[Book Review] : The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage , by Rachel Joyce 

There comes a point in time when one has to do what one has to do. That’s precisely what this tale is all about. Harold Fry is an old bloke who continues to lead a mundane life. One day, he gets a mail that upsets the status quo of his blank , bland existence. Reading the letter, he learns that his long forgotten colleague/ friend, Queenie, is suffering from Cancer. He writes a half baked response and decides to walk to the post box to post it. It just so happens that when he reaches the post box, he feels that he should walk a little more, a little further before posting it. 

And just like that, he decides that he would walk all the way to meet her in her hospital. Feeling pumped up by that spontaneous decision, he calls the hospital and informs the nurse to tell Queenie that he’s on his way to see her and that he’s walking it all the way there. He asks the nurse to inform Queenie to hold on till he makes it. 

With that , a wonderful journey begins. Harold believes that he can walk the many miles (600 odd, to be precise) and also that Queenie would continue to survive her battle against her terminal illness. Caught unawares because of the spur of the moment decision, Harold is not equipped, both physically and equipment wise to endure the long trek. He doesn’t let that bother him. He constantly keeps reminding himself that all he needs to do is walk. One step at a time. 

As Harold conquers each mile, we are introduced to the details of his life. Harold’s marriage to his wife, Maureen, is strained at best and is left hanging by a thread. The crux of the tension is around the fact that their only child had alienated himself from the parents. Maureen holds Harold responsible for that separation. 

As Harold struggles to fill his heart with hope that would help him fuel his walk, Maureen is annoyed by the decision. The couple drift further apart because of the walk. The few exchanges between them are strained and colder than usual. Harold steers forward. Maureen struggles to cope up. 

Along the way Harold meets many folks who are as different as different could be. He manages to see something unique about them. He is greeted by both encouragement for his courage to embark on such a journey and there are folks who express their concern around the pointlessness of the exercise. Doubts start to plague Harold. 

The rest of the tale is a warm telling of the journey ahead. Does Harold make it all the way? Does Queenie live long enough to keep her end of the bargain? Will David ever reconcile with his folks and join them again? Will the couple’s marriage survive this tug of separation? 

The unlikely pilgrimage is a refreshing read about the human spirit. We are emotional beings and not all of us are bound by the laws of reasoning and physics. We do things because we want to. We do things because we associate actions to faith. We believe in things because we have nothing else to bank on. We hope that our faith gets rewarded. We are plagued by doubts and there are days when we give up. There are those days when we conquer our doubts and march ahead. These traits make us human and it is fantastic and wonderful to remain human. 

The further Harold walks, the clearer his thoughts become and unlike ever before, he finally manages to reminisce upon the course that his life had taken. He’s a man left with regrets and has a nice line of sight of things that were. I’ve seen this phenomenon in real life. We do what it takes to cope up with events springing in our lives. What we do to cope is different but the mechanism is a standard template of sorts. Do things to distract the self. Keep at it and have a moment of pristine catharsis. The book captures this moment beautifully. 

Two thumbs and a definite read. 

Karthik 

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[Book Review]: Siddhartha

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse is a fictional take of the journey of a life. Written in the 1920’s, The tale has stood the test of time and does come out shining bright as it always probably has. 

I’d brave to call this book a spiritual fiction. It beautifully marries a fictional journey of life and core principles of spirituality. The audience is neither expected nor forced to accept the path laid out in the book. It only recounts the path taken by the protagonist. Where it works is the fact that the protagonist wanders through life. He makes his own decisions, lives to deliver the consequences of his actions, learns from it, unlearns from it, and eventually manages to elevate himself through the vicious cycles of life.

Born into a family of educated , Siddhartha masters the scriptures and soon awakens to the fact that he has learnt all that he could from the books and that there isn’t much to grasp from it. He makes up his mind to leave the comforts of his house and spend the time with Samanas, who live a saintly life in the forest. Siddhartha is accompanied by his dearest friend, Govinda. 

The ascetic live teaches Siddhartha a better perspective into life. Once again, he is faced with the challenge of stagnation. He walks away from the Samanas’ way of life. The duo chance to meet Buddha. Deeply moved by Buddha’s teaching, Govinda embraces the Buddhist way of life. Siddhartha and Govinda part ways. There is an itch, deep rooted in Siddhartha’s mind that keeps him detached from embracing Buddhism. The protagonist argues that the path of the one is through discovery of self and that there is no teacher who can unlock that mystery on behalf of the pursuer of that truth. With this in mind, Siddhartha, once again, leaves the comforts of a routine. 

Life does take a turn from here on. Siddhartha meets Kamala and in order to spend more time with her, he gets into the business of making money. Caught into the cycle of wealth, wine and wonderful woman, Siddhartha evolves into a very successful business man. His midas touch is spoken about through the land. 

Rest of the tale is about Siddhartha’s quest to discover the self. Does he eventually find peace? The book has the answer to it all. 

I loved the book and mostly because I do tend to view a lot of the traits of the protagonist in myself. I like to learn through actions and experiences. I don’t enjoy the comforts of an instructor led liberation. I’d rather fail on my own accord than succeed by nodding my head and walking without understanding the way of the world in a manner that makes sense to me. 

The book presents the best example of life that can ever be expressed. In life, one thing always leads to another. There is always a path to choose. What we do with that road, often determines the kind of person that we go on to be. There aren’t good or evil folks. There are just folks. Who either carry their actions or don’t. Both , action and inaction, lead to consequences and we enter a cycle of cause and effect , action and consequence. Some of us find ourselves trapped. Some , not so much. 

Then come the multitude of spiritual philosophes throughout the book. I shall not bore you with them. The simplest philosophy that is worth writing about is probably this. 

Believe in yourself. Heed to the inner voice that guides you. Fear is a by product of comfort. When you shed your skin and walk away from your comforts, the first to embrace you would be your fears. When you let that fear go, rest of the world’s million wisdom come running to you. 

Siddhartha’s journey of life is a one with many highs and many lows. It is easy and human to let ourselves get distracted. Getting distracted is not a sin. Getting distracted is pretty much alright too. If that brings you happiness. If that brings you the kind of happiness that sustains. Siddhartha had to go through a series of character defining sins in order to break away from the traps of life and elevate himself. It assures and confirms my faith in the fact that one has to do em all, saturate from it in order to reject the illusion. The book , to me, is a wonderful reminder that salvation is not for the elite. Salvation is only one thought, action, intent away. Rest are barriers made by the mind. 

In fact the crux of the book is that even barriers made by the mind aren’t real. Matrix called it right. ‘THERE IS NO SPOON. THERE NEVER WAS’

Are you a spiritual enthusiast, or a literature buff? Either parties would love the simplicity of this book and the warmth in the tale conveyed. Give it a read, There aint much that one stands to lose by reading this ! 

Karthik 

[Book Review]: The bridge of clay

The Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak. 

” What’s the point to life if there is no love in it? Importantly, Can you imagine the magnitude of life that rests beyond love? ” – Katz 

The bridge of clay is a slow burner. It’s a tale written with the sole intent of consuming your mind. As we dwell deeper into the tale, we also dwell deeper into the many billion emotions that we didn’t even know that one could express. While Markus’ previous book, The book thief was all about life, the bridge of clay is just about life. I don’t think I have the words at my disposal to articulate what that statement means. Just Life. The phrase could stand to mean different things to different people. To me, its a glance at how much life , in itself , can at times overwhelm. Life has those many moments of celebrated brilliance. It has its fair share of days when it doesn’t pay to get off bed. There are days when everything falls apart and it’s a given bonus to not sit in corner and cry. There are days when life makes us feel invincible and we feel that the moment of bliss would last forever. 

Bridge of Clay is exactly all of that. It talks about the lives of the Dunbar boys. The five brothers are the heart of this story. Each, uniquely different from each other. Each is very much in love with one another and the boys form a close knitted bond that keeps them together as one. Dunbar boys is not just their identity. It’s their collective life, it’s their struggles in unison. 

The brothers are Matthew, Rory, Henry, Clay, Tommy. The brothers live all by themselves in their house. As a reader, you wouldn’t wander too long wondering why they live by themselves. Theirs is a house that’s seen a whole lot of life. The pets, a golden fish, a mule, a cat , a dog and a pigeon, keep the story fresh. Novacs are the neighbours of the Dunbars. Clay , in his own way, falls in love with Cary Novac. The two share a very unique love story. Clay aspires to be a runner and Carey has her eyes set on being a successful Jockey. The kind of jockey who rides horses rather than bore audience over a microphone. 

The narrative is by Matthew and he carefully exposes the right bits of information in the right enough amounts. The bridge of clay is in fact Clay’s story and is told by his brother Matthew. 

Most of the book is about what happens to the Dunbar boy’s parents and how the love blossoms between Clay and Carey. Every word in the book is about the brotherly love and the bond the Dunbar boys share. The story comes alive with their rowdy behaviour. They are funny, the boys fight like boys do. The boys are as dirty and unkempt like free spirited pigs are. The boys are a product of their environment and their wonderful upbringing. As the tale unfolds, we see the peace and warmth of love and how such a love transcends the boundaries of time, age, and generation. Each generation experiences this warmth and peace. Each generation feels the power of liberation and dreams that love offers. Each generation endures and survives such a love. Each generation, has folks whose life span exceeds that love and how their lives take a turn beyond that love. 

The way the tale has been said is simply fantastic. There are a few hard hitting themes explored in the book. The best and the biggest is about the nature of love. I bet there are billion other books that explain why love is a fantastic thing and how it makes us feel a billion things while we are drunk by its presence. What stands out in this tale is the way cope up with the aftermath of love. 

The other theme that’s expressed is around how we form bonds to survive in this world. The ties we forge in order to cope up a great eternal sadness. The book explores the raw need to have others in our life to nurture the strength to endure. The book talks at great lengths about the nature of relationships. It also speaks of guilt , at varying degrees. The guilt of being alive. The guilt over enduring life. The guilt over letting ourselves smile, from once a while. 

This is not a pessimistic, depressing book. It just walks through the saddest times and expresses the way the Dunbar boys find the strength and courage to cope up and move on. 

I think the strength of the book is around the way it explains how life finds a way despite the death that surrounds it. 

The bridge of Clay will never equal the brilliance that The book thief was, but it doesn’t have to. The bridge stands on its own foot, on its own merit of being a beautiful tale that’s told beautifully. 

I liked it. In fact , through the journey I started growing fond of the tale and felt the sadness of the tale coming to a close. The bridge of clay is indeed a book that fights for Life. 

Karthik 

[Book Review] : The tattooist of Auschwitz

The tattooist, by Heather Morris, is a memoir of Lale Eisenberg during the time he spent in the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The tale of the life of Lale Eisenberg is a bone chilling one. Set in the back drop of the rising Nazism in the world, his is a story that grows along with the rapid growth of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Lale is a Jew and as with most Jews of the period, both Lale and the book’s journey starts in an over cramped train bogie that transports folks from their lives in the cities to directly hell that awaits them. It is here , where we get the first look on Lale’s perspective towards life. Amidst the uncertainty, he’s a wonderful beacon of hope and optimism. Lale’s enthusiasm for hope keeps him going. His optimism keeps the folks around him going too. It is this hope that carries the grim tale over its shoulders. It’s the type of hope that gets stamped upon, squashed, beaten, bruised and still manages to endure, survive and eventually reward. 

Life in the camp is a billion miles away from anything humanitarianly sane and sensible. As Lale meets the challenges, the readers are exposed to a reality that shocks. With a little touch of lady luck, and the unrelenting charm of Lale’s determination to survive, he finds himself appointed as the tattooist of the camp. Lale’s job is to tattoo numbers on the forearms of all those poor souls that walk through the doors of the camp. Lale’s attitude triumphs and he’s soon fondly known and addressed as the Tattooweirer (Tattooist). 

Lale’s work brings him to meet Gita. It’s love at first tattoo. The bond that Lale and Gita share is possibly the one of the very few innocent and endearing acts of humanity in the camp. The fact that the two harbour love in their hearts, brave to hope a life beyond the walls of the camp, dream of a full life someday is the most supreme acts of subtle rebellion against their circumstance. This love blossoms in a place where hate and apathy blooms. The rest of the tale is about the time Lale and Gita spend in the camp, their eventual escape into the real world, their unrelenting love for each other and the love that finally brings them together and takes them to their promised land of happily ever after. The drama is gripping and the tale engages the readers , one page at a time. As the characters explore the camp, they and us, the readers, are exposed to the horrors that the camp is quite capable of. 

Lale and Gita’s tale is all about humanity at its finest best. In the face of horror, the human spirit has the capacity to refuse defeat and refrain from succumbing into the depths of existential depression. Love keeps the two characters from giving up on their life and their dreams. The tale is not about just Lale and Gita. The horror of the realities of the camp spans across millions of others who endure similar harsh challenges. The secondary characters add charm and warmth to the tale. There are acts of selflessness that touch you and remind you of how wonderful it is to remain human. There is greed and the darks of the human nature. Even in the deepest pit of hell, the vibrancy of human characters shines bright , shines dark and shines across the broad spectrum of what humans are capable of. 

The tale also speaks of the dynamics between the prisoners of the camp and the Germans who guard them. During the peak of the Nazi regime, not everybody was pure evil. We get to see the shades of grey where evil manifested in varying degrees. Lale meets guards who are committed to the ideologies, mind body and soul. He meets blokes who go with the flow of things and do what others do. While I couldn’t get a glimpse of any conflict that ran rampant in the minds of the Germans, we do get to read a human side in even them. A side that is bound by the realities of the era but at the same time, a touch of compassion, humanity, if you may , that exists in just sufficient quantities that qualifies evil men as still humans and not just demons. 

We are introduced to the Magic doctor Mengele. His sheer presence in the text runs chill down the spine. The portrayal feels real enough. The character does haunt, even after the passage of many a decades since then. He is the very embodiment of a body that is void of any soul. There probably isn’t a single cell, a fragment of a fabric of humanity in the Doctor. Sinister evil exudes from him. 

What I enjoyed the most about the book is the way the characters grow in time. Imprisoned in camp, Lale’s compassion for life is a beautiful example of what one can aspire for in life. The toll the place takes on his character is a heart wrenching one. As bonds are forged and readers get accustomed to a life, albeit a miserable life, in the camp, we are reminded of the short shelf life in the camp. People come and people go. The camp is a constant reminder of how close death loiters in the forsaken place. 

All said and done, the version of the book that I carried had pictures of Lale and Gita and other folks. Looking at them, smiling, celebrating life together, it felt wonderful to just read their tale and know a bit of the things that this couple has endured. Theirs is the kind of love that I believe keeps the world going. In an age where broken marriages and hearts are a common sight, Lale and Gita’s wonderful bond is a shining example of what the word stands to represent. 

I don’t think the tattooist is a very serious, very grim view of the life in the camp. It’s a retelling of a life endured and it’s narrated in a way that stirs the heart and makes us feel warm and cosy. I believe there are grimmer tales out there and frankly, I don’t have the appetite to expose myself to the struggles and eventual triumph of the human spirit. 

Tattooist is a much lighter toned book and that’s perfectly alright. Give it a shot. You’d probably wont feel disappointed. 

Karthik 

[Book Review] A cat, a man and two women

Cat , a man and two women by Jun’ Ichiro Tanizaki.

Cat , a man and two women is a tale that stays obsessively true to the title. As the name suggests, this is a story about a cat, called Lilly; A man , ‘Shozo’, and two women, ‘Shinako, and ‘Fukuko’. 

There is something about Jun ‘Ichiro that reminds me a lot of Haruki Murakami. Unlike most works of Murakami, this one is not generously littered with demented perversion. The story maintains a clean rating of G. This was my first venture in to the words of Jun and I wouldn’t be surprised if his works have had a lasting impression on Murakami. 

Besides the obvious lack of perversion, what connects this tale to the rest of the works of Murakami is the sheer indifference shown by the author towards how the tale concludes. There isn’t an explicit ending to the tale. The readers are left free to make whatever they want to make off the tale. This trait is something that I’ve always loved, admired and aspired to emulate from Murakami. I was pleasantly surprised when Jun ‘Ichiro had adopted the same style of narrating a gripping story. Both authors really couldn’t spare a damn when it came to spoon feeding the audience with a stereotyped structured way of story telling. 

The other thing that stood out was the brilliance of the simplicity of the tale. The book made the aspiring , budding author in me feel ashamed. What Jun ‘Ichiro manages in under 130 pages is nothing short of pure magic. It took the author so few pages to weave a tale around the entities in the title, build an arc around their character traits, enrich it with secondary characters, throw in some life around all the characters by giving us a glimpse of their respective backgrounds. Top that with different vested motives of all of them. WOW. The book is busy , considering it’s a short one. At the same time , the words don’t feel heavy and the mind does not feel taxed with information hitting us in bursts. The author establishes the tale at a very comfortable pace. 

The story opens with Shinako writing a letter to Fukuko, asking her to give her a cat. Shinako was married to Shozo and things didn’t pan out. She found herself kicked out of the house. Shozo goes on to marry Fukuko. Shinako is left with absolutely nothing. She pleads for the custody of the cat, Lilly. She reasons out that her empty life, filled with void, could be a little easier if the cat was with her.

Fukuko manages to get rid of the cat. While that statement is simple, it also encapsulates the power dynamics within the family. Shozo loves the cat like his own child. He pampers Lilly and spends all of his time with her. He even makes Fukuko slog in the kitchen to feed the cat like it’s Christmas every day. Fukuko weighs the options and decides that she deserves a better place in Shozo’s life than his cat. For Fukuko, it’s a win. Shozo is left heart broken. 

Then there is the ulterior motive behind Shinako’s ask. She hopes that Shozo would miss the cat and come running to her to see the cat. Eventually, she speculates, that things would heal between the two and they’d reunite. 

While the games begin, the readers are introduced to the white elephant in the room. Shinako hates the cat. Fukuko hates the cat. While the latter gets rid of the problem at the cost of breaking her husband’s heart, the former acquires the problem in hopes of regaining her ex husband’s heart. Shinako and Lilly never got along before. It was this friction that had ultimately led to the couple separating. The game that Shinako plays, it brings her up close with the cat again. Will the lady and the cat get along? What happens to either of them? Do they both manage to endure and survive together? 

Rest of the story is about the game of cat and mouse played across human minds. The schemes plotted, the moves predicted and the outcome that eventually shapes up the lives of the players. Will Shinako and Shozo reunite. Will Shozo realise his love for Shinako ? What happens to Lilly?

With each chapter, we get to uncover the character traits of the primary and the secondary characters. And boy we are in for a wonderful thrilling roller coaster ride. Our prejudice gets thwarted at every turn. We sway from the verdict of guilty to innocent, victim to perpetrator with every turning page. The grand climax leaves with life in it’s absolute purest form. We are forced to accept all the characters for what they are and along the journey, we grow warm to all of them. We end up rooting for our favourites. We are made to choose between the devil and the deep sea. We are forced to pick what we think is the lesser of the abundantly available evils.  

Aint that the grandest display of life? If this doesn’t emulate life, I don’t know what else will! 

The tale is simple, the book is short, the pace is comfortable and the narrative is gripping. I must admit, I can’t think of one good reason as to why one would want to skip reading this lovely story.

Two thumbs and four paws up. A definite read. 

Karthik 

[Book Review] A Brave New World

A brave new world , by Aldous Huxley is a depressing take on the state of humanity in a futuristic society. This future of mankind is also possibly set in a alternate timeline of history. The tale relies on the current principles and practices of science to forecast a predicted future rather than calling scenarios out of thin air to paint a state of dystopia. The tale felt chilling and terrifying because of its nature of staying grounded in plausible reality. 

The tale kicks off with an introduction of the new London. It’s a London where science triumphed and led humanity into a consumerist civilisation. It is a new land where babies are manufactured and are no longer a planned/unplanned outcome of intimacy. The babies are then sorted into different categories, ranging from Alpha + to Epsilon -, which determine the nature of the future that awaits them. Alpha plus, is the top of the tops of the society. Epsilons are reduced to beings that carry out menial tasks and enjoy almost near perfect invisibility in their world. Nobody really cares about the epsilons. The whole society , however, believes that there is a proper place for each of the classes. 

Science also lends a helping hand in conditioning the society. The science of brainwashing is transformed into an ART of flawless perfection. The babies are conditioned right from the act of inception. Different messages are drilled across different spurts of growth. The conditioning is not just restricted to infants. It alters the formative years of the individuals and kids grow into brain washed adults. The new world accepts this conditioning without exception and without any protest. 

The land has also evolved away from the confines of emotions. This new world believes in the consumerist excess. Love is no longer defined as conditional or unconditional. Love is no longer exclusive. The land enforces a regime of un-exclusivity where the thought of individualism doesn’t exist. It’s a free for all, within acceptable classes, state of existence. 

The passages above are not attempts at passing a judgement over the state of this new world. It exists. In it, there is no crime. There is no greed and jealousy. Mankind has evolved to pursue desires rather than trying to win it over through the acts self control and discipline. Mankind , in fact, would have evolved beyond the need for introspection because a life of excess and fulfilment of pleasures keep the species far away from pointlessness of self or what it means. There is unilateral happiness and contentment across the society. This world is probably a kind of world that most worlds would have desired, at some point in time. 

In a nutshell, there is no judgement because this new world delivers the results of peace and harmony and simplified living. 

And then comes the trouble.

The take kicks off with Bernard Marx. Bernard is an Alpha but has appearances of a delta. This leads to resentment and insecurities within his head. Bernard has an opportunity to explore the uncivilised world and he takes it. Bernard is accompanied by Lenina. Lenina is a woman of this new world. She , like rest of the new world, believes in unrestricted get togethers. The new world has funny interpretations of Relationships. Get-togethers is more like it. 

The uncivilised world resembles the normal world of Gods, Love, emotions and misery. The uncivilised word is not a product of science. It’s a world where men are men and women are women and the two learn to live together , forming meaningful relationships and enduring the miseries of life. This world has a god , who is worshipped, ideals that are pursued and dreams and desires that are worth dying for. 

Bernard and Lenina find the uncivilised world silly. Lenina finds it hard to understand the word Mother. She struggles to understand the logic and reason behind any woman wanting to suffer the process of birthing. To their minds, it’s not a wonder that the uncivilised world is an animalistic mess. Unlike their modern world, People age old in the uncivilised world and oldage manifests and plagues the body there. 

Bada boom, twists and turns later, John and Linda are moved to the new world. Rest of the story is about how the civilians from the uncivilised world cope up with the civilised new world. PS: There is no and then they all lived happily ever after. 

The book, while being a depressing read, is also a fantastic eye opener of sorts. It cruises through the many human emotions effortlessly. The discrimination amongst the classes, the construct of a polygamous society which conditions humans to not express any affections towards any other specific individual. And then there is the absolute disappearance of individualism. It’s also both ironic and interesting to find that irrespective of what and where a human is, humankind will never be free from the demons of insecurities. 

In a stark contrast to the civilised world, the uncivilised world offers the comforts of acknowledging and accepting the many emotions that humans are capable of expressing. Individuality exists and there is a need for a central god to govern. And then there is the misery of just being a human. 

The book presents a wonderful case of what humanity has to shed in order to attain a peaceful and a harmonious existence. It calls out the nature of such a life. Maybe reality is the fact that humans make life a miserable affair and humans would have to be stripped of humanity for peace to prevail. Maybe cold clinical science is the way to go. 

Give it a read , if you have similar questions on what it means to be Human. 

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 accidental further adventures of the hundred year old man

Allan Karlsson is back and thankfully , he hasn’t changed much.

The accidental further adventures, by Jonas Jonasson is a sequel to the fantastic tale of The hundred year old man who climbed out of his window and disappeared.

The accidental adventures picks up from where the first book ended, in Indonesia. Allan and his friend Julius find their life of retirement a bit too jaded for comfort. The money , that they had from the previous adventure, burns at a break neck pace and soon the duo are at a cusp of a financial disaster. Allan , being Allan, doesn’t worry too much around it. The nice folks in Indonesia introduce Allan to his very first tablet, the IPad. This opens up the world of current news and affairs to the otherwise sober retired life of Allan.

On his hundred and first birthday, Allan and Julius rent a hot balloon and the adventure kicks off from there. The two find themselves stranded in the middle of the ocean, only to be picked by a North Korean vessel. The rest of the story is about North Korea, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Africa, United States and Russia, all trying their best to blow the earth into bits by detonating a Nuke. And then there is Asparagus!

It is almost impossible to resist comparing the sequel with its predecessor. Just by that comparison alone, the book falls flat. However, and that’s a HOWEVER, the book manages to pull its own weight in the sequel. Further adventures is a funny tale. It is an adventure. It’s quirky when it can be and is a bit bland in places. It fails the benchmark set by the first adventure then again, all things considered, the first book was a tale that spanned a hundred years and this one is just one more year into the life of Mr Karlsson.

There is something amiss about the book. The story is there, Allan is there and somehow, I do feel that the soul of the book is not quite in the right place.

The sequel doesn’t deliver in terms of sheer excitement and refreshing zeal for life. The first book had wonderful characters who evolved in an organic fashion. I remember caring for most of them. I remember the disappointment that I had when I watched the movie after reading the book. With the sequel, I’d like to believe that the Hundred year old man would make a brilliant addition to the Netflix original series. There is a lot of potential to this world created by Jonas.

The humour that is powered by character nuances is , very thankfully, evident across the book.

The way Kim Jong the Un talks to people, the way the citizens shudder at the thought of their supreme leader, the way Donald the John Trump is, there is just far too much material that stand up comics would love to cite and quote for all eternity. The fictionalised conversations seem true enough and the truth is that these leaders are a funny bunch. Putin is cold and clinical and is quite possibly the most successful James Bond villain there ever could be , is wonderfully portrayed in the book. I do sincerely hope that Allan Karlsson meets Mr P some day. The idea is too wonderful and too funny to dismiss. The book delivers on its promise for smiles here.

The further adventure is funny where it can be and is bland when it isn’t

As I had said a few sentences ago, One of the significant contributors that renders the book bland is the quality of the secondary characters. The book does not have exciting secondary characters. One doesn’t grow warm to them. The bit of the saving grace is around the guild of the Asparagus farmers but that is too little to pull the weight of the whole book. The fondness over this book compared to it’s predecessor is a testament to the power and might of the secondary characters.

A subtle theme in the book is around the public nuisance that a smart gadget is. It plays a pivotal role in this book and when I say pivotal, the IPad did serve it’s purpose of setting the adventure on its right course. Besides that, Allan is a bore when he’s hooked to the tablet. The characters see him as an irritant and so do we. It’s a silent and significant resonance of how we are when we are addicted to smart gadgets and are reduced to mouth pieces of the device.

If you have read the first book, read this , just for kicks. If you haven’t read the first one, go ahead, stop what you are doing and place an order for the book. Reading this is a different ball game.

I did enjoy the book and the book left me wanting a lot more. I think the sentiment is about how wonderful the character Allan is and the potential the good old bloke has. I’m eagerly waiting to watch the life of Allan as a Netflix/Amazon Original. If made right, it would definitely be a laugh riot.

Coming up next: 1984 and that book, I know I’m going to have a lot to write about!

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

[Book Review] : Shantaram

“Sooner or later, fate puts us together with all the people, one by one, who show us what we could, and shouldn’t, let ourselves become” – Shantaram

Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts is a sublime tale of a journey towards life. The book serves as a fictional , semi – pseudo auto biography of sorts. This is a book where fiction and reality hold hands together and they both , rather conveniently, chose a cinematic narrative approach to story telling. The book starts with a bloke who flies into Bombay with a fake passport that belongs to a certain Lindsay Ford. The assumed identity becomes the only identity of the tale’s protagonist. If I were to sum up the tale into a line, it would read as the journey of a man from being Lindsay Ford to Lin to Shantaram. While the sentence is short, the road taken by the protagonist is wonderfully entertaining , thought provoking and long.

Lindsay or the bloke who soon is addressed as Lin, is a man of violence. There is violence in his heart. There is guilt from that violence. A shade of repentance and a longing for redemption. Lin, as he starts, is no saint and the Bombay of the 1970’s happens to be the perfect city for vices. The retro vibes to the 70’s set amidst the blossoming Mumbai Mafia sets the stage for the tale. From substance abuse to suckering unassuming, unsuspecting travellers, Lin beings to offer a bespoke professional service of procuring and delivering instruments of vice based on fluctuating demands. That’s fancy for Lin working the streets and peddling whatever he can.

At every page there is crime and its holistic view. Crime , is both a source of escape and a means of entrapment. It keeps the characters in a state of inertia. The characters endure a distinct sense of irony. Their lives of crime keeps them free. It’s the crime that keeps them chained. The world revolves around a subtle balance.

The characters are the strength of this book. There are far too many characters and the best part is, as readers, we’d grown warm to most of them. We’d passionately root for them. We’d vengefully want some of them to suffer. The heart of this tale is the nurturing of the bonds that the characters share. From the smiles of Prabhakar, the wisdom of Lord Abdel Khader Khan, the friendship that is with Abdulla, the charismatic Didier Levy , the whacky-do-doodle that is Vikram and the frustration that is love in the form of Karla.

“Nothing grieves more deeply or pathetically than one half of a great love that isn’t meant to be.” – Shantaram

I don’t think there are any stories worth telling that do not concern the matters of the heart. Lin shares the same sentiment. Neatly set in the backdrop of a violent mafia, wars across the world, poverty , the human spirit (aka the Mumbai spirit) that never gives up, is a frustrating love story of Lin and Karla. The two are equally matched, in coefficients of both the intellect and emotions. One cannot be a lover unless one is a certified fool and this tale is a testament to that foolishness. Not that there is anything wrong with being a fool. Karla and Lin, all the other tiny tales of love and life, render the characters to either remain as fools or volunteer to be one. I’m a romantic and I find that state of foolishness as cute. Reality does come and it comes biting. Wisdom, I reckon, is attained by not staying a fool forever.

There is a lot of philosophy plastered across the pages of the tale. Lin shares his view of the world and the principles that he holds close. Lord Abdel is another wonderful source of wisdom that covers all realms of existence. The moralities are put to the test. We, along with Lin, have a glimpse into the world that sits comfortable between the two extremes of black and white.

One of the best feature of the book is the way that all the characters are flawed and broken. Nobody is holier than the rest. The virtues and vices grip everybody alike. There are no saints in the land of the vice. Despite the evil, it is the quintessential struggle to do good, that quest to make this world a better place, that effort to make life better for others, that sets the book apart from rest of the fiction. As Abdel says, it’s the capacity to do bad for the right reasons is what that defines us as humans. I’m tempted to both agree and disagree. Good finds a way. So does evil. We are left to our own wits to embrace either, or even both.

Speaking of the huge list of characters, Bombay, or the present day Mumbai is also a subtle character in the tale. Mumbai takes in people from all walks of life, accepts all moralities and ethics that people choose to live by, and lets its people be. Some bring it pain while others endure pain to spread joy. The book is a fantastic tribute to Bombay. It lives and breathes the fabric that is the city. Right from the underbelly that has the slippery grime that is crime , to the most humane face of humanity that’s expressed through poverty, from the front where money buys a £150 cup of coffee to humble villagers who migrate to the city with nothing but hopes and dreams in their eyes, the book has the city painted all over its pages.

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

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

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

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

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

Definite read. Give it a shot.

Karthik