Khwaja Mere Khawaja

Sick, tired and can’t sleep. The least I can do is to listen to some Sufi music and try to feel better.

Funny thing is in Islam you are not supposed to idolize anything. Because we treat God as “noor” – light. So when Sufis started giving God a form in their poems – beautiful poems – and sing for hours about falling in love with God (similar to Gopikas of Krishna) – they are kinda looked down by proper muslims.

In India you would see Sufi saints everywhere. The one tell tale sign of them is that they have tomb. And that’s a form of idolization and the *proper* muslims call them with various names and don’t recognize them as muslims. I never knew anything about them. I would be visiting my grand parents and a singing saint would come by for alms and my grand mother would give him food but doesn’t engage him. She would be mad at him but still out of her generous nature she would still give him money/food. This idea of no-form-God is so entrenched in her that she can never forgive him for what he is doing – singing the glory of God. Idolizing God.

It so happened one of those summers while I was visiting them – my uncle happend to be around. And as the saint came in for alms, my uncle asked him to sing a song for us. The saint was so happy and sang a beautiful Qawwali song. It moved me so much. I was surprised how much love he expressed in his song.

Then I learned more and more about Sufism and their whirling dervishes.

Moinuddin Chisti or Khwaja is one such saint who is from 12th century. His tomb is located in Ajmer in India is very very popular with both muslims, hindus and anyone who has faith in good. Sufi music is getting into mainstream in India. Kailash Kher made it more popular. And here is a song from Indian blockbuster Jodhaa Akbar – which is a story of King Akbar who falls in love with non-muslim Jodhaa. This is a beautiful song.

On the things that I have been taught

Advance, and never halt, for advancing is perfection. Advance and do not fear the thorns in the path, for they draw only corrupt blood.  – Khalil Gibran

Remember when you have that tingling pain in your leg and you have a busy day and don’t bother to think about it? As the day goes on the pain lingers but you keep it off because you are busy. Sometime at the end of the day you can’t take the pain anymore. But just before you pop the pill in you check what the pain is about – for a brief moment you recognize it and become one with it. You feel where it is and know it much more than that morning.

I think something similar happens with us at mental level. This rush and keep-me-busy life is racing forward and there are pains that ebb in the mind but we are in no rush to attend to them. I think meditation is one way to get to know these things. I think meditation and self-introspection kinda leads one to these deeper channels. With what little time I can spend on introspection – through free writing and meditation – I have found out a lot about the things that I have been taught. It’s kinda more like things I have learned, but then when you are young – the surroundings affect you more than your own self. Here are some observations from my own reflection. This whole discovery process has been very cathartic.

1. Perfection: The education system in India is very competitive. Those 5 years of rigorous college where there was very little to do anything other than studies – I think the idea of perfection and getting a centum (I know that’s a crazy word) has been honed well into me. But the side effects of that is – I have so many half baked ideas, projects that I always wanted to work/launch but never could because they never are perfect in my eyes.

Creation is dirty. I mean raw. Potential is raw – it needs it’s rough edges to become something. But the eyes of perfection can only see ugliness in it. They reject the raw baked idea and what I get is a dull humming of judgmental mental chatter. Not worth it.

2. Out there solution: The strong belief that there lies a greater solution out there. There lies a messiah out there to save me. There lies a perfect trick that could fix me. This mental cog is a strong one. Because of the duality of this world and the nature of mind to dissect and box everything – it’s easy to believe that the solution is out there. It’s an illusion.

3. Knowledge: That all knowledge is contained in books and teachings. That I could gain everything and learn it all if I acquire it. What a hogwash. This is nothing but brainwashing for more brainwashing. It’s like the never ending loop. You can’t eat up all the food in this world, you can’t digest all the knowledge of this world.

4. Linearity: This one is like a big cousin to Causality. Because we see cause and effect, we have come to believe that everything around us is linear. It’s good to have a check list and work through it, but not everything is linearly dependent. Freakanomics tells us that we confuse correlation with causality. There would come a day where all this linear thinking will mis-lead us. That would be be the day we would have to chuck that linear list.

5. Time: This one is so weird. There are 2 aspects to this – short term and long term. When it comes to others’ priorities we are told that we don’t have time. It needs to be done yesterday. This causes us to put our priorities away for the long term. So, this causes an imbalance – where we are knocking out a lot of stuff for others’ or a lot of un-important stuff and the most important things that matter to us are lying there in dust. We are taught to live as if  we are going to be here forever! What a fine trick.

Remember Gordian’s knot? My to-do list is like that knot that could never be undone. Because I put stuff in there which was prompted by my brainwashed subconscious over period of schooling and wrong company. The only way to undo is to cut it open. That’s what Alexander did.

I believe fate and destiny are like 2 sides of the mobius strip. Entangled. The mind has it’s limitations for it’s reasons. It’s very smart at discovering short cuts. That’s how we survived. And I think the best way to feed it is to give it short and few targeted goals. Not a barfed up list of minutiae. The mind works on heuristics and short cuts. It’s time to clean up the learned tug of war between heart and mind. It’s time to get clear on goals.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass the world is too full to talk about. — Rumi

The Right to Be in the Right

The soul will emit its blissful waves of love as long as you respond to what is right.

A right is not an act of convenience but it is an act of truth that allows your mind to return to the silence of peace.

You can receive all the wealth of the world but if you have not utilized the wealth of the soul you shall always be in thought that will lead to worry…

It does not matter how much anyone else is right toward you. You are doing the right only to return to yourself the peace you deserve.

You always know what is fully right… Your soul shall always guide you so… It is you that chooses to divert from it slightly only to receive the quick reward.

The one that argues that he is in the right exposes his fear of being slightly in the wrong.

Does it matter what another thinks of you? What matters most is how comfortable you are at every moment with your own Self…

You have the right to be in the “right”. And you have the right to give up any attachment… any desire that comes in its way…

— Seema M. Dewan, Aug 21, 2011

The number system of India

Relax for a moment and think about numbers. Everyone has certain feeling attached to them. There is something about them we feel but we can’t put our finger on it. If you treat numbers purely – just as symbols and remove all the meaning, feelings associated with it – then it turns into a whole new science. This is what Bertrand Russell was trying to do using numbers to define the fundamentals of Mathematics.

But today I am not going to dwell into that aspect. I want to talk about the peculiar Indian number system. Peculiar but useful in it’s own way. Different countries treat numbers in different ways and I believe that the meaning, feelings you associate with numbers is linked with the practices and culture around you.

I am going to list few (partial list) idiosyncrasies of Indian numbering system. Some are funny and some are mysterious. Here we go:

1. Age:  This bothered me a lot for a long time. Only recently I have come to add some meaning to this. Let me give you a visual with an example. Say a baby is born in India.

On day 1, when the baby is born. He is 1 day old.

The parents are happy and life goes on. Something magical happens when the baby crosses 2 weeks. Let’s look at it in a little detail. Here is the breakdown of 4 weeks.

As you can see (assuming 4 weeks in a month) there is a tipping point that tilts the age of the baby which kinda gets stuck with him for the rest of his life. Here is what happens.

As the baby crosses 2 weeks mark (sometimes 10 days mark) – suddenly out of nowhere the baby is 1 month old. I have no idea how this is logical (my explanation follows later). It also happens so fast that it’s impossible to detect. There would be some God motherly like figure in the family and some given day within the 1st month- she would use baby’s age in a sentence in such a way that she implies that baby is 1 month old! Trust me on this, I have a lot of these elderly ladies in my own family.

Now even before the baby is 1 month old, he is ALREADY ONE MONTH OLD. Here is another visual to give you some more perspective. This is the timeline for a typical year.

The thing you need to understand here is as the months progresses – the child is always more older than he technically is. When he is around 10 months old (I mean like finish 10 months) – the same old lady would be back and call the child 1 year old. WTF? Now immediately after his 1st birthday cake – he starts to be 2 year old till his next birthday cake!

So, when a Indian person tells you that he/she is 25 years old, you should always (98% of the time) assume that he/she is actually 24 years old and in his/her 25th year.

I know this is weird. We Indians might look like we are rushing to age and reach that nirvana our Gods have been promising us. But trust me – we are humans as well – like any other person we would like to be forever young! But why follow such a weird system then? What is the benefit attached to being always older than you actually are?

I can only think of only one reason. And here it is – India is a very religious country. I have met only few Atheists there. And with religion comes a lot of rituals. Every child has some ritual associated when they are – 3 rd month passing, 5th month passing, 7th month passing, 9th month passing, 11th month passing, 3rd year passing and on and on.

You see a pattern? There are rituals attached to the passing month, not to the end of the month. Meaning, I can shave my daughter’s head ONLY when she is in her 9th month or 11th month or when she is 3 years old. (Yeah you can’t get it shaved in any other months as it would incur bad omen on the child! and what parent would want it?). So, if you are following a lot of ritual associated with your child’s passing month then you would count his/her age in the same way.

I think that is the reason why our counting of age is so lopsided. There is a method to it’s madness.

2. Storeys: I am not sure whether you guys know it or not. We Indians invented zero. Prior to that romans had their crazy system which was useless when it came to division. Egyptians were smart and had something in place but no zero/nada/zilch. The arabs took our zero and created the decimal system.

So in India when we count the storeys in a building it’s always – ground floor, 1st floor, 2nd floor and so on. Some elevators (lifts) also have zero on them indicating that it’s the lowest floor. So imagine the Indian who is fresh off the boat – trying to get to 42nd floor. He is going to miss it by 1. This again, I don’t know the reason why it’s like that but I am guessing it’s because we like to use the zero. It’s also cultural. I bet Google India has the zero floor and all the geeks there grok that!

3. Temperature:  Ok, this one is weird. And I don’t know why. I have noticed that we follow metric system when we want to indicate cold and imperial system when we want to indicate hot. Like we would say – “It’s very hot today, the temperature is 108 degrees” – which is implying Fahrenheit. And we would say “It’s very cold tonight, Delhi is like 8 degrees” implying Celcius.

I have no idea about the disparity here. May be we want to use higher number for hot and lower number for cold! But everything else is completely metric – kilograms, litre etc except land. Land is still measured in Acres. Mostly the farm land. That is the only exception I have come across.

4. Distance: Ok, this one is funny. Ask any American the distance between SF and LA they would say “About 7 hours”.  Ask any Indian the same question they would say “About 350 miles”

This is a big gotcha for Indias. You see, you guys (Americans) measure distance using time because you have freeways. When you say ‘about 7 hours’, it pretty much takes 7 hours – depending on your bladder and eating habits of course. But for us Indians we don’t have the luxury to mesure distance in time. We can’t! Because our infrastructure is busted and half of our animals live on the road. There is no guarantee that I can go from point A to point B in certain amount of time. Because there are frigging way too many variables. All I am guaranteed is that I will reach point B sometime but don’t know when.

The ONLY TIME we Indians measure distance in time is when we use trains to travel. Unlike American rail, Indian rail is HUGE for the area it covers. Indian rail has 1.6 million employees, yes thats double the number of people who live in San Francisco. Take that Amtrak! So, anyhow – the trains pretty much run on time and there are a lot of trains which go overnight. So, in that context we Indians say – it takes a night to go from point A to point B.

It all boils down to – if we are driving, we don’t know when we will see you. If we take a train, we will see you tomorrow morning.

5. Time:  Finally the time. Our perception of time is very very different – I want to write more about it but I think it will take it’s own blog post because it’s connected at so many levels – philosophically, mentally, spiritually etc,. But I would say this – Salman Rushdie‘s quote in his amazing book – Midnight’s Children, sums it up.

“No people whose word for ‘yesterday’ is the same as their word for ‘tomorrow’ can be said to have a firm grip on the time.” 

And the word he is referring to is – “Kal” in Hindi. Depending on the context it can mean yesterday or tomorrow! Go figure.

5 years

The churning continues. It will be 5 years tomorrow my dad passed away. The silence in me still stays. So many changes that happend in our lives in the past 5 years. We all miss you dad.

Today also happens to be Krishnastami – Birthday of Krishna. We went to Walnut Creek for bhajans – to get hold of some internal peace.

Krishna is a very different deity – he has religious side,  philosophical side and folklore side. A lot of Hindus pray to him religiously as God. A lot of them pursue him through his divine song – Bhagavadgita. And a lot of people seek him through his folklore stories and how he is an embodiment of pure love. I have been to a Hare Krishna temple only once – but their depiction of Krishna is so beautiful and stunning.

Among folklore – you would come across a lot of songs, bhajans and kirtans where gopikas are missing Krishna. The songs and ragas are very touchy. There is one song which kinda matches my mood tonight and which I think is kinda sad raaga – a raaga which comes with deep yearning. It’s a song called – Jai Radha Madhav. The instrumental one I like is here –

It’s the song # 8.

Jagjit Singh’s rendition of the same song is very popular and somedays I just listen to this on loop –

Phibare Rama Rasam

Now that I am all nostalgic about my life (I think which happens every August) – all the heart wrenching kirtans/songs/bhajans just keep coming to mind. It’s like I am donning a memory based eye glasses. One song which plucks the strings of my memory is – “Phibare Rama Rasam”. It’s from a Telugu movie – Padamati Sandhya Ragam (An Evening of the West) – which explored the cultural differences between India and US. It show cases how we are run by tasks, money, career etc on a day to day basis and how Indians who move here struggle to adapt their lives. It’s a story of a Indian girl falling in love with a White guy (yes, the guy from Hung) and their plight.

I loved the movie but more than that this song which was written by 18th century composer – Sadasiva Brahmendra stuck with me. Here is the video of it – it’s kinda cheesy when you see any Bollywood/Tollywood movie but it’s the essence of it is what moves me.

Here are the lyrics:

pibare rAmarasaM,  rasane pibare rAma rasam

O Mind, drink the nectar of divine name Rama.

janana maraNa bhaya shoka vidUraM
sakala shAstra nigamAgama sAram

It dispels fear and grief from the cycle of birth and death.
It is the quintessence of all the Vedas and other Scriptures.

shuddha paramahaMsAshrita gItaM
shuka shaunaka kaushika mukha pItam

It is the sacred song sung in the hermitages of the holy and enlightened Yogis.
Great Sages Suka, Saunaka and Kousika enjoyed that nectar.

It basically astounds the qualities/attributes of Lord Rama from Hindu religion.

August 15th – The day I got my freedom

Every Indian is aware that August 15th is our Independence day – back in 1947 India became an Independent country as well as was divided up based on religion thus causing the bloody partition. It signifies freedom after 400 years of colonial rule. We may not be doing great things yet, but I am sure we enjoy the freedom that we have. Just visit India once to see how its been used and mis-used.

I will always remember August 15th not only for what it means to be an Indian but for what it means to me personally. Long time back (oh God, one sign I feel really old is that – this feels like a long time memory). After I finished my college/MBA in 1998 – I was like any other Indian student. Full of dreams and no sense of reality. I was sure that I would be able to find a job of my dreams and just find that ladder to climb up in the corporate world. So naive I was, but then who isn’t when they are 23.

You should know that India is a very populous country. I mean very. To get a sense of it – ask any guy who is trying to get a job. I used to go to an interview (publicly open to anyone qualified) and then find myself standing in a line with like 200 students in front and back of me. Forget getting to actually have an interview – after 4-5 hours of waiting they would ask us to go away. This was the situation (and sadly it still is for many) for me. I tried my best to find a job for about 6 months and nothing happened. But good thing I was hungry (think I still am). When reality dawned on me I realized that I will have to work it through the lower rungs to get to a place which I like.

And so it happened through my friend I got a very small job (paying about $65/month). The job was in an Internet Cafe. For those of you who enjoy un-interrupted Internet access now – an Internet cafe is a place where you pay hourly to browse internet. Since there was no way I can have my own internet access at home, as it was expensive – I jumped on the opportunity to work there. By work I mean, just making sure all computers are turned on and working fine – make entries about people coming in and sitting at the cash register now and then. I was ok with it. I was looking forward to what it means for me – an opportunity to learn so many new things.

The place sucked like hell. The job was hard – manual labor. I showed up at 9 am and left for home only after 9pm. Sometimes I slept over at work – because there were people who would come in to browse (mostly porn) after 12am. The cafe was open all 24 hours. More than that it was filled with politics. My boss was abusive and constantly putting me down to get more and more work from me. He was kind weird too. More than anything else I hated was the politics. Every employee there was kinda brain washed to manipulate someone for something. They took advantage of my naiveté and made me work like a donkey.

I was completely helpless. Here I was trying to make a career in software but stuck in a place where I have no control on anything and I couldn’t even get close to any programming environment. I spent all day (and sometimes all night) helping people to browse and learn what Internet is. How to use Altavista, Yahoo chat (messenger) and ICQ.

My only way out was to learn something on my own in my own time (I think this trait stuck with me till this date). So, I joined a course to learn Java every evening. My friends were making fun of me about how I am spending more money learning Java than making it on a monthly basis. I was un-deterred. I knew this would show me a way out. So for 3 months everyday I would leave work at 6 and go to a class and try to learn frigging Java (I despise it for various reasons which came up later).

This gave me some confidence that I can escape this crazy job and also make it on my own. So finally after about 10 months of abusive job on August 15th 1999 I woke up (It was supposed to be a holiday for everyone except for people who work there) and decided that I won’t be going to this pain in the butt job any more. I went right back to sleep. My dad was worried as to why I am not up – but I think he was relieved at some level that I am ending this painful experience. I got like 10 calls from my boss threatening me but I didn’t feel anything. I was so happy inside and just didn’t give a shit.

So on this day about 12 years back I became mentally free – which led to the transformation of my life. So powerful was change in my life – that in the following month – me and my friend took a gamble and went to Singapore for work and succeeded in establishing a career. It took me 40 days to do what I really wanted, but my mind was shackled for almost a year in a painful job.

Every year I feel more happy about the choice I made on this day and thank my stupid courage that pulled it off. I will never forget this day.

Jai Hind. 🙂