When I was with myself

This year can be called Corona year. I have no work worth mentioning, yet I am busy. Thank God, my mind is working, and it is working best in the shower. In the shower, it tells me so many wonderful things. My hours in the shower are like zero hours. Zeros, if put properly, enhance the significance of time. I am learning nothing new and I am also not feeling guilty. Bertrand Russell tells the story of Naples beggars. The laziest beggar who did not even care to pick the coin thrown at him got the coin. As they say, wherever there is sun there is idleness. And a workaholic is not necessarily a valued employee.

When I am with myself, doing nothing is a way of life.

I while away my time; eating, watching, observing, listening.

In my useless time, I am thinking like a wise.

I am saying nothing, yet I was saying many things.

I was seeing beauty in everything.

I stepped into myself, with no purpose.

When I stepped out, I found a purpose.

Don’t ask me what that was.

So relaxing was the time.

It led me to believe that all truths merge into one sublime.

I often wonder, what is more difficult - talking or listening? I suppose people who are eager to tell too much about themselves, also have similar eagerness to know about others. All professors seem to believe in the logic of Oscar Wilde, “I like to do all the talking myself. It saves time, and prevents arguments.”

One likes to talk to a beautiful mind. When you are talking to yourself you will have to assume that you are a beautiful mind. The logic of seeing beauty perhaps applies to the art of conversation. Often you conflict with yourself. Politeness is one of the ingredients of the art of conversation. Good nature is ‘natural politeness. Politeness is also ‘artificial good nature’. Exuberant politeness, perhaps, is not desirable. Sycophancy is as despicable as rudeness is. It is helpful to know that silences are often more flattering than compliments. Excessive life-sharers are the most boring. Don’t yawn when you are talking to yourself. Don’t talk about the same subject all the time. The world has become more talkative. Technology-based conversations are becoming less interesting.

Remember that life is beautiful.

Life is simple, don’t complicate it.

Touch it, if it shrinks, it will come back.

It has flaws, be kind, be considerate.

Something will go wrong, as it goes along.

It is found in minor strains; in grief, yearning, need, strife.

Surprise it, celebrate it, and fill it with beautiful hours.

Greet each day with new delight.

Catch the fleeting moments.

So much happens, but life goes on.

Life is real, try not to make it synthetic.

In one of my sublime moments, I read an article about personal space. No one wants to give an uneasy feeling by coming too close to someone. The article says, the ‘buffer zone’ is hardwired into our DNA. Our brain computes this buffer zone. The brain computes the personal space largely unconsciously. Its size changes, depending upon the context; how one feels about the other. The personal space functions like a predator. It helps us to avoid unnecessary collisions in everyday life. “If you use a fork to put food into your mouth, you need a sense of the space around the fork so that you don’t hit or stab things.”

Often we can’t avoid such space intrusions, for example, standing in a crowded lift. Writes Edward Hall, “you’re actually enveloped by bubbles of four different sizes, each of which applies to a different set of potential interlopers.” The ‘intimate space’ is for family, pets and one’s closest friends. The ‘personal space’ is for friends and acquaintances. The ‘social space’ is for conducting routine social interactions with new acquaintances or total strangers. ‘Public space’ is open to all ‘.

Interpersonal distance varies across cultures. Members of collectivistic countries prefer stronger interpersonal proximity compared with members of individualistic countries. Two persons with a different concept of personal spaces may face a greater problem of space intrusion.

Indians don’t mind putting an arm around a stranger. We don’t find it awkward to stare at someone who is sitting quietly and eating in a restaurant. We don’t mind, not only reading other’s mind, reading other’s emails if there is a possibility. We are known for giving unsolicited expert advice. We don’t mind talking too loudly even when we are talking to someone who has already invaded our buffer zone. We generally are not aware that space can cause discomfort. We Indians are noticed more by our neighbours, taking advantage of the nearness. Rank strangers will put an arm around you when they want to read the newspaper over your shoulder. The chaps you’ve never spoken to in your colony, will come and smear your faces on Holi. We take this attitude everywhere. Mohalla aunties will police your timings, the uncle you’re meeting for the first time on the train will ask for your pay package, distant relatives will worry about your relationship. It’s our business to stick our noses in everyone’s business. We love to flout all the rules of personal space. We don’t mind touching someone (including someone’s children) without his apparent consent. We don’t mind leaning on someone in a space that still has space to stand on your own. We don’t mind reading else’s newspaper without his permission. We don’t mind entering a private space without knocking the door. We don’t mind sharing our tiffin even if that is not welcome to the other. Learn to say – I am uncomfortable, you being so close. If you can’t say so, don’t grumble, accept it.

We behave differently when we are with others. Distal proximity matters. Frédérique de Vignemont and

Colin Klein write in Aeon about How close is too close? They write about Heini Hediger, a Swiss biologist and zoo director. Hediger studied animal behaviour when put in proximity to one another. He partitioned the space around an animal in zones: the outer zone (flight distance, if a lion is far enough away, a zebra will continue to graze warily, but any closer than that, the zebra will try to escape) and inner zone (defence distance, pass that line and the zebra attacks rather than fleeing), and critical zone (critical distance, if the predator is too close, there’s nothing to do but freeze, play dead and hope for the best). Hediger defined a ‘tame animal’ as the one to which you could get close enough to touch.

We all have ‘tame animal’ tendency. We like to keep potential threats at a safe distance. In a pandemic world, not everyone is welcome to our inner zone. We try to balance the embedded risk with the desire of contact. We try to maintain a buffer of space. This buffer space tells us about our immediate surroundings. The neuroscience behind this ‘peripersonal space’ tells us to draw the dividing line between us and the world. The boundary line, however, is not straight and simple, it messy and malleable. The peripersonal space depends on what matters to us, and our state of mind. It gives us a way to protect us from both big and small dangers. We all love safety, and as Hediger writes, ‘By far the chief preoccupation of wild animals at liberty is finding safety.’ The best thing is that we keep a buffer of space almost unconsciously. Often we maintain this space consciously. This space also helps you to explore the world. Some neuroscientists called this space as ‘second skin’. Maintenance of this space requires trust, besides caution.

In one of my ‘unbusied hours,’ I read about Blob, the fish. It was about the trappings of fame. It was about Blob’s unrelenting quest to win the world’s premier ugliness pageant.

Blob is unbeautiful because of his unshapely flesh. Every year Blob participates in the contest for the world’s ugliest animal. Every year so far, Blob has lost. The first time he was upstaged by a frog. The second time, he was beaten by a parakeet.

The third time, a Sea Pig won gold. Blob was unhappy that he was unfairly not recognized for his true worth. In one of the contests, a member of the jury even called him “more darling and adorable than ugly and repulsive.” He felt ‘horrifying’ and ‘shameful’ because of the recognition that he was not looking for. Blob was a creature of contradictions — full of determination yet easily given to dejection, a living fable of ego and insecurity, easy to a fault but also easy to love. Finally, due to his fierce determination, Blob wins the pageant; he beats a Monkey, a Rat, a Bat. He is crowned the “Ugliest Animal in the World.” He is greeted with thunderous applause and expensive gifts. In no time he becomes a global celebrity. He becomes a spokesperson of ugly animals. He has a large fan following. Famous designers dress him. The Queen invites him to tea. Soon all of this attention begins to spoil Blob — he begins to make outrageous demands and throws legendary tantrums. At the same time, he is becoming aware that his fame is fleeting. Next year there will be another winner. He will no longer be a celebrity. He doesn’t know, having lost the essence of his self in his ephemeral public persona, how he will face life. A different kind of realization dawns on Blog - privilege is bestowed largely by chance and little of actual substance separates the most fortunate from the least fortunate. Blob sinks into a deep depression. One day his reign comes to an end. He is uncrowned. He heads home. No one recognizes him. Blob’s ugliness remains his own even without the world’s prized distinction. He realizes the trappings of fame.