Monday, November 9, 2009

LIFE - IS IT ALL ABOUT QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS!?

"Life is full circle", is what I have always heard from wiser people.

Having lived for over half a century, I was trying to analyse my own life ... and decide for myself on the wisdom of this saying. My thoughts took me back to my childhood - starting with the time when my mental faculties started registering the external world, and phenomenon.....I see my grand daughter doing the same these days - its a treat to watch her busy, doing nothing, throughout the day... she can make a play out of anything.... she can help me with any task... no task seems complicated to her... she can put her bare hands inside a warmed up oven to check whether the pizza is ready; or she can open the vacuum cleaner to set it right... popping all the screws in her tiny little mouth... every small missing object can be found there.... eventually.... the bigger ones can be seen close to her mouth, of course, being slobbered with her saliva. All of us go through this stage in our lives, I too have, I am told.

As a child, I had many questions about everything and looked for answers from anyone...parents initially, then grand parents, relatives, teachers and so on, as I advanced in life. The answers provided were stored for future use. I went to school and learned a number of subjects - from languages to history, geography, civics, social studies, physics, chemistry, biology, maths and so on... I never got to use most of these subjects that I had learnt in school.

Reached National Defence Academy and learnt many more subjects like military history, wood work, casting moulds, working on a lathe, photography besides other things like physical exercises, cross country, riding, drill etc. Once again never got to use most of the skills and subjects learned.

However, while going through each of these classes in school and NDA, I and others like me, had a large number of questions to which we were required to provide answers when it was time for the exams, so as to pass the exam, and move on. Our questions were endless and someone who had the answers, like our teachers and instructors, would help us with the answers. Finding answers on our own, by reading, and inquiring from others around was also resorted to. As we kept growing we were required to find answers on our own by comprehending what was taught, and by doing independent research. The brain and the mind slowly started expanding. I had questions AND had also acquired the skill of finding the answers on my own. I got into flying thereafter....

I was back to square one... again too many questions and very few answers. Flyiing in those days looked like it was designed for the birds and bees only....considering how effortlessly they performed this very difficult task - my perspective at that time. Only way out... take the instructors word as Gospel. This helped. Slowly flying became something that was manageable... a time came when I started to enjoy flying... and then.... soon thereafter, came a time when I started experimenting with things for which no one had provided me with answers. I felt like an ace and the air seemed to be my playground. I could take off and land on the runway (a basic requirement for manned flight, but considered more than enough by me), and make the aircraft perform manoeuvres that I wanted it to, whether in proximity to another aircraft, or singly. During this phase I took part in many simulated war like exercises and eventually the 26th January flypast. Felt that I had mastered the art of flying....... The IAF also acknowledged my performance and I was detailed to undergo the flying instructor's course.

After five months of this course, I realised to my horror how little I knew about flying... I shared two of the three trophies at the end of this course... and should have been visibly proud. Instead at the farewell dinner I was standing with my instructor, with tears in my eyes, and asking him, "how can I teach flying, when this course has taught me one thing, and that is... how little I know about it myself. How can I teach someone when I myself donot have all the answers". My instructor was a seasoned instructor. He told me, "don't worry, the pupil would know nothing about flying and you would do well" and to reassure me said that, "all of us have been through this - we made it - you too would and remember - you are not the first one with such questions". Well, this advice proved very sound - I made it as an instructor for the first six months and until my second course, when I had a BORN FLIER as my pupil.....

I could not demonstrate any manoeuvre to him, as well as he could perform it on his own... I would feel inadequate as an instructor but the only thing that I could tell him was... you are going to be an asset to the IAF one day, if you can live through the first 500 hours of flying. Being better than your instructor can give one a huge dose of overconfidence... and over confidence without experience, in flying, is a killer. I am happy to say that this pupil went through some trying experiences in the Academy, due to his overconfidence. I am also very happy that he managed to live beyond 500 hours of flying, and has lived up to my forecast of being an asset for the IAF. This pupil kept me busy trying to find answers to questions that he would not ask, but to which he needed to have the answers.

Life beyond this stage was on the upswing... I had answers to nearly every question that came my way in my profession....

Professional life was at an upswing, and was reaching a stage where I had no further questions. Thereafter, I donot know when my professional and non-professional lives merged and I started to get the feeling that I had answers to every question or situation in life. I did not have any questions anymore.... I never did realise that this was not a healthy, or normal state, for a mortal like me. I knew everything about everything, or so I felt. I could contribute my four anna bit into any conversation, on any subject. I never realised it until one day.....

I was going for a walk with my younger brother (a graduate of Electronics Engineering from BHU-IT; MBA in marketing from IIM Ahmedabad and Ph. D in Finance from Pittsburgh, USA). We were talking about Finance and got onto discussing the stock market. I started advising him on what stocks to buy, and why. He kept listening to me with a smile on his face (until after this, I had never noticed these things; I had advised him on so many matters, on which he was the expert). Being of Indian descent, he would keep quiet in deference to his elder brother, but this once I had probably gone too far. He smiled and spoke only one line, after listening to my persistent advice on stocks and said, "Bhape (Elder Brother), I have a Ph.D in Finance". I shut my mouth thereafter, and realised my great folly. Instead of having questions to ask of this expert, I was providing him with answers on his area of expertise. It set me thinking..... many years of thought, and practice, have made me realise.....

....that at no stage can I have all the answers. I can have some answers pertaining to my chosen profession; some pertaining to my life, based on my experiences - but all these cannot be universal - they need to be adapted to changing situations, as change is the only constant in life. As I grow older, the number of questions to which I have no answers keeps growing - my answers seem inadequate at times, and I feel that I am becoming a seeker once again.

From 'questions only', after birth, to 'only answers' at the top of the circle, I have come to 'more questions than answers' once again...... is it possible that I would die like I was born - 'only questions, no answers'...

I actually do believe so, the way things are going. Life will go full circle???

What is your experience? What do you feel??

12 comments:

Joseph Pulikotil said...

Hi JPJ:)

Very interesting post and a deep study of human nature. You really have spent considerable time and thought on the subject. It was a very logical conclusion to say that you had questions in the beginning, answers in the middle and now you have come to questions again.

It is very true that life is a full circle.

As I was reading through your well researched post presented in a step by step progression of ideas and experiences, several thoughts came to my mind. They are just random thoughts and may not be connected with what you wrote but still they flashed in my mind.

Children have a divine spark in them and they are inquisitive, fearless, and many things which we take for granted give them immense joy and happiness. But as they grow up into adulthood Mother nature offers them too many temptations and they lose that divine spark in them. As a result simple things which gave them great joy, thrill and happiness has no attraction at all for them. Perhaps this could be a reason why you had no questions in your middle age. I am just guessing:)

I was thrilled to read that you participated in the fly past on 26th Jan. I took part in the march past on 26th Jan. 1968 an a NCC cadet representing Madras and Pondicherry and we won the banner that year. We marched from Raj Bhavan to Red fort with a rifle. When I cam back to Chennai after the parade I found to my dismay that the Tamilnadu Govt. was against the imposition of Hindi in Tamilnadu and therefore NCC was abandoned in the State. I was very disappointed because I had a chance of participating in the combined army camp, mountain climbing etc.

The world is changing at a very rapid rate and I am amazed to see small children playing with laptops. In my younger days I still remember that a group of about ten or fifteen boys including me stood around a transister radio with our mouth open wondering from where the music was coming. The world has totally transformed now and many things which I considered as novelty in my young days have become obsolete now. This reminds of the four annas you were talking about.

Now as we grow older, we find technology is making rapid advances in all spheres of activity and we find it extremely difficult to cope up and sometimes we are perplexed at the many new things that are being introduced every day. In fact like Alice in Wonderland we have to run faster and faster to remain in the same place. Many questions crop up in our mind and our capacity to absorb information gets diminished. The great Bernard Shaw said that as he grew older he found it extremely difficult to understand things and it took longer time and greater efforts to grasp things when compared to the days when he was young.

Well, I must admit that your post is wonderful, thought provoking and the presentation is well crafted. It is indeed an eye opener for me.

Have a nice day JPJ
Joseph

J P Joshi said...

Joseph: Thank you for your very considered comment. I enjoy reading the views of everyone but more so of people of around my generation - you add to my experience. Thank you.

You are so right about childhood. My granddaughter is 13 months and we are witness to her small little and happy world. Small things like peek-a-boo can tire us but it never tires her throughout the day.. and she can smile, no laugh, everytime after she does a peekaboo from behind her pudgy fingers. Yes, children are divine.. agree with you wholeheartedly.

Doing the R-Day parade in Delhi is always an honour for anyone, and specially for an NCC cadet. Did you enjoy the cold nippy mornings of Delhi and the company of people totally different from you, who come from all parts of our great land. I believe that is the best part of participating in the RD parade... my friends from the NCC tell me that. I did not know about the NCC fiasco in TN.

Yes, changes in technology have a profound effect on older people. I believe, it is partly because their thoughts are elsewhere.. they are reaching that part of the journey of life, where there are many other vital questions that need to be answered.

Thank you, and a nice day to you too.

human being said...

the journey is more important than the destination
and the question than the answer

and
each question is a quest...

human being said...

the journey is more important than the destination
and the question than the answer

and
each question is a quest...

J P Joshi said...

"each question is a quest", I too fell that but then the quest seems endless... the more you think you know, you come to realise how little you know.

J P Joshi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
human being said...

exactly!
and that's why we search more...

and yes this journey is in a way endless... so much the better!
what if we reach the end?
we get bored, eh?
:D

J P Joshi said...

human being: Don't know the answer, not sure, yet!!

Balvinder Singh said...

very comprehensive analysis of quest of life.

Yes JP it happens that what we learn in our class rooms has no relevance to what we do later in life. I think our initial learning is only to stimulate our brain to increase its capacity to learn more. In our practical day to day life, though our experience comes handy but sometimes one feels that each day brings new questions and new challenges.

Very interesting account of your journey through life. Thanks for sharing.

Nilu said...

Really nice post! I agree that one does tend to become know-it-all once one has tasted success in any aspect of life. And espeically, I've seen this in many middle-aged men and women. Hence it was all the more heartening to see it being told by a man of your years:)

J P Joshi said...

Balvinder: Thank you for your comment. Agree with you that class room education is to expand the brain. Experiences add to this expansion. However, unfortunately somewhere down the line the EGO also starts to expand, and that is the worst part of being human, I believe.

J P Joshi said...

Nilu: Thank you for your comment. Agree with you wholeheartedly, having been through this myself, that "one does tend to become know-it-all once one has tasted success in any aspect of life. And espeically, I've seen this in many middle-aged men and women". Probably it is by design in the grand scheme of things. Success and humility come together to very few like Dr APJ Kalam.