The One Thing I Took for Granted

It was May of 2010 and I had just landed at the Bangalore International Airport early in the morning. I was coming back home after my first two semesters at Virginia Tech. By the time I reached home, it was about 8 AM and I was already hungry. My mom was clearly enthusiastic about cooking for me, but that morning she mentioned that I would have the Idli & Chutney that my grandmother had cooked an hour earlier. Apparently, my grandmother – who lived just a few blocks down the road – had woken up early just so she could cook breakfast for me. And she knew exactly what to cook. The Idli and Chutney that she used to make was the kind of stuff that could fix anything and everything. I think the word I am looking for is ‘panacea’.

So here I was, not having eaten ‘home food’ for over 10 months and my mom served me my grandmother’s best creation for breakfast. I sat in my chair and broke the first idli into a small piece, took a generous dipping of the chutney and put it in my mouth.

To this day, I cannot think of a more profound moment I have had when I ate something. Before I could chew the food and swallow it, I had broken down and was crying like a little baby. It was not just the feeling of experiencing something after a long time that made me cry. It was the realization that I was experiencing after a long time, something I had just taken for granted all my life that hit me like a cannon ball. And I didn’t have to tell my mom anything. She knew exactly why I was crying and that there was just no consoling me at that point. I cried for some 10-15 mins before I resumed eating my breakfast. Needless to say, I stuffed myself with what would have otherwise been a sizable breakfast for 3 people.

In hindsight, that realization seems a lot more obvious. But it does not make it any less significant. Food is one of the things that we are conditioned to take for granted (unless you are in a poor financial situation or related circumstances) while we were growing up. We always assumed that no matter what happens in this world – barring a natural or man made disaster – we would always have dinner served at the time we expect it to. So much so, that we even felt entitled to complain when it was delayed by a few minutes. Breakfast was always prepared 15-20 mins before we left for school or college. It just had to be. There was no other option. It would be an apocalyptic hell if it was delayed even for a few minutes. And all the food we were served had also better be something we liked to eat.

And so being served food that I preferred, at the right time, day after day for over 20 years was something I had gotten so used to that I had never comprehended the idea of anything different. Even when I lived in the hostels during college, the hostel mess always had the food ready at regular times. In any case, I went back home every 2 or 3 weeks during my undergraduate years. So it was only when I moved half way across the world here to the USA did I face the extremely strange situation of nobody serving me my preferred food 3 times a day at my new home.

In hindsight, the way I initially reacted to that is almost comical. I was in complete denial for the first couple of weeks and just did not eat any breakfast. I ate out for lunch and made some makeshift dinner (read cereal). It was at least a month before I came to terms with it and started cooking. Fortunately for me, I found that I took immense pleasure in the act of cooking. And after that there was no looking back. I learnt – mostly through experimentation and long phone calls with my mom – to cook most of the dishes that my mom made on a regular basis and took great pride in sending her photographs of my cooking. Needless to say, she was very impressed and very happy that I was eating home cooked food. And so after the first couple of months, I rarely ate outside and continued to get better at cooking. I even became popular among my Indian and American friends at VT for my cooking!

But when I had that first bite of Idli Chutney on my first return back home, I also knew that I would never ever match the taste that my mom or my grandmother made. Because you see, the dishes my mom or my grandmother ever made were not just made up of spices and vegetables. They were always made with unconditional love. And I suppose it really was THAT ingredient that I had taken for granted in all the food I had ever been served at home. It was also the ingredient that I had missed the most and could never put into my dishes. No wonder I broke down when I had that breakfast back then.

A few months after that, when I was back in the US and having just graduated, I learnt that my grandmother had unexpectedly passed away.  I will never see her again and that pains me to no end. I will also never have her Idli and Chutney once more, but I know that she is still out there helping me to recreate that taste I fear I will never get to experience again.

So yes, we take a lot of things for granted and don’t even know it. It only comes to the surface when it is absent and absent for a long time. So enjoy it while you still have a chance. But also, always pause to appreciate its existence while it lasts.

 

 

 

 

A Perfect Example Demonstrating the Inherent Bias in a Sports Fan

Yesterday I watched with great satisfaction Chelsea getting the better of Arsenal (well, duh!) early in the morning. That pretty much made my day and my weekend. The match was not without incident. Arsene Wenger openly pushed Mourinho in the latter’s technical area following a Gary Cahill tackle on Alexis Sanchez. I am not as interested in why Wenger pushed Mourinho or what exactly transpired there. What drew my attention earlier today is how fans from the two teams reacted to the news that Arsene Wenger wouldn’t be charged by the FA. For this, I looked at the SB Nation blogs for both the teams. (Yes, I follow the Arsenal and Man Utd SB Nation blogs in addition to Chelsea’s).

Wenger pushing Mourinho. But of course, Mourinho is at fault!

If you are not aware, SB Nation is a very well organized website with separate blogs for each sports team across different sports and geographies. The content is generally admirable and there are usually few posts every day on each blog, so this way you will always have something to read about your team. As a fan, this is invaluable as it gives a sense of being part of a fan community from all over the world. You should definitely check it out. But I digress.

So following the FA’s announcement today, We Ain’t Got No History, SB Nation’s Chelsea Blog ran a post that pretty much summed up my feelings. Just the hypocrisy of the FA when it comes to punishing Mourinho (or Pardew for that matter) over other managers is something that never seems to go away. I can possibly write an entire post on that but I won’t. For the most part, WAGNH’s post covers it – with a generous dose of sarcasm and an underlying frustration. Here is a quote from there:

“Point B” was of course on the pitch, where managers aren’t allowed, technically, but let’s not worry too much about technicalities.  It’s not like they matter anyway.

Here’s a thought exercise.  Say we reverse the roles, and it’s Jose Mourinho (or, say, Alan Pardew) who puts both hands on Wenger’s chest and shoves him (however meekly), just how many games do you think he would’ve gotten here?  Three?  Four?  Ten?  Perhaps with a public flogging or two?

Mind you, the Arsenal manager received a fine and a one-match ban for a “sarcastic pat on the back” of the fourth official in 2010.  It’s good to know that the FA considers a light tap on the back a far harsher offense than physically confronting the opposing manager in his own technical area.

The tone and the text is self explanatory. Chelsea fans have seen Mourinho being fined and/or banned for far less by the FA. And watching Wenger go without as much as a warning obviously bothers us. But, whatever. Chelsea still won and Arsene Wenger still hasn’t won the only contest against Mourinho that actually matters – the one on the pitch. I was ready to cease my interest in this incident and get on with my work. But then…..

In comes The Short Fuse! SB Nation’s Arsenal blog. Ah! The Arsenal fans must be extremely relieved that their manager didn’t get any further punishment, right? Perhaps they realized that a manager just going out of his technical area itself constitutes a violation of the game’s rules? Nevermind actually pushing the other manager in the latter’s technical area! Surely they know that a manager is not allowed on the pitch itself? Obviously only the medical team is allowed on the pitch in case of injury, right?

Well, Fuck all that! Here is what The Short Fuse had to say (Bold emphasis added by me):

Both managers have admitted, in their own words, that it was a heated match.  Mourinho stated, accurately, that he’s been guilty of doing “many wrong things in football”, with Wenger confirming in his post-match press conference that Mourinho was guilty yet again in the sport by preventing him from attending to his fallen player, in this case Alexis Sanchez, after being viciously assaulted by Gary Cahill.

After agreeing with Mourinho in that he was wrong, while concluding that Wenger – who’s only got the best interests and concern for his player – was acting in good faith and acted only after being unjustly provoked, the FA made the correct and honest decision today.

I don’t even know where to start. Read the text slowly paying attention to each and every word or phrase. Look at the choice of words used here: ‘fallen player’, ‘viciously assaulted’, ‘Wenger confirming’ that ‘Mourinho was guilty yet again’, ‘being unjustly provoked’?????? Really??

Just to clarify, here is Mourinho’s full quote (You should really read all the quotes here):

But to be fair, I do so many wrong things in football, sometimes you lose emotions but not this time. This time I was just in my technical area and it was not my problem. Story over.

Ah! Nothing makes a quote fit your own narrative more than just picking pieces of it that you like! In addition to the quote manipulation, the choice of words used in the post reeks of complete and unapologetic bias. Apparently Mourinho was at fault because Wenger just confirmed it. Yes, that is all you need. Wenger confirmed that Mourinho was at fault. Case closed. Let’s all go home, eh? And while we are on the way, let’s also give Mourinho a 3 match ban OK?

(On a side note, this is exactly the kind of quotes I expect to hear on Fox News. Complete and unapologetic bias).

Now I can definitely understand the agitated state of mind of the Arsenal fan following yet another loss to Chelsea (and Mourinho). I can also understand the frustration and helplessness of supporting a constantly under achieving team. I can almost feel the outrage in the mind of the guy who wrote that Arsenal post. And it is something I have felt myself many many times over in the past decade or so that I have supported Chelsea. (God knows what all I wanted to do to referee Tom Overbo after the Chelsea – Barcelona semi-final from 2009). So yes I understand the outrage. But to blatantly portray a situation in a favorable light to your fellow fans while painting the other team as evil by twisting quotes and facts (especially like the above) shows something far more fundamental in a sports fan’s psyche. It shows the basic human condition of the need to rationalize by choosing to believe biased points of view.

Sports gives rise to many such situations at an extraordinary frequency – irrespective of whom you support. Add to this all the passion and rivalries that are part of any sport and you have a recipe for extreme mood swings on a weekly basis at the very least! And when the human mind has to cope with these mood swings, it just turns to the ever present tools of rationalization, confirmation bias and subjective validation to make itself feel better. These tools manifest themselves in things such as online arguments, finding fault with the referee, conspiracy theories, declaring that the other team ‘just didn’t deserve to win’, finding a scapegoat, calling for someone’s head, manipulating and presenting quotes and facts that fit our narrative, collective commiseration, etc. The list really is pretty long.

So when we have situations where we are extremely frustrated – like your sports team losing to a hated rival – our minds automatically look for how we can rationalize and justify the loss. Because if we can indeed justify it, then we get a sense of satisfaction from ‘knowing’ that there was something out of our team’s control that cost the result. This does not make us feel happy but it definitely helps in dealing with the pain. (Trust me I have been there many times).

And this is what The Short Fuse has done. The writer has clearly succumbed to the mind’s need to rationalize. His mind is essentially telling him: “Fuck objectivity! I just need to feel good right now!” And THAT, is a celebration of the human condition. The resulting piece only shows to what extent he must have been feeling that outrage and frustration.

The interesting thing about this is that it is not restricted to just sports. The same feelings of outrage, frustration and ultimately rationalization/justification also prevail strongly in all things that we hold sacred. These include topics such as religion, gun control, politics etc. The more passionate you get about something and hold it sacred, the less objective you tend to get in that topic. It is just the way the mind works.

Isn’t it indeed a fascinating world we live in – where we can put sports, religion and gun control in the same box?

Settlers of Catan Strategies and Spending Money

               Settlers of Catan

Over the past year or so, I have become mightily obsessed with the board game Settlers of Catan. It involves collecting, managing and trading resources to build settlements and cities – with the final goal of being the first person to achieve a preset development stage. But that is just the gist of it. There are innumerable strategies that can be incorporated into the game. But there is one common trait to any strategy I choose to use. And that is to ensure that I ‘spend’ my resources as fast as possible in order to ‘build’ more settlements/roads/cities. This means that I do not ‘save’ my resources with the hope that I build a lot more at a later time. And because of this, when the robber is played, I usually do not have to forfeit my excess resources which I might have otherwise had. So as and when I get resources, I ‘spend’ them and acquire a road/settlement/city/D-Card. This typically increases my development points tally immediately. And as I keep doing that, I keep inching towards the target development points of 10 (varies). Of course, there is some other strategy always involved regarding whether you build ‘vertically’ or ‘horizontally’ or if you plan to connect all your settlements for the longest road points, etc. But in any case, ALL these strategies require me to ‘spend’ my resources to add to my development points. Saving has almost never helped my cause.

This brought me to observe and question my own spending habits. What do I do with my money? Do I tend to spend it fast or do I tend to save first? Do I live a comfortable life spending money within my means, or do I live a frugal lifestyle while I save money for some unknown future purpose? The answers to these questions was extremely simple and glaring to me.

I am an unequivocal and unapologetic spender. I spend money on every single thing that I decide is desirable/necessary and worth it. I spend, what some consider, an obscene amount of money on music related products and experiences. I am more than happy to spend a few hundred dollars extra in rent just so I can avoid having a roommate. I recently went on what turned out to be the most expensive vacation I had ever taken – and all by myself too. I upgraded my car within 2 years of buying one that was brand new then. I spent a small fortune on having my parents over and taking them on numerous vacations here in the US. And I continue to spend money to live a very comfortable lifestyle in which I do not deny myself any product or experience that I find desirable and can afford.

No. I am not a rich guy. Far from it. I still pay out loans, I send money back home every month. And when I do my accounting every month, all I see is that I just about break even. In a way, I just barely make ends meet. Only difference is that my ends are sufficiently far apart for me to live a very comfortable lifestyle. The point I am trying to make here is not that you can do more things and buy more stuff if you have more money. This is already understood and is nothing more than common sense. What I am more fascinated about is just the idea of NOT spending money, or as is more popularly known – saving money. Why do people save money? What incentive do they have to save money? Why do people give up everyday comforts of life just to save more money?

It is the first question that I am still trying to find the answer to. Most replies I get have something to do with the words ‘for the future’, or ‘in case of emergency’, or ‘you’ll never know when it might come in handy’, etc. Granted, there are people who save money for a specific reason, such as paying for school, children’s fund, etc. It is not these people that puzzle me. What does puzzle me are the kind that sacrifice everyday comforts just so they can ‘save more money’. These are the people who have no idea why they are saving the said money. They just go with the idea that all that saved money will come in handy ‘at some point in the future’. And they live a frugal lifestyle – not because they feel comfortable with it, but because they just want to save more money!

When I observed this contrast between the way I handle my money and people like these who are just all about not spending, I stopped for a second and wondered if I was doing something wrong here myself. Perhaps I should be saving some money after all? Maybe some emergency is just around the corner? I might even feel proud of myself for controlling my spending? I can prove to myself that I don’t need any materialistic pleasures? That is supposed to be a good thing, right? Maybe I will need to start saving right now so that later my future kids can do something for free? Maybe it will work as a down payment on a mortgage that I might take on a house sometime in the future? Maybe I should save money just for the sake of it?

Naa…..Fuck all that!

Those questions pretty quickly began to sound like nonsense to me. The idea of ‘What if?’ does not appeal to me. Neither does the idea of giving up something now so that something else can be done in the future. I am all about right now. Instant gratification? No. More like enjoying the present moment – because that is where we live – in the right now. Not in some distant future that you have imagined – no, decided – is going to take place. I am all about making the most of what the world has to offer to me – today and right now. I do not understand the idea of consciously making myself live less comfortably now for some perceived benefit in the distant future.

For example, I have spent about $5000 over the past 4 years going to concerts and all other music related purchases. $5000 is always going to be a lot of money. But, as I sit here typing this post, would I rather have that $5000 in my bank account now? Well the answer is an easy NO for me. But if I had chosen to save that $5000 for ‘some future use’, just imagine what I would have missed out on in the meantime? All the innumerable moments of inspiration and wonder that I experienced at every one of those concerts would be gone. Those were the moments that defined my life for 4 years. It is just horrible to think of what I would have missed out on if I had chosen not to spend all that money. And then when I ask myself what kind of a life I had been living the past 4 years, I would never have a satisfactory answer. “Oh I was just saving up so I can lead a better life in the future” is the most nonsensical answer I could give to that. So, NO, I would never ever want that $5000 in my bank today at the cost of having missed all the things that defined my life for 4 years.

Back in 6th grade, I read 3 verses of Someshwara Shathaka – a collection of 100 verses by a 14-15th century Kannada poet. The first two words of the 2nd verse is something that has resonated with me all my life:

Unadhirpa Dhanamirdhodenu?

Translation: What’s the point of having money that is not spent?

It is that simple. A few years ago, I was watching The Wire. During one of the many many memorable scenes, I heard Omar Little say something extremely similar – except he said it with infinitely more badassery. And anything Omar says is wisdom from the gods. Here, watch it for yourself.

Found the money quote? Alright, here let me break it down for you

Omar breaks into a cash rich poker game where Marlo Stanfield is playing and proceeds to rob him. 

Marlo Stanfield: That’s my money.
Omar: Man, money ain’t got no owners, only spenders

(This is followed by an even more epic quote but I am sure you can figure that out from the video. BTW, if you have not watched The Wire, you will).

And that is pretty much the mindset with which I live. Just like in Settlers of Catan, I earn resources. Once I earn these resources, I almost immediately spend them all in order to buy products and experiences that makes my life at THAT moment more comfortable and enjoyable. Money in my bank account is just a number. Money spent, on the other hand, immediately implies something that I had gained. I do not wait for the future before I choose to lead a better life. I choose to lead a better life right now. And I am extremely glad that my parents fully approve of this.

All I heard about money during my formative years (except from my parents) was how evil it was and that materialistic pleasures were the devil’s luring, and how one must find happiness in non-monetary things.  Right now, that advice looks like a complete piece of BS to me. All the experiences I have had with all the money I have spent have generated such intense feelings in me and have provided me inspiration at such a fundamental level on so many occasions, that it is hard to not feel in awe of it. For someone to say that I shouldn’t be doing that is just plain dumb.

Sure, all that money in your bank account does not follow you when you die and go to heaven. Which is exactly why you should spend all of it NOW while you LIVE and die with nothing in the bank.

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PS: If you think this applies to gambling, you are a worse douchebag than I thought you were.

Are You Replaceable?

It’s a simple question, but one that is perhaps the hardest to ask of yourself. 

“Am I Replaceable?”

Well, maybe not everyone, but most of us.

A few years ago, a friend of mine working for a company that provided background checking services decided to quit the place as she found a new job elsewhere. When she quit, nobody in her company expressed even the least bit of concern that someone who had a lot of experience and who was good at their job was leaving. The way they looked at it was that once she left, someone else would be in line to take over her position. Simply put, she was ‘replaceable’. 

That was, like I mentioned, a few years ago. But over the past couple of days, for reasons unknown to me, I have revisited the idea of being replaceable very deeply. So I am wondering:

Are We Replaceable?

All of us like to think of ourselves as unique, as one of a kind. There is something different in us that separates us from everybody else. It must be in our character. So on and so forth. Right? Right? 

Just take a look at where you are, what you have done in your life, what you have achieved in your life, who you are married to, who your friends are, what kind of life they are leading, what kind of a life you envision for the future, and what kind of a life the other people you know in your life have envisioned for their future? Fact is that every one of us have done something or the other with our lives. We have gone to school, perhaps gone to college, got a bachelor’s degree, perhaps even a Master’s degree, (and for an immigrant like me, made the trip to the USA for my Master’s), some of us are now married to someone, maybe we even have kids or are planning to in the near future, have a steady job that promises good career growth, helping out a lot of people at the job, working on new products, etc. etc. 

Which is all good – as long as people agree that all these things that they have done could have/would have been done by any one of a lot of other people as well had they been in the same position as they were. That is to say, we haven’t done anything that someone else (among a lot of people) in our position would not have done. Or in other words: “We are replaceable.” 

Anytime we live our lives by putting in the effort to do mostly what we really ‘have’ to do in order to be considered successful in the eyes of society and family, we are replaceable. This is because there is always someone else who, with similar upbringing and societal influences, will achieve the same things with the same opportunities that we have had. 

But what about our relationships, you might ask? Surely each person is loved for his unique character and personality, right? Else, relationships could not possibly work at all, correct? 

No, wrong. 

Both my parents have shown me unconditional love all my life and I am extremely grateful for it. If, for instance, my character and personality was instead more like one of the dozens of friends I know, my parents would still love me just the same. I could have been like any one of the many different people I know and my parents would have loved me just the same. What about a husband and wife? Surely there is a higher demand of a specific character requirement there, right? 

Again, wrong.

Think of your partner right now. Now, also think of some of the other people of the opposite sex of about the same age that you know fairly well and you respect. Now think about what would have happened if you had met one of these other people at the right time and under the right conditions. You would perhaps be sharing your life with this other person instead of your current partner. It just so happened that you ended up meeting your current partner under the right conditions and so you ended up with him/her. 

So essentially, anyone (of the many many people in this world) fulfilling your set of basic criteria, who happens to be at a particular place at a particular time and under the right set of circumstances will very likely end up as your partner. Whatever may be your partner’s quirks or character flaws, you will just learn to adjust, adapt and not complain about it in the long run. And the sense of ‘irreplaceability’ that you may feel towards a person after being with them for a long time comes not from a sense of individual uniqueness, but more from a sense of security, familiarity and an inherent fear of change. 

So yes, your partner is replaceable. And since that applies reciprocally as well, it means that you are replaceable  too. 

If this sounds very depressing, that is because it is. Nobody wants their sense of self worth to take a beating. It is one of the worst feelings in the world. The objective here is not to belittle who we are or what we have achieved. Instead, the crux of this aspect of the human condition is to be brave enough to ask ourselves a very tough question:

“What have I done in my life that anyone else in my position with similar upbringing and influences would not have done?”

Another way to frame it would be:

“What have I done in my life that is beyond my basic duties as an employee/student, husband, son, father, friend, etc?” 

Or:

“What have I created in this life that nobody else in my position as an employee/student, family man, friend, etc. would have?”

If you are struggling to find answers to these questions, then you – like most of the earth’s population – are replaceable. You could be leading the life of any one of a million other people just like you – and any one of the million other people just like you would have done pretty much the same things as you have in your life. They would offer the same things as you do. And so, you are replaceable by any one of them.

Questioning your own sense of self worth is easily one of the hardest things to do – which is why nobody does it. Instead, we all want to feel good about ourselves and think of ourselves as unique and remarkable in our own way. But the truth is that most of us are neither remarkable nor unique. 

Because most of us are just REPLACEABLE. 

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PS: At some point in time in the future, I intend to write about the one exception to this rule: ART. 

 

 

 

 

The Unattainable Goal

I recently watched the movie ‘Neighbors’ starring Seth Rogen and Zach Efron. It is a typical summer comedy with a fair amount of its laughs. There is one sequence right at the end when Zach Efron (having been thrown out of college) is plying his trade in front of a Levi’s store as some kind of a live model encouraging passersby to visit the store – all the time when he is shirtless and sporting his muscular body. Seth Rogen stops by and decides to join him just because he always wanted to be one of those guys. So he takes off his own shirt and the two of them are outside the store striking poses and showing off their looks. The contrast is unmistakable – Zach Efron with his well toned slim muscular body and Seth Rogen with his pot bellied, fat oozing body – right next to each other. Seth Rogen is also aware of this contrast. But to his surprise, he sees a fair amount of people going into the store after he gets in on the act. After he sees that, the following short conversation ensues:

Teddy Sanders (Zach) : You make the store more approachable.
Mac Radner (Seth): Like, I’m more of an attainable goal?
Teddy Sanders (Zach): Yeah, you’re like Relaxed Fit.

The punchline for the humor is supposed to be Zach’s ‘Relaxed fit’ line. But before that, what Seth Rogen says about him being more of an attainable goal made me pause and contemplate it for a bit. Not about that line’s humor content, but more about just the idea of an attainable goal. And following that, I got into the idea of the ‘Unattainable Goal’. 

We all have goals and desires. We have been programmed to believe that goals and dreams can be achieved with sufficient dedication, hard work and perseverance – no matter what the obstacles. That there is always a way through. We hear and read about all the success stories – further fueling the notion that all we need to do is just keep working hard and put ourselves in more favorable positions that might lead to better opportunities. 

But what we don’t ever hear are about those goals that are out of our reach. Not because we are too lazy to work hard or stay disciplined and dedicated – but because we are just not capable of it. The reasons could be many and varied – insufficient funds, no family support, being handicapped, living in an oppressive/tyrannical society, legal obligations, health concerns, etc. But in every single of these cases, there is a common element running through it all – the helplessness of a constraint. 

You see, constraints are different than obstacles. Obstacles can be overcome with sufficient effort, practice and perseverance. Constraints, on the other hand, are like the carrot and the stick – no matter how hard you try, that carrot is always a stick’s length away. It’s always going to be just out of reach. You can always do something about obstacles and tests, but there is nothing – NOTHING – you can do about a constraint. 

And once you identify your own constraints, you also identify all those goals and dreams it impacts. Those are your unattainable goals. And you will never ever fulfill them. No matter how much you call on your dear friend HOPE to fill your life and convince yourself that everything is possible and will work out just fine, they will always remain your unfulfilled, incomplete desires, dreams and wishes. Sounds depressing doesn’t it?

During one of my darkest times, I had written about how the redundancy of hope has us all in a bind. And I suppose that is what is celebrated as the human condition. As far as my own condition goes, I have always considered myself to have been in a state of being ‘almost happy’. And a few months ago, I realized what my own unattainable goals were. Needless to say, it was hard to accept and deal with it. I still don’t think I am fully on board with that – maybe in the near future. But I suppose it is still better to know beforehand than to keep trying at something and never succeeding. 

It can be a useful thing to know your own unattainable goals. It will be a hard pill to swallow once you figure out what they are. But after you come to terms with it, it will be that much easier to deal with the circumstances that remind you of what you don’t have. 

Just remember that every one of us has our own unattainable goals. Whether we are willing to admit them to ourselves, however, is a different thing. We can choose to understand our own limitations in life and try to make the most of what we do have, or we can continue to live a life of frustration, incompleteness and unfulfilled dreams. It’s like in that beautiful song:

Encumbered forever by desire and ambition
There’s a hunger still unsatisfied
Our weary eyes still stray to the horizon
Though down this road we’ve been so many times

 

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PS: It was only after I finished writing this post did I realize that I actually ended up putting a positive spin on it. Just for the record, I had NO intention of putting any kind of positive spin on this post. I had fully intended it to be an extremely depressing piece of writing. But, in the end, this is how my thoughts flowed. And I am OK with it. 

Americans to become Soccer fans for Exact Duration of Team USA Matches

With the start of the soccer world cup, the small fraction of the American population who are even remotely aware of the sport’s existence, appear to be showing a passing interest in the proceedings. Most of them have decided to become soccer fans and to actually give a shit about the sport for the exact duration of Team USA matches.

Sport Bars to be crowded from Kick-off to Final Whistle of Team USA matches only

Sport bars across the country have subscribed to the Team USA World Cup Special on their respective Cable TV providers. The special package allows the bars to show the broadcast of Team USA matches only. The broadcast starts exactly at kick-off and ends exactly at the final whistle. The advertisement for that special package explained that the time between kickoff and final whistle in Team USA matches is pretty much the exact duration when any American would even give a shit about the sport. It also said that it would cover the final celebrations only if USA won the World cup.

“Apparently this is something big. I think USA is playing. So I guess I will watch our matches,” said Tim, who learnt about the existence of this sport last year when his European college roommate was playing FIFA on his computer. When asked about other countries’ matches, he replied, “Oh I was not aware that there were other teams playing in this tournament. Maybe I will read up on the teams and the results online after the World cup.”

There appears to be no shortage of support for Team USA. There were reports that people who ‘would rather watch reruns of College football from 10 years ago’ were also supporting the USMNT.

“Go Team USA! We are the best! Wait…does it mean I have to actually watch this match? What sport is this? Why is this called football? Why is he playing the ball with his foot all the time?” wondered Bob, a truck driver from Wisconsin.

But what would happen if USA were to win the World Cup? To this, Pete, a NY Yankees fan replied, “First of all I do not understand this tournament. If this is a World Cup, why do they have different countries playing each other? Is this the Olympics? Why can’t they just have a bunch of city based teams in a country play other city teams in their own country and the winners crown themselves World Champions? That’s the way it is in the US of A! This World Cup is just a waste of time.”

 

What makes a winning Football Team? Part I: The Circumstances

I am not talking about ‘winning mentality’ or ‘winning tactics’ or ‘hard work’ or ‘discipline’ or ‘sacrifice for the team’ or ‘work ethics’. I am simply asking what makes a winning football team? More specifically put, I am asking what makes aconsistently winning team? What was so special about Johan Cryuff’s ‘Dream Team’,  Real Madrid’s ‘Second Galacticos’, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team, the current Bayern Munich team, AC Milan in the mid 2000’s, Spain’s impressive run of 3 major international titles or Manchester United’s hugely successful team in the mid to late 2000’s?

A hugely successful period for the Spanish national team

All those above mentioned examples were teams that won or are winning titles in a specific period of time – usually between 3 and 5 years. During these years, the team wins the domestic leagues and cups and reaches the finals or semi finals of the Champions League almost always, and winning it at least once. If a team is able to do this for 3-5 years, then it can be considered a successful team by any standards. The teams mentioned in the list above have all done it. So, the question is if there is a pattern here at all. If so, then whatdoes it take to build such a consistently winning team?

The answer to the first question is ‘Yes.’

Every football player goes through a normal distribution curve (bell shaped curve) when his performance is plotted against time. (I am not going to take into account uncertainties such as injuries, fallouts with managers, attitude problems, etc.) The peak of a player’s career lasts for a certain period of time. Here the ‘peak’ should not be construed as the absolute pinnacle in a player’s career. Instead it should be looked at as the period during which a player has been the most productive as compared to the rest of his career. How high the peak goes is largely left to the player and his inherent talent, guidance and work ethic. Its timing and how long the peak lasts for is usually a function of the player’s position. For strikers, the peak period usually lasts between the ages of 25 and 31. For attacking midfielders, that range holds true as well with perhaps a couple of years thrown in there to widen that range in some cases. Central midfielders and defenders have the largest peak period with a generally observed age range of 23 to 32. Needless to say, an argument can be made that within that large range, a central midfielder or defender has an even higher peak period generally found between the ages of 26 and 31. Goalkeepers on the other hand can last forever. You can really take any example: Buffon, Van der Saar, Valdes, Howard, etc.

There are of course exceptions with early bloomers and some exceptional talents. Pep Guardiola (player), Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, Wayne Rooney, are good examples for early bloomers and exceptional talents. You only need to look at Paul Scholes, Andrea Pirlo or Claude Makelele for examples of players with exceptional talent who were/are practically still playing in their prime even past the age of 33 or so.

So if a striker is playing during his peak period and banging in goals regularly, what the manager wants is a set of attacking mid-fielders who are also playing in their peak period feeding him the ball and creating chances. Behind them, he wants the central mid-fielders also playing at their peak, holding up play, dictating the pace and distributing the balls as needed. And finally behind them, he wants the defenders and the goal keeper to also be playing at their peaks.

Now imagine if the manager gets his wish. Imagine a team that has been playing with the same set of players for 2-3 years and all the players have started or just about to start their peak periods in their careers. Imagine all the players in the team have been playing a single style of football under one single manager who has created a specific role for each player to play in the team. Imagine this manager stays on for a few more years. And now, finally, imagine this team playing under these set of circumstances for the next 3-5 years.

What do you think is going to happen?

Now it becomes obvious. Every single team I mentioned at the beginning went through such a phase that resulted – not just coincided – in their most successful periods – winning consistently and amassing trophies all the while. Maybe there was one or two factors missing such as a constant manager. But for the most part, a consistently winning team essentially consists of a set of players – most, if not all, of whom are playing at their peaks and have played with each other for a while.

This is the pattern that is there among all the successful ‘teams’ during their most illustrious periods. In the next post, I will be discussing the current situation with respect to most of the big clubs and what is happening with them as it concerns the ‘peak period production’ of their players.

And as far as this year’s World Cup goes, there is mostly one team (and perhaps two) that is playing in such a set of circumstances and it is also the team I would bet on to win the tournament.

It starts with a ‘G’.

Football Fan Wants All Teams to Play Attacking Football All The Time

Saying that he was bored to death after watching the Atletico Madrid vs Chelsea match, local football fan decided that he wants all teams to play attacking football all the time. He said that his decision was largely influenced by how Chelsea ‘parked the bus’ for the entire game and didn’t let Atletico Madrid score a single goal, thereby gaining a very valuable draw in the away leg of the Champions League Semi Final.

Football Fan deeply dissatisfied with Chelsea successfully parking the bus against all top attacking teams in Europe

“I cannot imagine how bad the game was. It was like watching paint dry. Chelsea just parked the bus and did not let Atleti to create any clear cut chances! They just could not breach Chelsea’s defense! That is just simply unacceptable from Chelsea! They should not be allowed to do that!” he said while expressing outrage about the scoreless draw.

The football fan now wants all teams to be required to play attacking football because “that is what is most entertaining and creates a lot of goals!”.

“It is not right to play a defensive game even if the team is playing away from home. Always attack attack attack!”

The self proclaimed Bayern Munich fan then went on to give examples of clubs like Barcelona and Bayern Munich who generally have a lot of possession and are always shown to be attacking the ball. “I was always supporting Barcelona. They were my passion. But then after last season’s semi final when they lost 8-0 on aggregate to Bayern Munich, I just started getting attracted to Bayern somehow. Now I just support Bayern. They are the best team in the world because they keep playing attacking football all the time! It is real great to watch them.” Digressing from the topic a bit, he then went on to criticize how fans who previously supported Chelsea changed their allegiance to Man City after City started spending and winning more titles.

Football Fan insists that is the only way to go and nothing else is acceptable

When asked to elaborate about why all teams should play the same style of football, he said “I mean, who wants to watch teams with different styles of football and hailing from different football cultures – aerially dominating, long ball tactics, physical game play, counter attacking tactics, extremely defensive formations stifling the opponent’s attack, parking the bus – pitted against each other? Really, who wants to watch those styles of play going up against each other? All I want to see is two possession based teams who pass the ball a lot and create opportunities from through balls or cut-ins. Everything else is just boring!”

He went a step further and said that the players should not feel proud if they win by playing any other style of football and that if a free-passing team such as Bayern Munich or Barcelona loses, they should always feel proud of sticking to their brand of football. “Take the Barcelona – Chelsea semi final 2nd leg at the Nou Camp in 2012. I am sure that at the end of the day, all Barcelona players and fans were celebrating with pride how they never abandoned their philosophy and played with it right to the end of them getting knocked out! Never mind the fact that with practically 100% possession in the second half, Barcelona were able to generate only ONE meaningful shot on target with those tactics. I am just proud that they kept maintaining possession and passing the ball around aimlessly while Chelsea did not give them even an inch of space for a through ball. Chelsea do not deserve any credit for their performance that day at all – even if it was with ten men”.

Football fan feels Torres’ goal against Barcelona should make all Chelsea fans feel extremely ashamed of themselves

Among recent games, he pointed to the way Arsenal lost 6-0 to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. “Hats off to Arsenal for not at all changing any of their tactics or style of football while playing away against a top counter attacking team in all of Europe! Arsene Wenger deserves a lot of credit for sticking with his attacking free flowing possession based football away from home against Chelsea. The final score line doesn’t matter at all! The important thing is that Arsenal did not stop playing their brand of football right to the end. I am sure that all Arsenal players and fans were extremely proud about that and celebrated like they won a trophy or something!”

In the end, the fan said that tactics do not mean anything if it does not involve free flowing attacking football. “The only tactics that makes a game good to watch are those that get employed in a possession based attacking game. Everything else is just simply unacceptable. Shame on all the teams who employ other tactics to beat possession based attack minded teams! If you want to beat them, beat them with free passing tiki-taka football which is very impressive to watch. Otherwise, just don’t play and bore us with defensive displays stifling even the best attacking teams in Europe! That is just unacceptable!”

Narendra Modi reminds me of Manchester United

Being half way around the planet from all the NaMo and RaGa and MaBa and ArKe waves during the election campaign, I have had little to no direct exposure to the ground realities in India. All my ‘information’ came from Facebook status messages, newspaper headlines quoting politicians out of context, memes, satire posts on Faking News and some input from my parents who are seeing all this first hand in Bangalore. So in order to get real information, I have had to make additional effort to look through the biased media, read a very long list of ‘expert’ opinions on both sides of the story, find compilation of statistics on so many issues that are being debated and of course, frame my own opinion at the end. In any case, the general gist of what I am hearing is this:

Screw Mario. Here comes NaMo

There is this NaMo dude who is the Uber Dude and who is expected to simply win the next election. Then there is RaGa who is going all out to let people know he has an IQ less than Timmy. New kid on the block ArKe is trying all in his power to just play spoilsport. Didi MaBa just wants to run for elections. The Left parties – wait, do they still exist?

Already the next Prime Minister of India

The common thread running through all the bits and pieces of information I am getting is not regarding RaGa, ArKe or Didi. It is almost exclusively about NaMo. But before I get to that, a little bit of football.

When I started watching football, it took me a while to start supporting Chelsea. Everyone around me was either a Manchester United fan or an Arsenal fan. The Arsenal fans were mostly proud of the whole ‘youth development’ ideal that the club apparently stood for. All good. The Manchester United fans on the other hand were mostly proud of their trophy collection and were generally branded as glory hunters. I get it. Every fan wants the sport team he supports to win trophies on a regular basis. It is a very natural state of mind.

But what was different with United fans was the unquestioned glorification of the club and everything associated with it. Most of the fans were convinced that Manchester United was the only true club in England. They would quote the rich history associated with the club and also point to the massive trophy collection. They would also point to one Sir Alex Ferguson as a ruthless winner who would stop at nothing to win trophies – and all the fans were proud of his long tenure at the club. But it didn’t stop there. United was considered to be a team that was beyond criticism. Going a step further, no other team was considered to be a valid team to support. If you were new to football and were still looking for a team to choose to root for, you would be made to believe that you had no choice. You would be made to believe that Man United were the only team worth supporting and it was some kind of a default choice.

United was also the club which had the largest fan base (and still does) in India and Asia. There were definitely reasonable United fans here and there that I have gotten to know over the years but for the most part most of them were just plain cocky about it. They just refused to even entertain the idea that the club was anything less than just the best damn club on the planet. There would never be any admittance of any imperfections in any of the club’s aspects. Nobody could level any amount of criticism without getting a good amount of backlash from its supporters. Moreover, supporters of all other clubs were looked down upon as if they did not deserve to be a fan.

All this inevitably led to a lot of distaste among a lot of fans who supported other clubs – including myself. So much so, that there was a fair amount of hate brewing against United. These people were our friends who we got drunk with and whom I am still in touch with. But the dislike and hate that was brewing was directed more at the club than at the supporters. Sure the schadenfreude that we experienced whenever we saw United lose grew exponentially. But the important thing to note was the strict polarization that Manchester United’s image had created. You either fully embraced it and considered it to be the flawless club ever, or you considered that to be the most vile, cocky, exaggerated, pretentious, falsely publicized, all powerful, corrupt sports organization in the world. There was almost nothing in between. And all this was a creation not of the club. (I am sure the club wouldn’t have wanted it this way). But this big divide was really a creation of the supporters.

The Panacea all Indians have been waiting for

And now I see the same exact thing happening with NaMo in India. He is considered untouchable and beyond criticism from the eyes of his supporters. There is so much pro-Modi rhetoric that there seemed to be little that he could not accomplish. He is treated as the solution to all problems. There is not a single ounce of criticism that can be thrown at him without ten counter responses coming from his supporters. (In the eyes of the supporters, they feel they are right because they are offering the statistically proven, reasonable response to a guy who is just making wild accusations against Modi). He is considered to have zero imperfections and his supporters quote the ‘development’ that has taken place in Gujarat over the course of more than a decade as proof of his awesomeness. And just like United fans sing the ‘Glory Glory Man United’ chant, there is now also a NaMo NaMo (and many more apparently) chant/song that all the Modi supporters consider their war cry. There is even a Modi-Brigade that you can join by giving a missed call or something.

All this isolation from criticism, unquestioned glorification of his past achievements and a level of expectations never before associated with an Indian politician have inevitably generated a strong anti-Modi fan base – just like it happened with United. Endless arguments and debates – both online and offline, opinion pieces from every Tom, Dick, Harry and his brother-in-law, articles listing statistics that prove the point each side of the argument is trying to make (never mind that they contradict themselves) – all have contributed heavily to the strong polarization of the Modi image.

The Rise of the Indian Youth or the beginning of a new Hitler Youth – depending on whom you ask

 

You are either a strong supporter and think he is the panacea all Indians have been waiting for, or you think he is the nightmare scenario waiting to happen where he ends up becoming India’s Hitler creating a Hitler Youth organization equivalent and there will be a genocide in his first month in office. The stronger the isolation and glorification, higher is the criticism and hate. Higher the criticism and hate, more is the isolation and glorification. It is like a feedback loop which just feeds one off the other but they both grow in size and content. And just like United, all this is a making of the supporters. Modi for one would have never wanted this divide. Part of it, admittedly, can be attributed to the hate against the UPA Govt and our current impotent PM. But most of the responsibility of this rests on the supporters.

I suppose there is a cut off point beyond which there would be no significant growth of pro-Modi or anti-Modi rhetoric. Perhaps that point will be reached after he is elected PM. Or Not. I for one can only hope that his supporters and haters can get to a more reasonable level of opinion. The worst outcome of this would be an American styled Democrat-Republican divide.

If you have not been able to figure out yet, this post is nothing more than an observation. It is not a criticism, support or judgment of anyone involved – from the politicians to the avid supporters and haters. It is merely a perspective which I have been looking through for a while. A lot of Modi and Man United supporters will inevitably disagree with me and some will even offer detailed explanations of their disagreement which are supposed to be interpreted as their idea of reason. First of all, do check out this thing called the Backfire Effect. Secondly, if you have you gone as far as trying to dispute what I have pointed out, you have already proven my point. So just calm the fuck down and think about it for a while.

When did an Indian Politician ever become so cool that he had his own Merchandise?

In all seriousness, I personally want to see Modi in the PM office and am really curious what this guy is all about. And at this point, I offer no response to speculation or the possibility of a genocide happening in India as a result of his election. But really, considering his competition is a circus clown in a politician’s disguise…..

…well you get it.

Taking a Dudeist Vacation

An often denied fact concerns the accumulation of stress during any vacation. Be it a trip to a national park, a visit to a big city, a hike through the woods, a road trip – vacations usually consist of stress filled days that are stitched together midst the experiences of visiting new places or hanging out with friends/family. A fair amount of planning has already gone into the vacation: we visit these places on day one, drive to here on day two, meetup with friends on day three hiking, camp and hike further on day four, drive back on day five, take flight back home on day six. Feel free to make up your own schedule. We all have.

We want to ‘cover’ as many places as we can jam into our schedule. Consequently, this ends up demanding a lot more effort in getting to those places and ‘covering’ them while we are there. We want to put up photographs on Facebook showing us at as many different locations as possible. We want to tick all those places off our bucket list – whether they are on it or not. Life is so short after all…..right?

Getting started on a vacation with an agenda is what most people do. There is a certain expectation of returns for all the investment you are putting into this vacation. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It helps us see the places we always wanted to see in a timely and economical fashion. But it is also important to recognize the role of the agenda in building up stress levels during any vacation.

And that is what I decided to avoid last week when I took a few days off work. No agenda, no expectations, no stress: the Dudeist-Vacation

Because being The Dude is awesome

I took a Wednesday off work and this is a list of things I did in Des Moines that day:

1. Spend 2 hours eating breakfast at Perkup Cafe

2. Cash checks.

3. Visit the library, read Dune for an hour and rent 5 audiobooks for my drive the next day.

4. Watch Chelsea draw with Galatasaray in the Champions League at the Royal Mile drinking beer and eating lunch.

5. Come back home and watch a couple of episodes of True Detective and listen to a couple of LPs.

6. Pack.

There is not one item in the list that can be even remotely classified as ‘constructive’. It was one of the most awesome days in recent memory. A complete day of doing absolutely nothing that required me to acknowledge any stress at all. Just like The Dude lives.

This inspired me to extend the same thinking for the rest of my vacation. So when I reached Ann Arbor the next day, I had absolutely nothing on my mind that I wanted to do. Sure I wanted to see my friend successfully defend his PhD. But that was it. Other than that, I was just hanging out doing absolutely nothing.

I drove to Detroit on Saturday to visit a couple of my other good friends. The only agenda I had for that trip was to visit the Motown museum. Other than that, all I told my friend was that I wanted to drink some beer and buy some records. And that is exactly what I did: drink beer at a brewery and buy some records at a record store. To kill a couple of hours, my friend and I hung out at a coffee shop chatting. Then I ate dinner and went back to Ann Arbor. That was it. That was how I spent my only day in Detroit. Barely any agenda and still extremely satisfying.

My friend  (now with a DR. before his name) and I then drove to Chicago because it is on my way back to Des Moines. And also because Chicago is awesome. It is an even more awesome place to do absolutely nothing and just hang out with no agenda. All I wanted to do was meet a friend, drink some beer, eat some deep dish pizza and buy some records. And that is what we did. Met a friend, drank some beer, ate deep dish pizza and bought a lot of records. We also celebrated his PhD at the Signature Lounge on top of Hancock tower with a glass of Glenmorangie on the rocks overlooking the night view of the entire city from up top. I stayed one more night and went to a downtown breakfast place in the morning and just sat there by myself for two hours doing absolutely nothing. And then I drove back to Des Moines. Never visited any tourist attraction, never did any sightseeing, and did not even look up any ‘things to do in Chicago’.

It was the best vacation I could have had under those circumstances. For a week, I did not even have to acknowledge the idea of stress – even minuscule amounts of it. There was nothing that could go wrong when you were doing absolutely nothing. And I was able to do that because I had absolutely no agenda set for my vacation. No expectations, no plans – just a whole bunch of doing nothing. More importantly, it was a whole bunch of doing nothing in different places – which is awesome.

After I came back, I realized that anytime I did absolutely nothing for extended periods of time is always awesome. You should try it too. It would be important to identify those particular activities you would want to do that do not require any set agenda whatsoever. To me, apparently, they include eating breakfast, drinking beer and buying records. It is just something that you do because you like it and you don’t care how it turns out. There is absolutely nothing at stake when you are doing these activities. Only you know what those activities are. And once you know what they are, you should just take a vacation doing those things – wherever you want to. For all I care, take a flight half way across the country to just sit at a coffee shop and do nothing for an entire day. (That would be an awesome idea by the way).

All in all, it is an extremely satisfying and fulfilling experience to just be able to do nothing and continue to live a normal life. Also, the very act of doing nothing for extended periods of time tells you that “nothing’s fucked!”. The Dude’s lifestyle is not just for a character in a Coen Brothers movie. It is an increasingly overlooked way of life for us every day men and women. Maybe we will never be able to live like The Dude every single day of our lives. But, at the very least, when we decide to take time off, we can remember to ask ourselves the question:

Always ask the question

“What would The Dude do?”

And then decide to do absolutely nothing. Because it is always awesome to be The Dude.

*************************************

PS: After this experience, I have decided to take a weekday off from work every 2-3 weeks and do absolutely nothing. I won’t be at home, but I intend to do absolutely nothing constructive the entire day. It is like my day of rest.

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