Steeped In Tradition

Reminiscences and Reflections

Category: People

Only a Rocketman

There is a song that has been haunting me last few days.

“Rocketman” was originally performed by Elton John in 1972. Many artists have covered the song since then. I like the version covered by James Maynard(Puscifer/Tool) the best. It has a feel of Pink Floyd and gives me the chills every time I play it.

This song is set in the future. It’s in a time when space travel has become common.

She packed my bags last night pre-flight
Zero hour nine a.m.
And I’m gonna be high as a kite by then
I miss the earth so much, I miss my wife
It’s lonely out in space
On such a timeless flight

You can tell from the first two lines how the astronauts flight has become something trivial, just like you would pack your bags to take a bus to the next city. There is a deep sadness and fear in the lines that follow.

And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
Till touch down brings me round again to find
I’m not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I’m a rocket man
Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone

Its going to be a long, long time before the astronaut returns back to earth. His greatest fear is that when he returns back home, he will no longer be seen as a brave hero – the astronaut who put his life at risk to travel to the edge of space.

The song was written over forty years ago and yet it is relevant for all times and ages. Professions once seen as noble lose their awe and respect over time. In India, there was a time when a Postman was one of the most respected and educated person in the village. Being a Policeman or Firefighter was something a child aspired to be. A time when soldiers returning to America from the fields of battle in Japan and Europe during the world wars were seen as the finest men. Being a freedom fighter or laying down your life for other people was considered heroic. Being a Teacher and imparting knowledge was a job of great responsibility. Do these people still enjoy the respect they once did?

I wonder if there is any value in trying to preserving old perceptions? I think perceptions in society are like glaciers which inch slowly, constantly changing the landscape. A few well-intentioned people will grieve about the Glacier heading toward their beautiful meadow, they might even dig in with shovels hoping to change the course of it. They should realize the futility of their efforts and accept the change. The only way they will find joy in this change is if they can find beauty in the deep valley that the Glacier has carved behind.

But is there something fundamentally wrong with desire to be seen as hero. In a time when space travel becomes common, how different is being an astronaut from being a truck driver really. I think the struggle in everybody’s life is equally worthy of respect. There are countless heroes who life remains unsung and their courage uncelebrated.

Albert Einstein once said:

If you want to live a happy life,
tie it to a goal. Not to people or things

Our actions cant be guided by the prospects of getting adulation from others.

Being Gentle

I started buying music recently! I felt it was about time and I had the resource to support my favourite artists. My first purchase was an album from a band name “Soulmate” from Shillong, India. They are the torch bearers of the blues movement in India. The lead guitarist and vocalist are phenomenal! Followed by Hugh Laurie’s(House MD?) debut album. Yes Hugh Laurie!

But this post is not about my new found virtue. I needed CDs for my car stereo. And like always, opportunity presented itself as an email from a guy at office who wanted to sell his CD collection.

I replied back with the names of artists I was interested in and also mentioned my general taste of music. We setup an appointment to meet in the office cafeteria. I walked into the cafe at the designated time and saw a guy sitting with a bag on his lap. He greeted me immediately and I took a seat right infront of him. He stared right at me with his deep blue eyes and we spoke about music. We had several common interests: The Beatles, Radiohead, Simon & Garfunkel. He had great interest in indian fusion, tabla, sitar and followed works by some Indian artists.

After a very enjoyable conversation for almost 20 minutes, he smiled and said he was very pleased to meet me and that hes happy to sell his part of his collection to me. I was genuinely impressed by him and asked him how he knew about Indian music. He replied back saying that he is a Jazz musician himself and plays the guitar and keyboard. And as he said that he pulled two big stacks of CDs from his black bag with such precision and placed them on the desk infront of me. The CDs looked almost brand new except for a white label on each one of them. It was Braille! I looked up and noticed those deep set blue eyes were not real. I handed him the money and graciously accepted the CDs. I had just concluded business with someone who is full time employee in my (a software) company,  a jazz musician and blind from both eyes.

As I walked back to my cube holding the stack, I was slightly dazed by the whole experience. A part of me was thrilled to own, among other things, an original collection of 12 Beatles CDs. The other part, was still in the cafeteria sitting front of that blind musician – watching him pull out CDs from his bag, reading the CD labels with his fingertips and stacking them neatly on the table.

The Covers of the CDs were old and showed signs of age and use but the CDs themselves were pristine. It made me think about that blind man’s gentle touch. If someone in his situation could preserve something that is so easy to get scratched all this while, what does it say about the rest of us? It reminded me of my younger days when my grandfather would be furious when I carelessly dropped my schoolbag on the floor, or placed the glass on the wooden dinner table too hard, spoke too loud, or flung myself onto the chair too hard. Being gentle was a virtue which had to be practiced and reflected in every aspect of ones conduct. Being gentle would preserve the shine on everything you touch. It will enhance the shine one certain things that you can never touch and often times, cant never even see. Like the self esteem of someone in need of help, the spirit of someone who lost to you, the admiration people have for you, the honest curiosity of the young ones, the genuine concern of friends, or the unconditional love of your parents.

This blog post has been in my draft for a while and I was waiting for my thoughts to settle down. Unfortunately, for me and many others in my company, today was his last day at work. In his final message he urged fellow engineers who build products, to always have in mind those, who were not blessed with all five senses.

I think I have found a new dimension that will shape my vision when engineering new products in the future. I hope he can show the way to many more people who have eyes, but are still blind.