Lateral Views: How HIGH can yours jump???

It seems our brain (including yours) have about 100 billion brain cells, which can result in 20 million billion calculations per second…The heck!!! No doubt life is complex. Also it kind of explains why we always wonder why someone changes his/her mind so quickly or why someone can think so differently or why some questions so much…etc…etc…

Anxious or nervous moments are part of our day to day life; waiting for results or uncomfortable silent moments when higher authority summons for some goof ups are commonplace. As an owner of such processing powers, mind tends to create situations or possible outcomes during those moments… you know various types of what ifs. Those passing thoughts do wreck the nerves bruised and battered. Irrespective of how much we try, it just doesn’t go, rather the harder we try the stickier it gets.   

Passing thoughts are fundamental and hence there is hardly anything one can do about it, it’s innate in us. However, if you take a 360 degree paradigm shift, those passing thoughts are not always sinister by design. In fact it plays an important role in creating those exhilarating or euphoric moments.

Just to simplify – You are still in school, you are caught not doing your homework and your headmistress (say Sister Chaantal) is the cruelest gift to students by God. Because your teacher was not in good mood, he decided to take you to BIG Sis C. Because your classroom is the farthest from Sis C crib, you have to take a long corridor walks, which unfortunately generates more spooky passing thoughts. Your mind reflects those narrations from some of your classmates who have experienced Sis C in her full form. It’s your first rendezvous, you are naïve in handling such situations and so the passing thoughts oozes out more because uncertainty gives broader horizon to create situations, things like the If’s, How’s, Where’s, et al. Somewhere something happened, Sis C was in worst form, it was a superfine morning for her, she lets you go scot free with a simple dose of “doing homework makes Johnny a better person”…and the evening bell just tolled. Bingo!!! The exhilaration reached roof top; the sense of vindication was overwhelming, the level of euphoria was never before experienced.       

Now, would a student for whom going to Sis C was a daily chores would have the same exhilaration like yours because he went scot free this time? I doubt so; it’ll not be more than just a flicking off some dust from the shoulder.   

How does this thingy work then???

The other day I had a random discussion with a mate on why different people experience different degree of happiness. His explanation though physics in fundamental, seems to fit this phenomenon. According to him, the flow of human state of mind is like waves, which has a trough (the low) and a crest (the high) with equi-distance jump and rhythm in alternate. The more the depth of the trough, the higher the crest and hence if your low is very depressed then the level of elevation will also be very high. A simple pictorial representation will look something like this –    

The upward dotted arrow in the above pictures denotes the level of exhilaration you will get and the vice versa for the downward arrow.

Coming back to our hypothetical anecdote – While you were corridor walking, your state of mind was at rock bottom, so when Sis C let you scot free, the mind jumps to the crest travelling same distance as when it was low because the level of exhilaration or euphoria depends on the distance between the crest and trough. Now let’s take the case of the other student for whom going to Sis C is a daily chores, the wave would be much flatter. The distance between the crest and trough will be almost touching and hence there is hardly any jump in his state of mind resulting in mild or minimal exhilaration.      

Therefore, there is no drawback in dramatizing things or there is nothing wrong if your are those anxious or nervous freaks who doesn’t need a nail clipper. Because going by our principal, those pure moments of bliss tends to belong to such jumpy beings. Instead if you are those play it cool types, then maybe you will never experience those “HIGH” moments. Those Mr. Cools are not necessarily the most fun people from inside, they may be devoid of anxiety but they are also devoid of exhilaration…What good is life if you can’t experience those moment of Nitro Shots!!! What good is life if the maximum you can produce is just a smile and not those thundering laughter???

However, the caveat is that we cannot consciously control this flow of wave even though it is generated from our mind, because it is embedded in our subconscious, which occupies larger part of our mind share than the conscious. The unfortunate script is that this two brother “The Conscious & The Subconscious” has a big communication gap.

Nevertheless, moral of the story is, “in sadness also lies happiness”…

Shallom & Blessed Sunday!!!


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Lateral Views: Fast & Furious Five and the offshoot!!!

It was after a hiatus of about 4 months from movie hall (even I don’t know why the hiatus in the first place), walked down to PVR for Fast & Furious Five all by myself…The AQ (adrenaline quotient) of the movie was smack-down, beautiful cars running real fast, sporadic scene of nice samba chicks, actions that tossed you up and down throughout the movie, it was one hell of a movie ride, 100% PAISA VASOOL stuff…

Incidentally the way back home was drive back in my car. Stepping on the accelerator and hitting the tarmac was easy as the mall was by the highway, reaching 90 KM/hr was even easier, at least today…maybe hangover or still lost in transition from RIO to AHMEDABAD…The empty smooth highway with newly finished flyover do help, however got woken up by the wobble of my girl, the steering wheel vibrated conspicuously unlike in 2004 when I hit 140 mark with the same old girl but without a flicker. By the way she is a 6 years old Santro, wagoned around the country every 2nd year…Bangalore-Hyderabad-Bangalore-Mumbai and now Ahmedabad…For good or bad, somewhere the moment spin-off two thoughts –

  1. I really need a new car now and I’ve postponed enough already
  2. I can be such a child or movie can really hit me on

I will work on the first point tomorrow when I’m in office…Coming to the second one –

I don’t call myself movie buff/junkie, for the sheer reasons that I don’t watch too much or do I get the self urge to run to movie hall every Friday or do I suggest/initiate for movie plan among my flock. I most of the time would trade-off for a drinking session or maybe a sweat out or even just completing household chores or worst of all cost-cutting…However, there seem to be lot of symptoms which the wobble had wobbled out –

  • I’ve never walked out of any movie irrespective of which one, even on laptos. Testimonials – I’ve completed the entire run of “Ramgopal Verma ki Aag” or for that matter the recent “Tees Mar Khan” in one stretch and all by myself…
  • Reaching a movie hall even a split second after the movie started is one of my most irritants of life…I would rather skip it for the next show or some other day
  • I don’t watch horror movies even now (even at the brink of menopause age)…it just gives me uncomfortable nights!!!

Also, movie do really haunt me for sometime…though the haunting was more severe in those polka dot days, when emotions where much deeper and thicker. I still remember in my Delhi days, the movie Titanic stayed onto me for atleast the next 40/60 days, I kept on thinking about Rose Dawson, what would have been her life in America without Jack and without going back to her mom or fiancé (I was aware of then that those characters were scripted)…Infact I kept those Priya ticket for souvenir for years…hahaha!!! Movie for sure is a great transporter from our real hectic world, even though for a short period.

Well about the movie, it’s a decent flick irrespective of how much would those critics have rated it…The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) did bring new freshness. Go watch it even all by your self.



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Lateral Views: The King’s Speech – A parallel

The content of the King’s Speech is about the declaration of World War by His Majesty King George VI to his subject on AIR. While the speech per se was some run of the mill, formality…The story and journey captured in the movie has some real profound context. Though it sounds a boring English drama, but I’m sure most people will relate to it because of the parallel that can be drawn in our ordinary day-to-day life…The movie actually trigger some thoughts, though might not have real connections with the King’s journey…

I always have this incapability of trying to bridge the virtual and reality within me, in my head to be specific –

  • The virtual meaning what I conceived in my head of the planning/execution of a task or job, before the event really happened, e.g. The envisaging of how I would pull off a review, presentation, or make some public speech after preparing and all due diligence…


  • The real thing which is what actually happened in the open real practical world.

In most occasions (post the event), I mostly end up cursing myself as to how I could not pulled off exactly the way I have rehearsed or planned in the VIRTUAL space. This will keep on hunting me for quite sometime. A huge regret or remorse for two main reasons –

  • It questions my capability which I don’t buy…The fact that I can pre-planned and perfectly rehearsed with all preparations proves my tactical and thinking capability.
  • The second reason, because others can only see what was presented and which to me is not good enough reason for them to discount me and brand me something lower than what I think of my self.

I keep thinking why actions in the VIRTUAL space is hardly the same with the REALITY space (We are not talking about instances where surprises spring up or there are external uncontrollable factors…but we are talking about the normal situations)…I mean, when you already know and have all the important facts, basis which you prepare or rehearse or simulate in the virtual space, why is it that those words just stopped at the D-hour, or why is it that you can’t answer those simple questions which you rehearse again and again just sometime back or why is it that others  who are unprepared can articulate louder than you, I mean you are the one who is the prepared one?

I haven’t found the root cause or the solutions, however some preliminary suspicion or hypothesis:

  • In the virtual world we are the HERO in the setting, the audience are never intimidating, when we speak everyone listen and everyone understand the context in which we talk, everything we blurted out make the best logical sense…and hence happy ending…huh?
  • However, in reality the audiences suddenly become more important…Hence you try to meet their expectation which was not what you have prepared for and hence it builds pressure in our system and finally succumbs to it.

Relating it back to the movie – The speech therapist said “I’ve never know anyone who is born a stammer”…I guess that kind of sums up, which is that conditioning forced people to stammered and not the genes. The therapist asked The King to read while putting a headphone with loud music on, the King could perfectly read without a single fumble. Also it was seen that the King doesn’t stammer when he sings or swears and most importantly the King talks perfectly fine when he talks to himself or when he thinks. The commonality in all the above conditions are that the King is sterilize from REALITY – When the surroundings are with full volume sound, he can’t even hear himself, and hence the self consciousness of people observing ceases, when he swears he doesn’t care what’s happening around because he is in anger, when he sings he does it for himself so he never has to care about other expectations…

Ending thought – Somewhere, sometimes, not for arrogance, it make sense to give a damn to others and for this you have to be prepared and what you’ve got should be the right one…!!!

P.S. – As far as the movie goes, it’s a bit slow; the screenplay is real, the acting are real and fine…Highly recommended to the more serious movie buffs and in fact it can be motivation to some…!!! BUT, not at all Bollywood Masala…!!!


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New Year Resolutions

The first page of three leading dailies in Mumbai (Hindustan Times, Times of India and DNA) on 31st December and 1st January carried an advertisement by Nicorette- a gum which helps quit smoking. Its no rocket science why Nicorette would spend so much money on prime advertising property.

This is the time of the year when everyone is keeping resolutions. And we can safely assume being fit, quit smoking, spend more time with family, get organised, quit drinking and weight reduction must be the top few resolutions we all make. Equally predictable is the fact that only 30 % of the people are able to sustain their resolutions for a period of more than two weeks. We have too much faith in our willpower and assume that when faced with the situation when we have to take a few tough decisions, our willpower will see us through.  We fail to realise that our decision making process while we are making the resolution is very different from when we are tempted to break it. We all give in to instant gratification and perhaps as Oscar Wilde observed – The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself.

So we are not the only ones who have lost a couple of thousand bucks on the gym fees which we never attended or got back to our drinking/ smoking habits in moments of stress. And while there are tips available on how to keep your resolution like setting specific incremental goals, starting with smalls goals, sharing your resolutions, writing your resolutions down in an expensive diary ( yes, apparently expensive is important ) we do end up goofing up.

Recent study by psychologist on why we are not able to manage resolutions so well has a different take. And things which we take for granted including our everyday stress, fatigue and our desire to manage everyday life events like job, friends, family  has an important role to play in how we make decisions ,whether we succumb to gratification or not and hence manage to keep those resolutions.

In one of the experiments participants were asked to memorise a seven digit number while few others were asked to memorize a two digit number. Obviously memorizing a seven digit number is more mentally challenging than the two digit number and hence when the same subjects were later given a choice between eating a delicious piece of chocolate cake or a healthy fruit salad, those who had memorized seven digits were more likely to choose the cake, suggesting their brains were too fatigued to curb the desire for instant gratification.

Sue Shellenberger (who writes for the Wall Street Journal) in her article -Train Your Brain to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions very nicely explains why and how we might miss those resolutions.

“Juggling children, jobs, marriages and housework seems far more stressful to me than trying to memorize a seven-digit number. It stands to reason, then, that jugglers might have plenty of trouble keeping resolutions. Reducing stress in other areas of life sharply increases your chances of keeping a resolution, experts say, though that’s easier said than done. But it’s also possible to train other parts of the brain responsible for linking positive emotions to new habits, and conditioning yourself to new behaviors.”

She interviews behavioural experts who  say that willpower sprouts from a part of the brain located in the prefrontal cortex that is often overwhelmed and gets “pooped”. Thus, they recommend training parts of the brain to link positive feelings to desired habits and conditioning ourselves to perform these new behaviours.

For me all this discussion comes to this – Keeping to the New Year resolution is never easy. Hence choose fewer resolutions and do not just rely on will power. Like most things in life even achieving the new year resolution is a process. For example if you want to quit smoking, resolving to quit is just one part. Managing lifestyle changes like stress at work, getting alternative cessation aids, using negative and positive reinforcements (smoking causes cancer – negative reinforcement, you felt good the last time you had an urge and did not smoke – positive reinforcement ) and most importantly discussing and letting others know about your resolution are important steps towards keeping that new year resolution.

Happy New year


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Good Old Kolkata

Being a Bengali I find it very difficult to explain my inadequacy of knowing Kolkata as a city. Having studied in Delhi and now working in Mumbai, I can at least give a passing commentary of what to do and where to go in these two metros. Kolkata on the other hand I am getting to know only in Instalments. So this week when I visited my friend’s wedding, I updated myself some more about Kolkata.
At first glance it looks like Kolkata is stuck in a time warp. Not so much in the development or the infrastructure point of view but more from the behaviour of the people. And for someone like me who has stayed in the other metros, it can be quite unsettling. The last time I went for a movie in one of the multiplex, I was surprised that the movie hall during the interval got transformed into a second class railway coach with hawkers peddling their food items with full glee. I was thoroughly amused. I did not have to be from a different country to crash land into the unique culture of Kolkata. Kolkata is different from the other metros and I shed my sophisticated corporate propriety and watched with amusement at the food fest.
Today I visited College Street for the first time. And walking around the hallowed institutions which have produced so many men and women of arts and science, I could not stop comparing the two campuses – Kolkata and Delhi University. The two campuses are more different that similar. College Street is crowded, Delhi University is expansive. Yet walking through the lanes and by lanes of College Street area, with rows and rows of books store, I kept on wondering how long will Kolkata be able to hold on to history. I was both happy and anxious. Happy-that the city has retained its old cultural identity and quirkiness. Anxious, if it can withstand the ruthless onslaught of time or get transformed into a relic which people will visit only to soak in history and heritage.


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The Calligraphed Poetry Book

Every time I write after a long hiatus, I feel guilty and helpless. Guilty of not being able to write with the same passion and purpose that I did a year back. And helpless with the feeling of a writer’s block-even before I have written anything.

There are a few thoughts which I want to write on in the coming month or so.  I recently read – The difficulty of being good by Gurcharan Das. It is an interesting premise and I was wondering if being successful and being good can co-exist. But all this I will expound at a latter point of time.

Similarly reading Gandhi’s – Experiments with truth, made me wonder on the costs of success. Gandhi has been successful in public service but the delivery of household service to his wife and children is questionable.  I tried reading experiments with truth some ten years back but did not enjoy reading it and gave it up mid way. Now I picked up the book in a more conscious attempt to understand Gandhi – the person. The honest description of his thoughts, actions and most important his multiple experiments with vegetarianism, unshakeable faith in God, experiments in Brahmacharya are a window to understand the steel resolve of the person. A friend recently pointed out that all ‘ great men ‘ have screwed up personal life. The dogmatic pursuit of their belief makes them succeed in one and fail in another. All this again for a much latter date.

This time I will write about something which fascinated me.  I have always felt passionately for the hundreds of men and women who are able to transcend work from a normal activity to a more devotional form. May be because I never thought of my job in a similar fashion and am always in awe for someone who can.  A month back Krishnan Narayan caught the fancy of the nation with his kitchen which feeds the destitute in Madurai -

This week an obituary caught my fancy. I read about Purushottam Lal in two editorials and started researching about him. The love and the fondness with which everyone wrote about him made me yearn to know more about him.

A Blog carried this excellent introduction to P Lal-

In the homes of Indian writers of a certain generation, there’ll always be the Writers Workshop shelf, given over to hand-bound books, the cloth borders taken from Orissa saris, the title often hand-calligraphed. You don’t find them in bookstores that often these days, but there was a time when Writers Workshop represented, in effect, the sum total of the aspirations of Indians writing in English.

Professor P Lal, the man behind Writers Workshop, and perhaps the last of the dying breed of “gentleman publishers”, died this weekend at the age of 81 in Calcutta, where he had lived and worked most of his life. In the fifty years since he had started Writers Workshop, Indian publishing had changed beyond recognition. There were now a multitude of publishing houses, literary festivals, book launches—all the infrastructure that was missing when he and a group of friends began Writers Workshop.

< more can be read from the hyperlink above >

The Economist also carried an obituary of Prof Lal. What of course fascinated me was the pure dedication and devotion with which each book was carved out, right from the elaborate cover to the calligraphed inner pages. I am definitely going to look out for one these when I visit Kolkata next.


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More is Less

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar was one of those books which Crossword promoted heavily. There were at least a few dozen of them stacked right next to the door. I have a tendency to avoid such pompous promotions ( Sheena Iyengar has an explanation for this -I am trying to establish my individuality through my choice). As it turns out the book is not just any marketing book; it is the outcome of a series of researches by the author and very interesting and insightful.

Sheena Iyengar is famous for her Jam experiment which proved beyond doubt the complexity involved in dealing with too much choice. The experiment goes on some thing like this.

There are two experimental scenarios – One where there are 6 different flavors of jam and another where there are 24 different flavors of jam and the experimenter looked at 2 things.  First, in what case were people more likely to buy a jar of jam? The first thing, in what case were people more likely to be attracted to the jar or jam, so in which case are people more likely to stop when they saw the display of jams

The results are interesting. More people stopped when there were 24 jams.  About 60% of the people stopped when there was 24 jams on display and when there was 6 different flavors of jam out on display only 40% of the people actually stopped, so more people were clearly attracted to the larger varieties of options, but then when it came down to buying, the results were very different. Out of the people who stopped when there were 24 different flavors of jam out on display only 3% of them actually bought a jar of jam whereas of the people who stopped when there were 6 different flavors of jam 30% of them actually bought a jar of jam.  Hence people were actually 6 times more likely to buy a jar of jam if they had encountered 6 than if they encountered 24. While people were more attracted to having more options, that’s what sort of got them in the door or got them to think about jam, when it came to choosing time they were actually less likely to make a choice if they had more to choose from than if they had fewer to choose from.

The above experiment ended up starting an entire area of research where the author began to look at “Why is that?”

Sheena explains -And a large part of that has to do with the fact that when people have a lot of options to choose from they don’t know how to tell them apart.  They don’t know how to keep track of them.  They start asking themselves “Well which one is the best? Which one would be good for me?” And all those questions are much easier to ask if you’re choosing from six than when you’re choosing from 24 and if you look at the marketplace today most often we have a lot more than 24 of things to choose from.  And what we found over about, say, 10 years of research is that as the number of choices actually increase people are less likely to make a choice and sometimes they do this even when it’s really bad for them.  Like, people are less likely to invest in their retirement when they have more options in their 401K plans than when they have fewer.

What I found really interesting is her triangle of individuality, freedom and choice .  In a society where we try to exhibit our individuality/ identity through our choice, our choices are also determined by the meaning we give them. And then with culture thrown in, choice does become a psychologist pet subject.


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