Pick a hobby that unlocks a new you: Life Hacks by Charles Assisi
How was I to know when I got on a call with Damodar Mall, CEO of the Grocery division at Reliance Retail, that a dramatic story would follow? I knew from colleagues that he was into music. What I had wanted was a narrative on how time-starved people like him make time for hobbies.
Once upon a time, he said, he used to obsess about work all the time. Until one day, death knocked, he was struck by meningitis and slipped into a coma. He survived, but the prognosis was that he may never walk again.
“My life was filled with sympathy markers then,” he recalled. Well-wishers would applaud the slightest progress he made, such as learning how to sit or attempting to walk with a cane. But his mind was attempting to figure how to live once again. On a whim, Mall asked his wife to engage a music teacher.
The tutor was oblivious to his physically challenged state. All he could see was a man untutored in music. All he cared about was whether Mall would follow instructions and complete assignments. For a sick man, the teacher’s behaviour symbolised liberation from sympathy. It allowed Mall’s mind to focus on the skill to be acquired. Which allowed Mall the space to acquire an altogether different identity, different from the one he’d had before his illness, and from the one he had acquired during it.
That he learnt music is one thing. An altogether different outcome was that he started to use his faculties, got back to work, and now plays music for anyone who cares to listen.
Truth be told, when I called I was expecting an exposition on how to appreciate the finer nuances of composition and melody. What I encountered was very different. When I asked him if he would play something, Mall pulled out his keyboard and played a remixed version of the song Nagin, originally from the 1954 movie of the same name. I was stumped by the filmi attempt. But he was having fun, and soon enough I was dancing along to his tune, on our video call. “I know I’m a sloppy musician. But I don’t care. I don’t want to be the best. There are other things as well I must experience,” Mall said as we signed off. We both grinned. He looked happy.
Hours later it hit me that perhaps Mall had been trying to make a larger point. “Give the mind time out. But watch the clock and take the long view.”
It was time to introspect. I’m in my late 40s now and can assume I may live into my 70s or 80s. When thought about that way, a few questions occur: How much time do I have left with my kids, especially given that they will soon carve out lives of their own? How many more college reunions will I attend? How many holidays can I take to visit the places I desperately want to see? How many things have I always wanted to do, but never got around to doing?
The eyes fell on the elder daughter’s guitar. I’ve always wanted to learn to play a musical instrument, but the exigencies of work preceded all others. It didn’t take long to log in to muzigal.com, an online music school started, incidentally, by an acquaintance after giving up a lucrative career in finance.
Muzigal helped me with the basics. Then, a few weeks ago, a Pune-based music teacher and I greeted each other virtually for the first time. Since then, I have been following instructions and learning to play. When the notes from my guitar now emerge every other day, the daughters wear a look that suggests I sound pathetic. In my head though, I feel like Paul Simon singing Kathy’s Song:
“And so you see I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true
I stand alone without beliefs
The only truth I know is you…”
I’ll get better. Perhaps the girls will forgive me. And I will move on. Because there are other things as well I must experience.