31 July 2021

Book Review: The Socrates Express

Author: Eric Weiner

I forget who it was that had brought my attention to this book. Smart money is on Somsekhar Baksi. If you are inclined towards learning very quickly about some of the key points about quite a few philosophers – some of who, I guarantee you have not heard of and some you may not think of as a philosopher either (e.g. Gandhiji), this is a great read.

As always with every book, each time you read it, a few points hit home runs for you. One of those winners for me was actually from the author himself – not any particular philosopher. And it deals with 10 points about How to Grow Old.

Here are some memorable quotes from the book that might pique your interest.

1. Miles Kington – “Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is aa fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad”
2. Albert Camus – “Suicide is the one truly serious philosophical problem”. Is life worth living or not?
3. Jacob Needleman – “The Heart of Philosophy” – “Our culture has generally tended to solve its problems without experiencing its questions.
4. John Stuart Mill – Pleasure Paradox – Happiness is a by-product, never an objective
5. Thoreau – Doubt is essential. It is the vehicle that transports us from one certainty to another.
6. Idealism – Everything we experience is a mental representation of the world, not the world itself. Physical objects only exist when we perceive them. (fridge light example)
7. Music speaks to the essence of life. An image of heaven even a secularized one, may or may not have paintings and statues. We take it for granted that there will be music.
8. We lead telephoto lives in a wide angle world
9. We lose objects suddenly, but experience the loss gradually.
10. Everyone hopes to reach old age, but when it comes most of us complain about it.

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25 July 2021

Phase 1 of 4 completed

The “think within the box” project has started. The idea – as I had explained before – is to fit all my clothes and shoes in a suitcase. This includes all summer, winter, office, home and running clothes and shoes. After about two hours, I managed to come out on the other side of Phase 1. Nikita helped me take the 150+ articles of clothing to the Goodwill center and give them away in donation.

As I was cleaning up the closets, I remembered what my brother and sister are having to do back in India after our parents’ demise. I felt vaguely good that after my death, others will have to spend less time getting rid of my stuff.

Coming up soon – phase 2. I have to tackle all the office clothes and winter clothes in that phase.

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20 July 2021

Our squirrels are as lazy as our dog

I am very sure the animals in our property are take a cue from our dog. Jay Jay, the said dog, is a hunter dog by DNA only. In reality, somewhere in his convenient brain, he has translated “hunting” to “sleeping” in dog language. These days, he does not even bother to react when I enter the room he happens to be sleeping in. Sometimes, he condescends to open an eyelid… but just sometimes.

Even the deer in our property is getting lazy. Today, I came within five feet of one grazing. Did not even bother stopping to see what this car noise is all about.

And then this squirrel. It was happily resting on top of our fence. It saw me spot it. It saw me call Nikita to show it to her. It saw me take my phone out of my pocket. It saw me come within five feet of it. Nothing… no reaction! For a moment I was wondering if it had its paws stuck or something.

I took a picture and just let it be. I think our house is the only house where the humans are scurrying around and the animals are busy resting.

20 July 2021

This leaf caught my eye

Early morning, I was having my cup of tea sitting outside in the porch. It had rained overnight and everything outside was drenched. I was looking at the birds being very busy as they went about their daily bird-routine, when this leaf on the ground caught my eye. Went downstairs and stepped onto the wet ground to take a close up picture. Very interesting how the color difference is split right down the middle!

18 July 2021

What has Holland got to do with an autistic child?

This week, in our annual all company meeting, we hosted one of the special needs (autistic) students and his mom. These are the kind of folks that we make products for (actually to help them and their teachers). We also hosted the CEO of the company the kid now works in. You can guess that he has become a fully functional socially contributing kid now.

I will write about the kid and his mom later (awaiting permission to publish their picture). But this piece is something the mom (please allow me to refer her by that till I get permission to publish names) read out when she was asked during the Q&A session – “What went thru your head when you realized that you kid has special needs?”

It is a piece (some call it a poem) written by Emily Perl Kingsley in 1987. The picture her is of the author and her son Jason, born with Down Syndrome.


I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says,
“Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.

15 July 2021

Can I pack all my clothes in one suitcase?

The other day, Sharmila and I were hanging out with some friends and I was gently chiding her about all the clothes and shoes she has – that she never wears. I do not remember most of the rest of the discussion (no, she did not hit me on the back of my head causing me concussion) but I remember how the ladies agreed that they do not want to be seen twice in the same dress. I am sure, in the past, it was possible to abide by that rule and still wear a dress twice if the people to be met had not seen the dress before. Today, of course, with any party getting memorialized forever with obligatory pictures in social media – that wiggle room has gone right out of the window.

However, what I remember most is that Sharmila immediately retorted “You have lots of clothes in the basement too”. I brushed her comment aside chalking it up to be a defensive reaction from her.

But later, I did reflect upon those discussions and got stuck at that comment. While I certainly have far less clothes than her, it is true that I have a lot of clothes. I am defining “a lot” by stuff that I wear only a few times in a year.

That drove me to an uncomfortable realization that I probably suffer from the same challenge that I ridicule others about. Why do I have so many clothes? Why do I need 5 running shirts when 2 should be enough? Why do I have so many office shirts when 4 should be enough? (Even that, in these days of work from home, I am not sure I need all 4).

Lest it be ever said that I lack the capability to go from an awkward realization to a crazy decision faster than you can cry “Uncle”, I managed to conjure up my next personal challenge.

Can I live my life out of a suitcase?

Not all my stuff, mind you – for, it would be difficult to fit my motorbike in any suitcase – but at least, all my clothes, shoes and those stuff. Anything I wear. And if I buy anything new, one compensatory item has to go out.

No doubt I will be ridiculed for this clothes project – if not for anything else, for insisting on thinking inside the box only – but then again, I get ridiculed no less for my choices in what I wear anyways.

Have any of you ever tried such a project? Shridhar and Suzanne, I think you have some experience in this kind of minimalist living, right? Any tips on how to plan, what mistakes to avoid etc?

First thing first. I have to call dibs on the biggest suitcase we have in our house now!

11 July 2021

I am surprised I had never come across this before!

For a fountain pen aficionado like me, I was intrigued that I was not aware of the existence of these things. I have used dip pens in the past – you know with nibs in the end and usually a holder or a quill at the other end. But these are very different kinds of dip ink pen.

First, they are made of all glass. Second, the nibs are not flat. They are all cylindrical or bulbous! I was wondering how the ink would flow. (Usual nibs have that slit between the tines that has the ink flowing due to capillary force). Turns out the ‘nib’ has intricate shallow trench like etchings that wrap around like the threads in a screw. The ink, when dipped in, is held in those “trenches” and slowly flows out.

Fairly unique! Got a few delivered from China. Was never aware of this. Were you? Wrote the first letter to my niece using this!

26 June 2021

Finally, used the pad that Nikita and I had made

Remember the notepad that Niki and I had made as a DIY project? Finally, used it to write – not one, not two, but three letters. The paper worked like a charm. In fact, for the last two letters, instead of using my fountain pens, I opened up a calligraphy set Natasha had gifted me long time back.

It was a nice experience of dip-and-write. I was deathly afraid that I would spill the bottle of ink though! Note how Jay Jay wedged himself in the chair too and kept listening to the music!