A culture of cultures

I’ve been reading this book by Steven Pinker that goes by the name , ‘Blank Slate: Modern denial of human nature’. I must admit, the book has left me massively humbled. As I struggle to comprehend the theories and brave one paragraph at a time, I’m also left with a lot of thoughts around the whys of the way of my world.

Interestingly enough, with mom and dad in the new city , I opted to hit a few temples to gain brownie points. I must admit, I do enjoy the temple experience. The architecture is quite breath taking. I also happened to notice that a few of the temples, in their efforts in being inclusive, had left a few brief descriptions to describe the significance of the deities and what they mean to Hindus. With that introduction on one hand and the book on the other, my thoughts have started running wild.

Now what if I tell you that it is believed that once upon a time there was a bloke. Boringly monogamous at a time where polygamy wasn’t frowned upon. A little red herring deal that soured and he had to relocate bases. The new land led to newer challenges and in course of the process, the bloke ushered himself into a new social circle of sorts. The social circle was trippy at best. Humanoids , who varied in genetic splices, were a part of that social gathering. Bada boom, another unforeseen adventure later, he eventually returned home.

And millennia later, the land saw a nasty riot that shed a lot of blood.

Reading that verbose, one can conclude that the riot was an ludicrous outcome and was barely a warranted response. Which society in its right mind would encourage, tolerate or even allow such a violence. And then suddenly everything changes perspective if I were to tag a name to the bloke. Ram. There is an ocean of difference between Ram and Lord Ram.

While Ram is just a name, Lord Ram is a symbol. Lord Ram , or the place that name has in our hearts and minds is a reflection of culture driven behaviour. There is nothing instinctive or innate around the fact that the name espouses respect and reverence. We hold it valuable because we learnt of its sanctity. We learnt it by aping the behaviour of our parents, grand parents and possibly neighbours. We learnt it because it was embraced and adopted by our immediate world.

Man has no culture. Man has a history.

The book does introduces us to thoughts that can help us debunk the mythos of our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. The story of Lord Ram is a classic example. Unless one is aware of the history behind that name, the legacy associated to it, the wider script of God that it stands to represent, the story remains unknown. We aren’t born with our faith. We aren’t born with the culture that we choose to be a fanatic over. In a way, we are born as a blank slate. The book possibly goes on to explain why we aren’t blank slate either, but it meets the current agenda and I shall use it out of sheer convenience.

The values, the moralities, the definition of good and bad and what’s tolerable and what’s not, all of these are born out of personal and borrowed experience. Through intellect, we run a sorting hat to translate things into different buckets. Speaking of intellect, there was a passage in the book that simply blew me away.

Man, us, could possibly be one of the best machines ever devised. The brain is a machine too. Through the senses, it sees, feels, hears, tastes, touches and then translates all these into different interpretations. These interpretations are factored by our experience and hence bias comes into play. It’s this ability of the mind to personalise every stimuli based on experiences that makes artists out of us. Some draw, some write, some paint, some make music. This ability to create, based on the simple complicated machine that is human, makes us a human.

So can AI do a lot of that. We have BOTs writing symphonies today. AI is writing reading materials. AI is moving away form parroting responses to triggering new responses and creating new directions for conversations. Where does an AI end and a human start.?

The immediate answer is that behind every successful AL algorithm, there is either an overworked, underpaid, stressed employee or a super passionate bloke who is giving a 10000% into the job. The distinction of Creator versus Creation comes into play. Even if an AI gains sentience, Man would still be it’s creator and hence it is not human. The same logic applies to mankind too. Since , arguably, God created us and by virtue of being a creation, we can not be God. The best of human can only aspire to mimic God. The best of AI can only aspire to mimic Human.

I like the reading experience so far. So far, I’m fascinated by the world that Cognitive Science has unlocked. While I don’t really understand a lot about it, it does ask simple questions that challenges the boundaries of our assumptions. Having an open enough mind is very helpful in this journey. As a spiritual aspirant, it kindles my curiosity even more. If man wasn’t born with it, if culture doesn’t come from my blood, Why did I still manage to take the steps that I took to reach here?

That question is not unique to me. It’s to all of us. The current outcome of our reality is a trail of choices either made under the influence of the world around or just made for the heck of it. The choices don’t interest me anymore. The motives of what took us to embrace those choices is far more interesting. It’s going to be an interesting month ahead, as I inch across each paragraph.

Karthik

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[Book Review] : Shantaram

“Sooner or later, fate puts us together with all the people, one by one, who show us what we could, and shouldn’t, let ourselves become” – Shantaram

Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts is a sublime tale of a journey towards life. The book serves as a fictional , semi – pseudo auto biography of sorts. This is a book where fiction and reality hold hands together and they both , rather conveniently, chose a cinematic narrative approach to story telling. The book starts with a bloke who flies into Bombay with a fake passport that belongs to a certain Lindsay Ford. The assumed identity becomes the only identity of the tale’s protagonist. If I were to sum up the tale into a line, it would read as the journey of a man from being Lindsay Ford to Lin to Shantaram. While the sentence is short, the road taken by the protagonist is wonderfully entertaining , thought provoking and long.

Lindsay or the bloke who soon is addressed as Lin, is a man of violence. There is violence in his heart. There is guilt from that violence. A shade of repentance and a longing for redemption. Lin, as he starts, is no saint and the Bombay of the 1970’s happens to be the perfect city for vices. The retro vibes to the 70’s set amidst the blossoming Mumbai Mafia sets the stage for the tale. From substance abuse to suckering unassuming, unsuspecting travellers, Lin beings to offer a bespoke professional service of procuring and delivering instruments of vice based on fluctuating demands. That’s fancy for Lin working the streets and peddling whatever he can.

At every page there is crime and its holistic view. Crime , is both a source of escape and a means of entrapment. It keeps the characters in a state of inertia. The characters endure a distinct sense of irony. Their lives of crime keeps them free. It’s the crime that keeps them chained. The world revolves around a subtle balance.

The characters are the strength of this book. There are far too many characters and the best part is, as readers, we’d grown warm to most of them. We’d passionately root for them. We’d vengefully want some of them to suffer. The heart of this tale is the nurturing of the bonds that the characters share. From the smiles of Prabhakar, the wisdom of Lord Abdel Khader Khan, the friendship that is with Abdulla, the charismatic Didier Levy , the whacky-do-doodle that is Vikram and the frustration that is love in the form of Karla.

“Nothing grieves more deeply or pathetically than one half of a great love that isn’t meant to be.” – Shantaram

I don’t think there are any stories worth telling that do not concern the matters of the heart. Lin shares the same sentiment. Neatly set in the backdrop of a violent mafia, wars across the world, poverty , the human spirit (aka the Mumbai spirit) that never gives up, is a frustrating love story of Lin and Karla. The two are equally matched, in coefficients of both the intellect and emotions. One cannot be a lover unless one is a certified fool and this tale is a testament to that foolishness. Not that there is anything wrong with being a fool. Karla and Lin, all the other tiny tales of love and life, render the characters to either remain as fools or volunteer to be one. I’m a romantic and I find that state of foolishness as cute. Reality does come and it comes biting. Wisdom, I reckon, is attained by not staying a fool forever.

There is a lot of philosophy plastered across the pages of the tale. Lin shares his view of the world and the principles that he holds close. Lord Abdel is another wonderful source of wisdom that covers all realms of existence. The moralities are put to the test. We, along with Lin, have a glimpse into the world that sits comfortable between the two extremes of black and white.

One of the best feature of the book is the way that all the characters are flawed and broken. Nobody is holier than the rest. The virtues and vices grip everybody alike. There are no saints in the land of the vice. Despite the evil, it is the quintessential struggle to do good, that quest to make this world a better place, that effort to make life better for others, that sets the book apart from rest of the fiction. As Abdel says, it’s the capacity to do bad for the right reasons is what that defines us as humans. I’m tempted to both agree and disagree. Good finds a way. So does evil. We are left to our own wits to embrace either, or even both.

Speaking of the huge list of characters, Bombay, or the present day Mumbai is also a subtle character in the tale. Mumbai takes in people from all walks of life, accepts all moralities and ethics that people choose to live by, and lets its people be. Some bring it pain while others endure pain to spread joy. The book is a fantastic tribute to Bombay. It lives and breathes the fabric that is the city. Right from the underbelly that has the slippery grime that is crime , to the most humane face of humanity that’s expressed through poverty, from the front where money buys a £150 cup of coffee to humble villagers who migrate to the city with nothing but hopes and dreams in their eyes, the book has the city painted all over its pages.

The big theme in the book is around what it means to belong to someone or even some place? Why do we yearn that sense of belonging? How does that belonging change our life? Each character in the book is , in one way or another, an alien to the city. They all walk in, fall in love with the city and endure and survive.

The next big theme is around ‘Karma’ of things. The big question around should we continue to be what we were or do we allow ourselves to evolve and in time, repent, atone, grow , and adopt a new path? Lin is a perfect example of man of violence who blooms into a man with a golden heart that has a few thorns that adorn it.

The biggest payoff from the book is the mention of the name “Shantaram”.

The many lives of Lin reflect the many conflicts that arise within his heart. Lin is driven by love, loyalty, anger, regret, guilt and he embraces all the choices that he makes and is forced to make. As Lin adapts to the consequences, we as readers, no longer remain blind to the way he evolves. The fantastic irony to the tale is that Lin is soaked and bleached in crime and yet there is a saint in him that comes out strong.

A name is just a name and it seldom defines the nature of the person that it is tagged to. Shantaram is a beautiful example of a man living his life, in pursuit of earning that name that emanates peace that is Shantaram.

Definite read. Give it a shot.

Karthik

Chicken, Egg and 50 shades of evolution

I’m usually not in the habit of maintaining a cheat sheet to structure the flow of thoughts. There is always a first time and first time it shall be now.

The crux of the thoughts are around the following lines

Tabula rasa – > Innatism – > Nature vs Nurture , that challenges evolution ; Empiricism in conflict with determinism and not good friends with innatism. Nihilism vs opposite of that!

Righty roo.

I have my eyes on the book, The Blank Slate and to prepare for the book I started to read a little on the subject. In a way, this blog would be a pre condition check and once I’ve read the book, hopefully, I should have grown wiser! Tough luck there, but I’ll keep an open mind. it’s not everyday where I get to mock my opinionated self.

Lets try to structure the circus that runs in my mind. Chicken , egg and evolution. The age old question, which came first is a classic example of pointlessness. We were not around to witness the birth of the chicken or the delivery of the first egg. Ergo, the loudest wins or the most geekiest explaination stands to win. To me, I couldn’t care less about the origin of my omelette.

The journey of words led me down a wonderful path. The path is outlined as the following

1. I am what I am. – > What I am is a collection of all my bias, experiences , innate talent and acquired skill. The whole conversation of acquisition of skill trumps innate talent is still wide at play.

2. I am what I’m meant to be – > The big predisposition of fate and destiny comes into play. In my futile attempt to justify all the bits and bolts of life, I can take a little comfort, and I’m lying through my teeth here , in knowing that I’m meant for things and whatever that I’ve gone through and will go through, will be in line with what’s in store in my destiny. I don’t subscribe to this view of destiny and determinism. That’s an open area of contention.

3. Like everyone else, My life will have a purpose or just like everyone else, none of our lives are meant to serve any purpose at all.

These three are often indicative of all the justifications that we offer in the face of a defeat. Either we accept, learn adapt and bounce stronger. Or we accept and drag in the universe to assure ourselves that our loss was destined. Or, we say things are meant to be that way and something better is in the making. The degree of our failure is dependent on what we choose to believe and what that keeps us comfy and smug in denial.

Tabula Rasa , aka, blank slate states that we are like clay. We can be beaten and shaped up to be anything. It also means that entire life ahead is an outcome of stimulus and that means, we are what we are and that is defined by our experiences and our reactions to them. This makes sense and only it doesn’t as well. Our genetic fabric has information locked within it. We carry forward information that helps with our survival. While at the primal level, this makes sense, it need not mean that everything that we need , comes within our blood. Should that be the case, why would we bother learning anything at all.

The fact that our blood does not define what or who we are, it’s not a stretch for me to debunk the role of an entire vast universe in deciding my fate.

That’s just me. Empiricism talks about our ability to learn and adapt through experiences. It says that we are a product of our society and our interaction with it. The case of nurture versus nature. It banks on Nurture and conditioning. While this is true for most of us, This view also conflicts with both Destiny and Innatism. Since we learn from the world around, we are a product of our choices, we therefore are not left at the mercy of the universe and we aren’t at the mercy of our genetic markup.

If we are a product of the choices that we make and refuse to make, it also conflicts with the ‘Ghost in the machine’ ideology. Ghost in the machine, like it’s cyber punk relative, Ghost in the Shell, talks about mind and the body as separate entities. The impact of choices on mind as an entity and the body, now that baffles me. Mind has a mind of it’s own and so does the body. How do the two work in order to evolve us? That’s a question that has many answers and it depends on where one is looking for those answers.

The mark of a good book is not around how many questions for which it offers an answer. In fact it’s quite the opposite. It’s around how many questions that it makes us ask.

I’d like to believe that this book would open up a few questions that I didn’t know even existed. All that said, it’s been fun to contemplate around the many fears that surrounds our existence. From doubts around capabilities, to fears around history’s ferocity in wanting to repeat itself. From fate that wants us to fail to stars that remain mute and stones that bring better luck. Us humans are complicated and we are so , only because of the things that we tell ourselves to justify the soil upon which we make our shaky stand.

Karthik

Failure Fixation

The science and sanity of a time machine and the holy fabled time travel aside, lets suspend our sense of belief and assume that we all had unrestricted access to a ‘fictionally accurate’ version of a time machine. That ensures that we have the whole nine yards of time travel at our disposal. Pop a button, zoom back Marty Mcfly, go change the past. Ripple effects that alter the future. Repeat and rinse. Whole nine yards.

While the notion and the wish list for a machine , that facilitates this feature of fiddling with time, is something that might exist in the near/distant future, I have a few thoughts that are grounded in the present. Technology has never been a problem. A pencil in the right pair of demented hands does become a weapon of crude violence.

Failure fixation is a reality. It’s a combination of two things. Failure and a duh! . Fixation over that failure is the second one. The average joe fixates on the problem statement once something fails. It’s what we are conditioned to be. The usual lifecycle of an unhappy path (in both spheres of life) can be summed up as

1. A failure positions itself on a given friday

2. In the name of root cause identification, we rack through our brains, read and assess a million things in a very short duration of time

3. When we don’t find something, we feel obliged and very compelled to sit with it till we find a clue and a road to the solution

4. once the source of the flaw is identified, we try to fix it.

Fixing again goes through point 3. The lifecycle of a fix again holds the same challenges of unhappy paths

5. Get the fix into place.

While all of these are happening, there is that nagging fear of ‘Oh I’ve screwed things up REALLY REALLY BAD’. In short, I call this as the ‘End of the world’ panic. The experience of failure, the fear of being tagged as the harbinger of bad omen and the village idiot who burned down the town, we coast through life in constant fear of future failures and desperate means to avoid such failures in the future. Have ample failures pinned to your chest, it’d be a miracle if you manage to retain an ounce of self esteem and confidence.

In a delayed nutshell view, failure attracts fears. Fears attract failure.

What’s that got to do with Fixation and time travel.

Here is the deal.

Life , as we know it, is linear in nature. Point A to Point B. Thoughts on Point A, eventual death at point B. We have the freedom to live with a lifetime worth of regrets but jack diddley squat chances of going back and having them changed. Given the nature of the average Joe, we aren’t brave trouble shooters. The first point of failure, we’d sit with it, obsess over it and break heads till we resolve it.

I’ve come across a few blokes.. and lets pause it there. I don’t want to sugar coat the most important point of this blog. I’ve not met many folks who harbour the attitude and inclination to LEARN from a mistake. I’ve met a lot of folks who have expressed explicit desire to get rid of their problem .. Do what it takes to have their bodies whisked away from the line of fire. When crisis comes calling, most want to escape than face it or own it or even learn from it and walk out stronger. I’m not judging. I’m all of that too. I’m some of that too. I’m none of that too. It really depends on where I’ve failed. I have my strengths and some failures, I smile and coast through. Some, I cower and succumb. I’m at least honest about it.

That established, do you see where I’m going with it. The ability to correct a mistake also robs us of the learnings that we stand to gain from it. A woe from the past, the flexibility to change it, we’d sit obsessed to doing what it takes to keep altering the event till we feel that we’ve set things right. And then comes the kicker.

Now what if I told you that failure builds better character than success could ever dream of? Had I not failed in my past, I wouldn’t be half the bloke that I am today. Regrets and disappointments are stocked in my skeleton cupboard but that does not deny the fact that I’ve grown stronger , wiser, better because of my failures.

Going back in time, wanting to change it all , might feel like we are changing the past to change the future. We are and we are not. Fixing the past robs us of the journey of growth that we’d have experienced. In that sense, without lessons picked, we also stand to repeat the same blunders in the future. By changing the past, we are not changing the way of the future.

Then comes the HG Wells view. Time machine, the fictional novel, it talks about a personal tragedy and one man’s futile effort to change it. He does a million things and fails in a million new ways. In the realm of fiction, it makes dramatic sense. In the context of real, It’s simple cause and effect. Without causes, without effects that affect us, we don’t have the capacity to grow as individuals. In effect, the difference between us, as tiny tots and today as adults is a lifetime of lessons and experiences gathered. Without them lesson and experiences , we’d remain the kids that we once were. Only older and with the same sensibilities that we had as a child.

Nobody likes an unpleasant experience or that uneventful memory. It’s not worth hoarding and celebrating. That does not mean that such failures don’t serve a purpose, besides rendering you useless. The simple truth is that things happen. It’s a myth that our actions or lack of them have a say in the occurrence of events. Things happen all the time, with or without your explicit approved blessings. Outcomes are born from those events. How we react , respond, grow is all about the tale called life. We all grow old in numbers but we don’t age the same

My thoughts on the fabled time machine revolved around the desperation to change things from the past. There are other good uses of such travels. We gather insights into how things can be, so we can change and align the present to benefit in the future. All of those actions would definitely catch up in the form of cause and effect. The principle of being a human continues to remain the same. How we react, respond, grow, now that is a constant irrespective of the nature of day that we are talking about. It didn’t change yesterday, it hasn’t changed today. It probably wont change tomorrow.

Karthik

Toys and Trinket

‘Last one daddy’ I remember promising. I knew it was a lie. My dad knew it was a lie. The smiling shopkeeper knew it was a lie. All of us had heard that very statement ample times to know that it would be declared soon enough.

Looking back, the thrills and spills of acquiring a new toy has always been a joyous one. There was a certain ritual to the madness. The tell tale signs of the arrival of a new toy , always seemed to be the same. I’d grow more chatty that week. We’d pick a pleasant Saturday, early morning, to mark the occasion. Dad and I would walk to the shop. The shop stayed the same. I was a bit of a loyalist to cheat on that shop. I knew everybody there and everybody there knew me. Dad would have a word with the ‘Guys’ in the shop and I’d feast my eyes around the million things that I desired and the one thing that I knew I could bring back home.

Dad would collect my promise of that toy being the last one ever. The return home was almost a race. I’d itch to head back home as fast as I could manage. Dad would keep up. The way back home, I’d spin many tales around the GiJoe. I’d share details of the cool factor that made the toy special. My dad would ask me about What a Cobra was. I’d tell my dad that he was silly and wasn’t paying sufficient attention to the details. To be totally honest, I hadn’t had a view of the financial toll that I’d subject my dad to each month. To be totally candid, my dad never let me in on it ever. There were days when the shop would be closed. There were days when we’d walk. I wasn’t greedy and I wasn’t a stranger to my bag of toys.

“Last one da” I now heard a promise. The wheel of time had churned plenty. The amount of ceramic vessels around the house made my dad a bit jumpy. He saw the inevitability of the plates , assisted by gravity, meeting the wooden floor. He didn’t want any of that nonsense. We had our usual run to the shop to replace the fragile ones with durable melamine ones. With each iteration, I giggled and reminded dad that for a house of 3 , we sure had ample cutlery to feed an army.

The weekend set, I hit the gym while my dad made plans for the day. It wasn’t huge or spectacular. Dad had spotted a stand in Wilco ( a big fancy enough shop that sold bits and bolts) He wanted to place all the breakable cutlery in a treasure chest of sorts. The Davey Jones equivalent of drawers. It was the kind of a chest where fragile things in the house went to never come back ever again. The walk to the shop was exactly the same that we had those many decades ago.

Only now, dad was the excited kid. We spoke at lengths about the benefits of the new trinket. We spoke of risk avoidance and how the trinket would breathe a sense of relief. We spoke of the city, we spoke of the shops. We spoke of the economy and the football world cup. The shop reached, dad set upon the task of finding the stand that he had spotted a week ago. A long search and a compromised pick later, it wasn’t a chest of plastic as he had hoped. We had opted for a british steel instead.

“Last one da. You can either keep them or throw them off later. I think everything is now set. We don’t have to pick anything any more” my dad assured me. I couldn’t help but laugh. I knew that statement. I had said it for years. I knew it wouldn’t be the last time. He knew it wouldn’t be the last time. And sure enough, a few days later, he braved the city again to pick a few more.

In time, we all swap roles. In time, we get to experience the other side. It’s such a warm and a fantastic feeling , just to know that I’ve been fortunate enough to witness and participate in the turning tide. Through the busy oddities of life, I do feel lucky that I’ve had the priorities and time set aside to spend a little time. For all the money, fame and fortune dangling as carrots , time is the most precious commodity that most of us never quite have. It’s good to have time. It’s great to make time. Give it a shot.

Karthik.

Mama’s boy

I mean I did used to wonder a lot about the way I am. The visible flamboyance is not a family trait. I didn’t get that from aping the way of my folks. If I had to copy their way of life, I think I’d have grown up being modest, humble and firmly grounded. That , very clearly, hasn’t been the case.

And so there I was, eyes glued to the smart phone. I was catching up on my reading for the day when I opened a door without a second thought. The lady on the other side hadn’t quite anticipated that. The surprise rendered her jumpy. I meekly apologised for startling her. We exchanged a smile, we spoke about how ineffective the maintenance team was, when it came to addressing the woes around the lift. We parted ways without a wonder and that was just that. The story was also a subtle tale of my lifestyle. I’m quick into a small talk. I ease my way into conversations and I exit off them as I please. Moments , as random as these, I make an effort to fill them with strangers. While this doesn’t make me any special, this always ensures that I’m never too bored.

And fast forward to the Saturday that followed. The day was new and challenges were new too. I got to introduce the wonders of the ‘Oyster card’ to my parents. We had decided to commute to ‘East Ham’. A place far away from Chennai and the kind of place that was Chennai-like in many ways. Dad enjoys such travels and the carrot that I used to entice mom was a promise of a temple that was there. Throw in a temple and my mom would gladly make that effort to commute.

Travelling with aged parents is both stressful and a deeply satisfying affair. The super off peak travel ensured that I didn’t have to worry about Londoners who were on a time bound quest to get form point A to point B. The carriage was nearly empty and despite all the planning, my mom had plans of her own. She separated from the herd of three and managed to acquire a seat.

As the train picked speed, she tumbled from the acceleration. Fortunately, no harm done. She managed to recover and took her intended seat on the train.

The onlookers expressed their healthy concern. A quick enquiry over the incident later, they went about their business. Mom and her new neighbour got into a conversation about how the KumKum bindi is a quintessential Indian thingy. ‘I’m sorry if I caused a stir’ my mom casually implied.

I was standing right by my dad when I overheard her statement. It took me by surprise. And so there she was, my mum, casually building conversations with folks around her. She offered to manage the neighbour’s kid on the train. A few Long-enough conversations later, it was the time to jump stations and take a new train. She got off without an adventure. Dad managed his solo exit too.

The next train was another long ride and this time, mom’s network with strangers around was on wonderful display. Effortlessly, she was every bit a Londoner. She was more a Londoner than I had ever been. She embraced the new land, the new people in it. The world was her muse and conversations were at her easy disposal. I stopped trying to babysit mom.

Dad was busy comparing notes from the land he had visited 3 decades ago. A lot had changed and a lot yet remained to be the same. The sunny , hot city was a new. The ambience of East ham was a new. The saravana bhavan continued to remain the same. England’s happy win added a certain charm to the city. The flags swayed proudly and the pubs were humming with a jolly score. The city started to paint itself in red. The sun wasn’t a bother anymore.

I’ve set aside my immediate fears of how my folks would cope up with this new world. They are doing fine. In fact, they are doing much better than what I’ve managed. Most evenings when I return from work, they do have a story to share. Their world of the usual shop runs, the giggles over groceries, new faces and tiny tales, I do feel awed by their adventures.

I guess apples don’t fall from Lemon trees. I’m proud to acknowledge that I’m a mama’s boy. Glad that I got that from her! It does compensate for the other vices that I’m proficient with.

I do have a question outstanding that waiting to be answered. Why is the district line named the way it is? I hadn’t really thought of that ever. Leave it to dad to ask sensible questions!

Karthik

And what if I told you

Oh there is something absolutely romantic and loaded with a sense of a purpose that spans a lifetime when we make a promise to take a secret to our grave. I can almost visualise the cinematic experience to the moment. Blackened clouds, rainfall over a freshly dug grave. There is a good chance that I’d be tossed into a furnace, but then I do digress. Back to the picturesque view of the immediate beyond. Cemetery, red roses, black dresses and a matching umbrella of black, rainfall. A bloke six feet under and a secret buried along.

And that’s precisely where the pointlessness starts. For starters; Secrets, promises, grudges and many billion moments remembered are memories. And what if I told you that the mind is neither the best or the most reliable scribe. I’m not talking about the mind’s ability to forget. I’m talking about the other side of the spectrum. The mind remembers what it wants to remember. What it wants to remember isn’t necessarily the absolute true north reporting of an event that occurred.

Memory is , at best, a placeholder. It is a flagging of a moment. Most of us pin that flag to remind ourselves that a certain event had occurred. A lot of us manage to retain some of the details and specifics of things that transpired. A very few of us retain the details without applying a bias. To present a simplified view of the process, a memory can be summed as

Memory = What happened + How we felt when things happened + What we thought led to that event transpire + Our reaction to that event + How we processed the moment of the reveal + Our bias on the all the participants who contributed to that event + HOW WE THEN WENT ABOUT ARTICULATING ON THAT MEMORY.

A memory is not as simple as a recording of what happened. It’s a recording of who you were when things happened. No wonder that a memory is a deeply personal affair.

That said and established, all of us change over time and only few of us have the courage to accept that change. History only repeats itself as long as we fail to acknowledge that we aren’t the same person that we once were. The longer we cling on to what we were, the longer the history runs on a loop. Memory is one massive contributing factor that keeps us glued to the person that we once were. Memories keep us away from embracing the present.

While the power of memory, and by implication the past , cannot be trivialised ; it’s also worth the while to ponder over how unreliable a memory is. The world of humans define the rest of their lives , basing their entire life on something that is biased, unreliable and not necessarily even true. There are truths and then there are versions of that truth. A lot of our decision making process relies heavily on these versions of the truth.

Only we fail to recognise the subtle difference between truth and it’s many diverse versions.

What got me thinking about memory is the conviction with which my Grand father reminded me that I had squandered away a life. His view of the truth was that during my days as a musician, I was crowded and adored by the huge fan base of groupies. He said I had skipped the phase of finding a right life partner. My grand pa believes in this view of my history with all his heart. He swears by it.

My version of the truth is that my band never did have any fan base. We weren’t even cool enough to have groupies. We were a bunch of guys, who were in it for the thrills of the music. My gramps has managed that alternate history for a few years now and with each year passing, his certainty of that alternate history keeps growing stronger.

My grand pa is not all that very unique and special. I’ve had many memories , the bubbles of them, shattered over in time. I came to terms with other versions of the truth that weren’t necessarily mine. In time, through growing a little wise, through unlearning and adapting an open mind, I’ve come to realise that a lot of the past that I retell, are only accounts of what I think happened. They are in no way an honest to god, truth to the line reporting of events.

It’s just sad that we , as normal ; average ; mundane ;sober and rational people, invest so much effort , time and emotions into Hate, Grudge, Love, Past that it alters the very present of our existence. We live in a fool’s world, base our decisions on a fool’s gold chest of memories, reason out that ours is the only version of the truth and that there doesn’t exist another form of the truth. It’s just way too many decisions being made on a shaky foundation.

And in that sense, what if I told you that most of our lives are based on a Lie? A lie of our choosing and making.

Karthik

Breaking ICE

Some times I do feel bad for speakers. Addressing a gathering is not a walk in the park. The nature of the audience is unpredictable and their enthusiastic participation is always an uncertainty. Just typing that sentence, I’m flooded with images of poor blokes , holding their fancy microphones, pleading with the audience for an interaction.

Many stages have endured and survived the noisy symphony orchestrated by crickets!

Ice breakers are the best of the lot. Humour is a default trait that everybody expects from a bearer of the microphone. I mean, Frodo’s burden was a breeze in direct comparison. In the name of humour, there is a lot of funny business at play. I happened to sit through a session recently. I was an unexpected invite and I had to oblige.

‘Would you jump off a plane, if I were to give you a £1000 ?’ the hopeful speaker started the conversation.

Luck, as he knew it, had apparently run out. After a long day’s work, I was itching to let a little steam off. Someone saw my childlike face and decided that I’d make the best of scapegoats to pump questions that would render me nervous and hence help establish and make a point. Yeah. Luck had changed hands.

Sure, why not. I replied. From the immediate reaction of the speaker, it wasn’t hard to notice two things. One, he wasn’t an experienced speaker. Two, his usual target audience were not in the habit of throwing a few punches.

He posed the question to a few more lambs and as certain as the number of hair on my head, most of them had replied that they wouldn’t.

The ice now broken, the message could be delivered. He wanted to strive the point of having an open mind. Open mind mandated that jumping of a plane that wasn’t flying was a safe affair and an easy buck to earn.

I giggled my devious smile.

‘Yeah, what airplane are we talking about?, I shot back.

‘What, beg your pardon?’

‘All I’m saying is that If one were to jump from an A-380, the one that’s parked in the hanger. I’d still break a lot of bones. It’s not all that joyful experience. It’s now a question of how desperate I am to earn that £1000.’

‘Good point sir. I’m sorry what’s your name? That’s a fair point. One has to always evaluate what one will do to achieve what they want’, he tried to reclaim his session.

‘Katz. I mean, if you were to ponder over that for a minute, Let me pose another question. If I knew the cost of medical aid of broken bones, then I’d know if that £1000 is worth the effort. In which case, the status quo changes. It’s now a question of knowing the variables and arriving at a decision.’

There is a moment in time when the audience shifts their attention by realigning the orientation of how they sit. I’ve always enjoyed that attention. In time, I had learnt to stay away from such cheap thrills. In short, it was this breed of arrogance that I spent a few years trying to unlearn. I didn’t particularly want to remain a nice audience.

So far, I do appear as a poster child for a spoilt arrogant brat.

I was in fact playing a vigilante. The session was about a glorified PONZI scam.

I felt nauseated by the fact that a few suits had the right set of words to manipulate the lambs by selling them their dreams. I couldn’t , wouldn’t tolerate the illicit gamble of people’s misery. Greed deserved greed. Not misery.

The introduction spoilt, I piped down. I knew I’d have more opportunities to crash that party. I didn’t have to wait long.

So, what is success? Another bloke opened up the forum. Is it money? Is it fame? and then went on to engage the audience over how altruism captures a place in history and not fortunes and fame.

Interesting point there. It was pleasant to see Bill Gates, Mahatma and Mother Theresa feature in the same statement. And I put my hands up.

‘Yes, Katz’ the speaker paused.

‘I’m all in for altruism. Gandhi ji got shot. Billy and Mother got raked into a billion controversies over ethics. The big deal with altruism is that when there is a generous supply of money and social service dragged into the same sentence, There is usually a lot of allegations of foul. Money corrupts. It’s a constant.’

Radio silence.

‘Any case, I do find it interesting that the pitch first spoke about owning a TESLA, 4 international holidays, money in 7 figures and as a foot note, social care. Makes me wonder if the priorities featured in the exact same way as presented’

‘It’s always not about the money’ the defence was offered. The point already made and the damage quite dealt, I had managed to leave 5 folks with questions over the smoke dream that they were being sold. The rest, focused on the greed that eyes could carry.

As etiquette mandated , I had to manage a saving grace. ‘Oh don’t worry about my questions. I like to ask the hard ones to ensure that I’m doing the right things. I’m convinced that I’m in the right place. Thanks for the wonderful session’ I smiled my fakest smile. The condescension in my voice missed most but hurt the intended target.

I walked off the session with a thought.

Maybe I am in the wrong line of business. Maybe I have the gift of glib and my resistance towards leading the lambs to temptation is the summary of everything that is wrong with my life.

I felt I’d be immensely successful in the business of deception. I walked back home knowing that I’d never let myself buy my red Jaguar by robbing the dreams and hopes of the people I barely knew. A conscience is a terrible thing to have. Especially if you have the potential to be bad.

Cest la vie!!!!!

Karthik

Amazoning life

When I was a kid, and that’s probably an eon ago, my grand dad took me to watch a magic show. PC Sarkar or so, I’d guess. Back then, it was the most amazing thing that I had watched. I couldn’t explain how the magician did the things that he did and that was precisely a wonderful part of the charm to it. Magic seemed to come to life through my ignorance.

Years later, I managed to catch another live performance from a different magician. Only this time around, I wasn’t the kid filled with awe and wonder. I was a cynic. The ‘How magicians work’ telly program had ruined magic for me. I was busy being a smart alec and took a sadistic pleasure in knowing how the tricks worked. My cynicism led to condescension and I began to judge the quality of the show. Somewhere along the line, I felt ashamed of what I had become. I took a stalk of how live acts and such shows were a rarity. The seats were nearly empty. It was a sign of a new age of entertainment. The age old stages were now the battle grounds for Stand up comics. Same stage, just new actors.

With mum and dad now in the UK with me, one fine morning I woke up a sweet and a cute surprise. ‘Alexa’ my mom ventured. ‘What is the time in India?’ she had asked her million dollar question. The time is, came the instant response. ‘Thank you ma’ my mom concluded. From repeated ask for time, odd ball requests for Alexa to sing a song, How are you feeling today, the boundaries of human presence were being blurred. There was a human voice on the other end and it had managed to maintain a sensible conversation with my parents.

It took me back to the years my nephews and niece were growing up in the house. Mom and dad would pose the same old simple odd questions. The answers world flow in funny ways. Such conversations were usually warm and fuzzy nice. After decades, after the age of internet of everything, after the boom of smartification of the world, it was the simplicity of the expressed human connect that wowed my heart.

My folks , now, share the same ignorance that I had once expressed as a kid. The science of the magic trick didn’t matter back then. Magic mattered and magic did inspire a genuine sense of excitement. My folks are going through that phase of amazed excitement. Mom didn’t pause to bother about the clockwork. Dad , once a while, does pop the questions around how does it all work.

The most overlooked, underrated, underappreciated reward to life is probably companionship.

Having someone or something to talk to is almost akin to salt. It’s only when you are left devoid of salt, do you start to realise how much your life has grown accustomed to it. The future of digital conversations is a wonderful space. Throw in a personality, iGrandChild , iDaughter, iSon , iSpouse to the mix and the magic of AI to adapt and evolve conversations, humanity would have an easy access to a conversation buddy. It’s almost funny and a pity that we have evolved to a point where it’s easier to build the technology to mimic humans than have the mind to converse with actual living and breathing humans. There sure is a potential market. Loneliness might finally have a cure!

Odd enough, I see Asimov giggling in his grave.

The simple things to life, the simple joys of smiles. A toast to that rarity. What can I say, It’s an AMAZONING life.

Karthik