These are a few of my favorite things: #39(Walden on Wheels : On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom by Ken Ilgunas)

Pic courtesy New york times

Pic courtesy New york times

This book takes us on an inspiring journey as we get to know how the author Ken Ilgunas frees himself from a massive educational loan by following the simplicity n frugality model of Thoreau’s Walden.

I was drawn to the book for 3 main reasons. First, I found Ilgunas’ desire to live super frugally in order to pay his loans Very refreshing. This is totally opposite of what I see the kids doing in India(majority though definitely not all).  Parents here  finance the most expensive education of kids, even taking loans in their own names. & after that if these kids don’t get a high paying job which  they feel they deserve, they won’t pick up some small jobs to support themselves + they never dream of cutting down their royal extravagant lifestyle. They must have all the luxuries: expensive gym memberships,  expensive food items. Even after draining their parents financially, they behave irresponsibly, can’t be bothered to switch of lights n fans even when not in use (electricity bills be damned, after all parent will be paying for that too in any case), they can’t even pick up after themselves or do things around home (they need to have their personal servants). The standards of living of these shameless, self entitled youth is very high. Ken Ilgunas is indeed the role model this generation needs.

Second I’ve always admired Thoreau’s experiments in solitude, simplicity & frugality.

Third I find the calm, quite life full of simplicity, solitude & grace which the author led far more desirable & charming than the grotesque life of the Filthy Rich n Famous

Here is an excerpt from the book:

My experiment began in the spring semester of 2009 when I enrolled in the graduate liberal studies department. Months before, I had just finished paying off $32,000 in undergraduate student loans — no easy feat for an English major.

To pay off my debt, I’d found jobs that provided free room and board. I moved to Coldfoot, Alaska — 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 250 from the nearest store — where I worked as a lodge cleaner, a tour guide and a cook. Later, I worked on a trail crew in Mississippi in an AmeriCorps program. Between jobs I hitchhiked more than 7,000 miles to avoid paying airfare. When I couldn’t find work, I moved in with friends. My clothes came from donation bins, I had friends cut my hair, and I’d pick up odd jobs when I could. Nearly every dime I made went into my loans.

I hated my debt more than anything. I dragged it with me wherever I went. While I was still leading an exciting, adventurous life, I knew I could never truly be free until my debt was gone.

I finally got out of the red when I landed a well-paying job with the Park Service as a backcountry ranger. Finally, after two and a half years of work, my debt was gone. I had four grand in the bank that was mine. All mine. It was the first time I had actual money that hadn’t been borrowed or given to me since I was a 13-year-old paperboy.

The more money I had borrowed, I came to realize, the more freedom I had surrendered. Yet, I still considered my education — as costly as it was — to be priceless. So now, motivated to go back to school yet determined not to go back into debt, I had to think outside the box. Or, as Henry David Thoreau might suggest, inside one.

In “Walden,” Thoreau mentioned a 6 foot-by-3 foot box he had seen by the railroad in which laborers locked up their tools at night. A man could live comfortably in one of these boxes, he thought. Nor would he have to borrow money and surrender freedom to afford a “larger and more luxurious box.”

And so: I decided to buy a van. Though I had never lived in one, I knew I had the personality for it. I had a penchant for rugged living, a sixth sense for cheapness, and an unequaled tolerance for squalor.

My first order of business upon moving to Duke was to find my “Walden on Wheels.” After a two-hour bus ride into the North Carolinian countryside, I caught sight of the ’94 Ford Econoline that I had found advertised on Craigslist. Googly-eyed, I sauntered up to it and lovingly trailed fingertips over dents and chipped paint. The classy cabernet sauvignon veneer at the top slowly, sensuously faded downward into lustrous black. I got behind the wheel and revved up the fuel-funneling beast. There was a grumble, a cough, then a smooth and steady mechanical growl. It was big, it was beautiful, and — best of all — it was $1,500.

I bought it immediately. So began what I’d call “radical living.”

My “radical living” experiment convinced me that the things plunging students further into debt — the iPhones, designer clothes, and even “needs” like heat and air conditioning, for instance — were by no means “necessary.” And I found it easier to “do without” than I ever thought it would be. Easier by far than the jobs I’d been forced to take in order to pay off my loans.

Living in a van was my grand social experiment. I wanted to see if I could — in an age of rampant consumerism and fiscal irresponsibility — afford the unaffordable: an education.

I pledged that I wouldn’t take out loans. Nor would I accept money from anybody, especially my mother, who, appalled by my experiment, offered to rent me an apartment each time I called home. My heat would be a sleeping bag; my air conditioning, an open window. I’d shower at the gym, eat the bare minimum and find a job to pay tuition. And — for fear of being caught — I wouldn’t tell anybody.

Living on the cheap wasn’t merely a way to save money and stave off debt; I wanted to live adventurously. I wanted to test my limits. I wanted to find the line between my wants and my needs. I wanted, as Thoreau put it, “to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life … to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

Not only is his story of adventure very gripping n absorbing, but the book is peppered with little gems of wisdom like these:

“Reading sixteenth-century French poetry, suffering through Kant, and studying the finer points of the Jay Treaty may seem to be, on first appearance, completely, utterly, irrefutably pointless, yet somehow in studying, discussing, and writing about these ‘pointless’ subjects, the liberal arts have the capacity to turn on a certain part of the brain that makes us ask ourselves questions like: 

Who am I?  What’s worth fighting for? Who’s lying to us? What’s my purpose? What’s the point of it all? 

Perhaps many students would rather not be irritated with these questions, yet being compelled to grapple with them, it seems, can make us far less likely to be among those who’ll conform, remain complacent, or seek jobs with morally ambiguous employers” (p. 243).

“Discomforts are only discomforting when they’re an unexpected inconvenience, an unusual annoyance, an unplanned-for irritant. Discomforts are only discomforting when we aren’t used to them. But when we deal with the same discomforts every day, they become expected and part of the routine, and we are no longer afflicted with them the way we were…Give your body the chance to harden, your blood to thicken, and your skin to toughen, and you’ll find that the human body carries with it a weightless wardrobe. When we’re hardy in mind and body, we can select from an array of outfits to comfortably bear most any climate”

This book would be of huge interest not only for students, but for anyone seeking simple, spartan, frugal n calm way of living. We need more young guys like Ken Ilgunas n we need more inspirational tales like this.

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September 5, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Book Review, Books, Happiness, Inspiration, Meaning of Life, My Favorite Things, My lifestyle, My Values, Philosophy, Quitting the Rat Race, Reading, Reflections/Musings, Simplicity. Leave a comment.

These are a few of my favorite things: #37 (Picture of Dorian Gray-Oscar Wilde)

Though Oscar Wilde is more famous for his witty one liners which are abundantly present in ‘Picture of Dorian Gray’,what makes this work memorable for me is the exploration of the inner psyche of the eponymous protagonist.

Basil Hallward, an artist, paints a very beautiful portrait of his friend Dorain Gray.

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Gray himself develops a  narcissistic kind of appreciation for his own portrait & thinks:

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& his wishes do indeed come true. So it follows that whatever vile thoughts he thinks & deeds he does his face remains innocent & stays as handsome as ever.He becomes too hedonistic & stops caring for the feelings of others. He starts ignoring the effect of his actions on people close to him. When his fiancee Sybil Vane commits suicide because Dorian decided to dump her for a frivolous reason, he remains nonchalant. Then he goes n murders his friend, Basil n also Sybil’s brother James. The painting becomes uglier n uglier with each misdemeanor.

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Now this is really interesting a human face is indeed a mirror of the inner self of the person. Beauty or ugliness is not just  physical features but also reflects   the person’s  inner life & the quality of thoughts. (Sin is a thing that writes itself across a man’s face. It cannot be concealed.)

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Sadly this fact is not at all accounted by our beauty n youth obsessed society. Many people act like Dorian Gray(“Youth is the only thing worth having. When I find that I am growing old, I shall kill myself.” “I know, now, that when one loses one’s good looks, whatever they may be, one loses everything.”~Dorian Gray) n make huge efforts (even resorting to painful n expensive surgeries) to remain ever youthful. But, alas their inner emptiness is reflected in their face despite impeccable features.

To continue with the plot of the story, finally inner demons begins to catch up with Dorian n one day he himself is disgusted by the ugliness of his portrait & decides to destroy it. As he stabs his painting, Dorian becomes ugly n old n dies n the portrait returns to it’s initial beauty & splendor. The message is quite clear: As Ayn Rand once said, ‘One can evade reality, but one can never evade the consequences of evading reality.

P.S. : It is widely regarded that Dorian became irresponsibly hedonistic n degraded under the influence of his friend Lord Henry Wotton. I’ve totally ignored that aspect because I believe in ultimate responsibility  of an individual for his own thoughts & action. One cannot blame others. One should be mature & wise to understand what advice to follow & what to ignore.

Okay, now having dealt with the story n it’s nuances,let’s sample the signature Oscar Wilde Witticism, which peppers the book throughout especially through Lord Wotton:

“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”

“Humanity takes itself too seriously. It is the world’s original sin. If the cave-man had known how to laugh, History would have been different.”

we always misunderstood ourselves, and rarely understood others”.

“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”

“Some things are more precious because they don’t last long.”

“Always! That is a dreadful word. It makes me shudder when I hear it. Women are so fond of using it. They spoil every romance by trying to make it last for ever.”

“It is perfectly monstrous,’ he said, at last, ‘the way people go about nowadays saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely and entirely true.”

“It is only shallow people who require years to get rid of an emotion. A man who is master of himself can end a sorrow as easily as he can invent a pleasure. I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”

He thought for a moment. “Can you remember any great error that you committed in your early days, Duchess?” he asked, looking at her across the table. 
“A great many, I fear,” she cried.
“Then commit them over again,” he said, gravely. “To get back one’s youth one has merely to repeat one’s follies.”
“A delightful theory!” she exclaimed. ” I must put it into practice.”

August 27, 2013. Tags: , , , , , . Books, Meaning of Life, My Favorite Things, Philosophy, Reflections/Musings. 4 comments.

These are a few of my favorite things: #30 (Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Conell)

Mrs. Bridge

Mrs. Bridge by Evan Connell is the story of India Bridge n her married life. The story is told in form of vignettes/snapshots from events in her daily life rather than as one long continuous narrative. All the vignettes show how she interacts with her children, her husband, her Domestic Help n her Social Circle n thus draw her character sketch for the readers, one episode at a time. This makes the book different n interesting n a very breezy read.

 I found India Bridge’s character fascinating in that I’m always incredulous that some people are actually like her .. she lives to please others. What will others think is her prime guide in doing anything. Even in something as personal as reading books. She doesn’t have any particular taste in books but reads whatever happens to be popular in the circles within which she moves n the purpose for reading books is so that she can talk about them with others!

Her character is brought out in several episodes in the novel, like when she gets upset at her son Douglas ‘cos he actually uses the expensive napkins which she keeps to impress her guests, they are meant only for show off n not for actual use, or when she advises her daughter to carry a purse instead of stuffing things in her pocket ‘cos all ladies are supposed to carry a purse. Her behavior strikes looks at times absurd, at times amusing & even hilarious.

She is also not very sure what she wants from her life n is in a state of perpetual confusion.  On one hand she has too much free time n is at a loss as to how to pass that time, n yet she finds herself  very busy when she wants to do something for herself like learning Spanish. Also she can’t do away with her cleaning woman though she could very well have constructively engaged in managing her home so as to avoid boredom of having too much time n not really having anything to do.

 In my own life individuality, freedom n authenticity have been the prime values. I have an inner locus of control. I think over everything from the reference of my own values. Whether it be my decision to remain child-free or not to pursue a career outside my home or choosing to be Agnostic n Buddhist rather than follow the religion I was born into, never following religious rituals, not watching Cricket (the most popular sport in India) even when it’s an Indo-Pak match (and everyone insists on talking about anything else when such a match is on), not buying expensive jewelry or expensive anything,using a very basic mobile (no smart phone) n camera, etc. all my decisions are made after long careful reflection on my own values n to please myself rather than others. I also have the ‘courage’ to be vocal about my contrarian choices, be it online or in close relationships in my life. After my marriage a friend of my DH hinted that I should remove the article on child-freedom from my blog ‘cos it gave a wrong impression of me as a woman and as a wife!! & I was like, helloooooooo this is giving very much the right impression of me as a woman ‘cos that is who I am, take it or leave it. I also remember a married friend who had to quit job being literally afraid to break the news to her parents ‘cos her parents believed pursuing a career was the only right path for her. Again I never have any problem in breaking any such news to my near n dear ones,’cos my life, my rules, my way, as simple as that. Why should you be having any problem with my decisions as long as I’m not hurting you or interfering in your life a your happiness?!

 Now coming back to Mrs. Bridge…her character reminded me a lot of Peter Keating from Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead, which is one of my most favorite books of all times. Peter Keating like Mrs. Bridge lives to please others. Peter Keating is a conformist who lives for fame, always seeking approval from others, always doing what would look good to others & not what he actually wants: He wanted to be a painter but became an architect instead; He loved Cathy but married Dominique because Dominique is more beautiful & sophisticated & hence a better wife to impress the world; he rises in the profession by flattery, manipulation, lying, cheating n even near-murder. “Always be what people want you to be,” is his motto. He is what he is because of others, he depends on others for his identity.(As opposed to the protagonist of the novel Howard Roark who neither cares about what others think of him nor spends much time thinking about others)

 Mrs. Bridge’s social life is what Guy Debord refers as ‘Society of Specatle’.Debord argues that the history of social life can be understood as “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing.” People are becoming more n more interested not in who they actually are but in how they appear to others, much like Peter Keating n Mrs. Bridge.

You can read the book here:

http://www.archive.org/stream/mrsbridge011005mbp/mrsbridge011005mbp_djvu.txt

 

May 9, 2013. Tags: , , , , . Book Review, Books, Fountainhead, Reading, Reflections/Musings. Leave a comment.

These are a few of my favorite things: #28 (The Hermit by Eugene Ionesco)

The Hermit by Eugene Ionesco

English: Eugene Ionesco on a ship's deck cross...

I love everything about this book, starting with the title ‘The Hermit’…the word Hermit is so beautiful n peaceful. To me it signifies one who has found value in one’s own company.

 (Great minds are like eagles, and build their nest in some lofty solitude.~Arthur Schopenauer;

Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.  ~Tillich, Paul)

I was immediately attracted to the Title of the book a couple of years back (& I reread it just now). At that time I did not in any way know about the Genius of Eugene Ionesco or that I would start loving his absurd plays.

Then there is the most wonderful opening sentence of the novel:

At thirty-five, it’s high time to quit the rat race. Assuming there is a rat race. I was sick & tired of my job. It was already late: I was fast approaching forty. If I hand’t come into unexpected inheritance I would have died of depression & boredom.

(Now it is a coincidence that I too gave up the rat race if there was any rat race for me to begin with  at 35, not that I was bored of my job…I was thoroughly enjoying my stint as a teacher but there came a time when I said to myself enough was enough…already time to quit n explore new things..the new things being doing nothing but devoting a large part of my time to thinking n philosophizing, devoting time to explore n adopt a simpler way of living, a frugal way, a Zen way, a quiet way, far from the madding crowd, far from the white noise of the society n confirmity )…so our unusual protagonist retires at 40 & devotes his time to ponder over the existential issues & the real meaning of our lives, not the superficial or mundane but the actual why n how of the human existence. He devotes his time to ponder over the nature of time, memories, death, infinity of the Universe, n such. Most people would regard him as eccentric n that is the general opinion of people towards him in the novel…sample these conversations & interactions of the narrator with various people:

~ I have a suspicion that the way I lived, the way I acted, rarely if ever going out, must have struck to her as odd. She made a number of allusions to my inactivity. According to her, I had no right to be retired in the first place. Not at my age anyway.

~Yes, that was it: they are all hostile towards me. What did they have against me? The fact that I didn’t live the way they did; that I refused to resign myself to my fate.

~She asked me questions that were vaguely indiscreet: “So it’s you again! Where are you going at this time? You always seem to be going out. And yet it’s safe to say you’re not going to work. You are lucky. Not like the rest of us.”

& the Best of all

~ I was about to drift off when Jeanne (His maid) came into the living room. As she rubbed the furniture to make it shine, she upbraided me, telling me that the life I led was unhealthy. Wasn’t I  going to buckle down & find some work for myself ? All right, so I had an inheritance. That’s no reason to sit around and do nothing all day. At least get married. Did I intend to go on living all alone like some impotent? I ought to start a family. I should have children. Man is made to have children, and there is nothing cuter than little ones underfoot. And then when they grow up and you grow old, they don’t abandon you to poverty; no, they reach out a helping hand when you need it the most. If there’s anything worse than living alone, it’s dying alone, with no one around to offer you a little milk of human kindness. I didn’t know what was in store for me. As for herself, she had a husband she didn’t get along too well, but now he was sick. They had had a child, a boy they had brought up with tender loving care, he had a heart of gold, only he had gone away and left them; he had a heart of gold, it was only because of that wife of his. They hadn’t heard from them in a long time. Apparently they had a baby. She had also had a daughter whom they had raised with similar loving care. A lovely girl. That is, she had been. But she too had a baby, only the baby had died. After that she deserted her husband. She came back home for a while, then left again, she had begun living fast n loose, from all that they had heard. Some cousins were in contact with her and kept them informed. Apparently she was on drugs. Children are ungrateful! You bleed yourself white for them, they aren’t all that easy to bring up in the first place and then when they grow up they go away and leave you, forget you: the best thing is not to have any. You’d better not count on them to show you any gratitude in the time of need.

I told her I was sure she was right. That didn’t stop her, she was still talking, with the dustrag in the right hand while she gesticulated with her left. She made me promise to marry and have children.

This conversation with Jeanne is perfectly classic Non-Sequiter dialogue in which Eugene Ionesco excels. The maid has not too good experience with her own children & yet she wants our guy to marry n have children. Somehow everyone is uncomfortable with anyone who leaves the race of conformity n who wants to live life on his/her own terms, then everyone will jump over each other n try to convince her/him to make the conventional choices no matter how badly they themselves are faring in life with their conventional/conformist choices. I too find myself on receiving end. People try to convince me that I must be bored to be staying at home all day n doing nothing since I don’t have any children either. No matter how happy I am & I look they are not convinced. How can I be happy until I am behaving like everybody else? Unless I have a fancy Job Title n a fat pay packet?

And one more thing is that people never value anything we do for it’s own sake. Not for making money but for the joy of doing the thing, like Vincent Van Goh painting his master pieces none of which sold during his life time. He said he painted for the sheer joy of painting regardless of them not selling. People can’t accept the fact that a guy wanna leave his job n focus on his inner life.

But I admire him for his ability to quit, afterall all of us know many people who crib about Monday mornings n enjoy life only on weekends n yet they can’t give up their lousy jobs ‘cos they gotta buy stuff to impress the people whom they don’t like’…that urge seems to be powerful for the masses of people.I guess it’s very easy to quit the drudgery of work if one wants to follow a simple n frugal life. Our guy (he remains unnamed in the novel) doesn’t squander money on big n fancy things like flashy car or luxury villa or such but just buys himself a modest flat where he can be with himself

I found his character intriguing in it’s aloofness. He tends not to think too much about other people. He is very much attached to his girlfriend upto the extent a person of his nature can be attached to anyone. Yet when she leaves him he has great difficulty in recalling her name…he’s always like ‘I miss Yovne or was her name Marie?!! In this sense he reminded me of another of my favorite character Meursault from ‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus  (“Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.”)

 I like this novel for what goes inside the mind of the narrator. This book is not for anyone who likes suspense/thriller. I never like that kind of books where you are on tenterhooks as to what will happen next. I could not care less for a whodunit. My kind of book is that in which nothing happens…just life goes on at it’s own pace n that’s it. So no wonder I found this book extremely satisfying.

 

March 19, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Book Review, Books, Eugene Ionesco, Existentialism, Meaning of Life, My Favorite Things, My lifestyle, My Values, Philosophy, Quitting the Rat Race, Reading, Reflections/Musings, Solitude. 2 comments.

These are a few of my favorite things: #26 (The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco)

English: Author Eugene Ionesco onboard a ship.

The Bald Soprano is an Absurd play by Eugene Ionesco.  At the beginning of the play we see an English couple, the Smiths who are sitting and discussing the day’s events or at any rate Mrs. Smith is discussing n her husband is reading the newspaper n clicking his tongue n responding sporadically (As seems to be the tradition of husbands n wives all over the world. What is so great about the sadistic boring newspaper that husband’s prefer it over the wives juicy talks?). Anyways, the conversation takes place in non-sequiturs which makes it totally inane and totally hilarious. Examples

MRS. SMITH: Mary did the potatoes very well, this evening. The last time she did not do them well. I do not like them when they are well done.

MR. SMITH: A conscientious doctor must die with his patient if they can’t get well together. The captain of a ship goes down with his ship into the briny deep, he does not survive alone.

MR. SMITH: All doctors are quacks. And all patients too. Only the Royal Navy is honest in England.

MR. SMITH: Here’s a thing I don’t understand. In the newspaper they always give the age of deceased persons but never the age of the newly born. That doesn’t make sense.

MARY: But it was you who gave me permission. MR. SMITH: We didn’t do it on purpose.

 Then they go on to discuss a family where everyone is named Bobby Watson. So Bobby Watson has died n yet Bobby Watson is supposed to be married in a few days. Bobby Watson is unemployed n Bobby Watson faces a tough competition in business. their illogical conversation continues till their maid comes n announces that they have some guests, The Martins, who are invited for dinner n who are standing outside ‘cos they were too shy to come in. (At this point Mrs. Smith who had only minutes earlier said ‘There, it’s nine o’clock. We’ve drunk the soup, and eaten the fish and chips, and the English salad. The children have drunk English water. We’ve eaten well this evening. That’s because we live in the suburbs of London and because our name is Smith.’ now says, ‘Oh, yes. We were expecting them. And we were hungry. Since they didn’t put in an appearance, we were going to start dinner without them. We’ve had nothing to eat all day. ‘) Then they rush to change…now it is the turn of Martins to carry on the absurd conversation, they forget that they are married n come to the conclusion that they must indeed be married by elimination n deductive reasoning. & so the absurdities continue…

To me the play spoke about the futility of our conversations. We human-beings flap our mouths a bit too much n insist on chattering despite not really having anything to say. Why are we so uncomfortable with golden silence n fill our time n space with trashy, meaningless gossip? Though we don’t talk in non-sequiturs but if we really think about it, our conversations are mostly unnecessary n as meaningless as that of The Smiths n Martins.

I get really terrified by the amount of small talk that happens at the parties. People go n on n on about the topics of no interest or relevance. They keep repeating what they have read in the newspapers forgetting that others get the newspapers too!! & I live in constant terror of phone calls for gossiping. I very much prefer the written communication which is so non intrusive n non abrasive.Though I don’t really yap all that much but the verbosity in play inspired me to introspect n find more opportunities to stay quiet. (“Never miss a good chance to shut up.” ~Will Rogers)

The Bald Soprano is a parody of our conversations, of the so-called dramatic situations of our lives, and of our inability to remain silent…. By a deliberate, stark use of the banal and a repetition of the worn-out clichés of language, Ionesco generates an unusual, fresh atmosphere.The Reader’s Encyclopedia of World Drama

 

This reminds me of one amusing story recounted by Osho tells of how each day Lao Tzu went for a morning walk.  Often a friendly neighbour would follow him, but knowing that Lao Tzu did not like idle chitchat, the neighbour would keep silent.  One day the neighbour had a visitor who also wanted to come; they took a long walk of several hours but the visitor was not comfortable in the silence and felt suffocated by it, so much so that when the sun was rising he said: “What a beautiful sun … look!”Later Lao Tzu said to the neighbour: “Please don’t bring this chatterbox with you again, he talks too much. ‘Cos I know the sun rise is beautiful, you know it is beautiful, he knows it is beautiful, what’s the need to blabber?’

“Talk, talk, talk: the utter and heartbreaking stupidity of words.” ~ William Faulkner

Silence is the means,
silence is the end, in silence only silence permeates.

If you would understand,
if you want to understand,
then only one thing is worth understanding – silence.

Osho : Early Talks – Bhuribai

See the Other Absurd Play reviews on my blog:

Come and Go 

and

Happy Days

 

March 12, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , . Book Review, Books, Eugene Ionesco, My Favorite Things, Plays, Reading, Reflections/Musings, Wisdom. 1 comment.

These are a few of my favorite things: #24 (Come and Go by Samuel Beckett)

These days I’m captivated by Samuel Beckett. ( Read about my other favorite play by him ‘Happy Days’  here).

His is minimalist theater. Not much happens on stage. But much happens in the viewer’s/reader’s mind. In the play ‘Come & Go‘ we see 3 ladies in bright colored coats, eyes covered with hats, sitting on a bench. From their scanty conversation we can make out that they are old friends who once attended elementary school together n in those days too they used to sit like this on a bench. They are meeting after a long time. Their names are Flo, Vi & Ru. During the course of the play, one of them leaves & other two get a chance to talk about the one who left. In this manner all three women at one point occupy the central position and all become privy to a secret about one of the others. From each response (Ru: (about Vi), “Does she not realise?” Vi: (about Flo), “Has she not been told?” Flo: (about Ru), “Does she not know?”) it is not unreasonable to assume that each is in fact terminally ill but unaware of the fact.

This human trait would be so comic, if it were not so sad. Each one is shocked by what is happening in life of the other two n being saddened by it while being blissfully unaware of their own tragic fates. Now all of us humans share the same tragic fate, such is nature of our life, but while we understand this to be a fact of our fellow humans, we royally ignore this very human condition in our own life.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in other’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3)

Why are we so much interested in n fascinated by the lives of others? What is the charm of gossip in our lives?

  “You get together with a friend and talk about the faults of this person and the misdeeds of that one. Then you go on to discuss others’ mistakes and negative qualities. In the end, the two of you feel good because you’ve agreed you’re the two best people in the world.” ~Geshe Ngawang Dhargye

Wouldn’t it be better if we gave up this behavior & focus on our own lives?Though others have faults,let’s concentrate on our own.

 “Criticizing others while being unaware of their own faults is something that many people do. We can even say that it is something we all do from time to time.” ~ Derek Lin, The Tao of Daily Life,

Let the improving of our own life take up so much of our times that we don’t have time to criticize others.

March 5, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , . Book Review, Books, Existentialism, Reflections/Musings, Samuel Beckett. Leave a comment.

These are a few of my favorite things: #22 (Happy Days by Sameul Beckett)

Happy Days by Sameul Beckett

English: Sketch of scene in Happy Days by Samu...

Happy days is an Absurd play by Samuel Beckett who is best known for ‘Waiting for Godot’. Happy days is the story of Winnie, a woman who is trapped waist down in a mound of earth. As she begins her day she declares it to be another lovely day, a rather strange assertion for someone in her situation. She has a huge bag in which she has an assorted nick-nack of items, her toiletries, a hat, an umbrella, a revolver, etc.  Burried in a nearby mound is her husband Willie. Throughout the day Winnie keeps herself busy with her possessions in the handbag & engaging in a long monologue while Willie is busy with his newspaper n occasionally grunts in response (eh, this is how all husbands indeed are, whether in an absurd play or in real life (and there is nothing more absurd than real life after all)!! This is the situation of most married people, the wife chatters n the husband suffers her chatter,is engrossed with newspaper n grunts in response occasionally).

As the Act II of the play begins, Winnie is now buried neck deep inside the earth but continues her life in the same fashion, as optimistic as ever.What makes this play extraordinary n poignant is that the story of Winnie underlines the general human condition, it is the story of all of us. We all get stuck in certain situations in our life n we try to take it in our stride by calling it our inescapable fate. (Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.~Lemony Snicket). Despite it all  we try to resort to positive thinking n make the most of it anyways. There seems to be no other choice. This is the absurdity of our existence. And even as we keep repeating our positive mantras our lives as that of Winnie moves from bad to worse. I remember a joke which goes like this, a guy goes to an astrologer who tells him that his life will be very hard for 2 years…the guy asks will it improve after that? Nopes, says the astrologer, but you will get used to it!! So in life, nothing gets better but we learn to adjust.But the tragedy is that when we get used to our bad situation it grows even worse.

In a way we can say Winnie is trying to ignore the reality of her situation by being exuberant. This is both a good thing and a sad thing to do. Is it really wise to engage in the trivialities of contents of handbag? (in real life we are engaged in the trivialities of money, possessions, career, success while ignoring the real futility of all this, while the real issues in life are un-understood & unsorted we are like Winnie who says ‘There is of course the bag. There will always be the bag.). This is like trying to paint one’s house while it is on fire.

One more way of looking at Winnie’s predicament is realizing that sometimes in life we are not in a position to control our external environment but still we can control how we react to them & how we try best to cope up with our bleak reality. (everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.~Victor Frankl). The Title of the pay is very ironic, the situation is not called sad days! This is the way our life seems to be designed, we have to extract our happiness from our life experiences. (Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. Yes, yes, it’s the most comical thing in the world.~Samuel Beckett)

February 25, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , . Book Review, Books, Existentialism, Meaning of Life, Philosophy, Reflections/Musings, Samuel Beckett. 2 comments.

These are a few of my favorite thins: #19 (The Diary of a superfluous Man by Ivan Turgenev)

The Diary of a superfluous Man by Ivan Turgenev

English: Photograph of Turgenev after receivin...

This is a Diary of a man (Tchulkaturin) who is about to die & who declares his existence to be superfluous, frivolous & meaningless. Being a diary it shows us the inner life of the narrator & I always love a peek into the inner lives of people who think interesting thoughts (& insights of a dying person are even more interesting, ‘cos they grow more reflective & more honest). Although written in 1850,   it reads like a contemporary work  (though at some places it does talk of strange things like old fashioned Balls & duels…I never understand duels-men ready to settle small differences in opinion by killing or being killed, rather drastic) .

When Turgenev published Diary of a Superfluous Man in 1850, he created one of the first literary portraits of the alienated man. Turgenev once said that there was a great deal of himself in the unsuccessful lovers who appear in his fiction. This failure, along with painful self-consciousness, is a central fact for the ailing Chulkaturin in this melancholy tale. As he reflects on his life, he tells the story of Liza, whom he loved, and a prince, whom she loved instead, and the curious turns all their lives took

 It is peppered with interesting observations on Life, Death, & (unrequited) love. Sample these:

~But isn’t it absurd to begin a diary a fortnight, perhaps, before death? What does it matter? And by how much are fourteen days less than fourteen years, fourteen centuries? Beside eternity, they say, all is nothingness–yes, but in that case eternity, too, is nothing. 

 ~My father had a passion for gambling; my mother was a woman of character . . . a very virtuous woman. Only, I have known no woman whose moral excellence was less productive of happiness. She was crushed beneath the weight of her own virtues, and was a source of misery to every one, from herself upwards. In all the fifty years of her life, she never once took rest, or sat with her hands in her lap; she was for ever fussing and bustling about like an ant, and to absolutely no good purpose, which cannot be said of the ant. The worm of restlessness fretted her night and day. Only once I saw her perfectly tranquil, and that was the day after her death, in her coffin. Looking at her, it positively seemed to me that her face wore an expression of subdued amazement; with the half-open lips, the sunken cheeks, and meekly-staring eyes, it seemed expressing, all over, the words, ‘How good to be at rest!’ Yes, it is good, good to be rid, at last, of the wearing sense of life, of the persistent, restless consciousness of existence! But that’s neither here nor there.

~Yes! I fought shy of my virtuous mother, and passionately loved my vicious father.

~But it occurs to me, is it really worth while to tell the story of my life?

~No, it certainly is not, . . . My life has not been different in any respect from the lives of numbers of other people. The parental home, the university, the government service in the lower grades, retirement, a little circle of friends, decent poverty, modest pleasures, unambitious pursuits, moderate desires–kindly tell me, is that new to any one? And so I will not tell the story of my life, especially as I am writing for my own pleasure; and if my past does not afford even me any sensation of great pleasure or great pain, it must be that there is nothing in it deserving of attention. I had better try to describe my own character to myself. What manner of man am I? . . . It may be observed that no one asks me that question–admitted. But there, I’m dying, by Jove! –I’m dying, and at the point of death I really think one may be excused a desire to find out what sort of a queer fish one really was after all.

~Winter again. The snow is falling in flakes. Superfluous, superfluous. . . . That’s a capital word I have hit on. The more deeply I probe into myself, the more intently I review all my past life, the more I am convinced of the strict truth of this expression. Superfluous–that’s just it. To other people that term is not applicable, . . . People are bad, or good, clever, stupid, pleasant, and disagreeable; but superfluous . . . no. Understand me, though: the universe could get on without those people too . . . no doubt; but uselessness is not their prime characteristic, their most distinctive attribute, and when you speak of them, the word ‘superfluous’ is not the first to rise to your lips. But I . . . there’s nothing else one can say about me; I’m superfluous and nothing more. A supernumerary, and that’s all. Nature, apparently, did not reckon on my appearance, and consequently treated me as an unexpected and uninvited guest. A facetious gentleman, a great devotee of preference, said very happily about me that I was the forfeit my mother had paid at the game of life. I am speaking about myself calmly now, without any bitterness. . . . It’s all over and done with!

~Yes, one can’t help saying with the Russian philosopher–‘How’s one to know what one doesn’t know?’

 ~peculiar sort of consolation which Lermontov had in view when he said there is pleasure and pain in irritating the sores of old wounds, why not indulge oneself?

~Kirilla Matveitch offered me a seat in his coach; but I refused. . . In the same way children, who have been punished, wishing to pay their parents out, refuse their favourite dainties at table.

~I fully realised how much happiness a man can extract from the contemplation of his own unhappiness. O men! pitiful race, indeed! 

 You can read the Novella here:

http://www.eldritchpress.org/ist/dsm.htm

 

February 18, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , . Book Review, Books, Reading, Reflections/Musings. Leave a comment.

These are a few of my favorite things: #9 (How much land does a man need? by Leo Tolstoy)

"Lev Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana", 19...

‘How much land does a man need?’ is a very profound story, a timeless classic by Leo Tolstoy. It’s a commentary on the human greed & it’s futility. It tells the story of a Russian peasant Pukhom who declares at the beginning of the story  that if only has a little more land he’d be content & happy. Eventually he learns about a village where a person would be allotted as much land as he can cover by walking in a single day from dawn to dusk. The only condition is the person must return back to the point  where he started. This is dream come true for Pukhom. He loses no time in going to this place & grab the land by walking. But as he walks his greed gets better of him & he walks & walks & walks. In the end he collapses as he reaches the starting point. & he is buried in six feet of land. Apparently that is how much we actually need.

In a way this story captures the essence of human greed, the greed that spans 60-80 years of our life is condensed in a few pages. That’s why it becomes a powerful mirror to us. It’s very easy for us to see that Pukhom suffered ‘cos he got too greedy. But isn’t it how people are in today’s world? They don’t know where to stop running the rat race. They can’t seem to define their enough. They get caught in the pursuit of more & more. When they buy a car they are happy for about two months, then they are already bored with it and are onto the race to acquire something new. New cars, new phones, new vacations to exotic destinations, new posh homes, vacation homes, retirement homes…phewwwww…the list is rather endless. & before one finishes this bucket list of endless wants they are DEAD, without having really lived, without appreciating the peace, quiet, tranquility, beauty, poetry, that is all around us. SAD

January 27, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , . Books, Quitting the Rat Race, Reading, Reflections/Musings. Leave a comment.

These are a few of my favorite things:#4 (Ferdinand, the Bull, by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson)

Ferdinand, the gentle, peace loving & content Bull is everyone’s favorite. Though the story is meant for children, Ferdidand is equally loved by adults. To me Ferdinand’s story is about embracing your true nature rather than succumbing to the pressure of society . If you are a bull but like to smell flowers rather than fight then there is no good reason that you should fight. I discovered this book n video only a couple of days back but wish I had known it in my growing up years when I had a little tough time being comfortable with my introversion & solitude loving nature. You were supposed to love meeting new people, making loads of friends & enjoy partying. I would rather read books & daydream. Eventually I learned that my choices were as valid  if not more valid than the more popular choices of the day. Today I don’t feel the pressure to be a super-woman. Like Ferdinand I’d rather be smelling flowers & enjoying afternoon naps.

January 19, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Book Review, Books, English Movies, I-Me-Myself, Must Watch Movies, My lifestyle, My Values, Quitting the Rat Race, Reflections/Musings, Teaching Stories. Leave a comment.

These are a few of my favorite things:#3 (My Friend Luke, By Fernando Sorrentino)

My Friend Luke by Fernando Sorrentinofs

Translated by Gustavo Artiles and Alex Patterson

I have a friend who must be the sweetest, shyest person in the world. His name is brittle and ancient (Luke), his age modestly intermediate (forty). He is rather short and skinny, has a thin moustache and even thinner hair on his head. Since his vision is not perfect, he wears glasses: they are small, round and frame-less.

     In order not to inconvenience anyone, he always walks sideways. Instead of saying ‘Excuse me’, he prefers to glide by one side. If the gap is so narrow that it will not allow him to pass, Luke waits patiently until the obstruction — be it animate or inanimate, rational or irrational — moves by itself. Stray dogs and cats panic him, and in order to avoid them he constantly crosses from one side to of the road to another.

     He speaks with a very thin, subtle voice, so inaudible that it is hard to tell if he is speaking at all. He has never interrupted anybody. On the other hand, he can never manage more than two words without somebody interrupting him. This does not seem to irritate him; in fact, he actually appears happy to have been able to utter those two words.

     My friend Luke has been married for years. His wife is a thin, choleric, nervous woman who, as well as having an unbearably shrill voice, strong lungs, a finely drawn nose and a viperous tongue suffers from an uncontrollable temper and the personality of a lion tamer. Luke — you have to wonder how — has succeeded in producing a child named (by his mother) Juan Manuel. He is tall, blond, intelligent, distrustful, sarcastic and has a fringe. It is not entirely true that he only obeys his mother. However, the two of them have always agreed that Luke has little to offer the world and therefore choose to ignore his scarce and rarely expressed opinions.

     Luke is the oldest and the least important employee of a dismal company that imports cloth. It operates out of a very dark building with black-stained wooden floors situated in Alsina street. The owner — I know him personally — is called don Aqueróntido — I don’t know whether that is his first name or his surname — and he has a ferocious moustache, is bald and has a thunderous voice. He is also violent and greedy. My friend Luke goes to work dressed all in black, wearing a very old suit that shines from age. He only owns one shirt — the one he wore for the first time on the day of his marriage — and it has an anachronistic plastic collar. He also only owns one tie, so frayed and greasy that it looks more like a shoelace. Unable to bear the disapproving looks of don Aqueróntido, Luke, unlike his colleagues, does not dare work without his jacket on and in order to keep this jacket in good condition he wears a pair of grey sleeve-protectors. His salary is ludicrously low, but he still stays behind in the office every day and works for another three or four hours: the tasks don Aqueróntido gives him are so huge that he has no chance of accomplishing them within normal hours. Now, just after the don Aqueróntido cut his salary yet again, his wife has decided that Juan Manuel must not do his secondary studies in a state school. She has chosen to put his name down for a very costly institution in the Belgrano area. In view of the extortionate outlay this involves, Luke has stopped buying his newspaper and (an even greater sacrifice) The Reader’s Digest, his two favourite publications. The last article he managed to read in the Reader’s Digest explained how husbands should repress their own overwhelming personality in order to make room for the actualisation of the rest of the family group.


There is, however, one remarkable aspect to Luke: his behaviour as soon as he steps on a bus. Generally, this is what happens:

 

     He requests a ticket and begins to look for his money, slowly. He holds up one hand to ensure that the driver keeps waiting, unsure of what to do. Luke does not hurry. In fact, I would say that the driver’s impatience gives him a certain amount of pleasure. Then he pays with the largest possible number of small coins, which he delivers a few at the time, in varying amounts and at irregular intervals. For some reason, this disturbs the driver, who, apart from having to pay attention to other cars, the traffic lights, other passengers getting on or off, and having to drive the bus itself, is forced to perform complicated arithmetic. Luke aggravates the problem by including in his payment an old Paraguayan coin that he keeps for the purpose and which is invariably returned to him. This way, mistakes are usually made in the accounts and an argument ensues. Then, in a serene but firm manner, Luke begins to defend his rights, employing arguments so contradictory that it is impossible to understand what point he is actually trying to make. Finally, the driver, at the end of the last tether of his sanity and in an act of final resignation, chooses to throw out the coins — perhaps as a means of repressing his wish to throw out Luke or, indeed, himself.

     When winter comes, Luke always travels with the windows wide open. The first to suffer as a result of this is Luke himself: he has developed a chronic cough that often forces him to stay awake entire nights. During the summer, he closes his window and will not allow anyone to lower the shade that would protect him from the sun. More than once he has ended up with first-degree burns.

     Because of his weak lungs, Luke is not allowed to smoke and, in fact, he hates smoking. In spite of this, once inside the bus he cannot resist the temptation to light up a cheap, heavy cigar that clogs up his windpipe and makes him cough. After he gets off, he puts away his cigar in preparation for his next journey.


     Luke is a tiny, sedentary, squalid person and has never been interested in sports. But come Saturday evening, he switches on his portable radio and turns the volume up full in order to follow the boxing match. Sundays he dedicates to football and tortures the rest of the passengers with the noisy broadcasts.

     The back seat is for five passengers. In spite of his very small size, Luke sits so as to allow room for only four or even three people on the seat. If four are already seated and Luke is standing up, he demands permission, in an indignant and reproachful tone, to sit down — which he then does, managing to take up an excessive amount of space. To this end, he puts his hands in his pockets so that his elbows will remain firmly embedded in his neighbours’ ribs.

     Luke’s resources are plentiful and diverse.

     When he has to travel standing up, he always keeps his jacket unbuttoned, carefully adjusting his posture so that the lower edge of his jacket hits the face or the eyes of those sitting down.

     If anyone is reading, they are easy prey for Luke. Watching him or her closely, Luke places his head near the light so as to throw a shadow on the victim’s book. Every now and then he withdraws his head as if by chance. The reader will anxiously devour one or two words before Luke moves back into position.

     My friend Luke knows the times when the bus will be fully packed. On those occasions, he consumes a salami sandwich and a glass of red wine. Then, with breadcrumbs and threads of salami still between his teeth and pointing his mouth towards the other passenger’s noses, he walks along the vehicle shouting loudly, ‘Excuse me’.

     If he manages to take the front seat, he never gives it up to anyone. But should he find himself in one of the last rows, the moment he sees a woman with a child in her arms or a weak, elderly person climb on board he immediately stands up and calls very loudly to the front passenger to offer them his seat. Later he usually makes some recriminatory remark against those that kept their seats. His eloquence is always effective, and some mortally ashamed passenger gets off at the next stop. Instantly, Luke takes his place.

My friend Luke gets off the bus in a very good mood. Timidly, he walks home, staying out of the way of anyone he meets. He is not allowed a key, so he has to ring the bell. If anyone is home, they rarely refuse to open the door to him. But if neither his wife, his son nor don Aqueróntido are to be found, Luke sits on the doorstep until someone arrives.

I Love this story because of the excellent characterization of Luke. At first Luke seems like a sweet, shy person, who is a doormat, who can’t stand up to his wife or even his son. He lives a rather pathetic existence, being dominated by his wife, ignored by his son, exploited by his Boss. But as the story progresses we get to see another side of Luke…the passive aggressive side, here he looks very annoying, creating trouble for the bus driver and passengers. But perhaps that is a survival tactic for Luke. & perhaps this is also why we see petty clerks n peons behaving rather aggresively, they take it from their bosses n being not in a position to react to them they turn their nastiness to whomever they can. Luke represents the various shades in the the psyche of every person. I love authors who explore these aspects of human psychology. 

January 18, 2013. Tags: , , , . Books, Reading, Reflections/Musings. 1 comment.

Meet an Unlikely Zen Master: Zen Moments #4

“I had a discussion with a great master in Japan, and we were talking about the various people who are working to translate the Zen books into English, and he said, “That’s a waste of time. If you really understand Zen, you can use any book. You could use the Bible. You could use Alice in Wonderland. You could use the dictionary, because the sound of the rain needs no translation.”~Alan Watts

Ruskin Bond is one of my most favorite authors. He writes with a Zen like simplicity. His simple life (the kind of life I admire) gets reflected in his writing. Though he is more famous as a children’s writer, I am rather fond of his books that are a part of his memoirs. It seems that some people have a very interesting life & meet more interesting people or rather it is their observation power n the talent to spin tales about the incidents which we might just take in our stride without particularly reflecting over them or finding anything extraordinary in them, that makes the stories of these people so special. Ruskin Bond is one such person.  I recently read his book “The Parrot who wouldn’t talk & other stories’, on one sunny winter afternoon. I read this book in one sitting & by the time I finished it, I was in raptures, totally enthralled.

Ruskin Bond says ‘I think everyone has at least one eccentric aunt or uncle in the family, I had more than one. My boyhood days were enlivened by them.’

The Just Jacket reads ‘India’s best loved children’s writer Ruskin Bond introduces us to some of the most endearing and adorable characters he has ever written about-his grandfather with his unusual ability to disguise himself as the street vendor, carpenter or washerman; the eccentric & ubiquitous uncle Ken, with his knack for disastrous escapades; the stationmaster Mr. Ghosh and his family comprising of several white mice; and Aunt Ruby, whose encounter with a parrot who wouldn’t talk will make you burst with laughter!

Heartwarming, funny & delightful, these stories are marked by Bond’s inimitable style & trademark humor.’

In the introduction of this book Bond says

“Gentle Reader,

I’d like to meet some of my friends and relatives. These are the important ones:

Grandfather, a man of many gifts, and good company for a growing boy.

Granny, who made great gooseberry Jam & looked after everyone.

Uncle Ken, who got into some strange situations and needed his nephew’s help in getting out of them.

Mr. Oliver, Scoutmaster & schoolmaster.

There are others too, including your author as a boy.

I wrote most of these stories in Mussoorie , during a particular severe winter. As I sat by the fire, the ghost of long-gone relatives crowded around me, demanding that I write something about them.”

One of my most favorite stories in the collection is ‘Bicycle Ride with Uncle Ken’ (though I love all the stories in the book, I must confess I am partial towards the one with Uncle Ken, he gets into some real funny situation & the ones with him are the most hilarious). Young Bond & his uncle go for one of their long bicycle rides & see a ‘Rest & Recuperation Center’..thinking that it is a kind of hotel or hostel, they go in for refreshments, the uncle is eager to meet the inmates…not realizing that it is actually a lunatic asylum, uncle Ken decides to play along with the inmates, all of whom claim to be somebody famous, one is Tansen & another is Prathvi Raj Chauhan and yet another is Napolean. When they see a man in white coat approaching the enthusiastic Uncle Ken playfully says ‘You must be Dr. Freud’ & the Doctor replies ‘Nope, I am Dr. Goel, you must be our new patient’, this is the most hilarious moment in the story, it is only after much pleading & when the real new patient arrives that uncle Ken is let off.

In ‘At sea with Uncle Ken’, the uncle falls in love with a girl aboard a ship & is left behind at a remote place when he is accompanying her to a shopping spree at a stop. Such are the absurd situation Uncle Ken always manages to get himself & others into. At another time he put the very young Bond (9/10 yrs of age) on a wrong train. As Bond says, ‘With Uncle Ken you always expect the unexpected’.

Along with humor, the book is also filled with quiet wisdom & some Zen like observations, sample this:

‘A bicycle provides it’s rider with a great amount of freedom. A car will take you farther, but the fact that you’re sitting in confined space detracts from the freedom of open spaces and unfamiliar roads. On a cycle you can feel the breeze on your face, smell the mango trees in blossom on your face, slow down and gaze at the buffaloes wading in the ponds, or just stop anywhere and get down & enjoy a cup of tea or a glass of sugarcane juice. Footslogging takes time, and cars are too fast-everything whizzes past before you can take a second look-and car drivers hate to stop; they are intent only on reaching their destinations in good time. But a bicycle is just right for someone who likes to take a leisurely look at the World.’ Now isn’t this top class Zen attitude?

The stories are also filled with ample wisdom though they are definitely not moralizing. The wisdom is subtle & I think this form of wisdom works the fastest & most effectively. In the story ‘Parrot who wouldn’t talk’, aunt Ruby buys a parrot, as talking parrots were very fashionable in those days, she tries to teach her parrot talking, but the parrot refuses to oblige, in anger & frustration Aunt Ruby repeatedly tells the parrot, ‘you are no beauty! Can’t talk, can’t sing, can’t dance!’ The young Bond feeds the parrot everyday & one day feeling sorry for it, releases it from it’s cage. It looks like the parrot has grown fond of Bond, so after being freed, it flies regularly into the balcony & sits on Bond’s shoulders & takes feed from him. When aunt Ruby comes the parrot speaks to her & what does it say to her?? ‘You are no beauty! Can’t talk, can’t sing, can’t dance!’ …so it has learned talking after all. Isn’t life like this too? A boomerang, an echo, whatever we give out to the world, is returned to us, in due course. I am not very sure whether Bond wanted us to take this lesson or not, but the story spoke to me of that apart from being a good natured, humorous tale.

Reading this collection made me hungry for more..I am taking out my old books, ‘The Lamp is Lit’ & one more that is missing from my collection, I am frantically searching for it, I am looking forward to spending many more delightful afternoons lost in the world of this (unlikely) Zen Master!!

February 13, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , . Book Review, Books, Reading, Reflections/Musings, Simplicity, Zen. 3 comments.

Quitting the Rat Race #4: Killing the cycle of consumerism & (over) work

DSC08232

Image by 特有生物研究保育中心 via Flickr

I guess there is a very close inter connection between  simplicity (living simply enjoying peace rather than stuff), frugality (saving money whenever & wherever we can but still feeling rich & luxurious: yes it is possible), solitude (enjoying time alone n you no longer see the Joneses, so no danger of falling into the trap of trying to compete with them) anti consumerism (stop finding joy in stuff) minimizing our (carbon) footprints on the planet (it makes me uneasy when people come loaded with poly bags containing stuff they don’t even need) & quitting the rat race (goodbye work, hello leisure).

 When we embrace simplicity, frugality & an anti consumerist lifestyle, quitting work is a piece of cake…no more working at a job we don’t want, to buy the stuff we don’t need, to impress the people we don’t even like, & in the bargain plundering the beautiful nature which we actually love!!!

In their ground breaking book ‘ Your Money or your life: 9 steps to transforming your relationship with money‘, authors Vicki Robbins & Joe dominquez say we must not measure the cost of any stuff in terms of money we spend on it but in terms of ‘life energy‘ we have to spend to earn that money. They have redefined the concept of money itself. Money doesn’t simply mean a ‘medium of exchange’ but ‘Money is something for which you trade life energy’. 

In order to apply this principle, you first calculate your hourly wage.  You will then see exactly how much your life energy is worth, and you will be able to measure the cost of money spent in terms of valuable life energy lost, instead of just dollars/rupees/whatever.  (This would come handy in cutting down spending money on useless stuff)

Once you have finished, you can do some eye-opening conversions.  For example:

How much life energy do you spend at convenience stores/restaurants daily?  Could you spend less and still be happy if you cooked at home? & we could think in these term whenever buying stuff big/small. I mean we don’t even need to carry out exact calculations. A general grasp of this concept makes us a little more aware when we are about to spend money.

I am very happy to report that I’ve cut down my own consumption in several areas once i became aware of the concept of ‘life energy’ value of money. This was my precursor to quitting the Rat Race.

‘My dad did not change his lifestyle, he early on recognized that there is a power in keeping a low overhead, he realized that there is a line that balance between having what you want and doing what you want and the more you have what you want the less you will do what you want. So once he says, I have a pair of jeans, a pair of boots and 2 jackets, I can do anything.’
Mario Van Peebles on the accomplishments of his father Melvin Van Peebles.

For me this arrangement works out just fine ‘cos perhaps I’ve been lucky to realize that stuff  ≠ Joy. My home has very simple furniture, just the bare functional basics & I just roll my eyes when I see people’s house that ceased being homes long ago & resemble more closely to museums, they have assorted nick knacks from all over the world displayed proudly (i think comically) in HUGE shelves. So much money down, the drain, so much life energy wasted’ & so much clutter. Spend money & buy head-ache. & more life energy to be wasted on cleaning the dust accumulated on all that stuff.

Ponder Over These too:

“It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Much of our activity these days is nothing more than a cheap anaesthetic to deaden the pain of an empty life.” – Unknown

“The things you own end up owning you.” – Tyler Durden in Fight Club

‘There must be more to life than having everything!’~Maurice Sendak

“There is enough on earth for everybody’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”~Gandhi

With money you can’t buy wisdom, you can’t buy inner peace. Wisdom and inner peace must be created by yourself.~Dalai Lama

“Man…sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.” ~The Dalai Lama (when asked what surprises him the most about humanity)

September 15, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Book Review, Books, Current Events, Inspiration, Meaning of Life, My lifestyle, My Values, Personal, Philosophy, Quitting the Rat Race, Reflections/Musings, Simplicity, Wisdom. 8 comments.

Quitting the Rat Race #3: Inspiration from Lin Yutang

Lin Yutang

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I guess the world is divided in two clearly distinct classes: the working class & the leisure class. Money, outward success, status, materialism, consumerism, expensive cars & homes are what appeals to the former & things like loafing, spending quiet time with self, introspection,idling, gazing at the ceiling, contemplating the navel, simplicity, frugality, reading & solitude are the things valued by later.  ‘The Importance of living’ by Lin Yutang is the Bible of the leisure class. Here we don’t find any advice on how to be more efficient or how to get rich but instead it contains idiosyncratic observations on the art of lying in bed, lolling in chairs, enjoying reading just for sheer pleasure & enjoying a cup of tea. This book celebrates idleness unapologetically.

It contains Delightful nuggets & observations like:

It is not when he is working in the office but when he is lying idly on the sand that his soul utters, “Life is beautiful”. 

I do not think that any civilization can be called complete until it has . . . made a conscious return to simplicity.

To me personally the only function of philosophy is to teach us to take life more lightly and gaily than the average businessman does, for no businessman who does not retire at fifty, if he can, is in my eyes a philosopher. 

Human life can be lived like a poem.

I have always assumed that the end of living is the true enjoyment of it. 

Every man born into this world . . . should order his life so that he can find the greatest happiness in it.

What can be the end of human life except the enjoyment of it? 

To cut with a sharp knife a bright green watermelon on a big scarlet plate of a summer afternoon. Ah, is this not happiness?

 I suspect that the American hustler admires the Chinese loafer.

Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise. The wisest man is therefore he who loafs most gracefully.

If men fail to enjoy this earthly existence we have, it is because they do not love life sufficiently and allow it to be turned into a humdrum routine existence.

The illusive rewards of fame are pitched against the tremendous advantages of obscurity.

He who is not wanted by the public can be a carefree individual.

Efficiency, punctuality and the desire for achievement and success . . . are . . . things that make people unhappy and so nervous.

The inability to loaf comes directly from his desire for doing things and in his placing action above being.

Women as a whole, as seen in the parks and in the streets, have better figures and are better dressed, thanks to the continuous tremendous daily efforts of women to keep their figure to the great delight of men. But I imagine how it must wear on their nerves. 

In China, the first question a person asks the other on an official call, after asking about his name and surname is, “What is your glorious age?” . . . Enthusiasm grows in proportion as the gentleman is able to report a higher and higher age, and if the person is anywhere over fifty, the inquirer immediately drops his voice in humility and respect.

It is amazing how few people are conscious of the importance of the art of lying in bed.

Those people who agree with me in believing in lying in bed as one of the greatest pleasures of life are the honest men. 

“Those who take leisurely what the people of the world are busy about can be busy about what the people of the world take leisurely.” – Chang Ch’ao.

“Leisure enables one to read, to travel to famous places, to form beneficial friendships, to drink wine, and to write books. What greater pleasures can there be in the world than these?” – Chang Ch’ao.

“Reading books in old age is like looking at the moon on an open terrace . . . the depth of benefits of reading varies in proportion to the depth of one’s own experience.”- Chang Ch’ao.

A true traveler is always a vagabond, with the joys, temptations and sense of adventure of the vagabond . . . The essence of travel is to have no duties, no fixed hours, no mail, no inquisitive neighbors, no receiving delegations, and no destination.

The point is whether one has got the heart to feel and the eyes to see. If he hasn’t, his visits to the mountains are a pure waste of time and money; on the other hand, if he has got “a special talent in his breast and a special vision below his eyebrows,” he can get the greatest joy of travel even without going to the mountains, by staying at home and watching and going about the field to watch a sailing cloud, or a dog, or a hedge, or a lonely tree.

There are so many kinds of laughter: the laughter of happiness, the laughter at some one falling into one’s trap, the laughter of sneer or contempt, and most difficult of all, the laughter of despair.

A good cup of tea makes (the reading) still more perfect. Or perhaps on a snowy night, when one is sitting before the fireside, and there is a kettle singing on the hearth

A good reader turns an author inside out.

September 12, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Book Review, Books, Happiness, Meaning of Life, My lifestyle, My Values, Quitting the Rat Race, Quotations, Reflections/Musings, Simplicity, Slacking, Wisdom. 8 comments.

Revisiting child Freedom

A while back I wrote a post on my thoughts about being child free  in a world where ‘breeding’ is almost regarded a ‘fundamental right or fundamental duty’ (depending on your gender)…no kidding…one of the guys on a childfree forum told his tale where he is meeting with backlash ‘cos of his choice to remain childfree though he wants to get married, someone has actually said to him ‘you are trying to deny women their fundamental right to have children’!!! By corollary it is almost regarded a fundamental duty for females to have kids & if they choose not to have kids they are labeled: selfish, horrible, immature & what not. I mean I am still surprised that it’s actually okay for people to grill (read hound) us for our choice & tell things like ‘you will regret it later’. I was reading a book ‘Nobody’s mother:life without kids’ by Lynne Van Luven which is a collection of stories by women who have already made this choice. From introspective to humorous to rabble-rousing, these are personal stories that are well and honestly told. The writers range in age from early 30s to mid-70s and come from diverse backgrounds. All have thought long and hard about the role of motherhood, their own destinies, what mothering means in our society and what their choice means to them as individuals and as members of their ethnic communities or social groups. (She has also written a book ‘Nobody’s Father: Life without Kids to share men’s perspective)..in the book one of the interviewees turned the tables on the person who asked her ‘Don’t you regret not having kids?’ by asking the hitherto unasked, ‘Do you regret having them?’ Whoa…I really like this attitude.

I came across another interesting book ‘No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to have children’  by Corinne Maier (who is actually a mother!!). The reasons she gives include (some of them hold good for me while some do not, everyone has their own set of reasons)

•You will lose touch with your friends
•Your sex life will be over
Children cost a fortune
Child-rearing is endless drudgery
Vacations will be nightmares
You’ll lose your identity and become just “mom” or “dad” (I’ve seen many couples actually call each other mama & papa, how hilarious is that??)
•Your children will become mindless drones of capitalism

•The planet’s already overcrowded
•Your children will inevitably disappoint you

The complete list :

40 GOOD REASONS NOT TO HAVE CHILDREN
1. The “desire for children”: A silly idea
2. Labour is torture
3. You avoid becoming a walking pacifier

4. You keep having fun
5. Rat race plus rugrats: No thanks!
6. You keep your friends

7. You won’t have to use that idiot language when talking to kids
8. Open the nursery, close the bedroom
9. Kids are the death of desire
10. Kids are the death knell of the couple
11. To be or to do: Don’t decide
12. “The child is a sort of vicious, innately cruel dwarf” (Michel Houellebecq)
13. Kids are conformists
14. Kids are a treasure, and will cost you one
15. Kids are unbiased allies of capitalism

16. A brain teaser: How to keep kids busy
17. The parent’s worst nightmares
18. Don’t be fooled by the “ideal child” illusion
19. Your kid will always disappoint you
20. The horror of becoming a merdeuf
21. Parent above all? No, thank you
22. Keep the experts at bay

23. The family: A horror
24. Don’t revert to childhood
25. It takes real courage to keep saying, “Me first”
26. Kids signal the end of your youthful dreams

27. You can’t stop yourself from wanting your kids to be happy
28. You can’t get away from your kids

29. Get used to it: School is a boot camp
30. “Raise” a child . . . but toward what?
31. Avoid benevolent neutrality like the plague
32. Parenthood is a sad, sweet song
33. Motherhood is a trap for women (& for men too if you ask me)
34. Motherhood or success: Pick one
35. When the child appears, the father disappears
36. Today’s child is the perfect child: Welcome to the best of all possible worlds
37. Danger, child ahead
38. Why wear yourself out for a future that doesn’t include you?
39. There are too many children in the world

40. Reject the ten absurd commandments of the “good” parent

The reasons that are compelling for me are in bold. I love my independence & freedom to do things I want to do. I just can’t imagine making kids a priority & yup, kids are a big financial and emotional drain. I’ve seen this happening in my own life. My hubby has a son from his previous marriage. Hubby spent his life’s saving on getting the son educated & still he is unemployed & not taking things seriously enough to get a job. Apart from financial death this is emotional death. Now spend the rest of your life being worried over the child’s future & your own future. This is definitely not the way I want to spend the rest of my life. I love a simple life & not wasting money so that I can quit the Rat Race & spend time with peace n quiet. That simply isn’t possible if I have kids to worry over. I see lot of connection between simplicy, being child free & quitting the Rat Race

When I posted about child freedom the last time I got positive response from like minded people, we really bonded over our same feeling about this issue but I also got this:

‘You know, You’re sick.
Seriously sick. I thought such mindlessness only exist in books, but “tada”….. here u r, bearing the flag of being pseudo-intellect.
I actually kind of liked your blog, even suggested it to few ppl, but after reading this post, i understood u r just another one of those so called “we are special” ppl….
Carry on, go ahead. Its ur life, but i wanna say again, u r sick. definitely sick. ‘

This is what sucks about the attitude towards child free person, if we make a choice that is not the same as yours, it definitely doesn’t give you rights to judge us.

September 12, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Books, child-free, Happiness, I-Me-Myself, My lifestyle, My Values, Personal, Quitting the Rat Race, Reflections/Musings, Simplicity. 8 comments.

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