Tuesday, April 9, 2013

It is not all gloomy

Being a careful man, Darwin made a list of the pros and cons of getting married before taking  a decision the matter. This nuptial Hamlet came up with an interesting list. In the same vein,  I thought I will make a list of all the pros and cons of suffering from a brain stem stroke. Since you are familiar with my cribs, I  will just list some positives(!) of the stroke:
  1. I don't have to be worried about being dooced.
  2. I am no longer on the hedonic treadmill. In the video, The Story of Stuff, is the statement that 'the purpose of advertisements is to make you feel unhappy with what you already have.' Most of the products in advertisements are of no use for me so I am indifferent to them.
  3. I don't have to make sense of a lot of management jargon.
  4. I don't have to worry about developing wallet neuropathy or getting itexticated.
  5. I don't have to squirm about how to excuse myself in case of tartles.
  6. I don't think about the right thing to say during a lift journey
  7. I don't have to be tense about becoming late for an appointment. (Punctuality is a peculiar obsession to have in a country where the Hindi word for yesterday and tomorrow are the same.)
  8. I don't have to keep breathing polluted air in traffic jams.
  9. It is said that in anger, you will make the best speech that you will regret. I can't make that speech.  In this video, Alain de Button says that one way to control anger is to reduce expectations. I manage it most of the time but sometimes I forget it since anger is an emotion ‘Which sometime hath his hour with every man’. (It mostly happens when the damn mobile phone rings at the wrong time for the umpteenth time.) There is always room for improvement.
  10. From this post, I got a quote by Henry Kissinger: : "The nice thing about being a celebrity is that when you bore people, they think it's their fault."I am no celebrity but I am often made to feel like one even though I don't do anything. I get to hear of exploits by me that I didn't know existed, helped along by the difficulty in communicating with me.
  11. There is no danger of the keyboard giving me a stomach upset.
  12. I don't have to wrestle with what to say when I have nothing to say.
  13. I don't have what Alain de Button called 'career anxiety' in this TED talk. So I don't have to be an alarmour and slog assickously on mind numbingly boring jobs in order to be in the rat race equilibrium. I see products like bottled water, perfumes, colas, hair gels, etc. and imagine smart, educated, over-paid executives strategise about how to make people buy more of these items. When I see ads like these, I wonder what the limit of triviality is. The image that comes to mind is Bertie Wooster's description of a particular scene in Very Good, Jeeves:                                                                                                                  
....the tableu would have looked rather like one of those advertisements you see in the magazines, where the experienced elder is patting the young man's arm, and saying to him ,'My boy, if you subscribe to the Mutt-Jeff Correspondence School of Osswego, Kan., as I did ,you may some day, like me, become Third Assistant Vice-President of the Schenectady Consolidated Nail-File and Eyebrow Tweezer Corporation.'
In this article about Obama, Michael Lewis writes:
” You also need to remove from your life the day-to-day problems that absorb most people for meaningful parts of their day. “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” he said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. “You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
I don't have the opportunity to waste time in trivialities especially since I am not a TV addict.  I have been able to read splendid books by authors like Carl Zimmer, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, etc., books that I would not have considered reading before the stroke. They liberated me from what Dawkins called the 'anaesthetic of familiarity'. As Marcel Proust said, "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."I also  have the time to read some famous fiction like The Great Gatsby.

In The Count of Monte Cristo, Dantes, while admiring the intricate contraptions that a fellow prisoner, Faria, had dreamt up during solitary confinement,wonders what all he might have been able to achieve if he had been free. Faria replies:
  "Possibly nothing at all; the overflow of my brain would probably, in a state of freedom, have evaporated in a thousand follies; misfortune is needed to bring to light the treasures of the human intellect. Compression is needed to explode gunpowder. Captivity has brought my mental faculties to a focus; and you are well aware that from the collision of clouds electricity is produced — from electricity, lightning, from lightning, illumination."
In this video, Alain de button talks about the 3 things that Epicurus considered more important than money for achieving happiness - friends, freedom and an analysed life. I have all 3 in abundance so things have worked out much better than I had expected in the months following my stroke. (Michael Sandel discusses the problems in measuring slippery concepts like life, happiness, etc. in monetary terms.)

PS: As a consequence of my stroke, I was able to watch every ball of unquestionably the greatest innings played in the history of Indian cricket - Laxman's 281 at the Eden Gardens. It was elegant, chanceless, came when India was down and almost out against the No. 1 team in the world which had two of the greatest bowlers in history in its ranks. It was an innings of style and substance that turned the match and series on its head. And of course, there was also the generally forgotten 180 by Rahul Dravid, my favourite cricketer of all time. I almost forgot that I had suffered a stroke. I once heard Jeffry Archer say, 'I hate T20 cricket. Cricket for me is Laxman and Dravid batting for the whole day against Australia.' I second that opinion.

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