so many moves, it has not gotten any easier. Every place I live in and every community I associate with becomes home for me. When I leave, it feels as if I have left a part of me behind. The desire to revisit the people and places I once called home, never goes away. The relationships I left behind, live within me. Many times, I have gone back to reconnect with my previous homes. Most of the time, the people are long gone and it is only the walls of my former home which remind me of the times well spent. Sometimes, even the walls are no longer there and then the loss really hurts. Couple of days ago, I dreamt that I was in Karnal which was home from 1984-87. Once, me and my grandmother were carrying back freshly ground flour from the shop and I managed to spill all of it on the ground. In my dream, I was recalling that incident and pointing to someone the exact spot where it happened. I woke up with a start and it took me a while to realize where I was – in bed, with my wife in Tampa, Fl. I was reminded of the christmas song in which the soldier sings – ‘I will be home for christmas, if only in my dreams’. I realized that I had just visited my long lost home in my dreams.

I like to travel. Every opportunity to see new places, meet new people, build new relationships and experience new cultures fills me with excitement. Like a child, I expectantly look forward to the fresh beginnings and to the potential opportunities which lie ahead. But, I have also realized that a key aspect of the joy of travel is the part of going back and sharing with your loved ones all the wonders you have seen and the emotions you have felt. If there is no one to share the joy with, then travel loses a lot of it’s meaning. This blog, then, is also an attempt to share what I see and what I feel with all my loved ones who could not accompany me on my journey.

As the saying goes, ‘we meet to create memories and part to preserve them’, It’s time to preserve some memories and create some new ones. It’s the season of change; It’s time to move on.

Kapil