Tag Archives: #generational

What Is Your Friend?

Covid-19’s social distancing protocols have resurrected and increased social connections. It looks like we all have an uptick in the frequency of video calls, large chat groups, and increased social media activity. I know many of us are now in touch with college groups, school groups, family groups, cousin groups, children’s school groups, neighborhood groups and so much more. There really was no reason for any of these interactions to have not taken place earlier – the infrastructure, technology, and people were always there. Only one thing seems to have changed – the incessant demands of the clock on our time. 

For some, caring for younger people or older people in their care, Covid-19 has been doubling difficult. But for several others, Covid-19 has presented us with a curious dilemma: Finding ways to spend time.  Covid-19 has affected people in several ways, and in recent chats and calls, one trend seems to be emerging: What is your friend?

A few months ago, one of our aunts was visiting and the family had gathered around for a day of fun, and laughter which she invariably ensured was there around her. 

“What is your day like Athai (Aunt)? How do you pass time?” I asked.

This is one of the questions that I pose to those of the older generation often. I know boredom and loneliness can be a big problem for some people. However, there are a few in the older generation who somehow manage to retain their vibrant joie-de-vivre as they age, so that they are not just occupied but keep themselves happily occupied and stimulated. 

“I am occupied enough, “ she began. After she told us in loving detail of time spent with her family, particularly grandsons, she said with a smile, “I practice what I want to teach later in the day to my students, and I find the time flies past. Music is really a friend.“

It was true. I remember visiting this Aunt and heard her humming and practicing a particularly tricky song that she wanted to teach her students later that day. She was trying it as she cooked & cleaned and it made for a comforting background while we went about our day. 

Many I know find it heavy-going after retiring from their busy lives. Some find solace in the demands of religion, others find themselves watching a lot of television. A few, though, find ways in which to keep themselves intellectually stimulated and happy. These people seem to be the kind of people who are not only in touch with their Eternal Selves, but also nourished and sustained it. They are the ones who quite unwittingly spread joy and happiness around them by virtue of being happy with their own state of being.

Mary Oliver’s, Upstream is a book of many marvelous essays. The essay, Of Power and Time, talks about the three selves in many of us:

The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. 

The second self is the Social Self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executor. 

Then, there is the Eternal Self: the creative self, the dreamer, the wanderer. 

The Child Self is in us always, it never really leaves us. I completely identify with that. I am decades away from my childhood, but I can dip into it like I only just grew up.  Everything felt keener and sharper as children, and that is part of the reason why The Child Self never really leaves us, I suppose. (Probably the reason why I forget the name of the person I met yesterday, but remember the names of my friends from when I was 5 years old)

The second self is the Social Self. This is the do-er, the list maker, the planner, the executor. The one, in short, that most of us find ourselves trapped in for the most part of our lives. This is “the smiler and the doorkeeper” as Mary Oliver so elegantly puts it. This self I am familiar with: metaphorically the whirlpool, the swift horses of time, the minute keeper.

“This is the portion that winds the clock, that steers through the dailiness of life, that keeps in mind appointments that must be made. Whether it gathers as it goes some branch of wisdom or delight, or nothing at all, is a matter with which it is hardly concerned. What this self hears night and day, what it loves beyond all other songs, is the endless springing forward of the clock, those measures strict and vivacious, and full of certainty.”

The social, attentive self’s surety is what makes the world go around as she says.

Then, there is the third self: The Creative Self, the dreamer, the wanderer.

“Certainly there is within each of us a self that is neither a child, nor a servant of the hours. It is a third self, occasional in some of us, tyrant in others. This self is out of love with the ordinary, it is out of love with time. It has a hunger for eternity.”

The essay goes on to explain the regular, ordinary self in contrast to the creative self. The Creative Self – the one that is out of love with the ordinary, out of love with the demands of time or the regular routines of life, is concerned with something else, the extraordinary. This is the self, she says, that makes the world move forward.

“The extraordinary is what Art is about. No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not. Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures it is seldom seen, It likes the out-of-doors. It likes the concentrating mind. It likes its solitude.”

Finding something that makes us want to do something without tangible rewards is the most gratifying thing in the world. Not all of us can lead the life of an artist, but we each can devote small amounts of time consistently to find an artistic pursuit that sustains us. It may be in the creative process in things as varied as tinkering with wood or analyzing the ebb and flow of economic market conditions. 

The essay ended on this note:

“The most regretful people on Earth are those who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither time nor power.” – Mary Oliver

The Aunt who said “Music is a friend!” gave to her creative spirit time and power. Covid-19 has given us the unique opportunity to pause and evaluate what we do with our time. Some have exceeded themselves on the culinary front, some others with photography, some have taken up gardening. I find it refreshing to see the Creative Self reviving in so many of us who have given in to the power of the time-bound social self for so long.

What is your friend?

Saumya Balasubramanian writes regularly at nourishncherish.wordpress.com. Some of her articles have been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Hindu, and India Currents. She lives with her family in the Bay Area where she lilts along savoring the ability to find humor in everyday life and finding joy in the little things.

Rapid Renewal

With the entire world seemingly off the highways and on WebEx or Zoom, I got to thinking if there is some good that will come out of this pandemic, a silver lining in the polluted clouds.  For those of you not feeling terribly hopeful right now, isn’t it wonderful to know that when there’s a burning platform in front of us, we will come together to take action?  It gives me hope around what we, 7.6 billion, can collectively do to turn the tide on climate change!

To be sure, these trying times of the coronavirus might reverse the progress made with controlling carbon dioxide emissions; but in the first quarter of 2020, global emissions were down considerably.  Like an overweight sick person who loses weight, at least we plump citizens of the earth now empirically know that we can do something to manage our over-consumption.  Here’s a somewhat optimistic article I wrote from a family trip last year to Kerala, India’s own version of paradise.

On a hopeful day after Christmas in Kochi, I am reflecting on what a solar eclipse means to me.  While I can focus on the darkness, given the many blessings that have come my way I prefer the light.  Perhaps it is merely the spirit of the season that has given me hope in what otherwise has been a rather dispiriting close to the past decade.  Or perhaps because, here in Kerala, I’m reminded of the diversity that has long been India’s strength.

This inclusive sense of all religions sharing India as a welcoming home is reflected in a favorite ditty of mine from Manmohan Desai’s film Amar Akbar Anthony:

Anhoni ko honi karde honi ko anhoni | We make the impossible possible and the possible impossible!

Ek jagah jab jama ho teeno | Together in one place, we three stand united:

Amar Akbar Anthony

This is the first time in nearly two decades that I have not spent Christmas Eve at the Stanford Theater on University Avenue in Palo Alto, California.  My family has made a tradition of going to see a film quite different from Amar Akbar Anthony, but one with a similarly hopeful heart: It’s A Wonderful Life, the holiday classic directed by Frank Capra.

My family missed seeing our favorite Christmas movie because we were in Cherai Beach, at a resort some 45 minutes north of Kerala’s Cochin International Airport (COK).  We were having a reunion of sorts, with family in India coming from Hyderabad, Kolkata, and Pune, and family from outside of India coming from Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  It has been a time of great joy, but I find myself reflecting on the past “dumpster fire” of a decade. 

I’m usually a hopeful sort, but as I look back over the past ten years, the metaphor that haunts me is a heartless fire.  I smell this place that I call home burning. Home is Earth. Home is India. Home is America.

Our planet is literally on fire.  According to nasa.gov, “The world is getting warmer. Whether the cause is human activity or natural variability—and the preponderance of evidence says it’s humans—thermometer readings all around the world have risen steadily since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.”  The website proceeds to ask (and then answer), “But why should we care about one degree of warming?” I think each of us must answer that question in our own way. 

Raj with his granddaughter, Eshni.

For me, it’s not just the Earth science, although that, too, is vitally important.  It is about the world that my granddaughter, Eshni, will inhabit long after I am gone.  Already, I am distraught about the fact that while she was in New Delhi, Eshni was smoking nearly 50 cigarettes each day.  Okay, my daughter and son-in-law’s nine-month-old baby wasn’t actually dragging on several packs of Marlboros or Charminars, but she might as well have been.  The smoke in the capital of the country of my birth is intolerable and getting worse. I can barely imagine what is worse than intolerable. Unlivable? 

And the United States is not much better.  Although we Americans don’t have the daily visual clues to tell us that our planet is burning, I, as a Californian, can attest to the fact that the blue sky is a false harbinger of things to come if we don’t manage the change of climate change.  For two weeks last year, I could not step out of my home without tearing up. Yes, I’m an emotional sort who is easily moved to tears in sentimental Bollywood and Hollywood movies. But these weren’t filmy tears. No, the sun in my gray sky was eclipsed by smoke from fires burning thousands of acres over 100 miles away.  The sting of the smoke caused the tears and required me to wear a mask so that I could breathe. And if we can’t breathe, our world becomes unlivable, acre-by-acre. California’s thousands of charred acres have now given way to Australia’s millions of scarred acres. I take in the smoky air and choke at the impossibility of doing anything substantial about climate change.

When troubled by national and international issues, I look to good governance to save the day.  Surely the United Nations or the Prime Minister of India or the President of the United States have the foresight to envision a world that is habitable for my little Eshni.  Hooray for the UN. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has a fine objective to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”  If this were baseball, I would be shouting, “Hip, hip, hooray! Let’s put the UN Secretary-General into the Hall of Fame!” I would throw a parade for our collective grandchildren’s happy future world. Well, it seems that the UN does throw parties of a sort.  Year after year since 1995, there has been a Conference of the Parties. And year after year, the climate gets hotter and hotter. Protocols such as the Paris Agreement are ratified and rejected by the countries I call my own.

America and India’s positions on the protocols are quite telling and put one nation firmly in a disquieting Hall of Shame and the other in a disorienting Hall of Mirrors.

Trump’s United States is a rejecter of the protocols. Modi’s India is ostensibly a supporter. Both Trump and Modi remind me of those afflicted with the disease of hubris that has them looking directly at a solar eclipse as if their retinas could withstand fire.

In his first year in office, President Trump said, “The Paris accord will undermine (the U.S.) economy,” and “puts (the U.S.) at a permanent disadvantage.”  Donald Trump moved the needle from intolerable and unlivable to unthinkable. Midway through Trump’s term, The Atlantic Monthly listed some 50 unthinkable acts that characterized the Trump Presidency.  In essence, while the earth burns, Trump fiddles on his many incendiary interests including the following from the past 12 months:  building a wall at the US/Mexican border, adding trillions to the fiscal deficit, overseeing a contraction of domestic manufacturing, threatening and waffling on tariffs, recklessly executing an unethical—if not illegal—assassination of a foreign official to gin up a war to win votes, and responding to the inquiry of impeachment with a multitude of distracting lies.

On paper, Prime Minister Modi is the anti-Trump, almost an exemplar of climate change leadership.  He has done much to champion India as a global green leader; indeed, one can see solar panels floating on acres around COK, making Kochi’s airport the first in the world running fully on solar power.  But despite his laudable renewable energy investments in solar and wind farms, the Prime Minister was a reluctant signatory to the Paris Agreement; he has argued that as a developing country focused on giving her citizens a better life, India must not be constrained from investing in coal and other dirty fossil fuels.  There is much truth to the position that emerging economies merit dispensations not afforded to countries, which developed during the Industrial Age’s plunder of the Earth, but one must ask questions about Narendra Modi’s commitment to giving all Indians a better life.

What is the Prime Minister’s philosophy of social justice?  What are his intentions to make India not only a global green leader but also a moral leader?  Why does his office in Delhi encourage policies that are Hindu-centric rather than Hindustan-centric?  Perhaps the Modi Ministry could benefit from a rereading of Section 420 in the Indian Penal Code to clarify its disambiguation in how Muslims are treated as a source of terror. Certainly, a unified India would be more influential on the world stage if her fissiparous tendencies did not distract from the real terror of global warming.

Imagine an Earth with the blood-red skies of Australia where people flee to beaches to escape bushfires racing towards the coast. In Kerala, my hope is that we are not required to retire to backwaters houseboats to escape the fires of climate change; my hope is that we are not all sidetracked by our “Distractors-in-Chief;” my hope is that with a Surya Namaskar, we salute the sun as it rises; my hope is that hope is not eclipsed. 

While it has been lovely to celebrate time with family on the tranquil waters in what Keralites call “God’s Own Country,” inevitably all of us want to return to our wonderful lives in Pune, Melbourne, London, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and California. None of us desire a world where we, or our brothers and sisters, are climate refugees, or refugees of any sort seeking to escape home due to persecution of our race, religion, or sexual identity.  How about we convey our belief in the art of possibility and translate “Amar Akbar Anthony” for the next generation of (grand) children making Planet Earth their home?

We make the impossible possible and the possible impossible!

Together in one place, we three stand united:

Eshni, Ayesha, Emily.

Dr. Rajesh C. Oza, a Change Management Consultant, envisions 2020 as a transformative year.  His vision: Replace shortsighted politicians with clear-eyed leaders like Greta Thunberg (climate strike activist and Time’s 2019 Person of the Year) and Varshini Prakash (challenger of climate change’s status quo and Executive Director of the Sunrise Movement).


Featured image drawn by Mangla Oza.