A BOAT OF HOPE

I didn’t have a bad day. In fact, it was a nice day, having fun with my cousins and friends. Why then, I see clouds all around? Is it a dream, I’m seeing?

I saw darkness hovering around me and I screamed in my thoughts, “Ah…where am I? Why can’t I see myself?” The dark clouds all around me made my vision obscure as the bright light that I was seeing a minute ago almost faded away.

Then an intense sorrow pierced through my spines, my flesh, and my bones. The dark despair within me made me walk through the hidden lanes of my life. I felt ashamed of myself. I hated myself. The rotten scent of my sinfulness broke me into pieces. I saw a defiant me, standing and asking questions about my own creation… as I found myself to be a weak, neglected and a rejected piece of morsel thrown on a pile of garbage.

A gripping fear and a distressing agony engulfed me when I saw the raging sea waves approaching me and I just tried to duck down my head to let it pass but I could not do. I tried again and again but all my efforts seem to be in vain.

I realized my inability to rescue my own self. I understood I needed someone else to bring salvation, and restore me from this chaos.

Lo and behold! I soon saw a boat glimmering in the middle of the sea.

I had lost all my hope but a ray of hope sparked within me when I saw the boat. That boat, to me, seemed like a piece of leaf for an ant floating away in the water. That boat reminded me of my God, the Saviour Himself and I remembered His assurances, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for YOU are with me; YOUR rod [to protect] and YOUR staff [to guide], they comfort and console me. For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.”

I could not feel whether I swam through the waves or not but somehow, I reached that boat and found myself on it, cruising through the waves, going beyond the clouds of darkness.

This may not be a dream that I saw in my sleep, but I have seen it many times in my life and still see it even today. I’ve walked in close proximity to death. My life has never been easy but the good thing is, I always found myself being consoled and reassured with the promise of that small boat of hope at every dark situation of my life.

I know, God has been and will be the boat of hope all through my life, even during this pandemic situation… till I enter eternity after my death.

THAT’S ABSURD

I am learning so many new things in these COVID times. Our life style has totally altered and the way we spend our time has changed.. we long to go back to the normal times and are scared of facing the “New Normal” .

Lockdown has given me a lot of time in my own company. Which I usually don’t like doing at all. I like to meet people and talk to them and usually thrive on these conversations and participate in lot of activities be it at my workplace or neighborhood.

So in that way this lockdown has been very difficult for me. Phone calls or video calls are not the same. But still we are managing.

In one such call with my niece where we were ranting about our lockdown woes. She said she had become an Absurdist now.. “I don’t believe that there is any meaning in life…” she said.

This got me thinking. I dived into the Internet to find out whether this was even a legitimate word or not. To my surprise it is.

All human beings seem to crave meaning, search for it, and create it. We constantly make up stories out of our lives to give them meaning.  And we search for explanations for the universe in general. Religion may be the most popular source of meaning for people; believing in a god or gods, a spirit-world, an afterlife, or a holy book, or practicing ritual, prayer, or meditation makes life meaningful for many people. And religion is not the only possibility: people find meaning for their lives in nationalism, science, Marxism, art, and many other beliefs and practices.

Absurdists see all of these attempts as ultimately doomed, in a sense. Not that absurdists think it’s pointless to do anything, but they believe that no matter what you do, you cannot escape the absurdity of being a human being.  It’s not exactly the universe which is absurd in absurdism, but rather the fact that humans are innately driven to look for meaning in an ultimately meaningless universe. Whatever stories we tell to give meaning to our lives are just that — stories, fictions.

I know the above philosophy may not be acceptable to all. I don’t mean to offend anyone’s belief.

But sometimes in the time of despair we might have all gone through this kind of phase where life seems totally meaningless.. 2020 is that kind of a phase for me. With the pandemic, the super cyclone, the gas leak, earthquake, planes falling out of the sky, the locust attack everything coming in quick succession has really made me wonder that the things we used to strive for are actually so meaningless. We are actually surviving without many thing that we thought we could never do without.

Its basically the pandemic which has altered everything. Businesses are closed and people who were supposed to be affluent are also struggling to juggle the big EMIs, bills, fees, rent to be paid and zero or drastically reduced income. The poor are absolutely on the road. And all this in a matter of three months.

Really makes me wonder we study all our life to make a career, a living. We spend our whole life in building up a career or a business. Just to see it topple and turn into dust in a matter of days. Because of reasons which are way beyond our scope to thought. Isnt it all meaning less?

The daily positive thoughts for the day which I get through Social media and the inspirational stories all seem meaningless once I watch the news. Its seems all gloom and doom everywhere.

Hopefully, these dark clouds will lift soon from this world and my thoughts too.

THE CANCER OF OUR TIME – MEANINGLESSNESS

In the search of finding “the meaning of meaning”, the abstract subjectivity of meaning reflects the absolute need for its search for the meaning. The meaning of meaning denotes the abstractness of its purpose, its value, its significance, and its existence. But the sense of the search for meaning absolutely reflects the urgency, the importance, and the inner hunger for it. 

The meaning of meaning cannot be defined without the knowledge and alongside we need wisdom since wisdom instructs us about the timely implementation of knowledge or else knowledge becomes meaningless. Validating the need of both Wisdom & Knowledge the Bible clearly warns us, 

For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; 

the more knowledge, the more grief. 

I was always blamed for not having knowledge and wisdom and not understanding someone else’s situation. I was tagged as rude – judge-mental – bossy. As I tried to gain some knowledge and learn some wisdom, my sorrows and grief were doubled. Since I was able to understand someone else’ struggle the feeling of their pain become more tangible to me, moreover now in my life it wasn’t just my sorrows & grief alone! The question that taunts me now – “What’s the meaning for gaining wisdom & knowledge?”

Since our childhood, we were constantly encouraged to study well so that we can be successful. In my attempt for success I tried to learn from the experiences of the stalwarts of success. One from that list is famous British writer Jack Higgins (original name: Henry Patterson). The book that gave breakthrough to Jack Higgins and was sold over 50 million copies was, “The Eagle Has Landed (1975)”. He wrote this book towards the later years of his life and he quotes there;

“When you get to the top, you find nothing there. 

I wish I would have known it as a small boy, he added”.  

Again, the question that taunts me now – “What’s the meaning of being successful?”

In school, we learned “FOOD – SHELTER – CLOTHE” are the basic needs for a good life but the 21st century talks “MONEY – AFFLUENCE – INFLUENCE” is all that you need for a good life. Youngsters today says, ‘The more Money you throw, the best food, shelter & clothe you will get. The more Affluence you have, the more secured you are and the more your Influence are, the more you will be in the spotlight. In the words of the NOW Generation, MONEY-AFFLUENCE-INFLUENCE brings meaning to a good life. Well, flipping the pages of history we see Alexander the Great said, “keep my both hands and both legs dangling out from my coffin so that the world may know what I brought and what I am taking away”. Not he alone, sounding the same the Great, Rich Israeli King well-known as Wise King Solomon towards his final pen, he wrote,

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure.

My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil.

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” 

The question prompts me, What’s the meaning of treasuring Money, Affluence and being in the spotlight?”

The pain of meaninglessness does not instruct us to refrain from acquiring wisdom, knowledge, success and money rather it insists on us to introspect our urge for it. It reminds me of the great quote of the English writer and Philosopher G. K Chesterton said, 

“Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain.

Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.

Quoting from the speech of Ravi Zacharias at the Veritas Forum, as final words to this article I would like to pen, “The cancer of our time is realizing the meaninglessness in our life and it can only be treated by God alone!” Man, with his finite amount of knowledge and strengths of life hasn’t left any stone unturned to understand & realize the meaning of being meaninglessness in life. But alas, he has bitterly failed and sadly, there is no one else among the living ones to treat the cancer of our time – MEANINGLESSNESS.

God, being infinite and eternal in His existence understands the malady of our human heart and has warned us in the Bible,

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; 

life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” 

THIS PARTICULAR FANATICISM IS QUITE MEANINGLESS

Can the knowledge of a particular language be the sign of intelligence of a person? Can the fluency in a particular language be an indication of one’s educational background and character certificate? Sounds gibberish, right?

Well not completely. This is just a reflection of how the attitude of people in Indian subcontinent has shaped up over decades now. Undying love for “English” is an IT thing (rather a HIT thing).

People getting mocked for not being able to converse in English at native level¹. People finding themselves to be in a fix, out of place, losing confidence, nurturing low self esteem and inferiority complex are direct of shoot offs of our fetish for one particular “International Language” English. We (A majority) somehow have come up with the terms that mastering this particular language is a ticket to a better treatment in masses ; a person who can speak English impeccably is a genius and if some accent is sprinkled he/she is already a star – knowledge, character, education, skill doesn’t really matter. Look at the wannabe insta stars, you will know what I mean 😁.

Let me share few examples/ incidents that I came across or heard:

*I heard people praising someone who got expert skills in English “Kya angrezi bolta hai, wah!” (He speaks so good in English) never mind the grasp on subject matter is ZERO.

*My friend once shared with me his experience at his daughter’s school. The poor child faced the ire of the teachers because she wasn’t able to converse in a free flow manner in English and was comfortable in her mother tongue. Such a shame!

*If a person belonging to a foreign land (read West) speaks in any of our regional language though broken we go gaga over the attempt. “So Cute” is the expression that follows our excitement (not referring to Donald Trump saying Swamy Vivekanand 😁). But when the tables turn and someone among us try to speak the broken English we brand him “Illiterate” literally. What double standards!

*Parents insisting kids to speak in English, it’s a matter of fame while on the other hand more and more parents are coming out saying “our kids can’t speak/ read/ write our mother tongue” almost without any sense of attachment. I am at loss of words!

*People refraining from talking in the language they are comfortable with just not to be jeered by peers. How sad!

Well I can go on and on with such illustrations not so great to put forward for any country / society. In short we are focussing on the mode/ language of instruction and completely ignoring the importance of effective communication or the content intended to be delivered.

Talking about our overtly attachment with this particular language, light must be thrown at helm of affairs in other parts of the world, countries which we see as synonyms for “Development, technology, power, economy” and every possible positive superlative. I live in Belgium, have been to France, Germany, Netherlands; Have heard the social addresses of public figures from Japan, China and the counties aforementioned. No one carries a chip of shame up their sleeve while talking in their respective mother tongue. On contrary they are proud. Mother tongue is given the utmost importance right from the beginning. Schools that lay foundation and aid development of a child from the grassroots level emphasize specifically on the country’s mother tongue. If you are a foreigner in these lands you got only two choices either integrate with them via their language or be ready to pay exorbitant charges for translation be it education in schools or otherwise. I myself have paid extra charges for translator service for driving test because of my incapacity to understand French fast 😁. In a way they are promoting their language by using simple economics, period! Priority to the mother tongue is something we must learn from these countries.

Why? Language is a part of what and who we are. It’s an integral part of our history, heritage and culture. Precisely ROOTS! Can a tree stand still and upfront if it is alienated from the ground, if roots are uprooted? How meaningful it would be to have mastered a foreign language and yet not knowing the homeland? If we distance ourselves from our history there’s no way our future generations will know the past and future is definitely not bright.

I may sound as a fanatic talking over the clouds but a study is available that proves that for kids who start learning their and in their native language cognitive developments are better. Expression and communication comes easy to them. Better understanding of curriculum and positive attitude towards school are few more points to count. They feel more at home. This is just a bird’s eye view.

I want to reiterate that my argument is not against any language but the meaningless romanticism we have inbred within ourselves about a particular language belittling our own identity. I myself went to a school that had English as its medium of instruction but my teachers never made their students feel bad about their shortcomings in a language and most importantly my school had my mother tongue (Telugu) as one of the subjects and my parents wanted me to learn it. At home too we had an environment where we spoke to each other in our native language. English was just another language, a language for international exposure ( we were not aware or exposed to other world languages at that time), case closed. Rather the entire emphasis was on developing thoughts, transformation of a person to personality, ethical behaviour, earning dignity and respect. In short the purpose of imparting education was fulfilled to the core. It was not washed down by a meaningless glorification of a foreign language because it is spoken by “Fair Skinned” (another obsession of my land sadly).

A petty request: I am not out of “Parenting Mode” of last week’s topic, excuse me for that and kindly bear with me. Parents please make sure that you encourage kids talking (the least) in native language. If you could impart the knowledge if native language nothing beats that. Remember their thoughts have to be eloquent and it’s never about which language they chose to.

* Teachers: Please considering your own status don’t shame any kid for inability to converse in English. It’s just a language and can be worked upon. If the confidence gets shattered that might be something beyond repair.

* Schools / Authorities: Please focus on giving a buoyant support to the local language. Its a way to save our heritage and culture.

* Everyone: Learn as many languages as you can but remember your mother tongue is your inner feelings you share with your mother (loved/ closed ones), that comfort is the ultimate. And if Englishmen are speaking in English, it’s their own so nothing so great about that!

And here I rest my case.

VANITY OF VANITIES!!

The meaningfulness or meaninglessness of anything is a highly subjective concept. What means something for one, may not mean a thing for another. So, whether we talk about the meaning of life or of an event or of any given thing – it all depends upon the subjective interpretation thereof. There can be a rare few objective interpretations of this.

While abstract painting and modern art expound volumes for an art lover, they may be mere meaningless blurs of lines and a mishmash of colours for another.

While the symphony of music and dance forms may add sur (tune/ intonation), taal (tempo) and lay (rhythm) to every moment of living for many, they may just be incoherent cacophony for several others.

A week on a luxury cruise ship may be the definition of ‘the most meaningful holiday ever’ for someone, whereas, it may be an asinine wastage of resources for another.

Over the ages, the meaningfulness and meaninglessness of things have intrigued the human mind and they continue to do so even today for those who care to pause and ponder.

The Existentialist, Victor Frankl who was a Holocaust survivor writes thus –

“Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning.”

We are born, we live and we die. In the course of our life span, we study, work, forge relationships, pursue passions, fight for our rights, struggle to fulfill our responsibilities, desire for pleasure, aspire for power or are simply pushed and pulled by ebb and flow of the tides of life.  Is there any meaning to it all or is it a meaningless saga of random cosmic probability? Or is it a mega melodrama orchestrated by some unknown incomprehensible power?

Renowned philosophers of the world have delved deep into this mystery and have propounded some of the famous theories on this subject. We have Naturalism, Supernaturalism, Nihilism, Stoicism, Cynicism and many such isms attempting to extend meaning to certain things and captioning them as ‘meaningful’ and to detach meaning from certain others rendering them ‘meaningless’.

Going by the subjective interpretation of events what all seem of no significance to me, give me no sense of purpose, fail to engage my interest and do not motivate me to any extent are those that are meaningless. I can say this looking at the limited purview of my world, my interests and my purposes and those of a significant few (if I expand my latitude of acceptance). This holds true for every individual. 

With this understanding, each of us can chug along the course of life. We can enjoy each pleasure and defy each pain and define our goals.

But what about the big picture – visualising ourselves as teeny tiny dots in the vast cosmos? What holds meaning and what is meaningless, then?

I am reminded of the wise words of King Solomon of Israel who was famed to be the wisest and the richest king of his times, so much so that kings and queens of other kingdoms used to visit him to see for themselves the splendor of his wealth and the brilliance of his wisdom. Having accomplished all that his heart desired, having acquired all that he aspired to, having indulged in all possible pleasures that the human heart can yearn for, he wrote thus –

“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

Vanity of vanities . . . all is vanity.”

Though there is meaning in all that we say and do, there isn’t much meaning in the precision of things and events when we look at it all from the perspective of the big picture of the entire universe.

For example, whether you were wearing red or white or blue on the day you received a particular good news may be meaningful for you, but if examined from the perspective of the whole cosmos, it is meaningless.

So yes, while attaching meaning to our lives and life events keeps us hooked and going, the big canvas matters as well!

 

MEANINGLESS! MEANINGLESS!

One day suddenly, I felt, life is meaningless and whatever I have achieved or doing have no meaning. Maybe, you feel the same as I am, at times. This can happen out of nowhere, for no apparent reason. But it is necessary to understand why and when it happens.

Meaninglessness in life or anything we do or in any situation we are in comes when we are unable to find value in our life or the things we do. It comes when we insignificant in this huge wide world. It comes when failure lives in our house as a permanent member.

I find, lack of THREE very important factors within us bring in the sense of meaninglessness. They are the short form of the word IMPORTANT – IMP.

Let’s get into IMP in details for clear understanding of the matter.

Lack of INTEREST: I find it funny when I hear everything a person says yet I fail to remember anything he said. The reading of the text or hearing the speech or the message directed towards me becomes meaningless when I don’t conceive it because of my lack of interest. When I don’t have the curiosity of knowing or understanding something, I lose to understand the very meaning of it as well.

Lack of MOTIVATION: I usually avoid leadership training or conferences these days. The reason why I avoid to attend those seminars is very simple… I find them meaningless when I don’t have the scope to implement what I learn theoretically in those seminars. The scope to apply what you learn gives you a motivation to do it. And I don’t have that motivation so I find it meaningless for me. I really love it, I have interest in those speeches and training modules. I understand the purpose behind, yet I don’t have the motivation behind it.

Sometimes, in life, when we lack motivation, we fail to understand how to lead it.

Lack of PURPOSE: Just imagine, if your children are going to schools or colleges with the sole purpose of  finding a good life partner then the whole concept of education becomes meaningless. When the purpose of what we are doing or for why we are living is not known or understood to us then we run errands meaninglessly and a time comes when we lose motivation and interest to do anything or find life meaningless to live out. The purpose of life is the foundation of living it meaningfully and without it, we perish. 

All the above THREE words or factors seem very similar to each other but they have different connotations if we study them carefully. Interest gives us the feeling to attempt something, Motivation helps us to move forward with the same that interests us and Purpose directs us to move forward in the right path to accomplish what we were motivated about. There is no ranking or order of these three factors, called IMP. They are all part of the same system which makes our life beautiful and meaningful whether it is something that we do in our day to day lives or we do something to cater to the needs of our mental faculties or it is about our spiritual matters.

There is one Bible verse which I always love to quote when to explain the topics concerning life. It reads,

The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

At times, when we struggle to find the meaning of our life, we need to sit down and meditate on God’s goodness and His ways of dealing with people. He works amazingly and mysteriously. The more we go deeper diving down into the matters of our soul and eternity, the more we will draw out, that are beautiful, mysterious and meaningful for us. That happens when we are wise enough to do.

But the question is who’s then wise or man of understanding? The Bible again says,

“The reverent fear of the Lord that is, worshiping Him and regarding Him as truly awesome is the beginning and the preeminent part of knowledge [its starting point and its essence];”  

When we acknowledge God in our life, we gain knowledge and become wise. And when we become wise and man of understanding we get to go deep down to comprehend the purpose of life, ultimately we find the meaning of life and living it to the fullest.

Stay Blessed!

WE ARE IN IT TOGETHER!

They say you respect your parents more when you become one yourself. How true is it. I would trade anything in this world to be like my parents and raise Aarnav (my 2 yrs old boy) just the way my parents raised me. But alas, that’s not how it’s going to be.

Just like how computers changed to laptops and iPads, landlines changed to smartphones, schooling changed to online schooling in just a matter of few years, parenting needs an upgrade too.

Honestly, I do not have a parenting plan for Aarnav. We live in a dynamic world and every day is different than the other. Parents in this age need to be on toes. 24/7. But if you ask me what is my parenting goal, I have an answer to it. My parenting goal is that, I want to raise Aarnav in such a way that he is comfortable to talk to me about anything under the sun. Just anything. And I want to build that trust in him that no matter what, we are in it together. That doesn’t mean that I shall coverup when he makes mistakes, it simply means that my behavior towards him should be such that he finds me approachable even when he wants to confess his mistakes.  Easy? Not at all…!!

The parent in me is naive, I cannot comment on what and how other parents are doing right now. But all I know is that, I want to raise Aarnav the way I mentioned above. This naive parent in me often worries about how I would handle a situation when hormones of my son would start tricking on him, whether he would love me as much as he does now, whether he will share things with me? And I dont have any solutions to this fear. But broadly, I do know what I must do to have it my way. Parenting in today’s age is tricky. You can’t be controlling but you are accountable!

There are some basic directions I have given myself to be a good parent. Only time will tell how a good parent I turn out to be but I trust this may work! Trying to share a few directions here

1. Values: The foundation of the character that we want to build is values. Above everything,  I emote to Aarnav the values like Respect and Gratitude. Respecting everyone around, be it peers or Elders is what makes you empathetic and if you grow to be empathetic you will never ever want to hurt anyone. Neither physically nor verbally. At the same time, being grateful for what you have is also very very important because it brings along other values like, being appreciative and humble and keeps negatives like jealousy at bay.

2. Being approachable: I think this is the golden direction! We as parents must make our children feel loved and trusted that they feel confident that they can come to us and talk about anything and everything. Just anything, like their first crush, their first date, their desires. Now this is more actionable for parents rather than the children I would say because the onus of giving them that comfort lies on to us. This is one of the biggest responsibilities of the parents I would say! Because it’s not easy to do what it takes to be good in the books of your child and still manage to do the right and just thing! The key here is communication. “Me time v/s We time” like Charlie mentioned in his post but mind you kids of this generation need their own space. Its tricky as a parent to make a place for ourself without invading their space.

3. Accept the change: We must accept the change the generation brings in. Like I am prepared for the time when I may need to allow Aarnav to use his personal smartphone while he is still schooling. This is a sober example. Let’s face it guys, there are many other changes that we need to accept like, hitting puberty earlier, normalising relationships, the desire for independence. It is very important that we dont let these changes overwhelm us and get upset with our children for the choices they make.

Like Kalpana said at the beginning of this week, parenting doesnt come with an instruction manual, it’s a tough job. I would like to add that It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about the choice and effect relationship. It’s about what we and our children choose that leads us to the effect. And it’s not the job of only parents or only children. We are in it together!

In the end, all that we must focus on as parents is eternal love for children, raising them to be a gentle and loving human being, raising them to respect all the genders equally and teaching them to make the right choices. How we do it is up to us really!

I would like to conclude this topic by a reminder to myself (and other parents too) to be with my child in thick and thin, each and every time he needs me, sometimes directly and some times indirectly, sometimes in face and sometimes anonymously.

The following quote summarizes my write up and my parenting goal:

“I can’t promise to fix all your problems, but I promise that you will not have to face them alone. – A loving parent.”