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How to move Cape Disappointment

As an introvert, the last thing I like to do is express myself. I spend time finding ways to avoid stating things as they are. Eventually, they come out sugarcoated or sarcastic. My expressions end up indirect, far from the point and thus confusing to others.

So, after a day of introspection, I decided to write a post about myself. I opened a new document, typed ‘Dissappointing’ and instantly, the spell-check was disappointed. Apart from spell-checkers and compilers, I have been disappointing people from a long time. So, here’s a guided tour of [my] Cape Disappointment.


“I think if anyone can beat Nitesh, then it is you,” said a friend, sitting next to me, as we were returning from a school trip. Nitesh had recently joined our class and consistently topped the class. I thought he was amazing but boring. I wondered why my friend thought I can beat him and more importantly, why he thinks I want to.

Those days, I was learning origami and pottery. I practiced making the Lucky Swan, one of which was always in my bag. My hands were dry due to repeated washing after playing with clay. I’d take a locket’s impression in clay and then make a copy of it from plaster of Paris. Yes, the same plaster of Paris that gives a true home to spiders and false ceiling to humans. We had taught Caesar to fetch a newspaper without tearing it to pieces. I was reading Bashir Badr and Hemingway. Neither made much sense but I felt literary. Poetry made me want to be in love and war made me fear loss. I often sneaked French phrases, from War and Peace, in English essays but my teacher never pointed them out.

None of this appeared on my report cards. The fact that I did not make it to an IIT, then IIM and move to the US to work for a software firm is a disappointment to my schools. They must have been proud of Nitesh because he did all that and now works for an investment bank. Unfortunately, he is still in India. Perhaps, if he works harder, he might get a chance to move abroad. Hope his check-in at the international airport will bring peace and relief to the unrequited expectations bestowed upon him.

Assumptions, associations and learning to be a spectator obsessed with success.

Assumptions flaw our understanding of many ideas, three of which are particularly interesting: motivation, creativity, and intelligence. We are always curious about how they work. Attention grabbing articles strengthen assumptions as they often describe research in an overly simplified manner. We look for recipes to become creative and stay motivated.

Then, there are associations. We associate idea to one another, like fairness to beauty, wealth to happiness, flags to patriotism etc. Together they form an inter-connected web. Stimuli trigger a chain of thoughts that travel from idea to its association. This is how we learn and begin to restrict our thoughts. This makes our personality. This tendency to form associations is easy to test but difficult to get rid of them. In careers, intelligence is associated with engineering and creativity with art. The problem is not limited to associations but how rigid they become. Say, if you are considered intelligent, then it is assumed you would become an engineer.

Children learn about everything around them. That is all we do until we have to pay taxes, then we merely conform. The subject and pace of learning vary. Since computers can help in so many subjects, they fascinate us. I did not learn computers because I liked them. On the contrary, using a computer was frustrating. Getting something done was joyful. It was a triumph. It was the possibilities that kept me going. Imagining what a computer could do made me sit and try. I saw an opportunity to bring exciting ideas to life without asking people for help. Looking back, the problem was not people but asking. I was hesitant, not shy.

I used to spend a lot of time on a computer and thus, assumed that a career in software is best for me. Currently, everyone spends more time with a computer than anything else. This might be true if you use a computer at work and carry a smartphone. I started using a computer to make something as amazing as The Matrix. Computers were slower and being left handed didn’t help. I figured the code can ease a lot of work. Instead of painstakingly moving objects with the mouse, you can define their path in code. The computer will then fill in the details. It is called tweening. I made the bullet dodge scene with stick figures. The Matrix was my motivation.

Creativity is considered like an organ, an extra thumb that whether you have by birth or not at all. Intelligence is something that can be quantified. You can be an intelligent engineer, doctor or officer but not an artist. Art is from creativity, problem solving is intelligence. These are not accurate. They are not mutually exclusive.

Rarely are school kids encouraged to make stories, they’re taught grammar and made to write essays. You probably don’t know when an idea hits you or what will motivate you. We spend a lot more time and effort trying to transform something that we are not. We have an image of what we should be and we chase it relentlessly until we are in a groove. It is a groove of monotony. It limits our capacity to observe beyond the obvious.

This is why anything outside of our sphere of comfort appears creative and sadly, unreachable. We interview individuals about how they do it. We continuously consume information and rarely try to create something new. After I watched Ratatouille, I did not try to create a 3d animation. I did not try, I thought I’d fail. Instead, I longed for another movie that would make me feel the same. This is the cycle which goes from one experience to another. Each must outdo the last or else the monotony kicks in. This is an addiction. Intelligence is not about being able to repeat. It is about being able to see the patterns.


We are not let down by achievements but expectations. We want to be successful; like the outliers who kicked open the box that caged their dreams. Still, we chase it in the most mechanical fashion. If you aim to be at the top of the ‘Pyramid’ knowing that there isn’t enough place for everyone then disappointment is a friend that’ll serve you long.

You may also enjoy being a spectator and obsess about those that made to the top.  So, this didn’t turn out about how I let people down. However, I am happy to disappoint you by deviating from my shortcomings.

writing

The Consolation

There are kids who decide early what they want to be when they grow up. Then, there are kids, like me, who dread going to the barber because they don’t even want to decide the kind of haircut they want. Luckily, growing up I had to pick between short and medium haircuts.

Celebrations were in full swing as India turned 50. Schools, in particular, had elaborate plans. My school declared that the whole week leading to the 50th independence day would be celebrated. Each day there were events, competitions and the tricolor was everywhere on the campus. Tuesdays had a library period. We would sit at one of the long tables in the center of the library. Usually, the librarian asked us to pick books and read them for rest of the period. At the end, we would get that book issued for a week. I knew where my favorite books were. I had a sense of how books were categorized in the library. I had helped the librarian organize them once. I enjoyed reading and books were exciting.

However, that Tuesday, we had an art competition. It must’ve been told but I rarely remember such things. Some kids came prepared with crayons. Perhaps, the same kind of kids that know what they want to be. Perhaps, the kind that use multiple colors to write answers in exams. One for headings, another for answer and a special one to highlight things. I resorted to diagrams when I knew an answer very well. Otherwise, diagrams filled the space that an answer should have occupied but hasn’t. So, these kids started to draw. Since, the theme was Independence, they drew the Red Fort, soldiers, flags, and celebration.

The problem with art competitions is that they are, well, competitions. Their aim is to declare one expression better than the rest. Actually, it is difficult to compare expressions. Such competitions wouldn’t work if one kid draws a circle and another draws a square. So, they introduce themes and criteria must be set. This is a way of telling everyone to draw a square so they can be compared. We do not accept creativity without comparing. It would be overwhelming if kids were allowed to express. Art, dance, and even noise are medium.

I sat blank. All I could think of was a picture of Mahatma Gandhi from my Hindi text book. It was from a story by Gandhi. He didn’t have a watch so he used to guess time by looking at clouds. As with all guesses, it worked against him one day. He was late to school. He was punished despite telling the truth. One of his many experiments with truth.

Once, I was slapped despite being honest. It was reasonable, I thought, until a slap met my cheek and virtues met life. In fact, I was so convinced, that I had walked up to the teacher to explain that I couldn’t do homework because some guests visited us. They were in town to meet their relatives and we had to accompany them. We returned home very late and so, there was no time for homework.

“So, your relatives stopped you from doing homework?” She yelled and slapped me.

I returned to my desk with humiliation and confusion. Unlike Gandhi, I didn’t experiment with truth further. I stuck to lying whenever needed.

In the library, I started to draw Gandhi’s portrait. I had drawn it earlier, it started to look surprisingly well. The otherwise quiet and strict librarian watched over my shoulder. Then, she taught me how to shade the cheekbones. With a small piece of paper, she taught me how to smudge. I used that technique on the cheeks, the ear and forehead. Soon, there was a fair amount of interest in my drawing. Many stood around me watching as I gave finishing touches to the portrait. I felt happy and amazed that it turned out so good. When the time was over, we headed to our classroom. On the way back, I held the sketch with pride, occasionally stopping to show it to students.

A couple of days later, results were announced. Prizes were given for the first, then second and third place. Then, a number of consolation prizes were distributed. These were tiny gift wrapped boxes, just big enough to hold a light bulb. I didn’t get one. I don’t know why. Sometimes, I think they thought I cheated. Then, I think it was because they wanted colored drawings. Mine was a black and white pencil sketch. Maybe, the ear was disproportionately big, as our neighbor had pointed out. Maybe it was judged by people like my neighbor. I didn’t want a prize, but a consolation never hurts.

writing

Facebook

After Reactions, a more expressive Like button, Facebook is planning to revamp “Add Friend” button. Here are few options:

First, a button that adds people to your wishlist. A way of saying, “in your dreams…”

in you dreams..

if only…

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poetry

Dussehra


दशेहरा

रावण तो हर साल जलाते
अबके कुछ और जलाओ
दूजे धर्म के लोग जलाओ
नीच जाती के जन जलाओ

जिससे कोई बैर बचा हो
उसको चुनके आग लगाओ
बचे न कोई अलग हमसे
सबको एक सामान बनाओ

फर्क नही कर पाओगे,
तो नीति क्या बनाओगे?
भूस में आग लगाने को
चिंगारी कहाँ से लाओगे?

और जब सारे, एक से होंगे
फिर कैसे उत्पात मचेगा
भेद की आढ़ में सेंध लगे तो
खून खराबा रुक जायेगा?