On Originality

All creativity is a derivation. Recycled and rearranged stimuli. Our identity is a product of our memory, isn’t it? You are what you remember of yourself. Your world is a projection that stems from within yourself – inside out. You breathe in stimuli, form your perceptions of the world and then act it out. This prompts me to ask a bigger, deeper question. Which part of it is original? What is original to every human being? Or the other way around, what makes original creations, original?

Answer: The creator’s subjective experience of life.

That, my friends, is why we cannot have another Van Gogh. Or another you. Or another me. It’s why the way I felt (curious) looking at a delicate red poppy at 5 years of age on a summer afternoon in the UK, the cold breeze biting at my face, can only be known to me, live with me and die with me. It can only be immortalized (through approximation), by way of my creative expression alone.

It’s why you could replicate a Van Gogh but never be a Van Gogh. An original can only be replicated, not recreated. Creation is a singular point of infinitude – an origin. Like the Big Bang. Just like you can set a piece of paper afire by concentrating sun rays using a magnifying glass, everything that you are comes to a head. It’s why I feel, a true artist, while greater than his art, cannot be divorced from it. What I mean by infinitude – infinite potential – is that, there is no telling what can come into being. Who is to say that the sky is the limit? That’s how I imagine it. To me, this comes close to the concept of “singularity” in physics.

Google: “Singularity is a point at which a function takes an infinite value, especially in space–time when matter is infinitely dense, such as at the centre of a black hole”. There is an answer on Quora for the question “Is God a singularity? – “Yes, in a sense, God (or whatever name we may put to it) could be considered as a singularity. Everything rises from, ends in and remains all the time in a singularity. The seed, the process, the manifestation and the ceding, is all a part of one entity – the Self.” Wikipedia says – “Some sources described singularitarianism as a moral philosophy that advocates deliberate action to bring about and steer the development of a superintelligence that will lead to a theoretical future point that emerges during a time of accelerated change”.

What I interpret from this is, original creations call forth our superintelligence and leave the world better off. This applies to all original art, period. Original style. Original thought. Original work.

The word O R I G I N A L has the word “origin” in it. Originality has its origin in itself.

Anything truly original often threatens to upend all in its wake. But the same force that destroys is the force that creates and so here today, we are. It is from the chaos that creative order seems to emerge. It is for this reason that we owe it to ourselves to retain our originality and give it the space it commands. We owe it to ourselves to, do what only we can do, make what only we can make and be the person only we can be. It’s why if you figure out your calling, you must be the one to carry it out. You cannot outsource it. You must rise to be what only you can be, as a force of positive change in this world. So, write that book. Make that art. Bake that dish. Take that responsibility. And remember, “If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced”. – Vincent Van Gogh.

Do what only you can do. Make what only you can make. Be the person only you can be.

I get a feeling that this is a path of no return. Cognitive dissonance – the conflict between who we are and what we do, is not only maddening, it is deceitful, untruthful with oneself. And I’d like to think, personal integrity counts for something. After all, one major factor of differentiation between us and animals is that we have a conscience. If you’re living a lie, you could have the whole world fooled. But as you go to bed with yourself, head sinking into the pillow, internal systems getting ready to shut down (or not), somewhere, deep down, you’d know. You know. And it causes you immense sorrow to live a lie. It is in this way, that I feel originality is intertwined with personal integrity and self-respect.

Besides, there is sheer joy in making something your own. Adding your sparkle, some madness, which only you can think of. If you hate something, look for a way in which you can enjoy it. Often this means working with yourself rather than against yourself. Negotiating with yourself rather than forcing yourself. Spending time with the things you dread, looking them in the eye, and asking – what can I make of you today? It means being honest with yourself about who you are. What are your quirks? What do you bring to the table? To explore oneself is a lifelong romance. It is the exploration that leads to love. Which is why Oscar Wilde’s version reads “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance!.”

Don’t aspire to be a copy. Take the best bits of the world. Make them your own. Add something original.

Even if you use the same recipe and bake the same cake, add your own icing.

Sprinkle a little “you” in there.

Only you can do that.

On Love, Fear and Sorrow

Suffering needs to be validated.

We don’t always trust ourselves or know what to make of things. “Am I crazy? Is it normal to feel this way? Has anyone ever faced this before?”. Is it any wonder that so many of us turn to the internet as our de-facto God? That Jordan Peterson is referred to as the father of the fatherless generation? There is much to be understood from one’s internet search history – it would reveal our interests.

What is the source of all sorrow? all stress? all fear? We seek certainty. Control. And life is inherently uncertain. The only thing certain about it is death. We desperately try to hold onto something, latching onto it with our nails, till it hurts, only to discover that life is fluid intelligence and cannot be tamed. The more you want something, the more you are afraid of losing it. Where there is fear, there cannot be love. All our destructive tendencies stem from fear. What is anger? Unresolved pain.

Sorrows are cobwebs that crowd the attics of our minds. To be cleared, we need to air the room first. Open the windows, let in the light. Then once we see them, we can clear them out. It may either require simple dusting, hopping onto a stool to reach difficult places, using a vacuum because our back hurts. The tools can be looked into. There is no fixed manual to this. I read somewhere that “only broken products have manuals.” So, we aren’t broken, we just haven’t mastered our minds. There is nothing wrong with the piano, we just don’t know how to play it yet, to produce half-decent sounds in harmony with each other. This also implies that there is room for creativity and experimentation, based on how we use the product (our intelligence, in this case).

In practical life, airing the attic means expressing how we feel, in some form. It can be talking, writing, reading, or making art. It is meditation – giving freedom to our thoughts. This is not the same as distracting oneself. It means to stop running away. It means unfiltered honesty. Vulnerability.

To change something, we need to accept it first. Suffering demands acceptance before transcendence. To us, it’s real, isn’t it? “What can we do?” comes after “what is it”? Problem-solving follows problem identification. Also, is there a problem in the first place? Is it avoidable suffering? Or is it unavoidable grief (such as the death of a loved one) that must be processed and made peace with? We need to understand the emotion first, then we can poke it, challenge it, transform it. Flip the narrative.

We have an inner voice – that of our conscience. If it feels like something is amiss, whether or not it is, is the second question. To know that, we first need to delve into it. We notice that things are amiss because we are intelligent. We can’t hear our voice if we are constantly listening to that of others, being bombarded by external stimuli. This is why many people claim more inner peace once they reduce their social media usage.

We could have the world fooled but we’d know. We’d suffer in silence. What good does that do to anyone?

To resolve the chaos in our heads, we need to first lay it all out. Spew out the venom, then clean the wound. Then we hope to find enough order, to resolve it bit by bit. Life is complicated and there can be several problems, all at once. Gamification is a good idea. We judge ourselves by our intentions. It follows that we can allow ourselves to feel better by simply setting an intention of making things better for ourselves, and by extension, for others. That’s the path to self-respect.

Although to each one, life is a first-person, single-player video game, with us as the main character and in the driver’s seat, it has no meaning without all the other characters – there’s no story. Man is a social animal and our existence is in relationship with each other and with nature. It is good to spend some time by ourselves, we should know how to do that, be by ourselves. Also, introverts naturally withdraw for a while, to regain lost energy in social interactions. But, often when mentally weak, isolation is a go-to. At such times, our world view can be distorted and we need something to gently nudge it towards different possibilities. It is especially important at such times for us to be surrounded by kind, validating, sensible people. These could also be book characters or tv personalities, but sometimes in-person interaction might be required. Isolation can backfire if done for the wrong reasons. We are forced to confront our weaknesses in interaction with other people. It’s how we grow and get better. We should try not to isolate ourselves, but rather regain our energy and engage.

One way to find good listeners is to become such a person ourselves, even for our thoughts. Redirection of thoughts and feelings is different from the rejection of them. The latter rarely achieves anything. This is also why, a judgmental or prescriptive approach or fixing someone else’s problems for them, are incomplete methods. Autonomy ought to be preserved (we like being in control, remember?). Also, we don’t need an echo chamber filled with confirmation bias. We need a safe space to hash it all out – different ideas and thoughts.

To look at suffering in the eye, accept it with all its ugly, irrationality, comedy – takes courage, patience and compassion. It takes love.

We don’t always have to have a conversation. Sometimes, just silent presence and observation is everything. It is when one is suffering that one needs to be held and accepted with that suffering, that fragility, that imperfection that characterizes all human beings. This does not mean we should become habituated to that suffering. But it does mean that there is no roundabout shortcut of getting past it. The only way through is through. Distraction is a temporary solution.

Every time you act authentic, you extend compassion, stretch your hand out to another, share the burden of what it means to be human, you embolden other people to do the same.

Every time we are honest with ourselves, we gain the ability to better support others. “When I understand myself, I understand you, and out of that understanding comes love.” – Jiddu Krishnamurthy. It is in this way that simply our existence and self conduct is a profoundly meaningful affair with real-life, real-time impact. You don’t need to be Elon Musk or make the next iPhone to make an impact on the world. You already are.

Also, the good thing about narratives is that they can be changed. This stems straight from their simplistic nature – they are the headings, not the body of the essay. All you have to do is change the title. Decide what colored light to throw on them, how you want to paint them. That would change how you come to view the entire story. But first, we start with step one.

The suffering needs to be validated.

The WHY

Question: Why do good and bad things take place across the world simultaneously?

Why is it that while some things go right, something always seems to go wrong?

Here’s my answer.

We know what light is, only in contrast with the dark. The reason we have both, good and bad things, is that you wouldn’t know what is good without the bad. Furthermore, on a long enough timeline, it may all be good. It’s what makes things special.

Although it does make us sad, the certainty of death gives meaning to life. 

Having the answers to questions like “why are we here?”, “What is the purpose of life?” and so on is a fallacy. If there was a definite answer, it wouldn’t remain special anymore! Having only good things happen to us, with life unfolding like our Pinterest mood board, would numb the brain and make us dull. Why? We’d be out of problems to solve and therefore, have no use for our brains! On the one hand, problems seem like “problems” but it is also true that we need some good ones to solve in our life. It’s what makes life meaningful for us – having something to do. Besides, having the answers to the big WHYs would not necessarily leave us better off. The mystery would dissipate. Worse still, even hope might (if it turns out that the reason for our existence is not so appetizing). And this is dangerous, considering that hope for a different tomorrow is what creates the will to live. 

Certainty leaves no room for possibility.

The possibility that we haven’t yet fully unlocked our potential gives us the incentive to try and push our boundaries. On a practical day to day basis though, we do need some certainty to cling to – for stability and hope. This could be the belief that “everything is figureoutable” as Marie Forleo proclaims, the art of paying attention to the present moment or having faith in your goodness.

“On a long enough timeline, everything goes to zero.” 

Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club)

“It turns out life isn’t a puzzle that can be solved one time and it’s done. You wake up every day, and you solve it again.”

 Chidi Anagonye (The Good Place)
The Good Place

Gender Sensitivity At Work

When I was working at Barclays as a Market Research Analyst, I attended a workshop on this topic. After the workshop, I summarized my thoughts on the topic for my teammates who couldn’t attend.

The mere mention of topics such as gender sensitivity, harassment, and gender roles makes some people feel uncomfortable.

The discomfort one may face does not give one the privilege to avoid it.

The world is evolving – the way we perceive, accept, treat, and uplift the various genders and orientations amongst us. These conversations allow us to adapt, reassess, and reaffirm our values, mindset, and behaviors towards others. Constructive conversations cast a light on the attics of our minds to clear out any sexist, regressive, patriarchal cobwebs.

You are not responsible for the past behavior of your ancestors and institutions. But you are responsible for the way you adapt and contribute to shaping the world, today.

The following is a list of takeaways from the discussion on gender sensitivity.

  1. Identifying incorrect behavior – The basis on which we are to identify harassment or bullying or any other incorrect behavior is whether the concerned person feels discomforted by certain actions. The accused does not get to decide whether the behavior was appropriate or not – if it discomforts someone, that’s enough reason to stop.
  2. The business case for hiring more women is cited but not understood or even known in many organizations. This makes the workplace less conducive for introducing something new that could help improve the situation – such as diversity quotas – which may not be perceived as a positive change by all. Here there is scope to debate equal opportunity and equal outcome but assume for now that the quota would be beneficial to all.
  3. Workplace benefits for women such as maternity leave are not a privilege. Ideally, gender agnostic policies should be introduced so that this point is reinforced.
  4. Make the environment conducive for communication – all the #metoos of the world would have felt more comfortable sounding the alarm right away, had the environment in their organizations allowed them to do so, without risk of backfire.
  5. Keep the conversation going. The way to create a conducive environment is to talk about it.
  6. At the workplace, men need not worry about false claims against them since due process and investigation reveals the truth. For eg., we cannot justify isolating or treating females differently out of fear that a #metoo tweet might follow an ordinary interaction. Be normal.
  7. Maintain consistency in behavior with all. Don’t ask a female if she needs to leave early because she has kids to take care of, if you wouldn’t ask that to a man.
  8. Remember that men also face abuse, harassment and all other evils of human nature just like women do. No matter what your gender, you can speak up when you feel uncomfortable.
  9. If you feel uncomfortable, first consider talking to that person making you feel that way. The next resort is your line manager or HR.
  10. You do not need the victim’s consent to report inappropriate behavior at the workplace if you have observed it. You must report it because tomorrow, the same thing might happen to you or someone else.

Making our workplace a safe and happy one is up to us.

Keep the conversation going. Agreed?

Slam Poetry – Pandemic 2020


This is my open slam poetry on the global pandemic. I wrote this for a talent showcase event when I was working as a Market Risk Analyst at Barclays. This poem was then published in their International Risk newsletter.

….

Working from home is no joke. With equally confused caretakers, we face an unprecedented, hard time, dealing with difficult twins – a sweeping virus spreading with the ferocity of spilled ink on a piece of paper and a declining global economy – whatever that means!. Both these things are difficult to measure and comprehend, much less predict. Both are so large and unruly, seemingly untamable by nature sometimes, that we struggle to comprehend them in their entirety.

Statistics, articles, news segments – all loudly proclaim that life will now never be the same. But the how and the what and the when – all the WH questions – unanswered they remain.

Relentless in their pursuit of certainty, some refresh their news feed more than they blink their eyes.

I think we humans have an addiction to certainty, we are trying to find answers, some of which, have the accuracy of a chimpanzee throwing darts in the dark. If there is one thing that we know for certain about the pandemic, it is that maybe we know nothing. And even if we could see the trade-offs clearly, would we know what is the best, ethical and appropriate course of action to pursue then?

Pursuing certainty just masks your insecurities, it’s just another high. Pursuing uncertainty makes you humble and prepared.

So how about we let of the obsession, the incessant need to know, the mental fight. Focus on our loved ones while we deal with our altered perception of time. Make a simplified routine your God and some quiet time your best friend, for we may be in this for a long haul. Take this time to do all the things you wish you had.

Mend broken relationships, read that book you never opened, write that book you never did.

Assume the worst. Mentally prepare.

Acceptance will give you more strength than denial ever has.

At the same time, don’t give up hope.

“Hope is a good thing, may be the best of things and no good thing ever dies”.

Shawshank Redemption


Also, “happiness can be found in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light”.

Harry Potter

Thank you.

Watching the world go by.

It seems so simple, the act of watching the world go by from a window. Yet it is the simplest of things that seem to hold abundant joy.

Every weekend, I take some time out to sit beside my window and just observe my surroundings. I enjoy the soft embrace of the sun rays on my face while their warmth fills up my soul. I feel the wind flutter through my hair and enter into the trance of my dancing plants. I begin to relax.

Let me share my observations and joy with you.

There is a man who helps his older friend to walk to and from the Gurudwara, holding his hand and matching his slower pace. This happens every week. I feel that that man is very blessed to have such a wonderful friend and wish that everyone gets to experience such a love-filled friendship.

My once nearly dead plant sprung to life the moment I began to tend to it. It seems that all it needed was a little leap of faith, some love and care. What would happen if we did the same for ourselves? Also, a tiny sapling has suddenly appeared and started growing on its own. A miracle.

When the national anthem in a nearby school began to play, a woman abruptly came to a halt and stood there, mid-street, till it was over. Other people continued towards their destination but this woman remained undeterred – an example of someone who does what feels right regardless of what others do. So inspiring and powerful!

Many happy things are taking place, you just have to look for them! Parents are out for a stroll, swinging their young child between them, a flute seller decided to give an impromptu performance while flower carts roll down towards the market. Friends are power walking together towards their fitness goals.

And little children are peeking out of the school window, looking at me while I write this. We are enjoying these moments together. I don’t want it to end.

Barbie Doll

I want to live in a new world
Where acceptance is the norm
Where I can be the unexpected
The ray of sunshine in a storm

I want to be able to talk
Walk, laugh and cry 
In whichever way it comforts me
As time skips me by

I could experience pain
Difficulties and dismay
But what I do not need
Is to be judged along the way

I should be allowed to be as simple
Or as complex as I may
Let me bundle myself up 
Or unravel like hay

I don’t want to worry
Of falling short of criteria
Of not meeting never ending wishes
Of perfection, his/her idea

I wanted to be told
That I am enough
That there was no need for alteration
No need to be smudged

I don’t want to be treated
Like a customisable barbie doll
Who needs to meet someone else’s standards
No matter what it is they want

Why can’t I be imperfect?
Why can’t I be average?
For whatever I possess 
I want to be loved regardless

I want to be accepted
Not compared or stereotyped
I demand full freedom of thought 
In love, life and choice

If you think I am a barbie doll
You should walk away
I am unapologetically
Going to be me from today

Now, whenever I shall ask myself
If being who I am is okay
I will tell myself unflinchingly
Darling, you are good enough in every way.

Thought Cocktail

– A Margarita of funky, unverified epiphanies experienced on random Sunday nights. Cheers!

1. Perfection only lies in perception ; both are subject to change.

2. The human mind is often compared to a calculator but every calculator has its own limitation, its own dependency – on the designer, operator or source of energy. 

3. An idle mind might be a devil’s workshop ; a full one, an overcrowded prison.

4. One who seems to have no worries, is assumed to be devoid of potential ; one who seems full of them, considered psycho.

5. Modernity is not a function of thinking. It is a primary function of action.

6. No competition is just about what you will win. Ask this question too – what will it cost to win?

7. Mortality is our biggest fear, only when we remember it.

8. It takes two people to start a relation, only one to begin love.

9. It is easier to climb a hill than balance on a tightrope.

10. One candle may be enough to light a room ; one star, not enough for the earth.

Love,

Sanika

Accounting Romance

Romance can be found in any domain.

DISCLAIMER : This article is a continuation of my “Types of Romance” article series (I have previously written the articles – Mathematical Romance and Financial Romance Part 1 and Part 2). So, kindly put your mind to rest and do not ask questions like who it has been written for!

1. You can be the credit to my debit ; the raw material to my work in progress ; the premium on my shares.

2. Our time spent together is my income and our phone calls, my expense. Let’s follow the Matching Principle forever. Accrue the love.

3. You are that fixed asset of mine, which can never lose any value.

4. I have made the assumption that you and I, together we are a Going Concern.

5. My heart is our Annual Report, please write good Love Notes to Accounts. 

6. May our Love Flow Statement always show a positive balance, with some love left over to carry forward each year.

7. I’m finding it difficult to record our transactions in the journal. How do I record your loving gaze? Your sweet little words?

8. You are the extraordinary event that has happened to me ; extremely material to disclose but impossible to quantify.

9. I audited your proposal and found you compliant with GAAP (Generally Accepted Adorable Proposals).

10. I want to buy your attention in bulk. Will I get a trade discount?

11. No matter how many trials we go through, I want us to be balanced.

12. You are my asset but not my liability. I prefer to say that, you are my asset and my responsibility.