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Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Treasure

It was a small headline that read,' Cult film sparks hunt for a fortune.' The newspaper tabloids reported the death of a Japanese woman in a field outside Detroit Lakes in Minnesota. She had reportedly been looking for a hidden treasure, depicted in the movie Fargo. I felt I needed to get inside her head and know what was driving her to search for something that did not exist. What were the last moments of her life like?

Armed with morbid curiosity and my camera, I set out to search the breadcrumb trail she had left behind during the last few days of her life. The first place I went to was the police station where a long-haul truck driver had brought her after she was found wandering alone by the highway. Barely clothed to ward off the cold of a Minnesota winter, he thought she’d freeze to death until she got some help. AT first, the police officer on duty thought that she was a prostitute. ‘No one dresses like that in that weather. No one sane.’ He said to me.

He had tried to talk to her, but she barely spoke English. The only word he understood, which she kept saying over and over again was –Fargo, Fargo, Fargo.

She had shown him a map with an X. He could identify some marks that looked like roads, trees, and a lake. Could she have been looking for the money mentioned in the movie Fargo? He tried to explain that it wasn’t real. That it was just a movie. But she kept insisting on being there- almost pleading in a language he did not understand.

He decided to take her to the bus station. On her way, she kept clutching at her stomach and said something. He suspected that she might be pregnant. Did she want the money for her unborn child?

It was important for her to be with her family in this condition. Why was this woman wandering in the streets instead? He told her to reach out to him if needed and asked her to go home. She walked away.

‘I shouldn’t have let her go on her own. Why didn’t I do more for her?’, he lamented.

Upon further investigations, I found that she had checked into a cheap motel nearby. I asked to be let into the room she was in. I lay in the bed she had laid and looked out of the window that opened to a parking lot and a neon sign. It was depressing. I gathered my things and went out.

I asked the bellboy if she had gone anywhere. He said that she had taken a taxi. I found the cab driver who drove her there and asked him to drop me where he had dropped her.

It was the middle of nowhere.

I walked in the cold air with the sound of silence. Soon, I reached the place she had been found dead. She had died of exposure. They had found her with her face was buried in the snow. A cold, lonely death.

The last person I wanted to speak with was the lead investigator of her death. He told me that she had made a long phone call before her death. He also gave me her last known address in Tokyo.

After a long flight, I knocked on the door of a two-storied house. An old lady opened the door. She was the landlady of the Japanese woman. I had a translator with me who eased me into the conversation. I grabbed at the bits as she spoke swiftly.  The dead woman was a country girl who had found a job in the city in a travel agency. Through her work, she had met an American gentleman who was in Tokyo for business.

The landlady believed that they were engaged to be married when her tenant lost her job. The fiancé left for his country too. After months of waiting and no contact from his side, the girl decided to go to America on her own where she thought he lived. In a town called Fargo.

Based on a true story

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The paradox of success

Sometimes, our success can make us impatient with the failures of others. Maybe we can empathize more with the struggles of the multitude when we are struggling ourselves. But with every ascent, as the height increases, we look down upon those we started with;  not acknowledging that they might have problems that we are not aware of.

We begin to attribute their issues to attitude problem. We might even try to fix it. Try to make them more like us. But success or failure is not the result of just attitude. Twenty other things are as influential. All the maxims oversimplify the truth.

Not everyone has to finish the race at the same time to win. In fact, there is no race at all. If someone asks for your advice, be generous with it. But don't waste time and energy in sheer pedagogy. It is insulting to the receiver.

The paradox of success is this: you have to separate yourself from what you have achieved. What you have might be delightful, but it might not be what someone else wants. Let them find their way to success and happiness.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

The burden of expectations

One of my juniors from B-school had her wedding scheduled at the end of this month. The venue was booked, invitations had been sent out, and I had already decided what I’d be giving her as a wedding gift.

Yesterday, she messaged me that the nuptials had been called off. I called her immediately to make sure she was okay and that it wasn’t just a lovers’ tiff. She seemed sure of her decision. I asked her to meet because this is not a conversation you can have over the phone.

I had some inkling about what the issue could have been and I was right. Family. She said that her fiancé expected her to live with his parents six months every year after marriage. It was not that she was not ready for that, but he never thought of asking her first. Not having a choice is what ticked her off.

I see it as a symptom of a bigger problem. If a well-educated, financially independent girl like her is not allowed to have a choice, who else possibly could? She regrets not having handled the situation the best way she could have, but I had to ask her what the alternative was. She would have given in to his wish and accepted the terms. But what if she felt that it was not working out for her after six months of marriage ?

I always believe that whatever happens is for the best. She should, at least, have had the option to say no. Imposing decisions like these is just the beginning. No matter how much time and energy she has invested in this relation, it is nothing compared to the rest of her life. Eight months is nothing compared to the remaining 50-60 years of her life. In the long-run, it won't even matter.

I hope her family understands that she needs their support now more than ever. She shouldn’t be demonized to wanting to live life a certain way. At another time, he might have been the right guy for her. But right now their priorities are different. She wants to spend time with him alone and get to know him. He wants his house full of people with zero privacy.

Privacy. The concept is so alien to some people. It is spoken in whispers like it is criminal to want it. Not everyone wants to get married by 22, have a kid by 23, and call it life. She wants to travel the world with her husband. Build memories that last a lifetime. What is wrong in wanting that? Not everyone is the same. How can you expect someone else to give up their dreams because they don’t fit in with yours?

I think that people who agree with everything someone asks them to do, have some deep-rooted issues. They probably assume they are not good enough or are dependent in some way. Too scared to antagonize their ‘savior’.  Or some ulterior motive. Like her not-to-be-future-sister-in-law who lives with her in-laws, wakes up at 5 in the morning, goes to work, and then comes home to daily chores. She thought that the SIL was some superwoman, so she asked her the secret of her success. The SIL replied- ‘Look at the brighter side, I don’t need a nanny for my kids. They are not going to live more than ten years anyways.’

You need to have an icy, calculating heart to think of the death of a person as your only relief. If I had issues with someone, I’d want to work it out – not pray for their death. My friend is a genuine person to have refused what she thinks she can not handle rather than pretend to be okay with it or try to manipulate the situation to her advantage.

 I hope she finds her happiness with or without him.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

My impressions about Vienna

I believe that when we visit a place, we bring a unique perspective with us. And no matter how many people have been there before us, how many travel logs we read or shows we watch - when we experience something with our senses first-hand, we form impressions that are truly ours.

Most of us are no different from Columbus or Neil Armstrong- the first stranger in an alien land. The small town girl who marvels at the city lights for the first time, pilgrims who make arduous journeys overseas, the foodie who seeks to taste exotic flavors in foreign lands, even the mother who finds the courage to visit her children settled abroad after having spent her whole life in the same neighborhood. We are all explorers. Maybe not celebrated or renowned, but in no small measure either.

One of my favorite ways to explore a new city is to walk in it. I use Google Maps on my phone to get a general direction of my destination, then grab my camera and some comfortable shoes and set out. It is best if the weather is sunny and breezy, but a light drizzle never mars my spirits. You can take some amazing pictures of an overcast sky, which you would miss on a sunny day.

Pictures on an overcast/rainy day 

Inside St. Peter's Church

During the cab ride from the airport to our hotel, I had glimpses of the monumental buildings in the city. Some of the most noteworthy buildings include the Parliament, City Hall (built in Flemish Gothic style ), the Burgtheater (New Baroque) the State Opera, the University, and the Museum of Natural History(Neo-Renaissance). Dramatic figures in marble abound.

 Statue of Hercules bashing Antaeus

You will also find Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, in a gilded helmet and armor, standing on a pillar, guarding the parliament.

The first thing I tasted upon arrival was Weiner Schnitzel (Weiner=Viennese, Wein=Vienna, German). Traditionally, it is thin, breaded and pan-fried veal, often served with parsley potatoes. Another favorite I discovered was an apricot filled ice cream with hazelnut crust (Eis Marille Knödel) from Tichy Saloneis. Don’t try it from anywhere else. They make them fresh that don’t freeze your teeth like the knockoffs.

City folks in traditional Austrian clothes

We chanced upon a weekend market at Rathaus Platz and tasted some local Austrian beer, ripe cheese, and wine. The people were enjoying their weekend. Kids played in areas inside straw bales while the parents chatted away. Some of them wore traditional Austrian clothes: Girls in Dirndl and guys in Lederhosen. It is the clothing of Alps country folks/peasants and often seen in Austria, Germany, and some parts of Italy.

I had a chance to visit the History of Art Museum (Kunsthistorisches Museum), Leopold Museum, and Belvedere Gallery.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum is a palatial building on Ringstraße and is the current domicile of several art collections & antiquities. Tablets with information on the artifacts are available on benches on one side of the room. The museum is huge and anything less than 3 hours would be criminal. I hope to go back again someday. I have missed the Natural History Museum, Albertina, and the Sigmund Freud Museum.

Men dressed in Mozart tout tickets to tourists for concerts at Museumplatz. A friend said that they sold bogus tickets meaning to rip off the uninformed. What surprised me was that they were doing it right in front of uniformed police officers. Maybe some of their business is legit.

Leopold Museum houses modern Austrian art, featuring artists such as Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Richard Gerstl. Though I find the work and life of modern and contemporary artists fascinating, I am slightly partial to classical art.

The Belvedere was the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy. Cameras are not allowed inside the exhibits except for a dedicated selfie point and the marble work on the ceilings. However, you can take as many shots of the spectacular view of the city from the entrance.

One of the most interesting things we did was take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the city from Michaelplatz. You may make a special request for a ‘porcelain ride’ that was used to transfer porcelain in earlier days. The slow tread of the horses is so relaxing you will want to do it all day.

We spent some good days in the city. Dinner with friends, walks after dinner, coffee shops that are open past midnight. A special shout to Gautam Mama and Gopa Mami for all their love and attention. They took us to Schönbrunn Palace gardens and Donau Tower that offers a 360 degrees view of the city.

I fell in love with you Vienna. Can’t wait till we meet again.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Breaking point

A family tragedy
When I was about 11 years old, a suicide in the family left us in shock. I saw my mother break down and cry like I had never seen before. My father was fighting hard to hide his tears as he walked out of the house to arrange to get possession of the ‘body’ of the deceased for the family to pay respects and to mourn. Later, I heard that he had carried the head of the corpse on his lap during the 1.5 hours drive back home.

I had met the person some days earlier. He had been nice and had greeted me with a hello I will never forget. It was tragic, of course. Everyone felt guilty for not having seen it coming. Then came the rage- blaming him for being so selfish, for leaving behind two kids who were younger than me, for abandoning the poor patients he had been treating gratis. I am sure that one thing was common for everyone- they kept thinking what they could have done differently to have saved him from hanging himself on a cold January morning.

However, the tragedy brought the family together. We didn’t take each other for granted anymore. For a while, at least. But I am not sure if anyone could have stopped what had transpired. Nobody knows for sure the threshold where an otherwise healthy person just snaps and decides to give up on the world.

Usual reasons
I suspect that it is usually from a sense of deep personal or professional failure that drives people to the edge. A very promising student was found cheating in his exams and was suspended to take his boards for two years. I heard that he later tried to consume phenyl to end his life. Though he survived the attempt, I was left wondering if anything I could say that time would change his grim view of life. He’d have to fight his own battle and come out strong, which I am happy to say he did. We lost touch for a few years, but when we connected again- my respect for him had not diminished in any way as a batch mate. 

Loneliness is another factor that often drives someone into taking extreme measures. Having lived through days when I had to wake up to the same four walls every day with no idea of what the future might hold, I know it can be a very debilitating and emotionally exhausting. Not sensing a purpose of life, facing a terminal/incurable disease or an unfaithful spouse can make Pagliacci cry. 

A few things that worked for me
I have always believed that it is better to hurt back than to end your life for being emotionally bruised. Rage is better than self-loathing. But hatred is a heavy burden to carry. It wears you down and makes you unhappy.

I have found a very simple solution for self-preservation. If someone makes me unhappy more than I care to admit, I give a little space for that person to realize what they have done wrong. The friend who takes a refusal too personally or the relative who never thought you would amount to anything- unkind people will always inhabit the world. More than anything, it is their unhappiness that makes them so. The wise thing to do would be to move on. Honestly, no one can not fix everything and everyone. And if you try to, when would you have the time to create happiness for yourself and others?

When I felt that I was not finding value in my work, I started volunteering. There are billions of people in this world. It is enough to make just one good friend. It helps if you have several. If not a friend, at least, someone you can talk to. Even charmers can be lonely because they never have an authentic dialog. Their objective is to seduce you with their words, not have an honest conversation. 

The least we can do is be honest with ourselves. If we know what we truly seek, we can focus our energy in pursuing that goal. Keeping busy helps. I find myself too exhausted to mull over negative things when I am chasing a personal deadline. As kids, we were often advised to have several hobbies. I write a lot when I am unhappy. It is a way of expressing my frustration. I try to paint. I like to experiment in my kitchen. I try not to care what opinion others have of my creation because it is something I do for myself: fill my time with the therapeutic ritual of making cursive notes on paper, brushstrokes on canvas, chopping vegetables.

Sharing our woes with the world also makes us realize that we are not alone. PostSecret gave me more anonymous friends than I can count. Telling my tale with their words, healing my wounds with their accord. Though I don’t visit it as often anymore, I’d advise anyone having the blues to check the page out.

Lastly, be kind to yourself. You have not been defeated until you have given up on life. At times, I felt the darkness close in on me. Hopelessness would engulf me like a monstrous cloud, dampening my spirits. Then I sought for light within. I played a game with myself –making a list of places I want to visit; things I want to do before I die. Sometimes, I even imagined I was far, far away from my troubles- in a world of relatively more happiness. (I am a realist- perfect happiness doesn’t exist.) I visualized a picture of my happy elements. When I was single, I imagined a man who’d value me for the person I was and would love me like I were a princess who deserved the best. And I did find that guy. Rather he found me.  I think I dreamed him into life.

Also, it is not essential to share your life with someone. A spouse or a good friend is just someone you can count on. But if you are not happy with yourself, you can never give happiness to others. And then you’d have nothing even if you had it all. Don’t let yourself become that bitter person who finds fault with everyone. Try to focus on the positive. After all, we are not perfect ourselves.

Recommended further reading: Why complaining is killing you

Saturday, January 09, 2016

অনুগল্প #1

বৃষ্টির জলে চোখের জল মিশে যাচ্ছে। কান্নাটা কিন্তু আনন্দের।
চিৎকার করে কেঁদে নি একা ঘরে। কেউ শোনার নেই, কেউ শুনতেও চায় না।
মেয়েটির হাতে আজ ৫ টাকার বেলুন। একদিন ৫ লাখের হীরেও এই আনন্দ দেবে না।
আজ ঠাকুরদা চলে গেলেন। সব চেয়ে বেশি ভাঙ্গতে দেখলাম ঠাকুমাকে। ৬২ বছরের সঙ্গীকে বিদায় দিতে গিয়ে।
তোমার বাড়ির সামনে দিয়ে গেলে আজও চোখ চলে যায় সেই দিকে। অপমান ভুলে গেছি, শুধু ভালোবাসাটাই মনে আছে। 
তোমার স্নেহের পরশের হাত আজও মুঠি বন্ধ। যাকে দেবে বলে বাঁচিয়ে রেখেছ সে নিশ্চয় আমার চেয়ে অনেক অনেক ভালো। 
হিসেবে ভুল ছিল- অঙ্কে বরাবরই কাঁচা। তাই যা হিসেব করেছি তার চেয়ে অনেক বেশি পেয়েছি ।

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Living in the moment, creative visualization, and some Jedi advice

One of the biggest challenges I face every day is over thinking. This uses up my mental energy and leaves very little to pursue creative channels that should otherwise be my primary focus. I am working for two anchor clients presently, and I need considerable time just to think about design elements that can make my final product better. When stray thoughts break out into a flash mob, I have to hold the reins of my thoughts and guide myself towards the task at hand.

It helps to have a job that you love. But for people like me, who like to indulge in daydreams, the Jedi have a word of advice: Live in the present moment.

Recurrent challenges of everyday life
Usually, I take advantage of my focus in the morning, when the mind is relatively clear. As soon as I wake up, I make myself a cup of coffee and get to work. This is the most productive part of my day. As the day progresses, the distractions begin to appear- making a phone call, checking my email, stealing a peep into my FB, maybe even replying to Whatsapp messages. I have it under control now because I don't allow myself to pick up my phone that often. All notifications are silent, and my phone is set not to ring.

Lunch time is always a challenge because I end up taking the longest break during that time. I work from home mostly, so I have to cook too. Though there are no elaborate feasts, I need a couple of hours to prepare lunch and dinner for the day. That means my work day extends well beyond regular 9-5 routine. I find myself working until before dinner time, especially if the challenge is particularly interesting.

Suggested solutions
A few hours outdoors is essential for the mind to reanimate itself, enabling you to think of an alternative and often a more creative solution.

Let's be realistic. We will never stop day-dreaming. But we can guide our unstructured daydreaming into structured creative visualizations and build new neural pathways. In essence, we will be reprogramming our brains.

Another way to conserve mental energy is to minimize negative thoughts about yourself and others. You may not realize this, but when you think or speak negatively about someone, it sends negative messages to your unconscious.  In the long run, it makes you feel a lot worse than the dark, fleeting joy of gossiping. We have a rule in our house- we do not discuss people until necessary.

In times of self-doubt, list your accomplishments. I am sure that every one of us has done something we can be proud of. In your darkest despair, borrow the light from your most glorious moments.

And lastly, a word from Jedi Master Yoda: “Always pass on what you have learned.”