Project Psychology and Paramatma!

Lets talk about a simple day to day way of life. The project that we are running, assume that it hits a snag and push comes to shove, you happen to be in the line of fire. The immediate world holds you responsible and lets face it, you are as nervous as politician sitting in an honesty summit!

I’ve been catching up on Cognitive psychology and so far, it has been a wonderful detour from my usual list of literary fiction and spiritual philosophies. In many ways, it affirms my bias. In many ways, the world of cognitive psychology is more familiar than I initially thought it would be.

Lets dissect the scenario through a few filters.

Let’s start with the easiest of the lot. Determinism.

Determinism as called out in google states that all actions, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes regarded as external to the will.

That roughly translates to Of all the projects in all of the companies in this world, you had to inherit this one. By virtue of determinism, one is fated for failure and it’s inevitable. Then comes the SKYNET argument. Through stones and studied trinket, one might manage to delay the inevitability. It eventually catches up and one given morning, one would have to face the consequences.

Through determinism, the outcome is predetermined. Either you walk off it or you are tarnished by the event. If success is written, no matter where you find yourself, something will open up. If a failure is branded, no matter what you do, no matter how high you jump, if not this, something else would manifest to bring you down.

The big benefit with such a thought is that there is no point in worrying over it. The ground reality , however, is that we are governed by fear and sit paralysed by it.

Then comes Innatism. Innatism is a bit more scientific and easier to quantify than the deterministic view. Innatism refers to the traits that you express. These are the behaviours that one picks through the formative years of life. We are stuck with it unless we learn to unlearn and adapt. Innatism mandates that just by virtue of being ourselves, we are predisposed to such failures. A good example is that if one is careless and unstructured at work, a slip is a matter of When and not IF. Eventually we’d slip up. Eventually we’d have to face the consequences of such a slip. Innatism is an unholy child of nature and nurture. Our traits, even if we are born with it, are also heavily influenced by the company that we keep and the environment that we are brought up in.

When we work in a toxic workplace, the smarter ones see the signs and plan ahead to keep a good trail that ensures that they are not blamed for all the failures of the world. When we have a lethargic sense of observation of our environment, by going with the flow, we also have to learn to react as and when surprises pop.

While nurture is explained in how we perceive the environment and how we adapt ourselves to it, nature also has a say in the way we are equipped to deal and adapt. Cognitive science explores the modular nature of the brain. The Brain, besides thinking and being underused, is also extensively at work all the time. While we do not acknowledge that, the construct of the brain, the way synapses and neurons work, it impacts our behaviour and hence dictates the way in which we lead our lives.

This is quite interesting because to a great degree, all crimes can be held accountable by the way the brain functions. It’s not in everybody’s construct to execute a cold blooded murder. Most of us don’t because the brain enforces inhibitors that keep us away from doing it. While the example is a drastic one , there are a lot of mellow examples around it. Some of us as people pleasers, some of us are agents of hell don’t care club. We are that way because our brain is hardwired that way. Nature goes hand in hand with nurture. While nurture minimises the risk of such behaviours manifesting, the nature warrants that we are only waiting for the right stimulus to go nuts. We are built for the crime. Unfortunately.

Then comes the philosophy around it all. The Paramatma.

Genetically speaking, the way we are is an outcome of how our mind is constructed and how our experiences fuel the way the mind operates, it also strips us away from accountability of actions. Yes. Purist science says that. Even if I commit murder, I did it because my brain is built that way. Legal definition of a crime is that if an individual is aware of what is being done, and is in the faculties to know the difference between what is right and wrong and still makes a wilful choice to commit the act, GUILTY.

The purist science flags towards nihilism. It says that nothing we do is part of a super plan. There is no grand scheme of things. We do because our brains work in a way they do. We are a product of how the mind operates and mind is influenced by our experiences.

Science sets us free from the burden of birth. Interestingly, spiritual philosophy aims to do just that. It is a means to relieve us from the burden of birth. Only spiritualists tag it to universe both inner and outer. Cognitive science talks about electrical impulses.

Viewing a problem statement through the hats of science , fate and spiritualism, the fundamental question that we ask is often a reflection of what we are.

Ask yourself a question based on the scenario outlined. Ie, the project that you are held accountable for, fails.

?

Done?

Good.

Now comes the kicker.

The question could be anything. There are a few themes that the nature of question could explore.

A few questions that I can think about are

1. What did I do to deserve this?

2. Why is it happening to me?

3. Why am I the only one getting blamed?

4. Hmm, how is this mess going to cost me?

5. Is this the end of my career?

6. Is this going to haunt me forever?

7. OK, Now how do I sort this mess out?

8. Who stabbed my back, who suggested that this failure was because of me?

9. What all and who all do I need to fix this?

10. Whom should I inform, whom would I have to call first to diffuse the situation?

There are many such questions. But the kind of question you ask, describes the kind of person you are. Questions could centre around fears, around resolution, around the future. That, again, is a wonderful thing to think about if you view it through the filters of Cog Psych!

If you think about it, all the explanations in the world, have absolutely nothing to do with the next step of actions that ought to be taken 🙂 Cest, la vie

Karthik

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Giving into it

‘Chalo, lets go for a drive’ I said.

Being a dad is not about always being there. There are just a few right enough moments that mandate my presence. Being a good or a bad dad is about being there during those moments. Today, it felt like I was in the right place at the right time. The last few weeks were foreboding at best. The world was still intact, but my kid , apparently, wasn’t. The chirpy cheerfulness , that he inherited from his mom, was on a slow fade. He was there and quite not around. There was something amiss. We gave him time to recover and we kept telling ourselves that we’d be there to support him when he needed it the most. Years ago, even before his time, we had spoken at great lengths about the kind of parents that we’d be. We wouldn’t pamper him and smother him with care, we had agreed. She kept her part of the bargain. She buried the worries in her heart as she faked the courage to let him grow untamed, in a wild word.

That was that.

I jangled the keys in front of him and offered him to drive the car. He politely declined the offer. I found his state of relentless disinterest rather interesting. I guess that boys get their best traits from their mothers. We took our seats and I eased the car smoothly onto the street. The car hummed its boring siren as it backed. I threw the stick to drive and the road was set for a smooth drive.

The silence in a car is two things. It always feel amplified and depending on the moment, that silence is either unsettling or reassuringly comfortable. Today, it felt the latter. I didn’t want to shatter the silence. The darkened night looked splendorous. The night came with a kiss of a gentle mist that left behind the signals in a subtle haze. The passing lights didn’t have to try too hard to leave my mind mesmerised. As the road rolled, the pleasantness of the silence had overstayed its welcome.

‘So, who is the girl’ I popped abruptly.

I guess boys will always be the same. His surprised take reminded me of my first intervention. My dad had defied my expectations and had asked me in a calm manner rather than slapping the be-jeebus out of me. I guess a similar sentiment was running in my kid’s mind.

‘Forget about it dad. You won’t understand’ he said defensively.

The silence swept us again. Only this time, it didn’t last long. His tears followed his helpless sniffle. I couldn’t help but feel amused by the universality of a heartbreak. It affects all of us the same. The first time it attacks, it takes us back to the cute helpless suffering of our childhood. We see no shame in it. Our dignity does not feel threatened by it. Even the strongest of us break down. Especially the strongest amongst us break down.

‘Hey, it’s ok. It’s going to be alright da’ I said.

The kid wiped his tears and picked his moment to man up. ‘I’m ok dad’ he said.

We both stared at the distance. We both felt robbed of the words that we couldn’t bring ourselves to say.

It was the right time for me to be a dad. ‘Know what, your mum wasn’t the first person that I fell in love with’.

It made no bloody difference to him. I heard the big bubble of my ego burst.

‘Thing is, the first time I lost my love, it wasn’t losing her that scared me’.

Something struck his interested. For the first time that evening, he turned himself towards me and appeared to be interested in what I had to say.

‘Know what?’ , I paused.

‘The moment the reality sunk in that I wasn’t in a relationship anymore, the moment I came face to face with the fact that I didn’t have my love, the moment I knew that love was over, I felt scared. It wasn’t the loss that scared me. I felt afraid that I had loved someone with all my heart and that it didn’t mean anything. I felt afraid that I didn’t have love anymore to repeat the process with anyone else. I knew that eventually I’d meet someone. I also knew that I couldn’t love them the way I had loved and lost. There would always be something that I’d holdback. There would always be something that I held on, within the deepest recess of my heart. I knew that I’d never be a holistic version of myself. I was afraid that I was afraid.’

The lad sat to soak the things that he had just heard. I could hear his heavy breathing.

‘And then what happened’, he finally asked.

‘And then I realised everything I feared was true’ I smiled.

‘I don’t understand dad.’ he said.

‘I was right about it all da. I wasn’t myself anymore. The failure always has and even today, it continues to haunt me in one way or the other. No matter how hard I tried, I always knew that I wasn’t the me that I knew I was. And then something strange happened. I met someone. Initially, I made a conscious effort to not replay the love that I had lost. I stayed away from presenting chocolates and soft toys. I consciously kept myself away from doing everything that I had done before. But I soon realised that she was a different person, different ideas of the world and love, different interests and different needs. In time, it didn’t feel like I had lost in love and tried my hand at it again. I just felt the joys of falling in love with someone and the simple satisfaction of knowing that I was loved in return.

‘And then you married mom? It’s barely a tale of life experience dad’

Yup, not all my son’s best traits came from his mum.

‘Naah, your mom was 5th in the list. She was the 5th and the last one on that list’

‘How did you manage to fall in love 5 times appa. I mean apart from the fact that you were lousy bad at it, how do you even say that you could love 5 times!’

The kid had a point. I couldn’t even remember the last time that I had asked myself that question.

‘It’s just that I managed to find the courage to give da. I tried to fall in love with the people in the way I knew how to fall. I did my best. I smiled when I could. I broke down and cried when things didn’t work out. I was angry for a while. I was frustrated for a while. I was miserable all the time. It’s just that people came and some caught my attention and fewer caught my heart. I took my chances.

Love is love da. There is nothing like first or best about it. Either you feel it or you really just don’t. Thing is, give it all your best. It’s nice when it works and it crushes you when it doesn’t. You get the hang of it. That’s part of life and growing up’

The kid sat back and let his thoughts guide him.

‘Dad’, he called out after a while of thought.

‘What if I don’t find love ever again?’ his voice shivered.

‘When your mother died, I knew I couldn’t bring myself to love anyone ever again. In fact, I don’t think I have it in me to fall in love with a woman anymore da. I just realised how much I love you and how much I see her in you. Love always finds a way. Don’t sit scared that you’d never have ample of it to spread around. If you find the courage in yourself, you’d find ways to express it. Trust me on that’ I concluded.

He put his head back and drifted away into another stream of thought. We both welcomed the silence that came sniffing. We drove for a while more. He started to hum tunes in silence. It was a sign of his mind clearing up. It was the sign that I had not really lost my wife. It was a sign that she was around, sitting amused at how much I had grown up.

Karthik

[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 ÂŁ150 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

[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.

[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!

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

[Book Review]: Fatherland

Fatherland , by Robert Harris , is an fictionalised alternate history view of the world. It’s a retelling of the world on the premise that Hitler’s Germany had world the world war. That event in history does change the shape of the course that the world takes.

The year is 1964, Herr Hitler is all set to celebrate this 75th birthday. This is the day that both Germany and the world celebrates in an unified way. The day also goes by the name of Fuhrertag. A body of an old man is found floating about in the river and officer Xavier March gets the call to go and investigate. Investigate he does.

One murder leads to uncovering a string of murders. March connects the dots and realises that the murders are connected and the victims are dead for a reason. There are a few big questions that still go unanswered. Who is killing these blokes? What were these blokes doing? What is so precious that it requires blood to preserve its secrecy ?

Xavier March bumps into an American actress, Charile, in course of his investigation. These were interesting times for the two countries. Hitler was finally welcoming the Wicked JFK. Two nations were at the cusp of coming together, cementing their bond through hate , greed and anti Semitism. March and Charlie team up to solve the mystery to the murders. The rest of the story is a gripping tale of politics, murder and adventure. It’s not the greatest of the ‘Who did it’ tales, however the story manages to retain its momentum and pace to keep the readers engaged about the consequences of the final reveal.

The Germany beyond the war is an interesting place indeed. A nation, the way it builds itself, it’s architecture, they all reflect the sentiment of its citizens. The new fatherland is a one party nation and Mr Fuhrer still it’s heralded champion. Everything about Berlin is a direct comparison to prominent architectures around the world where the version in Berlin is both bigger in size and grander in setting. This is a subtle nod to the lack of imagination and originality of the nation and it’s head. Germany, as I perceive through the words, is on a spree to compensate it’s insecurities. All of it’s achievements are mere comparisons at best. The insecurity of a nation is beautifully presented. A nation that has capabilities but lacks creativity and imagination.

The next theme explored in the book is about the effects of one party leadership. The state of perpetual fear and propaganda governing the daily lives. I no longer see the distinction between fiction and life. We do have one party leadership in a few regimes today. The quality of life, the magnitude of lies that shadow and distort the minds of the millions of citizens who are caught unaware. Then again, masses under delusion of supremacy is not restricted to dictatorship. We do have our Trumps and Modis 🙂

Couldn’t resist that snide retort!

Then comes the big white elephant that wears a florescent green shirt in the room. What happened to the many million jews ? In the fictional world of the Fatherland, it’s people are not fully aware and enlightened to the history of Fuhrer’s actions. A million people who look the other way when asked about what happened to the other set of million who just vanished. Denial and disillusioned. Yet again, this was a slap on the face of modern age living. We, the modern citizens of the world, live in that delusion that everything is alright and nothing is out of place. Yes, casual sexism is alright and it does not ‘corrupt’ the society. Oh yes, discrimination is a birth right as long as we sensitise ourselves and mask our ugly intent. I don’t blame us for what we have become. It’s just that the mirror reflects things that exist and not of things that could have been. The book focuses on one example to exemplify the million other examples that nobody wants to sit down and talk about.

There are a few characters in this crisp tale. We have the hero, Xavier March. Broken, duty bound, an SS officer. All that is left of his life is now work and work he does. There is Charlie, the American actress. Young , Wild and perfect yang to March’s ying. There is Max, March’s best bud from many years. He worries a lot about March’s attitude towards the fatherland. March does not gel well with the fear-laden society. No Heils, no subscription to the party. March , Max believes, is destined to be silently executed in the middle of the night by the gestapo.

Then there is Globus. The chief of Gestapo. Ruthless and a proper Bond Villain of sorts. While none of the characters stand out and can ever hope to capture your imagination in a spellbinding way, they are the best fit for this tale and they serve their purpose perfectly well. I’d like to blame the tv series, Man behind the high castle for my obsession and addiction to pronouncing SS ranks like SturmbannfĂĽhrer , ObergruppenfĂĽhrer , KriminalPolizei. Leave it to the Europeans to inspire fun into spelling and pronouncing words 🙂

The book is not a serious dive into social welfare and mass psychology and behaviour. It stays truthful to the story that it intends to narrate. It’s a fun , thrilling ride and hope you enjoy it too.

Karthik

Born to raise hell

While the title is a song from one of the metal gods, Motorhead, it predominantly has nothing much to contribute towards the context of the things to flow. I find it easier to talk about Jungles and animals than humans. For starters, talking about a forest and the flora , fauna robs me of the pleasure of offending anyone who can read. On that defensive note, here goes.

And so this animal ventured into a big scary forest. The woods were thick and dark. The day’s sun brought warmth and light to the wilderness and the cover of the night brought fear and damp cold. It was a harrowing place to start one’s life, I’ll give you that. The animal made its first batch of friends with the ants. The ants of the forest were everywhere. They led the numbers game. Their were a gargantuan workforce and were the most easiest to spot.

And so our animal of interest soon started to learn the ways of the ant. Work work work and always busy for the rainy day. The ants were driven by purpose and , frankly between the two of us, lacked ambition. Their quest for the purist satisfaction of work and effort wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Our animal eventually realised this. Resentment on one hand, boredom on the other, and throw in a healthy mix of ‘ What the hell am I even doing here? ‘ later, the animal decided to part ways with the ants. It wasn’t the end of the world and the jungle was a huge place after all.

Our animal of interest migrated from one herd to another. It moved from one pack to another. With each group it joined, it soon realised the mundane nature of the works. Each animal had a task to accomplish. Most of the animals did not worry about the larger picture. They were tasked with an action and the animals would do their best to accomplish it. For them, they took each day as it came. The work would start with the sun and would end with it as well. Some animals would work the nights. The context of purpose was rigid. All animals had a place in the jungle and fulfilled the purpose bestowed upon them. That was the unsaid status quo and nobody usually challenged it.

The king of the jungle had always been the Lion. All animals knew that and acknowledged that. To each of them, they had a view of what the king did. Some saw him as the beast of justice and others saw him as a slob who mooched off the efforts and hard work of the rest of the forest. The king barely had the time to sit down and hear the rumours pass around. Our animal of interest gradually worked its way through the food cycle. One fine week, it had an audience with the King. It was to work with the King for a while.

‘So what do you do?’ the animal asked humbly, addressing the king.

‘Nothing much. I sit around. Hunt when I’m hungry. I’ve got a pretty boring life actually. I don’t have many friends. And then when others try to take over the forest, I’ve got to go and put up a fight. Irony is, I’m actually a passive chilled out bloke. I hate violence but my job mandates me to be stand the ground and fend off invaders. It’s such a boring life, I tells ya’, the lion went on to mope.

So what happened to our Animal of interest? Ever wondered what animal it was when it started its time in the jungle? Ever wondered if it became something else when it migrated herds and joined other packs? Ever wondered if the animal managed to cope up with the reality of the Lion?

We are not so different from the animal of interest. We start both our lives in pretty much the same manner. We walk into the jungle of personal and professional life in the same way. As an empty slate. We explore our surroundings and make friends with blokes in the vicinity. Some are happy being ants. Some are happy being something else. Some are always unhappy , no matter where they are and what they do. We all pursue a holy grail. Some reach it, satisfied and happy. Some reach it, and sit bored from there on. Many just aspire it and keep wishing that one day they’d get there.

The moral of the story isn’t doused in pessimism. In fact, its the other way around. We aren’t restricted to be what we currently are. We are free enough to explore the world and be what we choose to be. There are limitations to the choices that we make. The rooted our choices, swaying away becomes hard. It just takes more effort. And so we lead our personal and professional lives in pursuit of borrowed perceptions. As long as such views offer hope, ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Going back to the tile. All of us are born to raise hell. Some do it, some aspire it, and many still wish and wonder if they’d ever manage it one day.

Karthik