Sunday, July 27, 2014

Follow your passion


Your parents or your teachers can tell you how to lead your life, they cannot teach you about how to live your life. Like many things in life, you just have to figure it out yourself. You may think you need guidance and encouragement, your parents and teachers can only tell you the type of vocation they think is best for you, it is entirely up to you to figure out how you want to make the best of your attributes. If you have a passion for something, you really have to go out there and give it all you have. You cannot look for anyone to believe in you or anything like that. You just have to believe in yourself as nobody is going to get behind you and pet you and say, “It’s okay, you can do it.” You just have to do it if you believe in your ability. Period.

Tennis is my favourite sport and I am constantly amazed by the tenacity demonstrated in the games of some of  the top tennis professional players. I think it is absolutely a delightful treat to watch grand slams events and the major tennis tournaments. This July, Wimbledon season ended with a grand final match between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Two years ago, Rafael Nadal was blown off the lawn court in the second round by the world no 100, Lukas Rosaol, who was making his Wimbledon debut after losing in the first round of qualifying five times in a row. Last year Nadal went out in the first round to Steve Darcis, the world No 135. He was having perennial knee trouble. He had to play the whole year with anti-inflammatory drugs in every single match. He was quoted as saying, “All my life it was a real goal for me to play well on grass. When I started my career a lot of people said : ‘With his style, he won’t be able to play well on grass.’ That really motivates me even more.” Nadal did win the Grand Slam in Wimbledon in 2008. Of course he is extraordinary and he has fourteen grand slam single titles. You may say they are sports professionals but their sheer tenacity is something we should emulate.

Roger Federer is a sport legend.  On 6 July this year , we watched one of his finest tennis. He did not win Wimbledon final although he could have. A father to two sets of twins, at nearing 33 years old, Federer could have been the oldest man in more than a half-century to win Wimbledon but he did not win the men’s singles. As  an ardent fan of Federer like many other fans around the world, I  rooted for Federer to win as my eyes glued in front of the television watching live telecast. The next day,my daughters asked if I had displayed the same expression as the Duke and Duchess of  Cambridge who had gasped at the action on Centre Court last Sunday when Federer lost a key point during his match with Novak Djokovic. Trailing 5-4 in the fourth set, Federer managed to hit a serve that turned out to be an ace, one of his 29 in the match. Then he went on to break in the next game and force a fifth set and thus  Djokovic had to regroup when they headed into a deciding 5th set. It was definitely an awesome match to watch and the legacy of  the tennis whiz, Roger Federer  continues. His marvelous artistry on grass is dazzling.
 Only a very selected people in this world might have been born with natural talents and not every talented individual has been blessed with the opportunities to demonstrate his or her inborn skills as some of these people may have hidden talents but they probably are never going to develop their special abilities. However we have to acknowledge that these top  talented  players might have been equipped with the genetic make-up, they definitely practise extremely hard and they have the concentration and commitment to tackle their grueling schedules and the right work ethics and attitude in what they are doing best.

I read Double Fault  by the author, Lionel Shriver before reading her orange prize winner :We Need to Talk about Kevin, the chilling and intense read with horrifying twists and turns. I  have a tendency to carry around with me the book I happen to be reading wherever I go just in case I have a moment to read. Many years ago, I had  left the book ‘Double Fault’ in one of the toilets at a shopping mall and when I returned to the same cubicle to look for it , it was gone. Perhaps another bibliophile had taken it thinking that the book had been left by a BookCrosser. Frankly I would be too unwilling to part with any of my books to participate in BookCrossing and  as much as I love books, I will never touch a book that is left in a public toilet. After losing my copy of the novel, I had to get a replacement copy to finish reading the fiction . Double Fault written by Lionel Shriver is a love story set on a tennis court. Willy Novinsky, the female protagonist has been playing tennis since she was four. She falls in love with Eric Oberdorf, a Princeton maths graduate who only picks up the racket at age 18. Willy is focused and Eric is fanatic. While Willy’s progress is steady, it is laborious. Despite a late start, Eric races ahead and his tennis career skyrockets and Eric is one of those smart and gifted men whom it is easy to love and hate . The story carries a not so subtle message that sometimes we may want things too badly that it does not happen due to lack of emotional strength and psychological sensibility. The story tells us tennis is a great test of character and it also makes us look at the battle of the sexes from a renewed angle. Willy is  physically and emotionally weaker than Eric and she lacks the casual assumption of success and the confidence Eric exudes. She had a head start but her career has taken a downturn after her knee injury. When she lost a match to  Eric who somehow proved to be a better player, something more than a tennis match has been lost . Perhaps the fact that her defeatist father was not supportive of her ambition to turn tennis pro might have put a damper on her spirit and somehow compelled her to prove her dad wrong desperately. Maybe her dad just wanted to protect his own daughter from failing since he is smarting from his failed endeavour that probably has prompted him to become practical. As the story unfolds, Willy’s dad could only have the best intentions for her.  This is how Shriver describes Willy.
‘That the institution of marriage had been thoroughly discredited by the time Willy was born didn’t delay her acceptance of Eric’s proposal by ten seconds. Granted her own parents set a poor example;Willy envied neither her glumly patriarchal father nor his cheerfully submissive sidekick. But she might have envied her parents at their first meeting, in 1961:when her mother, Colleen , was a flighty modern dance student, leaping through recitals to the beat bongos inside a helix of scarves, and her father, Charles, was an undiscouraged beatnick scribbler, whose pockets bulged from squiggled napkins and leaky ballpoint pens. Willy clung to the notion that nothing about marriage itself condemned her mother to dismiss an ambition to dance as vain folly, nor her father to turn on his own credulous literary aspirations with such a snarl. And surely had she wed in this more liberal era, the acquiescent Colleen might have told Charles to get a grip and stop moaning and sometimes gone her own way. Despite overwhelming evidence that both true love and domestic balance of power were myths, Willy still believed in the possibility of an ardent, lasting union between equals, much as many religious skeptics still kept faith in an afterlife because the alternative was too unbearable. 
So all through a militantly independent young adulthood Willy had been waiting. At last along came Eric Oberdorf, who radiated the same clear-eyed courage that shone from pictures of her father in the early sixties-before Charles joined the opposition in celebrating his own defeat. Willy had inherited her mother’s grace, and given it structure and purpose. Together she and Eric could rewrite history, which may have been what children were for ‘
Willy rang her dad to inform him about her plan to marry Eric.
“Listen. I have someone I want you to meet.”
“Another brain surgeon?”
“Yes, he’s a tennis player, Daddy,” she said impatiently. “ But with a degree from Princeton.”
“A tennis player with a degree!” he exclaimed.”You told me that was impossible.”
Willy almost hung up. ………….
Although Eric appears to have a much more supportive father who seems to beam at all  his son’s winnings even if they are not important tournaments, his dad comes across as obnoxious and to Eric, his dad is bragging about himself even when he is bragging about him. But Eric is not going to screw up his life just to rebel against his father. Shriver describes Eric.
 One of Eric’s secrets had long been that he did not admit the possibility of defeat.

Shriver’s novel narrates a melancholy story of two gifted tennis pro, the male protagonist being more self possessed than the female character and the conflicts that they each carry within themselves make their union a tough call. Willy’s lifelong dream has become her obsession and she comes across as selfish and self-absorbed. Both are  separately vying for success in the tennis world. As the title of the book indicates, it takes two for the marriage to work or break. Shriver’s novel makes me think . Since your mind tells you what to believe ,it is absolutely necessary to believe in your own abilities. Ultimately you have to figure out yourself as to who your real opponent is and what your nemesis is. 
“Fais de ta vie un rêve, et d'un rêve, une réalité.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Make your life a dream and the dream a reality. Nice quote indeed.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

A letter to My Thirty Year Old Self


You are not as competitive as you think you are. Perhaps when you are young, you thrive on challenges but as you grow older, you realize that life already has its own challenges. You might have enjoyed mooting or debates in class but in reality you realize how you hate  arguing as you find that  arguments are  counter productive. You definitely dread confrontation and not a fan of aggression whether passive or otherwise.

You think the conventional path is safe, in reality there are no safe paths. You have enrolled yourself in law school by default as you do not know what you want to do with your life and you want a secure living. I do not think you want to use law to make a difference in this world. You might find that you dislike any form of  injustice, but you realize that justice is an elusive word as you grow older.  Ultimately law may help to keep some order in a society but it is the minds of the people that need to be examined  and that is a tall order.

In today’s highly competitive legal market with overabundance of lawyers, you have to figure out how to build your personal brand. You either must know how to network or be the one who has the stamina and tenacity to litigate in court  or you can plod through documents  laboriously and churn out pages and pages of pedantic and long  legal texts and documentations that must  hold up in court in the event that parties end up in litigation. As lawyers you have to be dispassionate and are expected to  always hold your chin up and keep your  cool and show that everything is under control even if it is  not going well.

You have an affinity for words thus law holds some attraction for you but you are not  one for legal jargons. Legal reasonings can be intellectually stimulating in the beginning but after a while you will find that they are  very dry indeed. After a couple of decades of practice, you would realize that while it is interesting to look at legal issues, dealing with fellow lawyers can be a real pain as they are usually nasty and most of them have to win their cases at all costs even if it means to mislead or have no qualms in bending some rules.

You have a secret desire to be a writer but you feel that you have nothing to write about. Then you realize your mind is constantly churning out stories and you wish you could sit down somewhere and write them all out. You imagine that you would have a blast telling stories for a living but you lack courage and conviction. You think you are free to choose what you want to do with your life , you are never free as you will never try hard enough to be free. Perhaps that is the way you are comfortable with .

Kafka on the Shore” is a page turner. As I raced through the book and when I reached the end, I found that I had to read it again. Haruki Murakami’s writing is never straightforward and there are so much metaphysical stuff that it requires some  thinking to figure out the story and even then there still leaves questions unanswered. Kafka Tamura, a fifteen year old boy beyond his age runs away from his father and on his birthday, he steals his dad’s cell phone and money from his study and packs some bare necessities in a backpack before setting out his journey. Kafka is the  name he has given to himself and he decides that Shikoku, south of Tokyo,a far off town is the place he will be heading to. When he arrives at Takamatsu, he has done the research and is armed with all the information about the libraries in and around Takamatsu. Ever since he was little, he has always loved to spend time in the reading rooms of libraries. During his escape, he looks for the Komura Memorial Library, a private library that belongs to an old wealthy family and has since been open to the public. He has seen a photo of the building with its elegant reading room in Taiyo magazine. Kafka befriends the androgynous librarian, Oshima  who empathizes with his situation and the former offers him a job and lodging at the library.

Hey, you’re back,” Oshima says. He says at my backpack dumbfounded. “My word, do you always lug around so much luggage with you ? You’ re a regular Linus.”

I boil some water and have a cup of tea. Oshima’s twirling his usual long, freshly sharpened pencil. Where his pencils wind up when they get too short I have no idea.

“that backpack’s like your symbol of freedom,” he comments.

“ Guess so,”I say.
“ Having an object that symbolizes freedom might make a person happier than actually getting the freedom it represents.”

“ Sometimes,” I say.
“Sometimes,”he repeats.”You know, if they had a contest for the world’s shortest replies, you’d win hands down.”

“ Perhaps,” Oshima says, as if fed up. “ Perhaps most people in the world aren’t trying to be free, Kafka. They just think they are. It’s all an illusion. If they really were set free, most people would be in a real bind. You’d better remember that. People actually prefer not being free.”’

Kafka on the Shore is a mind-bender. There are two stories that run parallel and eventually converge. The second story is about Satoru Nakata who lost his memory after waking up from a coma in 1944. Nakata together with sixteen fourth grader fell into a coma when they went looking for mushrooms in the jungle. While all the other students woke up unharmed after a few hours, Nakata did not wake up  till a few weeks later and when he woke up, his memory was completely wiped out. He  lost his ability to read while before he used to be a brilliant student. When he became a grown man, he had to rely on government subsidy and earned some pocket money by being a cat finder as he has gained the ability to communicate with cats. Both the young Kafka and the old Nakata are reclusive and fiercely independent and they seem to head to Shikoku separately. Along the way, they meet companions who are willing to assist them along the way. Nakata forges friendship with Hoshino, a truck driver who meets Colonel Sanders, in his white suit in their quest for a particular rock. Colonel Sanders claims that he has just decided to take on a familiar shape of a famous capitalist icon as he does not have any form. He is a metaphysical conceptual object and to perform a real act, he needs someone with substance to help out. Colonel Sanders told Hoshino,

I’m kind of an overseer, supervising something to make sure it fulfils its original role. Checking the correlation between different worlds, make sure things are in the right order. So results follow causes and meanings don’t get all mixed up. So the past comes before the present, the future after it. Things can get a little out of order, that’s okay. Nothing’s perfect.  If the account book’s basically in balance, though, that’s fine by me. To tell you the truth, I’m not much of a detail person…….

Kafka on the Shore deals with the subconscious mind and in the realm where cats talk, fish falls from the sky and the spirits can slip out of the human bodies, Haruki Murakami weaves a story about a fifteen year old boy, his hatred for his father  and how his world was changed  by his mother and his sister having  abandoned him when he was four years old. Here is a snippet of the conversation he has with his alter ego, Crow.

‘“ But she abandoned me. She disappeared, leaving me alone where  I shouldn’t be. I’m finally beginning to understand how much that hurt. How could she do that if she really loved me?”

“ That’s the reality of it. It did happen,” the boy named Crow says. “ You were hurt badly, and those scars will be with you forever. I feel sorry for you. I really do. But think of it like this: It’s not too late to recover. You’re young, you’re tough. You’re adaptable. You can patch up your wounds, lift up your head, and move on. But for her that’s not an option. The only thing she’ll ever be is lost. It doesn’t matter whether somebody judges this as good or bad-that’s not the point. You’re the one who has the advantage. You ought to consider that.

I don’t respond.
“It all really happened, so you can’t undo it,” Crow tells me.
 “She shouldn’t have abandoned you then, and you shouldn’t have been abandoned. But things in the past are like a plate that’s shattered to pieces. You can never put it back together like it was , right?”

I nod. You can never put it back together like it was. He’s hit the nail on the head.’

So often there are things that happen beyond our comprehension and the choices we made for reasons we cannot fathom. In life we all come from somewhere and heading somewhere and we cannot have all the answers just like when we read Murakami’s novels, we can just ride with the stories and see where they take you as we never know what will come next just like the way life is.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Comfort Zone


Although on many occasions, I would rather stay home and read my books as I  love to read and cannot have enough hours to do so, I regularly meet up with friends and family members and I  participate in local events to interact with other people and spar thoughts and  ideas. I do not like meeting acquaintances as it can be quite tiresome to have to exchange pleasantries but I enjoy meeting new people as I am curious about strangers as one may get some surprises after going beyond the introductions.

If you ask me how I would describe myself, this is  how I perceive myself. A bit of perfectionist, honest ( though not entirely true), imaginative, trusting, adaptable , sensitive and empathetic. Affable though some people may not agree. I can also be stubborn, overly sensitive and inconsistent in my behaviour. There are times I am comfortable appearing in public while there are also times when I feel like hibernating. I imagine it could be liberating to visit a foreign place where you hardly know anyone but it definitely takes a lot of courage for some people to leave behind their old life  and start a life in a foreign country.  I am not one who can lead a nomadic kind of life so I stayput in one place for decades. Sometimes I wonder if I could have ever done the kind of  travelling Elizabeth Gilbert  described in her memoir Eat Pray Love.

Untold Story by Monica Ali is a fiction premised on the demise of a  princess and about Lydia, an English woman  who had wanted to escape her past and  reinvent a new  life in Kensington, Midwest America. The question was : Could  Lydia ever run away from her home, her children, her family and her heritage? Some part of the story was told by reading the journal kept by her personal assistant, Lawrence who had been extremely supportive of Lydia and a great admirer of her. Lawrence wrote about Lydia in his diary : “ Press exposure and public scrutiny-I hardly know where to begin. She had lived with it for such a long time, why not carry on indefinitely? Perhaps that question is built on the premise that one eventually becomes immune to these things. I wonder if anyone does. We rather assume it when we see the magazines and newspapers full of personal comments on the starlets of the day. It’s the price of fame, we say to ourselves, and loose change at that.”  Lydia  reminds me of Holly Golightly in  Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a novel by Truman Capote although the two characters are very different in that  Lydia is a royal princess who wanted to live an ordinary life while Holly Golightly escaped her homely life and ended up a socialite in Manhattan. Even though both women are vulnerable and insecure, they are determined to break free from the circumstances they were trapped in and take steps to find their own place in the world.