There’s very little work to do. A few calls, a few mails and that is it. Days feel like the period of midnight sun in the Arctic circle where one goes about the day by looking at the clock because the sense of day is erased by constant sunlight through the night. It feels similar right now. The sense of day is erased by absence of a routine that we are so used to – home, commute, work, commute, home and repeat. All this heads to the weekend and the cycle completes. Now, the weekend arrives with no distinction. All of that has merged into days without definition and little purpose. There is no commute and there is no work. It is Saturday today and there is no change in what we are to do. Our lives are organized around work and defined by work. Turn that to zero and there’s a disorientation, as in these lockdown days.
Started the morning with Roald Dahl’s ‘A Wish’ and ‘The Surgeon’.Two short stories today. I figured out his style for short stories. It is often this – begin with an ordinary, everyday experience – embed a character in it – develop elaborate scenarios and events around the character – introduce a turning point event – bring it to an end with a striking fact, occurrence or revelation that sits in striking contrast with the turning point event. They are all lovely stories though. I wish I could write like that.
In the absence of deadlines, scheduled tasks and calls, these days have turned into a big block of time that can be carved as you like. It is time for finishing books that were left half-read. I finished Rajat Gupta’s ‘Mind Without Fear’. This memoir is Gupta’s side of the story and of his life. He regrets not testifying during his trial, and perhaps wanted to set the record straight. That urge is identifiable. I have known about him through his work in building ISB and PHFI. He had a brilliant career in consulting, rose through the ranks to head McKinsey, holds several important leadership positions in business and humanitarian work, and when it looked like the pinnacle of a successful career, it came crashing down with accusations of insider trading and a long drawn court trial. The book details out this journey. Gupta writes his version of what went wrong, the errors of judgment he made and how that changed his life after being charged guilty. He was sentenced to two years of imprisonment. This is a section that he writes from a core that perhaps he found within himself in the days he spent in prison. It strikes those reflective notes at several places in the book – “At times, of course, I let myself imagine how things might have been different.” His wife’s view of his personality is seen in her comment at a tense moment during the trial –
He always thinks it will be different for him. He really thinks just because he’s telling the truth, the jury will believe him. You’d think he would have learned by now that people believe what they want to believe!”
I find it remarkable that the word ‘anger’ doesn’t appear in this narrative. It shows up only once and that too around the last chapter of the book. To be wronged and not feel angry needs an evolution that can be a tough journey. During some of the toughest days in prison when he had to spend a brief spell in solitary confinement, he reads the Gita. This appears to have had a transformative effect on him. It appears that this is the time after which he emerges the most insightful and resolved about his situation and how he would like to conduct his life henceforth. He writes –
Looking back at what happened to me, what I did, and what I could have done differently there are no simple answers. From one perspective, I lost nine years. I fought so hard and for so long, yet I lost almost every battle. Should I have just given in and got it over much faster? From another perspective, those nine years were the most important periods of my life. After my indictment,I came to know who my real friends were. I learned how precious my family and friends are through their unwavering support. My journey through the criminal justice taught me how flawed it can be. My time in prison was an extraordinary experience. I feel deep gratitude for what I learned there, for the friendships I made, and for the person I became.
The equanimity in his voice maintains itself all through.
I am at peace with my past, and the question on my mind is: How should I complete this life with tranquility and with grace?
I have often felt that the ability to pick up lessons from one’s failures and to move along into the future without letting the setback leach into all aspects of life henceforth, is a necessary life skill.
As I finished the book it was early evening. Another day of the lockdown folded. Among other quick thoughts was the feeling that this lockdown will change us. It will change us in personal ways more if not professional. It is seen in the conversations with friends who knew to escape into the city when life threatened to get. There were the usual trappings of our social lives – cafes, pubs, co-working spaces, cinema etc. In these lockdown days, all of that has ceased to be an option. If life overwhelms, if thoughts lay a siege, then one has to prepare for that ambush. The only recourse is to get on the phone with friends. While this is seemingly the problem of the privileged, who have their houses stocked, salaries unaffected and cushioned in all manner from the limitations of a lockdown, we have the vulnerable people who are living the trauma with every passing hour of the lockdown. The scars of this lockdown on the poor and vulnerable people like migrant workers, will be deep. The damage will be irreparable for many families.