ABC’S of life

The doctor’s reception lobby was rather quiet that morning. The room was pristine and was painted in a rather dull shade of grey. It made sense for the room to be that sober. Patients were used to walking in with pain and possibly walking out high on pills.

The receptionist was a young lady of maybe thirty. Tall, composed and pleasant with a voice that matched all her traits. The calls weren’t pouring in and the room was as silent as it could be. The doctor was seeing a patient and that meant I had to sit around for a while. It suited me proper. It was one of those ‘Bring your kids to work’ days. Gladly I obliged. In fact, I was happy that the kid was around. I had all intentions to make the best use of that time. It wasn’t everyday where I got to hang around the kid and see how his life was shaping up. When you are ten years old, life does shape slow and steady.

We found ourselves seated in the waiting area. The cold metallic arm rests , cushions that were used aplenty. It wasn’t the best seating experience. I guess it couldn’t be worse either. The kid had opted to carry his backpack. He had brought along his favourite comic book, a ruled notebook , his box of colouring pencils, and an activity book of sorts. It was the kind of book that had a motley mix of puzzles, join the bloody dots and colour fancy animals. It was serving its intended purpose of keeping young mind engaged and occupied.

‘So what are they teaching in school these days’ I asked in a hushed whisper.

I had managed to interrupt his adventures with the Spiderman comic. The kid didn’t complain. Slowly and gracefully, he closed the book and placed it obediently in his backpack. I respected that in the kid. He was meticulous and thorough. It was a sign of a trait that he’d inherited.

‘We are learning the ABCs of life dad’ he casually replied.

‘What that again? ABCs of Life? What’s that about?’

The book took a practised deep breath. It announced that he wasn’t new to the routine of explaining the things that he had learnt at school. I must admit, when I was in school, we didn’t have that ABC. The school that we went, it wasn’t particularly a mainstream one. It had requisites. It worked on the principles of first getting invited, then getting interviewed. The filter process was stringent. I still do find it amusing that the demand is a lot more than I thought there ever would be one.

‘ABCs dad. Always, Be, Composed’ he articulated each word slowly , emphasising their significance.

‘What does that mean anyway? I’ve not heard of that’

The boy was excited about explaining things. Maybe, in a different life, he could have been destined to be a teacher. Then again, it needn’t be a far fetched idea this life either. There were those of us who taught. Maybe he’d grow one day into being an exemplary teacher.

‘As my teacher says’ he paused to check if I was paying a close attention. I was. Satisfied with intent of keep interest, he resumed.

‘We will end up in a lot of situations in life. For example, what If I miss the morning bus to school? ‘

He waited for me to express a dramatic disbelief. This was a lot more practiced than I had anticipated. This was delivered almost as clinically as them brainwashers impart misguided propaganda. I played along with a show of shock

‘Yeah, so if I miss the school bus, Do I sit and cry? Do I feel bad? Or Do I safely walk back home and inform mum that I missed the bus? That is about always being composed. No matter what happens, one should always be calm and think about the list of things to do next.’

The kid delivered his explanation with a pedigree of pride that is usually observed in celebrities who receive prestigious awards.

‘That’s fantastic’ I said. ‘What else is new? Made any new friends’

The kid didn’t bother with a response. He slunk back into his chair and reached out into his bag to resume reading his comic book.

‘The Doctor will see you now’ the receptionist announced.

I smiled politely and thanked her for the update.

‘Listen, this shouldn’t take me long. Sit back and continue reading. ‘ I instructed.

As I was about to enter the doctor’s office, the kid called out.

‘Can we stop for a burger? I’m hungry’ he said meekly.

‘Sure kid’ and I gave him a thumbs up to confirm the itinerary.

With that done, I opened the door and slowly closed it shut. The door didn’t make a noise. I appreciated a well maintained building. As far as buildings went, this was a properly maintained one. I couldn’t find a reason to detest it. The doctor was seated in his chair. Pleasant chap. He was slim, balding and had a pleasant welcoming smile. I could see why he was a popular bloke.

‘Doctor Mathew ?’ I politely enquired. It was redundant at this point. I knew who the doctor was. I knew I was in his room. I was a creature of habit.

‘Yes, That’s me. How can I help you today’ he said.

I reached into my overcoat and pulled Trippy. Trippy was my favourite German. Silent, efficient and never failed to deliver.

‘Doc, I’m sorry that I’m the hand of god today. God wants you squashed’ I said as I pulled tripped out.

The good doctor sat dazed and confused. Most people who come face to face with a German made gun do tend to behave that way. I don’t think it’s any tribute to the German engineering. I think the make of the gun is immaterial. It’s just the gun, the shape and the immediate thought of death that freezes people over.

Phew, Phew. Two shots fired. Two shots silenced. The world left unaware of the drama that transpired behind a closed door. That was that. I collected the spent shells and pocketed them. That’s a wrap, I told myself silently.

I opened the door and closed it again gently. I sat next to my kid and pulled out a piece of paper from my other pocket. I asked my kid to lend me a pencil. He reached out into his bag and a quick search and a yank later, handed me one. The scanned for the good doctor’s name from the list. It wasn’t a long list. This month had been ok. The business does tend to slump a bit around this time of the year. I stroke off his name from the list. Number 8. Done.

I returned the pencil to my kid. I folded the paper and placed it back into my pocket again. The work for this month was done. The rest could wait.

The kid and I got off our chairs and as we were about to leave, I thanked the receptionist for the appointment. The kid stopped and as good manners mandated, he also smiled at the nice lady and thanked her. I was proud of my boy.

‘Them ABCs, that’s a mighty good lesson there kid.’

‘Thanks dad’ he responded.

Burgers were next.

Karthik

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Finding Marlin

Finding Nemo is an example of Disney at its best. The tale outlines the journey of a dad who is in pursuit of finding his kid. The dad labours through challenges, defies the odds, meets a whole barrage of strangers before winning the day. The movie , in a way, is a testament to how far the dad goes in his quest to reunite with his kid.

I do find it odd that the movie was called Finding Nemo. We , as viewers, join Marlin in his adventure. We both collectively grow up and evolve from our initial state of inertia. The kid endures a few character building lessons. Both fishes flirt with death and come out stronger and more compatible than they had ever been. From a sales point of view, Finding Nemo is a lot catchier than Finding Marlin. I guess that explains the whys of the movie being titled that way.

I am reminded of the movie. Partly due to proximity to the fishes, which I’ll explain in a few minutes and partly because I see the irony behind that adventure. Like all wonderful things in life, let’s start with the Irony.

The biggest irony to the movie is the fact that both fishes were equally capable of embracing a change to grow more compatible with each other.

Both fishes were victims of circumstances and in a way, they both dealt with fears in a way that they knew. The separation gave them both a much needed push to evolve from the forced change.

There wouldn’t be a story if they both woke up one day and opted to be a better , tolerant version of themselves. Let the irony sink in for a minute.

As a child, my enthusiasm knew no bounds, each time my dad took me to new places. I have a vague recollection of staying wowed by the animals in the zoo. I remember the curiosity of different species that inherited this ball of blue and green. I don’t remember asking many intelligent questions, but I do remember wanting ice cream. As I grew older, these ‘new places’ weren’t new anymore. Then my nephews and niece came into being. I remember babysitting them as I was forced to revisit these places. I remember putting up a futile resistance over how boring these places were. The kids got to experience something new and I got to experience a boredom that was gift wrapped in resentment. In time, I had evolved to equate the witnessed places as places of no implied interest. Unless the places had something new to offer, I wasn’t going to make an effort. It’s called the been there, seen that syndrome.

The weekdays are a usual bunch. There is nothing magical about them. I head off to work. I have my petty adventures through the day. The weekends are a new beast. Left to my own devices, I’d have probably dedicated them to laziness and music. With my folks around, it did give me the right excuse to tour the city of London. Last weekend, we managed to loiter the halls of the Sea Life aquarium.

The unplanned stop at the Waterloo station unwrapped the first surprise punch of the day. My mom made a very cautious effort to reading through signs and posts that adorned the station. ‘Is this THE waterloo, where the battle took place?’ I didn’t have an answer then and I cheated and checked wiki now. Her question had never popped in my head ever before. I silently made a quiet note of the innate curiosity over things that interested my mom. We made it to the exhibit without a lot of questions.

‘Do they have Sharks here?’ my dad popped his share of many questions for the day. I didn’t know and I thought it was a bit too silly for an aquarium to house a great white shark. I think so dad, I replied and we didn’t have to wait too long to catch a glimpse of the first shark. It was a huge fish. I don’t think it was the great white, but the fish had the popular features that we associate with them sharks.

From Sharks to Stingrays, I was amused and satisfied at the childlike glee that my folks expressed. I hadn’t really thought of their amusement when we opted to view the house of fishes. I thought they’d stroll through the place and walk out in a semi-bored stoic way. I couldn’t be any more wrong. The colours and the diversity of the species housed grabbed their attention. The exhibits on jellyfish was a pleasant surprise. Sea life hosted a plastic exhibit that shook and vibrated as we touched them. My mom wanted to brave and touch the star fishes.

I’d have expected all of that from kids and soon I realised that I was walking with a bunch of kids. We saw a large tortoise and it warranted our undivided attention and admiration. The sight of the creatures of the deep, swimming free , warmed us up. Sea life was flooded with kids of many ages and I got to witness a simple fact that kids of all ages usually acted the same way!

Then came the biggest surprise of the day.

‘It’s really them’ my dad exclaimed. There was no denying the sense of awe and disbelief. His face lit up as we walked past the section that housed penguins. Them penguins were as real as real was. Some were standing lazy, some minding their own business.

The sheer sight of penguins brought out the kids in my folks. Their smiles symbolised the accomplishment of the day.

A few stories of ships and Andamans later, we had covered every inch that the house of fishes had to offer. The day came to a close with ice cream.

I don’t think I’d have ever found the time to take my parents out if I was still in Chennai. The best that I’d offer , the best that I had offered was to drive them to far away temples. I did that because I loved to drive and driving with them had always been a pleasant experience. The precious few hours of hearing them bicker and fight over things, conclude arguments and agree on decisions, I’ve always been amused by that. I don’t think I’d have volunteered to join my family on a visit to the beach or a zoo or any place for that matter. The newness of the land has been a good excuse.

I guess in that sense, this Nemo managed to Find Marlin. I cant put a price tag on that precious memory of my folks turning into an excited bunch of rug rats. I’ve never witnessed that childlike excitement. Far away from daily thoughts of being adults, it was a fantastic detour from adulthood. The irony doesn’t disappoint either. I definitely needed a push to embrace and evolve a change. It’s nice to be a supervising adult for once.

Karthik

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

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 £150 cup of coffee to humble villagers who migrate to the city with nothing but hopes and dreams in their eyes, the book has the city painted all over its pages.

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

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

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

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

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

Definite read. Give it a shot.

Karthik

Chicken, Egg and 50 shades of evolution

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

The crux of the thoughts are around the following lines

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

Righty roo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

Failure Fixation

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

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

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

1. A failure positions itself on a given friday

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

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

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

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

5. Get the fix into place.

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

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

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

Here is the deal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

Toys and Trinket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik.

Mama’s boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

And what if I told you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik