Donuts and a Notepad!

Every morning at 9, we have a scrum meeting at work. A meeting where each one of us(about 12-13 of us), has to report on the work done the day before and the work to be done for the day. Once your status update is out of the way, some people tend to get fidgety and since Phones are the perfect fidget-spinner replacements – they are taken up. The picture above is an illustration of what I do in these meetings. An employee decided to take a picture of the donuts as proof that she had brought them in since she was being bullied for a couple of weeks for not bringing in the customary donuts as a new hire. As luck would have it, the manager who was pestering her to do so was out that day and she wanted to send the manager a picture. Look yummy, don’t they? Yes they were absolutely delicious! But what I am more interested in pointing out is the notepad at the upper corner of the picture. Yes, that notepad belongs to me and when I saw the picture, I was very amused. That notepad is so me. So, so me. I am sure most of you can’t really read my scrawls and so for the ones who are actually the least bit curious about what those are, I decided to write a whole entire blog about it! You will have to read till the end to know what those scribbles are.

I am an avid quora reader. I discovered it a couple of months back and whenever I can, I try to read people’s experiences. For a wannabe writer like me, it is an invaluable tool. One of the things I lack that every writer needs to have in their arsenal, is a keen curiosity of people and things happening around them. I am a very private person by nature. Don’t mistake it for shyness. I am not shy by any measure of the yardstick, but I tend to keep away from the limelight. I like to shine in my own space, with the brightness of a faraway star. I like to be left alone with my thoughts and my efforts towards self-introspection to gain a better view of who I am. I don’t like anyone intruding into my space when I am in these modes. I like to melt away into the background and there is nothing more annoying than people staring at you or worse still making caricatures of you or taking notes of your appearance. (I exaggerate I know, but you get my point).

This need for privacy makes me sensitive to other people’s need of it. I don’t like to make people subjects of my scrutiny. This has effectively morphed into me not paying attention to anything around me. I dreamily float around, aware of everything but not quite taking in the details of things around me. I feel the great disservice I am doing to myself as a writer, when I read descriptive passages from books and even when people are casually describing a particular thing. It amazes me how much attention to detail is given and how well people conjure up images and visions in your mind with their evocative and imaginative way of writing what they have observed about how a particular person looks or how the inside of a particular house appears. I find that simply amazing.

I started doing an exercise wherein when I want to write something descriptive about something, then I turn to a writer’s most faithful research tool – Google. If I want to write for example about a meadow, I search images till I find the one I am looking for. Then I go on to describe it in detail. Yes, a crude band-aid technique to alleviate my lack of observation powers. But it is better than having nothing at all.

As I am evolving and honing this technique, I have hit on something that is nothing short of a gold mine to the writer in me. QUORA. An online community wherein people ask questions and the same people answer them too. I find it fascinating to read people’s stories, their values, their views and what has happened to them. It is like an epic unfolding right in front of my eyes – an epic that has so many layers and each one of those layers is easily accessible to me. Its like being let out in a field rich and laden with your favorite stuff. I feel humbled and amazed that I can observe people, know their secrets, read their views and have access to the intricate details of their lives so up close and personal. Not only that, I could interact with them, solicit their advice, talk to them, encourage them, lend a helping hand etc etc. All this without leaving my comfort zone.

Best of all, my need to respect people’s privacy is intact as I read only about what people want to publicize. The one’s who don’t want to go anonymous and it is great that I don’t even have to know who it is that I am getting to know so well through their words. Mere air these words, but oh, so revealing!

I read them:
Sometimes with sadness, other times with joy!
Sometimes with a heavy heart, other times with a light step!
Sometimes with gratitude, other times with horror!
Sometimes with love, other times with aversion!
But all the times, with amazement!

I bookmark the answers I like to read and savor them later. I watch myself grow as I read. I find myself empathizing with so many people. I feel their trauma, I feel their need. I feel so alive and humbled. I feel immensely grateful for everything that is in my life and more so for things that are not. There are so, so many amazing people in this world. They take time and energy to prop less confident people up. They research and give valuable insight to their readers into their findings. The many facets of life that I get to watch as a bystander is beyond any feeling I have experienced. It is like I am given invaluable insight and experiences into life without having to go through them.

For instance, I feel nothing sort of pure admiration when a 19-year old writes more than a dozen things about what he learned too late in life. At that age, I am sure I did not even have insight into even one thing that he writes about, leave alone expressing so well. Read his views here.

I am fascinated when I read about a dear 92-year old woman’s definition of happiness and feel like I learned something profound reading about her outlook in life. Read about her here….

I can feel tears stinging in my eyes when I read calls for help like this: Lend a ear and then maybe a hand.

I learn to be careful and wary when I read a nightmarish account of a young woman who was saved from being kidnapped by her alert father. Dad’s are the best!

I routinely read about suicides and how people are haunted by it. I was extremely saddened to hear about a couple of prominent quora members committing suicide. One was a 16-year old boy. Many of these accounts are eye openers.

I could go on and on. But I will end with something I read that resonated with me deep down. I found the words so true. They go something like this:

“Perception creates bias as much as it creates understanding. Fear as much as curiosity!” – Mary Gable’s words scribbled on my notepad.

Who is Mary Gable you ask? Another Quoran I read and admire. Here is the link to her complete article: The reality of perception

Mere air these words, but oh! So compelling!

And what of Marriage, master Gibran?

I firmly believe that Kahlil Gibran, had he wanted to would have been able to start a new religion perching himself at the top as a prophet. Fortunately, he chose not to! Instead, he left us with a book called The Prophet, which we mere mortals can refer to from time to time on such important matters such as: Love, Marriage, Children, Friendship, Freedom, Work and quite a bunch of other things.

Each line in this book is thought provoking and will leave you speechless with the depth and intensity of meaning conveyed in a few lines of flowing prose that reads like poetry.

Consider the 2 lines as under:
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

These lines come in response to the question to the Prophet on matters concerning marriage.
The first line is like a shocker that tells us not to make a bond of love, on first glance. How can we not form a bond of love, one might ask. This is a false prophet who wants us not to make bonds with the people we love, preposterous! Not so fast, please not so fast.
Let’s analyze these mere words and try to get the powerful meaning out of what master Gibran wants to tell us.

So, What is a bond? The dictionary says that Bond could either be a noun or a verb.

Let’s explore bond as a noun. The meaning of the word as the same old dictionary suggests is:

‘a thing used to tie something or to fasten things together’

So basically when you are creating a bond, you are holding things together with a kind of force or pressure which is not natural but which is external. No matter how strong or hard this force is, it is not going to last forever and during the period that it last, it will create pressure on the parts joined.

However, one could argue that a ‘bond of love’ is bound by love and hence is not external or unnatural. Doesn’t matter what kind of adhesive you are using, even if it is something as wondrous as love or pure as peace, still it will deteriorate if you force it to stick. As a verb bond is defined as follows:

‘join or be joined securely to something else, typically by means of an adhesive substance, heat, or pressure.’

Since an adhesive substance, heat or pressure sounds way too negative to even be dealt with let’s consider this definition by altering it with the word of love shoved in.

‘join or be joined securely to something else, typically by means of love.’

Though it sounds very romantic to read, it is still not the least bit less oppressive. When you join two things together, you are basically forcing them to be together and as we all know pretty well, when we force something on anyone, even though that is exactly what they might want or need, the fact that it is being forced onto them makes it seem less agreeable and less necessary than it would have seemed had it been sought from inside. More than the pursuit of happiness, I believe that humans seek freedom. The freedom to choose, freedom to do and freedom to move in any which way they want. A bond, however beautiful and strong would curtail that freedom and this forms the basis of discontent in any relationship. Once that discontent creeps in, it won’t be long before strains begin to appear and the bonds start to weaken. The mere fact that an external bond exists, implies that it is there to be broken. So let go off these bonds. Bonds of love, bonds of family, bonds of the heart, bonds of friendship – let there be no bonds.

Let there be only moving seas between the shores of your souls. Seas that flow freely but are guided by the shores, seas that are vibrant with life, seas that are alive and guide you towards each other, while taking you forward with their flow. When one is given this freedom, then one feels more alive and does not feel tedious or lethargic of the bond. The need for a bond to hold things together simply does not exist. Even without a bond, your souls will seek out each other. They will stay with each other because they feel like they belong together and want to stay that way. That my friends, is the mark of true love – to stay next to the other with nothing holding each other. Not children, not family, not customs or traditions. It is the joy of being with each other. It is the love that flows like a sea between the two of you.

Now that we have made sense of those 2 lines in like 2 pages, let’s move on to the next few lines.

Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup,
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

I can’t believe that Gibran penned these views more than a century ago. These lines look like they are meant for today’s generation. A generation that sometimes seem to think that it is ok to completely depend on their partner for their financial,emotional basically every kind of gratification. Gibran warns us against that. He exhorts couples to not only help fill the others’ cup but also wants them to make sure that they are partaking of both the cups and not emptying the others’ while preserving their own. Basically saying ‘Don’t be selfish!’ in a much more lyrical and effective manner.

The second line basically says the same thing but evokes comfort by referring to bread. So not only do you help to fill the other person’s cup but you also share with them what you already have. So Gibran here lays emphasis on being both a giver and a taker. He cautions against being a giver or taker all the time. The need for balance is examined here. Doesn’t matter how much you are capable of giving and who gives how much, its more a matter of giving and taking. The savior of any relationship, not just marriage.

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Love sometimes makes you think and do things that you will regret in the long run. People in love feel like they should be spending all of their time together. One often hears of lover’s tiffs wherein one is mad at the other because they chose to do something that did not involve the presence of the loved one. Especially in the beginning of any romantic relationship, the lovers feel compelled to be in each others’ presence always. They will feel guilty it sometimes they feel like they want to be by themselves or with someone else. The whole humanity has been conditioned to believe that unless you want to be with someone 24×7, you don’t truly love them. Gibran seeks to quash that view with these lines here and he even gives an example to put his point across. He shows how 2 people can give each other space and still think and behave like one. There is no need for you to be always in the company of other to make the same music. Yes, you need to be close, but not together. Being close to one another is not dependent on physical proximity. It should not be!

And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of a temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

Gibran ends this piece of advice with a flourish. His lines are so evocative and add life and meaning in the minds of the reader. Stand together, yet not too near together! If only we did that in our relationships, I am sure we would have no issues with our relationships anymore! The last line I think is a master stroke of finesse and imagery.

Oak and Cypress. The strongest, tallest and loveliest trees that grow fast and swift. But that kind of growth is only possible if they are independent of each other. If either one was too near, then one of them will have to give up their existence because nothing can grow in another’s shadow. These lines might not seem like they carry such tremendous value in this day and age but one has to understand that Gibran wrote these lines more than a century ago. A time where women’s rights were unheard of. All through his narrative he maintains the idea that both sides of the relationship coin are equally important. The advice is addressed to both men and women. So much so, that he does not even differentiate between the two. That I believe is the hallmark of true feminism, that we can’t distinguish which gender a particular thing is aimed at. Gibran had achieved it 100 years ago. Something that is rare to see even now.

All in all, the concept of marriage according to Kahlil Gibran seems to be that marriage should be a means for the individual growth of its participants. He warns against one person giving or expecting too much. Human beings should feel free to love, free to move about in their relationships. If they feel like they are trapped or bound, then that relationship is bound to fail. Next, he advises on how to go about doing that – by always standing next to the other person, with a space in between, a space that allows for the other person to move and grow. That my friends, is how relationships are meant to be and that is how they will last long.

Mere air, these words of Gibran’s but so true, oh! so true!

Tale 1: Strychnine in the Soup

My train was delayed for an hour today. I start off the day very early to catch the 6:44am train that brings me to downtown Chicago by 7:18. I have been doing this for about 2 months now and I have never had any issues. Until today of course.

“Due to mechanical problems, your inbound train to Union Station is running late …” blared the loudspeaker.

I thought the delay might be in minutes.

“How late we are not sure, we will keep you updated!” it blared louder, before blaring off.

I had to stand there in the slightly chilly weather as the crowd on the platform grew, waiting for the loud speaker to blare again. Surely, not the best way to start off your Monday morning, is it?

The answer from me would have been a resounding No! had it not been for a brand new Wodehouse novel that I held in my hand. The hardbound volume with a delightful cover of what looked like Gentlemen in the Drones club looking at a well-dressed young man with a smoking gun instead of a cigar in his hand. The tile of the book “Wodehouse on Crime” promised ‘A dozen tales of Fiendish Cunning’! Just what I needed for an unexpected wait on the railway platform on a slightly chilly Monday morning where I was running late for my 9am meeting at work.

I felt special as I turned the pages of the book while everyone around me was either wistfully gazing in the direction of where the train was supposed to come from or directing their attention towards their phones. I, on the other hand, read a delightful preface by D.R.Bensen who attributed the wave of crime in Wodehouse’s novels to a fascination with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Apparently, Wodehouse used to wait in line to get the edition of ‘Strand’ that contained an extract of Holmes’ escapades. The way Bensen cleverly weaves the common thread of crime around Wodehouse and Conan Doyle is something I am sure Wodehouse himself would have chuckled at.

I beg to disagree with Mr.Bensen though. I think the crime wave that runs through Wodehouse’s books masterminded by pea-sized Brainiacs running amok with amor must actually be inspired by the very serious tales of fiendish cunning written by one Ms. Agatha Christie. There have been direct and indirect references to her work in many of Wodehouse’s books. I would like to think there is an underlying tinge of admiration towards Ms.Christie’s works in the way Wodehouse brings it up in his novels. For example in the tale that I am about to narrate, rather Wodhehouse narrates, he pokes fun at Christie’s favorite vehicle for killing someone – Strychnine!

Strychnine in the Soup” is the first tale in this dozen tales of fiendish cunning . I am not a big fan of Mr. Mulliner’s monologues regarding one of his innumerable nephews, but this story piqued my curiosity because it started off with how readers of mystery stories are a strange lot who are likened to druggies in their addiction for the written works of thrill and intrigue. I understand that sort of addiction. In the past, I have been addicted to Agatha Christie’s mysteries, especially the ones that had to do with our not-so-modest, thinks-he’s-better-than-Sherlock-Holmes in sniffing out crime and criminals – our own adorable Mr. Poirot. It would take a lot to drag my nose out of a murder mystery that Hercule Poirot was trying to unravel. I decided to give Mr. Mulliner a chance because I identified with the main character of the story and also because I have a fascination with Strychnine, much like how Christie has with it. You can read more about strychnine and its power here: Strychnine Poisoning. Pay close attention to the fact that the poison kills the subject in a matter of 2-3 hours in a very, very gut wrenching manner (literally!)

So it is no surprise that more often than not, Agatha’s choice of weapon to bring Hercule Poirot into the frame was to bump off some unsuspecting character with Strychnine. While I don’t think it was ever administered in a soup, I do think there are many, many instances where Christie’s victims have been administered strychnine. As I said earlier Wodehouse tends to make fun of the lady in his novels and this is how he chooses to do it here. Before you get your hopes up that this tale of fiendish cunning starts off with a murder that somebody commits by putting strychnine in the soup, let me quash those hopes by saying that is merely the title of the mystery book our protagonist is reading and which serves as a very vital prop in making sure our hero is bound in holy matrimony to the woman he loves with the blessing of her explorer Mom who thinks our hero is a pipsqueak who never ventures out of his comfort zone. Delightful, aye?
Consider the following exchange:

Mr. Mulliner (on learning that the woman he hopes to be his future mother-in-law has christened him a pipsqueak): I don’t even know what a pipsqueak is.

Lady Basset (the woman who wants to make sure that Mr.Mulliner is never going to be her future son-in-law): A pipsqueak is a man who has never seen the sun rise beyond the reaches of the Lower Zambezi; who would not know what do if faced by a charging rhinoceros. What, pray would you do if faced by a charging rhinoceros, Mr. Mulliner?

Mr.Mulliner: I am not likely, to move in the same social circles as charging rhinoceri.

I was laughing out loud much to the consternation of the people surrounding me as I read these lines. I did not mind that the loudspeaker blared that the next train that we had been waiting for, for more than half an hour would not make the scheduled stop at the station. Instead, the train coming about 15 minutes after that would be picking us up. I could hear the sighs around me as I turned the page trying to control my laughter.

10 minutes into the story, Lady Basset gives in to Mr.Mulliner’s proposal to marry her daughter to him so that she could finish reading the mystery book that unbeknownst to her Mr.Mulliner manages to steal (borrow in his mind of course) from her and not only blames the crime on the man who borrows it from him (in a very dominant and unborrowable manner, have to say) that Lady Basset chose for her daughter but also helps her catch him red handed. Yes, all this happens in a matter of minutes and Mr.Basset from warning Mr.Mulliner as he comes and goes out of her bedroom at will, falling off her bed sometimes, getting his leg caught in the cord at other times :

“I am, I trust a broad-minded woman but I cannot approve this idea of communal bedrooms!”
(I can imagine the high spirited, huge, explorer of a woman who faced lions in her African Adventures starting down at our poor Mr. Mulliner!)

to hobnobbing with Mr.Mulliner to read about the 2 faceless fiends, it was quite a ride.

All I would have to say to Mr.Wodehouse for this delightful tale of crime, passion and quick thinking on the feet is – Mere air, these words, but oh so funny, so so funny!
I also need to quote another dialogue between Mr. Mulliner and his beloved:

Mr.Mulliner: There is only one thing to be done, I shall see your mother and try to make her listen to reason.
Amelia Basset: But you are so diffident Cyril. So shrinking, so retiring and shy. How can you carry through such a task?
Mr.Mulliner: Love will nerve me!

Ah! Trust Wodehouse to lace the narrative with a gallant love story. Love will nerve me! Indeed!