Friday, February 13, 2009

Spiritual Quest - Day 1

My trip to Haridwar and Rishikesh, two of the holiest places for Hindus, made me realize how little I know about Hinduism and its philosophy. I know the stories like Ramayana and the Mahabharata but there is so much more to know. I am not a deeply religious person (I went for years without entering a temple) but I want to be spiritual. I have decided to dig deeper into Hinduism and force myself to share atleast one interesting thing that I learn each day.

Let me start off with knowledge acquired on day 1:
  • A prayer that I have learnt to chant as a kid but I never fully understood

    "asato ma sadgamaya
    tamaso ma jyotirgamaya
    mrtyorma amrtam gamaya"


    Lead me from unreal to the real (or untrue to truth)
    Lead me from darkness to light
    Lead me from death to immortality

    How beautiful!!

  • "Prana" is sanskrit for "breath". (I always thought Prana literally meant life)

    Also came across an interesting parable on this matter. According to the upanishads, the 5 senses were having a discussion about which is the most important. They decide the only way to find out would be if they leave one by one and the others experience life without one sense. First, sight goes off for 1 year and once it is back, it asks the others, "how was life without light?". The other senses say, "the world was plunged in darkness. Life was bad but we got used to it and we began to rely on touch, sound etc to fill the void left. Life went on.". Similarly, hearing, touch, taste go out one by one and realize that life continues in their absence. Finally, it is breath's turn to leave. As it starts making its exit, the other senses realize that they too were disappearing along with breath. They realize their folly and accept that breath is the most important of the 5 senses. This is why prana, the word for breath, is often used to denote life. Infact, "prani" is the word used for "creatures". Interesting.


I love the book "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance" because so many of the ideas put forth in the book have made an impact on me and they continue to influence my life. My favorite passage from the book is as follows:

"What moves the Greek warrior to deeds of heroism," Kitto comments, "is not a sense of duty as we understand it...duty towards others: it is rather duty towards himself. He strives after that which we translate `virtue' but is in Greek areté, `excellence' -- we shall have much to say about areté. It runs through Greek life."

Thus the hero of the Odyssey is a great fighter, a wily schemer, a ready speaker, a man of stout heart and broad wisdom who knows that he must endure without too much complaining what the gods send; and he can both build and sail a boat, drive a furrow as straight as anyone, beat a young braggart at throwing the discus, challenge the Pheacian youthat boxing, wrestling or running; flay, skin, cut up and cook an ox, and be moved to tears by a song. He is in fact an excellent all-rounder; he has surpassing areté.

Areté implies a respect for the wholeness or oneness of life, and a consequent dislike of specialization. It implies a contempt for efficiency...or rather a much higher idea of efficiency, an efficiency which exists not in one department of life but in life itself."

I read this at a time when I was at crossroads in my life. I was to make important decisions on my interests, career, future plans etc etc. I was expected to choose my area of expertise and work on it like almost everyone else of my age. The idea that I need to excel not at one or two things that will keep me going, but all things life made a huge impact on my life. I started to give my job my everything for the time that I was in office. I tried my best to excel at interpersonal skills and in the process established many relationships that have added a lot of excitement to my life. I joined a gym to be physically fit and took it to the next level with routine participation in many sporting events in addition to the gym. I realized the importance of lifelong learning and made a very conscious effort to keep myself informed of and interested in things I did not know anything about. I am a much better person today for each of these decisions.

Read the book, it is amazing.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nadal - Federer

I caught the Australian Open 2009 final between Nadal and Federer on tv last night. What a game! This is probably the best rivalry in all of sports at this current juncture. Although I knew the result, I was sitting with baited breath watching Nadal and Federer hit one incredible shot after another. It is unbelievable how good both of these players are. Granted Fernando Verdasco played an amazing semi-final but it is clear that Federer and Nadal are above and beyond rest of the competition in world tennis. I really wanted Federer to win but more than that, I wanted to see an amazing game of tennis and it exceeded my expectations.

Watching Nadal in the first round was enough for me to annoint him the champion because he looked invincible, even for Federer. I hope Federer improves certain facets of his game to replace Nadal again at the top of the rankings. It is clear that Federer can no longer just rely on his skill level and elegance to get the better of Nadal. He needs to improve his serve (especially the second) because he gets to deuce on his service game way too often for a top player. I think a marginal improvement (one more point in his favor per game on serve) would do wonders for his overall record.

I think it is time Federer gets a coach as well. He can beat anybody (other than Nadal) by relying on his in game adjustments and ground game. To beat Nadal though, he will have to formulate a new strategy because Nadal's quickness and accuracy negates Federer's biggest strengths quite effectively.

Federer can improve his conditioning as well. It was apparent to anyone who watched the game that Fedex ran out of steam in the pivotal fifth set though Nadal should have been the exhausted one considering he played a thrilling 5 setter with Verdasco just 24 hours earlier. When you are competing against Nadal, who is probably the fittest tennis player ever, you need to be in great shape yourself to have any chance. Federer just wasnt.

Federer is certainly one of the greatest players to ever step on a tennis court and I want to see him return to the #1 ranking and provide more of a challenge to Nadal.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire Effects

This just occurred to me ...

Slumdog Millionaire is coming under criticism in India for showing India's underbelly and profiting from it. Yes, I agree that the movie does not show India in a good light. However, by showing the plight of the slum dwellers and showing the tough conditions that they live in, it is definitely raising the awareness levels internationally. Also, the movie focuses on the hardships faced by children living in such tough environments - children who have lost their parents to riots, children living in poverty without a roof over their head or food to feed themselves, children forced into begging for a living etc.

One of the effects of this should be an increase in charitable contributions coming from outside India to improve the situation in the slums. The donors who are deciding how to dispense their charity dollars will now have a connection that they have not had previously. They may donate to many causes - like orphanages and schools for kids. I think this is a great opportunity for the non-profit organizations working to improve the life in the slums. The movie does a great job of portraying the poverty. At the end of the movie, people feel compelled to help ease the situation in anyway. The fore-mentioned organizations should use this chance to garner more aid and spend it wisely to improve the life in the slums.

Just a thought ...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oscar for the Best Picture

The Academy Awards are around the corner and entertainment shows are rife with speculation on the would-be winners. Lots of people are complaining that " was obviously the best of 2008 and it did not even get nominated" (Dark Knight, Wrestler, Wall-E ...).

I think the academy awards, and for that matter all movie awards, are bullshit. If you put a gun to my head and asked me to name the best movie that I have seen last week (let alone last year), I would not be able to. How can one compare the incredible Slumdog Millionaire to Milk or to Curious Case of Benjamin Button? What is the criteria that is used to make this comparison?

All the nominees and some that got snubbed are all great movies in their own right. I think one of the pros coming from these award ceremonies is the recognition and the publicity for some of the excellent movies that do not have a Dark Knight-like budget for marketing. At the same time, the ceremonies somehow imply that the best picture winner is somehow better than the nominees or other good films made in the year which is absolutely untrue.

PS: 2008 was a year that provided many excellent movies and I am very happy for that.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obama of India

The Obama fever has swept the Indian media as well. Whole talk shows were dedicated to the debate on the topic ... Will India have an Obama-esque leader in the near future?

Let me first set forward the criteria that I think defines Obama-esque:
  1. Not from a family that constitutes the national elite. (Obama was hardly a household name)
  2. Highly educated. (Obama is from the Harvard Law school)
  3. Young. (Obama is 47)
So, will we have such a leader in India - NO! Not in the foreseeable future. The reasons are manifold.

Firstly, in India, it takes many decades of being active in politics before a candidate is recognized as a leader at a national level. This is even more true when it comes to prime ministerial hopefuls. I could not find the average age of the Prime Ministers of India - but I am pretty sure it will be in the late 60s. the average age of the current cabinet ministers is 60. In India, it is inconceivable to even think that a candidate can rise through the ranks nearly as quickly as Obama has in the United States.

Secondly, there is a lot less glory in being actively involved in politics in India compared to USA. The term "politics" itself is used in everyday conversation to denote negative tactics that people sometimes use to rise to the top. As a result, those among the highly educated lot who are inclined towards servicing people prefer to achieve that motive through charitable organizations or private sector rather than jump into the realm of politics.

The message is not all negative. There are many areas in which America should aspire to be more like India. We may not be able to answer the question "Where is Obama of India?", but more barriers have been overcome in the 61 years of Indian independence than 230+ years that America has been independent. We have had a female head of state and heads of states from 3 different religions. To this day, we have not seen an American president who was not a male christian. Obama has broken the race barrier but it has taken 230 years.

Something interesting to ponder over - Would Obama win the Indian parliamentary elections if he were to contest? - Lets say for the upcoming Indian elections, we have an candidate who is under 5o years of age, armed with a message of hope, having the best education, short but sound legislation history, no political pedigree and has been in the parliament for only 4 years - would we even consider that candidate for the highest office in the country? Would he stand a chance against Gandhis and Advanis of India? I think we would tell him - "We like you, but wait for another 20 years and we might consider you. We are too busy electing 80 year olds to lead a country where more than half the population is under 25."

Nadal will win 2009 Australian Open

Prediction: Australian Open 2009 Winner - Rafael Nadal

Reasons: Nadal has played 1 set in the Australian Open 2009 and he played it well enough to convince me that he is going to win the tournament.

  • Skill: His forehand and backhand have been nothing short of spectacular. His serve is quite solid too.
  • Movement: He is moving extremely well and hasn't been out of position for a single point.
  • Challengers: The other contenders are Federer, Djokovic and Tsonga. The way Nadal is playing, none of them have a chance.
7 games into the match, Nadal is 7-0 and his opponent looks defeated already.