The house of walls

Light.

The tiny streaks of light that managed to dodge the thick drapes that covered the windows were bright enough to illuminate the room. The luminance was soft and subtle without a glare that could strain the eye. There were days when I liked the house to be that way. She preferred a well lit house. Our separation started on that simplest taste over light. 

The bed looked made. It was empty. I couldn’t remember why I had walked in, but I was there nonetheless. This happens a lot to me. I walk into places without a faintest idea of why I got there. I shrugged my shoulder and patted the made bed. I was careful enough to not leave behind a crease. I turned around towards the dresser. Our anniversary photograph stood there, framed and neat. I examined it close to find no trace of dust resting on it. Typical, I thought to myself.

I left the room and made it towards the hall and occupied my usual recliner. I felt fatigued and I wasn’t sure if it was the age that was catching up or the fact that I couldn’t remember if I had any breakfast that morning, that made me feel tired. I sat wondering how my life turned out the way it did. 

Dark. 

Typical, she wondered. Her husband liked to leave the drapes closed, even on bright mornings like the day. He was her perfect opposite in many ways. She liked the house airy and bright. He liked it cold and dark. She had enjoyed cleaning and sorting things into their proper place while he had lived a hobo’s dream of untidiness and grime. Her lips twitched as she found herself lost in thoughts about how they had managed to endure the years together. 

She made the bed and walked towards the kitchen. She filled the water in the kettle and tried to switch it on. It just wouldn’t start. She wanted to call out to her husband. She knew there wouldn’t be an answer. She sighed and gave up on the notion of making tea. She glanced towards the hall to see if he was lazing around his chair. The hall was as empty as most of their life had been. Typical. He had this uncanny ability to never be around when she needed him. Had had never been around when she had needed him the most. Annoyed, in general about everything, she walked to the porch to find solace in the world around. Her chair on the porch had been her trusty support system. She had spent numerous hours sitting there and watching the world go by. The view wasn’t bad. She could spectate her neighbourhood in peace. The pointless business of the world comforted her. Deep down, she felt that the world shared her isolation. Nobody outside seemed to speak to anybody else. There wasn’t a casual chatter to be enviously spy upon. The transactions of the world were just that. Mere transactions. No soul in them. No life in them. To her, everybody seemed to be dead. At least on the inside. 

Shadows.

I heard the door creak. The sudden sound jolted me. I could feel my heart pounding. I knew I was being silly. I presumed it could have been the wind that was playing games on my otherwise dulled mind. Just to be safe and simply out of curious compulsion, I scanned the room to see if there was anybody around. I knew there weren’t. I felt silly over spooking myself over. It was a ridiculous thought. I knew fear had no place, at least not anymore. The worst was already in the past. There wasn’t any place for fears in the present or even the future. Things didn’t work that way. I shook my head in disappointment. The noise had left me unsettled and restless. I couldn’t bring myself to sit anymore. I decided to hit the porch. 

The porch had been a wonderful place of sorts. It held many memories. She had always usually been there. Looking at the world. Smiling at the world. The best of her was when she was outside. I knew the many promises that we had made together , sitting on that porch. I knew the many promises that I broke, that we broke, when we argued on that porch. The porch had become a world of its own ,to us. No one bothered us there. It always felt that we were the only ones , trapped in a wide vast world. 

I stood by the porch. The day had gradually dimmed its glory. It had become a gloomy day. The glum gloominess had somehow seeped away from the house and corrupted the world around. The metal railing felt cold. I stared far into the land, not wanting to focus on anything in particular. My eyes strained towards her unoccupied chair. It pained me to find that empty. The searing pain kept growing. The weight upon my heart felt heavier till I couldn’t bear the burden. I felt ambushed by the overwhelming grief that suddenly found me. I couldn’t explain where all the grief was coming from. The confusion left me dazed till I couldn’t hold on to a thought. Any thought for that matter. Everything started to black out. 

And then I saw a streak of light. 

She sat on her chair and her thoughts lost upon the world in front of her. Thoughts became tears. She couldn’t tell where the stream of tears started from. Was it that time when he screamed at her? It seemed unlikely. It must have been something grave that would have germinated that anger that led to a furious hate. The hate that left her with resentment. The resentment that fuelled her wrath. The blinding wrath had rendered her helpless. She broke down within the chain that bound her. She had endured the cycles of anger and hate till she couldn’t tell the two apart. In her state of misery, she blamed herself for what that had transpired and her guilt and denial alienated her from him. He wasn’t there anymore. He wasn’t there when she needed him the most. He just wasn’t. They weren’t a couple any longer. He was emotionally dead to her till.

The thoughts overwhelmed her. The anger flamed and hate burnt bright. She burned in her anguish. There was only that anger and hate that consumed and kept consuming till there was nothingness. The nothingness led to the dark. She blanked out, lost in thoughts, lost to self, Lost. She shut her eyes tight to cope up with the overwhelming strain. When she finally opened her eyes, all that she could see was the dark. 

The world of real

The door creaked wide open. The house was sparkling clean and tidy. It smelt fresh and unused. The barren house echoed the silence to a reverberating boom. The sound of footsteps amplified as it reflected from one wall to another. 

“This”, the lady proclaimed with a marketable smile, “is fresh in the market. A fantastic two bedroom house. Single owners. No kids. The house is in a fantastic condition and is selling under the market value.” , she concluded her practised pitch. 

She walked the guests through the house. The drapes were drawn and she opened them up to let the natural light spread through the room. The mild chillness of the house vaporised and the house started feeling warm again.

The viewing done, the prospective buyer couldn’t resist the temptation of asking why such a beautiful house was selling cheap.

The realtor paused. She knew the question was inevitable. People usually found out sooner than later. There wasn’t an easy way around it. 

“Sentiment, I presume” she started. “Tragedy struck the previous family. The wife had a long history with depression. You know. Things happen. She took the easy way out. The husband couldn’t cope up with the loss. One evening he went out for a walk and a car ran him over. The case was closed as a suicide. The street’s CCTV footage clearly showed that the guy jumped in. Lousy way to go but it’s still a romantic tale of sorts. The couple couldn’t stay separated. People blame the house!”

Within the Light and the Dark, amongst the shadows, the couple continue to struggle to reconcile and reclaim the life that they once shared. 

Karthik 

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How long must time flow before once stops calling a table the usual table’, I sat wondering. The table had always been the usual table. The brands had changed, ownerships swapped, contracts renewed, and the location of the usual table had always been a near constant. Right by the window. During the summer, the window would be left, ever so slightly open, to let the warm breeze through. The winters were no different either. Different season, the same old warm breeze to gently kiss our faces and leave behind a moist comforting warmth. 

It had been a while though. Five years to be exact. I was surprised that the coffee house was still open. I was even more surprised to find out that the layout remained the same. Some things are better left unchanged. I placed the order and took the usual table. While I was traversing through the many thoughts of the past, the present , the multiple what ifs, the order was served. I was a stranger in my own ancestral home of sorts. A new face that didn’t not attract the familiar warm welcome smile. The bloke stood around waiting to see if I’d request for any besides my order. I offered a smile to close the transaction. Without any words wasted, the event came to a finesse close. The piping hot cup of hibiscus tea was steaming in front of me. The vapours carried the pleasant smell of fruity flowers and it filled the table with its aroma. Uplifting. Yes, that’s how it felt. I sank comfortably into my chair. The train of thoughts had arrived at the station. 

All aboard, I silently screamed. 

Five years is a respectable period of time where stuffs happen in life. Five years, I’ve gained and lost and gained and lost weight. The face now is littered with wrinkles of worries and the million thoughts pondered. The hair line had fallen back by a bit. I stared into the tan exposed on my ring finger. 

Thud-Thudd.. My heart started racing at the mere thought. I still remember the day when I removed the nice silver ring , threw it as far as I could. I screamed from the bottom of my lungs and attracted quite a lot of stares from the onlookers. I distinctly remember not giving them a moment’s thought. Never did ever after either. 

Thud-thud.. The mind ushered a rushed montage of the fight that led to that action. I was surrounded by the demons of my past. The moment long gone, the memories still fresh and nearly ready to start phasing into a fade, the pain and the misery felt horribly fresh. My heart kept beating faster and faster as I descended deeper into that long isolated, distanced memory. 

Thud..thud, and just like that my mind forced me to visualise the first time we had met. The details of the world around had eroded away in time. Her and everything about her never quite did. Floral. The colour whose name I never did make an effort to learn. For me , reds are still reds. Pink is pink. Yellows and blues. Blacks and whites. Every other color is one or the other color that I knew. Everything else was a transient state on my love drenched eyes. Everything else had forever and always remained illuminated. If only there was a color to denote light, the brightness it casts upon the eyes, my eyes. The weightlessness of the shade, the brightness and luminance of the shade of sun’s honey-glazed rays. Yeah, the moment was as vivid as I had first experienced. 

Thud……………………thud. The warmth slowed the beat and filled me with a certain happy, satisfying melodic lullaby. The kind of song that wasn’t meant to put a child to sleep. But to soothe it, comfort it, assure it that it was a beautiful world and that nothing would ever go wrong. 

Five years, I had lived a life without that rhythm. The music had long faded away, the curtains had fallen, the stage cleared, the audience had returned home. I had endured and survived the isolation of an empty auditorium. I had filled myself with echoes of my making, echoes of my breath, murmurs through my silence and thickness of my isolation. The time had been kind enough to fill my world with people, whose faces I had forgotten as quickly as their names I had stored on my phone. I had lived on a borrowed time of pretend smiles and forced laughs. I longed for a moment of a sincere smile. The moment where I could be myself. The real me, without my gilded guarding walls. 

Time had made a man of me. Strong, stiffer upper lip. Poker faced. Cold at heart, colder at mind. The cynic was the last to die. The romantic had died first. The realist died later. The pessimist faded away. I remained a shadow of a former glorious self. I remained. I wasn’t a prize, but survivors aren’t often one. It was the best that I could muster. A de-stringed instrument, discarded, discorded. An instrument nonetheless. In time the anger had dissipated, regrets ignored and then forgotten. I had learnt to live with the present. I had learnt to live with myself. I had learnt to live past the longing and the eyes had learnt to look past it’s desperate desire. 

Thud..Thud… The heart picked pace at the thought of the time my eyes longed. The truth is that the eyes had never ceased to stop longing. I had pretended to stop. I had pretended a lot. As the moment approached, the Five years were now taking a toll. 

What would she say? Would she say she missed me? Would she lie? Would she pretend? Where would it leave us? Where would I be, where would we be. Would we separate again? The questions were many and the answers were scary. I could give myself a happy fate and sit with the happiest of answers. I could lie to myself. I would be happy for a moment longer. I couldn’t bring myself to it though. I could assume the worst, it wouldn’t be far away from the truth. I could, but I sat frozen in thought. Frozen in fears. Frozen. 

There wasn’t much to do but wait. I reached for the cup of steaming tea. 

My eyes strained as I tried to focus on the one walking towards the table. Tears welled up, blurring my sight. Emotions welled up , blurring my existence. A void swallowed me whole and robbed me of words or sound. A ringing sound deafened my ears in that moment of first sight. Everything felt illuminated , once again. Everything was illuminated. 

“Hey!”

I finally managed to call out. 

A silence ensued. A million paragraphs went unsaid, un-typed, unspoken. A million words lost in blackened obscurity. A few seconds of eternity, engulfed in wistful separation , distanced and held together in hopes of a reunion.

‘Hey!’

The world had sunk into darkness while I was drowning in light. 

Karthik 

Inspired by this wonderful couple that I met on the tube the other day. I reckon one was leaving and the other held on, staring into her lovely dark eyes. I couldn’t help but wonder about the million things that went unsaid between the two. 

Roses and gray

The morning had dawned and the birds had done their chirping. The cool morning breeze had given way to a pleasant warmth that now cruised through the open window. The sun was out and it was burning bright. I wake up grumpy and worn. I wake up grumpy on most days. For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been a morning person. 

Age has a bit to do with the perpetual state of staying jaded. I am pushing 70’s and the body does show the signs. I don’t think I have it in me to transform into a morning person. 

I get off the bed to realise the calm silence in the house. It has been many a years but I can’t bring myself to reconcile with an empty house. A house is a house made of people. People are more important than marbles and bricks that litter the floor. The sound of nothing kept constantly buzzing in my ears. The hissing sound of nothingness. I shook my head in a defeated disappointment and headed to the wash to freshen up. 

The Calendar declared the day as 13th, Sunday. A nice red line circled the date. An anniversary , obviously. I do that. I like to set the time aside to call out important dates in the year. I let a wistful smile as I let the significance of the date sink in. The date took me down the memory lane. Decades of life lived, dreams dreamt and regrets accumulated over time. The thought almost overwhelmed me. 

As I look back, it wasn’t an easy marriage. She always reminded me of my ineptness. Nothing I did was ever good enough. The first months, anger had swallowed me. The first year, I had breached my tolerance and was left with nothing but contempt and spite. I remember the time she fell sick. It was the first of the times when I noticed the hissing sound of nothingness through silence. Her usual chair was empty. I missed her morning taunt. Starting the day without her reminding me of how useless I was, wasn’t something that I was accustomed to. It felt unnatural. That day, I had wrapped up work early and had gone to visit her in the hospital. She had looked weak and frail. Deep within my heart, I wanted her back in her former glorious, spiteful self. It was an evening spent praying in the hospital. A few days later , she had pulled through. A few weeks later, the chair had its owner back. The mornings returned to their normal self. The snide resumed. I saw the satisfied smile return to me. It felt good to be home. 

The incident hadn’t salvaged the relationship. It remained as volatile as it had always been. Through health and sickness, we both endured and survived. The little signs of kindness and care went undisclosed and undiscussed. In time, the spite and the anger had vanished. We were now reduced to players of an act. The deride was a routine. All bark, no bite. All snake and none of the venom. 

Our child into this world made the house better. Laughter bloomed. Happiness doubled. There wasn’t time for the silence to yelp its hissing. Silence had been replaced by wonderful chaos. The chaos kept all of us sane. The years rolled forward. There were days when we’d sit , separated of course, but sit in proximity nonetheless. We had grown tolerant to each other. As I said, it wasn’t an easy marriage. 

Somewhere down the line, she departed. The date is now circled each year. I wish , back then, there was a sign or hint of the event to unfold. I might have done something different. I didn’t. She didn’t. We had carried on with the duties of the day. Indifferent and yet connected in a special way. The news came as a message at work. I had rushed and all the rushing hadn’t made any difference. 

She had loved roses and roses ushered her to the heavens. Her death had left me changed. I missed her. The house missed her. The silence found its way back home. Sunday the 13th was her last day on earth. Every year, I pick roses and leave them with her. I’d like to believe that she’s up there, smiling and passing condescending sarcastic criticism of the roses I’d pick for her. I wouldn’t let things be anything besides that. It was our way. It was what that kept us together. 

The clock struck 10 and I walked out of the house. I stopped by the usual florist. She knew what I was there for. She handed me a special bunch that she had set aside for the cause. The comforts of a routine are a blessing. The sun shone bright. This year, there weren’t any rains. I’m a bit of a sentimentalist about a rain. The gentle shower usually comforts me. In my personal opinion, the rain adds a certain charming vibe to the meeting. It wasn’t that kind of a day today. 

The roses picked, I walked to the cemetery. I walked to the place where she rested. 

‘Hi angel’ I called out

‘You are late’ my wife replied. 

‘That’s the spirit. Your mother would have definitely reminded me of that’, I joked. 

‘Oh shut up’ and she concluded. We both stood beside each other and lost in the many thoughts of her mother. She was a wonderful kind lady. She hated me in her own way. She loved and cared for me in her special way. She was an integral part of our lives. She fortified our lives with her strength. She stood by us during the troubled times. She helped us cruise through the decades. 

The roses rested on the gray. We both stood for a while in silence. 

‘Coffee ?’ she finally asked. 

What can I say, the comforts of a routine are a blessing indeed. 

Karthik 

[Book Review] : 1984

Nineteen Eighty Four is probably one of most definitive book that outlines the realistic and yet very likely possible dystopia that is already here. Birthed right on the shores of the second world war, this masterpiece by George Orwell is a master class in mass psychology.

The book is both grounded in reality and at the same time, is almost prophetic in nature.

The fact that reality can be shaped and scaled to present a realistic future is a chilling reminder to why fact is more chilling than fiction could ever aspire to be.

1984 is a tale of Winston Smith, who works in the Ministry of Truth. Winston’s job is pretty mundane which revolves around making changes ,both subtle and blatant, to all the written records of the past so that they are aligned to the events that transpire in the present. In short, Winston is one of the many who rewrite the past on a daily basis.

The world that Winston is one of the three existing super states that are absolutely totalitarian in nature. Winston is a citizen of Oceania. The other two states are Eurasia and Eastasia. In Oceania, the state’s defacto leader is The Big Brother. BB is the omnipresent, moustached icon that eternally reminds the citizens that they are always under his watchful eyes. Oceania is the perfect example of a single party state that reigns the land with absolute, unchallenged, unrivalled, unopposed POWER. The citizens are usually compliant either through free will or through sheer fear of persecution. Oceania is governed by a few ministries.

The Ministry of truth deals with control of information and propagation of the party propaganda. In short, Ministry of truth deals with lies

The Ministry of peace deals with war. It maintains and sustains the momentum of a perpetual war against the opposing super states.

The Ministry of love deals with crimes, criminal and all things hate.

The Ministry of plenty deals with rationing of resources that are scarce in the land.

And then there is the Thought Police who monitor the land for Thought Crimes. In Oceania, it’s a crime to harbour a thought. The party exerts its absolution by controlling the thought. The Thought Police are properly feared by the citizens.

Winston is a borderline ideal citizen. He is compliant and then deep down, he isn’t. There is something about the BB and the party that doesn’t gel well with him. It’s this burning silent revolution that runs inside him that triggers a series of events that soon alters the course of his life. Winston gets his hand on a book and decides to start maintaining a diary. The very act of thinking about it, writing an entry, that intent to even continue writing one qualifies him as a thought criminal.

Winston tries to keep this part of his life a secret. And then cue in the Damsel. Winston meets Julia and she happens to be a rebel. Rest of the tale is about the silent revolution. One has to go through the book to see the human nature at its best. It is in our nature to reject things that do not appease to our thoughts of reason. Thoughts of reason in this land, FAT Chance!

The party governs the land through 3 fundamental principles

WAR is Peace

Freedom is slavery

Ignorance is Strength.

These tenets of ideology are in strict conflict with the freedom to express thought.

The book plays around with a few crucial themes. The big one, of course, is the very nature of a Totalitarian regime. The question, is a dictatorial rule with intent for greater good worth sacrificing fundamental rights and freedom of the citizens? Is the ‘for the collective good’ a good enough reason to cull individualism? Does any political ambition go hand in hand with social welfare? Are humans evil enough to crush other humans to nothingness? What is the price of individualism and why is it important?

The book leaves you with many thoughts on the value of individuals, the value of collective good, the value of the ruling class and the purpose of a ruled class. The book also defines the nature of power. It possibly predicts the hunger that power has. The nature of power is to yield and exert power. The nature of power is to dominate and decimate without qualms. Power is sustainable , if and only if, wielders of power do not shy away from the pure corruption that power provides.

1984 is a scary book to read. The dystopia is present today. The dystopia that was envisioned in 1949 is a reality today.

We are a world of ignorance and we are the sheep that are herded by the manipulative strings of gas-lighting manipulators. We embrace ignorance not by choice, but because we consume copious and vulgar amounts of fabricated , falsified information and we tend to believe in what we read without exercising our right to disbelieve it. We take and since we take without restraint, we are reduced to refraining from questioning the whys of any information.

The book rightly calls out the plight of this truth. Sanity is not a popularity contest. Are we sane because we cant bring ourselves to believe the insanity that the masses embrace? Or are we sane because we embrace the insanity that everybody does?

1984 is one man’s struggle against reality and is also the bloke’s evolving understanding of what a reality is all about. Go for it. You will enjoy the ride.

And with that, we shall meet where there is no darkness 🙂

Karthik

[Book Review] The blank slate : modern denial of the human nature

The immediate thing that comes to my mind when I think of the word Psychology is the image of Hannibal Lector , portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins. From there on, my mind drifts away to the many serials and movies on crime thrillers whose plots revolve around the super smart sleuth who deduces the criminal based on psychological profiling.

In short, psychology seemed to be the quickest way to identify the worst and the most exciting breed of criminals there is.

Of course, that view is such a juvenile way of viewing the wonderful world of psychology. I’d like to believe that there are many roads that one can take in order to discover and understand oneself. There is spirituality and there is behavioural psychology. Both roads usher us to the same tangible output. The ability to know and understand oneself better.

The Blank slate by Stephen Pinker makes a compelling case for the evolution of behavioural psychology. It dissects the known and accepted views of the world and tries to expand our understanding by explaining the world through the fresh eyes of the science.

There are three fundamental questions that the book tries to answer.

1. Are we born as a clean slate? : In effect, everybody is born the same and the difference is what we do with our life during our lifetime.

2. Are we born with a natural tendency to be good? : In effect, are we noble beings who choose to get corrupted in course of a given lifetime?

3. Is there a purpose to life that involves destiny and souls? : In effect, is being human more than just being a human?

The questions seem to be fundamental enough and interestingly, these are the questions that help shape the human behaviour. If I’m born to be good , I have a destiny that holds an end, if I’m the same as everybody else, one of life’s greatest pursuit would be in search of finding something that sets me apart. If being unique is not my cup of tea, then fulfilling the prophecy that is life becomes a mandate. If there ain’t a prophecy, then as a clean slate, then all I have is the thirst to learn and acquire skills that takes me closer to my dreams.

Contrary to popular beliefs, people are born as artists and of course as murderers too.

This might sound silly at first and it also rubbishes the history of LAW in this world. If people are born with their virtues and vices, how do we hold them responsible to their actions. It automatically becomes a journey of fulfilling their destiny of being an artist or an murderer.

That statement can be viewed through two filters. One, reductionism. Two, Causation which can be proximate and ultimate.

Reductionism is the way of trivialising an understanding. If our nature is in our blood, then we aren’t responsible for our actions.

Causation is the way to justify that cause. I make music because I was born a musician. – Proximate view. I make music because i’m interested in music and I have dedicated years to that cause. – Ultimate Causation.

The reality , or the current understanding of that reality lies somewhere in the middle.

We are born with predisposition to certain behaviours. Science does not know why. Science is seeing the effects though. Most behaviour traits can be traced back to the genetic mark up. This does not explain and guarantee that people born with such traits will always end up exhibiting them. Science, today, says that people born with such traits, have a higher tendency to express that behaviour.

Science is not fully there yet. There is so much that we do not know about the innerverse.

Since this predisposition is shaped by the way the brain is formed and how the emotions are framed and formed, it also defines the understanding that we are all born with the tendency to be good. Evolution points towards survival and self preservation. Intelligence does state that survival and preservation is efficiently achieved by staying good to both the self and the society around.

Behaviour is a curious thing to ponder about. The whole discussion on nature and nurture, it does point to the fact that our surroundings shape up our behaviours. Which is true and truer. We are both with predispositions to be in a certain way. Our surroundings and the nurturing, they both ensure that we either pamper our innate nature or through conditioning, we gain a better control over how we choose to behave. The simplest example is that when in India, we choose to treat the roads as the defacto trash bin. When on international waters, we cultivate a civic sense. We revert states , once we return. This is a good example of nature and nurture at play. While there is an equal opportunity to improve our civic sense, free will takes shape.

The ability to follow a herd and acquire the behaviour that is mandated by the society is equally real to the behaviours of individuals shaping up the behaviour of the society. The ability of individuals to shape up the behaviour of the society has manifested numerous times in the past. It’s easy to cite Hitler but it’s more effective to cite yourself.

In your social circle, there are influencers and there are followers. Each circle exhibits these characteristics. There are people that we gravitate towards. These people are a said to be natural leaders. In such groups, the collective behaviour is often determined by few of its prominent members.

Scale it up and you start seeing that the society behaves in the way its influencers want to behave. When I was with a bunch of musicians, all discussions were around music. Then when I walked a mile with the altruism enthusiasts, it was altruism. I walked a mile with wannabe authors and the pulse was around words. individuals have the capacity to shape up the culture and behaviours of the society around them.

Donald Trump and America. Enough said.

The insight into psychology explains the way the world has shaped up. Collective behaviour is manipulated by Politics. Politics influences policies. Policies structure our daily civilian lives. Civilian lives continue remain in order because of the law. Law is in place to safeguard humans against their ability to be their worst. The cascading effects of behaviour of both individuals and societies impacts the world.

The book leaves you with so many questions about the world around and it offers a lot of things around why we choose to be the way that we are. A better awareness of how psychology works comes handy in identifying how psychology is used to manipulate the world around. It is the fastest way to open a can of worms.

I don’t think I have done much justice to the book. I take accountability over the fact that I’m a novice in this field of science. The book did play its part. I’m more curious than ever. Hopefully, I’ll expand my reading in the time to come.

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

[Book Review]: The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian , Han Kang.

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

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

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

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

Lets focus on the themes instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

Coming up next : Shantaram.

[Book Review]: 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

Born to raise hell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

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