My Month in Mulki

What I learnt when I was supposed to be learning how to surf

Chapter 6: Interaction

One of the more interesting features (though probably accidental) of the surfing school’s design, was that the rooms themselves are not neccessarily the most comfortable spaces to spend time. The common areas however, with their excellent views, comfortable seating, and perpetual stiff breezes, tend to be exponentially more ideal gathering spots.

Thus, most guests, and most volunteers tend to use their rooms just to sleep. Most of the free time is spent outside, in the common areas, together. Suddenly hospitality has a tendency to become a full-time affair. Generally, constant interaction just grinds me down. But I was just here for a month. Let’s see how much we can push it. And amongst the hundreds of people I went out of my way to talk to and interact with, there were some that just stood out.

There are some special interactions that you get to have in life, where it just feels like you are sharing a mental bond with someone. There is a sense that both of you are somehow sharing the same thought patterns. You may or may not be starting from the same points, or reaching the same conclusions, but there is a familiarity in the trains that you both board, and both of you strongly sense that.

These generally tend to happen in intimate one on one conversations, and very often with people you may not suspect. They start innocuosly, maybe as a part of a larger group conversation, and slowly, the two of you start steering it along a mutually unplanned yet inevitable path. You lose track of time, and other people who may have been present at the start of the coversation, slowly drop out until it is just the two of you.

There is something about these kinds of conversations that provides a very fertile ground for learning. In an ordinary conversation, we tend to have our mental guards up. All the incoming comments are filtered through a bunch of biases, and ideas are often ignored due to their source. However, in one of these free flowing conversations, you establish an atmosphere of intellectual intimacy, where you completely open up your hearts and minds, and are fully amenable to the other persons suggestions, because you understand that you share enough of a common ground in ideas, thoughts and mental patterns that whatever is being said is logical through your lens, just that you are yet to see it that way.

I was fortunate to have a collection of these conversations over my time here, and three in particular that really helped me broaded my horizons.

We were sitting on the bamboo chairs outside. Both of us were the quiet ones in our respective groups. It was the middle of the afternoon, and after an intense session of surfing and a well-deserved lunch, there was a calm energy floating over us, ready to descend on us at any moment, and send us all scurrying for our afternoon naps. There was a slight lull in the conversation, and he finally got the opportunity to get a remark in. It piqued my interest, and I responded.

Suddenly it was just the two of us, and everyone else had disappeared. His watch said that an hour and a half had passed by, but my subjective experience felt more like a few seconds. That intellectual intimacy had been created, and our conversations had been flowing from idea to idea with a rhythm that felt in tune with the moment.

Somehow, we had not discussed his profession up until that point, and when he mentioned it, it took some effort for me to stifle my shock. Over the preceding few months, I had concluded that there were a few professions that were an overall blight to society, a waste of talent, and a culmination of everything that was wrong with a hyper capitalistic system. And here was someone who was proudly saying that he did one of these tasks.

Sure, I had met others who did the same, but I was able to easily dismiss them, for one reason or the other. In this case, however, my heart and mind was completely open, and after all that I had learnt about this person, I couldn’t just dismiss it out of hand. And so I bit my tongue, and asked. Why?

And in the following hour or so there was a lot of discussion again. I had many doubts, and he was clearing them. He had gone through some of the thought processes that I had, and others were new to him, but eventually, when it came down to it, the main reason that he was doing it was because it was something that he enjoyed. And I can’t fault people for enjoying what they enjoy.

So after that, I still had my list of professions that remain a blight on society. But now, they all come with an asterisk. Context matters.

We were sitting in the dining room. He was a part of the first round of guests. He’s a very talkative guy, and was just sitting around talking to every round of guests as they come in to eat. I was busy serving the food, and was not really able to dive deep into conversation. Until I was. And again, it was the same. One eternal moment later, lunch time is long gone, and it’s just us, chatting in the dining room.

This time, it’s the company that he has just joined. I have a list of companies that are evil. And it’s two companies long. And he has specifically opted to work for one of them? Again, were it anyone else, it’s a simple matter of just dimissing the topic and moving forward. But not now, not with him. So I have to ask… Why?

Again, lots of questions. Lots of answer. Lots of shared thoughts and explorations. It boils down to the fact that the company does a lot of good as well. And there is a lot more good that can be done. Sure, maybe they are making some mistakes, but maybe the best way to address those would be from within, rather than just putting it on a list of evil companies.

So again. Asterisk added. Context matters.

We were sitting out on the deck. The sun was about to set, and the whole sky and river was lit up in the brilliant hues that only sunsets can inspire. It was not a moment for talking. It was a moment for basking in the glory of the universe. Once the sun had set, and the chill of the evening began to set in, he turned to me, and said, “So tell me about you Sam.”

This time, there was no extended conversation. No subjective time relativity of any sort. It’s just a single question, asked with such sincerity, and with a gentleness that is almost forceful, all barriers fall aside, and there was only openness. And it was tangible. And everything just flowed out.

He was a little older than I am. While the others seemed to be at similar distances along the paths I was travelling, he felt like he was way ahead in all aspects. That he had already had all of these thoughts that I was currently having, and had managed to resolve all the crossroads and paradoxes that I was facing. A well of wisdom at which I had somehow found myself, and I was going to quench myself to the fullest.

He shared a lot of wisdom. But there was one thing he said, that really put everything into place. All the things that I had been struggling with, now suddenly had a framework through which they could be understood and reckoned with.

“Life is a balance between principle and practical.”

In an instant, a lot of things fell into place. How had I condemned companies as evil? Or professions as wasteful? It was all just an over-correction on the side of my principles. As much as I wanted to live my life by them, it’s not a meaningful goal. There has to be a compromise at some point, and we need to accept that we are going to have to draw some lines, and be mindful of where we choose to draw them.

There were a lot more people. And a lot more conversations. I learnt a lot, and got to expand my horizons. They might have been uncomfortable, but they were conversations well spent.

Lesson 6

Some of the most meaningful things we will learn in our lives will be from other people. So whenever you find yourself having opened your heart and mind, just be prepared for any wisdom that might flow your way.

As recalled by Samarth Hattangady | List of Chapters