In a way all the years have the same course, from hopeful beginning, onto slow middle and tapering off with tiresome but content or at times relieving sense of having lived through another year. Yet, one reflects. Sometimes it is a list of things done or accomplished. Sometimes it is a list of experiences and their effect. And sometimes it is about the acute realization of progressing through life. I give in to this process, only after fighting the cynicism and seeming futility of doing these roundups. Every year! May be, it is worth reflecting in the interest of knowing the good, the bad and the ugly of the passing year to make the year ahead better. On that note, it feels that 2017 demonstrated how months can be consistently downhill, each passing week, when one dispenses with all the nice things reflected upon during the previous year’s end and at times resolved for. This year, in short, has been the most difficult to endure, both, personally and professionally. It is marked by a mix of personal achievement and failure. Work and education got better even as personal life got worse. This is in contrast to the ‘balance’ that 2016 was about.
I graduated with MPP degree in July. This was a personal achievement, with its import striking only after it all finished. This was a full-time masters done alongside teaching at a school and working in our consulting business. It was hard to imagine that I’d survive this. I was riding on the city’s outer ring road at speeds of 100 kmph+ on most weekdays. I don’t think I’ll be that reckless again. The degree gives an edge to our work as my business partner’s and my profile improved with this additional qualification.
On teaching front, I had to leave Poorna because work related travel made it difficult to commit to a teaching job. In February, I took my last few classes and we ended with a series of presentations by student groups in school assembly. The brief was simple – to choose topics from sociology course that appealed the most to students and share their views on it with all the kids in school during assembly. Some of the students also included a quick introduction to that topic for junior students. That form of shared learning was heartening to see. I miss school from my daily life now.
Things at Weaver Technologies, our company, are so much better this year, with a new product in the pipeline and improved prospects. This year, I learnt that raising a fledgling business first and foremost needs individuals who feel mentally and emotionally secure. It rides on their spirit and sense of optimism before it even comes to skills. All the partners went through tough personal life situations at various points in the last two years. What we now have is a tempered, empathetic and committed team, which has the mental space to think about ideas and ways to take the business ahead. It is amazing how little is spoken of this (personal, emotional & mental aspects) in startup stories compared to the hyper-brilliance of the founders and the team. Going forward, I’d want to first ensure that the people we team up with feel safe and secure personally above everything else.
Personally, the course of this year has been disastrous on emotional well-being. This isn’t hard to figure from the perspective on work. I failed in relationships. The after-effects have been hard to make peace with. It felt vulnerable. Moreover, there was this seething frustration and meaninglessness that overtook for a while. To overcome these, I feel, has been the greatest battle this year. In those months that I was going through a break-up, everything was on a slide. It was tough to get out for a run on most days. House was in disarray. I read less. I got reluctant to meet people. Work suffered too. On most occasions I was barely punching time and got done with the tasks. All of these emotions that people talk of, loneliness, despair, agony, frustration, anger, futility… ran their course on me. What more, I couldn’t even find enough will to finish the marathon at Ladakh. Looking back, I feel too sure that it wasn’t a physical failure. It was mental. I stopped at 34th kilometer. Who does that? Even with a hobble one can walk to the finish line from there. I knew it from earlier runs. But this time, it was this fuck-all state of mind. I had spent an utterly lonely week in Leh, holed up in a room sitting by the window.
In January, at Mumbai marathon I ran my personal best. I returned with an intent to do a sub-3:30 marathon. In February, I ran a 55 km mountain trail outside Kathmandu. I returned confident about attempting a 130 km ultra in Coorg later in the year. From March, I couldn’t get myself to do the regular 10 km run even for two continuous days. It got to August and I cycled from Manali to Ladakh alone, wanting to re-claim that spirit for outdoors and for a good workout. I wanted to finish with Ladakh marathon. I DNFed! It threatened to take all that I loved and worked on in the past years. In November, I ran a marathon in Kochi. It was startling to see how personal difficulties had chipped away all the confidence. I showed up at the start line desperately wishing to complete it. That is all! This run was necessary for me to feel confident again. It was November, by the time I came to terms with the situation.
If 2017 is to be thought of in terms of a keyword, antifragility would be it. It wasn’t about resilience or becoming robust through experiences. Rather, the experiences seem to be making it better to thrive in uncertainty while at the same time be able to chart a better course than the previous trajectory, through these experiences. I was fascinated by Taleb’s conception of antifragile and now find a semblance of it in the way things have been this year. It seems identifiable and reasonable when Taleb writes in his book about the nature of antifragility as ‘beyond resilience or robustness: the resilient resists shocks and stays the same’ and that ‘the antifragile gets better.’ On the last day of a tempestuous year, I agree with this. Things have indeed gotten better, which was hard to see when it was happening.
The spin-off effect of a personal crisis has been interesting. It feels ‘unafraid to feel’ as E E Cummings once wrote. And in that moment one feels, ‘you’re nobody-but-yourself.’ This quality was not experienced before. In December, I began horse-riding lessons at EIRS. The mornings over the last couple of weeks have been beautiful in company of horses. Riding horses is the highlight of this year. From faltering trot to a smooth canter, the learning experience has stoked old memories of living close to a Cavalry Regiment and to be able to ride those fine studs one day. Only that it took a little too long from those schooldays to the morning when I could do the canter on my own.
On a different note, I observed the staggering amount of time spent looking inwards and immersed in personal issues. The sense of living in the world was lost. I was less bothered about global or national issues. Domesticity clouded all of it. Not engaging with the world around doesn’t appear an appealing way of life.
My friend Joe (of roughghosts) spoke of having made meaningful friendships through his blog and via twitter. I have had a similar experience. For this, I am glad to live a digital life, partially at that. The year leaves me with some great friends – supportive and helpful. Joe, Sonia, Osh, Ambika, Sana, Satish and so many more. I am thankful to all of them for their generosity and admire them for the what they do.
There is an apocryphal story about the legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman. Barely into the concert one of the strings of his violin snapped. This was considered as an end to his performance even before it began. However, Perlman took a pause and began playing with the three remaining strings. The music that day is said to have been one of Perlman’s finest. In the end, he is reported to have said, ‘You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.’ Tonight, it appears as though a string broke this year, in life. The next is about trying to make music with what is left and what can be created.
So here again, the year ran its typical course – a hopeful beginning, slow middle and tiresome but content end. Saddling-up for the year ahead, towards a more fulfilling time, one moves on.
Happy New Year to the readers!