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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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

Amazoning life

When I was a kid, and that’s probably an eon ago, my grand dad took me to watch a magic show. PC Sarkar or so, I’d guess. Back then, it was the most amazing thing that I had watched. I couldn’t explain how the magician did the things that he did and that was precisely a wonderful part of the charm to it. Magic seemed to come to life through my ignorance.

Years later, I managed to catch another live performance from a different magician. Only this time around, I wasn’t the kid filled with awe and wonder. I was a cynic. The ‘How magicians work’ telly program had ruined magic for me. I was busy being a smart alec and took a sadistic pleasure in knowing how the tricks worked. My cynicism led to condescension and I began to judge the quality of the show. Somewhere along the line, I felt ashamed of what I had become. I took a stalk of how live acts and such shows were a rarity. The seats were nearly empty. It was a sign of a new age of entertainment. The age old stages were now the battle grounds for Stand up comics. Same stage, just new actors.

With mum and dad now in the UK with me, one fine morning I woke up a sweet and a cute surprise. ‘Alexa’ my mom ventured. ‘What is the time in India?’ she had asked her million dollar question. The time is, came the instant response. ‘Thank you ma’ my mom concluded. From repeated ask for time, odd ball requests for Alexa to sing a song, How are you feeling today, the boundaries of human presence were being blurred. There was a human voice on the other end and it had managed to maintain a sensible conversation with my parents.

It took me back to the years my nephews and niece were growing up in the house. Mom and dad would pose the same old simple odd questions. The answers world flow in funny ways. Such conversations were usually warm and fuzzy nice. After decades, after the age of internet of everything, after the boom of smartification of the world, it was the simplicity of the expressed human connect that wowed my heart.

My folks , now, share the same ignorance that I had once expressed as a kid. The science of the magic trick didn’t matter back then. Magic mattered and magic did inspire a genuine sense of excitement. My folks are going through that phase of amazed excitement. Mom didn’t pause to bother about the clockwork. Dad , once a while, does pop the questions around how does it all work.

The most overlooked, underrated, underappreciated reward to life is probably companionship.

Having someone or something to talk to is almost akin to salt. It’s only when you are left devoid of salt, do you start to realise how much your life has grown accustomed to it. The future of digital conversations is a wonderful space. Throw in a personality, iGrandChild , iDaughter, iSon , iSpouse to the mix and the magic of AI to adapt and evolve conversations, humanity would have an easy access to a conversation buddy. It’s almost funny and a pity that we have evolved to a point where it’s easier to build the technology to mimic humans than have the mind to converse with actual living and breathing humans. There sure is a potential market. Loneliness might finally have a cure!

Odd enough, I see Asimov giggling in his grave.

The simple things to life, the simple joys of smiles. A toast to that rarity. What can I say, It’s an AMAZONING life.

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!

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

[Book Review] wild : from lost to found in the pacific Crest trail

Wild, as I’ve come to recognise and will go on to remember the book , is a biographical narrative of Cheryl Strayed. It’s her account of her 1100 mile hike through the pacific crest trail. PCT run all the way from Canada to Mexico. Cheryl manages the hike in around 100 odd days.

Of course, left to my wits, I’d have never picked this book in a million years. I’m not a huge fan of the non fiction genre unless it talks about philosophy or spirituality. Kanchan had reviewed the copy and I added to my list of things to read. I picked the book in 2017 and hadn’t bother freeing the book from the shipping wrapper that Amazon had used to deliver. As chance would have it, I didn’t plan my purchases right and I wasn’t left with any other choice. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ll explain shortly.

Back to Ms Strayed. She loses her mother to cancer and her mother’s death sends Cheryl’s life on the super express highway of self destruction. Depression sets in and over time a massive void engulfs her heart. As Cheryl fails to cope up with the reality , all her relationships start to deteriorate. She finds herself estranged from her step dad, divorced from her husband, distanced from her sister and brother. She slips into a life of a junkie , in time. Let’s just say that we have a crisp clear view of what a rock bottom looks like.

Through all of this, Cheryl chances upon a guide to the PCT. Spur of the moment, spontaneously she starts to harbour a deep rooted desire to hike the trail. She saves the money needed to gear up for the hike, reads about the trail and beings her journey of preparing mentally and acquiring the right enough equipment that she can afford. And just like that, her first day in the trail begins.

I think all of us find our demons when we are left all alone, with nothing but time and a million thoughts to keep us complicit company. This book is a biography of sorts. Cheryl is as special as the rest of us, as gifted as the rest of us and that means she isn’t immune to loneliness and demons that hunt us down in those moments. As she hikes through the trails, she gathers thoughts along the way her life has been, how she misses her mother, her failed marriage, and a little more pressing thought that is firmly grounded in the present reality. She contemplates the fact that she is under prepared for the trail and her inexperience has the right potential to get her killed.

To make matters worse, through all her meticulous planning, Cheryl manages to have a backpack that ends up getting stuffed with everything including the kitchen sink. Her new reality is a backpack that she can barely lift, let alone carry it through the 1100 mile hike through the mountains and forests. We, the readers and Cheryl soon start to focus on the job at hand. The battle of surviving the day becomes the apex priority. The challenging hike begins to inspire a change in the way the mind works. We see the full gambit of emotions at play. Guilt, Resentment, Anger, Denial, Realization, Acceptance and eventually a pristine moment of catharsis. The state cycle of life’s many emotions at its grandest display.

Her emotional battles aside, the hike also presents us with other battles. Is the world really a safe place? Are humans nice or animals in disguise. Cheryl meets a lot of interesting characters along the way. Most of them are nice and fill the moments of her life with kindness and warmth. Some are point blank rude. Some are creepy. I find it hard to believe that she managed to land with great awesome odds with strangers. Maybe it’s just the skeptic in me who refuses to believe in the goodness and kindness in people. I wouldn’t know better till I start my journey into the wild of the world.

The book has a wonderful theme. It talks about how vulnerable we are. A death ripped Cheryl’s life apart. The event causes her to self destruct. Thankfully, she’s not lost beyond the point of no return. For rest of us, that kind of a luck is not always at our disposal.

Depression and Self destruction are classic signs of an individual’s struggle against coping up with the events of life. I’ve been there.

Maybe I’m way too thick headed to be depressed. I’m far too funny to embrace elongated moments of saddened depression. I’m no stranger to self destruction. We destroy ourselves by hiding behind excuses. Some call it work, some call it relationship, some call it the EMI. The deception is played by many names. In our efforts of pretending to be normal and compensating the things that we lack, we often complicate our life and choices rather than simplifying them and leading a stress-free life.

Cheryl finds her balance through the hike. When you have real, tangible, quantifiable, physical , ‘not in the bloody mind’ challenges to deal with, you come out stronger for two reasons.

1. When you conquer a challenge that exists beyond the confines of your mind, the success is visible immediately. Either you power on, or you don’t.

2. By translating the demons in the mind to actual challenges that can be physically conquered, we also manage to symbolically conquer the demons that occupy the mind.

Science says that and proves that. My experience also points in the same direction. As long as one locks away the demons in the head, one cannot think through a redemption. The problem resides in the mind. To overcome it, one has to move the demons to the realm of the living and beat the living hell out of it.

The book is about one woman’s conquest of herself. Her journey, beside the 1100 mile on a radically tough and diverse terrain, is also about the realisation of self, it’s about letting one forgive oneself, letting one help oneself and letting oneself heal. I don’t see Cheryl’s account as any different from the books of spirituality that I’ve read. She had managed to DO the things in an alternate way, a way that suited her apt. The principles remain the same.

There are no surprises in the end. Cheryl does manage to accomplish her hike. She powers on and gets the job done. Somewhere in those 1100 miles, she loses the lost version of herself and ends up meting a stronger and a better version of herself.

I loved the book. I’d probably go as far as calling that this is the first SELF HELP book that I’ve read and I do like it plenty.

Karthik

Dates miles and milestones

The routine was same every year. My mom would remind me. Dad would remind me. I’d make a note and there were times I’d act on that nudge. There were a few times when I wouldn’t. That just was the way of things. This year, blame it on the warm cup of coffee on a cold rainy Monday morning or blame it on the point in time of my life, I opted to take a moment to smile at the rolling number.

As with most tales, context is the paramount necessity to outline the plot and observe the way the story unfolds. This tale is nearly 3 decades old. Almost the three and that magical oh to it. Its the time to hit that rewind button and keep the tape rolling back to the onset of the 90’s. My second sis was all set to get married. We took a train that took a while to reach a destination. Chennai to Baroda(I cant spell the Vada – dho – dara). To the seven year old me, the 14 hour or so journey was an adventure of its own. I think the train journey was longer than that. My memory does fail me. To the seven year old, it was a new playground of sorts. A big family, mom, Sis, Granny, Gran dad and yours truly. My granddad has always been strict. At 35, I still do fear my granddad a bit. The seven year old version of me, lets say brown pants!

That aside, I still think I tested his nerves a bit. It must have been a nightmare for my mom to manage me and manage my sister. I’m told that my sis wasn’t all too keen to get married , back in the day. Fate had a different story to tell. A story it did go on to tell.

The point of this tale is about the mileage to life. Through my sister and my brother -in- law’s (might as well call him my brother) special date, I reflected on the nature of the way our lives intertwined. My Jiju has seen me grow up from a spoilt little bratty , careless, reckless, hot headed, ill tempered kid to spoilt, not so little, not too bratty, careless, reckless, not too hot headed, not too ill tempered KID.

From being the child in the family, upgrading to be a child among my nephews and princess of a niece, to growing up into the uncle that they inherited and probably deserved, I’ve seen myself and my family evolve through the years. I’d like to believe that the family and I, we’ve taken our sweet time to grow warm to each other. It hasn’t been a single shot tale of immediate family bonding from the moment go. Let’s get reasonable here. I was seven when my sister married. My biggest euphoria was that I had a room of my own. Cant expect the world from a child that young. Cant expect the world from me , even today.

Those summer vacations when my sister would come visiting, the smiles of receiving her and the kids from the railway station, the tears of seeing her off again, the months where the house was filled with fun and excitement and the prolonged silences in the house after they’d leave, the days of sitting down as a gang and playing cards, to taking responsibilities of babysitting the kids, the petty fights over what channel to watch, the years have been loaded with memories. It was great to be in touch. We remained oblivious to the digital age. The anticipation and excitement of waiting for a month from the array of the available 12 made it all worth the while.

From being a child among children, somewhere in time, I had become a stranger among children. The adolescent years were not kind. It was the perfect testing time of sorts. Nativity to blood was lost to bonds of friendships. It was the age of misplaced priorities. It was the age of yearning in silence. I didn’t look back and watch out for the ties that had started to dwindle. I don’t know the silent tears of disappointment from my chosen recluse. The years did come and go. I had survived them to grow a bit wiser. So had my family.

Then came the reprising. There was a point in time when I could associate the calendar dates to project delivery milestone dates. In that process, I also started to notice that I was missing out on the family album. The pursuit of life, a pursuit of career, a desire to still be a part of the family, an awakening to the need to realign priorities later, the road that started taking from that point on began to change. Then came the cycle of being a participant to the way of life to being a consultant. The transition to being a shoulder and tree of dumb , ridiculous advice to the next batch came into being.

Its been a fun ride in retrospect. The magic and warmth of taking a moment from the busy daily schedule and reflecting upon the road that we’ve taken as a family. Life is filled with dates, mileage and milestones that come along the way. Its not the date that hold a meaning. It’s the meaning and association to such dates goes on to define the worth and value of such dates. Of dates , misplaced priorities and realigned priorities. I’d like to fathom a belief that anniversaries are beyond the usual norm of wishing free over an instant message, a status change and update. Keeping ourselves human is an endeavour worth the adventure.

Karthik

Carrots and sambar – A tale of life

And so there I was wondering about the next course of life. It was a busy week and I was leading it through jangling nerves. My body was playing a jazz rhythm of its own.

There has always been a dream. A carrot of carrots , if you may. The dream has been a Remote controlled car. As the years flew by, that obsession to buying an RC car grew stronger. I had reached a point in life where I had grown scared of actually buying one. What if having an RC was pointless? What if it didn’t turn out to be as much fun as I had imagined for well over two decades? What if? In pursuit of keeping the dream alive, I shifted focus to another dream. A red sports car.

The mileage through life has one singular tangible benefit. It’s called a pay check. One could argue that the check wasn’t plenty but it exists and I had to make peace with it. A quick scan , check and compromised acceptance later, I had managed to put a number to another carrot. A carrot in an ocean of carrots.

A red Jaguar, F-Type, the math worked out to £55,000. It was most definitely a compromise of sorts. The entry variant came cheap-ish. The number opened up another series of numbers in the long list of numbers that mandate life. It would probably take me 3 years to save enough to pick one. Adjusting for inflation was another number to deal with. Loans and EMI were numbers that I didn’t want to consider.

With the immediate milestone set, I had other things to plan around. A driver’s license was another headache to sort through. Riding from point A to point B is seldom the point. The free trial exam was a good example of pointlessness of the education system that I had endured. Do you call for help or do you help when someone is injured on the road? Do you overtake or do you wait? Do you honk or do you smile? The questions were plenty and they were trying effortlessly to inspire the civil , obedient , compliant , numbed citizen in me. I soon lost interest.

Then came the logistics of acquiring one. The written exam, now ignored, the actual driving test was another logistics fuelled nightmare. Rent a car that had baby wheels to them. While many of these listed things seem rational and acceptable, to my mind , they were ridiculous. Living in London often translates to sanity that prevails and why one would opt for a public transport than loitering in a car and paying through the roof for parking tickets.

That said, I had carrots to run after. Then came more numbers into the mix. ‘So’, my boss said. ‘Looks like you have plans of swapping a wife for a red sports car!’. And he was right. I hadn’t considered the cost of a marriage or the operational cost of a shared life. More numbers and I could see life slipping away between each line item.

The Monday was harsh and it usually is harsh most Mondays. Issues to resolve, meetings to report, meetings to chair. Monday is the kind of the day when I’m left gasping for air. There are ‘Back to back’ calls and I wish I was still leading the simpler life where I got to join a meeting , place the phone on mute and sit away contemplating the other challenges to life which included, where do I eat tonight , what movie to watch during the weekend, where do ‘We’ go for the weekend, what did ‘we’ almost discuss last evening.

Those days are years and a lifetime ago. There isn’t a going back. The clouds and the silver lining of the mileage is that most things that I talk about, on a professional basis, have consequences tagged to them. Some bear benefits, some flag risks, some put smiles across the customers and some, frowns across the business. Physically present and mentally in a different planet isn’t an option anymore.

And then I said ‘ Sorry, missed that. Was lost in a different train of thought’, I interrupted the meeting. It was a close call. My mind was drifting off and I had to head back into the game. I couldn’t afford to sit and count the carrots in my grocery basket. The iteration lasted a while. Good byes later, another meeting kick started.

With a twenty minute break, I had to make a choice. I had ample time to freshen up, call my folks , pick a sandwich and rush back to desk. No hot lunch and it was the usual norm for the Monday. Freshen up – Check. Call mom and dad – Check. Pick a sandwich – No GO. A glance on the salt and calories label, I had made a choice to pick a coffee rather than a sandwich. The dash back to the meeting was timely. The screen buzzed to life, the mind buzzed with questions, for a while. And then it drifted.

Somewhere between the decisions that impacted the next financial year, I had a concentrated , centred, dedicated focus over wanting to have Sambar for dinner. The breakfast and lunch now skipped, the saving grace was a Sambar dinner. I tried to remember the snapshot of the fridge back home. Onions, nope. Tamarind, nope.Tomatos, iffy at best. Lentils, yup.

‘I’m sorry. Missed that. When do we want that report by?’, I had managed to yank myself away from the distraction and also salvage the damage done. From Jaguar to sambar, the day’s motivations had travelled really far indeed. The commute back home, the shops hopped, things picked. I came home to a hot room. London’s been blazing away , putting Chennai on a jealous spree lately. The bed looked comforting. Homeland had seasons waiting to be watch. The toll of the day, the fatigue of forced fasting, the depression of not having a Jaguar and the anger at the silly stupid process of acquiring a driver’s licence, the defeated victory of having shopped on a tiresome day, I picked the comforts of watching ‘The Alienist’.

Twenty minutes into a distracted watch later, I had had enough. I am going to make that sambar. I am going to eat that sambar today. I had opted against having seeded bread for dinner. I had worked way too hard, sacrificed way too many dreams, made a lot of compromises along the way and I wouldn’t be denied of Sambar that day. I checked the cupboard, I already had a stash of tamarind. Onions were there too. Tomatoes weren’t iffy. Plump and red. Quite obviously, I had imagined the house in a drought.

And so life has many carrots. Some , we choose. Some , others make that choice for us and we aren’t free to speak up and voice against it. Through the many miseries of daily struggles, it’s the simple pleasure and satisfaction of achieving the smaller , insignificant goals to life. I would probably have that Jag in a few years time, I’d probably have a lot of what I desire in course of time. What I really do wish for is that I have a grounded sense to appreciate that I don’t need many carrots, as long as I’m not making a carrot Sambar.

Karthik