Monday, 18 December 2017

The illusion of control

The scene is a typical Indian services quarters from the 90’s – the kind of sub-600square feet dwelling blocks the government usually provided to their lowest rung employees back then along with a meagre monthly salary. The camera zooms into one of the balconies of that building – a young man is staring into the night view deep in his thoughts – his small home in the background. There are celebrations in that house that night, as he has bagged a job in the esteemed Indian railways – about 5000 rupees per month plus benefits – something that the whole colony is excited about. But he has an alternate career in sports, knows that he has it in him to strike big but somehow things have not worked out as he had hoped. Although the offer in railways is very lucrative, he feels that it is a dead-end in life, and would take him nowhere close to what he has dreamed…

At this moment, his elder sister walks up to him, notices he is worried, and gives him words of comfort – saying he is destined to become a great man. She reckons that someday, he could even end up at a top position in the railways. The young man just smiles at her soothing words but the conflict in his mind is evident – he is struggling to accept the current reality and wants to know where destiny takes him in life…


The young man has now moved to the SER (South Eastern Railway) headquarters at Kharagpur, a handful of people have gathered in a small railway quarters in Kharagpur to watch India play the WC finals of 2003 against Australia. Tendulkar gets out pulling a slower ball from McGrath in the first over and everyone knows the match is gone! The same young boy gets up and walks into the kitchen to make tea for others. He is already feeling depressed that his life has come to a standstill, and is visibly upset. There are voices from the other room who start discussing that Kaif, Mongia and Yuvraj were contemporaries of their buddy at the under 19 level. But they have moved on to represent the country in the world cup, but somehow things have not worked out well for their friend. He listens to their conversation feeling sad and knows they mean well for him, but destiny has been cruel to him so far! Would his destiny ever change? Or would he live as a ticket collector all his life?


We all know where destiny took him!


Rahul proposes his love for Priya in college. She says yes and soon they become the cutest couple in college. Rahul gets good grades in tests whenever Priya wishes him with a red rose. During campus interviews, Rahul is able to secure placement in a very high paying MNC overcoming tough competition from his peers. Priya always feels that Rahul is her lucky charm and that she gives her best performance in exams / interviews when she speaks to Rahul. They believe they are lucky for each other. They want to get married and stay together all their life so that the lucky charm continues all their life…

Today, Priya is settled in the US after finishing her post-graduation from a top university. She is married to Arun, an US based NRI. While Rahul is settled in Mumbai with his wife and 2 kids. Rahul and Priya broke up 2 years after they graduated from college - Rahul wanted to crack CAT and pursue a career in management in India, while Priya wanted to pursue MS in US. Soon, the lucky charm started ditching them, Priya got rejects from most universities after a great GRE score while Rahul’s 2 attempts at CAT did not yield any positive results. They seemed to struggle for even trivial issues at workplace and missed delivery deadlines, got reprimanded by seniors for errors in their delivery, found the going very tough during appraisals and struggled to get even a 5% increment. They fought with each other whenever they managed to meet up on weekends amidst their coaching classes. One fine day, they decided it was enough and called it quits to go their own paths.

When they look back at their relationship from college days, they keep thinking whether it was their love for each other or the supposedly “lucky charm” that kept them together for 5 years.


Pooja thinks that she is born lucky and whatever she predicts comes true- like the outcome of a cricket / soccer match. During a college sporting event, her college team needs a highly unlikely 5 wickets to win in the next two overs while the opposition needs just 10 runs. She predicts that the opposition will be all-out within 1.3 overs and to everyone’s surprise the opposition chokes dramatically and does manage to lose, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory! This incident enhances her reputation among her friends and she starts to predict outcomes of national matches on TV and it turns out to be right all the time. She then tries her luck at stock market and strikes gold within the first two months. She thinks her life is set!

Today, Pooja has lost over 3lakhs rupees in the stock market. Although some of her picks have delivered good returns, there have been big crashes as well leading her to doubt whether she was born lucky in the first place.


Po wants to go watch the dragon warrior selection matches in the palace on the hill. He does not get tickets. His dad gives him a cart of buns to go and sell at the event, which he is not able to drag on the steps because of the cart weight. The gates to the event close before he enters and he feels unlucky that he has missed watching his favorite heroes perform at the event.

We all know where Po’s destiny takes him!


There seems to a common thread connecting these stories? All of them try to elucidate the effects of luck and destiny. Many people interpret these two words differently. But the one that most people seem to agree on is that luck is an instantaneous thing – something that effects the outcomes of our current situation. While destiny is more of a long-term thing – it is what we are entitled to do in the larger scheme of things. A small event in life like a job interview today or a football match tomorrow could be affected by luck, while destiny or fate is what affects in the long run. When a strong team bows out of the competition in a shocking manner, it could be attributed to luck or one-off bad event. But when a strong team with world beaters (say South Africa in cricket) keeps bowing out due to rain/luck or some other factors every single time, then the question definitely arises on the destiny of that team whether it is ever fated to win a trophy

Luck is usually a measurable quantity. Of all the likely events that are going to happen, some could be favorable to you and others might not be so much. You could use probability to count how many times you got lucky. But destiny or fate is something which cannot be determined. Many thinkers / eminent personalities / philosophers have spent a lot of time thinking about destiny and how to measure it, but it is something that is unfathomable. Yet, it is something that affects us greatly in life. If we were to link it with pure statistical terms, luck would be correlation – just the association between two events happening because of chance, while destiny is the real ‘causation’ – the real reason why things happen in a particular way.

Don’t worry about lucky charms – they come and go. The best part about life is we don’t know what we are destined for. We tend to worry about small things. Standing in the balcony of that railway quarters, young Mahi worried what would life turn out to be. Would it be any fun if anyone went to him right then and told him that his destiny would be to hit the winning six of the world cup final? We have to live in the moment, take control of what is controllable and play the game of life in the best manner possible. What is in destiny would eventually come to us. This is true in every field and in everything we do in life. Maybe that 3BHK apartment by a dream builder is your life’s ultimate desire at this phase of life. If you don’t get that/closely miss it due to bad luck, you might feel depressed. But if you are destined to own a villa, no one can stop you from getting it eventually. So, do not worry about seemingly important things now, because destiny always has the bigger picture in mind for you.

One thing the ancient people have concluded is that everything in life is controlled by your past actions. Although this might not be entirely true, it helps to explain the sudden unexplainable events – somebody rising in their field suddenly without any support, a miraculous escape from a sure shot death, etc. ‘RuNaanubandha rupeNa pashu patni suthaalaya’ - Destiny is nothing but a result of our past actions. So, if you are seemingly stuck at some point in life and feel life is being unfair, just remember that the only way out is to write off that past debt is by continuously giving your best shot at all things you do and hoping that things eventually turn out good for you. And finally, acknowledging that a higher force is responsible for the results of our actions would immediately comfort us in sad times and help us stay humble and grounded in happier times.

Another common occurence is that a lot of people interpret these ancient philosophies to undermine natural talent and hard-work. At times, people even get complacent thinking that things are anyway going to be controlled by destiny - Waqt se pehle aur nasseb se jyaada kuch nahi milta, so why put in the effort. This is exactly the opposite of what those philosophies stand for. It is absolutely essential to put in hard-work and improve our skills. It is only by doing this, that the effects of past actions would be nullified and things start turning around. What is more important, however is to not lose focus when things don’t seem to be going the way we like and persist with the efforts such that eventually there will be a worthy reward.

On the personal front, the year has been a demonstration of destiny in action. I tried do too many things and expected too many things too soon. I wanted very quick results for my seemingly heavy efforts, while I now realize that the efforts were average at best, minuscule at worst. I guess I was just hoping to get lucky with without putting in the real hard-work required for the results. The year has made me realize that there is no point in trying to control the uncontrollable and brooding over not being lucky on seemingly important things. Destiny will pan out itself eventually and it is better to let go of the illusion of control and concentrate on the putting in the efforts, in the hope that turnaround would happen when the time is due! And the most important thing is I've learnt that the only way to become better is by perseverance. I plan to continue the same efforts in the next year and beyond. My personal experience has been that whatever is destined would be much greater and better than what can be ever desired! The earlier we make peace with that, the more we can try and live in the present. I wish the coming years would turn out very good for each one of you and may your destiny bring you all those things that you ever wanted and much more. Wish you a happy new year!

1. Images subject to respective copyright owners. Source: Google images.
2. Movies referred to in the post: MS Dhoni: The Untold Story chronicling the life of Indian star cricketer and captain, MS Dhoni and the superhit 2008 animated offering from Dreamworks: KungFu Panda.
3. Comic strip from Dogbert can be found here.
4. Some fictional scenarios are used for illustrative purposed and bear no resemblance to any real-life people.


Bhaskar said...

This should be in the "Speaking Tree" section. :-) Best wishes for the new year mama.

yannifan said...

Very nice post mama. Happy new yr to you too. :)