you can find the world in a person's diary who thinks He's the world

Oct 27, 2016

Two books which influence me

Two books, both of which I picked up accidentally have a significant influence on me. I'm not someone who picks favorite heroes, leaders, colours or books. Certain aspects of every leader and visionary, or for that matter even rote day to day events inspire and teach me depending up on my age, the stage I'm at in my life, my background and thought process at that moment. But, there are certain people, certain events and certain books that influence you. Sometimes by teaching something new, sometimes by questioning you and sometimes by providing deep insights.

I love learning. It is a continuous process, so learning new stuff is a routine. Sometimes, things I learn inspire me with awe, make me so excited that I share it with everyone, or ponder on them, think about how that changes how I understand the world and smile at silly thoughts.

Some insights make you wonder how you never thought of them, how they change your world and stick with you for the rest of your life. They change the way you think and become a part of your personality. I have a list which I'll share later.

Probably the only two books that I picked up accidentally were A Collection of Letters of Swami Vivekananda and The Selfish Gene.

I was probably in 10th class when I visited a close family friend's home. They are a joint family. Different generations of their family lived in one big house. While playing around in the house, we somehow ended up digging a pile of books. I fell in love with the books. All of them had book worms in them. I've never seen them.. book worms and that made me excited. I'm kind of weird like that. It was also the first time I ever saw books that old. Oldest books in my house were my father's and they weren't old enough for book worms.

While I was opening each one of them and marvelling at the book worms and the weird shaped tunnels they made in the books, I came across a book with a lose dirt coloured cover. A Collection of Letters of Swami Vivekananda. I borrowed it and took it home. I read it day and night, whenever I had time after playing cricket during the vacation. As you know, cricket comes first. It inspired me. It questioned my view of life and made me think about my purpose, why I was alive and what I can do with my limited time on this planet. It turned me into a change agent. After reading the book, I didn't want to be just another person. I wanted to do something. Something great. It then led me to choose a not so sexy engineering branch and end up as an environmental consultant. The book still influences how I think.

I was talking to a physicist about how phytoplankton recirculate in oceans when I read the title Selfish Gene on a book stacked in a shelf across the sofas we were sitting on. We were in a small library which moves up and down with the waves. It also had a lot of movies, old ones.. but still movies. After a thorough search through all the movie titles, we decided the best one to watch was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. That wasn't a memorable movie. But that was the best we could find. Imagine the other titles they had. Lack of good titles is understandable because we were in the smallest library I've ever seen. But I was surprised they even had a library in a research cruise.

I was doing my Masters when one of BP's oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and cause one of the largest and most devastating oil spills in our history, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. A few months after the oil spill, I got an opportunity to join a team of biologists, physicists and oceanographers to go on research cruise through the Gulf of Mexico to study the impacts of the oil spill. In the library, I picked up the Selfish Gene and randomly opened a page like I was playing book cricket. I wanted to just glance, but started reading seriously. Beginning from a random page, I finished the book that night. I was thrilled. This book again questioned my view of life, made me think why I was alive and destroyed any purpose I was holding on to until then. It gave a greater meaning to my life, made me realize I'm one among a sea of life.. literally. It made my thought processes about purpose and meaning stronger.

I'd like to think picking them up was accidental. When we look at the circumstances, it might seem accidental, but when you think about what led me to those situations, it doesn't seem so. Before I picked up that book, I've already heard about Swami Vivekananda. How he was known to be a great spiritual master. I was already interested in spirituality. My dad has also suggested I go to Ramakrishna Mutt to enhance my skills and spirituality. I was aware that it was founded by Swami Vivekananda. While the book worms might have made me sit and sift through books (for the first time ever), it might be my existing interest in spirituality and Swami Vivekananda's name recognition which made me borrow that book.

I picked up Selfish Gene in a research cruise which is generally hired by geologists, physicists, biologists, oceanographers and such science nerdy types. What other kind of books could you expect to be there? Being one of the best books which illustrated and popularized the theory of evolution, the book was bound to be there. I started my Masters in 2009 and by then I've come across debates on evolution, genetics and religion that were taking place in the U.S. If I didn't pick Selfish Gene first, I'd have picked it up eventually. All other books were too technical and would not have piqued my interest after reading the jargony titles. But, what do you expect in a science nerdy ship?

May 17, 2016

ఆనందం, ప్రతిబింబం

ఈ ఒక్క బ్లోగ్ పొస్ట్ కొసం ఏప్రిల్ 2010 లొ ఫ్రతిబింబం అని ఒక బ్లోగ్ స్రుష్టించాను. ఆది మళ్లీ ఎప్పుడూ వాడలేదు. కాని ఎప్పటికప్పుడు ఇది గుర్తొస్తూ ఉంది, కాబట్టి ఇక్కడ పోస్ట్ చేస్తున్నాను

మనసంతా ఆనందం
ఎందుకో తెలియదు
ఏమిటో తెలియదు

వర్షం ఇంకా మొదలవ్వలేదు
వాతావరణం నాకు తగలట్లేదు
తను గుర్తురానే లేదు
అయినా ఆనందమే

తెలుగు పాట వలనో తెలియదు
మన మాట వలనో తెలియదు
ఎందుకో తెలియదు
ఏమిటో తెలియదు
ఊపిరి తిత్తులకు గాలి కూడా చేరట్లేదు
అంత ఆనందం

ఇందులో స్వార్ధం లేదు
ఉత్తి ఆనందం

అని జపించిన ప్రతీ సారి
మరింత ఆనందం
దీనికి అంతమూ లేదేమో

Apr 6, 2016

Questioning, Learning & Carl Sagan

Questioning started early in my life. One of the questions I still remember is: why a construction worker can climb a temple's gopuram on his legs, whereas, I was not even allowed touch a book or anything sacred with my leg. I put this question to my mom when we were travelling in a car as we passed by a gopuram under construction. She said it is OK for the worker to touch it because he had a reason to. Until then, I thought it was an absolute rule not to touch anything sacred, but this question changed how I understood the world. Almost a decade later, when I came across the four horsemen, I readily recognized I was an atheist and that that was a thing..

My journey as an atheist continued as I studied at Columbia, where I attended a talk by Salman Rushdie. I got agitated when Christians screamed into microphones at the subway and distributed booklets to convert people. The only thing that got me that agitated was filling forms.

My journey of questioning and learning continued, and I became a "non-thinker" of religion. The topic of religion was important to others, but not me. Studying for Masters and living alone and then in a relationship with a like-minded person in New York, I never had to deal with religion and it became a non-issue to me.

Then, our marriage, ISIS and Islamophobia followed, all of which re-immersed me in conversations on religion. By then, I co-founded and was managing an organization of people and the focus of my work had also changed from protecting the environment to providing basic rights and services to people while making sure that does not compromise the ability of future generations to do the same. In short, my interest was sustainable development with a strong focus on helping people. This is where my personal opinions also changed to understanding others and helping them. I turned into a humanist.

My thoughts during the past few months were summarized a few decades ago by an intellectual giant--Carl Sagan:
If it takes a little myth and ritual to get us through a night that seems endless, who among us cannot sympathize, and understand!
We long, to be here for a purpose, even though, despite much self-deception, none is evident
I'm still questioning and learning and I encourage you to do so. I'll not lie by saying that you have to do this only once and the rest of your life will be set. This was what children growing up in India are told before their school enrollment, before their 7th class boards, before their 10th class boards, before their 12th class boards, during Engineering examinations, before their job interviews, before their promotions, and the list goes on.

Learning is a life long process. Don't despair that you have to do this all your life. Find joy and happiness.

Feb 19, 2016

A race of dotards

When I was in my 10th/11th standard, I came across a book called the Letters of Swami Vivekananda. I don't read books, but I heard a lot about him and Ramakrishna Matt. I was also willing to know more about ancient Indian tradition and he seemed to be a good bridge to get me there.

That book was revolutionary. I didn't expect what I was seeing and couldn't stop reading. It changed me forever in many ways.

There was one passage about Indians and their ambition. It burnt through my heart and lit it on fire. I still clearly remember his message. It still holds true for many of my fellow Indians. If they hear this clarion call to reform from one of the clearest and strongest voices of Indian history, it will help. For many others who are already reforming the world and India, this is inspiration to keep going. Read it for yourself:

".... A race of dotards, you lose your caste if you come out!..."

"...Sitting down these hundreds of years with an ever-increasing load of crystallised superstition on your heads..."

"...for hundreds of years spending all your energy upon discussing the touchableness or untouchableness of this food or that..."

"... with all humanity crushed out of you by the continuous social tyranny of ages — what are you? And what are you doing now? . . . promenading the sea-shores with books in your hands — repeating undigested stray bits of European brainwork..."

"... and the whole soul bent upon getting a thirty-rupee clerkship, or at best becoming a lawyer — the height of young India's ambition.."

"... Is there not water enough in the sea to drown you, books, gowns, university diplomas, and all?.."

"... Kick out the priests (all those) who are always against progress, because they would never mend, their hearts would never become big. They are the offspring of centuries of superstition and tyranny."

Feb 12, 2016

Universe's New Sense of Perception #LIGO

Heard great news about #LIGO's success today. Celebrating it with my quote and an image from the internet.

I wish everyone could take a moment to celebrate this. Once we start perceiving something new, we identify patterns, make observations and theories and then utilize the new knowledge for the betterment of earth's life -- the consciousness of universe.

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