Traces on faces

Facebook recently introduced the concept of “Timeline” for our online profiles…  an attempt to capture a view into who we are based on all that we have done, all we share, what we say and who we say it to, our experiences, our  joys, the pain we feel sometimes and the irritations that bother us… a picture of who we are, built up over our walk through the years.

An interesting concept for sure.

But we already have a version of “Timeline” built into us don’t we? … a subtler version for sure, but so much more powerful ! And it is a version that we cannot “hide” things on…

I think of it as traces on our faces… the lines that time, and the way we have lived it, etches on our face.

The laughter lines from all those moments of mirth – the giggles with friends from childhood; the mischievous guffaws at anything and everything during those irreverent college years; moments of fun and cheer at so many points of life… the luckiest of us, those whose eyes hold the memory of recent laughter, who let frequent smiles crinkle the corners of their eyes.

Frown lines that pucker the forehead, pull the brows together… stress, worry, anxiety, upset… written as deep as we have let it effect us, the number of times we have given into it.

The weathering of age. And of weather… the sun, the wind, the places we live in. The ravages of illness. And those of neglect. The glow of health. And that of wealth (viva la salons!). The mellowness, or cynicism, we allow experience to add.

The “happy” mouth or the “sulky” one – lines the face gets used to following… that get left behind, as clear as well trodden trails. Lips that twitch to curve up.

The sheer comfort of a glance that is steady and open. And the darting shiftiness eyes acquire when you get them too used to hiding thought, to avoiding other eyes. Eyes that droop with melancholy and those that glow with joy. Eyes, glassy with disinterest and those that sparkle with the excitement of life. Peaceful eyes. Hooded eyes. Eyes… the window to so much of what is, and what has been.

We worry so much about what our online profile reveals, what privacy settings we can activate, what do we show on and who do we allow to see it… what of our face? – the richest story of how we have lived, what we think –  its every line, a map of the soul. What attention does that “timeline” merit?

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People between places

It is fascinating to observe people in transit – on the street, in trains, in stations – any place where they are between 2 activities or locations, and really have no specific thing to be doing.

Everyone is different. And yet there are some general types that most people tend to fall into.

There are those who turn inwards – it is as if they want to stay in a cocoon of their own making and not let the world intrude. These are the people who will be intently listening to music, will stare into the distance or close their eyes. They are there, yet not there.

The “avoiders” will not look at anybody in the eye. They will pull out their phone and fiddle with it, will look at their watch, fumble inside their bag, look down as they are walking. They are immensely uncomfortable at any human contact or connect that may happen.

Let us not forget the “very busy, very important”. If they are walking, they will have an intense “I need to get there. Don’t get in my way” attitude. It is the funniest feeling to have one of these people run into you – most don’t even acknowledge it with a glance up. If they are standing or sitting, they will look away if you catch their eye, their body stiff and alert – as if raring to just “get there”

Then there are the “need to use every moment” or “will get bored if I am not doing something”. These people will pull out books, games, printouts, laptops, smartphones…and get lost in it as if it is a cross-country trip. They will always be on the phone if they are driving or walking, as if there is an urgent need to fill every minute with activity and action.

There are the proud/hassled parents of young kids – they are lost in the kid, too busy really to see what else happening and who’s there. Their eyes on the lookout only to ensure that the kids are safe and in a controllable sphere.

Similarly there are the newly romantic.  Too lost in each other, and the urgency of young romance to care about or notice the rest of the world.

Groups of youngsters, high in spirit and self conscious about their image in the peer group; bravado, their face to the world. You can see the subconscious wish for attention in all they do – the loud laughs, the jostling, the quick looks around.

And in all this “crowd”, if we look carefully, we find the few that do not fit a type… who are enjoying the transit, are in the transit and not just waiting to get to “a destination”.

The man who starts talking to the person next to him about the book he is reading or something they notice. The guy who stops walking and offers to help another carry a bag, pulls a door open when he sees somebody walk towards one with hands full, gets up and offers his seat to another (most people offer seats to the old, to women…how many have you seen get up and offer their seat to somebody because they sat for a while and just want to give another person a chance to sit for a bit too?).

The guy who smiles if you catch his eye. The guy who is leaning back or lounging, who almost “strolls” as he walks. The guy who walks by you, humming.

The person who pauses and looks at the commonplace, yet beautiful – we see tourists stopping and admiring stuff, take pictures; but so few people just going about their normal business stop and look, maybe take a picture, enjoy the moment.

The person who is doing nothing – is just letting the surroundings, the people, the moment sink in, as he sits and looks.

Each of us falls into every one of the “types” at one time or the other, based on the mood, the day, the moment. But we each also have our most usual, our typical commute persona.

What’s your?

“What is this life if full of care,We have no time to stand and stare… No time to turn at beauty’s glance, And watch her feet – how they can dance”.

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Non repeatable

We are touched more by the imperfect, impermanent and incomplete, than by the flawless. It is the slight flaws, quirks, anomalies, asymmetry, the changes, departure from the conventional (angularity)… that brings personality, flavor, character – to things, and to people – makes them unique, adds the poetry.

We appreciate perfection, but fall in love with personality.

The things that seem most beautiful to us are those that encompass in them serenity but also some melancholy; peace as well as the tug of longing; contentment, but with the poignancy of some emptiness – some space for hope, expectation. We can never fully capture in words or express satisfactorily how, or why, we are moved by that which we find most beautiful.

The beauty lies perhaps in the inconspicuous and overlooked detail, it is hidden and ephemeral, non repeatable… perfect, and yet not.

Like people.

A thought to ponder as we drive for process, framework, repeatability in everything? Some things best left a tad uncontrolled; driven by instinct, not process?

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Milestone day… a 1000 miles cycled in 2011.

Awesome experience !


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I sit here at my desk next to the window and keep forgetting what I sat down thinking I would write…

It is snowing outside the window. The snow settling quietly white on the ground and the trees… trees that are still turning golden with the glorious colors of fall. It is beautiful – astounding in the contrasts and unexpectedness of it all.

Snow in October. A white Diwali. The weather doesn’t seem to think anything is impossible.

Why should we.


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Shared thought…a shared mood …
A dream shared … an emotion understood…
Shared likes – and dislikes.
The simple pleasure of beauty shared.
Bubbling laughter, soundless tears;
Sweet victory, wordless fears…
The sheer comfort of shared silence.
The deep connect of pain shared.
The deeper trust of hurt shared.
Doubts, very tentatively shared.
Shared memories and joys shared.
A day shared… or a few moments in the day…

What a curiously strong bond sharing weaves.


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Just moments… all we have… all we need

It’s amazing don’t you think, how our happiness is actually just moments of joy – fleeting, simple and generally inexplicable?

We place so much of our hopes on the big things we aim for – money, success, power… a house, a fancy car, jewelry…but happiness surprises us. It catches us unawares.

It comes with somebody’s smile. A warm hug. A sunset – a river! A favorite song. The smell of a book. The feel of a snowflake. The wind ruffling your hair. Slipping into an old pair of jeans which somehow fit again! Someone else’s joy. A message – the thought of a friend close at reach. Laughter. The euphoria of victory. A chance remark. A gesture. Some affection. A moment of connect.

Happiness is simple. As we wait for the events, it catches us in the moments. As we listen for the fanfare, it tiptoes by and leaves a lingering song in our heart. As we try to understand and plan how to be happy, it just happens.

Happiness is simple. Why do we find it so difficult to create for others? Why do we need elaborate plans in personal life? Complex policies in the workplace? As in most things, we tend to need plans, process and policies to make us comfortable, to make us feel that we have made happiness predictable.

Happiness is simple.

If we let it.

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We are all impressed by the experts, the famous and the successful…the world leaders and corporate giants; the thespians and writers; the poets and musicians; the scientists, the prodigies, the philanthropists, the spiritual and philosophical gurus… We admire their prowess in their field, look up to their achievements. We choose from among them, our heroes – to emulate and learn from, to design our own goals.

But it is the “Magicians” that captivate us; the rare few in whose case even their brilliant achievement seems to take second place to their humanity, the “magic” of their mind and heart. It is from the magicians that we select our superstars. We do not emulate them. We imbibe some of their magic; a part of them becomes indivisibly embedded in our thoughts and attitude, they power our dreams and ideology.

One of the magicians who has always fascinated me is Richard Feynman.

Feynman was a phenomenal scientist, a physicist, a genius – I admire his achievements of course (though I must admit I don’t understand much of what he worked on – quantum this and particle that… with my background in finance and business, I have always been clueless about what it all really is!). What absolutely captivates me though, is the way he thought – the exuberant curiosity; the humor and fun he saw in discovering the universe, and ourselves. He captures it in a very evocative sentence, “I…a universe of atoms, an atom in the universe.”

There is much Feynman said and wrote; much I have read and heard that impresses me. There are however a few things that really created the magic for me:

Science is Imagination ! Feynman quietly refuted the view that Science is “dry” and “serious”- said it is all about the fun of imagining. He talked about a scientist needing a much larger power of imagination than any artist. He argued that science created a deeper appreciation of beauty because the questions that it raises add excitement, mystery and greater awe. He thought that science and religion are actually not separate; they are the 2 pillars that together create the best society; bring out the best in humanity —- the humility of intellect and the humility of spirit.

I think he made science so much larger in what it covers – expanded it to philosophy, to our wish to understand patterns, to impact the world and fathom all the ways it impacts us.

The Best Explanation is One you can “See” His explanations and musing on physical theory can be such fun; like “seeing” the most complex concepts in practical terms. He always spoke in visuals – and it’s how I think.

He talks about “jiggling atoms” of water that get more jiggly as they are heated, and then jiggle the atoms of the cup the are in. The heat we feel in touching the cup is the intensified jiggle hitting the atoms in our hand. He then goes on to apply the same jiggly concept of heat to why hitting a nail can make it hot. How too much “jiggle” can make the atoms in water spring apart as they collide with each other, and so gas/steam happens. And how, quieter atoms stack up and lie down close in the cold, to form the more compact solid/ice. He speaks of fire as the completion of the chain of heat that started when the sun’s heat was captured by the tree. He describes motion, friction and inertia as the feeling he had when he was a kid pulling up a toy wagon on the hillside behind his house.

Think like a Martian Feynman said that the best way to understand anything was to move beyond the commonly accepted parameters – “Question every aspect. Behave as if you are seeing it for the first time”. And how amazing was his application of this simple guideline:

If flowers are brightly colored to attract insects, it means that insects can see color; does it mean that they can appreciate aesthetics? Can other animals also appreciate beauty or is it just instinct that attracts them to some colors and scents?

He says the names are only identifiers, common words that we use to set reference in conversation. But knowing the name for something doesn’t mean that you have knowledge. Knowing the formula for pi means nothing, knowing the name of a bird does not mean anything — knowledge comes only with the understanding of the substance of anything, what drives it. Knowledge is when you can say the entire story – the what, how, why… in terms anyone can understand. Knowledge is the kid taking the toy car apart to see how it works — not being satisfied with the theory that “energy” is making it move.

We are not all the Same He talks about how we all think differently – not in our views only, but in the very mechanics of thinking. As an illustration, he talks about how he reads or counts by saying it in his mind – which makes it difficult for him to read if there is music playing, makes him lose count if he has to talk. His friend reads and counts by visualizing the words and numbers, by seeing it in pictures in his mind; the friend is not distracted by music or talking. This basic difference makes communication such a challenge – integration and translation issues! The same applies for differences in ability and aptitude.

Even more impressive than the things Feynman says, is the way he says it. The difference is in his attitude. The difference is in his humor and his approachable, common man quality. The difference is in the beauty and sheer elegance of simplicity in his teachings and writings. The difference is in the man who was a genius …and yet, never stopped wanting to learn.

Feynman’s approach to thought and learning is incredible in its impact. It is magic! Will you let in some of his magic into your life?


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It had rained earlier in the day yesterday — the ground and the grass still retained the dampness. As I cycle into the park, the evening air is cool against my arms and legs, with the touch of moisture that recent rain leaves behind…makes me wish that I was wearing a bit more than a t-shirt and shorts; even as I relish the feel of the chill at the end of a warm summer day. The park is redolent with the scent of wet earth and of green…an incredibly heady smell. The sky ablaze with color… the pink and gold flames of the setting sun dancing off the waters of the Hudson on one side of the road, the grass stretching green into the distance on the other. Music plays in my ear…favorite songs from my cycling playlist. I can feel the flex of my muscles as I pedal faster…my hair whipped by the wind, the feel of sweat from a good workout… miles behind me, miles waiting ahead – wings on my feet.

The beauty of it all surrounds me – it’s as if every sense is alert; I am enveloped by feeling…. and yet my mind feels clear and focused, even as it drifts from subject to subject… I am deeply happy. Alive. Charged. Peaceful. I feel like me.

… That’s the magic of the humble cycle… the magic of cycling. It’s why I cycle.

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” – Arthur Conan Doyle

“I thought of that while riding my bike.”- Albert Einstein , On the Theory of Relativity.

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The one thing

I have been pondering lately about what is that absolutely essential quality that differentiates one person from another…what makes a leader… and even there, what makes a leader that people don’t even have to think about following, that they believe in absolutely and feel for deeply. There seem to be so many qualities and capabilities that people write about; there are articles and notes and thoughts galore; everyone has an opinion…

But the more I think, and the deeper I look, I keep coming back to this one thing that seems to lie under and prompt many of the other facets and behaviors – it is Generosity.

Vision, intelligence, drive, ambition, dreams … all very individual, “me” words until they are lined by generosity … until they are shared. Everything else is an addition, any of these other things can be dispensed with or complemented through other people, they can be learned and acquired. It is that one single thing which makes all the difference… and the one thing which is difficult to fake, difficult to cultivate, difficult to learn – difficult to even fathom for some.

Maybe that why so many “leaders” do not see that all they need to do is “give” to get everything that they demand, without needing to demand it – give space; give trust; give up their need for visibility and their craving for credit to those they lead; give in when it is urgent to another; give of their time, give their understanding and tolerance; give affection and belief – a hand or an ear when it is needed, a pat when one will help, a smile and reward where due, and sometimes even when it is not; the frown and shove sometimes warranted, with the unspoken promise of support through it all – give, give and give – of themselves. Generosity creates followers … believers … people who are also willing to give.

Vision spurs on entrepreneurs, inventors and strategists; intelligence creates experts and scientists; drive and ambition gives us great managers and high achievers; dreams – drive us all… but the true leaders of men are those who couple some of this with an innate generosity of spirit and an inability to think just of themselves.

(A friend and mentor, one of the most impactful senior leaders I have known, presents an insightful perspective on the immense power of generosity in his blog posting : refer – )


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