Random jottings on a Sunday afternoon


In August, when she visited Europe with her family, S, a friend from my college days, was delighted to see “so many elderly people” in the town I live. Back in Dubai, where she lives, one hardly saw the old: the city, continually renewing itself, was full of people who worked and tourists who came shopping.  “This is so nice,” she said, after a walk through town the day after they arrived.

Her remark, which could have come only from an outsider to whom the contrast was stark, reminded me of the importance of this demographic, especially on its effect on pace and quality of life here.  A recent incident comes to mind.

It was a Sunday morning; Wife and I were out on a  neighborhood walk. We approached an old man and, guided by habit, wished him a “Guten morgen.”  Instead of returning our greeting he simply stared back. Funny, I thought, and just as we were about to cross him he began to speak.

Darf ich etwas fragen?” he said.  May I ask something?

Aber natürlich” I replied. Of course.

Warum führen Sie die Frau nicht?!”  Why are you not leading the woman?

This expression puzzled me. For a moment I wondered if he was asking why I wasn’t walking in front, but this didn’t seem right.  Sensing our confusion he pointed to my hands, and asked why I wasn’t holding the woman’s hand while walking. He had noticed us on the way up this street, he said, and even then I wasn’t holding her hand! Lead her by the hand!

Confusion turned into a mix of amusement and delight. I instantly reached out to Wife’s hand and told him that of course I should have been doing it all along.  We thanked him and continued our walk, hand in hand.

* * *

I bought an iPhone a couple of weeks back. Whether I need another mobile is debatable, but the device has turned into a such a versatile all-rounder that it was hard to sustain the I-don’t-need-another-phone argument. Simply put, it is no longer a phone: I’ve made less than half a dozen calls so far, and my usage has largely been in other application areas. Here are a few:

  • Camera (still and video): Same as any mobile phone, but ease of use and video is a big plus.
  • Voice Memos: Delightful to capture sounds in all manner of places. Railway stations, for example.
  • Classics:  This application has given me access to about a dozen classics. Presently reading (in odd places and for short intervals) Huckleberry Finn and enjoying the experience.
  • Dictionary:  Comes with an offline dictionary and thesaurus. I find myself digging into unknown words more often than before. (The iPhone is always with me when I’m reading a book or a magazine.) It also has a cool feature to pronounce a word out loud (The accent, unfortunately, is American; I would have preferred British.)
  • RadioBox:  Provides access to hundreds of radio stations (which stream content over the internet). I’m only beginning to discover the wonders of this resource.
  • Google Earth:  Imagine this at your fingertips, always available.
  • Shazam:  Make this application listen for 20 seconds to any recorded song that is playing, and it will get back to you with the song details, including a link to buy it on iTunes and play it on YouTube.  (But it doesn’t seem to work with western classical works).

* * *

Sometime in August, driving through a wooded region in Germany, Wife looked at some trees with yellowing leaves and remarked that autumn was upon us much earlier this year. The trees did look yellow, the leaves on the ground also hinted at an early autumn, but the cause was a moth called Horse-chestnut leaf miner that has been spreading fast across Europe in the recent years. I had first noticed infected leaves last year during a walk in the woods; this year the infection seemed far more widespread.


But last week the first signs of the real autumn were visible: leaves slowly changing colour. At this stage it seems as if the plants cannot decide whether to wear a green outfit,  an orange one or something in between.


* * *

Last week I found a letter from the workplace in the postbox.  The familiar pale-blue envelope stood out amongst the white ones – phone bills, subscription reminders – and I wondered what official message it carried. The bonus round was long over; I wasn’t expecting a promotion; and no one had said a word about any stock options.

So what could it be?

The envelope contained details of a ‘benefit plan’, a set of insurances the company contributes to on behalf of each employee. One sheet summarized the contributions so far, another explained why this was being sent now. A sentence on this second sheet made me pause:

“The age of retirement for the purpose of the statutory pension is being gradually increased to 67.”

67. I stared at the number. Suddenly, I felt tired.

I don’t want to be working in a corporate setting at sixty seven, I told myself.  Why? Several reasons came to mind, but what loomed large at that moment was the imbalance between the proportion of work I put in and the impact this work has. (Plus, in some way, the relevance of that impact on society.)  There is a decent amount of learning and growth on the job, but in the end that has to translate into impact. This isn’t happening, and I’m beginning to feel something is wrong.

All this is still vague, not specific enough. It also isn’t clear where else I would want to be at sixty seven? And what must I be doing now – or soon – if I wish to be occupied very differently at sixty seven?

Sixty seven is a little over thirty years away. Given how long eleven years at the workplace have felt, another thirty-odd years seem like eternity. However, contemplating that length of time brings forth a prospect, a possibility: it seems to me that in that period one could take up something totally different, something one has never done before, and become proficient enough to achieve satisfaction, perhaps even fulfillment. An urban planner, a historian, a translator, a scientist – it all seems possible.

Such a thought could not have occurred to me earlier, say five years ago. One needs a stable period of about a decade, perhaps, to get a feeling of what we can acquire, what we can do, if we give ourselves time and continuity. Eleven years of working in this industry  have instilled a certain grasp of the domain (in which I work) and this culture (of the workplace). Even if I looked at matters beyond work, matters where attention has been partial at best, things still look promising: eight years in Germany have given me an average comprehension of a new language and culture; if I spent the next three decades in three different countries I could pick up three more languages and immerse myself into three other cultures.  An exciting possibility, to say the least.

These thoughts are nascent, premature. But it is a beginning. Who knows where this will lead to?

14 thoughts on “Random jottings on a Sunday afternoon

  1. Thanks for the hand-holding story. Also, I love that second autumn pic. Might I get your permission to use that as a basis for some kaleidoscope art??? You, of course, would be credited for the inspiration…

    1. I was wondering, if you could choose three other languages and cultures, what would those three languages be??? I myself have difficulty when it comes to learning new languages, but I love hearing people speak in their native tongue.

      p.s. –you can view my previous artwork here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/planetcity1/

      I would love to work with your photo as a majority of my ancestors came from Germany, and the fact that, living in Florida, I don’t have access to plants with such vibrant colors in the Fall.

      1. I’d be delighted to support such a use of any photo of mine, Diane – of course you may use it. The artwork featured on your flickr site are, at first glance, stunning. I’m curious to see what comes out of the above photo.

        About the three other languages: my initial answer (without putting too much thought into it) would be Arabic, Japanese and Spanish. Perhaps I could then read Mahfouz, Tanizaki and Marquez in the original!!

      2. That’s an interesting mix on the languages. And thanks for your ok to work with that pic. The resulting pieces will be something along the lines of the bottlebrush set, but with your photo, I am thinking of elongating the width of the piece so I can better showcase the colours and that wonderful branch. I’ll let you know when I get everything finished and uploaded to Flickr.

  2. I can’t help but smile (at the holding hand story) and nod my head in understanding(at the matters beyond work part).

  3. parmanu:

    “Sixty seven is a little over thirty years away. Given how long eleven years at the workplace have felt, another thirty-odd years seem like eternity.”

    life is like an accordion. the older you are, the quicker the years fly by and, if you are like me, you will also have more memories of your childhood years than you will have of recent years (that observation only serves to reinforce my accordion analogy!).

    – s.b.

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