When the lines drawn by men matter more than the men themselves

You can always take pride in your achievements. The magnitude of the achievement doesn’t matter as long as its something that makes you happy. Its something that you have done – that you have accomplished using your mental or physical abilities. Its an output of your industry and you have every right to be proud of it.

Now, lets say you are the brother of Sachin Tendulkar or sister of Hrithik Roshan. You might be proud of your sibling. What you are proud of, is their achievements, not just the blood and flesh of the person. You take pride by your association – your association to someone because of their accomplishments. That’s the reason parents are usually proud of their children – accomplishments of children. Well, at least accomplishments as perceived by the parents.

Now to the most crucial question of what it means to be proud of ones country, state or language. What does it really mean to be proud of your country? Surely,  its not the land that you are proud of or the script for that matter in case of language. Remember pride by association comes down to some accomplishment of the associated thing. So, when you say you are proud of your country, you actually mean that you are proud of your country’s achievements.
A country’s achievements are its countrymen’s achievements. You are proud of your fellow countrymen’s achievements. Okay, in a way you are contributing your share to your country (or rather countrymen) by means of your work and the overall outcome of the individual contributions of your compatriots is resulting in your country achieving something (irrespective of the magnitude). It could be a massive GDP, gold medals in competitions or anything else. That achievement that you associate with your country is actually made possible by the actions of your fellow citizens. Let me repeat it again then – When you say you are proud of your country – you mean that you are proud of the actions of your fellow citizens who just happen to live in the same area as you (something that you had no control over – which is a different matter).

Now, lets be honest here. You might be proud of some of the actions of your fellow citizens. But not everyone acts that way – and definitely not all the time. Lets face it, we have seen or experienced the worst in people on multiple occasions. The crime rates in some of our cities are not something to be proud of. The caste system and its exploitation by the politicians every 5 years is not something to be proud of. The mishandling of projects by our contractors leading to fatalities through fallen buildings/bridges or potholes on roads is not something to be proud of. The widespread corruption and nepotism plaguing our society and unfairly biasing opportunities to the well placed individuals is not something to be proud of. The misbehavior towards others, littering of public places, non-adherence to traffic rules, spitting in public places – these are all things to be ashamed of. As proud as you are of the things that you like in your country, you are ashamed of some of the things happening in your country too.

To be honest, there are more instances when I am ashamed of the actions of my countrymen than when I am proud of them. As an extension, I am ashamed of my country on more instances than I am proud of it. Unfortunately, when you say such a thing, it is considered anti national and unpatriotic in the current times. No matter how prevalent these unfortunate things are, it is wrong to put a finger on them. Because, people behave as if they had a choice about where they would be born and they have consciously decided to be born in such a great country – and they believe that those who cant appreciate its greatness don’t have a place in it. Chauvinism is the new Nationalism.

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An unexpected lay over

My flight itinerary from Chennai to Casablanca looked like this:

Departure: 03-30 from Chennai
Arrival: 06-20 at Dubai

Departure: 07-45 from Dubai
Arrival: 12-30 at Casablanca

If you think one and half hour is enough time for transit, think again. The gate usually closes half an hour before departure time. My flight from Chennai got delayed by 30 mins even before it started. I landed in Dubai at 06-50 am. Unfortunately, the flight did not get a gate assigned to it at the terminal. We had to get down and get into a bus to reach the terminal. Got into the bus at 07-00 am. Reached the terminal at 07-10 am. They were already announcing the final call for passengers travelling to Casablanca. Passed through security by 07-15 am. The gate for Casablanca flight was A22. There was a sign which said ‘Way to A Gates’. I was thinking they would hold the gate open for me if I rush. After all, I have seen people boarding flight after everyone settled and just before they closed the aircraft doors. So I walked fast in that direction. I got down the escalator and then realized that I had to take a train to reach the A gates. I waited from 07-20 am and the train arrived at 07-25 am. I boarded the train and got down at the next stop at 07-30 am. I then took the escalator and started running towards A gates. As I was passing A14 and running towards A22, I heard one of the staff shout Casablanca. I raised my hand and now he started jogging next to me. If they were still looking for passengers, I thought the aircraft doors were not yet closed and I had a chance. I was wondering if my check in bag would make it to the flight in time. What if I reached Casablanca and then they inform me that my bag would arrive the next day. I didn’t carry any clothes in my cabin bag. I would have to go to the customer’s office in tattered clothes and with an unkempt beard. I reached the gate and showed my boarding pass. It was 07-35 am. They spoke something on the walkie-talkie in Arabic, made me wait for an anxious 30 seconds before telling me that they can’t allow me to board the flight as the door was closed.

Well, what was I supposed to do? I never missed a train, let alone a flight in my entire life. They asked me to take the aero train back to the place where I passed the security check and approach Connections Desk next to it. Even as I was on my way back, I was thinking that the next flight would probably be the same time next day. I’ve heard before that people who missed connecting flights because of delays would be put up in airport hotels and sent in next flights. One entire day in hotel would mean binge watching some tv series. I wouldn’t complain. This time the train was ready and waiting for me to board before its doors closed. That is to be expected, I guess. When you are short of time is when you face all the delays in things that are not under your control. One of my friends is residing in Dubai. Thought I’d give him a msg on Skype.

As I approached the security, I politely informed that I have to go the other side and they just waved me off. I found the connection desk and told them of my situation. The lady asked me if there was no one paging for me when I got down from the Chennai flight. The tone was downright accusation as if missing connecting flights was my hobby. I said No. We did not come through the jet bridge directly into the terminal. We got down somewhere far away and we boarded a bus from there. There was a person holding a card saying passengers going to Seattle, Frankfurt, Chicago should board one bus and rest of them should board another bus. Casablanca was not on the list.

She did her magic on the system and gave me a boarding pass for the next day, a hotel voucher for Copthorne Airport Hotel and a third card. She said I had to go to ‘Dubai Connect’ and they will guide me from there. She also mentioned that the hotel is outside the airport and I would be given transportation to the hotel and back the next day. Now, as I was walking to Dubai connect, a lot of thoughts crossed my mind. Ok, I am going to be in Dubai for a day. I would definitely Skype my friend as soon as I get to hotel and we could go around the entire day. After all it was a Sunday. I would get to see Burj Khalifa. UAE would be added to the countries that I visited. Not a bad thing to end up with a missed flight in Dubai. I was excited to get to the hotel as fast as I can. At Dubai Connect, they just stamped the third card and asked me to go through passport control and then to Exit 1. Passport control took the third card and stamped my passport. I thought they would stamp a one day visa or something like that, but it was just a UAE entry stamp and another rubber stamp in Arabic.

As soon as I checked in to the hotel, I asked for Wifi password. To my surprise, they said that Wifi had to be purchased and it was not free. I was like WTF!. So how will people who missed the flight convey information to their near and dear ones that they have missed the flight? They had 4 options – 25 AED for 30 mins; 50 AED for 2 hours; 75 AED for 6 hours and 100 AED for 24 hours. I was supposed to be picked up from the Airport at Casablanca. I need to first inform the customer that I would be arriving a day later. If I didn’t get any acknowledgement soon enough, I would probably have to call one of them through Skype and make sure the message is passed. I had to inform my family. I had to Skype my friend in Dubai and establish a place to meet. I initially thought of buying the 2 hour pack, but then I thought given the day I was having, I might end up buying another 2 hour pack and spending a total of 100 AED just to convey information that I needed to convey to all relevant people. So I bought the 6 hour pack.

I went down for breakfast and when I was on my way back, I ran into a guy who started speaking in Hindi assuming I’m from the subcontinent. He asked me where I was from and I said Chennai. He immediately said Chennai Super Kings. I said yeah, they are not an IPL team anymore. I asked him where he was from and he said Pakistan. His name was Haroon. That was the first time in my life, I met a Pakistani. He didn’t stop talking about cricket for the next few minutes as we walked to our rooms which happened to be opposite to each other. He blasted the Pakistani cricket team which lost to India in the Asia cup game that happened a couple of days before. He hoped they would do well in the World cup match. I said Dekhlenge!! (Lets see  – with an attitude of invincibility). He went on about the strength of Indian batting and why he thinks Kohli is a better batsman than Sachin. That put me off because I can never imagine anyone being better than Sachin.  Thankfully, we arrived at our rooms by then and said goodbye.

After sending emails and Skyping family, I skyped my friend, who told that he was in office. I completely forgot that their weekend was Friday and Saturday. I was slightly disappointed, but I was not going to let the chance pass anyway. He asked me to take a metro till Noor Bank station. His office was in Oasis City Centre. He would come pick me up and we could have lunch together. He would brief me about other places to visit and pick me up again after his office.

The Metro station was very close by. Its called GGICO. It was a pleasant day with temperature around 30 degrees. City looked pretty clean. In the station, I found an ATM and withdrew 100 AED. In all the metro stations, you will find a small grocery/eatery shop called Zoom. I checked with them for a sim card and they said they don’t have sim cards. I thought I would buy one after I get down at Noor City. I bought the Metro card for 25 AED. That comes along with a balance of 19 AED.

As I entered the platform to board the train, I noticed the similarity between Dubai and Singapore. The metros are almost similar. The station, the trains, the directions to passengers, the rules (eating/drinking not allowed on the metro), the metro maps. And to some extent even the cities are similar. Concrete structures everywhere. Although the ones in Dubai are far more aesthetic than the ones in Singapore which are mostly rectangular blocks. It was a long way away and took more than half an hour to reach Noor City. The stop before Noor City was Dubai Mall/Burj Khalifa and I was frantically looking out through the windows to get a glimpse of the world’s tallest tower. But I think I sat on the other side of the train and couldn’t find it. Nevertheless the stretch between Dubai Mall and Noor city has many big structures along the side of the road. Metro runs through the centre of the highway and you can see the main highway with 6-8 lanes bustling with traffic.

You can find a mixture of people in Dubai. The arabs dressed in the traditional Emirati attire, Indians, Pakistanis, Philippinos, Chinese among others. I always used to be extra careful when I was anywhere close to the arabs. I used to slow down, make way for them and let them pass before I am myself again. I don’t know why. Maybe because of all the things we hear about the rule of law in Saudi. Dubai is definitely not so conservative, but I think I was trying a bit too hard not to get into any trouble, given that I didn’t even have a proper visa as such. It was just a 24 hour stay stamp in the passport which I carried in my pocket.

I got down at Noor City and went to Zoom to buy a sim card. They said they didn’t sell them. Shit! How will I call my friend now? If I were to call from my Indian sim, I would exhaust the entire balance before I convey any proper information. I went out and started looking for some supermarkets/telecom shops hoping to find a place where they sold sim cards. I walked for nearly 0.5 kms and all I could find were automobile shops. I then inquired a guy about a place where I can get sim cards, and he said I should go the other way of the station and I would find a mall. Then I started walking the other side hoping to find some shop. I inquired in all possible shops on the way while I kept walking in search of the mall. After about 40 mins of walking, I reached the mall. It was Oasis City Centre mall. The same one where my friend said he would be. I sent him an sms from my Indian sim saying I was in front of Starbucks in ground floor of Oasis City Centre. And in 3mins, he came down. We had lunch in the food court and then he took me out to get a sim card from a nearby supermarket. He dropped me at Dubai Mall, gave a list of to-do things and said that he would come back after office hours.

As I was walking towards the entrance of Dubai Mall, I caught the first glimpse of Burj Khalifa. You just cannot help but lift your head to see the full height of the tower. It was a beautiful sight with the sun glinting off glass panels of the tower. I had all afternoon with me to roam around the mall. I went around the mall several times, admiring the beauty of acquarium, waterfall, guitar on the floor from different levels. Walked around the shoe district and checked out Dubai Dino which was pretty cool.
Dubai Mall
After spending more than 3 hours in the mall, I went to the other exit of the mall where the Burj stood in all its magnificence. The first sight of it reminded me of Taj Mahal. The thing with such a huge structure is that, you might have seen its photo or seen in on TV many times, but when you are actually standing next to it and raise your head to absorb its beauty in full is when you actually realize its real dimensions. It’s gigantic. And beautiful. One look around and you can see a Kaulalumpur twin towers kind of twin towers under construction on the side opposite to Burj. There is a beautiful fort style hotel on the other side. All around you are tall structures that are under construction and one thing common to all of them is ‘EMAAR’ the builders of everything in Dubai.

Hotel

I walked through that fort styled hotel and on to the main road. Then I circled the area to get a view of the Burj from another side. It was a nice place where there are many people going about their evening walk and kids playing. As I was approaching the Burj from the open area, there was music and soon the fountain started. It was a great show for 5 minutes and once again this reminded me of the Marina Bay Sands fountain show of SIngapore. I walked around the lake till I reached Dubai mall again, clicking many selfies with the Burj. Waited for the next fountain show at 06-30 pm and then went inside the mall. I bought a Burj Khalifa souvenir for the showcase at home.

Burj Khalifa

Soon after, my friend arrived and took me to his home. His wife made a delicious dinner for us and we gulped it as we watched India Bangladesh match and Man Utd vs Westbromwich alternatively. It was 10 pm and I was exhausted. I haven’t slept properly the previous night after all, waiting for the flight till 4 am. But my friend wasn’t done with me yet. We then went out to see Burj Al Arab from the beach next to it. That’s the famous hotel at which Federer and Agassi played a tennis match on the helipad.

Burj Al Arab - Shots of Tennis Match

And after that, we went through the Palm Jumeirah, going through the tunnel under water and along the outer circle around the palm tree shaped area. Things like this might only be worth it from the aerial view because down on the ground it’s just like any other road and tunnel.

Palm Jumeirah

You can always proudly say that you lived in one of the buildings that formed the INFOSYS shape in mysore when viewed from sky, or been to the Angkor Wat which is once again gorgeous when seen in aerial view pictures but just like any other old temple when you walk into it. This was a similar experience.

I was already way too sleepy and started dozing off in the car. By the time my friend dropped me at the hotel again it was half past 11 in the night. As I was walking into the hotel it didn’t seem right. It looked a bit different. I took out my room card and soon someone came to me and told me I was at the Copthorne Dubai hotel while I was supposed to go to Copthorne Airport hotel. Thankfully, they were not too far away. I took a taxi to the right hotel and crashed on the bed as I entered the room managing to set the alarm for 4 am the next morning. Well, I had a flight to catch the next morning which I couldn’t afford to miss. But that day in Dubai made me realize missing a connecting flight in Dubai is not a bad thing at all!!

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The Hurtful Lesson

Chapter 1:

<Incoming Call – Unknown number>

“Hello. Am i speaking to Mr. Siddarth?”

“Yes. If it is about some credit card or loan, I don’t have time for it.”

“Oh its not and you better make time for this call if you are a loving husband and a caring father as your twitter profile suggests.”

“What? What did you say?”

“You heard it Siddarth. But, don’t worry. Neither your wife who works at Hexaware, nor your 9 year old son who studies at HLC are in any danger. ”

“Who the hell are you? How do you..”

“Listen Siddarth. I dont mean any harm to anyone. I just want you to do a specific set of tasks for me and that’s it. No one needs to get hurt.”

“What are you talking about. What has it got to do with me?”

“Calm down. Just listen to me. You will have your answers in time. For now, just keep in mind that when you receive calls from any unknown or new numbers, pick them up immediately. I’ll make it easy for you. You will get the call only between 10 am and 5 pm. I am sure you watch enough movies to understand that if you approach anyone or get any funny ideas, you will regret it. To make sure you understand this, we have given a package to your kid today. Its in his bag. Its meant for you.”

<Click>

“No. Don’t you dare do that…Hello…Hello”

Siddarth tried calling the number, but the call wouldn’t go through. He checked the time. It was half past four in the afternoon. His son would have reached home by now. He called home. His mother answered the call. She said that Aryan was dropped at home at the usual time by the cab driver who picks and drops children in that society.

Siddarth immediately left to home and went straight to his sons bag. He did find a package in it.

“Aryan, did any one give this to you?”

“Yes dad. Some uncle gave it to me when i was returning from school.”

“Ok. Listen Aryan. If someone you don’t know is giving you anything. Don’t accept it. ok?”

Aryan gave a perfunctory nod and went back to watching cartoons. That is until he saw what was in the package that his dad just opened. Siddarth found a letter in the package among other things and was opening it. Aryan meanwhile picked up a whistle and started blowing it. There was an assortment of whistles, trumpets, piped organs, mouth organs and vuvuzelas in that package.

The letter read “A WRONG DOES NOT BECOME RIGHT JUST BECAUSE EVERY ONE ELSE IS DOING IT.”

Siddarth spent the rest of the evening wondering who sent the package and how they got to know about his son even while constantly admonishing his son to keep the sound down. He decided to keep the happenings of the day to himself. What good will come out of multiplying the number of people worrying. He managed to hide all other contents of the package but had to give a whistle to Aryan to keep him from creating a mess just before Sneha arrived. When Sneha lost her cool with the constant whistling of Aryan, she told Siddarth that he should not have bought that damn thing.

The next day Siddarth dropped his son at school and told him that he will come in the evening to pick him up. He was at the office trying hard to focus on the job at hand with one eye on his mobile when it started vibrating. Unknown Number calling.

“Hello”.

“Hello. Am I talking to Mr. Siddarth?”

“Yes. Why are you doing this to me? Please..”

“Mr. Siddarth, I am calling from Axis Bank. We are offering you a Titanium Credit Card.”

“Not Interested. Don’t call me again” Siddarth yelled.

He waited for the phone call for the rest of the day and there was nothing.

His manager who was not very happy when he told him that he has to leave office early for the second consecutive day.

Siddarth couldn’t sleep that night. His mother and Sneha were fighting over dinner because Aryan went to sleep crying. Sneha came home late from work and was already stressed. She crashed on the sofa and said she wanted to relax for a while before she could move. Aryan was playing the mouth organ.

“Seriously Siddarth? Yesterday you bought him a whistle and today a mouth organ?”

“He likes it Sneha. When I was a kid I never had one. Let him enjoy it. He could become the next Rahman.”

“Come on Sid. Make his stop it. I have a severe headache.”

Aryan kept crying till he slept when Siddarth forcefully pulled the mouth organ and threw it on the attic. He didnt even have a proper dinner.

Siddarth was rolling in the bad. ‘Who could that be? Why didn’t he call me today? Was it just a prank by some friend? Should i tell Sneha? What will my boss think if I ask to leave early again this week? Can i trust the cab driver? But he has been driving the children of the society for more than 2 years and he has always been caring, honest and punctual. Should I change Aryan to another school? But they also mentioned Sneha. How the hell did they know all this?’

<Hello, it’s me
I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet
To go over everything….. Hello from the other side!!!>

‘Shit! Its 5-30 already. Oh Stop it Adele. I dont want to hear any Hellos. I should change my alarm.’

He constantly kept checking his mobile and started to relax when he didn’t get any call till half past 4. And then the mobile started vibrating.

“Siddarth?”

“Yes.”

“Its me Siddarth. Do you have a pen and paper to write down what I tell you?”

“I can write it on a notepad.”

“Good. No. 56, Ganapathy Street, Ramakrishnapuram, Chennai”

“Whose address is this?”

“That is exactly what I want you to find out. Find out the name of the man staying there, his phone number, his family details and anything that you can find about him. You have got time till Monday. ”

“But how will i get the phone number?”

“Check with the neighbors saying you got a package for him or check for the uncollected posts before they get home. You are a smart man Siddarth. You will find a way. Oh, by the way, did you think that picking your son yourself will keep him safe from us? Don’t be foolish. I told you no one needs to get hurt as long as you do what we ask you to do.”

Chapter 2:

Siddarth did manage to get the name and phone number. It was Sankaran. He was initially worried but then started thinking about the ways to get the name. He came up with a story for the neighbors. He thought he’d look for vehicles in the house and approach RTO office through some contact to get the details from there. He thought he would walk into the house, give a false Id and get their details claiming that he was looking for people living there before 10 years. And he thought of a 100 more ways he could do it.

Eventually, when he actually went to the house, he found a car and even as he was making a note of the number, a delivery guy from amazon just stopped by to deliver a package. He got him talking and made a mental note of the name and phone number from the package. He then went away and casually looked back when the door opened and Sankaran came out to collect the package.

Over the weekend, he spent a few hours on the internet looking up the full name and he was surprised how much information he managed to collect on Sankaran, his wife and his daughter. he then checked his own Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts and his entire life was staring back at him from the monitor. He realized, he had become so addicted to social media that he couldn’t remember anything important in his life that was not there for everyone to see.

It was Sunday night and it was almost a week since Siddarth had a good night’s sleep. ‘Why did they give the whistles to Aryan? Well, if it was to irritate me, its clearly working because I cant keep that boy away from the trunpets.

As expected, he got the call on Monday.

“Good job Siddarth. I am impressed.”

“Thanks. Is that how you got my information? Made someone follow me? But why? Please leave me alone. I have done what you asked me to do.”

“Its not over Siddarth. I will need you to do one more thing. Just another simple task and that will be the end of it. I will call you on Wednesday.”

Chapter 3:

‘Is the person calling me just a pawn? Is someone else making him do that? Does that mean that he wont harm my family even if I don’t follow through? If he is a pawn, how many such pawns are in operation? Who is the one moving the pawns? Have I also become a pawn in an endless game? But he said, Wednesday is the end of it. Will he ask me to call and threaten someone like he is doing to me? But what is the purpose of all this?’

Siddarth was not too worried now. But he could hardly sleep and was anxiously waiting for the next phone call.

A different number again and a bizarre order. The caller said he would confirm that Siddarth has actually done the job by Thursday before letting him go free.

And on Thursday at exactly 15-30, the phone started vibrating

“Siddarth. Is it done? Have you delivered the package full of garbage to Saran’s daughter?”

“Yes I have.”

“Have you packed that in a pop up box so that everything falls around as soon as it is opened?”

“Yes. Please tell me one thing. Why whistles and trumpets for me? What was it about?”

“On 24th of last month, on Gandhi Mandapam road, there was a lot of traffic and you chose to ride your bike on the footpath instead of waiting for the traffic to clear. As if that was not bad enough, you kept honking at the pedestrians to make way for you. Does that ring a bell?”

“So you were punishing me for what I had done that one time? Everyone was in a hurry to go to their offices. So was I. How can you threaten my family for such a small mistake? You are a monster.”

“There are no small mistakes Siddarth. Better understand that quickly before you get yourself in trouble again. I am just doing what I have to just like you did what you had to.  I got my names, numbers and orders just like you got packages and deliveries. No one knows who started it, but I have come to accept that its good if the wheel keeps rolling. ”

“So what did Saran do? Throw garbage on the streets? But who is observing people and making the list?”

“Yes. All I know is that an empty Lays chip packet was thrown out of his car on some street. Your guess is as good as mine about who is observing such incidents, following the vehicles to their houses and noting the addresses. Good Bye Siddarth. Just make sure you don’t do anything stupid to get a call again.”

“Wait. What was your mistake? What are you being punished for?”

“Talking on my mobile phone in a cinema hall, apparently, in a very interesting scene”.

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Reinforcement

Chapter 1 – PASSION:

When was the last time you got so immersed in what you were doing that you lost track of time? What are you passionate about? A friend of mine would say running a business. Ask him why and he would say that he grew up watching his father excel in business and wanted to emulate him. Over a period of time, my friend kept telling himself and everyone around him that he wanted to run a business like his father.
A cousin of mine would say that his passion is travelling around the world. Why? – he likes seeing new places and meeting new people. When he successfully befriends a stranger, that is a victory and he feels satisfied with his abilities. Over a period of time, my cousin kept telling himself and others that he wanted to travel and meet new people.
In other words, they kept reinforcing those thoughts. What started as a single thought got reinforced so much over a period of time that it became a passion.

Sachin Tendulkar was not born with a passion for cricket. Nor was Schumacher born with a passion to drive fast. They developed it over a period of time by reinforcement. And so can you, if you don’t have one already. Sachin and Schumi would have never spent time to identify their passion. They worked on what they were good at, improved in that and were constantly focusing on excelling in that. You should try doing the same.

Each reinforcement should be complete and beyond any iota of doubt. If you are thinking about running a business/excelling in your job but if you are worried about success in that endeavor, every time you think of it, you are also reinforcing your misgivings. Naturally, your fear of failure never allows you to become passionate about anything. All you need to do is to dive deep and focus on what you want to do in the limited time that you have on Earth. Reinforce the thought so much that it overtakes you. Till it becomes you.

 

Chapter 2 – LOVE:

Remember your first love?
It usually starts with you liking a girl. You find her attractive. She is good to you and your conversations are very engaging. You spend more time with her. You start thinking of her all the time. You start liking every small thing that she does. You don’t even think of the things she does that you don’t like because your mind is preoccupied by the things you like. You keep thinking about her all the time and you start liking her more than ever. Then you get a feeling that probably she likes you too and that is why she is spending so much time with you and being so nice to you. It makes you feel good about yourself and you keep reinforcing this thought. Eventually, it becomes so overwhelming that you are swept off your feet and keep floating around in a world where everything revolves around you and your girl. Your love grew manifold and 90% of it was by reinforcement.

Its all good, until, God forbid, you realize that she was just being friendly with you and you mean no more than any Tom, Dick or Harry to her. You realize that she is equally friendly  with a few other people. She is friendly by nature. That’s when your heart breaks. What you felt for her would not have changed one bit, but once you realize that you are not special to her, its not the same anymore. You feel sad. You start feeling bad about yourself. The thought of you not being good enough for her keeps bugging you. The more you think of it, the more miserable you feel. Eventually she tells you or drops hints that you are a very good friend and nothing more. The mere thought of losing all the time that you could have spent with her having fun and losing her to someone else makes you grieve inconsolably. It was not her fault. It was all your own making. Your own thoughts which you reinforced.

They say time heals all the wounds. It does, but only when you channel your thoughts into something else rather than reinforcing the thoughts that hurt you. That’s why it is easy for people to come out of grief when they are put in some routine which hardly leaves any time for them to think.

So, if all the emotions like Love, Passion, Anger, Fear, Sorrow can be controlled by reinforcement, how can we use reinforcement to our benefit?
Each emotion evokes a stimulus to which we respond or react. As Stephen R Covey says, between every stimulus and response there is a choice. Man is probably the only animal who has that choice because of his ability to introspect. Man can think and respond to a stimulus in one way or another rather than just react to it.

So, the next time you think that Love is something that should be naturally felt when you meet the right person, or that you don’t love your beloved anymore or that you have a short temper and are prone to get angry more often, just take a step back and choose a different response. Reinforce a different thought!!!

 

P.S: The telugu movie Orange says “Love is good only for a brief while. And after that you can’t sustain the feeling.” So, what can you do about it? The answer makes up the climax of the movie – “you have to love more to maintain the same feeling. And then some more.” In other words, you have to reinforce your thoughts of love and often do something about it.

 

“Love is a verb. Love – the feeling is a fruit of love – the verb. So love her. Serve her. Sacrifice. Listen to her. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm her. Love is something you do. The sacrifices you make, the giving of self. Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions.” – Stephen R Covey

 

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The tales that made a business trip seem like an adventure…

The interesting thing that you will notice when you look up Papua New Guinea (PNG) in a world map is that the country spans only one half of the big island above Australia. The other half belongs to Indonesia. PNG is well known for its rich natural resources and also for its vastly unexplored lands which are believed to have abundant unidentified species of flora and fauna. Its also infamous for the crime rates in its capital city. When all you hear about a place is that it is unsafe and that you can be attacked in broad day light, you can hardly be excited about going to that place. It was exactly under those circumstances that i made the dreaded visit to Papua New Guinea.

I landed at Mt Hagen which is right at the heart of the highlands that span the entire stretch of the country. I stayed in the compound where all the Australians of the client company who came to work there resided. The first thing that i noticed while entering the heavily fenced compound was its big gate with a sign ‘Protected by G4S Securitas’. I don’t know if it was intended to scare away any attackers or if it was kept there to instill confidence in the Australians staying at the compound, but all it did to me was remind me of the peril that i found myself in.

The indigenous people of PNG are characterized by extremely curly hair which forces both genders to maintain it short. They are dark, short people with an average build. One can almost immediately understand why the tall, fair and heavily built Australians,  who come there to earn several times that of what the locals earn, are living in an eternal fear of being attacked. Machetes and Guns are a common sighting everyday. Needless to say, i always went to the office (which is 500 meters apart connected by an L shaped road) and returned to compound with at least a couple of other inmates. A few days into the trip, i started feeling a bit comfortable being alone. The locals spoke good English as most of the schools that were setup in PNG were by Australian Missionaries. They were polite, soft spoken and fun loving. One evening i walked back alone to the compound greeting a few locals i encountered on the way. I felt good when i reached the compound in one piece. [55.54.53.]

Unlike the other nights when i used to lock myself in my room post dinner, that night i went to a friends(client side) room to discuss what we were going to work on the next day. I saw a guard walking around with a gun that looked like an AK 47. I asked my friend about the guard and he said, it is customary that an armed guard walks around in the nights because of some incidents that happened a few months ago. Apparently a couple of local thugs tried to climb a nearby tree and jump into the compound with machetes. The guard shot them down. There was another instance where someone tried to dig a tunnel from under the compound fence and enter the compound. Also during Christmas, a group of drunk men tried to break down the main gate. They dispersed only after the guard fired a couple of shots in the air. And there i was, a few moments ago, thinking that the place was not that bad after all. I considered asking him to accompany me back to my room. I refrained form doing so because I didn’t want him to think of me as a coward. I managed to walk at a jogging pace to my room and shut myself in. Later that night, I felt that i heard something. Was it shots being fired? I never heard that sound except in movies. I couldn’t obviously go out and see what was happening. So i told myself that i was imagining things and went back to sleep.

Next morning while at breakfast, i heard the ones sitting next to me discuss how they heard shots being fired just outside the compound for most part of the night. I asked them what it was and they said that its a common occurrence and there would be gun fights between local gangs and police every night. I didn’t even know what to think of the place anymore. I completed my breakfast and started walking towards the office with a couple of inmates. Even though it was just a half km walk, it can be said that we never took the same path to office twice because of the new puddles that formed everyday in the road during the wet season. Along the L shaped road are a couple of other heavily fenced compounds which almost always seemed isolated. I asked them if they were also the compounds of the client company. ‘No’ said one of the guys. ‘Actually that compound over there is owned by a Philipino company. Last year, a young woman stayed there with her husband. One night a bunch of around 20 local thugs attacked them, shot the man point blank, raped the woman and killed her. Couple of people who lived in this compound opposite to it heard the screams and came out wondering what happened. The locals killed them too’.  He said it in such a matter-of-fact manner as if he had been saying that story everyday ever since the incident happened. I was scared out of my wits. I didn’t feel like a consultant on a business trip. I felt like a marine of the Allied forces who landed on the Omaha Beach during the second world war. [41.40.39.]

A few days passed with more tales of be-headings, witchcraft, witches eating limbs of other people, newspaper articles which read witches being burnt in the town where i stayed etc. Also, there was hardly any night when i did not hear the shots being fired. It gradually became a non event. One particularly interesting tale that i heard was that of tribe war. A small altercation between two men would quickly escalate into a war between the two tribes. The men of the two tribes would face each other in open fields with guns, machetes, bows and arrows. The women and kids are sent into the forest to safeguard them in case of a defeat because its a battle where winner takes all, the lands, families of the losers, everything. If this reminds you of Maha Bharatam or some historical wars, i don’t blame you. [25.24.23.]

For 60 days, i went from compound to office and back to compound and never set a foot outside the L shaped road connecting the two which we are anyway strongly advised against. One day at office, i was talking to a friendly local guy. When i expressed my fears, he said that it was all unfounded and there is no need to be afraid. ‘Imagine someone reading the news articles about crime in India. They would naturally be afraid to go there. But being an Indian, you would know that its not as bad as its made out to be’. Somehow, what he said made sense to me. Maybe i am judging based on some biased opinions that i heard. Maybe its not that bad after all. The next day, the friendly guy didn’t make it to the office. Nor the day after. No one knew where he was because he did not even inform anyone about not being able to make it to office. To my relief, he did come to office 3 days later. [15.14.13.]When asked about his absence, he said ‘On Thursday one of the members of his tribe killed one from his rival tribe. So, they had to arrange a peace treaty with the rival tribe. They went as a group to the rivals place, offered sheep, cattle, money and shook hands with them. They had a feast on that day and returned the next. If such a peace treaty was not agreed upon, he said the rival tribe had a right to kill one from among his tribe any time.’

That was it. I didn’t have to hear anything anyone else had to say. The faintest doubts i had of the tales about the place being exaggerated were wiped away by that. I was counting my days till the visa expired.[10.9.8.] There were no weekends to look forward to because the customer worked all 7 days. There were no places to visit because you never knew if you would return. There was no TV. There were days when the internet connectivity was lost which meant that I didn’t know what happened in the outside world. It made me realize how paralyzed we become when we don’t have the internet. All i did was count the days. [3.2.1.] Finally came the 60th day when i had to bid farewell to the local people i worked with and board the flight out of the country. ‘Back to civilization’ as my friend would put it. Never had i felt more relieved.

Relief is often underrated. It is in fact better than the exhilaration of your greatest victory.

 

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THE NIGHTMARE

I was kidnapped and enslaved in a remote island of Papua New Guinea.
It was a huge compound almost spanning the entire island, covered mostly by dense forest all around the houses.
The owner had two big dogs which looked as if they would cut me to pieces the moment they were taken off the leash.

To my utter surprise Walter White was also there.
We soon took turns and started digging passage ways behind the paintings hanging on the walls in some rooms and through the ground hoping that we would get out of the compound some day.
Walter White prepared a chemical mixture of some sort using the sap and other rare plants which would induce rapid momentary growth.
So, if we added that mixture to some seeds and threw them away, by the time they fall to the ground they would be transformed into giant trees as if they have aged hundreds of years in those couple of seconds.

We were thrilled and thought that we could finally go for it.
Even the secret tunnels looked like they would lead us out of the compound.So, we carried several seeds, the chemical mixture and set out through the tunnel.We got outside the compound and headed for the sea where there were some dinghies tied to a wooden pole.

Guards spotted us and came straight for us. We quickly took the mixture, added it to the seeds and started throwing them on to the approaching guards.The seeds would become huge trees and fall all around the approaching guards who were now stunned and stopped dead in their tracks after seeing a couple of them being fatally wounded by the falling trees.

Then came the dogs running so fast that it would put cheetahs to shame. Even as i was throwing more seeds at them, the dogs expertly ducked and maneuvered around the trees. Walter White was at the dinghy cutting the rope. The dogs were onto me even as i was frantically trying to reach Walter. They were now dragging me back towards the compound. I fell flat on my face and while being dragged back, i looked up to see Walter White sailing away.
And then i woke up.

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The Mysterious Cemetery

There is an old isolated bungalow at the far end of a small village. The owners of the bungalow have left the village long time back as they feared for their lives. People in the village never went anywhere near it, as right next to it is a mysterious graveyard. All the people in the village believed that it was cursed as no one who entered it has returned. Occasionally, a bold man used to enter the graveyard only to never return again strengthening the mystery associated with it.

This is what happens to the man who enters the graveyard. When a man enters the graveyard, he loses control of himself. He picks up a sword from many on the ground, walks to the man who is already in the graveyard and kills him as if acting under the instructions of someone else. He then stands as a guard to the graveyard waiting for someone else to come and relieve him of this misfortune which he has brought upon himself by entering the graveyard. The villagers are not aware of all this as no one has come back to tell his story.

The graveyard runs by a set of rules, which the villagers are once again not aware of. The set of rules in the order of importance are as follows:

1. The newly entered person should first relieve the existing person from guarding duty by killing him.

2. At a given time, there cannot be more than one person in the graveyard and the only person in the graveyard should be a man. Women have no place in it.

3. There should be one man in the graveyard guarding it at all times. The graveyard should not be empty.

If there so occurs a situation where in a rule is broken while trying to satisfy the more important rules, then the mystery of the graveyard will be revealed and it shall no longer be a cursed one.

One fine day, three teenage girls come from the city to spend their vacation in the village. They live in the bungalow with a maid and a driver. The first thing they are told is to stay away from the graveyard and that no one who has ever gone in has come back. As is natural with youngsters, they develop an interest in finding more about what they were asked not to do. They do not believe in what they were told and wanted to prove it wrong. So, the next morning they decided that they would go to the graveyard together.

The moment they entered the graveyard, they lose control of their minds. Each one picks up a sword, all three go to the standing guard and kill him. Now, there should not be more than one person and that should be a man. So next they kill each other with the swords in a triangular fashion (A kills B, B kills C and C kills A). In keeping with the rules, they have broken the rule which states that the graveyard should not be empty which now it is. It is now the time for the mystery of the graveyard to be revealed and the curse lifted.

As i wait in anticipation of what’s going to happen now, i see a pair of bloodshot eyes open in the ground.

<Knock Knock>

That eyes belong to a man who then rises from under the ground.

<Knock Knock>

Some one is knocking at the door and i wake up from my sleep. As i rise from the bed to open the door, I realize that it was me. A moment before I woke up, I rose the same way from the ground in the graveyard as i am now rising from my bed. I open the door and on my way back to bed look in a mirror to see the same blood shot eyes that opened in the ground.

Then as i settle down to sleep again, it all suddenly dawned upon me. I was the one responsible for the mystery in the graveyard. I was the one who was controlling the minds of the people entering the graveyard and making them do those things including killing the existing person. I was the one who set the rules for the graveyard in the first place and so only i knew the rules while no villagers knew it. I was doing all this. So, when the rules were broken, i had to abide by my rules and reveal the mystery. It was time for me to leave the graveyard. My rising from the ground was a symbolic way of showing that i was the one responsible for everything that happened till then and that i was now leaving it.

When i realized all this in that moment, i could not sleep again. As i lay on the bed thinking about the dream i just woke up from,  I realized that i was quite influenced by the thought of the protagonist(hero) himself being the villain of the movie, thanks to the brilliant movie  ‘The Usual Suspects’.

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