Can revisiting locations where you once lived the moments that are now memories be therapeutic?
How do you know which is better? Then or now? That or this? The two are different. You smile, you sob and even shudder. Then get back to what is.
Shailaja, like her immediate family, did not think a few days in Vengurla would turn her life around. Yet during those days, she lived what could have been her life.
She is aware of her dementia. And afraid of what it would erase next.
I am grateful to the team behind “Three of us” for this unforgettable movie. And special thanks to Shefali Shah (really brought Shailaja to life), Jaideep Ahlawat (masterfully conveyed the joy and pain of a tantalizing return to a love he had given up on) and Swanand Kirkire (the caring husband confused by the apparent preference of his beloved wife for the past) for sensitively portraying the three central characters.
Shailaja’s trip to the village she grew up in was a trip back in time to snuggle under memories for me too. The homes with semi-lit interiors, the well with the overgrowth, the vast open fields that I used to cut across to reach school and the almost-bare lanes where almost everyone knew everyone.
Watch this movie, if you too would like to go back and hug your memories for a while. It may bring you more tears than smiles. Simply make the most of an opportunity for who you are to be with who you were.
You may want to change the name of this movie from “Three of us” to “Two of us”— who you are, and who you could have been.
One of the telling sequences from the movie. Cajoled by her old dance teacher during a visit to the school, Shailaja joins a group of girls in their practice session. She starts well, then loses her moves. She leaves the group, backs away until she is almost hiding behind a pillar, as if seeking shelter from reality.
Having been without a job (in the strict 9-to-5, on-the-HR-rolls sense) for nearly 30 years, it does feel strange when I occasionally encounter the question, “So, when do you plan to retire?” You mean I can be more retired than I am? Come to think of it, why should I retire at all?
When The Economist recently echoed that question, I thought it would be fitting to put the retirement question to a few friends who are otherwise too busy working to answer my questions.
The Economist column says most people don’t want to retire simply because they can’t afford to. Blame it on insidious inflation! Of course, some of the rich and the famous don’t want to because they don’t want to leave centre-stage. Where else can they draw the adrenalin from and get attention unless they are sitting behind that table day after day after day?
Yes, money matters, tells my friend Lovaii Navlakhi, for the umpteenth time. He should know; that’s his job. If you started your job just last year, expect him to ask you next week if you have started saving for your retirement. You need to work for it, is what he says.
He does not prescribe what you ought to do after your retirement. But he will run a stern eye down your investments and tell you what you need to put away if you insist on rounding the world. If the numbers say that’s an out-of-the-world possibility, he will gently point to the resort round the corner and remind you how much you can save by changing your goal.
By the way, Lovaii has no plans to retire. Don’t ask me why.
In the true spirit
What I can tell you is why Geetha opted for early retirement from the bank where she used to work.
She was part of the team responsible for reaching old age pension to poor, illiterate villagers. That experience exposed her to, in her own words, how the “other half” lived. When the first opportunity came up for voluntary retirement, she quit. And the very next day volunteered to work for a trust that provides ayurveda treatment and also serves the community around in several ways.
Over the last 12 years she has been through it all—teaching the village women how to make chapatis to conducting odd-hour online meetings to raise funds to do more good for more people. “While I was in the bank, I was not seriously pursuing promotions. Now, given all the skills I have picked up here, I think I could have pushed to be the CEO of the bank,” Geetha joked.
Geetha does not think retirement is synonymous with not doing anything. She is sure that’s the right time to reach out and help. Start at home. “It could be just sponsoring the education of your servant’s child.”
Spiritually inclined as she is, Geetha is not too worried about the money part. A single mother, her daughters are settled and they had wholeheartedly supported her plan to leave the bank and take up community service. “What I have learnt is you should shed your ego. Keep yourself empty. Before you do anything, ask if it is for the larger good. Then go ahead and do it.”
A different work code
Unlike Geetha, Siva has a long way to go before he attains the conventional retirement age. Yet, he too feels there is something spiritual about the idea of hanging up the boots (if that’s what software engineers like him wear).
“Retirement,” he says, “is the time usually one could rest internally and, as the rush gradually slows down, one might begin to understand a lifetime of conditioning and its impact in terms of real inner peace and acceptance.” He accepts that it would be difficult to give up the skills that kept him fed all these years. But he is open to the idea of “doing the same thing differently” if only to derive satisfaction out of accomplishing some challenging work.
He is clear that when he retires, he would not be financially dependent on whatever “work” he does. He hopes to save enough and then maybe “teach or mentor students from the underserved sections of the community.”
This is his prescription for a happy retired life. Whatever your job or business was, “grooming ourselves to foresee and deal with the simple and common realities of life—health, contentment, forgiveness, acceptance and faith.”
Helming a social cause
Suprabha too is sure that she would lend her leadership skills for a social cause and not for a “corporate outfit” when she chooses to retire.
She is some distance from retirement, but candidly admits that “my motivation has always been money.” In case she does not enjoy the work that delivers the money, she has a number of hobbies (partial list: running, trekking, biking, boxing) that keep her “adequately engaged.”
Her motivation has always been to continuously upskill herself. So, what is her idea of retirement? “As time passes by, my ability to take breaks would increase. That's what I would call retirement.” And yes, she would love to be a nomad, not attached to a single place, and move where she would like to (preferably near the mountains).
Peace in the bustle
No mountains for Umaya, though. He was born and brought up in a city and he would prefer to be in the midst of all the hustle and bustle and “yet retain my peace.”
He is convinced that “or faculties remain sharper when we keep ourselves occupied.” That means you are unlikely to find him curled up in bed when the sun is at its zenith because he will be busy widening “the application of skills that I have gathered over the decades.”
Now that Umaya has had his say, I have a confession. I had started writing this piece, confident that my friends would give me enough masala for something humorous. Instead, this is shaping out to be just the kind of boringly seriously work guaranteed not to upset the boss or a client. Very work like, in other words.
More than a sip
Maybe I should ask Jairam, who has always been my favourite Wodehousian writer, and who has just birthed his first book, Masala Chai for the Soul.
His advice is not to retire if your job is your life and you have practically nothing else to do. Keep yourself involved in something for the sake of a timetable. It prevents you from drifting. “In the end,” he says, “runners easily overtake drifters.”
He recommends picking up a job that is a mix of the old mixed with something sufficiently new. “That gets you to think anew.”
“The mind is built such that it needs to dwell on something. An attractive dwelling place is your own aches and pains. A job gives your mind alternative pasture. Those aches and pains can wait. They may even reduce.” Not that I am an expert, Jairam, but that’s palatable philosophy without any masala.
Don’t believe me? Listen to his parting advice. “The inconvenient truth is that our sense of self-worth is dependent not on who we are but what we do. So keep doing, keep living.”
Maybe if I had caught him after he had just finished a cup of his favourite, he would have asked Jeeves to fetch his happy hat and then maybe, just maybe ….
Too serious to relax
Someone advised that I should speak to people from all age groups to gather a more representative view of what the world thinks of retirement. Well, the two youngsters I reached out to said they were too busy “working” to talk to me. One even went to the extent of suggesting that I was in the best position to write about retirement.
Such impudence, I say! Lasso these youngsters, Lovaii! Pull them in, deny them their iPhone 15 and make them suffer, I mean, save!
Now that I have caught my breath, I am beginning to wonder. Is retirement serious business? As you cope with the hiccups of life, do too much time and not so much money combine with the looming full stop to reduce life to a sentence to suffer?
What do you think? Whether you are on this side or that, pretty close or very far from the retirement fence, what are your thoughts on retirement?
The to and fro
But yet again
We spelt it wrong
Get the new, use it
And hear hearts
Close at hand
The new ear
To truly hear
Every chirp, rustle
And the loud hush
With this ear
Whether new or year
Let’s just be
Image created using Microsoft Designer.
Wife: “Does it hurt now?”
Husband: “How many times will you ask me? Now this pain will go with me. You take care of Guddi.”
Guddi, 10, their daughter, is not very comfortable when he holds her hand.
Wife: (Angry) And how do you expect me to do that?
The wife accuses him of bringing this calamity on all of them because of his drinking. Guddi looks at both without any expression.
Husband: “I wanted to help Sonu finish her college. Now I don’t know ….”
The wife bursts out. Grabs Guddi. “And what do you want me to do with this one? Forget me. You are always more worried about your sister. Where is she now? Oh! My fate!” She slaps her forehead.
Just then, the doctor walks in with Sonu, the sister. Seeing the sister, Guddi brightens up. Tries to run to her. Mother holds her back.
The doctor examines the husband. Then says he has some good news to give. The sister is willing to donate her liver. The husband begins to ask something, but Sonu stops him.
Sister: “Let the doctor finish what he is saying.”
Doctor: “There are many reasons for liver cirrhosis. Some problems by birth, some virus. But in your case, we all know what the reason is ….”
The husband holds his ears in apology and starts sobbing. “Never again.”
Doctor: “Like I told you, no treatment will work at this stage. Only a transplant. That too quickly. Fortunately, your sister is a match. And she has agreed, and. Of course, there is no danger—"
Sonu suddenly stops doctor. She addresses the patient, her brother.
Sister: “The doctor says there is no danger to my life. He says he will take only a small piece of my liver. What I know is I am giving you a piece of my life so that you get a second life. Not for me. But for Bhabhi and Guddi. You were always worried about my college, right? Now you better get well. Because I want you to make sure Guddi completes her college. Remember, you owe it to me.”
The wife gets up crying and does a namaste to her sister-in-law. She is unable to speak. Sonu enfolds her and Guddi in an embrace. In the background, the husband, weeping bitterly, does an apologetic namaste to the three.
The doctor walks away. Guddi suddenly runs to him and pulls at his coat to stop him.
Guddi: “Please don’t take too much of her liver. If you want more, take a little piece of my liver.”
The doctor laughs and pats her head.
Guddi runs back to the bed, sits, and holds her father’s hand. Her mother and aunt join them.
Images by MS Designer Image Creator.
You wanted to walk with me, or rather, help me walk, didn’t you? You were even willing to push my wheelchair if I retuned in that state, weren’t you?
The voice was familiar. Instinctively, I looked around. There was no one. Just darkness. I had stepped out for my walk earlier than usual. The streetlights were out, the sun wasn’t yet.
Please don’t get spooked. I had also wanted to be with you. When they did not let me get away from the bed and all the tubes. And after. That’s why I decided to walk with you, just this once. Let’s just walk and talk. At least you do the walking, and we’ll think together.
Sorry you had to be in the hospital for so long. The family tried their best to get you back.
I am sure they did. But I had left me a few days before they took me out of the hospital. They just held on to the body.
Were you in pain?
After some time, it is no longer about me. It is about who is there, who thinks is responsible for me. What works for all. You may call it helping me fight. Or you may think it is torture by delegation.
Would you have preferred to come home sooner?
And do what? Trouble everyone at home? There everyone listened to what one doctor said. Here everyone would have been a doctor. You would run out of time and patience. Like it or not. And my journey would have just gone on, regardless.
I flinched when they placed you on the hard floor. Then moved you this way and that to adjust the sheets and to place the things for the prayer.
You were too much into the body that was no longer me. Suppose they took a call and took my stuff out of the body. Stuff someone else could use. Then moved what was left for the students to study. Would you have preferred that?
Maybe that’s best for all? At least that’s what I am asking for in my will.
Good for you. Take what you want and play with the rest. You know any time, now or then, what matters is if I am in you and you in me. In heart. In thoughts. Beyond rituals. Beyond expectations.
But rituals are important. For generations. Respecting the memory. You are divine when you are no longer human.
Strange! I could not place most of the people who paid obeisance to my body. Would they have come to feed me or even to just sit and talk with me before I had crossed over? And here they were, so solemn. Nice of them to come. Yet, somehow funny, thought.
The sun is rising. Time for me to go. By the way, a sweet I used to enjoy a long time ago. I have been wanting to give it to you. Now that I have crossed the threshold, I can’t. Let me see.
Then the blaring horn and blinding headlights of a wayward car broke the spell. The dawn was stretching and yawning.
I would have dismissed it as a waking, walking dream, if my wife had not asked me after she finished putting away the veggies I had bought as usual. “What is this? Did you buy this? Or does this belong to someone else? Looks like some sweet.”
Image by kordula vahle from Pixabay
How to write right? I put that question to her. She is a wiser, older writer, who never misses an opportunity to tell me between the two of us she is always “righter”.
“In what you do, what is right writing is what your client says is right,” she banged her fist on her palm, as was her habit if there was no table within reach.
As Messrs. Wren, Martin and Roget had played a major role in shaping two of my three R’s, it was not easy to accept her assertion. Yet, she did have a point.
Long ago, when covid would have probably been highlighted as a spelling mistake, I was surprised by a call from Hong Kong. That was my first overseas client happy to have me WFH (another spelling glitch then).
We worked happily for about two years. One day, he abruptly told me the boss was not happy with my writing. “Too direct, almost impolite.”
Soon, they moved on and he (now a friend working elsewhere) revealed that the boss had changed—the American was replaced by someone from the UK. Was it just a matter of the difference in nationality? Could we have solved it simply by UK-ing US English? Apparently, there was a change in temperament too.
Conclusion: You may spend hours sharpening it, but a change in nationality and personality can snap the lead, just like that!
Now I am quite used to both extremes.
“Your writing is too simple. Can we have some strong words?”
“Your writing is too complex. Please simplify.”
I simply comply. When writing is your work, write what works.
A new book, Writing for Busy Readers, reviews The Economist, has very simple advice: cut unnecessary words, stick to “bedrock vocabulary” and follow simple syntax. The book goes on to give proof of the preaching.
Simply deleting half of the paragraphs in a fundraising email increased donations by 16%. Reducing the words from 127 to 49 in an emailed survey increased the response rate from 2.7% to 4.8%. Public companies that used long sentences and complicated words to state their ethics code were seen as less moral and trustworthy. Phew!
Short and sweet it has to be then? What happens when the first-level contact at the client’s throws your content on the scale to weigh the “content”? How many are fortunate enough to deal directly with the would-be author to understand them and their authentic tone well enough to make the draft a “good to go” at the very first instance? Of course, without interference from chatty intermediaries and GPT!
Short, easy words definitely have their place but not for all. This “sesquipedalian” Member of Parliament (MP) is known less for what he says than for the words he uses to say that, whether you understand or not be damned. That’s his brand, what has made him famous.
An old friend, an ageless writer and veteran communications professional, had the opportunity to compliment this MP after the latter had addressed a gathering. “Thank you for elevating this discussion to crepuscular altitude and suffusing it with intellect of refulgent luminosity.”
Incidentally, this friend’s first book will be published soon. When he told me about it, I suggested he should title it Condiment-laden Camellia sinensis decoction for the neshama. He refused.
Must be the influence of the new wave. He has given it a title all too simple and short: Masala chai for the soul.
In favour of simple writing (economist.com)
Bing image creator
In my early days as a writer for hire, the lack of a degree in literature used to push their eyebrows up and my chances down. As the decades passed, another missing qualification emerged to replace the academic shortcoming—haven’t written a book yet, have you?
I may have encouraged or helped many write a tome, but the fact remains there is no book out there in my name, neither the version that evokes bibliosmia nor the one that stays behind a screen until clicked to life.
Friends persuade. You have written so much, why not put it all together in a book or two? Flattering as it is, I share a secret: it’s all out there already in bits and pieces. Why go through the pain and pay a price for booking it all? That’s when they give up, accusing me of laziness, arrogance, and hypocrisy! Does he know anything about building a brand? Says he is a writer, but doesn’t want to write a book, bah!
Maybe I am being a hypocrite when I encourage and help those clients (and friendly ex-clients) to write the book that is bursting out of their heads and hearts. But at least once I actively discouraged someone.
The draft of his blog had ended up being a bit too long. Within hours he was planning the events and locations where he would display his first book. I doused his enthusiasm by ruthlessly editing the piece and converting it into three posts.
You guessed it, he is no longer a client. Though he does remind me on the rare occasions we connect that together the three posts had garnered some 5,000 likes. No doubt suggesting that the book would have sold an equal number of copies, if only ….
By the way, Mark Richards of Swift Press, says in The Economist, that 5,000 copies is the break-even point for a book. That is the number a writer should target to reach base camp from where one can hope to glimpse the best-seller peak.
Anyone can book now
Time was when you would be rejected by publisher after publisher. I used to imagine a whole lineup of serious-looking editors trying to inject English into the manuscript (after clearance by the marketing team). Can you write good, readable English? Can you sustain a plot? Are you relevant, famous, or both? Will they pay a price to read what you write? Every question needed a positive answer, before the book could see daylight. Or so I used to think.
Now, as Abhi Singh puts it, there are no gatekeepers. You are not screened and selected by a publishing house. A lot of us have always wanted to be an author even when it was not easy. Now that publishing a book is as simple as going to the right website and clicking on the best package, there is a rush to stuff your words between the covers and put it out there.
In the past, says Abhi Singh, “publishing one paper book would cost so much you would have no money left for sending out a new one. Now it’s just bits in the ether and cost nothing.” Talk of publishing e-ase!
Today, publishing a book is all about branding. If your head is chockfull of ideas and you just need a plumber (ahem!) to get the words flowing, you can hire one and also all other sorts of help (if your publisher does not offer those). You may not even need to step out of your room (where you have your computer) until it is time to launch your book and sign a few copies. And once that is done, never miss an opportunity to suggest that you are an author, which if you do it right often enough, would become synonymous with “I am an expert”.
A book matters, but ...
Before you rush to the conclusion that I am anti-book, let me correct you. As long as you are clear about the why and what of your book, I will be the first to cheer you.
Imagine you surprise me with a copy of your first book. Days pass after all the congratulatory backslapping. As promised, I get back to you after I read the book. The silence gets awkward when I ask a simple question, purely as your reader-friend: “Why did you write this book?” I have had to painfully put up with that silence more than once. What makes things worse are the justifications that follow and the accusations of my being disloyal and needlessly skeptical.
Then there is this friend who has occupied the top echelons of management in places that normally figure in the shadow regions of newspaper headlines. You may ignore his management wisdom but there is no ignoring the weight of the life he has experienced in difficult situations. He remains a consultant not to fill his coffers but to fund a foundation that supports budding entrepreneurs. “I want to write my autobiography. No grand book. Just to pen my experiences in some form, somewhere. I want my family and friends to gain from what I have learnt. I have nothing to preach, but a lot to share. Hopefully, that will help someone, sometimes. Just to discover their answers within themselves.”
In his case, the target is not fame or brand building. You will hardly spot him on social media. His book, whatever form it takes may not make it anywhere near the bestseller list. Yet, he has a good cause for writing the book. Which gives it a good chance to succeed, regardless of where it ends up on this list or that.
Your cause may be sharing your Wodehousian humor. Or telling a fantastic story that entertains. As long as you are clear, I think you should go ahead and take the plunge. If you are keen to share some management wisdom or 25 tips about a niche domain, please pause a moment to consult Mother Google just to know what is already out there. And to ensure you can be different, if not unique.
As to the process of publishing, a word of caution. Recently, I read a self-published book by someone who has founded an institution to support a humanitarian cause. There were so many proofing errors and layout glitches that what ought to have been a good, moving series of stories had been reduced to an annoying distraction. I did not have the heart to recommend the book to anyone, lest it discredit the author and hamper the cause. Apparently, the writer had used a “self-publishing package” suggested by the publisher.
Another writer (a national figure) was castigated by a much-published veteran for using a “cheap” publisher and made to republish the book under a more reputed name because the book deserved it.
So, not just the writer, the publisher matters too. Pick someone who aligns with your thinking and has something more substantial to offer than projections of revenue and reputation.
The randomness of it all
Publishing, the knowledgeable say, is a strange, unpredictable world. Not every bestseller might be recommended reading from the perspective of your English professor. William Thackeray dismissed popular novels as “jam tarts for the mind”. However, in publishing, the hits are what sustain the business.
You must have read Danielle Steel. Her 200-plus books have sold over a billion copies! As Catherine Nixey writes in her piece in The Economist, Steel’s novels are “a literary sediment, settling on the shelves of holiday cottages everywhere.” Many are the (would-be) authors who would attempt to Chandrayaan the moon, just to become such sediment!
What is the formula then to make your book a hit? The wise say there is no formula or magic.
Apparently, that is how the publisher Random House got its name. Again, as The Economist reports, in the words of Markus Dohle, the boss: “Success is random. Bestsellers are random. So that’s why we are the Random House.” Jonathan Karp, the chief executive of Simon & Schuster, thinks taking credit for a best seller is “like taking credit for the weather”.
In 2018, Northeastern University researchers analysed almost eight years’ worth of New York Times bestsellers and came up with some tips for aspiring writers: fiction (thrillers and romance especially) sells better than non-fiction; if you must pen a non-fiction, stick to a biography; and, it really helps if your name is known.
Any lessons from the bestselling authors? They are prolific, says The Economist. Danielle Steel writes until her nails bleed. Fleming recommended writing 2,000 words a day and not to sully this with “too much introspection and self-criticism”. James Patterson has churned out more than 340 books (some in collaboration with other writers). The mantra then is, “Don’t get it right, get it writ”.
Bleeding nails? Just get it writ? Hmm, I am not sure.
What do you think, Mr. Shakespeare? If you were to do it now, would Midsummer Night have remained just that, a Dream? Or, without Much Ado, would you have simply unleashed a digital, self-published Tempest?
Graphic: https://natlib.govt.nz/records/40382902; https://www.vecteezy.com/png/9399398-old-vintage-book-clipart-design-illustration;
With change fast and furious as always, how relevant is what your school taught you two or more decades ago? What is it that you have had to or want to unlearn to cope with today?
Medscape asked this question recently about medical school. Even before I read the article in full, I shared the same question with a few doctor friends. I expected some finger-wagging about the need to keep up with technology and some frowns at the interfering Dr Google. I also expected doctors in the US and India to come up with different answers. Well, surprise!
What Medscape gathered
This is the gist of what Medscape gathered.
What my doctor friends said
What have you unlearnt?
Yes, apparently robots are wonderful surgeons today. But the patients are not automations. The core message from everywhere appears to be to take time to listen and clasp a hand before the robot takes over.
I am grateful to my doctor friends who were kind enough to share their opinion. Special thanks to Dr Srinagesh Simha, Dr Khurshid Bhalla and Dr Pushkar Khair.
So much about the medical profession. What about your profession? Is there something you have unlearnt? Is there something that was taught to you decades ago, but you disagree with today?
Today is the day, like yesterday and like tomorrow, when you will hear a couple of words a lot.
This morning, I got this arrestingly misleading, three-colored message from my bank, asking me to move towards independence by taking a loan on my credit card and to increase my credit limit so that I can be free to spend more.
How can a loan, or spending more (simply because I can), put me on the path to financial freedom?
I went back to one poem that has stayed with me from my school days. The one that is most quoted when the tricolor is in season.
Where the mind is without money fear
Where the mind is without money fear
And the head is held confidently high
Where finance knowledge is free and sought
Where the world has not been broken up into extremes
By birth, faith or narrow money walls
Where words speaking needs and dreams
Come out from the depth of truth
And are heard with true empathy
By those who know more and can advise with integrity
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards freedom
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of apps and influencer mirages
Where the mind is led forward by simple goals
Down the ever-vigilant path of thought and action
Into that heaven of finance freedom, my Father,
Please let us all awake.
Thank you my good friend Lovaii Navlakhi, for being a patient money teacher for so long.
And apologies, Rabindranath Tagore, for twisting your precious words to send this message.
First published here.
Blame it on Barbenheimer? Or are we being corned into popping more into our mouth just by being in a theatre regardless of what is playing before us?
Sarah Lefebvre, Ph.D., an associate professor of marketing at Murray State University says it’s all in the mood. “When we lower the lighting, we're more relaxed, which usually increases satisfaction in general with your overall experience …. We're gonna probably consume a little more because A, we’re not really paying attention, and B, we don't really care.”
Low lighting at restaurants makes you more indulgent with your choices (skip salad, have fries to fill). When it’s dim, foods with just one dimension of taste (sweet or salt, like popcorn) taste better. Add the movie distraction and bring on more popcorn! And you eat more when the air is chilly!
Plus, adds this TIME report, there is the matter of close identification with the characters in front of you. Watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Keep them pizzas coming! And when those projected finish eating, you reach for something sweet too.
Looks like eating more is scripted, no matter what the film is. So how much did you pay for the ticket last time? And for the popcorn?
Read the complete report here:The Science Behind Why We Eat so Much at the Movies | Time