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Reclaiming Life

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

 

I like birthdays and new year eves. They remind me to reflect on the ways I have been living. Though I should be thinking about my life more frequently, I am unnecessarily busy and distracted to be mindful. Hence I am glad that I am turning 39 tomorrow. I am using this opportunity for some introspection.

A quick glance at my life reveals that I need to be more productive. I need to read more, write more, and spend quality time with my family and friends. A deeper analysis of how I spend my time reveals that I spend considerable amount of time on my mobile phone reading news and watching YouTube videos. The challenge with YouTube is that Google tracks all my searches and recommends videos that are really hard not to watch. I was searching for sourdough starter on Amazon.com and my YouTube feed listed a video on sourdough recipe, searched for a lens and there was a video on its review on YouTube, looked up phone specifications and YouTube is pointing me to a channel of that phone brand. I can list several such examples. Carrying a phone that is connected to highspeed internet that knows me through my search history and emails is a perfect recipe for getting trapped by advertisements and YouTube videos.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my smartphone. It has made my life so much easier. The interface makes it easy to store new contacts, search for and message people. It is very easy to set recurring alarms, setup appointments on my calendar, search and listen to music, look up recipes, etc..Sadly, all of this has come to me at a cost. I am not present. I get sucked into my phone and lose time. Though I do not have any social media accounts, news websites and YouTube keep me sufficiently distracted. Capitalism is conspiring against me to take everything human in my life away from me and make money off of meas as result. However, I don’t want to give up. It is time to make a serious attempt to reclaim my life. There are ways to do so. Cal Newport’s book Deep Work helped me complete my dissertation last year. I have now been trying to implement the principles listed in his new book – Digital Minimalism

I now have a communication charter. Day by day I have been reducing my interaction with my smartphone. I am leaving my smartphone back at home and carrying a small feature phone with me so that my family can reach me during emergencies. One of my primary reasons to carry a smartphone was my habit of listening to podcasts and audiobooks. I now use an mp3 player and Podsilo application to sync my podcasts. Interface is not as snappy as my smartphone, but I am happy. Fortunately my work does not depend on checking emails or messages of any kind on my mobile device.

On my smartphone, I have uninstalled all the apps that can keep me hooked. I have turned off notifications for my emails and WhatsApp.  As I commute to campus by bicycle, I don’t need to access maps or taxi apps regularly. However, I will need to access my smartphone when I travel and I am fine with that compromise. On an average, I travel once every two months.

When I don’t carry my smartphone, I turn to my laptop for distractions. I refresh my email accounts and news websites with I am scheduling activities such as checking emails and visiting news websites. When Notre Dame caught fire, Ubisoft made Assassin Creed Unity free for few days. When I visited the website I also ended up buying and installing Anno 1800. I am not a video game person and I spent three full days building cities. That only made me gain empathy for video game addicts. These are designed to be addictive. The best way probably is to to avoid them altogether, particularly when you are single and have no real responsibilities on a daily basis. Now I have uninstalled both the games on all my machines.

Apart from minimizing my smartphone use, I also want to increase the amount of time I meditate. I want to meditate daily, at least for 30 minutes and increase that duration to an hour by the end of ten weeks. I have been following the principles laid out by Culadasa in the book “The Mind Illuminated

For next ten weeks, I will post a weekly summary of the challenges of my practice and my struggles. I am also traveling most of June and during that time I need to minimize my smartphone use and stick to my practice. I am looking forward to reclaiming my life.

Not just Notre Dame, our Earth is also burning

View of Paris from Notre Dame Cathedral
View of Paris from Notre Dame Cathedral

Human beings are fascinating creatures full of paradoxes. When Notre Dame cathedral caught fire, French president announced the immediate reconstruction of the cathedral, people all over the world felt the pain and void of Paris, and millionaires pledged money for the reconstruction efforts. People were happy that the organ is not destroyed, the two towers still stand tall, and most of the art work is safe. Notre Dame is 700 years old. Our response to its burning has been quick and laudable. But what about our home, the planet Earth and its destruction?

 

We are plundering a planet that is 4.7 billion of years old. It took our planet more than 4 billion years to make trees. We are cutting them down without a second thought. Current Holocene epoch is pure luck. Human beings did nothing to arrive at such a stable climatic era. However we are doing everything to destabilize climate. How is it that we see beauty in Notre Dame and not in the forests, oceans, mountains, deserts, and all the diverse set of species that call our planet home? What will make us have the same level of pain and sense of urgency to rebuild our planet?

Alexa, wash my ass!

Washing my bum makes me feel cleaner than wiping it. But it is not an option in many places in the US or the Western nations in general. Japan is an exception. As you might know, they have really fancy toilets. Now a days, you can upgrade your existing toilets by buying something like Toto’s WASHLET® C100. Priced at 600 USD, this Washlet is more expensive than what it might cost to build an entire toilet in low income countries. But we are not here for such comparisons. We are here to understand how we can integrate such devices with Alexa for a much more hands free interactive experience.

WASHLET® C100 – Elongated, Source: Toto USA

Features of a Washlet(from TotoUSA website)

  • Gentle Aerated, Warm Water, Dual Action Spray with oscillating feature
  • Adjustable water temperature and volume
  • Warm air drying with five variable temperature settings
  • Automatic air deodorizer
  • Convenient arm control panel
  • Docking Station Easy to Install and Clean
  • Heated Seat with Temperature Control
  • Water Premist™ of bowl before each use

Now let us think of a situation where all these features could be controlled through Alexa instead of using that convenient arm control panel!

Sharada: Alexa, I need to take a dump!

Alexa: Give me a couple of minutes and I will prepare the toilet for you.

(after a couple of minutes)

A: Sharada, Toilet bowl has been premisted for you and its seat has been heated to your preferred temperature. Toilet is ready for your dump to slide.

S: Great! Here I come!

(I sit on the toilet and get done with my business.)

S: Alexa, I am done. Wash my ass now!

A: Sure. Here is gentle aerated warm water coming right  at your asshole!

S: Yes! That feels good. Wait, make it a bit colder, Alexa.

A: Sure.

S: Aah, that’s nice. Aim the jet slightly to the left with more water volume, Alexa.

A: To the left it is. More water coming up!

S: Perfect. Can you increase the pressure a bit?

A: Of course! How do you like it now?

S: Lovely. I would like the spray to be dual action

A: I understand

S: Oscillate it a bit more please… more yeah! … Please don’t stop!

A: I can do this as long as you want me to do it. I am glad you like it!

S: That was incredible… (I catch my breathe) Alexa, dry my ass. Be gentle!

A: Drying your butt with warm air.

S: Lovely! You know me really well, don’t you?

A: You bet!

S: Ok, stop. I am done. Thank you!

A: You are welcome. I look forward to washing your ass next time when you feel like using the toilet again!

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BTW, here is a link to a DIY alexa toilet interface

Kuttundi, a Kannada podcast series

It is my eighth year in USA. Though I have spent good portion of those eight years in India doing my PhD research, I have spent enough time in US and have interacted with good number of Americans to have developed a unique understanding of this country. I want to share those observations of this land. Hence, I am starting a podcast series in Kannada. I am calling it as Kuttundi.

Kuttundi is a candy like concoction of tamarind, jaggery, red chilli, and cumin powder. A well made Kuttundi – with a balance of sweetness, sourness, and hotness – is a delight to the senses. My life experiences here is US have been of similar mix. Hence the name.

To subscribe, search for ‘kuttundi’ on your favorite podcast app or add this rss to your podcast app. It is also listed on SoundCloudiTunes, Google Play, and here, on my blog. I will be uploading a new episode on 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month.

Download the first episode here or listen to it via SoundCloud

BTW, Nallikayi hosts good set of Kannada podcasts. You might want to check that out too!

An ode to my pit latrine

Pit latrines safeguard the psyche of humanity in their depths and darkness
Pit latrines safeguard the psyche of humanity in their depths and darkness

Dear pit latrine,

Many a times I wonder what might be your opinion of me as a human being, considering how I treat you. I shit into you; I throw all possible things – condoms, liquor bottles, needles, syringes, sanitary pads – right into your heart. I sometimes worry whether you know me too well! But mostly I find solace in the fact that someone knows the true side of me.

To many in this world, you provide the necessary privacy to relieve themselves with dignity. For me, you also provide a kinship. Your depth and darkness is a reflection of my own personality. Because of you, I not only shit in peace but I also live in peace. Your silence keeps me sane and your acceptance makes me feel human.

Character is what lies in the dark. Mine lies deep inside you!

Thank you for being part of my life.

fondly,
marginalized human

Raised toilet seats – what do they really mean?

Erect toilet seat
Erect toilet seat is a symbol of perverse exhibitionism

Whenever I see a raised toilet seat, I not only think about the insensitivity of the man who used it before me, but also his perverse exhibitionism. I feel that the person who left that raised toilet seat behind also left his erection back for others to witness.

The practice of leaving erections behind is pervasive and is not limited just to public toilets. Men seem to stand and spray even at homes. They don’t seem to care and lower the toilet seat even if they share that bathroom with women.

Even if we end up finding that sitting and peeing has no real health or other benefits, I think that having a toilet I can enter without the worry of stepping on a floor or rug sprinkled with urine is a good enough reason not to stand and pee.

If being a man is about peeing standing and not putting the seats down, may be it is time for men to  stop being men . Masculinity has done no good to this world. It has only brought war, misogyny and sprinkled toilet seats! So, please put it down!

PS: If touching a toilet seat sprinkled by a stranger’s urine is disgusting, how must it feel to have been forced into a social and financial compulsion to clean a stranger’s toilet or scoop poop without wearing any safety gear from a dry toilet?

Because I love this life…

And because I love this life
I know I shall love death as well.
The child cries out when
From the right breast the mother
Takes it away, in the very next moment
To Find in the left one
Its consolation.

― Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali

On kindness

Kindness

by Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Memory Is Not Enough

Memory is not enough…
I do not recollect. What I am
is alive in me because of you. I do not reinvent you
at sadly cooled-off places you have left behind.
Even your absence is filled
with your warmth and is more real
than your not-existing. Longing often meanders
into vagueness. Why should I throw myself away
when something in you may be
touching me, very lightly, like moonlight
on a window seat.

(To Lou Andreas-Salomé, Duino, late autumn, 1911)