No Will. No Way.

There’s something disturbingly, cloyingly polite about today’s world. I don’t quite understand whether it is due to the unwritten pressures of social media, the corporate rat race or whether we’re just too lazy to disagree. But the bitter truth is that we’re afraid to say NO.

For the simplest things in life, people need to think, re-think and then think some more to simply say, “No. I do not want to do this.” I’ve seen people choosing career paths they intensely disliked, doing favours they didn’t want to…just because they couldn’t say no; or they felt caged. And guess what’s the best way for anyone to wriggle out of unsolicited advances from the opposite gender (or even the same gender)? Just say the bloody word – N.O.

Steve NoSaying ‘No’ comes with a lot of responsibility and very often, social stigma too. But if you don’t have the gumption to refuse, you lose the right to crib. We’ve all been there…bad relationships, life-consuming requests and sometimes character-tarnishing expectations…but then there is always the proverbial “What will happen if I say no?” lurking in the dark, grimy corners of the devil’s workshop. And eventually we give in. What follows is usually misery, self-doubt and an overwhelming sense of hollowness.

I’ve noticed that people almost never compare the directly proportional value of a ‘No’ to future expectations. Once you’ve said ‘Yes’, the next time it is expected that you’ll do the same. Or you could say the magic word and be free from future requests. Value yourself and your time. Don’t wonder what excuse to provide in order to turn someone down. You do not owe anyone an explanation.

Benefit NoI often say ‘No’ to a lot of things that I do not wish to do/participate in. It has cost me a great deal in shaping my relationships with people. But it turns out that it worked out for the best. The small, select circle of close friends that I have are also from the land of ‘No’. All of us mutually respect the other’s N-bomb without batting an eyelid. And no one judges the other. I prefer that to a huge-ass social circle with whom I’ve to constantly be on my ‘society-approved’ best behaviour.

The hardest part about saying ‘No’ is doing it the first time. Thereafter, it’s a cakewalk. It’ll save you time, heartburn, impossible expectations and above all it’ll keep banal stresses at bay. This Independence Day gift yourself the freedom to refuse. Just look the other person in the eye and say it. And if you’re asked “Why not?” …I recommend turning to my favourite retort – “Because, I said no.”

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The Twisted World of Accountable Freedom

Over the last weekend we had some close friends from out of town staying with us. As a family we’ve always been bordering on addiction to gregariousness. Conversations from the utterly inane to the intensely intellectual find easy acceptance in our friend circles. So during the near-ritualistic quaffing of a delicious Speyside single malt whiskey our talk veered towards impossible dreams.

While most impossible dreams featured private islands, limitless books and single malts and even socialistic endeavours, mine was one of ‘absolute freedom’. For the longest time I have been convinced that human beings have deceived themselves about the concept of freedom. Freedom as we define it comes with a plethora of terms and conditions. I like to call it ‘accountable freedom’. Accountable freedom begins at a very early age through social conditioning; and by the time we’re adults it is a way of life for most. Those who read between the lines and express their desire for absolute freedom get branded as rebels or misfits or even freaks.

Brain Cage

Think about it for 60 introspecting seconds. When was the last time you did or thought something for which you were not accountable to anyone, including your own conscience (which more often than not is a well programmed, socially conditioned machine)? The Government, school teachers, college professors, office colleagues, parents, relatives, friends, spouse(s) and even your beautiful children…everyone expects you to be accountable. You relent, partake and in fact advocate the system of accountable freedom.

While absolute freedom is an impossible dream for most, there are ways to get close to that ideal Neverland. For starters, make peace with your past. Try to actively face everything you fear or abhor, with a view to gain resolution or closure. Recall how Po faces his ultimate moment of truth and finds inner peace while encountering Shen, the peacock, in DreamWorks’ 2011 animated feature Kung Fu Panda 2.

Problem of Choice

In a world dominated by emotional, preconceived notions over a logic-based approach, external absolute freedom is a myth. But your internal journey can craft its own destiny. A path less travelled that shapes your willpower, and puts you on the road to absolute freedom. As a wise person once said, “You don’t make your choices. Your choices make you.”

Soulmate Spotlight

The sound of someone’s inimitable laughter. A feeling of intense bonding. Experiencing your thoughts, emotions and sometimes even actions emerge from another body. Feeling a warm tear slowly escape your lachrymal glands, as you get overwhelmed by pain or fear. The number of ways you can be attached to your soulmates is nearly endless.

A while ago I’d written a post about friendship titled ‘*Terms & Conditions Don’t Apply’. I got a lot of emotional calls, messages and even in-person hugs from many who understood exactly what I meant in my post. During some of my conversations with friends we happened to discuss intensely about soulmates. I’m deliberately using the plural form here because I honestly believe it is almost impossible to have a single one.

Soulmate Quote

Soulmates are like a mirror image of you. Imagine walking out of your body and observing yourself for a whole day or month from a third person’s perspective. Your best friends may or may not be your soulmates. Your spouse/partner may not necessarily be your soulmate. But your soulmates are definitely the best friends you’ll ever possess. It’s hard to distinguish but give it a calm thought and maybe you’ll figure it out.

All of us come across a sea of people every day but it’s hard to spot a soulmate. More often than not it’s purely intuition based…a bit like falling in love…you can’t plan it. Often people confuse soulmates being romantically involved, which is plain ludicrous. Your soulmates could be men, women, transgenders or from another species altogether.

So, go out into the big bad world full of positivity and have faith. Sooner or later you will bump into your soulmates. They may be people you’ve known all your life or someone you met fleetingly. And once you’re sure, don’t let go.

A Green Epiphany

Most of you know my affinity towards non-vegetarian gastronomic delights. For those who don’t, well, I’m kind of a Tyrannosaurus Rex crossed with a Nile Crocodile. Yes, non-vegetarian food is not a choice in my life. It’s a necessity; a need which I crave to satisfy in every morsel. I absolutely adore fish, chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, pork, etc. And I totally worship that blessing to mankind called an‘egg’. I called any vegetarian foodstuff ‘ghaas-poos’ (Hindi for ‘Grass’) and was of the firm opinion that it was just too boring.

Ivy Gourd

Ivy Gourd

Close to 4 years ago, while I still had enough time to work-out and run, I quit all forms of red meat on a health whim. It didn’t come easy but I was determined. The temptation to yield, when someone would order lamb chops or a juicy steak, was strong. Yet somehow I always managed to control my almost undying lust for that fine piece of red meat. To ensure that I got all my vitamins and minerals in abundance, I resorted to eating only vegetarian fare in my lunch box at my workplace. And kept the non-vegetarian extravaganza for dinner.

Okra

Okra

Today, I was discussing the contents of my lunch box (Ivy Gourd or ‘Tondli’ as we call it in Marathi, my native language) with a senior colleague. He said, “The vegetarian fare in your lunch box has a lot of energy.” I looked at him with a befuddled expression. “Compare it with any lunch box ordered from a commercial venture. You’ll realise that yours is made with love.” And he walked away. That got me thinking about my lunch box contents, more than ever.

Mixed Vegetables

Mixed Vegetables

Black Eyes Beans

Black Eyes Beans

Like Jerry Maguire, I too had an epiphany. I realised that while conditioning myself for 4 years, to forcibly eat veggies, pulses, lentils I had in fact started to like them! Okra, Ivy Gourd, Bell Peppers, Taro, Fenugreek, Spinach, Cauliflower, Potatoes, Black Eyed Beans, Green Grams, Moth Beans, Peas and a whole lot of others. And it was not because they were awesome by birth. It was the brilliant recipes, sheer hard work and love put in by the women in my life – my grandmothers, my mother, my maid and my wife.

Green Gram

Green Gram

I’m deeply obliged and grateful to them for making me realise that ‘ghaas-poos’ can actually be wonderful, if prepared with the right mix of ingredients, effort and love. Finally, I have opened my eyes to the fact that the grass can be lush and green on both sides (pun intended).

 

The Sum of Good Deeds

A few days ago I had been invited to a colleague’s place for dinner. After what had been a long day, filled with pending odd jobs from the week, I found myself dressed and behind the wheel of my Black Beauty. I was already late due to some eleventh hour household chores; and the venue was at the other end of the city. Since it was a Saturday night, I was prepared to encounter horrendous traffic jams and non-stop honking, that would put a PA system to shame. Hooking up my iPod to the music system, I got ready for a long ordeal of a drive. But what happened next made me impervious to every errant driver and car horn.

As I turned my car out of my lane, I encountered my first traffic jam. A serpentine line of cars and bikes were moving at a pace that would make a Sloth feel like a Cheetah. I didn’t find it amusing at all. “Bloody hell! Not so soon.” I said to myself. As I moved a little ahead, I saw the cause of the whole chaos. An anxious young woman, in a red Swift was trying to take a turn to join the other side of the road. That’s all. But not a single vehicle had the courtesy to stop and just let her pass. The moment I came to that junction, I stopped and let her pass. She rolled down her window, waved out to me and gave me a beaming smile; as she comfortably took the turn and zoomed away. This entire episode must’ve lasted for a grand 5 seconds, during which the cars behind me were honking crazily. It made me feel so good that I was able to make a complete stranger smile, with almost no effort. A short while thereafter, I stopped to let an old couple cross the road. They too, waved in acknowledgement and smiled at me. And I read the old man’s lips saying a polite ‘Thank You’.

The funny thing is that I did both these gestures out of a purely selfish motive – to make myself feel happy. Both these super short encounters made me so happy, that the rest of the drive became a cakewalk. And I would really like to believe that both, the young woman driver and the old couple must’ve gone back home feeling happy too. In fact, the next time they are in the same position that I was in, they’ll perhaps remember this episode; and act in the same fashion. Because the sum of all good deeds is good karma. As they say, what goes around comes around.

Karma

The Measure of Success

Success – the word rings like a gong in the ears and minds of even the most hardened skeptics. Often people are characterized by success. Sometimes it acts like a status marker while at other times it becomes the bane of our very existence. So, what is success anyway? And how does one measure it?

Today’s world broadly bases success on 2 parameters – monetary and social (achievements). Society stamps people with their approval of ‘arrival’ when they fulfill either one or both of these vital components of societal success.

I find this entire hullabaloo about success to be rather far-fetched, linear and grossly hyped. No, don’t think for even one moment that I don’t believe Ratan Tata or Siddhartha Mukherjee are not successful. Of course they are! What I find troublesome is that we don’t look at success in other areas.

Confused? No? Good (in which case you can stop reading right here). Yes? Well, I was pretty lost till I gave this some hard thought. Success thrives where you look for it. Where you stretch beyond your own capacity, fight with all your strength and emerge victorious.

You might ask, “If I decide to quit smoking and I manage it in say a month’s time, am I successful?” You damn well are! Ditto for the person who has managed to be fit, healthy and disease-free at 75 years of age or the person who made a New Year’s resolution to spend more time with his family and managed to do it. These are concrete, real-life examples of success in daily life.

Someone I know expounded ‘The Ladder Theory’ to me. The theory has 2 main pillars:

a) However much success you amass, never ever be happy with it otherwise you’ll never grow.

b) Hence one must keep climbing the ladder of success forever.

At a very basic impulse-driven level, the theory has truism but at a thought-driven level it makes for great gibberish. For starters, it doesn’t take into account the fact that every ladder leads to a new level and that beyond a certain level (the highest being the tip of the Burj Khalifa as I write this) there is empty space. So, sooner or later you’re so high up that you’ve left everything else in life way below (because not everything can make or wants to make that seemingly godlike ascent). Also, what kind of success related theory advises one to never be happy (because satisfaction is the greatest enemy of growth)? I can rattle off another 10 reasons why I find ‘The Ladder Theory’ to be simplistic but I’d rather stop here.

Success, like happiness is a state of mind. Different for different people. No more no less. Break free from the delusion that you have to prove yourself to anyone, except yourself. Sure, success won’t come easy and it has to be earned (just like a Bournville 😛 ) but that doesn’t mean that it’s beyond the reach of the common man – You and I.

The irony called Goafest

It is touted to be the Indian version of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The Mecca for creative inspiration for advertising in India. A hot-spot for headhunters for creative jobs. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about Goafest.

Owing to a sizeable amount of decent work all of last year, I got a chance to go to Goafest 2012 with my colleagues this year. From what I hear our agency went to Goafest for 3 years and then stopped suddenly! Sources say the take-back was very less as compared to the expense. It took quite a bit of collective cajoling the boss for us to go this year.

So, there we were at Zuri White Sands Resort in South Goa. Dressed in our best summer clothes and doused in sunscreen. Eager to soak in some of the best creative ideas on display, attend some inspiring seminars and partake in uninhibited work cum fun for 2 days. Goafest proved to be everything that I’d read about it. I saw some of the most brilliant yet simple ideas and attended seminars which served as guidelines for the future of advertising. And the shutter-happy photographer in me refused to not snap anything interesting in view…from great work, to super-hot scantily clad women and even the upside-down Google Beach House.

I must admit I took back a lot from the entire experience. It was more idea-inspiring than awe-inspiring. Though like every young creative advertising professional in India, even I took a second look when I saw Piyush Pandey, Abhijit Avasthi, Sonal Dabral, Amit Akali, Malvika Mehra, K.V.Sridhar, Agnello Dias, Santosh Padhi among many other industry titans – the very faces of Indian advertising creativity to the world.

Despite all the learning, beautiful women, booze flowing, great food…I still felt there was a disconnect somewhere. Was this platform, this conclave as it was branded, only for awarding great creative work and attending seminars by great speakers? On a personal note, I feel it presented many more ‘active’ opportunities to have one-big-never-ending-beach-party rather than ‘active’ opportunities to learn. The seminars and work displayed is passive learning at best. I really feel amidst all the other activities, mini-events, games, seminars, etc., they should have included a few workshops for the less-exposed, goggle-eyed junta. It would’ve been the perfect sealant to make Goafest a must-visit, for the future minds of Indian advertising.