Birthday resolutions

Could moving resolutions from the New Year to a more personal date make them more effective?

New Year resolutions fail by the dozen with every pass minute of a new year. Research estimates that 88% of people who set resolutions fail to achieve them. This number, frankly, is smaller than I expected so in some capacity I am impressed by the other 12%. Something more realistic is this: over half the people who resolved either forgot their resolves or forgot to keep track of their resolves. The problem could lie in the complete detachment between the day for setting resolutions and our individual selves.

Today is my birthday so for my annual birthday essay I decided to start a little experiment as a gift for myself. What if I set my resolutions on a day that actually mattered to me personally rather than one that was popular by calendar design? Rather than New Year resolutions then, here are my birthday resolutions:

  1. Read more books
  2. Do something towards improving my health and fitness daily
  3. Be more present and honest to myself

The idea is unlike any other resolution: I will track my progress on these all year long and be accountable to myself come my next birthday. If all goes well my progress this year will be my gift next year.

However, the resolutions in their current format are less than promising from a practical perspective. They are succinct and capture the spirit of what I intend to achieve but if science has taught us anything about resolutions it is that bite-sized goal-setting trumps long term goal declarations—and this is true every single time. It increases the likelihood of realising one’s resolves by a fifth.


Resolution 1: Read more books

I am not dissatisfied with how many books I read these days although the number has reduced from back when I was in school. I would blame the grown-up world but I happen to know many grown-ups who read just fine so the fault lies within.

Currently I read about one book every fortnight. I would like to increase it by a small amount to three books a month. It is important to not hurt my chances of achieving my resolutions by being over-ambitious.


Resolution 2: Daily health and fitness

This is the big one of the three for me personally. The problem with this goal is defining what counts as a health or fitness activity: Will a long walk do? Must it be a morning jog? Can cardio be dropped entirely one day in favour of HIIT? And what about recovery days? This seems like a grey area at best.

The solution lies in slightly redefining my Apple Watch rings. Rather than focus on closing my rings I want to give myself two stages of goals: a minimum and a target. The intention of the minimum would be to allow me to work out to close my rings on any day—including on recovery days—in such a way that working out to my daily minimum requirement closes the rings without pushing me to the limit. This will be 700 calories, 30 exercise minutes and 12 standing hours. The target will be what I really want to accomplish: 1,000 calories, 45 exercise minutes and 12 standing hours.

My Apple Watch will track my minimum and I will keep track of my targets. Over time, ideally, the target should go up reasonably, reaching about 1,250/60/12 around my next birthday.


Resolution 3: Presence and honesty

If the first resolution was about a disparate activity to be done at point in my day or week, and the second resolution was a discrete activity to be integrated at a (more or less) fixed point in my daily schedule, my final resolution is a continuous one which I will need to take care of all the time.

It is not too strenuous or nagging, but it serves the purpose of reminding me of my resolutions frequently. And the reason I picked these two is because I am quite confident of the former which will increase the odds of me achieving the latter. In a year where I expect huge changes in my career this is a meaningful resolve to make.


This is honestly not something I have given a lot of thought to, but it struck me just today, in context, and seems like a really powerful idea. It is at least worth trying with nothing to lose.

I will be tracking all my resolutions and in a year publishing the results in a follow-up essay. Is this a fourth resolution? Not quite; it is a promise made in the open.

Leaving home

Reflecting on leaving behind a place we called home for over a decade.

We humans have a fancy of calling a small piece of our home planet our own. Whether we really own it is a philosophical question best left to be answered another day, but right now it is clear why we need it: a roof over our heads, a secure space, a personal space, a spiritual space, a place of such comfort that we need never acknowledge it explicitly. Our place.

Such was our home, a British-era structure with a spacious front yard and a sprawling backyard, with eucalyptus and mango trees, and Mussaenda erythrophylla, hybiscus and jasmine. And a Christmas tree that I planted when I was six, fully intending to outgrow it, that now towers over me at well over 50 feet. Inside the house is full of light and breeze—a feat of incredible natural ventilation—made possible by thick walls, a high ceiling, red oxide flooring, and several windows.

Like that of all humans, over time this place became much more to us than a home: it was where memories were made, where many landmarks of our life were founded, where I grew up, where my wife came home after we wed, where we entertained guests for tea and dinner and drinks, where we grew as individuals and took decisions that would stay with us forever. It was a house that employed many, was a beacon of trust to them, and a promise of hope. Touchingly, every single one of them was willing to move with us. This was a world in itself and one that I personally looked forward to as a summertime vacation home every year. It was with me even when I was away. It was a house full of memories that will soon be a memory itself.

We are leaving this house with good reason but with little choice. I am not one to look back at all that was and feel sorrow; I’d rather look ahead at all that will be and smile. There is, therefore, nostalgia, wistfulness, and bittersweet wishful thinking. The day we moved in is still in my mind, clear as ever. Oh, that one unforgettably weird tree that curved over and over again in a double-S shape; or those benches we made out of wood that termites ended up claiming over the years; or that rack my father had made for me for my rifling target practice. And so comes the thought, is there some way we can still keep this house? Alas, no.

We cared for this house deeply and we can only hope whoever moves in after us will do the same. We tended to these gardens with love and we can only hope whoever moves in after us will do the same. We equipped and modernised this house without disturbing its old-school charm that made it a home and we can only hope whoever moves in after us will continue the same. We valued it and we can only hope whoever moves in after us will find it in them to do the same.

Marcus Aurelius famously said, ‘The universe is transformation, life is opinion.’ Leaving this home is our transformation, a change that defines life itself. And our perspective about this—the manner in which we choose to respond to this—can be various but we choose to respond as we believe is right: with joy, with hope, with love, with nostalgia, and with thanks to what will forever be our home.

Battling COVID-19

Back at the start of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic first threw the world off balance, little did I know that in about ten months I would be fighting the disease myself.

It started as a deceptively simple feeling of unease. It was the sort of mild body ache that you knew would go away of its own accord. Then came a cold, just as mild, just as eager to leave. None of it seemed alarming. Slowly, the temperature rose, but never so high as to cause alarm. For the first four days, the primary characteristic of the virus that had attacked me was a sinister absence: it never caused enough harm to make you take it seriously.

A silent virus

This is perhaps the single biggest reason why COVID-19 counts are so high across the globe today. When the disease hits, it does not crash the party; it simply slithers in through your door and makes its way around more or less unnoticed until things become overwhelming.

People tend not to bother until one of two things happen: they are cured thanks to a superior immune system; or they fall sick enough that they can no longer ignore it, eventually needing medical attention before either making it back (such was my case) or unfortunately losing the battle (as over one million people have as of the time of writing this article).

By the time I had lost my sense of smell, it was about four days in. Discerning that I had lost my sense of taste, however, was a more confusing matter because I did have a taste. Unlike smells, my tastes had not all vanished. Everything tasted more or less like it should but somewhat bitter. It is well-known that one’s sense of smell enhances their sense of taste, which is why the reverse made sense too: losing one’s sense of smell meant also losing most of their sense of taste. Except bitterness, somehow. This was another reason why I delayed suspecting COVID-19. Some others I talked to who had also got this disease reported completely losing their senses of both smell and taste.

By the fourth day, the urge to get myself tested—prodded in no small part by my wife—was too hard to overcome and so I got in line at a local testing centre. My fever somewhat increased later that day but dropped off by nightfall, perhaps (I fancy in hindsight) so that I could wake up refreshed with the energy to answer a telephone call from the District Health Office informing me that I had tested positive for COVID-19.

A virus behind the scenes

Being largely asymptomatic it was first planned that I would isolate myself at home while others in the house would get tested too (which they did, and thankfully all tests turned out to be negative). This is currently the norm enforced by the local government: quarantine at home as a first resort.

Being largely asymptomatic also meant the path ahead was clear: I would remain isolated for seventeen days, per government regulations, taking appropriate dosages of tablets, and getting enough rest while my body would fight and expel the SARS-Cov-2 virus that was an unwelcome visitor in me.

However, things turned out to be a bit more complicated than that. About three days after my isolation at home began, things started to go downhill again. My temperature rose around the same time I began noticing a sort fo tingling sensation in my chest whenever I breathed deeply. And every deep inhalation was followed by a cough-ridden exhalation.

Over the past few months, having closely followed the ongoing research on this virus, I was aware of two things: people who had this virus had developed lesions in their lungs and, at times, blood clots all over their body. While my breathing remained normal, breathing deep tickled my chest enough that I could no longer ignore it.

A fight ensues

We had planned a few tests to be done after my recovery, including a CT scan that the wife and I, among others, both had in mind. But the tingling in my chest had been conspicuous long enough that I decided that same evening to get a CT scan done immediately. Securing an appointment proved quick and easy thanks to some excellent doctors. By 8 pm I had my scans in hand and was inside an ambulance heading to a dedicated COVID-19 hospital where I would be admitted for observation. Little did I know at this point that there were lesions in two lobes of my lungs causing congestion, and that I would have to spend the entire coming week in hospital, being administered antiviral medication, blood thinners and lots more.

My full diagnosis came to me on my first morning in a hospital bed. Blood thinners would have to be administered, fever will have to be reduced through the usual methods, and my ease of breathing will have to be watched closely.

The morning that followed the night of my admission I had only one thought in mind: I was incredibly lucky to have a supportive family and friends who went out of their way to enquire about my health daily and stay connected with me virtually all through. One can never be thankful enough. But one will also have to spare a thought for those who do not have such a support system. COVID-19 forcefully isolates the infected, like insult upon injury, rendering them powerless not only physically but also mentally. Having a good support system is key to getting through the fortnight or so that this infection gets people down.

The other big problem is how this virus exploits its silence (no doubt by design) to spread quickly. In the hospital I was in was an entire family of infected people with nobody on the outside to take care of them. Healthcare is pretty good so the hospital likely did take care of everything, but their stay was longer and undoubtedly more arduous than mine.

In a close-knit society like India, especially in the lower economic strata, in my experience, an inclination towards familial closeness overshadows quite a lot else. Isolation due to a virus quickly becomes an emotional question of balancing the feeling of abandoning someone and being there for them against all odds. The latter swiftly ensures the new coronavirus spreads across the household in no time.

Treatments and world views

Determining the ideal treatment for COVID-19 is an ongoing affair, but there was little doubt when I was in hospital that a five-day treatment with Remdesivir would be adequate as I was only on the brink of needing oxygen but thankfully ended up not needing it. I remember somewhat dramatically when the doctor unscrewed the oxygen inlets from the wall mounts beside me to make more space for me to move around in bed freely; it was almost symbolic. It is funny how so many mundane incidents suddenly become beacons of hope when one is down. Is our sense of gratitude heightened? Is this humanness in its rawest form? Why, with health, do we bounce back to becoming ungrateful?

The other line of treatment was blood thinners, because SARS-Cov-2 is known to cause several random blood clots. Additionally, this managed to balance the increasing blood sugar brought on by steroids, an observation that prompted me to begin tabulating twice-daily measurements of blood sugar for the month following my discharge from hospital. (The chart above was made over ten days since discharge and a month is yet to pass since said discharge, so an updated chart will be put up by the second week of November.)

It is said that being down with something one is helpless to fight alone not only enriches one’s world view but also permanently changes one’s approach to life itself. I used to think only a severely traumatic event could possibly do such a thing but I was wrong. While I would not term my experience ‘traumatic’ for lack of understanding of that word, I will say this: actually falling ill with an illness the world was talking about—and I was only ever talking about—gave me a renewed focus on the things that matter in life. In Stoicism we call this memento mori, and people like Steve Jobs and Todd Henry put it well when they said one must do something as if it were the last thing one ever does in life, and if it isn’t worth being part of your legacy, it is worth questioning if the thing is worth doing at all.

I fear this heightened sensitivity will pass. I hope it does not. And my reason for writing it down here openly is to help me recollect, should I ever need it later.

Back on my feet

I have never been one to count my chickens before they hatch. That is one reason why I pushed writing this piece for close to two weeks since my recovery. The other reason was to see if over time I have any new insights about the entire event (I do not).

Quite a few people have told me what I do following my recovery from COVID-19 is as important as the treatment process itself. A key task ahead for me is to consistently hit my spirometer goals and in this I am happily logging improvements. The other approach is to get in a lot of exercise, but not too enthusiastically, and this I am approaching with a good old-fashioned brisk walk. Eventually I hope to return to my daily cycling.

Interestingly, contracting this virus also introduces two specific lines of thought: first, about all of our individual places in society; and second, about our responsibility to society.

The second one is easier to understand: as someone who got COVID-19 it is quite important to know the spread of the virus ended with you. To live with the thought that you gave the virus to someone who then gave it to someone else is hard to say the least. Having been extremely cautious—laughably so at times—knowing that nobody contracted the virus from me was satisfying. This was in large part because I isolated myself from the earliest possible days. I also eventually learnt whom I contracted the virus from and how, but I would not want to get into the details of that without good reason.

The other thought, that of our place in society, is something that has troubled more than a handful of unfortunate families especially in India. Months ago there were reports of victims and their families being shunned—even chased out of their towns one point—for having this infection. Either that died down as the virus became more common in society or the media simply stopped reporting it having found shinier toys to keep their short-lived attention. However, if you thought your neighbours were thoughtful enough to be supportive in such times, you might want to think again. Storms shine light on fair-weather friends.

A lesson for the world

Following Remdesivir the tingling in your chest passes; and following a fortnight of rest slowly morphing into work so does the dyspnea. At least in cases like mine that were severe but not critical. And these are good signs. All this rest has also given my an opportunity to get updated with the ongoing research; things are promising and we will no doubt have a vaccine eventually, but in our haste to have a vaccine in hand it is equally important that we do not sacrifice the stringent scientific boundaries that will make these vaccines reliable and trustworthy.

My other fear is that nationalism (and a fake sense of patriotism) will grip people at an inopportune moment. Right when all we need is for science to be left alone, and perhaps followed and heeded, some countries will leap ahead callously looking for some recognition and with overblown amour propre.

If this virus was in some ways an interesting lesson to me, it is a critical chapter in humanity’s existence. But while we have all been capable of looking out for ourselves, we have always had a poor track record when it comes to learning from our mistakes collectively. Everything has always been someone else’s problem. Not anymore.

Jeep Compass

Experiencing the charm of the Jeep Life.

About six weeks ago I was welcomed to the Jeep Life. Ever since I started looking for a suitable daily driver six months ago, the Jeep Compass had been one of my top picks (the Škoda Octavia was the other). As someone who owns a vintage-style motorcycle in the Royal Enfield Desert Storm, my draw towards a Jeep just felt natural. Like RE, Jeep embraces its wartime origin; but unlike RE the brand has managed to also embrace modernity. The Compass in a nutshell is that: a capable, luxurious, modern SUV which proudly tows around its war-era heritage.

The new-age Jeep

At first glance, it is hard to associate the Compass with old-style Jeep brand vehicles. In fact Jeep has two distinct styles on the market now: open-top, rugged, extremely off-road capable Wrangler and Gladiator types—which maintain the silhouette of the Willy’s, the original ‘Jeep’ in many people’s minds—and the closed, more luxurious but slightly less off-road capable Cherokee and Renegade types—which are examples of the brand embracing modernity. The Compass falls squarely in the latter category.

The Compass is slightly larger than the Renegade and smaller than the Grand Cherokee while sharing several design cues—and even looking—like the Grand Cherokee, the top tier vehicle in the Jeep brand lineup. While not as off-road capable as the genre pioneer, the Wrangler, the Compass is considerably more off-road capable than almost any other SUV in its class. With off-roading in their DNA, this capability is something Jeep has mastered, with the likes of Land Rover coming in a close second. But the key takeaway for me, after driving about 2,000km over the past six weeks, is that the Compass can take on rugged terrain much more effortlessly than most other vehicles.

Automatic wipers that speed up based on the intensity of rain.

A vengeful redesign

Despite its heft, this SUV corners like a champ at high speeds, squarely planted on all four wheels, with hardly any body roll, sitting snugly in its lane on the highway. In the city, the agility of the electronic steering wheel means manoeuvring is buttery smooth does not drain arm strength out of the driver. The vehicle inspires confidence.

It is clear that Jeep put a lot into this vehicle, with its predecessor, the original Jeep Compass, being so horrible that one cannot fault the company for wanting to forget it even existed. Here is Top Gear on the old and forgettable Jeep Compass—

If you’ve got a long memory for failed cars, you’ll know there was once another Jeep Compass in Britain. It looked like a child had styled it, and was horrible to drive, one of the most uncompetitive cars you could have made the mistake of buying. Luckily so few are out there that it won’t besmirch the image of the new one, unless anyone mentions it. Ooops, just did. Anyway, this one has absolutely nothing in common, thereby proving that Chrysler is far healthier in bed with Fiat than it was when in bed with Daimler.

It is perhaps because of Fiat that the interiors and finishing on this SUV feel great. It also feels premium, even by European standards and certainly by American standards, despite the absence of leather on the dashboard—only the seats are leather and the roof lining (including the visor) is made of a plain but classy fabric. But the surprisingly European feel in an American car does not stop there and with good reason: the Compass was in many ways intended to be Jeep’s proper entry into the continent and its sales speak volumes in its favour.

Flexible like a ballerina, built like a tank

There are only two things I recall from my first-ever test drive of the Compass in early 2020: the fact that it is built like a tank, which I noticed as soon as I opened the door, and that driving it brought an uncontrollable grin to my face. Few things can replace a car that cam make you smile every time you drive it.

Coming from a Toyota, Jeep had a high bar: the Japanese are known for the incredible finish in their cars, even if the materials they use are mostly plastics. The Jeep Compass can stand up for itself here, with a mix of hard- and soft-touch plastics mixed with a healthy dose of leather and fabrics. Panels are well-positioned and are not too many in number, nooks and crannies seem to have been given ample attention and quality control in general seems to be great. The icing on the cake is the iconic seven slat Jeep grill on the front.

The build is not the only positive in this SUV physically, though. There are tiny flourishes around the car, primarily made of stitching, that add some accents to the all-white interiors in my top trim Limited Plus model. Additionally, the many Easter eggs Jeep is known for are present in this car too: there is the famous windscreen sticker of a Willy’s; the Loch Ness monster on the rear windscreen; a lizard behind the bonnet; morse code on the dead pedal; several pressed Jeep grill logos in various locations which spell out MP/552, the Jeep project codename for the Compass, and so on.

Buying into an experience

The whole experience of buying a Jeep brand vehicle has gone far beyond buying the actual vehicle. Again like RE, there is an entire community of Jeep owners who go on company-led trails frequently and access is allowed only to Jeep owners. There is all the merchandise, the many add-ons and the groups and invites and the Jeep Life kit that new enrolees to the club get.

All of this feels like entering not just a vehicle but a whole experience, a new way of driving, a new approach to traveling, a new way of stepping forward wherever you choose to go.

One may argue that it has been only a month-and-a-half since I first stepped into my new Jeep but that is a long enough time to get an intuitive feeling about what this vehicle is. The best way I can explain it is to compare it with another American brand: Apple. There is a certain feeling when you buy an Apple product where, unlike others, the newness never wears off; every time you pick up your Mac or iPhone you feel its charm just like you did on day one and you can feel that this will last long without actually having to experience it for an unusually long time. That is precisely how I feel about my new Jeep Compass.

The Compass is a charming, well-built, confidence-inspiring, capable and premium SUV that can hold its own against others in ways that count. It may not, for example, offer the greatest mileage, but what it can offer is not quite something you can count—and to me that matters a whole lot more. Every time I step into my Compass I smile, and every drive is a real pleasure. This SUV is so full of such uncountables that count that Jeep could hardly have made it better. I would buy the Compass all over again if I had to. It’s a Jeep thing.

Dispatch from Rhûn

After 100 issues of ‘Briefings’ it is time for newer, better things: an all-new newsletter powered by Buttondown.

What prompted me to start Briefings a decade ago was a sense of adventure. I had been blogging for three years at that point and wanted to shuffle things up. Starting a newsletter seemed like a logical addition to publishing a blog but I was new to e-mail newsletters in general so I looked no further than the most popular solution available then, the good old Mailchimp.

The initial challenge was growing a subscriber base, which took time but was as steady as my writing was interesting. That, however, is fodder for another article. Last month I sent out the 100th issue of Briefings and even as I was writing it, I realised this was the perfect time to improve and refresh things in a meaningful way—both for my readers and myself.

I.

Mailchimp is great, but it is bloated. It is the Wordpress of newsletters, and I quit Mailchimp for the same reason I left Wordpress: a yearning for simplicity. Likewise, I moved to Buttondown for the same reason why I moved to Hugo; in a lot of ways Buttondown is the Hugo of newsletter services.

Mailchimp is still great for someone looking for a complex management system and a drag-and-drop template-based set-up, but I was myself on the lookout for something simpler. With Mailchimp writing each issue was a chore. It was fun because of what I had to say, but the way I had to put it into words was bothersome. It involved clicking on several boxes, writing in a WYSIWYG editor, hoping any HTML additions I may do not completely mess up, and the process of sending an e-mail took me through a handful of pages.

With Buttondown, things are a lot more streamlined. The interface is second to none. In fact it could be a great example of how a no-frills interface should work. Things are fast and the entire process of writing and sending are on one screen. Designing is done separately which allows for—and this is my favourite part—writing newsletters in Markdown. The usual capabilities exist of course: subscription via RSS, double opt-in, newsletter archival, customised welcome e-mails, a dedicated signup page, optional embeddable forms, spellcheck etc. But the greatest aspect of Buttondown remains its pleasant writing experience—and I am not alone in saying this.

Buttondown also offers a premium newsletter option where we can charge for subscriptions—with Buttondown and Stripe taking a cut of course. This is not on the horizon for me, but it is certainly nice to know the option exists. Analytics is also available along with an option to disable it. More important, it does not focus on building a subscriber profile with names and a myriad fields for each subscriber. I have always only collected subscriber e-mails to keep things lean and straightforward and Buttondown is built around that approach.

It does, however, offer tags for people who want some level of grouping for their subscriber base and emails can be sent based on interest tags. Personally, I like to reduce the number of decisions a reader has to take while considering subscribing to my newsletter which is why there is just one field and a ‘Subscribe’ button. Simple is good.

II.

So much for how this improves things for me. Now how does it better things for my subscribers? Put simply, the ease with which I can send out issues with Buttondown brings back focus to the content of each issue. That helps me make sure things are better than ever before. Once again, this reminds me of how Hugo and iA Writer streamlined my workflow to return all my focus to the content—once I had the design in place, like Buttondown.

However, the changes I plan to make go beyond this. The biggest change is in the length of each issue. I plan to keep it around 300 words, aiming to stay under. This allows me to be concise which prompts me to be careful about what I choose to share. We do not have a dearth of information to consume, so if I can make each issue brief but meaningful—whether that means three links or ten per issue—readers are sure to find it eating into less of their time while offering the same value as before or greater than that.

Also, the idea is to make Dispatch more personal than Briefings. Whereas Briefings had an almost corporate tone to it, I see promise in eschewing that facade for a more personal tone. I intend for Dispatch to read like a letter but with the added perks of its digital format. It will carry an image or two, if necessary, to break the monotony of a wall of text; but it will not have as many images as an issue of Briefings mainly because of its reduced word count.

The structure of each issue will change too. On the outside, I have restarted numbering from Issue 1 rather than continuing at 101 to make it amply clear that this is a whole new thing which carries forward everything my existing subscribers loved about Briefings. But because the two newsletters are so alike in spirit, the final issue of Briefings asked people to opt out of Dispatch if they want to. It was humbling that not only did an extremely small number opt out but a considerable number of new subscribers came onboard. Many asked about the new name which prompted me to put up a new page dedicated to Dispatch.

Finally, what bothered me most about Briefings from a materialistic standpoint was that its design was in no way aligning with that of my website. With Dispatch that issue has been solved. The rickety drag-and-drop interface of Mailchimp has given way to a simple custom CSS text area on Buttondown so everything—from the typefaces (on e-mail clients that support it) to the colours and overall design—is exactly like on the main site.

New issues of Dispatch will be sent out in the first week of every month. If you have not subscribed yet, you can do so right here:



If you ever find yourself looking to continue the conversation about something discussed in an issue, simply hit reply. If you have ideas too, simply reply to any issue to let me know. As with Briefings, my commitment to keeping my newsletter ad-free is renewed for Dispatch. It is one of the things my readers have expressed they like about my newsletter and, since this is a passion project for me, I find it perfectly reasonable to continue ad-free. Thank you for joining the ride; it will no doubt be an exciting and knowledgeable one.

Gladstone

Goodbye, my old buddy.

I always thought Gladstone would be with me forever; then reality, persistent as it always is, had its way. Today—eight years and four months to the date since he came home—my best bud Gladstone breathed his last. It is said that once a Dane loves you he loves you steadily, unchangingly, till his last breath. Gladstone did that and more. He was a rare pup; a majestic merle Dane who boasted an intensely positive outlook all his life and the warmest, largest heart I have ever known; and he was one of the most inspiring souls around. He passed in his sleep, peacefully by all indications, which is something I will always be happy about. Losing a loved one is sad, losing Gladstone was more so because although he was a dog by all biological insistences anyone who knew him would agree that he was always more human than humans themselves.

Like every day, one of the first things I did when I got up today was to call him out. Unlike every day I did not hear the pitter–patter of his nails as he walked across the floor to come and look at me with great enthusiasm. There were few things that did not make Gladstone jump with joy and I doubt I can name even one without giving it considerable thought.

The first question I asked myself when I found Glad (as we called him lovingly) today was what he would do in my place. He would undoubtedly be sad but he would cherish his memories and find peace and joy in his life. He was always full of joy (except, perhaps, the couple of times when he was unwell) and I had come to view him as someone I had a lot to learn from. Indeed this is a sentiment all of us share, including my fiancé who had gotten to know him more recently than the rest of us. That was and still is Gladstone to us all: someone who was better than everyone around him at everything and who still managed to make us all feel special and loved in his presence. Now, as I flip through my notes I come across something along these lines that my fiancé had said to me recently: ‘Whenever we talk of Gladstone we become happy’.

As I sat down at my desk to write this essay I felt the best thing for me to do would not be to write a new piece, rather to publish (with some edits) a draft that I have been working on every now and then, over the span of a couple of years, about what I could—and ought to—learn from my pal Gladstone. Some are deep while others are characteristically funny like G–Man himself. As my father said earlier today we had to learn from Glad how ‘to be humble and love all and break rules stealthily’.

On what I, and possibly you, can learn from Gladstone

Unapologetic happiness

Nothing made Gladstone sad—absolutely nothing. He had a predictable day, a strict schedule for his own good, ate the same (or similar) food daily except for the odd treat, yet nothing got him down. Of course on the one hand this was all done for him and for his good but I am not sure he understood it that way. To him what mattered was that it made him happy. He managed to be overjoyed by everything. And once something made him happy it always made him happy. To most of us that would be a Herculean task.

Undying enthusiasm

The human mind is infamous for being fickle. Gladstone’s mind was a soul-stirring constant amidst our unending waves of change and dissatisfaction. He enjoyed the costliest of toys just the same as the cheapest ones. Not only was he enthusiastic about everything but also his enthusiasm knew no end. We often lose interest in things over time, but not Gladstone: he would be as excited about something the hundredth time he saw it as he was the first time round.

One of Gladstone’s greatest strengths, in my eyes, was his appreciation for the little things around him, for life’s simple pleasures.

Constancy in love

When was the last time we jumped with joy—or even felt joy—when someone we loved came home from work or from the market? Perhaps the first time, perhaps the second or the third or the tenth, but not long after: we simply lose the enthusiasm we once had. In line with my previous point one of the most moving interactions with Gladstone was how he barked incessantly the first time we left him at home and went out and how he jumped with joy later that evening when we returned home to him. And he did this the second time and the third and the fourth and every single time without fail all his life. Constancy of that sort in love is something most of us rarely put more effort towards but should.

On some level I think we ought to be guilty for taking for granted that Gladstone would be home waiting for us all the time, jumping madly with joy when we reached, getting the zoomies and running around tirelessly until we showered him with love and cuddles and he showered us in return. Perhaps one some level we stopped explicitly noticing his presence as we moved into and out of the house much like we do not explicitly notice the presence of others in the family although we love them. But now that I have gone into and out of the house a couple of times since laying our pal to rest I cannot help but notice his absence.

Humility

Gladstone was better than all of us in every way. He was more loving, more understanding, more empathetic, more communicative, even stronger, more large-hearted, warmer, gentler, kinder, more patient, softer, swifter, more caring and more encouraging. But he never pointed it out and that made him bigger still. That is humbleness of the sort we can all only hope to work towards but rarely achieve.

Among dogs and insects and various other animals too he showed the same stateliness. His imposing body (he was six feet tall when he stood on his hind legs) betrayed his gentle touch. He would protect the smallest of puppies, gently chase away noisy strays—often thinking hard before barking at them and even if he did, restricting himself to a simple ‘woof’—and he would lie still and let us all pamper him, giving and taking immense pleasure in the process. Should his teeth touch us even by mistake he would lick our hands until we told him we were alright. He never misused his strength and he never hurt even a fly. (Except that one fly he once ate.)

Responsibility

Which of us has not shirked our responsibilities at some point in our life? Gladstone had none but chose to do his bit anyway. And he did it consistently with a self-imposed discipline of the sort that would put any wartime soldier to shame.

When he came home Gladstone was never intended to play the role of a sentry but every night he would go around the house, peep into all our bedrooms and make sure we were all asleep. He would keep an eye on the doors too. For eight years we had made it a habit to leave all three outer doors at home open, from morning till night, and we would leave them open without the slightest worry. He would take care of it all and he would do it with a smile on his face. He had found a way to make his responsibilities a pleasure and in him we found our strength to do the same.

Discipline

I have long struggled to understand what the word ‘discipline’ really means. It was not until Gladstone came into our lives that I understood it. I found the answer in an uncertainly attributed quote that made sense only because Gladstone embodied it. Discipline is doing what needs to be done whether you want to do it or not.

Few Danes, if any, are fond of a walk and Gladstone seemed to dislike his morning and evening walks. His trick was simple: he would pretend to be asleep hoping we would let him off the hook. One might be tempted to say he only walked because we insisted that he should but the fact was that eventually he would get up by himself, no force needed, and go for his walk. And, after all this, he would never walk with a sour face: he always enjoyed his brief daily walks. How many of us can enjoy what we do with such innocence and sincerity regardless of our initial desires?

Gladstone’s discipline was legendary: he would eat on time, sleep on time, exercise on time, and he stayed fit all the while, never sparing a thought to anything that might disrupt his day’s simplest—and arguably most useful—pleasures. He was more than a faraway inspiration; he was a walking example of what we all need to be to better our world and ourselves.

Prioritising the little things in life

Gladstone would eat on time, sleep on time and exercise on time. Nothing could move him and nothing had to prompt him. I would myself often notice what hour it was based on his telling me it was time for his lunch. When he kept the little things straight he ended up being able to keep everything in his life straight. His toys were in his control with him preferring to keep them near his person, and the many beds and mats he would sleep on he maintained beautifully, without a scratch or a tear.

His valuing the little things extended far beyond what he owned and used. He greatly valued the people around him too, far more than most humans do. I remember, especially, how he could no longer climb up a flight of stairs to reach his bed when his hind legs started to grow weak when he was about seven years of age. His bed had to be moved down. Some months later, though, his health improved dramatically thanks to new medicines and a new diet (my hat tips to his lovely doctors) and the first thing he did was come right back up and ask that his bed be moved so he could sleep closer to his humans. That is love and concern of the sort we can all look up to and learn. He never gave up on the little things that brought him close to the people he loved.

Grieving the loss of a pet

The loss of a pet is in some ways different from the loss of a loved human; in other ways it is remarkably similar. Both hurt. It is important to let yourself grieve and fully too lest you carry with you a hollow sense of incompleteness that will make your days miserable. Of course your pet would never have wished that for you.

The first practical step I realised is to spend time with your pet after the fact. This is when you can talk to him and hope for some contentment in return.

The next step is to give him or her a proper burial or cremation. Our vet let us know that there were eco-friendly ways of cremating should we choose to go that route and I want to put this information out there because not a lot of people I have come across have been aware of such methods. We ourselves went with burial just so we could visit Gladstone whenever we wanted to.

The third step is to cremate or bury with show. This can be taken negatively but the idea is to make the burial process meaningful to everyone involved. This means burying your pal with his toys or her favourite carpet or, as we did with Gladstone, both.

Fourth, keep something for you. Selfish as it may seem I have found that it gave me lots of strength knowing I had Gladstone’s toy nearby, his food bowls nearby, his carpets around the house and so on. Do not get rid of all traces of him: while it might seem like keeping things around is a recipe for sorrow because you will be constantly reminded of your pet, in reality these memory triggers will slowly turn into sparks of pleasantness that will carry you throughout your day.

Fifth, make something in his or her memory. My lovely fiancée came up with the idea that we keep a houseplant and pour a little mud from Gladstone’s grave into it. I loved the symbolism. We also got a portrait of Gladstone to hang on our wall and we plan to get a few more to hang around the house. How far you go in this direction is a personal preference but it makes for a great grieving process; it makes for a process that turns grief into pleasant memories.

The crux of the entire experience after the fact is to realise that grief is personal and that expressing it is good, and channeling it into something positive is better still. For me this process was representative of no less than Gladstone and his joyous self. Needless to say having a supportive family, even if it means having more people who are themselves grieving, cannot be discounted.

Click here to read Roman and Greek epitaphs for pets.

Moreover, grieving pets—especially dogs—is not a new idea. Greeks and Romans had been doing a lot of this a long, long time ago. Laying pets to rest elaborately has been a perfectly normal idea in society for centuries. My favourite line from an old epitaph, one that I personally identified my love for Gladstone with, goes thus: ‘I am in tears, while carrying you to your last resting place as much as I rejoiced when bringing you home in my own hands fifteen years ago’.

It’s no goodbye

Gladstone won all our hearts. He could contest in the local elections and win, as my mother so often joked. I had bought two huge packets of his food supplement recently and I found that interesting. I had bought enough to last through the first quarter of 2019. And I had bought it merely three days ago. It was not an explicit hope for life, but hope is quite ingrained in our lives I suppose; hope carries us from shore to shore and helps us brave seas of tears.

That Gladstone had lived an average Dane’s lifespan was not news to us but this is something you can never quite prepare yourself for. G-Man spent his whole life with us and I hope, nay, I am often certain, he was always happy and had little he desired that he did not get. A large part of what will help me—and others in my home no doubt—get through this tough time is the peace of mind that comes with knowing that we did everything we could to make sure Gladstone had a great, happy, content life. Those of you who are lucky enough to still have your pets at home with you, it is never too late to give them a little more love than you normally do. They deserve it.

We had gotten so used to Gladstone that we hardly remember the specifics of life before he came home. His love was purer than most of ours will ever be; and his bubbly spirit and his love overflowing with kisses and kindness and joy in the end proved too heavy for his heart to handle. He said goodbye but he lives yet. I wish I could go to bed tonight, like I did yesterday, and get up tomorrow like I did today, but find Gladstone roaming around the house like he’d been for the past eight years. I think I will wish this for years to come. One might be tempted to point out the futility in this but to make such a beautiful wish can be its own reward.

This is no good-bye, Gladstone, because you will live with us forever. You will live in our hearts, in our home, in our minds and, as I head towards my wedding at the end of this month, you will live with me there too, your feet audible in the distance as you run around, a constant reminder of all you were in your life and all you will help me be in mine.

A eulogy for my grandfather

My grandfather was a high-spirited, imaginative and eternally upbeat septuagenarian. His was a life well-lived.

I am closer to people than it seems on the outside. My maternal grandfather passed away three days ago, on his birthday. His health was failing so his death was not so much a surprise as a sad realisation; like most realisations it would take time to sink in. It is interesting how death affects you even when you expected it. The effect was not negative; it was pleasant, but it did change things ever so slightly.

My paternal grandfather (another impressive, inspiring man) died over a decade ago so I had spent a short-lasting albeit splendid and memorable time with him. I like to think I was his favourite grandchild (everyone seems to agree) but my memories of him are based on whatever memories a ten-year-old kid carries around: not entirely inaccurate, but an enriching blend of reality and imagination if one must be honest. But things were different with my maternal grandfather since I had the time to get to know him.

We met and spent time often although not half as often as most kids spend time with their grandparents. I never spent my summer vacations with any of my grandparents for that matter, and the time I did spend with them was as much as a week sometimes, but a few days was mostly all it was. But days add up and, over the decades, I have got to know my two living grandparents quite a lot. One of them is not more but knowing him has been eye-opening in more ways than one.

He was free-spirited to the core; he married the woman he loved, sadly lost her quite early on, loved to go on incredibly long road trips on his motorbike (he owned a green, 250 cc Czechoslovakian Jawa which has a cult following in India today and is probably where my love for my 500 cc Royal Enfield comes from). All said, perhaps his greatest virtue was that he spent most of his life helping people (he was a doctor) and almost always going out of his way to do it.

For decades he traveled around as a government-funded medic often charging his patients next to nothing—and often plain nothing—for his treatments. Around the beginning of his career he was the only doctor within tens of miles for most rural, disconnected villages along the western coast of post-Independence India so his days were often spent traveling and helping as many people as he could; to this day many people in those villages welcome us with a smile and fondly remember his work.

A day before the funeral, on the day my grandfather died, my father too recalled the old days when, no matter how much he disagreed with his father-in-law, the one thing he could not deny was that my grandfather was always ready to stretch his hand out and help as many people as he humanly could. He did not have a fortune and always believed he did not need it; he made do with what he had and even found a way to share some of it with others.

I was not with my grandfather in his final days but those who were all had one common story to tell on the day of the funeral; it was a story that agreed with everything my father had told me the previous day: apparently, grandfather had nursed an old woman back to health, free of charge, just days before he passed away. ‘There she was, back on her feet,’ they said, ‘but sadly he breathed his last. But even for those couple of days he was incredibly happy that he could help her.’

This past weekend (my birthday, a day after his) was spent cremating my grandfather. For all his good deeds he had a few negatives too and they taught me as much about life as the good ones did. I believe in learning from the errors of another person and not dwelling on or criticising them so I will not discuss anything unnecessarily. There are two sides to all men, neither of which should be dwelt on beyond necessity.

Like my father and me, my grandfather too shared a love for watches although it was more of an excitement for watches in his case. He had one of the earliest watches that spoke the time but soon tossed it aside for a watch that blinked lights in 8421-weighted binary code. The watch he had on him towards the end, though, was a classic analogue timepiece. It had a cracked dial which had probably happened when he lost his balance and fell a few weeks ago. He had been confined to the bed ever since, moving into and out of a hospital.

He left behind a bagful of almonds when he left. He always carried almonds with him everywhere he went and had a fascination with the business pages of a newspaper. Like most men he had an overt fascination with politics too, and he had a sufficiently imaginative mind that let him make up stories convincingly enough that he would soon lose track of reality. He leaned right to my centre-left but never once tried to force his opinion on me, which I respected.

His neighbour for decades and one of his closest friends could both not attend his funeral. But they had good things to say about him. ‘He lived a hard life’, said his neighbour. Perhaps. Losing his wife at a young age and living alone for the remainder of his years would not have been easy, but he went through it with a feverish, undying enthusiasm that betrayed no signs of sorrow. If things did not go his way he would laugh and move on. It was also why he relied on his friends for company and he had several friends from several strata of society.

Over the last two years he had lost two people close to him and that had dampened his spirits slightly. His close friend (a former military officer whose grounded rigidity balanced my grandfather’s joyful bounciness) with whom he had been sharing a flat died suddenly. Some months later his nearly century-old mother, my great-grandmother, too died. He was the eldest living member in that line of the family and that probably made him reminisce about the past more often than he used to.

With his passing, though, I enforce my core belief about celebrating the people closest to you. I hold family in high regard (As Vito Corelone once said, ‘A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man’.) and the loss of a family member is significant. But I am not one to see the glass half-empty and I have my own way of celebrating people. I think anyone who knew and loved and respected him should go through my grandfather’s death as he would have wanted us to himself: cherish the good life that he lived, learn from his few mistakes and appreciate his many virtues, and happily move on.