Long Walks On Leafy Streets

1/23/2023 Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC    
Some thoughts from the past year.

It has been almost a year since I last wrote! I was going to postpone this to next weekend but then I heard Thich Nhat Hanh say “You haven't learned how to live until you have learned how to die.” I have been thinking a lot about what I will leave for Prashant. I do hope to live until he himself is an old man but in this life really every new day is a gift. So here I am writing about some of the thoughts, feelings and experiences from the past year, although it is getting late on sunday night and I am tired after working all day. I was going to watch a bit of the NFL playoff game but then this is much more important.

It has been quite an eventful year for us. We moved from our old home on Tuckerman St where we had lived for almost a decade and where Prashant was born and grew up, to a new and bigger home. After the move we first sold the small house near Howard that I had bought in 2003 and been renting out all this time. We then started repairing and renovating the Tuckerman home in preparation for renting it. That took over eight months and we finally had tenants move in just before Thanksgiving. While it was all a bit time consuming and sometimes stressful, we feel that it is worth it. With my parents living with us several months at a time the new home gives more space so that they are comfortable and we are comfortable as well. We feel like renting out our old home is a good investment and also better from a social standpoint, because we can provide a good home to a family that needs it, at an affordable price. We had a good relationship with our tenant from my first house and so far things have gone well with the tenants on Tuckerman St. They get to deal with real people, not just businessmen trying to make a profit. It was sad for me to let go of the first house, but that was also a lesson in letting go, and learning to deal with the impermanence of life. The tree that was nurtured from a small sapling by its previous owner and me, to one that towers over the house, is still standing watch over Hobart place and that gives me some joy.

Learning to accept the transitory nature of life seems to be the theme of this year. So many friends and family members have passed on. Today was the one year anniversary of the passing of our beloved spiritual teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. Over the summer Prof Abdul Aziz Yakubu, a colleague of ours, passed away. Like Todd Drumm and Gerald Chachere before him, he died far too young. As I get older and notice more closely the passing of things, I can see more clearly how our life is just the blink of an eye in the cosmic sea of existence. It makes me want to appreciate and treasure each passing moment even more.

With that in mind I have been working feverishly on my research. For a long time I had been working on Artin's primitive roots conjecture. I have even published two papers on it but I cannot say I am even close to starting to solve it. But last year while working on it I came up with an idea for another, arguably smaller problem, but extremely difficult in its own way. It is smaller in the sense that it could be considered as one case of the larger problem, very roughly speaking. During the winter break I spent a lot of time on it, especially since I decided not to watch the World Cup. Although the World Cup is something that I very much look forward to, every four years, this time I simply couldn't bring myself to watch the games being played in stadia built over the sweat, blood and even lives of so many poor men from the Indian subcontinent as well as other poor countries. I have nothing against the people of Qatar but the fact that the forces of selfishness and greed are working so hard to increase their wealth and power made me wake up and want to work equally hard to do something in my own life. Perhaps I too can do something to help people and turn back the tide of fear, anger, greed and reckless ambition that is rolling over the world these days. I was also pushed by the need to produce better results given how the administration in academia these days value mainly papers and grants.

Working on mathematics is a joy in itself, even when you are putting some pressure on yourself. As I discover more ideas, I can feel the source of the passion and excitement from mathematics research as described in books such as “Love and Math.” Working on a difficult problem is like being on a roller-coaster, when you go from feeling on top of the world to feeling like the worst failure. That also is a lesson in learning to deal with success and failure with equanimity. It reminds me of how, in my youth, I had to learn to deal with the highs and lows of romantic relationships. Hopefully, just like I found love and a lasting relationship in the end, I would also be rewarded with a good result in mathematics one of these days.

Of course, all of the above are just like the games that children play, when compared to the joys of understanding the true nature of life, or at least trying to. On that front I have had many good moments this year. I managed to become a certified teacher of meditation under the Koru program, designed for college students. Teaching meditation to students has been one of the most fulfilling things that I have ever done in my life. I have also been blessed to be able to continue running and finish my fifth marine corps marathon this year, thus becoming a member of the MCM runner's club. Running helps not only in maintaining good health but it is also the time when I am able to clear the mind of the thorny bushes of laziness, despair and negative thoughts. So many times I have also been able to come up with ideas for my research and for life in general while running.

Living in Washington, one learns to deal with the vicissitudes of life better because the weather here keeps changing. One day it is hot, next day it is chilly, the following day it is windy and then it is rainy and so on. Unlike California where it is always pleasant or the tropics where it is always warm or even the northern regions where it is always uniformly cold, in Washington change is the very nature of our climate. So when you are running on a sunny, cool day with a mild breeze you feel like you are in heaven. I also feel this way when we are in Rehoboth Beach sometimes. You are at peace with yourself and the world, you feel love for everyone, and you are simply content with life. Perhaps that is the way to live, every moment? I don't know yet. I must confess I like the striving, reaching for something way of life in the East coast. Having perfectly joyful moments one almost feels guilty of becoming lazy or going soft. But then one cannot reach for a perfectly joyful life either. That would be a kind of striving, by itself. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, there is suffering even in heaven. Without suffering there is no joy, just as there is no lotus without the mud. What we can do, is to learn to let go and live only in the moment. As Krishna says, you only have the right to the action, not the results. So that is my goal now, just to do the best I can at this moment. On that count, I must say I feel good about spending the past hour and a half writing this blog after almost a year. I hope you enjoyed reading it too, and I hope your day has been good as well.

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