Chicken, Egg and 50 shades of evolution

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

The crux of the thoughts are around the following lines

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

Righty roo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

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Failure Fixation

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

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

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

1. A failure positions itself on a given friday

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

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

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

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

5. Get the fix into place.

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

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

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

Here is the deal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

Toys and Trinket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik.

And what if I told you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

Breaking ICE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I giggled my devious smile.

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

‘What, beg your pardon?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Yes, Katz’ the speaker paused.

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

Radio silence.

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

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

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

I walked off the session with a thought.

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

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

Cest la vie!!!!!

Karthik

[Book Review]: The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian , Han Kang.

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

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

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

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

Lets focus on the themes instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

Coming up next : Shantaram.

[Book Review] : A state of freedom

A state of freedom by Neel Mukherjee.

A state of freedom is an anthology of sorts that outlines the lives of five people. It’s a beautifully written book that effortlessly carries a very serious, grim tone throughout and at the same time, it does effortlessly manage to hold on to our attention span. The anthology helps break the monotony of reading through a single individual’s darker than dark, deeper than abyss view of a pessimistic world.

Freedom is a lot of things to a lot of people. In my opinion, the book tends to blur the boundaries between a sense of freedom and the desperate want for a liberation. In fact, I am tempted to call out the subtle difference between the state of feeling liberated versus the longing towards finding an escape from the talon like clutches of life.

The book deals with loss, sacrifice, ideology, poverty and a double dose of poverty there.

It tries to explain the elusive view of freedom that the characters long for. The mundane, vulgarly abundant , unassuming nature of the circumstances that the characters endure also beautifully sets the tone of a reality that a lot of us accept, acknowledge and choose to ignore. The down to earth characters will win your heart as the pages unwind the aspects of their daily lives and the hidden meanings behind their valiant struggles.

The anthology approach is convenient to pick and pause. It’s always fun to keep guessing over how all the independent stories eventually connect. This book would throw its final curve ball there. There is and isn’t a big connect. What we are shown is the variance in our perception of the characters. The better we understand the circumstances governing their lives, the better our understanding of the whys of their lives becomes. Speaking of the characters, there is a bit of an element of diversity. Not everyone is plagued by the same demons. Two rich enough blokes and the rest are poverty stricken. I must admit, while I remained nearly stoic for most parts of the book because of the familiarity to the divide that money provides, the author manages to effectively dwell deeper into the poverty and painstakingly define what it means to live in near poverty. That left me saddened.

The book’s biggest win is the interpretation of freedom. It changes all the way. It evolves. There is liberation, there is escape and there is a thin balance that separates the delusion of liberation and the frustration from a longing for an escape.

The characters face that line. It’s up to the readers to make sense of what they read. I came to view it as the point of near rock bottom.

The book offers no redemption. This is a serious book that will plunge you into a state of ponder. It does not rely on cheap Deus Ex Machina to set everything alright. This is , in my opinion, one of the best quality of the book. It offers enough to harbour a hope. It offers enough reality that would pamper to your sensibilities to put an end to the misery of the characters by wanting them to give up and just die. The book would let you dictate the character’s fate in your head.

The book is a wonderful example of a classy writing that does not sugar coat the realities of a lot of people in the world. Each story has a style of narrative. Each story is a glance into an aspect of a living. I quite enjoyed the tale.

Sure, give it a shot. It’s worth the thoughts.

Karthik

Coming up next : The vegetarian. Now that’s a trippy book that scores really high on the cringe meter!

[Book Review] : How to be human

How to be human, Paula Cocozza.

” The comfort, that is the delusion of love, is an opiate beyond compare. ” – Katz

How to be human is a beautiful story of love, companionship, loneliness and madness. The tale picks up with Mary finding a baby at her door step. She holds the infant close to her heart. She decides to call the little one flora. As we , the readers, sit and wonder over the things we’ve read so far ; the story abruptly shifts its focus to the life of Mary.

Fresh out of a divorce, Mary is struggling to cope up with life. The irreconcilable reason for the divorce is a simple fact that she does not want to bring a child into this world while her husband, Mark, wants one. The fights lead to an inevitable moment in their life. A moment that is consumed by rage and anger, a moment that would fill the hearts with regret and resentment, a moment where words are uttered and lives are shattered. And bada boom, Divorce.

Mary turns to a shut-in. With fewer and fewer ties with the outside world, her world is consumed by the past. She wonders about the divorce, she wonders about her own relationship with her mother, she wonders about what ifs to life. Mary embraces the loneliness that is her current life. She accepts her fate and succumbs to it without much of a fight.

And then she spots a fox. A fox that invades both her garden and her life. Mary ferociously defends her house against her ex, Mark and odd enough, she doesn’t go all guns blazing when it comes to keeping the fox away. She finds him as an inconvenience and longs to get rid of the critter. The introduction of the fox has an unexpected effect on her life.

Mr Fox happens to be a charming fella. He’s smooth, cautiously intrusive but is neither hostile nor perceived to be that. His demeanour is rather gentlemanly. The fox soon wins the curiosity of Mary. She observes him at a distance and as the days start to grow, so does the fox on her. They both adjust to tolerate each other. The fox becomes a regular visitor in her garden and he always behaves well. Mary starts to find a sense of some misplaced comfort through the fox’s very presence.

This odd companionship inspires a change in Mary. She , without trying too hard, starts to adapt to the world around her better. In this human fox couple, She is the talkative one and he , Mr Fox, speaks through his nature’s intended body language. Mary makes meaning of everything about the fox. She manages to open up that channel of communication by correlating her own words and the response like reactions that the fox expresses.

Trippy and so far , so twisted good.

Rest of the story is about , who the hell is that infant Flora. Does Mary marry a fox? Will rabies replace Mary’s fear over having babies? Nasty pun but apt on the context.

The book is a wonderful journey of Mary’s emotions as she meets and greets the new Mr Fox into her life. She replaces the failed relationships with humans with a new relationship with a fox. Their conversations are unidirectional but that doesn’t stop Marry and her fox from having their dialogue. Your curiosity over where the roads would take them would keep your eyes glued to the book.

At the heart of this book, the central theme is that of love. What does it mean to love someone? When does love suffocate? Why do people love other people and importantly, why don’t some people ever love others?

Love, through Mary’s life is also about the nature of companionship. Love seems to be key in her fight against loneliness. Our lives do change when we lose the people that we once used to love. Mary’s desire for companionship and the fact that she finds that gratified by a fox is a testament to what makes us human. Our undying need to stay protected away from loneliness makes us human.

The other big , subtle theme is around how much humans endure in that battle against loneliness. I’m not surprised at all by how much one would choose to give, or even accept in order to build a bubble of delusion to keep that element of isolation away. With the tale, how far does Mary go is a question that keeps us hooked.

The final catharsis is quite a bliss to read. There are no ‘TA-DA’ moments to it. The sun doesn’t shine better or different, the time doesn’t pause to hint a difference, the world goes about its business and somewhere amidst all that , there is a pristine moment of a realisation.

The world indeed is a better place if you don’t house a black hole in your heart.

Two thumbs and definitely worth the time invested into the tale. You probably won’t feel disappointed.

Karthik

And coming up next : The state of freedom!

The reluctant commitment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

What to expect when you are expecting

‘And Mr Katz, you do set high expectations for life’ the conversation concluded. It wasn’t a particularly busy day and conversations found their much needed skies to glide. One thing led to another and soon enough we had arrived at the cultural complexity that India can be.

So, consider a bell curve’ I began my monologue. ‘There is that phase of rapid acceleration. Then things stabilise for a while. Comes the phase of gradual decline and finally we get to a point of rapid deterioration. For me , that usually ranges from 15 minutes to a month, at times’ I had gone to explain.

The bell curve was my take on the state cycle of most of my relationships. Currently, the iteration was a tad under a month long. The discovery phase synonymises with the acceleration. Physical and mental attraction do take the precedence. Then comes the phase of getting used to the new person. The stabilisation phase. Then comes the rapid fall out. The cycle comes to a close to usher in a new iteration.

The thoughtful judgement was that I had set high expectations for life. It’s most definitely not the first time I’ve endured that judgement. I used to feel bad about it. I put my mind to it and I had reasoned that I had made poor choices and had stayed dogmatic and frigid around the expectations. Ample time has been invested into that train of retrospective thought and that meant that I wasn’t surprised at the judgement.

However, hearing it again left me thinking around the great expectations of life. While the argument has always been around staying reasonable and grounded with expectations, it has always been around shooting for the moon to land on them stars. The crux of the matter has been around acceptable compromises and letting the expectations go. The not so sugar coated statement would read, ‘Lowering the expectations’.

Expectations are expectations. They are neither great nor low. It’s only when one doesn’t accomplish those said expectations does one start to assess them as great or different grades till the point where one declares Zero expectations.

The ability to accomplish those said expectations are influenced by many factors. I think I’d classify them into two buckets, Ability to accomplish and circumstances that either support or deny such expectations.

Ability is all about the right set of skills that translate into actions which eventually yield the desire. Circumstances are a different breed. Circumstances remain independent of abilities. Circumstances include all the factors that pressure us into thinking and believing that things are now or never and that one must adjust the asks in order to stay happy with the possible , potential outcome that is handy.

The thought made me ponder.

Is it wrong to expect?

Fundamentally, nope. There are people and their faces now flashing in my head who’d challenge me on that. It’s wrong to expect. Do your work and do not worry about the results, is one side of the tale. If you don’t have expectations, you wont have disappointments, says another. In fact, I think I can go ahead and generalise and say that the collective experience of life of others often translates fears, effect of those fears, the means to mitigate those fears often translate to the voice of a change to adjust. Not ADAPT, but adjust.

Bluntly put, I do not enjoy such a defeatist approach to life. It trivialises all the challenges that I have overcome till date.

Is it wrong to not have your expectations met?

Depends. Most of it boils down to the sense of urgency around the context. The eternal fear of scarcity is almost our birth right. For most of us, there usually a never next time. It’s all now or nothing. There is a fine line, which is almost always overlooked , that separates desires and expectations. I desire a red Jaguar is quite different that I expect to own a car by the time I hit 25. Desires can be beyond our capacity to reach but desires don’t keep us stressed and worried. Expectations on the other hand, influence our decisions and do usually affect the life’s many choices that we go on to make.

Given the context around a Red Jaguar and A Car, is it wrong to not own a Red Jaguar? Just by that thought, I don’t think it’s a crime that our expectations are not met. That being said, If one were to not compromise , save up for years and even a decade and eventually buy that red Jaguar, is that the right conclusion?

The answer lies in persistence , action and a commitment to the cause. Without the three, no amount of wait will translate to a tick against the check box.

The big answer to any and all questions on expectations is this, ‘Are you prepared to work towards your expectations? ‘

The not so sugar coated question is ‘ Are you now ready to be sensible and adjust to hat you have? aka Are you ready to give up now?

So, Do I have high expectations of life? Damn straight I do. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m proud that I have set standards that only have to appease to my sensibilities. Such spine comes at a price.

What’s your take on expectations? Do you think there is an ocean of a difference between adjusting and adapting?

Great expectations indeed.

Karthik