Sanjeeva Narayan
10 min readJan 30, 2023

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METHOD IN (APPARENT) MADNESS

1. This blog comes after an unreasonably long hiatus, even considering my earlier itinerant habit and irregularity in putting thoughts on paper. That apart, this blog attempts to focus on diverse mental frameworks and thought processes which mirror in divergent daily habits and living styles, something which I have observed, not only as a part of my immediate family, but also in a various strata of society and different situations recently. Well to give a proper background, throughout life we have been taught the virtues of planning and orderliness not only in our physical environment but also the need for an uncluttered mind space — the underlying supposition being that the resultant positivity, economy of effort and good vibes will be the ultimate invigorator. In reality while people steadfastly swearing by this weather beaten and copy book approach seem to be in abundant supply, there are also people, not in insignificant numbers and mightily successful ones at that, for whom such delicate planning is somewhat repugnant and does not seem to be a part of their genetic make-up. For them disorderliness appears to be second skin — amazingly and rather surprisingly with mind-boggling results resulting in some kind of a conundrum, may be even competition or, to put it even more radically, conflict between these two types of heterogenous personalities.

2. For the former set of people orderliness, planning and synchronization is integral in anything and everything that they do — their tables delightfully shorn of any paper, paperwork complete, neatly filed and indexed, meals properly planned, both as to the timing and input and schedules extensively thought out and mapped- to give a few examples. Their life style is reflective of precision, exemplified by orderliness and is free from any rambles what to talk of shoddiness. Meticulous planning, clockwork execution with the minutest attention to the tiniest details are a necessary ingredient of what they think and do conveying a situation in which even adjectives like perfection seem to be understatements/delusions. While to call them suffering from an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) might not be in the fitness of things, these people seem to thrive in an environment which is completely planned, workman like and executed with split level precision — a situation in which steadfast adherence to method is supreme.

3. Belonging to the latter category are human beings, to repeat, some of them mightily successful at that, for whom being meticulous, orderliness, planned or even methodical does not seem to be a part of the genetic make-up and in fact seems to be anathematical — all in all a reflection of (apparent) madness. Their life styles, contrastingly, an evident example of a philosophy based on “playing it by the ear” — trying to keep up with situations as they develop rather than advance planning — for them simple things of life — keeping workplaces and desks clean, to give an example, are a waste of time with the time spent on ruminating, even procrastination on advance planning much rather spent on actual execution of work- a situation reflective of apparent madness.

4. Of course, while orderliness, a meticulously planned and decluttered external atmosphere does seem to lend a semblance of stability, order and smoothness to functioning, the end result discounts the tremendous effort, both physical and mental and the consequent toll on time that it entails. Again, without sounding prejudicial with no apologies for disorderliness, the opposite seems to be true of people who live in an unplanned and disorganized manner. Without discounting their success, the seemingly deeply embedded confusion and ragtag nature of their lives can and does demand some extra effort even though perceptibly they are able to manage their own spaces and careers effectively.

5. This apparent contradiction got me thinking as what would be the right approach-

which is right or which is wrong and what would be the correct thought process/lifestyle to follow — method or perceptible madness and whether there is a golden mean (I may emphasize if ever one exists). My thought process got further confused when I observed a couple of real life and practical situations in the past couple of months.

6. The first instance where I witnessed, need I say an exalted state of disorderliness, was on a visit to one of the most venerated temples in Rajasthan- Nathdwara to be precise, wherein the temple itself is located in narrow by-lanes with a somewhat inhospitable approach. The confusion was compounded exponentially by the incessant rain (an annoying drizzle with an unpredictable stop-start schedule) that day which had made the entire surroundings muddy and slippery . However, that did not seem to have any effect on the multitude of devotees visiting the temple to seek holy blessings with their number running may be into a couple of thousands. Discrete yet pointed enquiries revealed that an attempt has been made over time to bring some order into the functioning of the temple, regulating the inflow of devotees, providing them better facilities and the works. However, given its exalted status in the pantheon of Hindu religious places, the somewhat difficult location and the number of devotees it attracts still a lot of more needs to be done in this regard. The haranguing on the need to improve the facilities and upkeep apart, what particularly caught my attention was the sight of a couple of hundred pairs of footwear lying outside the main door of the temple which owing to the incessant rain were strewn all around the place. My first response was to count my blessings for fortuitously my footwear was not a part of the entire bundle. The scene was one of absolute mayhem- there seemed to be no way in which you could figure out an identical pair of footwear from the entire, I would call a maze, wherein slippers, shoes, sandles anything and everything were scattered all over the place in absolute and abject for want of more pronounced adjective, confusion. However, there seemed to be no tension or concern among the throng of devotees that had converged in the temple on that day for I could see that after some amount of effort and searching, not inconsiderable at that, people were able to extricate their footwear from what appeared to be a tangled mass of leather and plastic.

7. My mind immediately went to the conundrum or the competition between method and madness. People irrespective of their profile, unmindful of the absolute mayhem, were searching around for their own pair of footwear with no sense of remorse or anger- perhaps it was a visit to a temple for religious purposes to seek solace of the mind which had worked on their sensibilities. Nevertheless, the scenario was one of a throng of humanity looking around for their slippers with fair amount of patience and succeeding, only, in a not very inconsiderable, amount of time. My mind also imagined a scenario where these footwears would be kept in an orderly manner, with tokens handed out to various people as has been observed in many other places where people converged in droves which would have simplified matters. Nevertheless, this kind of method in the apparent madness was something which got ingrained in my mind.

8. The other instance which I noticed recently was when I was passing by a school just after it has closed for the day. After such a long hiatus of almost two years (when the world was struck by the deadly pandemic) the sight of hordes of children milling out on the street looking for their vehicles to go home, with their excited chattering, cacophonic noise and exuberant youthful frenzy certainly felt surreal. But in this, again what struck me was a couple of automobiles which could on a normal day seat two/three passengers carrying or attempting to carry 7–8 or even more children, who were I would not call it bundled, but to use a more politically correct phrase, being sought to be seated in the auto in a strategic manner. Again, some people might call it madness with the surging atmosphere of confusion compounded manifold by the intricate amalgam of noises being generated all around — teachers, children and of course, the auto drivers, each in their own trance like state. But the manner in which the process was going on and the unplanned manner in which children were looking their vehicles to go home was something which again focused my mind on the apparent method in what all this madness was all about. The situation could perhaps have been managed better with children being asked to make a line and wait for their specified transport, the absence of which might be symptomatic of the ambivalent organizational skills of the school. But nevertheless, after a couple of minutes of what seemed to be confusion the entire process seemed to have culminated in a manner which in hindsight is admirable and praiseworthy and the children departed for their respective destinations. Again, a supreme example of method in apparent madness.

9. The third instance which I noticed recently was when I happened to visit a Food Festival — again the throng and the multitude of people present there was something which one had kind of forgotten in the past couple of years when social distancing became the norm and public gatherings viewed, naturally, with extraordinary scepticism. Navigating my way through the Food Festival, I happened to pass by one particular Kabab maker whose offerings , apparently a gastronomical delight, seemed to be in great demand, as evident from the number of people waiting in queue albeit, most patiently. Watching the cook or chef, you can choose to call it by any name, at work was an absolute delight and again a worthy example of what method in apparent madness is all about. Taking the dough into his own hands there was no attempt at weighing each pouch or to try to make it into perfect round manicured piece. By sheer instinct he would pick up the amount of dough required and with the roll of his hands turned it into the desired shape and put it on the utensil for further frying to deliver the end result- the entire process seemed magical. Now there was seemingly no meticulous planning in this entire process, no attempt at being precise only a method, honed by years of practice, and hard work and unflinching dedication and devotion to a job which was his passion. Again, a perfect example of method in apparent madness.

10. On another plane, moving on from Human Beings to the Avian species one has only to observe the cacophonic chirping of birds in an apparently frenzied state, in a park searching for their own share when a good Samaritan drops some food. I do not mean to enter here into a controversy on the (de) merits of such practice — but coming to what happens in its aftermath is a scene of absolute and complete confusion — with what appears to be a fight for even the tiniest of morsels. Seemingly tugging at each others tails, making noises which seem to equate to the human version of shouting — mayhem (a word I use repeatedly here, given the context) seems to prevail. But lo and behold, a closer look reveals some kind of method in this, again apparent madness. The frenzied activity, seemingly an attempt to ensure equitable distribution of food in no time dissipates into a most welcome and pleasing calm. It seems instances of underlying methods in apparent madness prevail across all living beings.

11. All this led me to believe that while the process of methodical meticulous planning might be something which the text books and even family elders ordain nevertheless even the so called unplanned people function in certain specified mind-frames with some kind of method being an inherent component of their psyche. On another plane, it appears, at first sight, that even if a six sigma study of the various scenarios was undertaken the errors will fall within the limits of acceptability.

12. To put another spoke in the wheel as to the undertones of this seemingly erratic and irrational behaviour, one only needs to look at a scene in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” when Polonius says — “Though this be madness yet there is method in it”. Sometime later G K Chesterton, the famed English Author in the “Fad of the Fisherman” further nuanced it as follows:-

“There nearly always is method in madness.

It’s what drives men mad, being methodical.”

13. He further goes on to say “ It is the homogeneity of the mind which makes him dull and which makes him mad”. Apparently there is a sense of purpose and method in all kinds of behaviours — even in what appears to be foolish, strange or even irrational and even stupid behaviour

14. Well even after much soul searching and racking of my brain, no clear-cut decision/choice emerged as to what should be the correct method to follow — is it meticulous planning, limitless attention to detail, the results of which definitely are pleasing and seemingly congenial (never mind the intense effort that goes into it and its toll on the mental frame work) or apparent madness -seemingly crazy, contrarian, foolish or even quixotic which nevertheless has an underlying plan/strategy directed towards achieving a certain goal. One may not be able to fit behavioural instincts in specific buckets and define the superiority of one approach over another — however, some conclusions do emerge. While one can look for the golden mean (again I may say if ever there is one), it also depends on individual frameworks as to what fits in with his/her personality. Efforts can be made to somewhat recalibrate individuals (specially, extreme cases). However, attempts at radical transformation will not succeed given the inherently well-defined and pre-ordained genetic make-up that we all are born with -something over which no individual has even a semblance of control. Of course, in certain adherence to defined methods and scrupulous planning is imperative given the nature and delicacy of the underlying task and the ramifications it entails.

15. Before closing I may hasten to clarify that while the entire discussion above may appear to be started towards people who are perceptibly disorganized, I offer no apology for such kind of behaviour. The effort is only to focus on diversities in thought processes and the imperative need to understand and appreciate them and arrive at a balance.

16. Happy soul searching for the golden mean( “if ever there is one”)

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