Monday, May 21, 2018

não compreendi

In the early 1990s, I joined a course to learn basic Portuguese. On the very first day, our teacher told us that we must speak only in Portuguese in the class. She told us that this approach would help us learn the language better. And if we had difficulty in understanding we could say, ‘não compreendi!’ (Literally: ‘can’t comprehend)

I struggled to comprehend what was being communicated to me in Portuguese. However, I could keep the conversation going by saying ‘não compreendi’ repeatedly till I understood what was being said. The other person would use simpler language or body language or even speak in English to make me understand.

So often, so many of us do not reveal that we have ‘not understood’ what was told to us. Some worry about displaying their difficulty and be branded as a person with limited comprehension ability. Some feel that they will understand in due course. Some believe that the incomprehensible may not be of great significance.

It is pertinent to note that when we don’t ask for help, we will not get it. We must be transparent about disclosing our difficulties in comprehending the communication. When we do so, we can be helped by explanation or clarification by the other party. We also display our interest in the conversation.

There is no shame in declaring our inability to understand. We must know what we don’t know. And we must not pretend to know. We must show (tell) that we don’t know (understand). We must ask for assistance in our sincere efforts to comprehend. We must declare ‘não compreendi’ whenever we are in a situation of disconnect.

Don’t pretend to understand the difficulty
Trigger clarity by saying ‘não compreendi’!

~ Pravin Sabnis

Monday, May 14, 2018


A Goan family owned many mango trees and the mango season would fill up the house with mangoes kept for ripening. The family could feast on excellent home ripened mangoes but this was not to be. Every day, the family members would be served overripe mangoes which were obviously past their best.

Over the season, the family would be eating only the worst mangoes as there was a new set of overripe fruit, every day. Despite having the best of produce, they were unable to enjoy its flavour. It was ironic that the abundance was useless as they were only consuming the ones on the way to decay.

To set things right, all that the family had to do was to share the ripe or near ripe mangoes with others. These would ensure that mangoes would be eaten or shared before they turned overripe. It would result in a win-win situation where everyone was eating mangoes ripened just right.

Consider the instance of tasty food that we may have cooked or ordered from outside.. There are persons who allow it to remain in the refrigerator till it decays. The choices are restricted to eating it as it is or throw it away or share the unwanted item in an act of bad generosity. All these options are bad due to their timing.

So often, so many of us hold on to things till they are past their best. Some of us share things only when they are festering to the point of decay. The timing matters. We must share when things are just right. We must let go of the tendency to hold on to things till they get spoilt. If we don’t we will have to deal with the predicament of the ‘overripe’.

Before time, stuff must be shared
Else the overripe fix will be flared!

~ Pravin Sabnis

Monday, May 7, 2018


Some years back, at the International Film Festival of India, 'Adwait Sangeet', a documentary on renowned vocalists Pandit Rajan and Pandit Sajan Mishra of the Banaras 'gharana' was screened. In the many stories they shared about their eventful life, one interesting account was about an interaction with Osho (Rajneesh).

Osho asked the brothers, ‘what is the opposite of ‘sur’ (melody, accordant)?’ The answer seemed obvious: “besur’ (discordant, inharmonius). Osho had a different answer, ‘even the non-melodious is a type of a melody… the opposite of melody is silence, the pause between the music!’

Indeed, it is a valuable lesson! The opposite of things may not always be the ‘other’ extreme. It may be the absence of that thing. For instance the converse of love is not hatred (which is negative love). Hatred is the other end of love. But the opposite of love is indifference – the absence of response.

So often, so many of us confuse the other end of the stick as the converse of it. The contrast need not be the antithesis. The contrary may be the absence of the hypothesis. If we think on this lines, we will be more concerned about the absence rather than the albeit adverse presence.

The discordant is still a type of concordant
The contrary is absenteeism created dent!

~ Pravin Sabnis

Monday, April 30, 2018


‘If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him’ – Zen quote.
Like all Zen quotes it is open to varied interpretation. A simple reading would suggest resisting charlatans who claim they are enlightened… It could suggest exposing and challenging the fake teacher... It could insist that reverence leads to the illusion of learning… there are other insights too!

It is pertinent to note that Buddha refers to the one who is enlightened. Siddhartha Gautama was a Buddha who propagated an interaction with the self to introspect, question and search for answers. On enlightenment, one becomes a Buddha!

In order to see the Buddha, you have to BE the Buddha. If you aren't enlightened, you can't really see the light. Once you become the Buddha, you can let him go. Once you ‘meet him on the road’ then you have no more to learn from ‘him’.

Holding on to learning becomes a dependency like that of a crutch. No learning is meant to be held onto. It is meant to provide an experience for where you are at in the moment. In a different situation and different context, the same learning will not be valid. It will lead to a new meaning, and a new experience.

Learning is a stepping stone to the next level of understanding. Holding onto learning keeps one in the same place. One must unlearn and move on to move ahead. Enlightenment from learning (Buddha) is necessary but we have to progress to further learning by transcending restrictive reverence!

Learn from Buddha to become like him
Next unlearn and step beyond his rim!

~ Pravin Sabnis

Monday, April 23, 2018


Pedro noticed a few grey strands in the mane of his teacher. Immediately, he reached out to pull one of them. He was reprimanded, ‘plucking grey hairs make more grow back.’ Nevertheless, Pedro pulled out a few strands of hair.

His teacher was furious, ‘How dare you? Do you want my hair to turn white?’ Pedro calmly replied, ‘I plucked your black hair to make more of them grow!’

We learnt in school that the converse of a theorem happens when the conclusion and hypothesis of a theorem are switched. For example, if you have a general theorem that says ''if this, then that'', then the converse theorem would say ''if that, then this''.

While all converses may not be true, we need to examine our belief statements for being true as theories as well as their converse. When we scrutinise our beliefs and values, they must match up for consistency for the premise as well as the conclusion.

So often, so many of us flaunt hypothesis that are found wanting when seen in the converse. In social media as well as social transactions, we must ponder whether the validity of our premise stands the converse of the conclusion.

Our beliefs must pass the test of reverse
Premise must be confirmed in converse!

~ Pravin Sabnis

Monday, April 16, 2018


The 2008 Hindi movie, ‘A Wednesday’ depicts a retired police commissioner narrating a sequence of events that unfolded on a particular Wednesday. An unnamed man calls to inform that he has placed explosives at different crowded spots in the city. To ensure that they do not explode, he asks for the release of four arrested terrorists.

But when the terrorists are taken to his stated location, they are blown by a bomb. The unnamed man has avenged the terrorist attack that killed innocents. His task done, he destroys all his gadgets and leaves to run into the commissioner who has identified him on the basis of a face sketch and by hacking his location.

The film ends with the voiceover of the commissioner saying that the man told him his real name but he does not wish to reveal it since doing so would give away the man's religion. And it would change the context of the intent of the man’s actions.

Disclosing the identity of rape victim remains a grey area. Even when protected by an Indian Penal Code, the media and those on social media err on the side of caution. For three years, the identity of the girl everyone referred to as Nirbhaya or the fearless one was legally ‘concealed’ even though her name was thrown up careless persons.

In today’s times of the information boom, prejudiced posturing is dependent on ‘name’. The response depends not on humane values of justice but on the context of the names of the aggressors as well as the victims. It changes depending whether the ‘name’ is one from ‘among us’ or the ‘others’.

Some of us wear tinted glasses. Our response is based on the ‘name’. We must not allow our prejudice to jaundice our perception. The act of a criminal or the plight of a victim has to be seen for what it is, not for their name. Names are just incidental labels. It is the criminal or the casualty that must be responded to aptly. Unnamed!

The unnamed eventually ensure a factual tale
Sans prejudice setting us off on a wrong sail!

~ Pravin Sabnis

Monday, April 9, 2018


During a discussion on trekking in Goa, the talk moved to littering by irresponsible visitors at nature spots. Someone mentioned how a child had cuts on the soles of his feet, when they ventured bare-footed into a forest-stream that had broken beer bottles in its bed.

While all agreed with the growing nuisance by insensitive tourists, I asked, ‘why were the children allowed to enter the water body and that too with bare feet?’ Somebody said it was natural to do so. I insisted that it was unnatural and an irresponsible act!

It is natural to be mesmerised by Mother Nature. However it is unnatural to step out of line. Beautiful butterflies are maimed by the ones who want to hold it in their hands. On the other hand, expert swimmers have died trying to save the over enthusiastic persons who walked into seemingly safe water bodies.

Nature is to be appreciated but we cannot take it for granted. We cannot cross the line of nature. So often, so many of us choose the unnatural. We involve in actions that are contrary to the ordinary course of nature. True nature lovers will appreciate the sights and sounds from a distance as they do not want to disturb or encroach.

We find many signs of caution around us… Do not pluck the flowers. Do not feed the animals. Do not touch the paintings. Do not swim in these waters. Do not bathe in the waterfall. Do not litter. Do not disturb. Indeed it is unnatural to ignore the message to not cross the line! In fact, we must heed the caution sign even in its absence!

It is natural to look but unnatural to touch
Respect the line; heed the caution notch!

~ Pravin Sabnis