Change within & without

Change within & without


Change within & without

Another year begins, and millions of resolutions will be made all over the world only to be soon abandoned. That is both the advantage and the drawback of that magic date — January 1. For those who procrastinate, it seems helpful to have a definite time, a sacred transition zone where one can leave behind one’s old imperfect self and speedily effect changes that will forge a new and perfect one. Persuaded by this compelling myth, we blithely make promises to ourselves only to discover days later that change is not so easy, that there is another unyielding part of us threatened by the prospect of change, and therefore all good resolutions soon evaporate in the blaze of that war within us. I, for one, will not be making a resolution this year!

Deep within ourselves we carry the wisdom that all beginnings do not come neatly clustered on New Year’s Day. If that were so, we would have held the Copenhagen Summit on December 31 of last year, confident that all nations would agree on what is a matter of collective self-interest and therefore most important to all of mankind irrespective of geographical and man-made divisions.

This date marks a new year in the Gregorian calendar, whereas there are many ways by which different cultures of the world mark the passing of time. In India, the lunar calendar holds its own special place in the celebration of the cycle of seasons and new beginnings. Lunar rhythms underline the fact that it is the mind that effects changes and that the mind itself is subject to stimulus that will alter perceptions at various points in time.

To live in an Indian city is to be assaulted by soul-sapping change all the time. Roads suddenly become one-way, parking spaces are usurped, pavements vanish, ditches appear, rainwater turns quiet streets into canals, landmarks are demolished and ugly buildings raised in place. Overnight one might discover one is living in a newly created state if the separative forces in our country have their way.

Change is forced on us by advances in technology as well. I used to love the ceremony of inscribing crinkled onion-skin letter paper with characters in ink, making two precise folds before sliding it into the envelope and then thumping hard on the stamp. However, the ease and speed of email impressed even a die-hard letter writer such as I. But I still treasure the letters received in a more leisurely time, when two days or a week did not seem too long to wait for the thrill of a reply. Some of these innovations serve to highlight individual value systems and priorities. For a writer, the word never loses its allure. What then to do with sms-es which are meant to be ephemeral? How is one to delete forever words that one has given one’s time and attention to? I know someone who painstakingly transcribes sms-es sent and received, making a lasting record of them.

This has created some unease and self-consciousness in those who send her messages. Some of us are quite content not to have all our words recorded for posterity. Sometimes a message sent for fun is just that and nothing more.

Even though emails can be stored automatically and are not prone to termites, electronic mail has meant that no longer will we have lives documented in the way they were earlier, when letter writing was a serious business and the archival basis of many biographies written at later points in time. I’m cautious though about fully expressing myself in emails, inhibited by the fact that they can be effortlessly forwarded by one accidental click of the mouse.

I resisted buying a mobile phone for a long time. I seemed to be managing very well without it, I told myself. An emergency that landed my father in hospital was all it took to make me change my mind. The hospital was in a remote location and far away from home. Having a mobile there, to not have to go in search of a pay-phone, was a blessing. Recently, I was in the strange and pleasing position of using my mobile to help a famous author who had chosen not to own one. He had travelled all over the world without needing a mobile, and certainly was not stranded, and yet clearly it was a useful instrument to have in the situation he found himself in. Wives have found mobile phones a good way to keep tabs on errant husbands. Tiger Woods brought his carefully constructed world crashing down around him because he was careless with his mobile phone.

Calling for change

Perhaps nothing illustrates the relentless power of technology to change our lives than the call-centre phenomenon in India. Day becomes night and a night the working day in this world. Distances across continents are bridged by the human voice and years of upbringing camouflaged by a newly acquired accent. Such change can only be overwhelming, as anyone who has worked in a call-centre knows, unless handled in the right way.

If this were not enough, Vedic astrology tells us that we are influenced by the movement of planets, that certain transits have the power to trigger irrevocable changes in our lives. What can one do against the might of the planets? Vedic astrology also tells us that there are different periods in one’s life when the mind perceives the world in a certain way. Some periods would be conducive for personal transformation and others would not support any resolutions that one might make.

Change need not always necessarily be good or required. Sometimes we are perfectly happy with an earlier version of a word processing software and resent having to upgrade to a new-but-not-necessarily-improved version.

Clearly every advance in technology is meant to improve our lives by saving us from labour. That is what a gadget is meant to do after all. Oftentimes though they only serve to distract or take away from our time. Productivity in office hours is affected when the Internet is accessed for personal work. The same Internet though has transformed the world by making so many worlds accessible virtually. One might not be able to hold the actual book in one’s hands or stand awestruck in front of a painting, but one can read the contents and see the painting on the Net sitting miles away. Farmville addicts probably wish they had never begun to set up a virtual farm. And some people cannot stay away from their Blackberries even while attending a concert.

Powerless to stop much of the change around us, we cling to those areas in our lives that soothe us with the belief that we are in control. Old faded clothes, the first hand-wound watch we owned, jewellery passed down from generations, books that are read and re-read, all of these possess the ability to comfort by the simple fact that they endure. Even one’s daily routine has the power to reinforce the value of habit in the face of constant flux.

When one’s own self recognises the need to change in certain circumstances, what then is one to do? Wait for New Year’s Eve? Carpe diem — seize the day, I would say. There is an inner logic and an inner rightness to all our lives. Instead of waiting for one day in a year, the last, it might be better to make a beginning when the mind and the soul are ready for it. For what might seem unceasing and unvarying — sunrise, sunset, flowers blooming, leaves falling, birds chirping — are in fact reminders that each day is a new beginning and each day brings within it the potential for surprises, and the catalyst for inner change. There is a right time for change, a ripening all its own and if we look back at our lives we will recognise those key moments that gave us the impetus to change directions.

(The writer is the author of the novel ‘Meeting Lives’)