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.

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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

Breaking ICE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I giggled my devious smile.

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

‘What, beg your pardon?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Yes, Katz’ the speaker paused.

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

Radio silence.

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

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

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

I walked off the session with a thought.

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

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

Cest la vie!!!!!

Karthik

Amazoning life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Odd enough, I see Asimov giggling in his grave.

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

Karthik

The reluctant commitment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

Run to the hills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

Finding Zeno!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outcomes in life are inevitable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

Carrots and sambar – A tale of life

And so there I was wondering about the next course of life. It was a busy week and I was leading it through jangling nerves. My body was playing a jazz rhythm of its own.

There has always been a dream. A carrot of carrots , if you may. The dream has been a Remote controlled car. As the years flew by, that obsession to buying an RC car grew stronger. I had reached a point in life where I had grown scared of actually buying one. What if having an RC was pointless? What if it didn’t turn out to be as much fun as I had imagined for well over two decades? What if? In pursuit of keeping the dream alive, I shifted focus to another dream. A red sports car.

The mileage through life has one singular tangible benefit. It’s called a pay check. One could argue that the check wasn’t plenty but it exists and I had to make peace with it. A quick scan , check and compromised acceptance later, I had managed to put a number to another carrot. A carrot in an ocean of carrots.

A red Jaguar, F-Type, the math worked out to £55,000. It was most definitely a compromise of sorts. The entry variant came cheap-ish. The number opened up another series of numbers in the long list of numbers that mandate life. It would probably take me 3 years to save enough to pick one. Adjusting for inflation was another number to deal with. Loans and EMI were numbers that I didn’t want to consider.

With the immediate milestone set, I had other things to plan around. A driver’s license was another headache to sort through. Riding from point A to point B is seldom the point. The free trial exam was a good example of pointlessness of the education system that I had endured. Do you call for help or do you help when someone is injured on the road? Do you overtake or do you wait? Do you honk or do you smile? The questions were plenty and they were trying effortlessly to inspire the civil , obedient , compliant , numbed citizen in me. I soon lost interest.

Then came the logistics of acquiring one. The written exam, now ignored, the actual driving test was another logistics fuelled nightmare. Rent a car that had baby wheels to them. While many of these listed things seem rational and acceptable, to my mind , they were ridiculous. Living in London often translates to sanity that prevails and why one would opt for a public transport than loitering in a car and paying through the roof for parking tickets.

That said, I had carrots to run after. Then came more numbers into the mix. ‘So’, my boss said. ‘Looks like you have plans of swapping a wife for a red sports car!’. And he was right. I hadn’t considered the cost of a marriage or the operational cost of a shared life. More numbers and I could see life slipping away between each line item.

The Monday was harsh and it usually is harsh most Mondays. Issues to resolve, meetings to report, meetings to chair. Monday is the kind of the day when I’m left gasping for air. There are ‘Back to back’ calls and I wish I was still leading the simpler life where I got to join a meeting , place the phone on mute and sit away contemplating the other challenges to life which included, where do I eat tonight , what movie to watch during the weekend, where do ‘We’ go for the weekend, what did ‘we’ almost discuss last evening.

Those days are years and a lifetime ago. There isn’t a going back. The clouds and the silver lining of the mileage is that most things that I talk about, on a professional basis, have consequences tagged to them. Some bear benefits, some flag risks, some put smiles across the customers and some, frowns across the business. Physically present and mentally in a different planet isn’t an option anymore.

And then I said ‘ Sorry, missed that. Was lost in a different train of thought’, I interrupted the meeting. It was a close call. My mind was drifting off and I had to head back into the game. I couldn’t afford to sit and count the carrots in my grocery basket. The iteration lasted a while. Good byes later, another meeting kick started.

With a twenty minute break, I had to make a choice. I had ample time to freshen up, call my folks , pick a sandwich and rush back to desk. No hot lunch and it was the usual norm for the Monday. Freshen up – Check. Call mom and dad – Check. Pick a sandwich – No GO. A glance on the salt and calories label, I had made a choice to pick a coffee rather than a sandwich. The dash back to the meeting was timely. The screen buzzed to life, the mind buzzed with questions, for a while. And then it drifted.

Somewhere between the decisions that impacted the next financial year, I had a concentrated , centred, dedicated focus over wanting to have Sambar for dinner. The breakfast and lunch now skipped, the saving grace was a Sambar dinner. I tried to remember the snapshot of the fridge back home. Onions, nope. Tamarind, nope.Tomatos, iffy at best. Lentils, yup.

‘I’m sorry. Missed that. When do we want that report by?’, I had managed to yank myself away from the distraction and also salvage the damage done. From Jaguar to sambar, the day’s motivations had travelled really far indeed. The commute back home, the shops hopped, things picked. I came home to a hot room. London’s been blazing away , putting Chennai on a jealous spree lately. The bed looked comforting. Homeland had seasons waiting to be watch. The toll of the day, the fatigue of forced fasting, the depression of not having a Jaguar and the anger at the silly stupid process of acquiring a driver’s licence, the defeated victory of having shopped on a tiresome day, I picked the comforts of watching ‘The Alienist’.

Twenty minutes into a distracted watch later, I had had enough. I am going to make that sambar. I am going to eat that sambar today. I had opted against having seeded bread for dinner. I had worked way too hard, sacrificed way too many dreams, made a lot of compromises along the way and I wouldn’t be denied of Sambar that day. I checked the cupboard, I already had a stash of tamarind. Onions were there too. Tomatoes weren’t iffy. Plump and red. Quite obviously, I had imagined the house in a drought.

And so life has many carrots. Some , we choose. Some , others make that choice for us and we aren’t free to speak up and voice against it. Through the many miseries of daily struggles, it’s the simple pleasure and satisfaction of achieving the smaller , insignificant goals to life. I would probably have that Jag in a few years time, I’d probably have a lot of what I desire in course of time. What I really do wish for is that I have a grounded sense to appreciate that I don’t need many carrots, as long as I’m not making a carrot Sambar.

Karthik

[Book Review]: The boy who could see demons

“There can be no faith without bias” – Katz the sober.

The boy who could see demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

My name is Alex. I’m ten years old. I like onions on toast and I can balance on the back legs of my chair for fourteen minutes. I can also see demons. My best friend is one. He likes Mozart, table tennis and bread and butter pudding. My mum is sick. Ruen says he can help her. Only Ruen wants me to do something really bad. He wants me to kill someone.’

With that back over , buying the book was a no brainer choice.

The quick snap shot review of the book : Brilliant Story, wonderfully written, engaging plot and intriguing characters, poor lousy lazy ending, but ,and that’s a rather enormous but, it’s a tale worth reading.

Now lets get down to the bits and bolts.

And then there was a tale that was caught right in the middle between the eternal conflict between belief, faith and Schizophrenia. Alex is a ten year old, who lives in Belfast (surviving the aftermath of them troubles) , can see demons and one in particular called Ruen is his best friend of sorts. Ruen wants Alex to kill someone.

Welcome to the world of what the hell is going on.

The world painted , rather scripted in the book is beautifully balanced by the author. We are introduced to the little boy who starts seeing demons on the day he learns that his dad is dead. Ruen, the demon, manifests in different shapes , sizes and forms to Alex’s eyes. Ruen is not seen by the rest of the world. Ruen is a bit of the snobbish, posh kind. He loves Mozart and is far too sophisticated to be the run of the mill hound from hell. In fact , Ruen isn’t the average joe of the demon world. He is a ‘Harrower’ , a top general in the realm of demons.

Ruen is Alex’s best and only friend. Ruen dictates the right words into Alex’s mind. Ruen is in fact the power that helps Alex cope up with his life. The world sees Alex as a bit dense.

Cue in Anya. Anya is a psychiatrist who specialises in paediatric psychology. Anya comes with the baggage of having lost her daughter to a suicide. The cause, Schizophrenia. Anya is broken into far too many pieces but her strength reverberates through the pages of the story. Anya sees Alex as her shot at redemption. She couldn’t save her daughter. She wouldn’t let another kid die.

And so beings the chase of a cat and a mouse. Science and the understanding of mental distress and disorders that it unravels fights heads to head with Demonic possession which has its roots in Faith and belief. Anya and us, the readers, we are introduced to many supernatural-esque capabilities exhibited by Alex. Throw in clairvoyance, access to knowledge beyond the usual means of a normal individual, we witness the battle of the mind. Anya deciphers the clues and finds ways to justify the phenomenon through the eyes of accepted and proven medical science of psychology.

It’s not the case of science hurling sticks and stones on the village idiots of believers. There are things that Anya’s science cannot explain. The story hinges on the uncertainty of what if demons really do exist. The story brings that balance of belief and the debunking of that belief brilliantly. As we dwell deeper and deeper into the minds of the characters, we also get to understand the power of psychology that governs the lives of us, humans.

Alex’s mom is suicidal and her battle reflects upon Alex. Then there is Ruen. A demon whom we cannot easily dismiss as the figment of imagination of a mentally troubled ten year old little boy. The evidences don’t always tally up. Psychology does not explain it all. The alternate world of the super real, super natural does not always sound believable. We journey through the book, living with that conflict.

So is Ruen really a demon? Is Alex really really mentally disturbed? Is there a happy ending for Alex or his suicidal mother? Does Anya finally find redemption? Does science outsmart a world of faith and belief? Do we realize that science, while magnanimous it is, is still too young to explain everything there is to the world?

The book’s conclusion offers some answers to those few questions. Personally, I wasn’t too thrilled about it. The return on the investment that I had made through the pages, was too little by the time the tale ended. The cheesy last minute jump scare was too clichéd and too cheesy and way too subtle to leave a lasting impression. That said, ignoring the book because of one chapter would be a crime. This is a fantastic book and has a smart story to tell. It is well worth the time.

The core of the book is the way of the mind. It captures the ability of a mind to cope up to a trauma that overwhelms it. Some sit and cry, some kill themselves, some sleep off the night and wake up stronger than ever before. For some, their personality rips and they dissociate into multiple personalities with the sole intention of coping up with the trauma. The book, like many other sources, is a beautiful reminder of how fragile the human mind is.

To that fragile nature of the mind, add a hint of God and the Devil. Throw in a healthy bunch of Angels and Demons. What if they are real? What if the human soul really does exist and that the god and the devil are wagering for a piece of that pie? What if a demon, or an angel is not the response coughed by a broken mind? What if a broken mind and the supernatural coexist? Where does that leave us, the vulnerable humans?

There can be no faith without bias. Rest your faith to the modern day gods that go by the name of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Ellon Musk or rest it within the bucket of the many gods that are in our prayers and devils in our nightmare, that faith cannot exist without a bias. Wisdom is gained when we learn to see beyond our bias and observe without resistance and evaluate without prejudice. Maybe there is a lot more to this world. Maybe there is a lot more to the universe that is the human body.

The book does leave you with such questions. To me, that is a better win than a stronger ending.

Four stars . Enjoy the madness. Enjoy the mind trying to see through the madness.

Karthik

What does it mean?

Hi

I’m 35 today. I used to be 15 a different lifetime ago.

I am known by many names. When I was a kid, I had just 2 names. Today, I have many.

I had many friends growing up. I think I still have friends today.

I think a lot. I’m both proud and worried about the fact that I can think. A lifetime ago, before I became me, I don’t remember thinking at all.

I try to understand the meaning of my life. I try to see if there is a purpose to it. When I was young, I didn’t care enough about such stupid questions. I had better things to do.

I’ve been writing a lot , these few years. A lifetime ago, I didn’t know I could write.

And just like that, my thoughts took to me on a conversation with my past self. Try hitting the search string ‘Why Unhappy’ in google and you’d find a million reasons and million thoughts on the matter. I think the first lesson that already goes overlooked is the fact that happy folks don’t usually sit down to think about trying out a search string on unhappiness. Am I happy or am I unhappy is something for me to sit and ponder. The context of this is about something else.

With the curiosity instigating a search, I managed to quench it through a quick scan of the things scribed in the first few search results. In their own right, I’d like to believe that every word written is a wisdom suppressed.

Let’s take a minute and choose to have an honest thought. Unless one is of an unsound mind, medically diagnosed with a condition that keeps the brain from forming a string of rational thought, I don’t think the cause of our unhappiness is a mystery at all. Denial is a yes, but mystery it isn’t. The popular information that flooded the so called ‘Help-Blogs’ was Pop Science at best.

In the brief amount of time that I spent looking at the content and before I could jump into throwing in a content of my own, I decided to sit down and classify the factors that lead to unhappiness in many people. My take is as follows

1. You don’t have what you want and you cant get over it

2. You think others are better and you don’t like what you are and what you represent

3. You are scared and have no means of pulling yourself off things that scare you.

4. You want others to like you but unfortunately they don’t.

There are at least a hundred more things listed out across each portal. I could see them as a derivative of the ones that I had listed out. To even shrink the list of four further, I think they can be classified as,

1. In your mind, you don’t like what you are

2. To your mind, others don’t like what you are

In and out. The simplest classification there ever is.

Back to the unhappiness quotient. One of the things that caught my attention was a line that read , ‘You don’t have friends’. Another one said ‘You hang out with Unhappy people’.

Those sentences led me back to being a kid. When I was a kid, I either liked others or I didn’t. I’d either choose to play with the kids or I’d choose to be on the opposing team. Life was simple because I hadn’t learnt to complicate myself back then. Today, under the guise of intelligence, we take comforts in throwing words to complicate our lives beyond compare.

The one about friends, it still haunts me. It leaves me with far too many thoughts. How in the world did we manage to complicate a simple thing called ‘Friends’. As kids, one made friends by virtue of proximity. Bunch of kids living in the same neighbourhood were very likely to be friends. Kids in the same class in a school, Friends. Kids sharing the same commute , Friends.

The trend was simpler. Face to Face. If I can see you, talk to you, pick up a fight with you, we had a good chance of being friends. And then came the digital revolution. Anonymity and digital incognisance made the deal of ‘Making friends’ easier.

It’s not easy to pretend and keep pretending when you meet someone in person, looking them right into their eyes. Your body language speaks volumes. You are either in and invested or you are out. There are good days and bad days. You learn to cope up with your friends and your friends learn to cope up with you. In the digital space, the dynamic changes drastically.

You are free to pretend whoever you want to be. You digital avatar is as real or as fake as you want it to be. Your face can be left natural or you can apply a million filters to it. It pans back into the above listed 4 categories. You want to be liked and hence you alter the way you appear, sound and think. The ones you get along with, you exchange more senseless banter. The ones you don’t, ignore and block is a click away. In short, we go through life, filtering people to meet our needs and specs rather than learning to live with differences and tolerances.

Then again, why would you bother to adjust and accommodate. It’s not exactly like you get to see them everyday, or work right beside them, or share actual physical space with them.

Friends. It used to be such a simple thing and now it aint so easy. No wonder, most of our strongest bonds of friendship are from Decades ago. School buddies, college buddies. I think , by now, you know why those bonds have been strong. Because they were real and not Virtual. Things that have a foundation in the real, have the capacity to survive in the virtual. The vice versa is not true.

We are unhappy because we cant stay happy. We cant stay happy because we either haven’t made peace with being ourselves. We also haven’t made peace with how the world views us. It’s that shift in perspectives and our inability to cope up that makes us unhappy.

Ask yourself this. Should you delete all your social media apps, even delete your whatsapp app. How many folks would really invest in an SMS or a phone call to stay in touch?

Ask yourself this. If you are dead in your digital social life, would that also mean that you are actually dead in the real life?

That should clear the illusion that a digital self provides. Art of staying happy comes from the art of knowing what’s real and what isn’t.

Karthik