Lost in abstraction

Lost in abstraction

10 trillion-The number of cells in an average human being. That’s more cells than the number of people on the planet. 10 Trillion cells. All working in unison humming every second or two.  From a certain point when we tumble forth into the World.

Such enormous complexity in such a simple and fragile exterior. All it takes is a poke, jab, blow, or fall to end it all. What is the end of it all anyway?

Then there is the brain. The most amazing few million cells. Lets call them “the specially chosen”. The brain that is capable of observing, and being observed at the same time. capable of perceiving reality and understanding abstractions. Capable of writing love songs and planning the most vile campaigns that are meant to destroy every living being in its vicinity.

Life surely flows through streams and rivers of thought- through fables of heroes and the horrors of villains. Through the frustrations and pain of suffering to the serenity of contentment and love. Life is everything and nothing- all in one. The proverbial World that is presented to us through the eye of a needle.

For millenia – scientists, doctors, healers and the curious ones have been studying the “how” of life. How does so and so work? Every year we recognize and reward those who tell us something truly unique about the how’s of life. I wonder how many of us have asked this question.

Why?

Why must we live? and why is the opposite of living- dying? What is living really? Is it me perceiving the things around me and other people seeing me move? If that’s the case then I’m no more alive than a car or an airplane. If living means learning, understanding, moving, and observing- that means the laptop I’m typing on is as alive as I am (and maybe better at it!) If it means feeling emotion- then half of the organisms that scientists classify as “living” aren’t really alive. And if it does mean responding to stimulus- then a dead person is as alive as a person alive- the body still responds to the stimulus (of rapid deoxygenation) by turning blue.

Yet somehow, all these suppositions and arguments seem incongruous.

A brief objective and dispassionate look at the World seems to suggest that its nothing more than an experiment in motion. Just like a scientist who mixes chemicals in the lab- just too see if the result, a great thinker suggested that nature is one big experiment called evolution. Random, chaotic, survival rather than living, and a constant state of flux. Where every being survives day to day.

That does throw our moral compass out of gear though. If survival is the goal, then there is no “good” way to survive, no “honorable” way to live and no “destiny” to fulfill. All that matters is eat or be eaten, kill or be killed.

And then- the biggest doozy of all time- is there a soul? if so what is it?

There’s something very reassuring about believing that there is a soul. Something that survives out brief existence of 50-60 summers in a planet that has probably has a hundred billion of them. Something that is ours- something that is us – that transcends. Gives value to learning, meaning to life. Just like the Philosophers Stone gives value to lead- turning it into gold. The kiss of death- something so scary- now turns into a divine transformation, where we are free of the physical bonds that bind us and many a times- burden us, into a sense of complete freedom. This is where we transcend into an abstraction- where we transcend flesh into thought. There have been so many books written by so many incredible thinkers, who after years of digging at the stem of life, discovered roots that were inexplicable and incredible- roots that were – for a lack of a better word- “divine”. Where does all of this fit into the grandest experiment of life- The evolution of the Universe?

I would like to believe that my life has meaning. And that meaning can be found by learning and understanding. I would like to believe that the crazy parts of life and the fun parts of life are there for a reason, that  my mind – muddy lake that it is- can be made transparent- and then I would be able to see the depths of cognition and perception. I would like to believe that the air around us is cackling with magic every moment of everyday- taking life from some, while giving life to others. Parching some parts of the World, while creating cherry blossoms in another.

I would like to believe that friendships and true relationships transcend time and lives, and the dead are not gone forever. I would like to believe that the voice in my head, constantly chatting with me, chastising me, motivating me, and protecting , is all the magic of the World somehow creating a “Reverse Butterfly effect” where I can travel through space, time, distance, and people, without moving an inch.

And I would like to believe that there is more to life then living, like there’s more to death than dying.

I also know that this entire premise rests on one word.

Hope.

Hope- the principal human delusion- simultaneously the source of our greatest achievements and failures.

And so I remain lost in this World of hallucinations- called Maya. Knowing that for every fact, there is an equal and opposite fact that’s every bit as true.

Like Le Petit Prince- my World has everything. And nothing.

Everyday in this World, I lose my self- in this wondrous abstraction called life.

Hallelujah!

Over the past past few days I’ve realised just how beautiful this word is. I’ve been an agnost most of my life, and continue to be so, but this particular song made me realise that there is so much beauty in the World- such magnificence. Such magic!

While there’s still a some way for me to reach ‘old age’ I cant help but imagine a 70 year old version of me, and I must admit, at the best of times, its a scary image that emerges.

All good things in life have a habit of sneaking upon you when least expected, slowly seep into your soul until you realise, just how beautiful everything around you is!

These three aspects of life, i.e. beauty, old age and hope, were presented to me, by an amazing septuagenarian- Leonard Cohen and I have to say a Hallelujah for him!

While there have been good songs, bad songs, and memorable songs, I think this is one song that, if listened carefully, springs forth like a fount of hope- something altogether magical!

This is a song that needs to be experienced – so – to enter wonderland-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrLk4vdY28Q&feature=fvst

As I see him sing- I wonder about the horrors that the World had offered him in his formative years- The Second World War, Personal Tragedies, a very long era of self doubt, various paths of realization – the spirit of Music has remained with him.

If, after another 50 odd years (Assuming I live till then- which is doubtful!!),  if I can have the kind of passion, humbleness and grace that Leonard Cohen (again, click on the link). I shall consider my life well lived.

This is  the closest I’ve been to divinity- and a song that I’d want to listen to on my last day on Earth. Just to give me hope- that as long as the human mind and the human heart can compose music as beautiful as this- perhaps- Human life is blessed after all!

A Hallelujah to you Mr Cohen! A Hallelujah to you, for giving me something of permanence in this Evanescent world of ours!

 

 

 

The Time of my Life

At the Finish Line!

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step”- Lao Tzu

I used to see this quote everyday at School. While this was limited to school till last month, I realized the true meaning of those words during an epiphany at one of the most arduous tasks I’ve ever taken up so far.
I guess a small introduction is in order- I border on the obese, I have an affinity to junk food, an an incredibly unpredictable lunch schedule, and I think Bangalore is worth living in only because of the cornucopia of eateries. One could start the day having an early breakfast at Veena Stores with their incredibly soft Idli and crisp Vada’s with really fresh chutney, have a Masala dosa dripping with butter, Mid-morning at CTR, walk into MTR at around 2:00pm for a lovely lunch- fit for the kings, have coffee with Scrambled Egg Toast at India Coffee house, round up the day with a sumptuous dinner and nightcap at Ramada. And this is just the Karnataka cuisine roundup. You could have a similar roundup with North Indian, Kerala, Italian, Chinese, and Continental Cuisines. In a nutshell, Bangalore is good for eating places, I like eating good food. hence I am…. little too well rounded.
But I digress… Coming back to Lao Tzu’s Step of a thousand miles-or in my case- 10 km.
Looking back at that Sunday, I realize, running the 10k, was as much a mental effort, as it was a physical one. Through the 95+ minutes I took to complete the open 10k (Yes I actually completed- much to the surprise of all my friends, acquaintances, colleagues at work and even my parents) I lived through the entire set of physical, mental, emotional and psychological states of being.
And I enjoyed every moment of it. Here’s how it progressed –
At the start line: (7:55am, June 5, 2011 – Kanteerava Stadium)
I feel a chill in the air, a sharp breeze cutting across the Indoor stadium. 22000+ people have assembled here to run the 5k and 10k. Most of them are first timers (me included). and I can feel the air heavy with excitement and expectation. I feel my pulse race, and i know its not all good. Endurance running is about keeping calm and preserving energy, and not running full steam like the 100 mtrs. The world 10k for women has just started, and I know it’ll be a long long time before I even think of running like them. My goal is to finish this run. Nothing less will do. In my mind i try to see images of me at the finish line. All it does it make me more nervous. So all I think of is my first step. At 8:00 am we are let out of our holding areas. Its an incredible sight! so many people running, some for a cause, some for training, some just because they feel like it. I stand next to a 15 year old b0y, a 64 year old lady, 3 people in their mid 40’s and – believe it or not- 2 people on the wheel chair. I know I am a part of something special. I can hear a faint buzz growing louder. about a 1000 people have come to watch us run. There will be more along the course. I can feel a warm glow within me. But its time to get to run- 1 step at a time.
Starting time: (0 km, 8:04:25 am- Athletics Track, Kanteerava Stadium)
My Ipod tracks are as ready as I am. I decide to start with K’naan (“Wavin‘ Flag”) to help me get off to a peppy start. I have started at the middle of the pelleton– in hindsight, a mistake.If Ispeed up I run into people, If I slow down, others will run into me. As we run out onto the streets – My first challenge – uphill towards Kasturba Road, Crossing Prestige Centre Obelisk, and the Volkswagen Showroom. This is where I start feeling breathless. Running midpack is very different from Gym training. Everybody goes on overdrive and sucks up all the oxygen. After about 500 mts I start feeling very very exhausted. And I haven’t completed 10% of the race yet.
But my legs are just about getting warmed. I know I should be ok for a while. I slow down a bit and move over to the side for some air. It seems to work. For now.
1Km Mark (Chinnaswamy Stadium – 8:13 am)
The songs have started to get faster. K’naan has melded into to a couple of really fast Iron Maiden Numbers. They help me keep my mind off running. As I listen Adrian Smith play the guitar solo of “Flight of Icarus” I realise, I should be running a lot faster- Thats the adrenalin getting hold of me- and it feels awesome – for now. I decide to run the next KM faster. Probably the most stupidest thing to do
2km mark (Rajendra Singhji Institute, Cubbon Road – 8:18 am)
Yes! 5 mins to the km! 20 seconds of ecstasy followed by the rest of the race in pain. I realise I’ve over streched myself and now I’m stranded. I can physically feel myself going weak. My legs have started to cramp up and I don’t really know where my next sip of water comes from. I need it. Bad. I slow down to a canter. Thank you Bangalore authorities for making Cubbon road straight as a ruler. I can see a water station about a km ahead of me. So I decide to quit after reaching the water station.
3km mark – (The Army Canteen, Cubbon Road – 8:32)
That was slow. But the water has helped a lot. I think its time to move onto some slower songs for the next 15 mins or so. So Maiden and Metallica get replaced by Madonna (“Frozen”) Duran Duran (“Come Undone”), John Denver (“Country Roads”) and Alanis Morisette (“Hand in my Pocket”). The slow songs have helped calm me down. I don’t want to run fast anymore. Just get to the next km. I can feel the first few micro litres of Lactic acid in my calf muscles. They now physically hurt- but not too much. The running pack has spread considerably and it helps because I can feel more oxygen through my blood. This is when Biochemistry 303 (my 3rd Sem BT subject) pops into my head. Something about anaerobic glucose combustion within the human body getting converted to lactic acid while aerobic combustion leading to just Carbon Dioxide and Water. So i need to take in a lot more oxygen. Thats the plan for the next km- An oxygen fuelled jaunt.
4km Mark (Ulsoor Road, 8:43 am)

I remember remember now, why I ended up with 90 in Biochemistry instead of a 100. Apparently, when Glucose is metabolized the reaction is exothermic, i.e. releases heat- and lots of it. I will never forget how that feels. It starts at the base of the spine- a little pinprick that feels like a warm matchstick. and it takes a total of about 30 secs for it to spread throughout my body. Right to my fingertips. I am on Fire! That’s when everything around me turns a rather dull red. I need an icepack- lets make that an ice truck – to sit inside and hibernate for the next 5 years or so, until by body reaches the ambient temperature. I cant stop now or the heat will only increase. At least now i have the breeze to keep me company. And then a drop, two drops, three raindrops appear- followed by a slight drizzle. God is real. Years from now, this is how i will remember by first tryst with the divine. A slight drizzle to quench me. I think I’m entering a trance of sorts. I cant focus on my body anymore, it just hurts a lot.
5km Mark – (Halfway Mark – Cubbon Road, 8:51 am)

This has to be the km that I just don’t remember. Step after step, until, at the 6k mark. I see the volunteer team with a bottle of gatorade. The songs are now just a blur, and I cannot recognize them from Adam! There’s something about Life fading away and Someone screaming out about how its only his life, and also that he lives on a prayer! whatever.
6km Mark – (St Marks road – The Gatorade incident 9:00 am)
This is how the 6km shall henceforth be known. Gatorade has a zillion things to help a runner come back to his senses- but it feels like a singular dull thud and – as all systems are powering up for round two. I realise this is the maximum I’ve ever run at a single stretch, in my life. The Gatorade helps me get a small boost of energy and my head counters it by throwing the most godawful tantrum. I now have a headache too. It looks like the each part of the body now have a consciousness of their own. I have a bad feeling about this.
7.5 km Mark – (1st split – GPO – 9:15:25)

Its incredible how each person reacts under such duress. There’s carnage around me. Two guys have just stepped into a pot hole. I see a man’s feet turned the other way. That’s got to hurt a lot. Pretty soon, I see an ambulance come in and pick up the two guys. This has also made a huge group of people (about 30 I think) give up their quest to complete the 10k. It wouldn’t take much to give up now. All I need to do is stop. and I am not in a condition to start again.. I have decided to stop. Maybe I’ll do the 10k some other time.
8.3 km Mark (2nd Split 9:23:38- Cubbon Park – just after the High Court)
I didn’t stop after all. And this is why – I was about 10 meters from stopping when I saw one of the most inspiring scenes right in front of me. A woman in her late 50’s on a wheelchair- pushing towards the finish line. Her arms must be so numb by now. moving the wheelchair is a herculean task. I think i see blisters on her palms. Yet she does not slow down. It would be an honour to reach the finish line with her. Time for the last push. I have another 1.7 K to go. Its too late to give up. I can feel the bones in my leg now and I am limping a bit. But I will not stop. Right on Cue, Judas Priest decides to give me company (“Breaking the Law”, “Turbo Lover”). Its time to end this – the way it was meant to be. Running – calloused step by calloused step, until the blisters on the feet start to pop! That hurts. Also, its just me and the plants for company- The last stretch from Cubbon Park to Hudson Circle, back to the stadium. Its the home stretch- and its beautiful. The stretch is lined with Palm trees, After a good 20 mins away from traffic (traversing through Cubbon Park) I hear the din of the Hudson Circle traffic. I’m there- almost! The din grows louder as I strive to keep myself together. Each part of my body wants to go a separate way, and I’m sure they will eventually – but not today. Today is the day I complete the 10k. Nothing, will stop me now.
The Thin Red Line (10k Mark – Kanteerava Stadium- 10:40:15)

Such a thin red line- The difference between success and failure. 9.95km is not 10km. The last 300 meters is where all the action is-everyone cheering. my adrenalin fueled mind says maybe a thousand. I’m sure its not that high. The screams get louder. And there’s my moment- finally. Salvation!!!!!!!
The Red Line is crossed. The Photographer takes the final photo. and the experience is over- just as it began. One step to begin – One step to end
The Aftermath

Pain, Exhilaration, Emotions, Achievement everything rushes back into me in one moment. The 10k barrier has been broken. Words really cant describe the rush! I have made it. I will be one of the select few in the world who’ve breached the 10km barrier. I limp across to the refreshments stand to meet my fellow partners in crime. The Joy is palpable!
This is life! Learning, stretching boundaries, personal and professional. Doing things that seem impossible to do, falling in Love with the people around and realizing that you are all alone. Fighting others for finishing before them, and fighting yourself for finishing at all.
“Running is a Metaphor for Life – because you get ut of it, what you put into it”- Oprah
The 90+ minutes helped me experience life in its fullness. The love, the heartbreak, the pain, sorrow, happiness, joy, contentment, envy (a 57 year old client of mine completed the ting in 58 mins!!!!), and Fear.
Somewhere between 7.5k and 9.5k I felt so terribly alone in this World with only my life’s image for company. A particular group of people who matter a lot to me, kept popping up in my head-
My teachers who taught me to write and learn
My Friends
My mum and dad who allowed me to experience life
My Little drops of the rain for two absolutely beautiful years and for for teaching me that Heartbreaks hurt
All my friends – to Business Magnate who created the 3 Heads Group (Jackass!!!) and his lovely dearly beloved, to Billi, Mr Attavar, Fat Boy (He’s fatter than I am), The drunk screamer at the 8 Sem Party (Yes Ranj! thats how you shall be known henceforth),
To Gayu who helped me learn so much from her: Danke Schon dass Sie sich fur mein Freund
haben!
Mr Vin! who shows me by example that life can be fun when you’re alone
The Raincloud – a very special person who has given me the greatest gift ever- the gift of a life of love. – the one person who has brought so much color into my life.
Never mind that I spent the rest of the day mumbling in my sleep. Or that I couldn’t walk properly in the week following the event.
I am going to do this again, and again, and again. Who knows- maybe the half marathon (21k) Next time around!!!!