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Simple Arithmetic





There can be no glossing over it, or sweeping it under the rug: a pall has set in over the world. The fact that we are heading into the holiday season isn’t helping any.

We just can’t seem to be able to get rid of the smog of the recent US election that managed to darken much of the past year, or cease to dread the spectre of Donald Trump being sworn into the office of the President of the United States of America in less than a month.

Amazing, isn’t it, how one man, just one individual, can single-handedly, with the help of little more than verbal diarrhea, take so much joy out of much of humanity!

Some people come blessed to this earth. Like John F Kennedy, for example. Whether or not we think he achieved much in his life, it would be difficult to deny that he exuded an optimism which was catching and managed to infect people even in distant and remote corners of the world. Not surprisingly, his presidency, though truncated by an assassin’s bullet, is still remembered as “Camelot”, harking back to the halycon era of the legendary court of King Arthur of ancient myth and folklore.

Barack Obama has had a similar impact on the world at large. The word ’Hope’ has been the hallmark of his dual presidential terms, making us believe, albeit for a few years, that humanity is capable of bettering itself.   

Two men, one ready to exit the stage, the other still lurking in recent memory. Sure, there have been others like them, but few and far between.

And then, there are those who, despite all the promise and privilege they are born into, or get handed on a platter, do little else but make the world miserable.

Two words from the lexicon of the land where I was born describe their likes to a 'T': ‘manhoos’ and ‘kameena‘.

[Dictionary: ‘manhoos‘: disastrous, sinister, ominous, bodeful; ‘kameena‘: Mean-spirited, rotten, nasty.]

The words fit Donald Trump like a glove.

Imagine the strange spirits that preside over the birth of such people who, despite every opportunity to do good, turn everything gold and of value to instant dross and dust.  

I live in a small village in rural Ontario, Canada, far in so many ways from the epicentre of the political mess south of the border. The other day, while paying for a few things at a local store, I made small talk by asking the teller how business had been this Christmas shopping season.

“Not too good,” she muttered, shrugging her shoulders.

“How come?” I asked.

“Dunno. People aren’t spending as much, so far, and we‘re only a week away from Christmas.”

“Hm-mm. But why?” I persisted, for no particular reason.

“People seem worried about something, what with the uncertainty and all.”

Our casual exchange can’t pass for any meaningful survey, but it does jive with an apparent drop in the average Christmas shopping family budget this season - often taken as a reflection of the general mood of the community at large, in both town and country.

It is amidst this fog that has enveloped our cold and wintry days that I sat down a couple of nights ago to complete my annual labour of love, a step-by-step exercise I do, alone and solely for my own eyes, in an attempt to assess how I have fared during the calendar year which now hastens to a close.
Those of you who have read my article on what I do around this time every year will recall the lists I put together during the course of a couple of hours of introspection and quiet contemplation.

I began with the first: The ten best things that have happened to me in the last twelve months. Things that have given me bundles of joy, or brought me oodles of satisfaction and contentment.

It’s not necessarily easy. There have been a fair share of disappointments and heartbreaks, but the process I put myself through is designed to see how they fare, juxtaposed with the year’s joys and accomplishments. Not just in quantity, but also in quality. Oddly -- and mercifully, I might add -- the vagaries of the stock-market do not figure in any of my thoughts. Nor does the latest bank balance or the state of the real estate market. No sales figures, no career trajectories.

If I am guided by any thing, it is the quip I heard a long time ago and which has stayed in the back of my mind ever since: “No one on his death-bed has ever said to himself, ’Oh, I wish I had spent just a little bit more time in the office, and less at home!’” 

I use that thought as my only gauge to measure what I deem my personal blessings and windfalls, my successes and achievements. Things, that is, that gave me pure, unadulterated joy.

Having completed this first list, I put it aside and turned to a fresh page. And a second list. The ten best things that had happened to me in my entire life, to date. All 67 years of it.

One would think it would take ages to review those six decades and more. But it doesn't because the "best things" are always floating on the surface of our memory. They are evergreen. Easy to spot. They are the cross-roads of our life's journey.

Once I completed this list, I put it beside the first one and compared them to see if the two lists had anything in common.

I have developed my own gauge, my own litmus test, my personal ‘generally accepted accounting principles’: if at least two of the best things in my entire life to date are from the last twelve months, I declare the year just gone a total and unqualified success.

I declare it to myself, that is -- the bottom line, after conducting simple arithmetic. It is a personal accounting. Private. Alone.

Given the hesitation I had in beginning the exercise this year, the result was a surprise … a pleasant surprise. Three of the ‘best things’ of my entire life -- things that gave me satisfaction and contentment -- were those that also appeared on my ’last twelve months’ list.

I liked that. Made me feel I’m heading in the right direction, that the past year has not been a wasted or dull one. The credit and debit columns have been weighed against each other and the bottom line is not only not red, but actually in a clearly demarcated, well-defined black.

No hip-hip-hoorays, no jumping up and down with glee. Just a humble reminder to myself. That the Donald Trumps of this world come and go, as other rogues of the world have and will. If I don’t let them become the be-all and the end-all of my existence, they will leave no detritus in my personal life and will inevitably fade into the sunset, remembered as no more than hiccups, as footnotes of history. 

I hasten to add that I'm not being indifferent to the plight of others or the havoc that such people wreak on the world. All I'm doing is taking care of my own state of mind, ensuring that I do not let them take over my life and hinder my own ability to do my share of good.

All we have to do is keep an eye on what is meaningful, and relegate proportional importance to what isn’t.

Here’s to the New Year! Wishing you all a wonderful 2017. 

December 19, 2016  


Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kua;a Lumpur, Malaysia), December 19, 2016, 7:14 PM.

Sher ji: Don't feel so gloomy. Let me give you at lest two happy examples to cheer you and usher in the New Year. This man was being released after doing his term in prison and loftily announced that he was going to make at least Rs 100,000 by selling amulet charms for a rupee each. "Who is going to buy them?" "What is the population of India? You mean to say that there aren't even a hundred thousand fools among them?" The second example was this sweeper sitting and happily smoking his hookah and watching a long bank line-up of Indians hoping to cash-in their defunct currency notes, and announced: "Today I'm enjoying my poverty. I have nothing to exchange and nothing to save!"

2: Bhai Harbans Lal (Dallas, Texas, USA), December 21, 2016, 12:41 AM.

Sher ji, you deserve to be lauded for serving the community in this age of information and internet. That too without asking anything in return. Your readers feel connected and that is a lot in these times of seclusion. They appreciate information on our past and our present. Our community is more informed on account of your spending hours every day to connect us and to put pieces together. I join your readership all over the world to express our gratitude to you. May Waheguru bless you with ever greater strength and wisdom for years to come to keep on serving the Nation through the internet media.

3: Brig. (Retd) Nawab Singh Heer (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), December 21, 2016, 9:20 AM.

Dear Sher Singh ji: Whereas one is not very pleased not seeing you in Chardi Kalaa, there are two views on Trump's election. One, that he may bring change which is being desired by many. That is, 'Make America great again', jobs, less taxes and a strong middle class. Second, he may prove Huntington right by precipitating open war between Christians and Muslims - the so-called Clash of Civilizations. If the latter happens, it will be the Third World War and asured destruction of life as we know it. I am still hopeful for a better world.

4: Pardeep Singh Nagra (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), December 21, 2016, 2:43 PM.

Simple Arithmetic ... 2016 + 1 = 2017. Best wishes to you and your readers for another great year ahead!

5: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), December 23, 2016, 10:11 AM.

True democracy requires "oneness" in human life. As simple as that!

6: R S Minhas (Millburn, New Jersey, USA), December 26, 2016, 5:38 PM.

T Sher Singh ji, If your simple arithmetic is so much fun, we cannot wait for calculus! We really enjoy and love your writings about any subject. Best wishes to you and your readers for 2017.

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