The task was simple that evening, many years ago. We were four classmates beginning a new chapter in our lives: out of home, first job, new city, new apartment and the world to conquer. Two of us had to go get a trash bin for the house. The shop wasn’t far away and I wouldn’t complain anyway since this guy is quite a talker. He can explain the planets and cosmos while in the same breath turn philosophical or venture into the weird ways of the human mind. He once asked me, “think, what if you vanish one day and no one in this world remebered you”. We start walking the 300 metres to the bazaar. We see a small temple on the side of the road and he beings to wonder why religions exist in this world. I try to tell him we better hurry up before it rains.
The small road leads to the bigger road at the intersection. We only had to cross the signal to get to the home furnishing shop. But then we see this new music shop crop up on our left and we walk right into it. This guy had introduced the western pop genre to me. And as someone used to listening mainly south Indian film music, the name savage garden sounded more like a filthy place full of violent beasts than a music album (until I fell in love with the animal song). With a couple of new music cassettes (it was 1999; CDs will come much later) as we started walking back home, we both realized our folly. We started telling each other how stupid it felt to be forgetful and wandering away from the simplest task of buying a waste bin . We discussed the root causes while at the same time began fearing the ridicule from the other two waiting for us.
Why do we forget things and miss out on simple tasks or goals? Are we not serious enough? I am not even talking about life changing goals. Simple tasks that doesn’t need much thinking or planning. The office receptionist was laughing at me the other day, while making alternative arrangements as I had lost my id card and car park access card on consecutive days. I still don’t know where I kept them but I do recollect the thought stream in which I was drowned in during those days.
Life as a tourist:
Nassim Taleb has popularised the french word flâneur which loosely means wandering, idling or being explorative. It describes a tourist (who does not have a fixed itinerary) as opposed to a tour guide (who has mapped out a plan). Taleb explains the need to have a variety of options in life, career etc., so that you can take decisions opportunistically at every step, revising schedules or changing destinations. In the words of Yogi Berra “if you don’t know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else.” What if “somewhere else” turns to be more interesting and lucky?
I feel strange when people talk about a one-year goal, three-year vision, five-year target etc. I never thought I would be in an IT job even a year before joining my first job when I was only worried about getting good grades in the electronics degree. You have no clue where you going most of the time but you usually have some sense of direction. I used to be quite stressed out about not being able to control the outcomes and worry about slipping away from the “plan”. These days, I only keep a view on the high level goals and leave the steps to its own dynamics.
It feels like freedom as I go unstructured and unplanned once in a while, loosing myself into the world of new information, people, random corridor conversations, unexpected outcomes etc. It is OK since it feels more human and real. There is a parable about a guru teaching his disciple about methods of focussing the mind. He hands him a lamp brimming with oil that could spill if shaken even a tiny bit, and instructs him to walk around the temple. When the student succeeds at the daunting task, the guru asks him if he had a chance to marvel at the scenery: chirping of the birds in the tree, the smell of fresh flowers in the pond or the aesthetics of the temple. The student blinks as the guru points out the ultimate skill: the need to experience the world around as we focus on the task at hand.
But 19 years ago, as my friend and I were walking on a road to buy a trash bin, we didn’t have to carry an oil lamp. As we were talking, we soaked-in the sights, smells and the sounds and lost ourselves in them. The trash bin remained in the shop.
The other two roomies couldn’t control their laughter as we narrated our yet another failure to “get things done”. We told them how much we had been cursing at ourselves for being so absent-minded. Until when one of them wondered out loud, “when you guys started self-pitying, why didn’t it occur to you to just turn around, cross the road and walk into that bin shop?”
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