Journey of a million miles

It was odd. These days, everything is odd. I couldn't start where the absurdity began. I couldn't put a finger on the frenzy that it all was. If I may, I'd skip the oddities and craziness of the world around and restrict myself to the nature throwing me a curve ball. The land covered in white of the snow, the biting cold, the defeated sun and it's near sterile rays, I couldn't quite fathom the heat that seemed to be emitting from somewhere beyond my eyes. It didn't make sense. On that cold day, it wasn't the cold that made me comfortable. The heat felt unbearably torturing.

The queue was long. It was going to be a long wait ahead. I gently smiled at the irony to the moment. Nothing felt rushed. A gentle subtle and a near final reminder that nothing was meant to be rushed in life. The thoughts amused me. All things aside, I found myself smiling like a silly man. The smile was a rare commodity. The grave grim air around us couldn't tolerate the conspicuous smile. Eyes cast on me. I knew the eyes. I knew. I had no comfort or justification to reciprocate those glances. I let them be. I had built a wall around my mind to phase them out of my peripheral attention. I denied the world around an acknowledgement.

It wasn't long before I had to sacrifice my decision to disown the world around me. I couldn't. He wouldn't let me be. A little boy of possibly eight. His eyes looked bored. He looked a bit tired but then again, so was everybody else. The wonders and magic of a confused winter morning. He had an air of curiosity about him, that little boy. While I could stereotype the gazes that I was attracting from everyone else, his, his was different. His eyes neither passed a judgement nor represented the cold sadness. He was just himself. He viewed the world through his curious little eyes. Everything fascinated him. Everything was new to him. Everything excited him. Everything.

'Hallo' I gently waved my hand to engage a conversation with him. He was standing with his dad a few places ahead. I must have caught him off his guard. Part embarrassed, part flustered, he quickly turned around and gripped his father's hand tight. I was amused by his innocent juvenile reaction. Kids will be kids and I quite enjoyed his little panic. The boy didn't give up. Not yet. He took his moment, gathered his courage and turned back. He meekly waved his hand and said nothing. The boy's action did stir his dad's inertia. He turned back and smiled. There was a certain relief on his face. He quickly turned his face again to look straight.

The little boy stood watching the place for a while. Outwitted by his boredom, he decided to embark on a tiny adventure. He walked towards me.

'Do I know you?' his gentle soft voice pierced through the cold silence.

'Ja', I promptly replied. You see, I started, we are but friends from a long long time ago. You and I have always been friends. You grew bored, just like how you are bored now, and that explains why you are little today. I have never been bored. I've always played my games, been a silly explorer. That's why I'm old now. Just as old as your dad.

The boy wasn't sure on how he had to comprehend what he had heard. His curiosity had gotten the better of him. He asked me a lot of questions. How? what? When? Are you lying? He'd ask me from time to time.

And so began the long tale of two friends who first met when the earth itself was young. This was the time after the apple incident. This was the time after the floods. The lands had been painted green, and that's where we had met first. He was a tiger, I was a lion. We had roamed carelessly in the jungle. We had played in the meadows, given hunters the slip, we had hunted together for the longest of while. One stormy night, we had walked our separate roads.

'I was a tiger?' he asked me in excitement.

'Ja', 'See that explains why you are always excited and brave. Just like the tiger you once were' I explained .

That had made sense to him.

As the story progressed, he and I had been friends in the wild. Eagle and a hawk. We had been trees too. We finally became men. Ah yes, that was a fun age. French one time, ancient heretic Indian once. We had met so many times and there were times when we weren't friends any more. The thought that we weren't friends seemed to sadden him a bit.

'Oh don't be sad' I tried to comfort him. See, we are friends now. That's how it is. We always spot each other.

That seemed to cheer the little rascal a bit. We went on to talk about his school, his friends. The queue had moved further quite significantly.

'Ok bye' he enthusiastically shrieked. I bid him a silent farewell. It was odd indeed. An odd day to make a new friend. An odd day to die. My journey from Berlin to Auschwitz was not as foreboding as I thought it would be. It was a day to remember. The kind of day that was hot for a given winter morning. The kind of day when two very old friends got to meet each other. I wanted the silly tale to be true. I wished there was some truth to it. It was after all the last day under the sun for both of us. The sadness in the eyes of the world managed to find mine too.

************

'Mummy' I kept pestering my mother. I was too little to know what depressing meant, but I was old enough to feel it crushing my enthusiasm. The hall was depressingly boring. I fidgeted restlessly. My mother wouldn't bother pacifying me. Glued to her fancy rectangle box of sorts, she kept staring into it irritably. It was not the day where I could manage to draw her attention gravitate towards me. Defeated, I gave up without a fight. I looked around to see the place. Old people, coughing people sick people were around. This was not the way I had intended to spend the day. I fancied a walk in the park instead. The kind of park where there were gulls to feed, pigeons to shoo. This was boring.

As I grazed my eyes across the room, I couldn't help but stare at this old man. He looked like a proper grandfather. The grey, the way his face was, full of folks. I think it's called rinkle or something. Rinkles scare mummy. I've heard her talk about it. He looked old.

'Hello little princess' he called out softly.

Mummy shot her eyes away from the box thing and directed it towards the grandfather. 'Agatha, don't bother the nice gentleman there' she blurted a noncommittal warning. She was happy to get rid of me , she was happy to have me bother someone else. I walked towards the old man.

'Do I know you?' I asked him curiously.

'Oh, but we are friends, from a long long time ago, little one' he replied in excitement.

Karthik

Tale inspired by this little girl, with an angel face who waved a familiar hi. We didn't speak, it was a very short hi. She smiled as her car picked up speed and left me standing and wondering if She and I were friends from a long long time ago. What can I say, Life inspires Life.

Book Review : Never let me go , Kazuo Ishiguro

nlmg

 

Two down, three more to go. On a whim, I picked five books from the list of 100 books to read before you die. I started that journey with , The book Thief, Book review : The book thief, this is the second one that I’ve survived.

 

Right off the bat, Never let me go , personally, was not a easy book to read. I struggled with it. It is a slow paced narrative that captures the lives of three friends, Ruth, Tommy and the narrator, Kathy. Endure it, the book rewards you with more questions that challenge the status quo of life itself. I’m glad that I endured the first slog. The questions that you’d be left with in the end, necessarily are the questions that you’d be asking yourself. You could be asking yourself. I have a few doing numbers in my head now.

 

The story starts off at Hailsham which is a boarding school. I reckon the narrator and her friends were right about 10 when the their tale starts. I could be wrong, but their ages would be in the ballpark of early teens. Their school is a special school indeed. There is a very limited connect with the outside world. The school has it’s own eco-system. It runs it’s own economy in the form of sales and exchanges. Typical kids, typical teachers whom the kids refer to as Guardians. A lot gets told and a lot gets told as the story goes on. The book, is the recount of the narrator when she’s in her thirties. The narration effortlessly switches between the two point of views of Kathy. The things she now knows at 30, and the things she’d eventually end up figuring out in due course of time.

 

I’d probably refrain from giving out the plot. Life happens and friends fight and split. They get back together and do things change? Does love really blossom, is there true love in the world? All these questions would go answered by the book. These are the bits that wouldn’t really matter when you reach the end. There are far important questions that beg to be answered. I can only hope that we , the readers, manage to find the answers to all those questions.

 

I can’t help but wonder about life right now. Given the context of life, If I could meet God, if I wanted her help, would I brave asking her? Would I have the strength to listen to the one true north of the truth? Would I have the courage to sit through that conversation? What if God were to tell me that I always had it in me to solve all my problems, face all my challenges ? What if god were to tell that she wasn’t interested in my petty life and that I was an insignificant speck to her? Could I handle the truth?

 

This book follows a path of destiny. The characters are ,in course of time and probably deep down were, always aware of their destiny. Why do we have a destiny? Why do we not challenge it? Why do we not fight for it or fight against it? Why do we succumb and surrender to it instead of trying and failing at a shot of changing the very course of it? Why indeed. Why do we eventually give up? Is it because we grow tired and weak and numb from the things we endure? Is it because resistance is futile? Is it because we feel compelled to oblige to the grand scheme of things?

 

Would it be any different if we had that sight of that destiny? Is that sight of the future the root cause of all our failures in the name of compliance? I don’t know. I feel angered by the very thought that I am a puppet and I’m suspended by strings.

 

There are themes to the book which I both enjoy and mull thinking about. The nature of creator, that is god, if we are in her image, do we not deserve the liberties and luxuries that god enjoys? There is discrimination and we all suffer it and tolerate it. While reading the book thief, all I could see was life. The juxtaposition is ironic. While all I got to read here was about the lives of the friends, all I could see was death. Both books bank on the inevitable nature of death. Both books outline the life that is lived while we wait for the death’s eventful embrace.

 

I loved the way their friendship was explained in the book. They start as thick as thieves, they drift apart, they converge and life’s final full stop. I couldn’t help but reminisce about the people I’ve left behind. Wistfully, I indulged a few thoughts about the times that were. Ironically, the book reflects life. With bills to pay, life to lead, we do overcome such challenges with people and we are often left with no time to dwell in the past.

This review barely scratches the surface of what the book has to offer. In light of spoilers, I am forced to leave you with generic questions that would haunt your mind post the read.

For what it’s worth, I feel happy that the book delivered on it’s promise. It did leave me questioning humanity and humaneness , just as the book said I would. It’s been a hard read.  I don’t know if I’d really recommend this for public consumption. Read it at your own discretion. The list of 100 before you die, this book does deserve it’s place there.

 

Karthik

 

H for Himmel

"The words. Why did they have to exist? Without them, there wouldn't be any of this. Without words, the Führer was nothing. There would be no limping prisoners, no need for consolation or wordly tricks to make us feel better.
What good were the words?" – The book thief

Oh but when it comes to rules, I do find myself breaking most of them from time to time. However, there are those rules which I wouldn't dare challenge. One such rule is the one about not writing a book review without actually finishing a book. Bound by this innate compulsion, I put a brave fight to not write a review today. Well , almost. Rules are meant to be broken. I do love the loopholes. I found one today. Conformance meets rebellion. Win-Win.

Himmel. The word means heaven in German. There are times when I wonder about the heavens. There were many times when I had teased my mum about her theory of finding peace in the Himalayas. 'Why go all the way there to find peace? Why cant you find it here, in our house?'. Our arguments would reach a stalemate and we skip to other things to fight about.

The word of the day is Himmel. I want to talk about it. Himmel is also the name of a place where the story of the book unfolds. But enough about that book. I've treaded far enough already. The restless curiosity in me at the verge of eruption. If only I could fake an ailment, scuttle back home and find comforts of my bed and continue reading the book. If only!

How would you describe a Himmel? Is it the land of clouds, harps, angels, grass and greenery, scenery that would gather a billion likes on instagram if shot and uploaded without filters. 2 billion likes with the filters used. What does heaven sound like? Is it a land of serenity , far away from the reach of the common bloke. Is death the only eligibility criteria to enter the gates?

The answers could be as diverse as possible. The answers would only be limited by the imagination of folks responding to the question. Heaven is all set to be whatever we choose for it to be. There are ideas of rules and imposed ideologies that surround it. What can I say, rules… what good are they if we don't dare breaking them from time to time. The purist version of heaven is in place to keep most of us away. The classification of life, the nature of life lived, the acknowledgement of living by a given code, yadi-yadi-ya… in the modern age, it's called discrimination.

Similar to the thought along Himmel, what does it mean to have a happy life? Happiness is a lot to a lot of people. Unlike heaven, the description of happiness is not limited by the creativity or insanity of the mind of the responder. This is limited by wistfulness. Happiness , that happy life is everything that we currently lack. It probably would be a precursor to all the things that we'd have robbed away from our own selves. Sad and true and inevitable. By virtue of reasoning, that places happiness as one of the most lucrative sour grape. There, and just a whisker away from reach.

I asked myself a question today. In fact, I asked my self a question that was asked to me yesterday. Do we need an adversity to appreciate the valour in us? Do we need catastrophe to realize that there is a hero in us? Do I need to lead a miserable life to acknowledge what it means to be alive? The answer is an assertive NO. I realized the celebration of life through tears.

As the book went on, in a random instant, I felt overwhelmed emotionally by what I had just read. Instinctively and subconsciously, I shed a few tears. I stayed aware of where I was and realized I had a stranger staring at me. He looked at me, he looked at the book and I guess he wondered what the hell wag going around. I felt a little silly , weeping like a little ducky and a little flushed embarrassment later, I closed the book and decided to read it later. Two things happened then.. actually make it 3.

1. I wanted to cry freely , to my heart's content, in the safety and privacy of my house, till I could vent out the sadness from the book.
2. I realized that the book was more about a celebration of life. It was not a death that brought tears. It was a fond cherished memory of the characters lives that broke me down.
3. I felt super satisfied at accepting the humanity in me, to feel comfortable enough to cry a little. I felt alive.

Life without acknowledgement of life is barely a life at all. Yes, just like Himmel, we'd want to paint a million shades to our definition of happy. If this.. If only that.. Had I had that….. All I need is that…. and Cut the EXCUSES. We feel comfortable refusing to accept that we are capable of being happy the way we are. We refuse to acknowledge the little things that we achieve and accomplish each day. We refuse to let our smiles live in dignity, without fear of being compared to a imaginative figment of happiness whose only purpose is to keep us in a state of stasis, acting as a carrot at the end of a long stick. There are a lot many days where we can be happy with what, where, when, who and hows of being ourselves.

I guess celebration of life is not meant to follow once the curtain falls and the actors disappear into obscurity. Everything is just a state of the mind. Except Poverty.. take that Mr R G!

Karthik

I’m working on it

The rumbling sound of the bus was comforting and soothing in a way. With thirty hours to kill, a thousand kilometres to tread, time facilitated a wonderful opportunity for two people to catch up on a life that they had shared together for decades. He was dressed in brown and black, pretty oldmanish by the current fashion trends. His shoes were neatly polished. He was a creature of habit. She was dressed the way most grandmothers were dressed. Thick woollen sweater , a shade of pink to it.

The bus powered on. The milestones kept passing by. The enthusiasm that had once gripped the bus , gradually fizzed away. The toll of the long strenuous journey ahead was already visible. The sound of the bus, the rhythmic sweep of distinct snores and a few hushed conversations added to the silence of the moment.

'So what's it going to be now?' he whispered softly to her ear.

His voice was drowned by the ambience. He tried again, only a little more louder this time. She hadn't replied but the subtle change in her hue from her warm blush conveyed a different story. It was not the first time she had faced that question. It was not the first time that he had asked her that question. It was definitely not the last time that the question would be asked.

There was a time when they were both young. New to the world of being an adult. New to the ways of shared responsibilities. Novice to a life , planning to be lived as one. Their conversations were new. Curious questions were exchanged that spanned across colors of choices and preferences galore. It wasn't the age where lifestyle , outlook to life and life's billion choices were exhaustively discussed. Theirs was a simple conversation of discovering each other. The run up to the big event was short. Shorter timeline did catalyse quicker decisions.

'So, what's it going to be now?' he popped his question with a blush.

She looked deep into his eyes and smiled. 'I don't know. I'm working on it' she said.

The date set, the festive in progress , amidst the chaos there was a moment that was theirs alone. The opportune young lad ,with a heart brimming with excitement and dreams of a new beginning, sneaked in his question in a whisper. Hers was a reply reciprocated in whispered secrecy. I'm working on it, she hushed softly.

The tide of time came rushing in. The young ones were not so young any more. The pressures of life had started to sink in. There were smiles. There were fights and verbal duels. Tempers flared from time to time. Love's warmth managed to keep them cosy despite the challenges. From time to time the question would be asked. Time and again, her consistent reply never shook away from it's resolve. They were two , aligned to each other, accommodating each other, enduring each other when the days were hard.

Life bloomed and with it another life bloomed too. The daily challenges of soiled diapers and screams from a little soul kept the two occupied. Time , for once, had refused to slow down. It sped up instead. The twenty five years that followed , passed them by like a blur. The youngling had grown into a dashing handsome man. It was the time for him to kick start a story of his own. The tide of time appeared to remain constant through the iterations witnessed by different eyes. He was a reflection of his parents. He brought the foundations of a happy home to the table. He went on to live a happily ever after tale of sorts. Unperturbed by the oddities of luck and challenges. He endured where he ought to, he enjoyed where he could.

The wheels turned ahead and life bloomed once again. Grey hairs greeted fresh black patch of hair. They shared a satisfied smile when they met their granddaughter. Paradise had found itself on earth.

Life almost lived in full, well almost, the old in body, young at heart couple decided to pursue the dreams that had dared having when they started their life together , all those many years ago. They booked their bus to Leh. A thirty three hour ride on the road. A journey of thousand kilometres was in front of them. The two sat in their designated seat. She rested her head on his shoulder, like the way she had always rested. He pat gently on her head, like the way he had always patted. He'd gently stroke her greyed hair. The color had changed over the years. The gesture had remained the same.

The bus slowly clocked the miles. With nothing else to do, the opportune lad, who was young at heart, decided to give his question another shot. Quite a few years had passed and he had almost forgotten that question of his. That day seemed to be a day like any other. It felt like a good day to pop the question again. He knew that answer that would come. It made no difference to him any more. It was a question, a question meant to be asked. The question had lost it's relevance decades ago.

'So..' he asked

'Ah haan' she acknowledged.

'So.. What's it going to be now? Do you love me?. For all the years we've been together, of all the things we've survived, of all the time that gone past us, not once have you told me that you loved me'.

She sat in comforted silence. She had seen her fair share of ugly challenges over the years. This question, that statement , by no means was a challenge that would break a sweat in her. Nonetheless, it was just about the right time to respond to that, she thought.

'The thing is…' she started slowly. ' Till the point we met, everyone that I had loved dearly, had either died or left. I didn't know why. Deep down , I felt I was cursed. There wasn't much that I could do about it. And then my grandparents introduced us. I had a jinx to battle. I lacked both the strength and courage to test that theory. A while later, I knew I couldn't bear losing you. I still can't. You are the best thing that's ever happened to me. So… ' she paused.

'So…', he curiously asked.

'Does it matter now. For what it's worth, I don't know. I'm working on it'.

Karthik

PS: Reading does wonders to the writing process. I'm so glad that I'm back to good old reading 🙂

Book Review : Aleph

Is it possible to deviate from the path of God has made? Yes, but it’s always a mistake. Is it possible to avoid pain? Yes, but you’ll never learn anything. Is it possible to know something without ever having experienced it? Yes, but it will never truly be part of you." – Aleph

The last time I read Paulo Coelho, I hated his work. I scoffed at it. I strongly believed that the book was ridiculous at best. A ranting of a master of words who weaved a story too hard to believe, is what I felt. In the decade that followed later, I realized the magic to the words that I had once read.

The setting of an ignorant novice me reading the Alchemist is pretty much a plot that can help me explain his words in the book Aleph. In the most simplest of terms, the book Aleph is about a journey of life. I'll let you decide the number of lives that your faith and your belief system will permit you to consider. If there is just one life, this book talks about a journey that we all undergo at different points in our own existence.

Much like how I first rejected the Alchemist, the words had not changed in the years that followed after my read. It was only I who had changed. There was no constant at play. Time flew past me, I gained life by experiences, my beliefs changed gradually. From a skeptic, I went on to become a wanderer with a curious and an open mind. Aleph is a book that talks about similar journey of the self.

It is hard to review a book on spirituality or philosophy. I remember the day I picked this book in London. The bloke at the store said aren't you too young to lose yourself to spirituality. I smiled , aren't we all young enough as it is, i asked. We both shared a laugh.

The book touches upon the simplest of facts that we tend to complicate beyond all recognition. It talks a great deal about experience.

"Is it possible to know something without ever having experienced it? Yes, but it will never truly be part of you."

My biggest take from this book is along that line of experience. All of us experience various things of varying degrees in the miles that we cover in life. What we experience is just as irrelevant as what we desire to experience. What we do with such an experience, goes on to define the quality of our life, it mandates the state of bliss that one can stand to enjoy.

The simple act of falling down, getting up, crying a little, wiping away our tears and heading out for the next big adventure was something we were extremely proficient at doing when we were kids. In fact, the pain we experienced as a kid was very much real. With a limited knowledge and awareness of the world, with limited fears and limited unknown, even the tiny setback of falling down was supposed to be a huge hurdle. We did overcome that. We did that in style. We did that we cause we wanted to.

The more we grew up, the lesser we remain ourselves. That fight in us gets replaced by a lot of other things. Aleph is a book that serves to remind us that nothing else matters more than what we stand to do today. Our actions of today have the power to redeem us from the sins of yesterday and sow the seeds for the things to come tomorrow.

Oh btw, it was long after I picked the book did I realize that this book was not an fictional account of a spiritual journey! Damn!

Read it at your own peril. Belief is a rare commodity these days. We choose to believe in the goodness of vile folks dressed as sheep and yet struggle to believe that we are but a part of a vast machinery called the universe. If your eyes wont let you digest the spiritual nature of the book, no biggie, read it as a fictional tale of science and teleportation device. The heart of Aleph is not it's vast spiritual abundance, it's a simple tale of learning to live your own life.

Karthik