[Book Review] : Tibetan book of the dead

If there was an illusion that could be called the mother of illusion, I think spirituality would be just that.

The Tibetan book of the dead is a fantastic book on spirituality. I’ve not read many books on the matter, so to me, it’s good enough. It just has way too much information that my jaded mind struggles to comprehend.

This review will stay away from the bias of a spiritual aspirant. This is my attempt at writing a non spiritual view of a quintessential spiritual book. Here goes. Fortune favours the brave.

Reverse Engineering : The process is a product to conception approach to problem solving. Just because all the parts and clockwork are there, it doesn’t translate to an easy approach. It does however establish the building blocks required to conjure the final finished product. Life’s biggest antonym is Death. What better way to define life than starting at death and sweeping back to the point of origin. The book of the dead does exactly just that. It’s a book about the list of things that ought to be passed on to folks who are near death. It’s still not a cool idea to say ‘ PSSST, you are gonna konk out bro’ .

Whilst the ideals are to help the near dying transition better into death and beyond, the principles work like a charm if the living were to follow it. That’s like having an issue in the production system, painful escalations and an extensive RCA later, one figures out that blokes did not bother having a review or running a unit test case.

The point is, knowing what matters in the end is a fantastic guideline to accommodate practices while we are still alive and kicking.

Fears , Regrets and messy closet! : Oh but I am trying hard to not sound like a frantic wannabe spiritualist trying to solicit the words of wisdom from a book. Through the eyes of psychology and behaviour, the message is not that difficult to understand. Bottom line, fear. Fear leads to everything else. Fear of failure results in lack of actions which results in regret. Fear of failure leads to insecurity which leads to lack of actions. Fear of failure, leads to inertia which leads to lack of actions. I think when fear paralyses the mind, we find ourselves incapable of progressing with life.

Science offers a way to confront such fears. Fish bone analysis, Root cause analysis, cause and effect analysis, they are all roads to identifying what fails and what the consequences of failures are. One can start with, I get this wrong and my entire life is wasted. By virtue of sitting down and deconstructing the effects of consequence, one might soon realise that not many things usually lead to a life getting wasted. Mess up a delivery, mess up the immediate appraisal. That’s a cause and effect. But assuming that one would always mess everything up hence forth is just paranoia taking creative control over all the choices we stand to make in life.

The worst that can happen is one can lose one’s job. The worst that can happen post that is one may never find a job. The question to ask is, why am I so unemployable? That question alters a lifetime of unemployment. It facilitates options that we had never considered before.

The road to a happy death, and a happy staying alive is taking a stock of the things that scare us crazy. It’s human to fail. It’s human to fear that failure. It’s very human to assume that there is no success ever , after a failure. It is also human to have a bit of a common sense and argue that one has to be an idiot to volunteer to carry out the same set of mistakes over and over again. That special skill is called reluctance to learn , adapt, evolve and grow. Science or spirituality can do very little to help such people from their moment of inertia.

Acceptance and denial: The big deal is, when you are about to die, would you rather accept everything that you’ve done or would you choose to die staying comforted by the talons of denial. Denial is the ability of a person to blame oneself or rest of the world in order to justify why one deserves misery.

Acceptance is the ability of a person to accept that one might have been responsible(partly or in complete) to actions that led to a failure. Acceptance leads to acknowledgement that there is something to learn and something new to adopt to. Acceptance is key to evolution and growth. Either lead a life in denial and face the moment of truth where time doesn’t really matter anymore or make that effort to accept, face your failures, make an effort to call out the different grades of consequences to deal with and live a life of choices rather than feeling helpless and saying ‘i’m going with the flow’.

Forget about the million gods and billion souls. It’s psychology one on one. One either learns or resists. Resistance is futile. Consequences are inevitable. One faces them one day.

Illusions and Illusions of illusions : The biggest take away from the book is that once we reach the choice of acceptance or denial, should one choose to accept, one also sees through the illusions that one has always been surrounded by. We are not talking about the entire world being an illusion. I’d very much like that if that were to be the case. It isn’t. Violence is real. Hunger and poverty is real. Abuse is real. Misery is real. Pain is real.

The things that aren’t real are our forced choices to stay succumbed and imprisoned to the realities. Violence is real and walking away from it is a choice. Hunger is real, but trying hard to stay away from it is a choice. Abuse is real, standing up against it is a choice. We love our excuses. We hide behind words like ‘Insignificance’, ‘Powerless’, ‘What can one person really achieve’, ‘ its my fate’, ‘Destiny’ to stay comfortably numb , connected strong to such illusions.

There is no miracle cure. There are no one stop shops. Embracing science or spirituality for the sole reason of escaping the choices that one couldn’t find the courage to make is the biggest illusion of them all. In that context, Spirituality is the biggest illusion of them all. We are so eager to surrender and embrace something divine in order to distance ourselves from the responsibilities of the choices that we’ve already made and the choices that we hesitate forever to make It boils down to acceptance and denial. We awaken from one illusion only to embrace another.

One doesn’t need to read ancient scriptures or words of the wise to know this simple truth. As kids , we were told stories about god helps those who help themselves. As adults, we hide behind convenience that words from various sources provide.

And so even from a purist skeptic point of view, I do feel refreshingly enlightened by the book. It was easier to distance the imagery and symbolism adopted in the book and associate myself with the lessons that were intended to be imparted. I see the argument of science versus spirituality as a quintessential epitome of pointlessness. They are the same, different words and both leading to the fundamental simple truth. WAKE UP , SMELL THE ROSES, and START LIVING

Tamaso mā jyotir gamaya – From darkness, lead me to light



Book Experience : Autobiography of a yogi

“May you find peace” – Oct 2015

It was a simple message that adorned the book when I received it. It’s taken me a lot of time to read through the book. Have I found peace? I wouldn’t know the answer for that. Have I found questions worth asking? Absolutely. Have I found answers to all the questions locked away in the universe of my mind? March 2018 is probably not the right time to assess the answer to that question.

It’s neither modesty nor humility that encouraged me to revamp the title from a book review to a book experience. I accept and acknowledge that I’m not yet ready to comprehend the book in its entirety. One also cannot deny the experience that is called reading this wonderful book. This is by no means a review. It’s a scribe of the experience that I’ve had reading through its pages.

I’m a novice at best, in the road of spirituality. I jot my experiences for two reasons, 1. To serve as a milestone so that one day I might reflect and see how far I might have travelled. 2. Blur the lines of spirituality and simple well being. This is important as the tag ‘Spirituality’ can be a bit too overwhelming to us. This is a kind of book where you get what you read. Viewing it through different eyes still offers wisdom that we stand to gain from.

I classify the book into 3 sections .

1. Where are we in the vast wideness of the universe

2. Have others been here and done that? What is so special about them?

3. Is it real? What is real?

I’ll elaborate on the second point first. It sets the context for the book.

Have others been here and done that? What is so special about them?

A considerable portion of the book accounts the experiences and lives of many people. From scientists to faces that none of us might have heard of, the book offers us a peek into their wonderful life. This aspect of the book, to me, is very important. The book is not about yogis locked away in the Himalayas, far away from the societal civilization of the modern day living. Different people from all walks of life experience a happy fulfilling life. They are awake to a wisdom beyond the books that our educational institutions cover. These folks are amongst us. Some as entrepreneurs, some as common folk, some as full time spiritual aspirants and some as skeptics. The book does not intend to have a focused target audience. It rests open to all.

The biggest takeaway is also along the much sought after purpose of life. Many people , whose experiences have been elaborated in the book, did not start with Altruistic , global peace and wellbeing in their minds. Just like you and me, they wanted something normal. They put their faith and it changed their way of life. One needn’t set their eyes on the lonely mountains to connect with this book. Have your eyes on the trinket, and put your faith and maybe you’d end up with your share of the loot.

What is so special about the people that have been quoted in the book? Apart from being normal as you and I can ever be, there is nothing special about them. And that is a level playing field. The book banks on our ability to be the best that we aspire to be. It helps along the way. I’ll get to the simplicity of it shortly.

Is it real? What is real?

Reality is a floating baseline. For some of us, reality is a bucket load of system issues waiting to be fixed by the close of play today. For some, reality is that we live in a world of illusion. We’d like to see what is real. For some, science is the yardstick that determines what is real and what is not. This book is a convergence of all the realities around. Reality is what we want it to be. Reality is challenging the status quo. When we are happy with everything about and around us, there is no further quest for reality. When we aren’t happy, our efforts to make things better, that becomes our reality. When we aren’t happy and we feel trapped by it. That also becomes our reality. All of it is real. Coincidentally, none of it has to be real as well. It’s all about perception and what we want things to be. As I said, reality is a floating baseline. It is what we want it to be. Through time, as we evolve, our understanding and our acceptance and tolerance to the said reality also changes. This explains why we constantly evolve and alter the realities around us.

Where are we in the vast wide universe ?

The answer to this question really depends on who is asking that question. The book offers wonderful, realistic examples as a response to that question. As a skeptic, what I got to see in the words were that put your faith in yourself. Do what you possibly can. Improve where you can improve. That’s precisely where you are in the vast wide universe.

To the believer in me, the tells me that there indeed is a god. One god, many faces and names. It recommends god as an idea. The book explicitly doesn’t, but it draws parallels across religions.

To the spiritual aspirant in me, it opens a million more thoughts and questions. It offers some answers.

Regardless of what you believe in, the crux of the conversation is around Experience. Anubhava. One doesn’t find the truth, or the god, or whatever. One experiences it. Most of us would have experienced love. We call it, ‘found love’. Finding love can either result in having it and holding on to it, or losing it. Experiencing love on the other hand, it stays with us. Irrespective of the outcome, irrespective of where time has taken us, One cannot un-experience what that was experienced. That is the nature of all the truths around us. We try to find it. We seldom try to experience it. The risk of finding is that by virtue of objectifying it, we also stand to lose it.

The book, in so many different ways, through so many people’s lives , explains the simplicity of our lives. We can be special, if we let ourselves experience the things that we call special and miraculous.

The book is polymorphic in nature. Based on the maturity of thoughts of the reader, the words it imparts can/will offer grander answers to some of our questions. It still is not a one stop shop for every Q that bothers us.


Book review : The high mountains of Portugal

The High mountains of Portugal, Yann Martel.

Straight off the bat, this is a weird book. This is a tale of three different blokes across three different periods of time. The year is 1904 and the story starts with Tomas. Tomas is a different person. He walks backwards, always. Tomas has a bone to pick with god, whom he blames for the death of his wife and child. Infuriated with God’s grand scheme of everything, Tomas decides that walking backwards is the ultimate insult to god. And so, as an act of unrivalled rebellion, Tomas continues to walk backwards. He is quite efficient in gathering the attention and curiosities of the town.

Tomas finds comforts in the diary of Father Ulisses. Father Ulisses had been very vocal about the salves during his time in the 1600’s. Tomas finds himself in the same state of mind as Father Ulisses. Both had abandoned their faith, both were in conflict with the hierarchy of man. Both had rejected god because of god’s indifference to events occurring across the world. Both reject god because in their mind, god had rejected them. Ulisses apparently had created an artefact that would challenge the status of god in this world. Tomas embarks upon a quest to find that artefact. Tomas would never rest till he impeaches god from the pedestal.

Tomas reasons out that the artefact would be in one of the churches in the high mountains of Portugal. He begins his adventure on a brand new contraption that is believed to change all of humanity. An Automobile. Does Tomas find the artefact? Does Tomas exact his revenge against the mighty G?

And the in 1938, a Pathologist Eusebio is burning the midnight candle on the new year’s eve. He has a couple of cadavers to work through. He is interrupted by his angelic wife, Maria. Maria drags a present for her darling husband. She also lets him on a theory that she has been deeply contemplating. She questions the nature of god and reasons that most of God’s tales are through fables. She reasons that it is the nature of god’s existence through fables, is what that makes him endure and survive through ever changing contexts of the world. She also goes ahead and compares the works of Agatha Christie to that of the Bible. Her reasoning is flawless and does leave Eusebio wondering about the nature of god. Maria leaves and Eusebio is left missing his wife.

The good doctor is disturbed again by a woman. Maria, not his wife, but another woman. She says that she’s from the high mountains of Portugal. She walks in with a very weird request. She had dragged the body of her recently departed husband and expresses desire for Eusebio to conduct a full autopsy. Esuebio declines the request at first but eventually relents.

What killed Maria’s husband? Will Eusebio ever manage to balance work and life and return back to a happy life with his Maria?

And finally in 1981, Peter is a Senator in Canada. After the death of his wife, Clara, Peter is jaded with life. He happens to bump into the cage of a chimpanzee, Odo, and for whatever reason, he decides to buy the chimp and move out of Canada and live in the high mountains of Portugal. Peter’s ancestors had once lived there. With nothing more to look forward to, Peter decides to take Odo and live in Portugal. It’s a brand new start for both Peter and Odo. The two learn to exist and eventually live in each other’s presence. Peter doesn’t speak Portuguese fluently and neither does Odo! They manage to establish themselves into the lives of their new neighbours in the high mountains.

Peter is fascinated by Odo. He starts fearing the animal at first and slowly he moves away from fear. He feels alive in the presence of the chimp. Peter also starts to question the nature of Odo. Odo is extremely friendly and at the same time he is capable of causing bodily harm. Odo is usually pleasant and loveable but he also has his moments of rage and unpredictability. Peter tries to understand Odo and the two start to adjust their way of life to living in the high mountains of Portugal.

Will Peter figure out the evil that Odo is? Will Odo ever pose a threat to Peter? Will the villagers coexist peacefully with Peter and Odo? Will Peter ever want to go back to his life as a Senator in Canada?

The book’s central theme can be described in just a word. it’s a Search. God is plastered all over the book. Tomas and Peter, reach out to God in their time of need. The two deal with grief in their own separate ways. I’ll skip the good doctor because there is a nifty little twist to his tale.

This book is overambitious and is neither intelligent nor profoundly deep as it wants to be. The book does have a great potential in talking about our individual relationship with God. We are angry with god when we don’t get what we want. We make our peace with god when we decide to reclaim our life. And then there is hope. We live on hope and that hope defines our relationship with god. In fact, the three characters are wonderfully placed to have their distinct relationship with the almighty. Tomas represents anger, Peter represents acceptance ,The good doctor represents what it means to stay a human.

This is most definitely not the kind of book that one would absolutely feel compelled to read. It’s a kind of book that you buy because it was sold at a 70% discount. I got this as a gift. I enjoyed the book in parts.


[Book review]: kafka on the shore

“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive” – Kafka on the shore

Kafka on the shore by Haruki Murakami.

Ever felt incomplete? Ever felt a void in you, the kind of emptiness that consumes you and renders you helpless and alienated from all the smiles and happiness of the world that surrounds you? Kafka on the shore is a testament to life that is defined by the sense of incompleteness experienced by the characters. This is a wonderfully layered book that makes you wonder what it means to feel complete again. We are born complete and along the way, fragments of our inner self disintegrates and remains forever lost on us. Some succumb to that void. Some accept it and carry on , lifeless without colours. Some acknowledge that emptiness and find a way to plug that deficit.

Kafka on the shore is a story of incomplete people. The characters find themselves in pursuit of find that which completes them. The book introduces us to Kafka Tamura, Mr Nakata and Ms Saeki. Now that I’m penning my thoughts about the book, I do find it a strange coincidence that each of the central character called out , also is very closely associated to a secondary character. Ms Sakura, for Kafka. Mr Hoshino for Nakata and Mr Oshima for Saeki. I’m not sure if the secondary characters are the perfect counterbalance to their corresponding primary, and that being said, I’ll rake my brains to see if there is a novel hidden between the lines.

All the characters are incomplete. Kafka has no memory of his mother or his sister. His mum had separated from his father when he was very young. Kafka has a faded memory of a moment they spent in a beach. That’s the extent of his recollection of either his mum or his sister. He estranges himself from his father and decides to run away from his house on his fifteenth birthday. Kafka is burdened by a curse. Kafka feels incomplete because he has no one.

Nakata is a very strange bloke. He has an ability to talk to cats and yet neither can read nor write. Nakata was a very bright kid until an accident rendered him dumb. He views himself as a guy with the intelligence of a door mat. He feels incomplete without his intelligence.

Saeki was , at some point, one of the brightest starlet that the region had ever seen. Her music inspired thousands. She eventually throws it all away and leads a life as a recluse. Saeki’s loss of her love renders her incomplete. Nothing ever matters to her anymore. Fame doesn’t interest her and in fact , there is nothing left in life that she looks forward to.

The worlds of the characters start to converge. Nakata is on a mission to find a missing cat. His quest leads him to murder. Kafka spaces out from time to time without a single recollection of where he was or what he did. One evening, he finds himself soaked in blood and he begins to suspect that he might have murdered someone. Saeki’s waiting to die.

Will Nakata ever find his smarts again? Will Kafka ever meet his mother? Will Saeki move on with her life? The rest of the story is about the journey of the characters in trying to plug that void in their lives.

The book leaves us with a lot of questions. The void in people is beautifully called out. It would be a grave oversight if we were to assume that Nakata’s lack of intelligence is what the makes him feel incomplete. It’s not the intelligence that matters. It’s how the lack of it makes him feel that conveys a story. Nakata’s esteem , his view of himself is something to ponder about.

It’s the same with Kafka and Saeki. It’s not the state of not having anyone to love or losing someone that was deeply loved that ushers the void in these two. it’s leading a life with that void is what that renders them incomplete. Kafka sees his loss as his inability to be loved. Saeki sees her loss as the end of the line. She exists and ceases to live.

The book is an emotional roller coaster. Nakata is incapable of loving or being loved. He is numb to it. Saeki’s loss of her love keeps her robbed of love for all eternity. She’s unable to replenish that love back into her life. Kafka’s longing for his mother , alienates him from everybody else. He tries to see his mother and sister in everybody that he meets. It’s not the person’s loss that affects Kafka. It’s what Kafka is missing in himself that drives him to be what he is.

The book is big on the nature of a soul. The incomplete soul and how it affects people. Each soul is unique in the way it feels incomplete. The book plays out the fantastic irony of haves and have nots. The have nots, feel devastated by what they don’t have. The haves, who have what others are looking for, don’t give a hoot about what they have. Aint that the story of the world.

The book also speaks about the transcendence. Souls exist beyond the realm of linear time. They blend and morph seamlessly. The multiple lives converge and separate based on moments. This book represents loss and the endeavour of the human spirit to recover it and complete itself. Happiness is irrelevant.

Give it a shot. Choose to be amazed and left dazed by the wizardry of Murakami.


Murakami and me

In all honesty, this love for Murakami’s work is a complex one to talk about. It’s not about throwing words of praise and hunting for the right adjectives to symbolize the passionate addiction , obsession, that I have for his works. I’ve struggled to express the thought so much that I had to rewrite this piece a whole lot of times. I still struggle to find that balance. I’ll attempt , nonetheless. Fortune usually favours the foolishly brave.

I’ve not been an avid reader and Murakami didn’t exist in my world at all. Times changed and I chanced upon his book. Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage .The word on the street was that the gifted author was a lunatic. They had said that his works had an aura of depression, that his works would never paint a rainbow picture of the world, that I had to be a special kind of mad to enjoy his works. I guess the last sentence is true enough and a lot of folks did end up missing the point. It’s a very subtle point that is not that difficult to miss.

To empathise with his works, one needs to view the world around in a different light. The world that Murakami paints, has all sorts of demons and angels that walk among us. In fact, his works are heavily laden with crafted layers of existential philosophy, the nature of soul and body and the separated worlds of wishes and reality. If none of that interests you, the casual convoluted narrative would keep you intrigued. To understand the world that Murakami paints one should also understand the nature of the worlds of the many.

We all lead multiple lives. That alone warrants a divorced , disjoint view of the worlds that we are a part of. Each fracture that is led by our choices, we also leave behind bits and bolts of ourselves locked away in the altered realities. To simplify that statement, each time we pretend, adjust, accommodate or compromise to cope along with something, we also either make peace with that alternate or harbour a longing of a ‘what if’. While for most of us, this fork in the road does not dissociate us from being ourselves, the works of Murakami exaggerate that fracture. He runs wild with possibilities of the alternates and goes on to paint the picture of how the characters cope up with the altered outcome of their choices. In that sense, all the worlds that surround us start to make sense.

Many find Murakami depressing. I wish I could agree to that. I don’t. This again ties back to the world of the characters that we are introduced to. I’d be lying if I were to say that the world is a happy place and that at every corner of this world, we humans embrace happiness and blissful joy. I’d be lying if I said that the world was dark and there is nothing there which finds a nurturing care in this forsaken land that even god looked away from. For most of us, the world is a semi-balanced blend of the extremes. We are happy when we can. We are sad when we are. Smiles and tears when the moments usher themselves in our lives.

The world that Murakami paints, his characters always and I mean always , go through moments of pristine pain. This pain is crucial to both the development of the character and the story itself. I’m a philosophical bloke. I’m a skeptic and a believer too. I believe that unless there is an entropy, there will always be an inertia. In short, there is nothing like a good dose of jolting pain to shake us away from the inertia of disillusionment. It’s that pain that delivers us towards awakening and enlightenment.

in the non philosophical sense, if it aint broke, there aint a story. The author challenges the status quo of the character’s world by breaking them or pushing them to the brink of a collapse that they no longer can contain behind a wall of denial. This usually sets off the domino effect. The plot moves away from establishing characters to forwarding the plot of the story.

Like the rest of us, the characters are faced with choices. Either stay broken. This charts out a linear flow of events to come. Or, do something. The do something part takes the characters on a journey of awareness of the self. The characters start to understand themselves. They are now free to face their demons without the fear of it.

We are no dissimilar to the characters in Murakami’s world. We are equipped with experiences. We also witness those jolts that try to shake us away from our inertia. We either sustain in denial or reject our realities and embark upon a journey of rebuilding ourselves.

This phase is not possible by chewing on a sugar coated , hard boiled candy. Many of us single out this phase and brand the works as depressing. I don’t have an opinion on that perception. In the words of Homer Simpson, it can either be the worst day of your life or be the worst day of your life SO FAR. It’s that so far, that defines our life. That defines our identity. That defines the characters in Murakami’s world.

The journey leads to realization and then there are choices to make. Do the characters accept that realization or do they reject it. More choices and more forks on the road in terms of the narrative. Eventually, that acceptance leads to different outcomes. That’s the simplest view of a cause and it’s effect and the consequences that follow. The cause, the effect, the consequence, the trio dictates the future of all the causes, all the effects and all the consequences that the characters will endure.

What I love the most about a Murakami book is that the ending is never inked. There are no ‘and so they lived happily ever after’. Most of the works take us, the readers, to the point of acceptance of the characters. We are then left to interpret the action of the characters. The characters accept or reject their reality based on our acceptance or rejection of what we witness in the journey. While most readers would call this a lazy writing technique, I think it would have been lazier to spell out the choices that the characters would go on to make. It’s easy to say that the prince kissed the princess and then they lived happily ever after. It’s a challenge to tell us that the prince is wondering if he should kiss the princess. It’s brilliant to leave us to wonder if the princess wants a life with the prince. It’s sheer blissful magic to contemplate if there is a happy ever after to the tale at all.

You’d have to be a special kind of crazy to fall in love with Murakami’s works. I am a special kind of crazy. I am a wreck when I endure the depression. I’m an eternal optimist when the characters embark upon their journey of awakening and self realization. I am a skeptic when they make a choice to believe in the new status quo. I am a realist when the tale comes to a close. When the story is said, I enjoy the peaceful stream of thoughts that drifts carelessly in the raging rapid that the story is.

Like any other book in the world, it is what we make of it. While the world sees depression and resentment, I see life and the struggle to want to live.


Book review : The travelling cat chronicles

The cat chronicles , Hiro Arikawa

Coverpage of The travelling cat chronicles

I was almost done reading The marble collector. As an insurance, I had opted to pick up a few books to keep me engaged on my train to Liverpool and back. The station is the worst place to pick a book. They usually sell books that are popular and are in demand. I’d like to believe that I’ve grown warm to reading books that are deviant from Pop Culture. Classics and Vintage are more of my thing.

I stumbled upon this book, assumed that it was a different book. I’m happy that I had picked this one. The travelling cat chronicles is a story that would leave you feeling both sad and hopeful about the future. It is the kind of a tale that would leave you with a sadness that forms a grey cloud over your heart. It will warm your heart, bring those happy smiles of tears, it would leave you feeling bad that the story is done and the book would now sit somewhere in your expensive wooden shelf. Pick it up. Enjoy the wonderful journey. Skip the review. Thank me later. God bless.

For those who need a little more persuasion, the story begins with a stray cat. A cat without a name and one that speaks. The stray finds his way to a silver van. The van happens to be his shelter of sorts. The smart cat with a sharp tongue enjoys his vagabond life. He lives a life without strings. He is the master and lord of his own destiny and boy, the cat can hold his own on a fight. It is by the silver van, where our feline hero meets a human. Unlike the rest, this human seems to be kind. He leaves food for the cat and tries to pat the cat. Apparently cats, like smart kids, are privy to strangers. They do not encourage strangers to get cozy with them. However, the cat is grateful about the food and lets the human brush him. The cat , still not domesticated, goes about its business. No strings attached.

One fine day, the cat meets with an accident that leaves him with a busted leg. In desperation, the feline hero drags himself to the silver van. He reckons that the kind human could help him. The kind human, Satoru, does end up helping the cat. He takes the cat in, nurses it back to health. The two get along well. The cat discovers that Satoru is a cat lover. Satoru names the cat as Nana. Nana considers this as a funny , weird name for a male cat. Nana also acknowledges that Satoru is very perceptive for a human. They both seem to understand each other perfectly well.

Nana, now back on his feet, is now ready to part his ways with Satoru. Satoru does feel bad about parting away with Nana, but doesn’t stop him from being free again. Nana opts to stay back with Satoru. And with that, our journey begins.

After a passage of a certain duration of time, Satoru is in search for a different home for Nana. He reaches out to his friends from the past and hopes that they can adopt Nana. And so Satoru and Nana being their adventure on the road to meet people, places and enjoy the world’s vibrant best. Each of the friend wants to adopt Nana but circumstances prevent them from keeping him home. The journey on the road brings us closer to Japan and the chemistry that Satoru and Nana share.

Why does Satoru wants to give away Nana? It does seem a bit odd because Satoru loves Nana. Why does Nana make it near impossible for Satoru’s friends to adopt him? Nana is a free spirit and yet decides to stay with Satoru. Why does Satoru make that trip to meet all of his friends? What secrets are they all holding?

You’ve got to read the book to see where all things lead.

This is a beautiful story of life. It exemplifies the nature of relationships in our lives. It talks about solitude and how it erodes us from within. It talks about the warmth that companionship provides. It’s a story of friendship. Every inch along the way, we see the beautiful blossoms of friendship bloom. The characters are beautifully drawn in this tale. Satoru’s outlook towards life and the world will win you over. Nana’s personality will entertain you and you’d fall in love with him. Satoru’s past is revealed through the eyes of his friend. Each character adds to the depth of the tale and each character enriches the reading experience. Nothing is wasted in this book. Even the back drop of Mount Fuji plays it’s wonderful part in this tale.

Life. This book is about life. It outlines the misery that we trap in our hearts. It talks about redemption that liberates us. The book calls out the quality of life that we choose to live. Why aren’t we happy? Why are we holding on to pain and the past. Why aren’t we free to be ourselves? What’s stopping us? What do we need to offset that inertia? The book manages answering all the questions without trying to sound preachy and without letting the answers overwhelm the beautiful story.

This book is a beautiful must read. I do feel sad that the tale is now over and the book will rest in a shelf somewhere.


Book review : The marble collector

“Hurtful things are roots,they spread ,branch out, creep under the surface touching other parts of the lives of those they hurt. It’s never one mistake, it’s never one moment, it becomes a series of moments, each moment growing roots and spurting in different directions”

Coverpage of The marble collector

The marble collector, Cecelia Ahern.

There was something about the book that made me pick it. I was oblivious to Cecelia when I picked a copy. Something appealed to my sensibilities and on an impulse, I had clicked it for a speedy delivery. It turned out to be a happy turn of events.

The marble collector is a warm tale of life, love, secrets, resentment and ties that bind a family together. The story starts with a little kid, Fergus, who gets punished at school. He spends a significant portion of the day , locked away in a dark room, under solitary confinement. The darkest of rooms does hold the warmest of light in Fergus’ life. His lifetime passion for marbles starts there.

Decades later, we are introduced to Sabrina Boggs. She leads a stagnated life. A job as a lifeguard in a country club for old people, a marriage in trouble, kids playing on her nerves, all of that renders her bored with her life. She survived her parents’ divorce when she was fifteen. Her dad is now under a special care. Doctors do recommend that stress had caused him to have a stroke and the stroke leaves him with an amnesia. Her dad doesn’t remember a lot. He gets a clean slate, fresh start to life. On days her mom visits the dad, they do enjoy their company. Irony. The couple had separated as they couldn’t tolerate each other any more and now with memories erased, they were finding a companionship that had always evaded them.

One morning, a mystery box arrives at Sabrina’s doorsteps. It has boxes and boxes of marbles in them. It has a note, written by her dad, that serves as an inventory of all the marbles collected. Some are precious, some are cheap, but all of them hold a mystery to Sabrina. Neither she nor her mom knew that their dad , Fergus , collected marbles. Two of the most expensive marbles listed in the inventory are found to be missing. Sabrina tries to find them.

As the road takes Sabrina closer to the missing marbles, they also take her closer to a side of her dad that she never did know. She learns that her dad was passionate about marbles. She learns that her dad had lived two distinct lives. As she inches closer to finding out the missing marbles, she also realizes that she has been missing out on quite a lot of her dad’s other life. Far away from a serious, workaholic man , his other life had been quite on the wild-enough side.

Rest of the tale is how the two worlds reconcile. Does her father regain his memories? Does the man who’d lost his marbles, finally find them? The book is a warm tale of a daughter who is on a quest to find out about her father.

The characters are plenty in the book. There is Fergus, his mom, dad and brothers. There is Fergus’ divorced wife. He still calls her his wife even though she now has been married to someone else. There is Sabrina, caught right in the middle of what she doesn’t know about her dad and what the rest of the world isn’t tell her about him.

The story outlines the price that one pays in order to keep secrets. Why did Fergus keep his passion for marbles a secret? Of course, it is rather silly for a grown man to play around with marbles. Was that silliness , or rather, was keeping that silliness a secret worth the price that he had paid in life? The book is a testament to simple honesty to life. The book talks about how hearts want to be honest. The book talks about how people don’t always readily award honesty. It’s one thing to want honesty but it’s a whole new challenge to hear it out.

The book’s themes centre around choices. It articulates on how a life branches out each time we make choices that keep us from staying true to our character. It is human to want to fit in. It is human to present our finest, best version of ourselves to the people that we want to impress. It is human to lie. An acceptance based on a foundation of lies, context determines if its worth the toll it takes to sustain that. The book captures that fracture. The irony is melancholic at best. We give our best, beyond what that is us, and in the end the relationship crumbles because we couldn’t just give ourselves for what we were.

The other arching theme is around the nature of relationships. Sabrina has a marriage that is under stress. Fergus’ ended up in a divorce. There are aspects that connect the causality of the state of their respective relationships. Honesty , I’d like to believe, is a by-product in a relationship. Contrary to popular sentiment that honesty is the holy grail of relationships, the book made me wonder about the lack of honesty. Why do the characters choose to hold secrets? Why aren’t the characters free to open up? In a relationship, it takes two to tango. Honesty often flows when the two vested people are receptive to each other. There are barriers that keep us away from honesty. Fear aces that list. Fear of losing the person. It’s in that pursuit of holding on to the people we end up doing a whole lot of things that destroy the said relationship.

The other big theme in the book is that of Association. I loved this to bits. Like it or hate it, we do tend to associate things to people. Marbles are a symbol throughout the book. They mean something else to Fergus, they mean something different to Sabrina. We are attached to things and that’s because we are attached to the people in our world. Things hold no meaning by themselves. This association gets delicately conveyed throughout the book. Fantastic job there.

The book did leave me with a thought that honesty in a relationship is probably not an entitlement. It’s earned by both. If honesty is reciprocated with punishing judgement, it is human to avoid confrontation. It’s easier to lie. The simplicity of the choices the characters make, their justified reasons, their individual pursuit of redemption, the consequences on people, I enjoyed every inch of this tale.

I’d definitely recommend the book. A simple story did leave me with lasting thoughts about the many marbles that I’ve lost.


Book Review : The trouble with goats and sheep

“You only really need two people to believe in the same thing, to feel as though you just might belong.”

The trouble with goats and sheep , Joanna Cannon.

Coverpage of The trouble with goats and sheep

Sometimes the whole wide world is a small place. There is no vast expanse. There are no far away horizons. The trouble with goats and sheep is a tale of such a small world. 12 to be precise. This is a tale of 12 houses in an avenue. The avenue comes alive because of its inhabitants. The people are fantastically portrayed.

One very hot June in 1976, Mrs Margaret Creasy goes missing. This jolts the residents of the avenue. They are a very tight close knit community. The disappearance disrupts their lives. Mrs Creasy was the heart of the avenue. She spoke to all , without any reservations. Everybody felt warm and nice in her company. Her disappearance leaves a gaping hole in the lives of the 12 families.

Gracie, a ten year old, and her friend Tilly , an almost a ten year old, take it upon themselves to solve the case of the disappearance of Mrs Creasy. The girls do miss her. The embark upon a quest to find her. Their journey takes them to a very interesting junction. If only they could find God , everybody would be protected and all will be better again. By implication, finding god , they feel that they’d manage to bring Mrs Creasy back into their lives again.

And so the kids start their investigation.

The kids go about the neighbourhood asking the adults if they believed in God and if they had seen one. Each character has a representation of god and the diverse answers that the kids get, leave them convinced that god doesn’t really reside in their avenue. God wouldn’t, and there is a reason for that. While kids struggle to uncover the mystery, the adults are holding on to a terrible sinister secret. The adults are nervous about Mrs Creasy’s vanishing act because it had attracted the police’s attention. The adults do worry about what the police might discover.

Hidden away within the confines of the avenue that houses 12 families, One cold winter in 1967 , the residents make that decision to burn down the house with the door #11. Why ? Mr Walter Bishop. Mr Bishop is perceived as creepy , wicked, and a pervert. The families bank on collective evidences to justify their justice. They pick a night ,when Mr Bishop and his mum are away, to burn the house down. The logic behind the act was that without the house, there wouldn’t be a Mr Bishop in their neighbourhood.

The plan goes well. The house does burn down and it is made to appear like an accident. Unfortunately, Mr Bishop and his mum get caught in the blaze. The mum falls victim to the incident. This does bear down a bit on the collective conscious of the residents.

The narrative swings between that winter in 1967 and the current summer in 1976. As the girls prod about Mrs Creasy, we get to uncover the series of events that led to that fateful night. Rest of the tale is about the fate of Mrs Creasy. Is she dead? Was she murdered? Did she leave because she figured out that the residents had killed Bishop’s mom? The community starts to crumble under it’s own weight of guilt and prejudice.

The book is about the collective conscious. This book beautifully captures the dynamics of families living together as a closed community. Each character brings a bag of prejudice and bias to the table. Each character is flawed and broken. Each character tries to fit in, and find that sense of belonging to the wider community.

The conflict between conformance and fitting in with staying unique and true to character is portrayed through the eyes of the two little heroes, Gracie and Tilly. The girls are a social outcast in their school. They do not fit in. They get bullied. Gracie looks up to another kid, Lisa, and tries to ape her to gain acceptance. Gracie is prepared to do what it takes to fit in.

Tilly on the other hand, has an overprotective mom who smothers her all the time. Tilly wants to be free, she wants her dad, who is separated from her mom, to acknowledge her and accept her. Tilly feels that being Gracie’s friend is all the acceptance that she needs in the world. The contrasting nature of the girls serves as the perfect juxtaposition to the community and Mr Bishop , who the community unanimously detests.

The biggest theme explored in the book is about conformance to society and the nature of the society to tolerate people who are different. Under the pressure of wanting to fit in, many of us do the things that we do. We gang up and pick on people who are different. While , as individuals, we do not express strong views; under the safety of numbers, we do tend to promote the ravaging beast that we hold dormant within.

I loved this book. The characters are sculpted to near perfection in the book. It holds a mirror to us as a society. It makes us think.

Give this a shot.


Book Review : Lord of the flies

Coverpage of the Lord of the Flies

Lord of the flies, William Golding

In many ways, the book Lord of the flies can be compared to a fantastic experiment to understand collective psychosis. Psychosis, according to wiki, is the fracture of the mind because of a disconnect from reality. Collective psychosis is a reflection of how a group of people , who are confined to a space, display a hive mentality. This hive mentality usually amplifies the common outlook. A society with enough good intentions will garner a collective good intent. A society that thrives on other motives will generally oscillate towards that. Hence the phrase, it’s only human.

The book starts with a bunch of kids finding themselves stranded in an island that is desolate. The first of the kid that is introduced to us is a chubby little one. He meets another kid, who has a fair hair and is fitter and handsome. The new kid introduces himself as Ralph. The chubby kid never gets the opportunity to speak of his real name. He goes on to narrate that , back home, the other kids used to taunt him by calling him Piggy. The nick name sticks. So in that island, there is Ralph and then there is Piggy.

The unlikely duo stumble upon a conch. Ralph blows and this attracts the attention of the other kids who are stranded. As the kids assemble, we get to realize the situation. Kids vary in their age. The littleuns are aged around six. The biguns are teens. The prominent biguns are Ralph, Piggy, Jack, Simon, Roger , Sam and Eric. There probably are a few more but I didn’t make a note. Mostly because I found them to be a plot filler than anything else.

The littleuns, there is Percival, and there is this other little rug rat who has a purplish face.

Jack , is the leader of a choir and his mates and him are stranded on the island. Since Jack and his mates form the majority of the biguns, Jack does feel a little betrayed when he is not elected as the chief. Ralph is the appointed as the chief. And that’s mostly because Ralph had assembled the kids by blowing through the conch. The conch goes on to symbolise leadership for the rest of the book. Symbolism is a major theme in this book.

Zippa-do-dee, the kids manage to conclude and agree upon the plan that their apex priority is to get rescued. To be rescued, Ralph rationalises that they should be lighting up a fire that would generate smoke. This smoke is expected to be spotted by the ships. The biguns explore the island to confirm that it is an island indeed, and isolate the perfect vantage point to light up a fire.

Piggy’s spectacles is the only means of ignition. School grade science at play here.

Things start off good and then they stop staying good. Jack takes the role as a hunter and his group of cronies, and yes a word that I’ve not had the pleasure of using for a long time now, become the designated hunters. Jack starts off as a lame hunter. His first attempt at hunting a wild pig ends up as a failure. This becomes a significant failure in Jack’s life on the island. His ego hurt, hunting now and hunting successfully becomes a symbol to Jack to assert his credibility. Fine, I tried to sound politically correct. Jack’s manhood is now represented by his ability to hunt. Yup, that suits the tone , as written in the book.

In course of time, the kids entrusted with the responsibility of keeping the fire alive , goof up. The let the fire die. A ship passes by and panic ensues in Ralph’s mind. This creates a rift between Ralph and Jack. To Ralph, getting rescued is the most important thing. To Jack, it’s hunting.

The stark reality is that these are all a bunch of kids who are trying desperately hard to transform into responsible adults. They try and they collectively fail. The littleuns are too little to understand the circumstance. They continue to do the million mischievous and silly things that kids that age do. They miss their mothers and cry, they play in the sun and enjoy getting dirty. They lead a normal life of pointless distraction.

The biguns are caught between two worlds. They are kids and since they are also the elder ones, they pretend to be adults.

As the days go by, there is a talk of beasts that are there in the island. Fear grips the group. The littleuns are the first to be scared witless. Fear propagates through the group. Mass hysteria and paranoia kicks in. The group decides to never to speak about the beasts. The biguns do their part in trying to hunt down the beast and that doesn’t go anywhere.

Frustrations start to press down the kids and over disagreements, Jack decides to take his pack of hunters and leave the group. He creates his own tribe and in his tribe, kids paint themselves in red and white.

The rest of the book is about the beast that hunts in the island, and you’ve got to read to the book to know if the kids made it safe and sound.

This book is a master class on psychology.

Piggy, the fat kid , and yes I’ll call him that. It’s not because I’m insensitive or I feel the need to rubbish a kid on it’s physical appearance to feel a bit better about myself. Piggy, the fat kid, is the one who stumbles upon the conch. He is the thinker in the island. He has the necessary traits to be a leader. He is the lord of the fire, without his glasses there wouldn’t be a fire. Piggy never shines bright through the book. Something holds him back. He gets teased a lot and piggy’s outlook towards life is a line on throwing excuses. He hides his limitations behind excuses.

Ralph, the chief, is uncertain as hell but pretends to be a wise chief. He consults piggy but there is that confidence in him that makes him a leader. Ralph is a wonderful example of how one can rule the world by feeling wonderful and confident about oneself. It’s that self assurance that makes Ralph a natural leader

Jack, the hunter and a chief of his own tribe. Jack’s ability or inability to hunt manifests as his worth in the island. Whatever that Jack is battling inside his head, he translates that into the skill of hunting. There is so much violence in Jack. That coming out from a kid who sings in a choir!!!! interesting peek into the psyche of such a little boy. Jack expresses violence to compensate things that he lacks or things that he is denied of.

Ralph wants to remain civilized and English throughout the book. Jack descends into savagery. The conflict between culture and primal is evident in the tale. When there is no one to look at us, or to judge and supervise us, do we still remain decent and true to our masks? That is the question that the book poses. Different people are different when there are no eyes on them.

In the context of real life, it does explain the lack of civic sense in our offices and the same folks are at their ‘International Best’ when they are deputed. We are different people when people are around us. This book removes that supervision from the equation. It observes the people in it in that absence. Chaos flies spirited.

Lord of the flies is a wonderful book. I found it hard to read. There were numerous times when I lost track of what I was reading. I found it to be extremely descriptive. Every inch of the island is described. I had trouble sustaining focus. It’s still a wonderful book to read.


Book Review : The first fifteen lives of Harry August

Coverpage of the First Fifteen lives of Harry August

The first fifteen lives of Harry August, Claire North.

I’m fascinated about souls, time travel, time paradox and a sweet tale of cat and mouse. The first fifteen is a story that checks all the items on that fascination list. This is a wonderful tale that spans the multiple life times of Harry August. The premise is simple enough. We are introduced to the usual world which has a few special people in them. These folks are called the Kalachakras. The world itself translates to the cycle of time. The Kalacharkras reincarnate time and again in this world. They retain their memories from their life times. There is a unique fundamental rule that governs this iteration of births, each time a Kalachakra dies, they are always born back in the same point in time , under the same circumstance and they get to relive their life all over again. There are events that change across each lifetime and there are those which do not. WW1, WW2, the Berlin wall, the revolutions, the rise and fall of dictators, none of these ‘Linear events’ usually change.

The life of Harry starts the most usual way. He’s born as an unwanted child, his biological parents decide to dump him. He finds foster care. He struggles through life , the early days. When his memories come gushing back , it opens his conscious to the many lives he has lived before. There is the usual struggle to cope up with such an overflow of information. He does what most normal folks do. He kills himself. The process resets his time. He realizes the folly and adopts a different approach to his life.

And so the tale begins. Harry, having lived quite a few life times, has the cumulative knowledge of the world that was, the world that will be. With each life, he learns how the world evolves across each lifetime. Like all sensible blokes, he memories the outcome of sporting events and makes a winning wager. Easy money. The funds secured, he goes on to observe the world around and keep track of how technology shapes the world in each of his lifetime. He eventually accepts his life, accepts the fact that he’s destined to relive the same life and that acceptance opens up options for him. He uses the time, life time to be exact, to learn and quench his thirst for knowledge. Things seem to be going good for our protagonist.

Through his lives, Harry starts to learn the dos and don’ts of his existence. He realizes the dangers of fiddling around with the natural flow of time and in the process , he gets introduced to the Chronos Club. The club is made of similar Kalachakras and Harry beings to learn more about his kind. Kalachakras have always existed. They have always observed the world, refused to actively change the linear events of the world. He also learns that information is passed down back to the generations by way of a child to the old. The children of the modern age would feed the near dying. The reincarnate would then kick start their life with the knowledge. Logistics and logistics.

The status quo changes when the Kalachakras start feeding back the news of how the end of the world is now accelerated. There seems to be a breach in the way of the world. The apocalypse rapidly accelerating, the end almost near, all of this pushes Harry to challenge the status quo and see if he can save the world.

From here, the game of cat and mouse picks up pace. When time is immaterial, immortality is the way of life, the simple task of saving the world does span a few lifetimes. It sure is not an easy task. The rest of the story is all about Harry’s quest to save the world. He does get to die a few times in the process. Does he save the world? Does he conclude that the world is not worth saving? Does he feel disgusted by humanity’s capacity to destroy itself? The immortals are posed with questions of a different kind indeed.

The book does hold a mirror to humanity. We live in a world where it’s easier to be insensitive towards tyranny and oppression rather than staying vociferous against it. We live in a world where history does tend to repeat itself, the world lets it happen time and again. We are more divided than we’d acknowledge. Given the context of the book, within a given lifetime, we grow numb to way of the world. Imagine living through centuries and centuries of the same world and magnitude of indifference towards the way the world is!

Harry goes through the same challenges that we all go through. Do we stay mum? Do we ache to change the world around us? Do we stand up and become the voice for the voiceless? Do we succumb under the weight of a messed up world? Given the fact that Harry does live on, he still makes his choices. Given the fact that we endure and survive the ugliness of the world, we also do make our choices.

The book’s central premise rests with the ability to travel back in time, the ability to alter the course ahead for humanity. Technology is a great disruptor. Imagine the course of the great wars if Mobile reception was made available during the wars. Imagine the outcome , if the nations had the capacity to make a billion calculations under a second. What if WW1 had access to nukes? The nature of what ifs, the nature of driving technological changes to alter the course of humanity is very intriguing. With the amount of technology in hand, aren’t we inching a step closer to making all the science fiction of our past into a modern day reality?

The other big theme is around immortality and the boredom that is generated by repetition. Spend enough lives, and one gets bored of living. Introspectively, lead a life doing the same set of things, life grows mundane. Insensitivity, or that feeling of staying numb, is an apt outcome of that dogmatic, narrow minded, tunnelled vision of an outlook towards life, are symptoms of a life stagnating away in front of our eyes. There is a certain helplessness to it all. We are, because we do. We are not able to break free and that’s also because we just do.

All is not super fantastic about the book. The way it ended was a colossal miss. The first two acts invest ample into building tension and the way the tale ends, did feel a bit rushed and not well thought off. The climax squandered away the emotional investment that the readers would have made to the characters.

I’d still give it a shot. If you like souls and a commercial , mass appeal view of spirituality and indulge in the act of breaking your head about lives, deaths and reincarnation, this is the right amount of palatable fiction.