25 July 2020

Book Review: A Guide to the Good Life

William Irvine has written this book on Stoicism from a unique perspective – he teaches Stoicism in college and is a practicing Stoic himself.

Among other things, he does a good job of tracing the history of Stoicism. Most of us know and read about the Roman version of Stoicism. But Stoicism started in Greece and had a couple of more interesting facets – reasoning logic (if A, then B; A; ergo B) and physics!!! But they got dropped by the Romans when Panaetius of Rhodes took the philosophy from Greece to Rome.

He also does a good job of explaining the different philosophical schools that competed with Stoicism at that time – Cynics, Epicureans, Skeptics, Megarians and so on.

The practices that the author suggests to any aspiring Stoic are:
(*) Negative Visualization – to fight off “hedonic adaptation and appreciate what you have
(*) Dichotomy of Control – the author extends it to Trichotomy of control – to not worry about the things you cannot control and “internalize goals” when you have some control.
(*) Fatalistic about the past and present but never the future
(*) For advanced practitioners, practice “voluntary discomfort”
(*) Being selective of which social function you attend and who you associate with.
(*) Use self-deprecating humor to counter insults
(*) Deal with anger by reminding yourself of the impermanence

Some interesting quotes from the book:
“Pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes”
“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing”
“If people think you amount to something, distrust yourself”
“To know how many are jealous of you, count your admirers.”
“If we seek social status, we give other people power over us.”

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22 July 2020

The joys of handwritten letters

There is one thing many of my friends from high school and college might remember me for – and that was my propensity to write letters. It was fairly common for me to write nearly thirty to forty letters in a week. Almost all my childhood friends used to have to deal with this uncalled for level of communication – in fairly bad handwriting too – from me.

Later in life, inspired by an article in the front page of USA Today on Dec 26, 2005, I started writing Thank You letters to anybody who would invite me over for dinner. This is no small thank you card we are talking about. This is full page letter written definitely in fountain pen – sometimes even with calligraphic nibs – and sent by the post office in a snail mail monogrammed enveloped.

With the passage of time I realized that as much as I loved interactions in a small group, I absolutely disliked large gatherings. Which meant I stopped going to parties. And therefore my letter writing took a hit.

Recently, my best friend from childhood days – Avijit Bose – posted a picture of a few fountain pens he has collected. That gave me an idea – yes, one more of those stupid ideas I get from time to time – why not start writing letters to my friends – like I used to do in my high school and college days?

If I take time to come up with stupid ideas, I certainly do not waste time in acting them out.

So, there you see me – out in the backyard, by the pool, under the pool umbrella (it was raining) by the light of my iPhone – writing a heart felt letter to my best friend from yesteryears – and undoubtedly the recipient of maximum letters from me outside of my parents. Sharmila, who came by, did not know what to make of the situation. So, she took a picture to remind me later of my quirkiness.

That particular letter started its voyage to Perth, Australia yesterday. Now I am waiting to see when he receives it. Of course, I have kept pictures of the letter – so I can email it to him if it never makes it to the other end of the world 🙂 Technology may not be my best friend, but it is certainly a back up 🙂 🙂

What I felt particularly satisfied with is that I managed to write two whole pages entirely in Bengali. Beyond the salutation, did not use a single English word.

I could not find a good translation for “Good Day, mate”, though 🙂

19 July 2020

This is why we should always smile

For many many years now, getting on a flight every quarter to see my dad has become as natural a habit for me as waking up and brushing my teeth. And in the interim 85 days or so, it is daily calls to mom to keep up with his health.

If my brother or sister calls any day in between, usually that is panic time. Such a call happened last week. It was early in the morning. I was sitting by myself having tea inside our house. Everybody was asleep. My brother called thru Whatsapp and I canceled it. He knows I will call back.

Took a few minutes to steel myself for potential bad news and then stepped out to call up India. (Did not want to wake up the sleeping Roys).

The news was not terribly bad but not very good. It appeared that dad fell down again. Has lost all ability to put any pressure on his right knee. Worse, he has not been talking. He is looking at everybody but not responding verbally.

My first instinct was that he has had yet another stroke. My brother rushed from Kolkata. A few of my school friends (thank you Debasis and Ansuman) were on the phone and to make a long story short, it appears that in all likelihood, he has had another stroke (albeit a smaller one than 2017).

I do not believe I will be able to visit India for at least another 6-9 months. So, last night, I had my brother set up Whatsapp video call so I could try to interact with my dad.

He is recognizing my brother but has no recollection of me. We asked him in many ways – “Who is this?” and “What is your elder son’s name” and “Who lives in America?”

Like the first picture shows, he would just listlessly look and then you could see visually that his brain was trying to compute something. But eventually, he would would give up and that is when he would put his head down (see second picture). That was our hint that his neurons and dendrons did not connect.

This time.

“Bachchu ke?” (Who is Bachchu – that being how he calls me)

Again about a minute’s struggle and then he put his head down.

When our call was coming to an end, I tried a last shot to see if he could associate thru events if not by person.

“Wheelchair-e beratey jaabey?” (Do you want to go for a stroll in your wheelchair?). As a background, most of you who follow my posts probably will recollect that every time I go to India, I insist on taking the wheelchair out and take him for a ride the couple of evenings that I stay there.

We could see that he had heard the question and was trying to compute with the frown on his face. After about 20 seconds, he had the best reaction we could have hoped for – he smiled! For the first time!!

Everybody else started laughing over the phone. Not sure whether he remembered me or remembered the wheelchair – something sure turned in his grey matter that was familiar domain to him!

Regardless of what he remembered, that is one beautiful picture of him – when he smiles.

And that is why we should always smile. It puts our inner beauty forward notwithstanding the situation…

19 July 2020

Saturday evening relaxation

“Pehlu Mein Hai Raqib Tumhare Khuda Ki Shaan
Kaanta Bi Hai Woheen Pe Jahan Pe Gulaab Hai
Kehte Hain Jaam Bhar Ke Woh Kaisi Adaa Ke Saath
Pee Lo Humaare Hath Se Peena Sawaab Hai”

I will need some help in translating the first line (or for that matter, all the lines) from somebody who is well versed in Urdu. I think it goes something like this…

“God’s grace is (unfortunately) on your rival’s side // raqib often refers to your rival with who you are vying for the lady’s attention
When you find a rose, there will be thorns too // meaning a thing of beauty will always come with pain
Filling my glass with wine, she says playfully
Drink from my own hand; drinking is my reward” // meaning your only reward is that you get to drink the wine she is serving