[Book Review]: Fatherland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Couldn’t resist that snide retort!

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

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

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

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

Karthik

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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

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

Book review : The girl with all the gifts

The girl with all the gifts by M.R. Carey is a fun and a breezy take on dystopia and the survival genre. When I picked a copy of the book, I had a quick flashback of skipping on the trailer of a movie based on the book. My curiosity led me to confirm the large screen translation of the book. I might sit down to watch the movie and condescendingly nod my head in contempt and disapproval some day.

The heart of the tale is the little girl who steals the title of the book. The girl with all the gifts and her world knows her by the name of Melanie. Mel is a smart, intelligent little girl whose curiosity , of her world, knows no bounds. Like any other normal kid, she hates most of her teachers. And then there is Miss Justineau. To Melanie’s eyes, Miss Justineau would be the good witch Glinda when compared to the other teachers who hailed from the east and the west. To Mel, Justineau is loving, kind, gentle, magical and the everything that embodies the good, the fantastic and the warm. Mel loves Justineau and in all fairness, the love and care is reciprocated.

Mel’s life is a routine of sorts. She has her classes. Each day of the week, there is a different teacher. And then there is Miss Justineau day. A day when the sober class comes full of life. Mel and the other kids are usually escorted both in and out of the class from their single room cell. Their school is sober grey. It smells of chemicals.

The adults in the school usually keep a healthy distance from the kids. Throw in a bit of the military guards into the mix. We soon start to realize that Mel’s school is not an ordinary run of the mill kind of a school. Then again, Mel is not an ordinary child. The kids are special in their own right. The adults are scared and wary around them. The kids are handled with utmost care. They are strapped down to their chairs whenever they are escorted out of their cells. The kids are strapped down to the chair when they are in their class. The kids aren’t free to move a muscle when they are in their school. The kids are sprayed with chemicals once a week. They feed once a week.

It doesn’t take long to realize that we aren’t looking at a normal world here. The world has indeed changed. Humanity has changed. The kids hold a secret that ,when unlocked, might prove to be humanity’s redemption.

The fantastic thing about the book is the innocence that Melanie brings to the table. To her young curious eyes, the world is a play ground. Her simple classification of good and bad, nice and not nice is refreshing to the readers. Her love for Miss Justineau is warm. Miss Justineau’s endeavour to protect Melanie is both motherly and does come out beautiful. The innocence serves as a the perfect foil to the intelligence and the impurity of the world around.

The dynamics shared between the characters grows on the readers. Helen Justineau detest the Military bloke Sargent Parks. Her view of the gun slinger is that he’s lost touch with his humanity. Dr Cladwell runs the school. She hates Helen for her zealous compassion towards the kids. Dr Cladwell sees the kids for what they are. They are anomalies who deserve to be dissected and viewed through a microscope. Needless to say, Helen hates the sinister doctor. Melanie loves her favourite teacher and doesn’t bother enough to care for the rest of the world.

The book , in its own way, questions humanity. What does the term mean? Is being human the only criteria for humanity? Are humans humane? In the face of an apocalypse, we humans as a species try to do the best that we can in order to restore normalcy and balance upon our world. In the face of crisis, we suspend humanity for the greater good. While the book is not hard hitting and in your face with opinions expressed, it does embrace subtlety by helping us view the world around through Melanie’s pure , innocent eyes.

The tone of the book remains causal and it does not force opinions or hard thoughts into our minds. You will like Melanie. You will root for her. You will want her to survive and you will tag her along in your journey of the book. This book was a welcome change from my ‘serious’ reading spree. I quite enjoyed the lightness.

It’s not the best tale there is. Melanie is the not sweetest cotton candy ever written, but the tale offers plenty of warmth, smiles and thrills. Skip the movie and give the book a shot. Or just watch the movie instead. I’m positive that the movie probably wouldn’t disappoint.

Oh yeah, almost managed to stay away from the big white elephant in the book. If you’ve reached here, you have earned the right to know about it. Melanie’s world, it’s over run by Zombies 🙂

Karthik

Mirrors and Exaggeration

This almost feels like a patch of anxious nervousness after a brief stint of sabbatical from everything that surrounds life. It’s been a while since I’ve been myself. Plagued and haunted by woes of the mind and the body, it feels nice and at the same time , a bit daunting, to write again. I’ve been someone else for a while and my eyes strain when I try to view myself amidst the blaring glare that engulfs the background.

For what it’s worth, it’s been a voluntary exile. I had things to do and in the process I got to sacrifice the things that I enjoyed doing. Push to shove, it’s back to the proverbial square.

Speaking of mirrors and exaggeration, I’d like to believe that I could manage to pick a few lessons during my hiatus. Mirrors have a tendency to reflect and the mind has a tendency to exaggerate what that it perceives. And so we Segway to a train of thoughts. To set a little context, ever heard of this series called Black Mirror? It’s a series that reflects an exaggerated view of the kind of life that we lead in the modern social age. The series focus on how our lives gravitate towards social media. The series talks about how technology has been having a say on the quality of life that we are leading.

The blatant snide of the irony to the moment couldn’t be ignored. One of the episode from Black mirror talks about a technology that offers a chip to get embedded in the body. This device records all moments to life, it stores and catalogues all the memories that are made into classified moments. Imagine the moments feature that IOS offers, only here it is real time on the things that we see. The story revolves around the protagonist, if I could call him that, and his wife. The couple make it to a party and eventually all hell breaks loose from there on. The protagonist reviews the moments of the day and starts to pick on visual cues which lead him to suspect his wife.

The suspicion runs its course and rest of the episode is about the ability to call out specific moments from life and use them all to fuel the fight that is currently, in present, being waged.

I’ve been there myself a few times. Of course, by virtue of being the perpetrator, I’ve not often found myself digging through the past for specifics. There have been times when I’ve racked my mind in order to pull out phrases and context that resembled the actual words being said, that reflected the actual moment that was once experienced.

The past is easier in comparison to let go when we don’t have immediate access to all its glory. The human memory fades in time, it alters and fragments into a perspective memory rather than staying retained as the actual true north. In fact, there is no true north when it comes to any memory. Thanks to the simple fact that we lead a biased life, we apply our personal bias to everything , and that the process of applying this bias is both voluntary and involuntary , there is no memory which is a 100% free from any bias whatsoever.

There have been days when I’ve tried to access every available fragment of the moments once lived. With relative ease, I’ve always managed to assemble the moment back to what I thought the past was about. I could replay the conversations, observe the tempers and emotions at play, try to decipher the million things left unsaid. The exercise has always left me miserable. In real time, we usually live through a moment only once. Through our memories, we live through moments a million times over and over again. All the ‘action replay’ and ‘rewinds’ later, I’ve never managed to alter the outcome of the events already lived.

In Black mirror, the technology existed to replay everything. Memory on demand. Memory as a service. That’s just one episode. It mirrored the nature of being a human. We , rather I, have a tendency to look back and relive and re-experience. While I continue to grow and evolve each day, the mind’s affinity to subscribe to ‘ On demand misery’ has not drastically changed. Humans do that. Humanity does that a lot. We cling on to the past. We hold on to a few memories. As time goes on, our memory alters and changes. With ample time, we forget and things fade out.

While the episode exaggerates the nature of being human, it also mirrors what that we hide away from. We do live in the age where we try to compensate for real loses in the virtual world. We seek emotional gratification from texts and digital cues. We continue to alienate ourselves from expressing ourselves. The future is already here and the mirror reflects black. Maybe we aren’t fully there yet. We are getting there though.

On that note, Black mirror is a fun series to watch. It does pose a few interesting questions on technology and our additional to it. Do give it a shot.

Karthik

[Book Review] : Tibetan book of the dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

An ode to challenges

“Oh come on. You look miserable. Give it up and put an end to the misery” the friendly advice came from a stranger. He got me smiling and thinking!

A six letter word for a Red fruit. I’ve been killing time playing word search and I pop that screen from time to time to vent out the pressures and stress of the day. Most of it was a breeze to cruise through and then I hit a blocker. I refused to seek a ‘Hint’ to solve the puzzle. I sat on the word, or rather the lack of the word for a few days. I was in the elevator when a stranger peeked into the screen and glanced at my misery ridden face. He taunted my choice to stay that way. Giving up made more sense to him. I couldn’t give up. I wouldn’t , not yet.

Speaking of mobile games and life, the games seldom matter. Life , on the other hand, matters plenty. Similar to the silly trivial game of word trivia, life poses many challenges. Some , we coast through without a hitch. Some we struggle but manage to find a solution and power on. Some, they test us. We feel stuck without a solution at hand. We refuse, out of principles and convoluted reasoning, to seek help. We embrace that inertia of inactivity and learn to live with misery at first and soon evolve to dwell in that. Misery becomes a part of life. At all times, there are choices waiting to be made. We refuse the choices. Giving up is one such choice. Asking for help is another. Cheating our way through resolution is another. Quitting is another. The choices are abundant and our reluctance to make them is quite apparent.

What is life without the many challenges. The pretenders usually cite that challenges maketh the bloke. That’s fancy talk for they haven’t been through a challenge that had rendered them useless. Challenge is a way of life, cite the wise. That’s fancy for the inevitability of failure and crushing difficulties that one has to face. Never give up, the champions sing. It sounds miserably optimistic when we are at our pessimistic best. The commonality is that all of us have our challenges in front of us. What we do with them, goes on to determine the life that we stand to live.

In the context of a game, the challenge is a bitter sweet wait. It brushes the ego, it taunts our ignorance. It pushes us to excel and overcome. The gamification offers the right motive to overcome it. There is the bragging right to overcoming the hurdle. The pointless, meaningless likes of a million strangers keeps us going and going strong.

In the context of life, there are no awards, there are no badges, there are no ‘TA DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA’ moments to the many victories and many failures that we experience. Lead a lucky enough life, one would have a few friends to share those moments. Lead a deluded life, one would have a thousand strangers to comment on the events published in the social stream. The subtle magnificence of life is that the only big motivation that we have to solving any challenge is the satisfaction of overcoming it. The biggest fear that we fester is the fear of failure of overcoming it. Rest are ego satisfiers at best.

The mind wanders towards perceived repercussions. We assume the worst and hence fear the worst. The reality isn’t either rosy red or blackish black as we want it to be. It rests somewhere in between. While gamification helps us realise the significance of the game and it’s place in our life to assess the worth of success and the failure, real life doesn’t offer that yard stick. We either fail, or we succeed and we go with the ‘Flow of things’. We seldom do sit back and pause to ponder about the meaning of our successes and failures and what they really mean to our lives.

A classic wonderful example is the success at work. A fantastic delivery. While it holds its value in gold in the context of the business, what do we stand to gain from it in the context of life? A failure at work is a failure for us as a professional. Does it translate to a failure as a human? Why aren’t we comfortable in separating the lines that blur our lives? Wisdom is the ability to call out the significance of such victories and failures. Wisdom is the ability to translate them into what it means for us, as people and as professionals.

On that note, the word was Pitaya! of course , I cheated 🙂 I learnt a bit about resilience in the process. I don’t give up because I hate to give up.

Karthik

Dual of Fates

The title is a play on the best ever sound track there ever is, ‘Duel of Fates’ from Star wars.

When it comes to spirituality, I’m not a well-read bloke. I’m starting to see the wisdom behind written words these days. Fresh out of an autobiography of a yogi to The Tibetan book of the dead. The latter, it’s helping me broaden my mind.

From what I’ve read and things that I’ve picked across conversations is the unshakeable duality that is the world around us. There is a yes and there is a no. There is existence and there is the opposite of that. I don’t know the word that represents the exact opposite of an existence. Then come the natural stereotypes of black and white, night and day, and so on and so forth. The arguments are around there is no dark, just an absence of light. There isn’t a night but only absence of a view of the sun. The hypothesis and the arguments are both right.

One of the conversations that I had in the recent past was around singularity. How and why would one drift away from that singularity. I could fathom a guess and one day I’d grow wise enough to know if that still remains valid. And so we started as a singularity. A singularity that could manifest anything. It manifested thoughts. Along the manifestation of thoughts, it manifested the causal plane where things manifest.

As thoughts manifested, based on a very human logic, thoughts also had an opportunity to confront and conflict with one another. There was a yes. And then there came a No. Hence the first fracture from the singularity. In the causal plane, thoughts manifest and I’d like to guess that the thoughts that the thoughts could think, would also manifest. More thoughts, more differences and with differences, there came by the need to reconcile, aka Heal. In time we had souls, soul families, soul clusters, soul mates and twin flames! Ever since, our souls have been in pursuit of reconciliation and uniting with souls that we fractured from. We inch towards that eventual and inevitable reunion.

The ultimate purpose of a spiritual aspirant is to unite with the singularity. The cycle of births, and through that the mind of a million thoughts, usually keep us distanced away from that union. For a physical body, it is the mind that is the eventual master of choices. Some argue that we are as how god intended. I, personally, wouldn’t know the difference. It’s easier for me accept and take accountability for my actions, my karma rather than delegating that to god and living an illusion.

And so we birth, lead a life, die, take stock of karma and rebirth, eventually break that cycle, and cruise through another round of illusions in the astral and the causal plane. Finally find the road that takes us to the singularity. For arguments sake, what if one wanted to remain wicked and evil? This would result in accumulation of bad karma and stay strong at it for the longest while, eventually that soul would be the exact opposite of the singularity. The antithesis, the antagonist. The yang to the ying. This validates the duality. There was Yes and then there came a No.

It is the mind that manifests thoughts and thoughts inspire actions. The mind fuels us towards the course of our lives. This is the mind that also has the ears to listen to the words of our soul. Our soul talks to us for which we do not need physical ears to listen to. Our mind facilitates our spiritual awakening. Our mind helps us progress that road.

Speaking of the mind, spiritually, all practices help us tune our mind to steer away from the illusion of the many lives we’ve lived. Meditation, prayers are all moments in time when one aspires to liberate the mind. The mind speaks to us in two ways. When we sleep and dream, the physical body, the conscious of the self, loses its grip over the mind. The mind speaks liberated.

Through meditation, one trains to separate the way of the mind from the way of the physical body’s influence of the mind. Dreaming and Meditation are almost the same. When we dream, we aren’t aware that we aren’t awake. When we meditate, we know and train ourselves to let go.

All of it comes down to the mind. This reality, all that is an illusion, they all exist because our minds make it real. When one spiritually awakens, it’s not the world that has changed and altered itself. It’s only us, who are now learning to decipher the world around in a brand new way. Through the sight of an awakened mind.

Duality exists because our mind makes it real.

The Tibetan book of the dead presents another approach to spirituality. Instead of going through cycles of birth, rebirth and purification and eventually uniting with the singularity, What if the truth was that our mind is the same and is united with the singularity right now. Today. As we speak?

We don’t yet see it or experience it because our mind is distracted from the distortion of choices across lives. The ultimate truth is we are still the same as that singularity. Rest is an illusion that keeps us distanced away from that truth. We spiritually awaken the mind and it continues its quest to simplify itself to be the same as the singularity. This is very different from ‘Finding’ the spiritual path. This is more around ‘Experiencing’ it. Why search for something that we already have handy.

The challenge is an exciting one. The mind is the same as the singularity that we so fondly long for. The mind is the only thing that keeps us away from it. It is the mind that we must use to remove the veil of illusion and realize that we are already where we want to be. This takes me back to the movie Matrix. Know yourself. The one is only ready when he realizes it. It’s probably the same case for us as well. Talk about fate. All real and non-existent.

The mind approach does appeal to me plenty. One, it does not strip us away from the responsibility and accountability of our ability to awaken from this stasis. Two, it drives the point about ‘Anubhava’ or ‘Experience’ really strong. When it’s all in the mind, there is nothing tangible to see, feel, touch or smell. We are left with the ability to feel its existence. I believe in that very much. It’s the same that the masters speak of, from what I’ve read from the autobiography of a yogi.

The bigger take away. I’ve believed in this for a while and my character expresses it from time to time. The virtues and the vices of this life, or any life, doesn’t really matter for we judge ourselves through the acquired intelligence of our mind. There isn’t a right or a wrong and once we awaken ourselves to that truth that we are not held hostage by actions of the past, we can focus our energies into making things right. The awakening of the mind hints at this. The book offers a framework to that spiritual life. It isn’t vulgarly complicated. Don’t do wrong by yourself or others. Don’t shy away from working. Don’t speak ill of yourself and others. It’s not a perfect verbatim match, but the gist is be kind to the world and be kind to yourself. See the illusion that surrounds your mind. Let your mind awaken and stay aware. It’s simple enough. I’m yet to read through the book. I am quite excited and looking forward to it. I’m able to connect the words called here and the experiences that I’ve read in the other book. Together, they all convey the same story. Just different words.

Do not let the failures and challenges of the past deter your from the spiritual progress that awaits ahead. Accept them, forgive yourself for falling, forgive others for pushing you towards that fall. Make your peace with it all and free yourself to experience the world beyond. I think that is the key. That is the big leap away from the inertia of births and rebirths.

The Tibetan framework starts with invocation of the mind to become aware. It then progresses to help us reach out to the awakened masters for guidance and help. We then proceed to cleanse ourselves, by first forgiving our self and then forgiving the world around. This is similar to the forgiveness prayer that I’ve come across. Then one progresses to cleanse the aura around the chakras. That’s where I have paused the book. Interestingly, it also offers a color code explanation of our energy centres (chakras). I noticed Red, Yellow, White and Green. White is east, Red is west. Yellow was south and Green north. I have no idea what they or any of it means. Might live to learn someday.

So far, the illusions have been kind 🙂

Karthik