[Book Review]: The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian , Han Kang.

There is no easy way to say this. This is a complex book that dwells in the abyss that is the human mind. It toys around with emotions and is rather cold and stoic in the way it settles to narrate the tale of two sisters , Yeong – Hye and In-Hye.

Yeong- Hye leads a pretty normal life. The term normal is an understatement. If I had to trivialise a loveless marriage, emotional impotence, suppressed insecurities, passive aggression, masked intolerance, manipulative relationship, pretend smiles as a BAU normal of a life, then yes, Yeong does lead a normal life. One fine day, she decides to become a vegetarian. She rejects meat of any kind into her diet. This leaves her husband unhappy.

The choice of being a vegetarian, given the Korean context, we are led to believe that the choice is an unpopular one in the society. Yeong’s husband, Mr Cheong is left alone to fend off the snide remarks from the judgemental society. This decision adds tension to their marriage. The family meet up with Yeong’s wider family over a get together and things get worse. Her family feels ashamed of her decision to shun meat. Her dad manages to slap some sense into her.

Push comes to shove and plot details later Yeong gets committed into a mental institution. Oh boy, this is a hard book to review without giving away the plot. I shall have to adopt a different strategy to review the book.

Lets focus on the themes instead.

What is beauty? What one finds ugly is someone else’s white swan. The age old word that says beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, while that makes sense, it’s also worth the while to note that the eyes that see you as beautiful, do they belong to the people in your immediate world? The book establishes the reality of an unsatisfying relationship. The lack of emotional and physical satisfaction and it’s effect on a relationship is horrifically screamed out in a gentle whisper.

Then comes the whole big bang around the nature of oppression. The tale is about oppression. The tale is about violence. The tale is about the might of the will of a few to crush and stamp on the voice of the others. This is a tale of how fractured people and the way they cope up with a flawed life. What choices do we have? Are we strong enough to even make choices? The helplessness of the circumstance would leave us with thoughts and a tinge of depression.

And then comes the theme around choices. There comes a point in time when we have a moment of pristine , demented, twisted catharsis. We act on that impulse and that action goes on to define the way of our life. How far would one go on that conviction? How far would you defend the honour of your choice? How far would you go? What is the extent of what you’d endure and survive in order to hold on to that singular, one and only hope-like thought of a choice? Our protagonist’s choice to be a vegetarian is one such choice. It spawns from a nightmare and Yeong does what she thinks is the right thing to do. The entire tale is her testament to that choice.

The whole book is a glance into the psychology of a person. From a nightmare to a choice. From a choice to an Action. From reasons around that nightmare to the mind’s projection of what it experienced to what it presents as a nightmare? The whole world of interpretation of intent, cause, symbols and their meanings, this book effortlessly tosses all of that out of the window. The book doesn’t pretend to be a super smart , slick dissertation of the human psychology. It does manage to beautifully outline the consequences of gradual and consistent fracture of the self over prolonged duration of time.

The other big theme in the book is Violence. This is a tricky subject. The violence that Yeong endures is almost a 360 degree wrap.

From physical to emotional, from carnal to exploitation, the violence again this woman comes hidden behind masks of varying socially accepted norms.

It makes us question the status quo of right versus wrong. It holds a big ugly mirror that reflects the archaic values ingrained into a patriarchal society.

What stood out in the book is the history shared by the two sisters. It left me numb through implied pain. The little things that had no significant value , the way the little things add up and in retrospect, turn out to be a series of massive life changers, the tale of the two sisters is a culmination of what ifs and regrets. The subtle horror would run chills down your spine.

The rest of the book is around life, death, and death that one endures through each day of a life. The book also elaborates the soul’s metamorphosis into a butterfly. There is far too much going around in this book. The beauty of this is that you get to take what you want to take away from the book.

It is a definite read, if you are used to reading between the lines. There is so much said across everything that is left unsaid.

Karthik

Coming up next : Shantaram.

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[Book Review] : A state of freedom

A state of freedom by Neel Mukherjee.

A state of freedom is an anthology of sorts that outlines the lives of five people. It’s a beautifully written book that effortlessly carries a very serious, grim tone throughout and at the same time, it does effortlessly manage to hold on to our attention span. The anthology helps break the monotony of reading through a single individual’s darker than dark, deeper than abyss view of a pessimistic world.

Freedom is a lot of things to a lot of people. In my opinion, the book tends to blur the boundaries between a sense of freedom and the desperate want for a liberation. In fact, I am tempted to call out the subtle difference between the state of feeling liberated versus the longing towards finding an escape from the talon like clutches of life.

The book deals with loss, sacrifice, ideology, poverty and a double dose of poverty there.

It tries to explain the elusive view of freedom that the characters long for. The mundane, vulgarly abundant , unassuming nature of the circumstances that the characters endure also beautifully sets the tone of a reality that a lot of us accept, acknowledge and choose to ignore. The down to earth characters will win your heart as the pages unwind the aspects of their daily lives and the hidden meanings behind their valiant struggles.

The anthology approach is convenient to pick and pause. It’s always fun to keep guessing over how all the independent stories eventually connect. This book would throw its final curve ball there. There is and isn’t a big connect. What we are shown is the variance in our perception of the characters. The better we understand the circumstances governing their lives, the better our understanding of the whys of their lives becomes. Speaking of the characters, there is a bit of an element of diversity. Not everyone is plagued by the same demons. Two rich enough blokes and the rest are poverty stricken. I must admit, while I remained nearly stoic for most parts of the book because of the familiarity to the divide that money provides, the author manages to effectively dwell deeper into the poverty and painstakingly define what it means to live in near poverty. That left me saddened.

The book’s biggest win is the interpretation of freedom. It changes all the way. It evolves. There is liberation, there is escape and there is a thin balance that separates the delusion of liberation and the frustration from a longing for an escape.

The characters face that line. It’s up to the readers to make sense of what they read. I came to view it as the point of near rock bottom.

The book offers no redemption. This is a serious book that will plunge you into a state of ponder. It does not rely on cheap Deus Ex Machina to set everything alright. This is , in my opinion, one of the best quality of the book. It offers enough to harbour a hope. It offers enough reality that would pamper to your sensibilities to put an end to the misery of the characters by wanting them to give up and just die. The book would let you dictate the character’s fate in your head.

The book is a wonderful example of a classy writing that does not sugar coat the realities of a lot of people in the world. Each story has a style of narrative. Each story is a glance into an aspect of a living. I quite enjoyed the tale.

Sure, give it a shot. It’s worth the thoughts.

Karthik

Coming up next : The vegetarian. Now that’s a trippy book that scores really high on the cringe meter!

[Book Review] : How to be human

How to be human, Paula Cocozza.

” The comfort, that is the delusion of love, is an opiate beyond compare. ” – Katz

How to be human is a beautiful story of love, companionship, loneliness and madness. The tale picks up with Mary finding a baby at her door step. She holds the infant close to her heart. She decides to call the little one flora. As we , the readers, sit and wonder over the things we’ve read so far ; the story abruptly shifts its focus to the life of Mary.

Fresh out of a divorce, Mary is struggling to cope up with life. The irreconcilable reason for the divorce is a simple fact that she does not want to bring a child into this world while her husband, Mark, wants one. The fights lead to an inevitable moment in their life. A moment that is consumed by rage and anger, a moment that would fill the hearts with regret and resentment, a moment where words are uttered and lives are shattered. And bada boom, Divorce.

Mary turns to a shut-in. With fewer and fewer ties with the outside world, her world is consumed by the past. She wonders about the divorce, she wonders about her own relationship with her mother, she wonders about what ifs to life. Mary embraces the loneliness that is her current life. She accepts her fate and succumbs to it without much of a fight.

And then she spots a fox. A fox that invades both her garden and her life. Mary ferociously defends her house against her ex, Mark and odd enough, she doesn’t go all guns blazing when it comes to keeping the fox away. She finds him as an inconvenience and longs to get rid of the critter. The introduction of the fox has an unexpected effect on her life.

Mr Fox happens to be a charming fella. He’s smooth, cautiously intrusive but is neither hostile nor perceived to be that. His demeanour is rather gentlemanly. The fox soon wins the curiosity of Mary. She observes him at a distance and as the days start to grow, so does the fox on her. They both adjust to tolerate each other. The fox becomes a regular visitor in her garden and he always behaves well. Mary starts to find a sense of some misplaced comfort through the fox’s very presence.

This odd companionship inspires a change in Mary. She , without trying too hard, starts to adapt to the world around her better. In this human fox couple, She is the talkative one and he , Mr Fox, speaks through his nature’s intended body language. Mary makes meaning of everything about the fox. She manages to open up that channel of communication by correlating her own words and the response like reactions that the fox expresses.

Trippy and so far , so twisted good.

Rest of the story is about , who the hell is that infant Flora. Does Mary marry a fox? Will rabies replace Mary’s fear over having babies? Nasty pun but apt on the context.

The book is a wonderful journey of Mary’s emotions as she meets and greets the new Mr Fox into her life. She replaces the failed relationships with humans with a new relationship with a fox. Their conversations are unidirectional but that doesn’t stop Marry and her fox from having their dialogue. Your curiosity over where the roads would take them would keep your eyes glued to the book.

At the heart of this book, the central theme is that of love. What does it mean to love someone? When does love suffocate? Why do people love other people and importantly, why don’t some people ever love others?

Love, through Mary’s life is also about the nature of companionship. Love seems to be key in her fight against loneliness. Our lives do change when we lose the people that we once used to love. Mary’s desire for companionship and the fact that she finds that gratified by a fox is a testament to what makes us human. Our undying need to stay protected away from loneliness makes us human.

The other big , subtle theme is around how much humans endure in that battle against loneliness. I’m not surprised at all by how much one would choose to give, or even accept in order to build a bubble of delusion to keep that element of isolation away. With the tale, how far does Mary go is a question that keeps us hooked.

The final catharsis is quite a bliss to read. There are no ‘TA-DA’ moments to it. The sun doesn’t shine better or different, the time doesn’t pause to hint a difference, the world goes about its business and somewhere amidst all that , there is a pristine moment of a realisation.

The world indeed is a better place if you don’t house a black hole in your heart.

Two thumbs and definitely worth the time invested into the tale. You probably won’t feel disappointed.

Karthik

And coming up next : The state of freedom!

The reluctant commitment

I do have reasons to believe that I’ve evolved into a commitment-phobe. It’s easier to wing things than slow down, make choices, stick to them and see them all through.

The big deal with commitment is that it takes up a significant portion of your life and your lifestyle. I had dreaded that for the longest while. Let me tell you this though, no amount of preparation and planning, no amount of think tanking around the statement actually does warrant your readiness when the push comes to shove. My tryst with such a commitment started a few weeks ago. The choice waiting to be made, the choice that I kept stalling for no definite reason, the mind games had began.

The most sanest thing that I could think about was to sit down and weigh the options. To do or not to do was apparently the question. The biggest win in the not to do list was comfort. I’m used to being me. I’m used to living like a part saint, part hobo, full on lazy. Commitment was a road towards a more disciplined living, or so I had began to ponder.

On the other hand, the biggest win on the To do and go for it list was the fact that I thought I really , really, really wanted it.

I have a monkey’s heart and I have an attention span of a kid jacked high on sugar.

On the best given day, I want everything under the sky. A few moments later, on the same best given day, I’d pretty much enjoy to be left all alone and not change or budge a thing. In short, I have a heart that is a monkey. It jumps and jumps and it’s never slowed down through the ages.

The two sides called out, it was time to start investing a serious thought into the decision making process. I had to consider the financial implications of the change. I thought I could muster it. A fancy spreadsheet later, I braced myself for the hike in the OPex of life. There wasn’t much I could do about it. Either ignore the change and coast through life without changing the status quo or embrace that change and plan things around it. On the other hand, the change seemed to be exciting. All changes do seem exciting at first.

The next round was that of getting my decision vetted with a few minds. The usual came to the mix. Go for it. Are you nuts? The mixed reactions were here to stay. Nothing about life seldom attracts a homogeneous reaction. The advices made me think for a bit. The decision was already made and I wasn’t going to back away from it. Interesting thing about decisions is that some folks ask about and then step into the process of deciding. I usually decide and then ask. If folks have nothing to dissuade me , I go right ahead. If folks do have some compelling reason that I’d have missed, mostly I go ahead with an understanding of what consequences to brace. There are a few times when I pay heed to that compelling reason and revert the decision of my own. It’s not a scientific means of attaining nirvana to the daily decision making process of life. It does help me coast through by owning up my choices and living past the consequences.

Ever noticed? The idea of an idea always seems enticing and inviting. It sweeps our imagination. It helps us jump start our motivations. Then the reality seeps in and there is , usually , a disconnect. What you think you’d eventually land with is not always arrived on the first day of landing on the things that you had imagined. It always takes a while to adapt, evolve and there is a sad period of time involved in growing warm and accustomed to the altered way of life.

That was it. Once again, I experienced it first hand.

The choice to pick a Nespresso coffee maker was neither hard nor easy to make. I did go on to wonder about the tenure of the said relationship. I didn’t know if I’d stick around to enjoy a lifetime worth of a coffee. I thought it would be a nice buy. I always fancied a red and chrome coffee maker. The always , in this case, translates to around 5 days.

The options explored, the money worked out, it was now a question of a desire to change the way I made coffee. A bachelor’s coffee, rather this bachelor’s coffee had its roots in black magic. Water in the kettle, milk from the fridge, cup (washed with contempt , once a week) and I managed to concoct something that resembled an Americano, which wasn’t quite that. There were days when I’d get the proportions horribly wrong and end up with a very diluted cup. There were days when milk would flow through heavens and I’d end up with a milkier than milk cup of joe. Lousy cup of coffee seemed to be a constant.

That’s not changed though. Setting up the machine was a breeze. Plug and play, load the cartridge, press a button and it spewed a hot, perfect cup of espresso. Only I don’t prefer an espresso. The monkey games began and I tried to filled around the delicate balance of frothing the perfect cup of milk. Ah yes, the machine came with a frother.

The first shot was fridge from the milk, and strike that. Reverse that. Milk from the fridge , frother later, I managed to concoct a palatable cup of cold coffee. It wasn’t bad. It wasn’t hot. Monkey business later, I’m still trying to find the quickest way around a cup of coffee that I’m happy with.

Commitments are that way. Either you chicken out and give up from the minute things don’t fall into place or you fight for what you want and improve your skills in living with your commitments.

So far, the battles have been divided and the war is yet to have the last bloke standing.

There is a lot more to a cup of coffee than just bad coffee!!

Karthik

[Book Review] : The white book

Cover page of the White Book

The White Book , Han Kang. Based on a recommendation for Kang’s other book, The Vegetarian, I found myself shopping for books one fine Wednesday evening. I picked a stash of 5 books, The vegetarian, The White book(impulsive pick), How to be human. The other two , I’ll have to head back home to see what I picked.

I picked the white book to read first. There is something so sublime about the way the book is delivered. It’s pure white. It’s does have an air of mystery that surrounds it. The tale starts easy and fast. The narrator, whose name never gets mentioned, lists out words that can be associated with the colour White. Snow, frost, rice, and so on the list goes.

Then the narrator goes on to explain, with extreme obsession for brevity, the context of the words. The entire book is a list of words and what those words stand to convey. Hidden away, very obscurely, behind those words is a tale.

The narrator’s mother , when she was just about 22, births a baby girl whose face was as white as a white rice cake. That baby dies within a few hours. The tale also talks about a city of white. This city looks pristine white from the sky. Upon a closer inspection, the narrator realises that it’s a city wrapped in death and destruction. The city was apparently decimated by them jolly good fella Nazis , sometime in 1944. In the modern day, a replica of the city is build from scratch. The narrator ponders around life of such a city. Everything is new, everything is soulless. She goes on to contemplate the nature of the soul.

Somewhere between the words, the narrator recounts the story her mother used to tell her about the baby that died. That infant did not have the chance to open its eyes. The narrator often ponders the possibility of the soul of that child as being present in her.

A lot of words later, the narrator concludes the tale by describing the child of her own.

This book was not for me. While I struggle to connect the dots, struggle to grasp the things that I did read and totally miss, this book is twice as hard to soak in because it is a very crisp tale and the layout is not a constant narrative.

It feels like a journal of someone during the moments of lucidity while on an epic LSD trip.

Either the book masquerades as a super smart, super sneaky, insightful , deep dive into the nature of life, death and eventful reincarnation or I’m still dumb and too dense to understand the masterpiece.

The quick , not so satisfying read later, I felt insecure about my own ability to comprehend the book. A quick google later, I realised a lot of folks loved the book. It does feel like an emperor’s clothes moment to me. Do I pretend and praise or admit that I didn’t get it?

I don’t get it. Maybe I do need assistance in deciphering the book.

That said, the book feels creepy and claustrophobic. It adds suspense and does keep you wondering and guessing. But that’s all there is to it. I love Murakami. Murakami does not bother siting down and explaining the works as well. But the significant difference is that once you are done with a Murakami, you invest thoughts into it, you contemplate, you ponder , you will struggle to reach your own conclusion.

With this book, I threw my hands up in the air and went HUH!

So, if you chance to pick this book, please do give me a shout and tell me what I have obviously missed!

Coming up next : How to be human

Karthik

What to expect when you are expecting

‘And Mr Katz, you do set high expectations for life’ the conversation concluded. It wasn’t a particularly busy day and conversations found their much needed skies to glide. One thing led to another and soon enough we had arrived at the cultural complexity that India can be.

So, consider a bell curve’ I began my monologue. ‘There is that phase of rapid acceleration. Then things stabilise for a while. Comes the phase of gradual decline and finally we get to a point of rapid deterioration. For me , that usually ranges from 15 minutes to a month, at times’ I had gone to explain.

The bell curve was my take on the state cycle of most of my relationships. Currently, the iteration was a tad under a month long. The discovery phase synonymises with the acceleration. Physical and mental attraction do take the precedence. Then comes the phase of getting used to the new person. The stabilisation phase. Then comes the rapid fall out. The cycle comes to a close to usher in a new iteration.

The thoughtful judgement was that I had set high expectations for life. It’s most definitely not the first time I’ve endured that judgement. I used to feel bad about it. I put my mind to it and I had reasoned that I had made poor choices and had stayed dogmatic and frigid around the expectations. Ample time has been invested into that train of retrospective thought and that meant that I wasn’t surprised at the judgement.

However, hearing it again left me thinking around the great expectations of life. While the argument has always been around staying reasonable and grounded with expectations, it has always been around shooting for the moon to land on them stars. The crux of the matter has been around acceptable compromises and letting the expectations go. The not so sugar coated statement would read, ‘Lowering the expectations’.

Expectations are expectations. They are neither great nor low. It’s only when one doesn’t accomplish those said expectations does one start to assess them as great or different grades till the point where one declares Zero expectations.

The ability to accomplish those said expectations are influenced by many factors. I think I’d classify them into two buckets, Ability to accomplish and circumstances that either support or deny such expectations.

Ability is all about the right set of skills that translate into actions which eventually yield the desire. Circumstances are a different breed. Circumstances remain independent of abilities. Circumstances include all the factors that pressure us into thinking and believing that things are now or never and that one must adjust the asks in order to stay happy with the possible , potential outcome that is handy.

The thought made me ponder.

Is it wrong to expect?

Fundamentally, nope. There are people and their faces now flashing in my head who’d challenge me on that. It’s wrong to expect. Do your work and do not worry about the results, is one side of the tale. If you don’t have expectations, you wont have disappointments, says another. In fact, I think I can go ahead and generalise and say that the collective experience of life of others often translates fears, effect of those fears, the means to mitigate those fears often translate to the voice of a change to adjust. Not ADAPT, but adjust.

Bluntly put, I do not enjoy such a defeatist approach to life. It trivialises all the challenges that I have overcome till date.

Is it wrong to not have your expectations met?

Depends. Most of it boils down to the sense of urgency around the context. The eternal fear of scarcity is almost our birth right. For most of us, there usually a never next time. It’s all now or nothing. There is a fine line, which is almost always overlooked , that separates desires and expectations. I desire a red Jaguar is quite different that I expect to own a car by the time I hit 25. Desires can be beyond our capacity to reach but desires don’t keep us stressed and worried. Expectations on the other hand, influence our decisions and do usually affect the life’s many choices that we go on to make.

Given the context around a Red Jaguar and A Car, is it wrong to not own a Red Jaguar? Just by that thought, I don’t think it’s a crime that our expectations are not met. That being said, If one were to not compromise , save up for years and even a decade and eventually buy that red Jaguar, is that the right conclusion?

The answer lies in persistence , action and a commitment to the cause. Without the three, no amount of wait will translate to a tick against the check box.

The big answer to any and all questions on expectations is this, ‘Are you prepared to work towards your expectations? ‘

The not so sugar coated question is ‘ Are you now ready to be sensible and adjust to hat you have? aka Are you ready to give up now?

So, Do I have high expectations of life? Damn straight I do. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m proud that I have set standards that only have to appease to my sensibilities. Such spine comes at a price.

What’s your take on expectations? Do you think there is an ocean of a difference between adjusting and adapting?

Great expectations indeed.

Karthik

[Book Review] wild : from lost to found in the pacific Crest trail

Wild, as I’ve come to recognise and will go on to remember the book , is a biographical narrative of Cheryl Strayed. It’s her account of her 1100 mile hike through the pacific crest trail. PCT run all the way from Canada to Mexico. Cheryl manages the hike in around 100 odd days.

Of course, left to my wits, I’d have never picked this book in a million years. I’m not a huge fan of the non fiction genre unless it talks about philosophy or spirituality. Kanchan had reviewed the copy and I added to my list of things to read. I picked the book in 2017 and hadn’t bother freeing the book from the shipping wrapper that Amazon had used to deliver. As chance would have it, I didn’t plan my purchases right and I wasn’t left with any other choice. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ll explain shortly.

Back to Ms Strayed. She loses her mother to cancer and her mother’s death sends Cheryl’s life on the super express highway of self destruction. Depression sets in and over time a massive void engulfs her heart. As Cheryl fails to cope up with the reality , all her relationships start to deteriorate. She finds herself estranged from her step dad, divorced from her husband, distanced from her sister and brother. She slips into a life of a junkie , in time. Let’s just say that we have a crisp clear view of what a rock bottom looks like.

Through all of this, Cheryl chances upon a guide to the PCT. Spur of the moment, spontaneously she starts to harbour a deep rooted desire to hike the trail. She saves the money needed to gear up for the hike, reads about the trail and beings her journey of preparing mentally and acquiring the right enough equipment that she can afford. And just like that, her first day in the trail begins.

I think all of us find our demons when we are left all alone, with nothing but time and a million thoughts to keep us complicit company. This book is a biography of sorts. Cheryl is as special as the rest of us, as gifted as the rest of us and that means she isn’t immune to loneliness and demons that hunt us down in those moments. As she hikes through the trails, she gathers thoughts along the way her life has been, how she misses her mother, her failed marriage, and a little more pressing thought that is firmly grounded in the present reality. She contemplates the fact that she is under prepared for the trail and her inexperience has the right potential to get her killed.

To make matters worse, through all her meticulous planning, Cheryl manages to have a backpack that ends up getting stuffed with everything including the kitchen sink. Her new reality is a backpack that she can barely lift, let alone carry it through the 1100 mile hike through the mountains and forests. We, the readers and Cheryl soon start to focus on the job at hand. The battle of surviving the day becomes the apex priority. The challenging hike begins to inspire a change in the way the mind works. We see the full gambit of emotions at play. Guilt, Resentment, Anger, Denial, Realization, Acceptance and eventually a pristine moment of catharsis. The state cycle of life’s many emotions at its grandest display.

Her emotional battles aside, the hike also presents us with other battles. Is the world really a safe place? Are humans nice or animals in disguise. Cheryl meets a lot of interesting characters along the way. Most of them are nice and fill the moments of her life with kindness and warmth. Some are point blank rude. Some are creepy. I find it hard to believe that she managed to land with great awesome odds with strangers. Maybe it’s just the skeptic in me who refuses to believe in the goodness and kindness in people. I wouldn’t know better till I start my journey into the wild of the world.

The book has a wonderful theme. It talks about how vulnerable we are. A death ripped Cheryl’s life apart. The event causes her to self destruct. Thankfully, she’s not lost beyond the point of no return. For rest of us, that kind of a luck is not always at our disposal.

Depression and Self destruction are classic signs of an individual’s struggle against coping up with the events of life. I’ve been there.

Maybe I’m way too thick headed to be depressed. I’m far too funny to embrace elongated moments of saddened depression. I’m no stranger to self destruction. We destroy ourselves by hiding behind excuses. Some call it work, some call it relationship, some call it the EMI. The deception is played by many names. In our efforts of pretending to be normal and compensating the things that we lack, we often complicate our life and choices rather than simplifying them and leading a stress-free life.

Cheryl finds her balance through the hike. When you have real, tangible, quantifiable, physical , ‘not in the bloody mind’ challenges to deal with, you come out stronger for two reasons.

1. When you conquer a challenge that exists beyond the confines of your mind, the success is visible immediately. Either you power on, or you don’t.

2. By translating the demons in the mind to actual challenges that can be physically conquered, we also manage to symbolically conquer the demons that occupy the mind.

Science says that and proves that. My experience also points in the same direction. As long as one locks away the demons in the head, one cannot think through a redemption. The problem resides in the mind. To overcome it, one has to move the demons to the realm of the living and beat the living hell out of it.

The book is about one woman’s conquest of herself. Her journey, beside the 1100 mile on a radically tough and diverse terrain, is also about the realisation of self, it’s about letting one forgive oneself, letting one help oneself and letting oneself heal. I don’t see Cheryl’s account as any different from the books of spirituality that I’ve read. She had managed to DO the things in an alternate way, a way that suited her apt. The principles remain the same.

There are no surprises in the end. Cheryl does manage to accomplish her hike. She powers on and gets the job done. Somewhere in those 1100 miles, she loses the lost version of herself and ends up meting a stronger and a better version of herself.

I loved the book. I’d probably go as far as calling that this is the first SELF HELP book that I’ve read and I do like it plenty.

Karthik

Run to the hills

One – Two, One – Two, One- Two, the mantra that I kept chanting in my head. It wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. The steep enough up hill was a challenge of sorts. I didn’t know of an alternate route and was too proud to jump routes now. I was going to do it and I knew it wouldn’t be the end of me. I climbed for as long as I could. I couldn’t maintain the momentum for far too long. It was my first pause, around half way through the hill.

I paused to take a good look around the view. There weren’t many folks above on the path. There were a few below, waiting to catch up. I thought my head would be inundated with thoughts over the magnitude of the moment, or the almost triumph of doing things, or of doubts and protests to give up and turn back towards the comforts of the bed. Nothing. All I could hear were the sounds of my deep panting breaths and the sound of the wind whizzing past me. It was the most precious moment to life. Nothing else existed. The reality was narrow. There was me, there was a hill waiting to be climbed, there was the spirit , fighting against giving up, and there was nothingness to it all.

I took a swig from the water bottle. I packed it in my bag again. I turned to face the hill and One – two, One – two all over again. If only that was the only pause in the climb. It wasn’t. Two more gentle pauses, my ego bruised, but the hill seized and conquered. I sat down thinking about what the hell I was doing on a hill on a rather sunny day.

The tale starts with a tale. Wild, to be precise. Wild , by Cheryl Strayed , is a book about a woman who opts to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. It was more than a spur of the moment decision for her. The choice to hike was a momentary decision and she’d go on to plan the hike as meticulously as she could. All the plans and preparation later, she’d realise that no amount of planning could substitute the lessons that experience imparts. She does it for her reasons. She evolves as she keeps pushing forward.

I’ve been through a similar cycle before. I started my fitness routine on that very same impulsive note. I got up one morning and decided that I had to get fitter. A few years later, a lot of challenges and doubts later, I was climbing a novice hill and wondering about how the choices of my life have evolved through time. I’ve always wished to hike. Those wishes decorated the fancy bucket of my bucket list. Wishes that lacked conviction but did carry a nice story to convey. The book was the final straw in the straws of inspiration. I had to had to had to experience a hike. Making my mind wasn’t hard. I set out with two bottles of water and a packet of digestive biscuits.

The thing is, when you are fighting to stabilise your breathing, when you are fighting to keep yourself moving forward through the pain and fatigue, when your mind does not bother prioritising other thoughts and it focuses with determined singular view of the task at hand, none of the world matters. You are left with yourself and your moment. There are no further distractions.

I’ve always believed in that and I’ve practised that. Life’s many lemons are easily forgotten when you invest all the energies into a routine. My routine consists of hitting the gym, making music and writing. Through these activities, I’ve never failed to channelize all my thoughts into a singular activity. Through these activities, I’ve had many moments where I’ve not strayed my mind towards the noise and clutter of the whole wide vast world. Through these, I’ve come to learn that as long as we sit and do nothing, we are free to stay consumed by our thoughts. If we muster the nerve to invest into an activity, that is disconnected and disjoint from the norm of the BAU woes of fears and doubts, we also help ourselves in due course of that process. We change as we invest ourselves to such choices.

There is something at the very centre of our universe which uniformly impacts everything about our lives. That happens to be us. We are neither open nor free to make selective changes that change the outcome of specifics around us. It is the simplest and yet the most elegant display of the butterfly effect. The means of reaching a focused mind, irrespective of what we do, inadvertently calms us down and facilitates a better decision making process through the complex thoughts that our minds host. Folks call this mindfulness. Folks call it the realisation that there is nothing more to us than individual moments that keep the linearity of life connected. I call it the much needed , necessary, timeout from the rapid, quicksand of daily routine. If we continue to do the same thing, continue to think the same way , the outcome would continue to fuel the doubts and fears. The choice of changing the pattern to the things that we do does sow the seeds of subtle changes to our living. In time, the changes are no longer just subtle.

From books to an inspiration. From an inspiration to a cathartic moment, I have two people to thank for the wonderful day of challenging my mind and my body. Cheryl Strayed, the lady who blazed through the PCT and Kanchan Shukla, who recommended the book. Off all the disconnected strings that eventually led to a very tangible , sensible and conspired action, the dots do confirm the butterfly theory.

Here is to life’s many million doors that we are yet to acknowledge their existence. Hope , when the time comes, we have the sight to see them and the heart to act on our desire to open new doors.

Karthik

Finding Zeno!

I’ve stayed fascinated to the Schrodinger’s kitty cat. The cat experiment, I reckon, is a very cruel thought experiment which involves keeping the said cat locked in an irradiated box! The whole question is around the state of uncertainty of the life of the said cat. Arguably, the cat exhibits the duality of both life and death. These are the two possible outcomes and a whole ocean of quantum science around it.

To the lab coats and top aces in the house, I do apologise for my unerwhelming explanation of the phenomenon.

And so the fascination took me back to the same wiki page and I happened to stop by the ZENO effect. The one line that caught my attention read something like this , ‘The zeno effect is known to cause delays to any state of change from the initial’. A URL hop later, the English explanation of the phenomenon could be understood as Zeno and Anti-Zeno are effects that either decelerate or accelerate the change from one state to another. The not so English explanation is that When a delivery manager is standing right behind you and watching you type the code that would fix a defect, the time it takes to get the fix ready is exceptionally longer as compared to the scenario where the manager just shoots a FYA mail rather than watching you like a hungry demented cynical antisocial sociopath.

Before we jump to conclusions about who kept staring at me, back in the day, I used to do that to my team. I’d watch. Fixes would come when they’d come. It gave me a sense of control and assurance that a fix would be on its way. Not that it changed the outcome, but it sure as hell was personally comforting and satisfying experience!!!!!!!

Why not? I was going to shoot other examples around the phenomenon, but the one called out also does satisfy the norm. A watched pressure cooker does seldom whistle ( lessons learnt from last night) .

Why oh why do we assume that our personal supervision is the only contributing factor that ensures a successful completion of a transaction? Does it always work? Will the effect be the same without our presence? What difference does it make, besides adding pressure? Does that also mean introducing pressure always reaps benefit?

Far too many questions for the Friday. Answer is yes and no. It works when it has to. And when you adopt the same singular tunnelled vision view towards all aspects of delivery, chances are that it wont work. Context is king. Timing is the queen. The king and the queen save the kingdom.

There you go. I’ve done my part trying to talk about Zeno in a professional context. Lets push it further to a realm that I’m more excited to talk about. Life.

Outcomes in life are inevitable.

That is a loaded statement. It does not mean that there is a destiny and that everything is ordained. We are here, like a bunch of robots who run on a rather badly written code by the cheapest vendor and are set to operate to deliver predictable outputs. No, that need not be life. That’s not the life that I’d like to live. Outcomes are inevitable because we make choices. We can’t exist without making a choice. In fact, not making a choice is a choice and that choice will lead to an outcome and that outcome is inevitable.

We can either accelerate towards facing that consequence or we can delay it for as long as we can. The further we try to push the consequence, the longer we keep resisting to face that consequence, the longer we stay in misery and woe.

Case in point, my Twelfth grade results. I was optimistic about not faring all that great. I was a bit scared that I might fail the exams. The results declared, my anxiety grew through the roof. The restlessness began to crawl through every cell in my body. I was scared of a bleak future. I was afraid of a million things that were yet to even occur. I was scared because I didn’t know how the future would look like. I was scared because I didn’t know how I had fared in the exams.

I did the best that a kid my age would go. Well not exactly the best. The best would have been the means of studying through the year and staying prepared for acing the exams. I did the second best. I offered my selfish prayers to God. I made shady deals with god. Bribes of coconut and a religious living ever after. The good thing about god is that unless you are blessed with schizo, one usually doesn’t hear her voice.

Then I moved my attention to lady luck. I tempted my fate by tagging patterns and calling bets.

Then came in the Anti-Zeno. I went to collect my results. The numbers were now at hand. Decades later today, I don’t care enough to remember the good numbers. They weren’t good. That I do remember.

The inevitable faced, I hoped that it would be the end of it. Only it wasn’t. The consequence had manifested. I was yet to deal with the effects of the consequences. Now at 35, I think I’ve run my course with the consequence of the numbers that I obtained from the grade. There is no retrospect. There is no what if. It was an experience survived, endured and now comfortably forgotten. I still do have dreams where I see myself in school again. That’s a funny dream. I’m still me at 35 and I’m still at school. It sure does complicate the reactions from my teachers in my dreams.

That’s the thing about many aspects of life. We are what we are today. We aspire something new , some change for tomorrow. We fear the unknown. That fear , sometimes it cripples us so much that we are left unable to do anything at all to inch towards that change. Some times, we brave new odds, face new failures but are on the right track, by moving forward. There are us, who accelerate. There are us who stall.

Staying in the same place is not all that great an option either. It’s not a great alternative plan. Stagnation today is obsolete by tomorrow. Comes back to quantum’s very own Zeno and Anti Zeno.

It might sound like a philosophical association to the vast science to quantum, but hey, that’s how my mind works.

Staying afraid is normal. Everybody is scared. Facing your fears is not the easiest of things to do. It is in fact that most singular HARDEST step in the evolution process. The minute you face, subsequent steps are simpler in comparison.

On that note, a toast to Zeno, Anti-Zeno and Schrodinger’s little kitty cat.

Karthik

Dates miles and milestones

The routine was same every year. My mom would remind me. Dad would remind me. I’d make a note and there were times I’d act on that nudge. There were a few times when I wouldn’t. That just was the way of things. This year, blame it on the warm cup of coffee on a cold rainy Monday morning or blame it on the point in time of my life, I opted to take a moment to smile at the rolling number.

As with most tales, context is the paramount necessity to outline the plot and observe the way the story unfolds. This tale is nearly 3 decades old. Almost the three and that magical oh to it. Its the time to hit that rewind button and keep the tape rolling back to the onset of the 90’s. My second sis was all set to get married. We took a train that took a while to reach a destination. Chennai to Baroda(I cant spell the Vada – dho – dara). To the seven year old me, the 14 hour or so journey was an adventure of its own. I think the train journey was longer than that. My memory does fail me. To the seven year old, it was a new playground of sorts. A big family, mom, Sis, Granny, Gran dad and yours truly. My granddad has always been strict. At 35, I still do fear my granddad a bit. The seven year old version of me, lets say brown pants!

That aside, I still think I tested his nerves a bit. It must have been a nightmare for my mom to manage me and manage my sister. I’m told that my sis wasn’t all too keen to get married , back in the day. Fate had a different story to tell. A story it did go on to tell.

The point of this tale is about the mileage to life. Through my sister and my brother -in- law’s (might as well call him my brother) special date, I reflected on the nature of the way our lives intertwined. My Jiju has seen me grow up from a spoilt little bratty , careless, reckless, hot headed, ill tempered kid to spoilt, not so little, not too bratty, careless, reckless, not too hot headed, not too ill tempered KID.

From being the child in the family, upgrading to be a child among my nephews and princess of a niece, to growing up into the uncle that they inherited and probably deserved, I’ve seen myself and my family evolve through the years. I’d like to believe that the family and I, we’ve taken our sweet time to grow warm to each other. It hasn’t been a single shot tale of immediate family bonding from the moment go. Let’s get reasonable here. I was seven when my sister married. My biggest euphoria was that I had a room of my own. Cant expect the world from a child that young. Cant expect the world from me , even today.

Those summer vacations when my sister would come visiting, the smiles of receiving her and the kids from the railway station, the tears of seeing her off again, the months where the house was filled with fun and excitement and the prolonged silences in the house after they’d leave, the days of sitting down as a gang and playing cards, to taking responsibilities of babysitting the kids, the petty fights over what channel to watch, the years have been loaded with memories. It was great to be in touch. We remained oblivious to the digital age. The anticipation and excitement of waiting for a month from the array of the available 12 made it all worth the while.

From being a child among children, somewhere in time, I had become a stranger among children. The adolescent years were not kind. It was the perfect testing time of sorts. Nativity to blood was lost to bonds of friendships. It was the age of misplaced priorities. It was the age of yearning in silence. I didn’t look back and watch out for the ties that had started to dwindle. I don’t know the silent tears of disappointment from my chosen recluse. The years did come and go. I had survived them to grow a bit wiser. So had my family.

Then came the reprising. There was a point in time when I could associate the calendar dates to project delivery milestone dates. In that process, I also started to notice that I was missing out on the family album. The pursuit of life, a pursuit of career, a desire to still be a part of the family, an awakening to the need to realign priorities later, the road that started taking from that point on began to change. Then came the cycle of being a participant to the way of life to being a consultant. The transition to being a shoulder and tree of dumb , ridiculous advice to the next batch came into being.

Its been a fun ride in retrospect. The magic and warmth of taking a moment from the busy daily schedule and reflecting upon the road that we’ve taken as a family. Life is filled with dates, mileage and milestones that come along the way. Its not the date that hold a meaning. It’s the meaning and association to such dates goes on to define the worth and value of such dates. Of dates , misplaced priorities and realigned priorities. I’d like to fathom a belief that anniversaries are beyond the usual norm of wishing free over an instant message, a status change and update. Keeping ourselves human is an endeavour worth the adventure.

Karthik