Nose Dive : Where fiction meets fact while history repeats and masses are reduced sheep

The title had to be senselessly long. There wasn’t an easy way around it. Trust me, I thought a while and decided to take the longer obscure road. 

The crux is an insight into current events. To connect the dots, the prerequisites include Black Mirror : Episode Nose Dive. China’s beloved Social Credit ID, a little Roman History, a world of religion, Gods appeased and finally Money that absolves all evil. 

That’s a long ask. Lets dig right in. Black Mirror is a smart , slick, TechnoPsychological series of sorts. It offers a view of how the current state of technology has the potential to shape up the human and social behaviour. Nose dive is a special episode in many ways. Personally, I do think the protagonist is wicked gorgeous. That’s beside the point though. Nose dive is about a society that integrates the life with a social credit score of sorts. Timidly put, the better your score in the digital world of pretend avatars, the better is your living condition in the real world of blood and flesh. The protagonist starts on a pretty decent score and has a means to bump her social standing to a whole new league. Bada boom, things go south. As the social popularity and score plummets, her life starts to take a beating. She’s denied access to public services, she’s blacklisted from using the airlines. She gets a beat down car at the rental agency. While hell breaks loose, the protagonist comes to realise that her life , so far, had been a silly futile façade. The episode ends with her locked up in jail and she finally manages to taste freedom through her imprisonment. 

China, being China, decided to go nuts with the concept. I believe I had spoke about this when I came across the news where China had announced that it had plans of implementing such a social scoring system. It’s been less than a year and on an average, it takes me longer than that to even decide upon a routine, China went ahead and implemented the scheme. I caught up on a news snippet which explained the implemented scoring system. Apparently, blokes start on a score of 1000. That’s rather modest of the Chinese to limit themselves to a 1000. 

Each good deed is awarded by a score. Each rude , unruly, undesired public behaviour results in deductions and public shaming. The score has a direct impact on travel and other aspects of daily living. The news showed that a bloke being blacklisted from a train because of a poor social standing. His mode of transport was downgraded from a super fast express train to a bus ride. 3 hours versus 10, to be precise. 

The implementation is nothing short of an epic endeavour. 3D face scanning cameras installed everywhere. Social tracking through diligent use of the big brother infrastructure. And for a good measure, throw in ‘Social Inspectors’ whose only job is to monitor people and scribe down events and scores. Do you remember the good old days from School. The times when teachers were either absent or stuck in a hang over, the class pupil monitor would rise to the occasion of noting down names. Three strikes later, the usual punishment was a simple means of public shaming. The means of imparting such swift justice was through the teacher beating the bejeebus off you in front of the class. 

Yeah. Good times. I learnt a very valuable lesson growing up. I knew I couldn’t stop making trouble. I knew I was slick enough to pocket the pupil leader too. I’d always have dirt of on the bloke or strings to pull. A criminal with an exit road. Professionally speaking, I had my exit covered. It’s a skill that helps and help it does plenty. 

That was a good detour. So China does that. A steadfast way to climb up the social standing is by being good, staying good. OR, start making hefty donations to the Community. 

Money, once again, was a means to atone for the sins of the past. I do know that this aint something new or shocking or even surprising. Where have I seen this social phenomenon. And then it dawned. Charity always begins at home. 

Bribing. When you bribe mortal men, it’s corruption. When you bribe the gods, it’s devotion. Most humans try to equate their sins with tangible trinket or sizeable donation to compensate for their comeuppance. It’s not as sinister as I call it but the general idea still remains true. From coconuts to promises to travel far to visit the houses of many gods, this practice of offering to compensate the blessing bestowed has always been a legitimate trade. Most of us do not harbour sinister motives. Our lies are white and crimes are usually victimless. The bribe feels justified and normal. 

Not so long ago, a certain pope tried this barter system in the ancient roman empire. Not a long while later, the Vatican is possibly one of the richest conglomerate known to mankind. Religion, ever since or better still forever always, has been a profitable venture. Before technology evolved, humanity had attempted this social credit score by exercising moralities and codes of conduct. I’d like to believe that the system failed. Maybe it didn’t. The general idea is that if the big brother does not remind the folks that he’s watching and keeping tabs, most folks would volunteer and welcome the oppression. 

Decades later, humanity is ready for it and doing it. Volunteer disclosure and surrender of every angle and aspect of life is prevalent. All works fine unless someone assumes the role of the big brother and makes a declaration. Then, all hell breaks loose. We don’t have a problem with staying oppressed. We have a problem when someone rubs our egos with it. 

So back to China, While the intent is there, the technology is relevant , the schemes in play, the Chinese have a herculean task ahead of them. It’s called Logistics. Handling such vast data is impractical and given the current means of shoddy implementation, it is unsustainable. Cant have humans police humans. The technology isn’t mature where the Skynet can fully take over. This ushers us right into a page from the cyber punk dystopia that the future is. China sets the example of how social manipulation can be done through use of cognitive assessment of psychological expression. To simplify that statement, it means, in time, algorithms will try to predict what we’d possibly end up doing. Pre Crime , hello Minority Report. Smart algorithms will enforce control over humanity by constantly policing and monitoring. In time, most of us will adapt and play along. As long as no body tells us that we’d then be reduced to being a herd of sheep. We are probably a century away from such a fate. Or maybe just a few decades away really. The ground work has been done today. Rest is inevitable organic progression. Fear mongering will ensure that some state will be smart enough to render its citizens dumb. Oh, Patriot Act anyone? Or Demonitisation ? History on a constant perpetual loop mode. 

It is funny that no matter what we do, we are still doing the same things over again. While the technology has changed, the human element behind the technology has remained unchanged. Maybe the human trait is a constant and fair enough, humanity has remained doomed , only we refuse to accept that. 

Karthik

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A password reset

I’ve never really paid much attention to an expired password before. This morning, the portal said I had 46 minutes of life left before resetting the current instance of the password. I shrugged my shoulder and I couldn’t care less. I logged in a while later. The system said I had 20 minutes left. And then it didn’t say anything. It redirected me to the change screen. 

I keyed the date and the month when I joined the organisation. I typed the current year and realised the blunder. And that was all it took to whisk me away from the present to the magical , beautiful land of the past. 

The year that I joined the company, a lot of things were going around in my life. I was glad that I was employed. Being employed didn’t actually spice up my life. To me , it meant a check in the box. Udyogam, purusha lakshanam. That roughly means, a guy ought to ought to have a job. I remember the 24 hours that I spent on the bus to travel from Trivandrum to Chennai. I had endured 24 hours of bone racketing rusty seats to spend two hours with the lady love of the day. I didn’t complain. It was fun. The anticipation of the meeting kept me motivated through the endeavour. Now that I look back, it was a silly romantic blundered adventure of sorts. The rains over Kerala. A rusty bus that stopped more than it moved. The early morning halt for tea and refreshment. The horrors of public rest room. The fresh pollution free morning. The sound of old songs blaring across the speakers. The sights of busy world buzzing around me. The world was buzzing with activity and I was lost in the nectar of love. Time meant something else to me. Time sped and slowed for me simultaneously. The trusty nokia was still charged and alive through the entire ordeal. 

All of that was on the second day of my time in the organisation. Back then, I wasn’t equipped to even remotely fathom the decade that was to come. 

I remember that cocky old me. I stood out in the class when I didn’t share the practiced queen of the world speech about how I felt when I got my offer letter. For everyone around me, that offer letter meant that their life had already changed. I’m a slow learner. It’s taken me 12 odd years to realise that my life had actually changed from the moment I signed up and picked that offer letter. 

I walked into the office as a goofy kid who was indifferent towards the world of staying a professional. In time , I had learnt to grow into an adult. In time I had learnt to accept responsibilities. I couldn’t bail out at will. I had commitments to keep and deliveries to make. I was not just me. I also happened to represent a big wide vast organisation. 

As time turned and churned, changes were inevitable. Life moved on. Through tears and smiles, I found the courage to wake up every morning and commute to the desk. Some jobs I liked, some I loved, many where I felt bored and numbed. There were days when work was my escape from life. There were days when work kept me distracted from life. Then in time I learnt to balance and see a life beyond work. In time, I had grown. 

With each phase of the change, my expectations from the organisation had changed. My expectations from life had changed. Things also worked the other way. The org wanted new things from me and so did life. The angry young man persona changed to smart Fixer. I had learnt to can the anger away. Right and wrong didn’t matter anymore. Things either worked or they didn’t. I had learnt to focus on making things work rather than fighting over for noise. 

While I was lost in the thoughts of the roads that I had taken till day, I couldn’t also help but wonder at how much I’ve changed from then. I’ve changed my ways in a lot of ways and at the same time, I’ve also remained the same in many ways. It’s a paradox nonsense when I type the sentence but it makes perfect sense. I am still what I am. Just changed and unchanged in ways that works for me. 

All that, thanks to a password reset. 

Beyond the news

“Do you follow the news?” 

Those are the first of the words that I heard during my short visit to Russia. I had gotten off the International Airport in Moscow. A bloke stood waiting for me. He held a placard that read out the grandest and the longest version of my name. Karthikeyan Thinnium Santhanam. With a Font size that big, my name almost spanned the entire length of the paper when printed in the landscape mode. Of course, such long names can barely be printed right in the portrait mode.

Vladimir was the name. Of course, it either had to be a Vlad or a Dimitri. Russia after all. Hollywood had spent years brainwashing me to believe that in Russia, there were but only a few names which were religiously reused. A day later I’d know the difference. Vlad shot his first question. “Do you follow the news ? “ 

‘I don’t watch the news’ I replied with a sense of pride. As it is, I read far too many books on cyber punk and the inevitable dystopia that awaits humanity. News, to me, is a mellowed version of that fiction. News to me is more fictitious than most fiction novels. I didn’t see a point in both reading and watching fiction at all times. 

‘Goot, you’ll have a nice time in Moscow’ Vlad declared. He wasn’t far away from the truth. 

News plays a very important role in our lives. News, either watching in the telly or the ones gathered from numerous gossip mouths that surround us, help us form opinions. We hold on to such opinions with absolute gusto. It is funny that we protect and defend our opinions and force it down the world. It’s funnier that a lot of our opinions, which are based on social news, are often lies and propaganda and aren’t worth the effort needed to sustain them. Staying distanced and alienated from the news does come very handy at most times. 

Oblivious to the average Dimitri in Russia, I walked the streets alone. I had a gala good time. I did however manage to acquire factoids that explicitly stated that tourists should at all times avoid interacting with them Police. I tried to avoid them but I wasn’t successful at that. I managed to share a few laughs with them nice cops who had a good time playing dumb charades in trying to help me find the kiosk that sold train tickets. Cops were alright. They were efficient in speaking Russian, and I guess they either cussed while smiling or were actually giving me directions that I couldn’t comprehend. Either ways, they weren’t as bad as I thought they could be. 

Then there was the train loaded with happy passengers who were eager enough to share their culture with a bloke. I found them a lot more friendlier than most people in my office space. So far , the world was proving the news wrong. 

Soaked in confidence and arrogance, I had made it across the land to Siberia. It would have been super dramatic to say that I found blood flowing and violence streaking through the streets. I hadn’t. I did find pedestrians waving me a bloody good morning with a smile. The day recorded a freezing minus mid twenty something. Outrageous caps, heavy jackets and thick gloves and boots were a common sight. So were those harmless smiles of greeting. 

My arrogance grew in magnitude. The following day, I was seated at the breakfast table and the owner had installed a brand new 120 inch LED TV. LG did good business in Siberia too. That’s the South Koreans for you. Their products are possibly sold everywhere in the world. The owner had tuned into the news. And then I saw this snippet of a bulky hulk like bald bloke who was apparently arrested for beating another bloke to a pulp. Reality had caught up. So there was violence in the land. Maybe unicorns didn’t dance in Russia. This sobered me a bit. 

I quickly bounced and realised that there is violence around me. Chennai had its fair share of crazy blokes beating each other senseless. I’ve been a witness to a violent crime, here in London. Hope they bagged that bloke. I guess violence is in our nature and there is no point blaming a country for it. There will always be them folks who speak with their fists and use their guns and or knives to make a point. 

All that said, one morning when I was heading to work, I was seated next to this old lady. Apparently she was an Italian and she saw me pull out my phone and asked if she could send someone a message about her whereabouts. I couldn’t refuse. I couldn’t think of anything to deny that helping hand. With hidden reluctance, I offered her my phone with a warm smile. I immediately imagined the worst. I thought I was aiding and abetting a sleeper cell who had been activated. I tensed for a while and then thought I was being silly about the whole incident. I couldn’t help but wonder about the social paranoia of the world that I was a part of. 

It also just happened that the old lady had messaged her daughter telling her that she found the right train and would be making it to another station in about a few minutes. 

In both instances, I didn’t possess any direct access to agents of violence or terror. I am a product of my opinion and my opinions have been massively manipulated by the agencies of the world. I think that’s a shame. The fastest way to debunking such myths is to brave having an open mind and experience different people for what they are. Yes, there would be a few nasties along the way. We cant help that. Even supermarkets manage to sell a rotten product or two along with the other million quality products that they sell every day. 

Growing beyond the news takes an effort. Cultivating an open mind takes an effort. It takes courage to give people a chance without viewing them through our bias. What I’ve experienced is that the world around is a lot more fun place when we shed aside our prejudice and let ourselves be a part of the wider world around us. 

Karthik 

Trans Siberia : A dummy’s guide to planning a vacation

The Trans Siberian railway line is one of the longest railway lines that I’ve come to know. There is definitely a fancy factor to making this trip. A vacation of this nature often is attributed as one of those once in a lifetime gig. Let that not overwhelm you. Planning and executing this vacation is not as complicated as one assumes this would be.

Lets get a few basics covered. 

1. The purist Trans Siberian rail route is the one that connects either St Petersburg or Moscow to Vladivostok. The entire journey on the train takes 7 days. 

Then come the popular alternates

2. The Trans Mongolian – This is the one that I took. This takes you from Moscow to Irkutsk , in Siberia. This leg of the journey takes about 5 days on the train. Irkutsk to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia is an overnight train. UB to Beijing in China again is an overnight train. 

3. The Trans Manchurian – This route skips Mongolia. It takes the longer road to China connecting Moscow to Irkutsk and then proceeds to Ulan Ude. UU is still part of Russia. the final leg is Beijing, China

4. It’s not always one train. Moscow to Vladivostok is a single train. If one really really wants to, then one is free to take the 7 day pilgrimage on this train. The Mongolian route took me 3 trains. The Manchurian would probably take 2 trains. 

5. Point to Point versus Stop and hop. Point to Point is about boarding in a terminus and getting out at the final destination. This is a vacation of a different kind. One would get 7 days to sit around and accomplish either reading or writing a book. One can make music. In fact, if you can think of any activity that requires a lot of time sitting down, the point to point is a great approach. For the instagram, I’ve been here too photo tourism, it’s best to break the journey across multiple hops. Russia is a huge land. The listed trains usually stop by many stations. It’s a matter of hopping on and off the trail. The more one breaks, finding the next scheduled train can lead to longer overlays in certain cities and stations. This , in my opinion is the best bet. 

6. Summer or Winter. My personal take , do both. The same scenic route changes its nature across the seasons. I made the winter run. The land was pasted white and clear blue skies looked lovely with white lands below. The summer opens up a lush green in the color palette. Don’t worry too much about the winter. Wear the right set of clothes to keep you warm and alive during the winter. The big catch is that you need to either rent or buy the winter gear. One simply doesn’t Rambo their way through the winter. 

7. Visas : For Indians, Mongolian visa is free. There is no processing fee. Russian Visa is cheaper and I guess so is the Chinese one. Applying for Russian and Mongolian visas are a breeze. Fill the online application form, stick a photograph, carry your passport and done deal. VFS supports Russia. For Mongolia, one needs to walk-in to the embassy and apply. I got my Mongolian visa in half a day, Russian and Chinese in 3 days ( I had applied for a fast track). If you fancy saving a buck, start the Visa application process two months in advance. 

8. Air Tickets : Always also include the flights into Moscow/ St Petersburg and the flights out of China to take you back home. Rest, your plan of the tour would cover. 

Based on my personal experience, obtaining the Chinese visa was harder than the rest. One needs to book an appointment. The paperwork has to be perfect and the Chinese don’t tolerate any nonsense. Don’t expect them to bend the rules or assist or even be casual in their work. They aren’t. Even though the Chinese application form does not ask for to and return tickets from china, you’d still need to carry them. 

Package deal or flying Solo : 

I did my own research for the gig. I tried to find groups that I could tag along with. When nothing worked, I decided to do it all alone. Most of my searches in Google led me to RealRussia, a few personal blogs and I finally picked TransSiberian Travel Company as my tour operator. The decision to do so were because of the following factors 

Option 1 , The cheapest : Tour operator would book the train tickets, book hotels and arrange for pick up and a drop back to the station 

Option 2 , Premium economy : The Operator would book the tickets, book hotels, arrange a pick and a drop back to the station and also arrange a day tour or half a day tour in the places that one would stop. Option 1 and 2 , you’d end up with a Second Class Train ticket. In a Second class, a normal coupe consists of 4 beds. 

Option 3 , Business Class : First Class train tickets. A coupe would contain 2 beds. Hotel accommodation and day tours across the hops and stops.

Different tour operators maintain different itinerary. The popular players , when searching from the uk were, RealRussia and Trans Siberian Travel Company. I picked the latter because it worked out cheaper. Both players offer a set of places that they’d like to stop by. The package that I subscribed to started as a 12 day trip. I inflated it to 16 in course of the planning process. There are many places that one can halt in the journey. Some of the popular cities are as follows

1. St Petersburg
2. Moscow
3. Kazan
4. Ekateringburg
5. Perm
6. Omsk
7. Irkutsk
8. Novosibrisk
9. Ulan Ude
10. Vladivostok
11. Lake Baikal
12. Ulaan Baatar
13. Karakorum Pass
14. Beijing and the rest of China.

The ideal dream vacation would have been to stop at all the places. With each place you stop, you should add the cost of accommodation. And this is where the planning comes into effect. I didn’t plan much. This was my first gig travelling alone. I went in without any expectations. I felt convinced that I was getting a good deal.

The unknown is a big factor in these lands. I’ve never dreamt of going to Russia , Mongolia and or China ever before. These lands, English is not a mainstream. I was worried about finding a taxi that would pick me up from the station and drop me back. Now that I’ve survived this trip, I do feel a lot more confident and in retrospect, it does feel silly that one would have trouble finding the way to a hotel accommodation from the station. A translator app, writing down phrases comes well handy during these exchanges. It’s always more expensive to book for one bloke rather than booking the package for a group. It’s again down to personal choices. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience because I had no strings attached and I wasn’t slowing down or enthusing up anybody. Flying Han Solo has a charm that does come at a price. 

With these factors, I had booked the trip through a tour operator and had opted to manage the acquisition of visas all by myself. You’d need Rubles, the Russian money. Yuan, the Chinese money. Don’t bother with Mongolian money. The few exchanges I checked, nobody carried Tugriks. The next thing you need is to figure out the cost of living in the cities that you plan to halt in. I googled it and landed on a site that compared the cost of living across cities. Since London is an expensive city, for me the rest of the places were at least 60% cheaper in comparison. 

Russia I felt the spends were very similar to the ones back in Chennai. Average meal in a average fancy restaurant is around 800 Rubles. A Pound is 88 rub. Good deal, if you asked me. There are cheaper , cheaper options available. When I picked groceries from the shops, the cost of average meal dipped down to 350-400 rubles. From this point, it’s a personal preference of a choice. 

Mongolia, food was cheap too. I reckon a pound is 3300 Tugrik. I had just one meal that I paid for in Mongolia. A three course dinner , a bottle of Cola cost me 20000 Tugriks. Most of the souvenir ranged from 6000 to 12000 Tugriks. 

China was both cheap and expensive. I had a heavy dinner for 43 yuan and I also managed to find a cup of tea for 58 yuan. I entered a hotel and ordered a tea and was told that it would cost me 35 a cup. I negotiated it to 25 and converted that cup to a bottomless one. In china, USD is very popular too. Most shops accepted USD. 

Winter clothing : 

My winter gear included the following

1. A rather obnoxious cap: faux fur. Damn right warm. 
2. 850 fill down jacket – There is a lot of science to down jackets. The simple way of buying it is find the highest fill number that you can afford and then buy. Ps, it has to be at least an 800 down. Anything thinner, you’d not remain alive to harbour regrets. 
3. Ski Socks
4. I carried two pairs of gloves. Inner gloves and outer Mittens. 
5. Snow compatible boots. 
6. Marino thermals – 260 grade. 
7. Berghaus middle layer : Simple jacket that I had previously picked up when I hit Switzerland in the summer. This additional middle layer keeps you warm.

A little quick science is that the thermal layer traps the heat. The middle layer insulates it. The down jacket, contains that heat. You know the difference when you skip a layer. I had the fortune of leaving behind the middle layer and treading a day out in Siberia. I felt damp and cold for the day. It was late by the time I had realized that I was a layer short. 

And yes , when in Siberia during the winter, wear more pants. more the better. I wore 4! 

Both in Siberia and Mongolia, it’s not the cold that kills you. It’s the icy winds that break you down. The point of many layers is that they protect you from the winds. I had picked a pair of thermal balaclava. I didn’t bother using them.

Please do note : Different people experience COLD DIFFERENTLY . You know your body best. Plan and buy accordingly. It’s sensible to be overdressed rather than under and frozen! 

In all, my winter wear cost me to the tune of £400. I didn’t feel cold for most part of the tour. The times my fingers froze , they were because I chose to not wear my gloves. My visas cost me less than £300. I had set aside a respectable daily spend of £20. I don’t think I hit the mark anywhere in the journey. There are two primary reasons for it. I’m not a snack junkie and I didn’t buy a lot of munchies. I’m not a shopper and I didn’t shop nuts. I picked trinket across Russia, Mongolia and China. My biggest spends were on tea, proper kettle and fancy tea cups in China. Rest of the places, I didn’t spend much. 

I picked up a sim in Russia. It cost me 1400 Rub. plus another 200 when I learnt that I couldn’t use the one from Moscow in Siberia. Rest assured, Google maps helped me all the way. I didn’t pick a sim in Mongolia and China. I should have picked one in China. No regrets, I still had fun not knowing how and where to go to the destination that I wanted to head to. 

In retrospect, when I plan a trip again, I’d prefer to buy a lonely planet guide book. The package got me accommodated in 4 star hotels all the way. I had to book an additional night in Moscow and realised the room tariff was £80. I’d probably just get a travel agent to book the tickets and the accommodation , I’d book them myself to save myself a good deal. 

Oh yes. The trains have limited storage space. I’d definitely recommend carrying an 80L duffle bag. I carried a 130L and struggled with space. Fortunately, since I was the only bloke in the coupe, there wasn’t anybody around to bother. 

The money you spend for the winter wear, I think the spiked summer prices offset the expense. All prices hike during the summer. 

Hope the guide helps. Hope you get to experience the joys too. 

Karthik 

The keeper of things Lost!

I’ve been reading this book called The keeper of lost things. It’s a sweet tale and I still have a way to go before I wrap up that tale. A part of the book is about a bloke who loses his wife. On the same day, he loses something she’d have gifted him. It’s all too touching and cinematic drama that is engineered to yank out them precious tears from your eyes. The author had done a decent job. 

The bloke goes on to collect lost things and he doesn’t stop there. The lost trinket of the world also inspires him to write short little tales centred around the said lost trinket. I reckon he goes on to publish the short tales. The publisher of the titular keeper of lost things, once notes that during the early days, the tales were short, sweet, and loaded with hope and optimism. The endings were happy. Everybody usually ended up living happily ever forever after. As days moved on, the hope started to wane and optimism soon started to take a hike. The tales got grim and the themes behind them short tales started growing dark. 

This assessment got me thinking. Pain , once again, had transpired a bloke who wrote unicorns and rainbows to look deeper into both himself and the world around and inspired him to narrate tales of complicated realities and truths that are waiting to be brought to life. In a world of misery and pain, the comforts of sugary goodness does hide away a view of the real world that the rest of the world choose to ignore effortlessly. Some defy the odds and bring such miseries to the limelight. 

And just like that, I digress. I couldn’t help but remind myself of the million times I’ve said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m lousy with names, dates and numbers’. That’s always been a handy excuse. To a great extent, that tendency of mine to remain comfortably forgetful has been a bliss. To a greater extent, it also is not always true. I do remember numbers. I do remember dates. I do remember names and faces. I just don’t extend that exclusive place in the memory bank to the wider world. 

It was a few days ago and the calendar read fourth of December. My phone number from India ends with a 412XX. And yes, it’s a date alright. The month. 12. The date, 4. The number also meant that for years now I’ve also remembered a fateful third of December where I forgot the significance of the day to follow. The clock struck midnight and instead of wishes, I spewed phrases in burning temper. The third December of a forgotten year was a time when I was supervising delivery as a brand new manager. Things were not going good. Now that I smile wistfully in retrospect, things weren’t going good in more ways than one that fateful day. 

The sorry voice on the other side told me that it a ‘happy birthday to you’ wish was in order. I had a meltdown listening to that. The tempers vanished and guilt replaced the anger. I sat restless for the reminder of the delivery window. Pish posh, deliveries managed, appreciations received , I head home a free man and followed the road that my heart pointed. 

There would never be a next time. It was the last time when I spoke to the person or even heard a voice in return. It was most definitely the last ever time I’d forget the 4th of the December. The irony is a laughing monkey. The lady long gone, the roads long parted, I have no reason to remember the birthday now. I’ve not had a reason for nearly a decade now. The cruel cold irony is that, I’ve also not forgotten the milestone date ever since. It just stuck. Somewhere in that thick dense convoluted mind rests a simple combination of numbers. it pops alive every year without fail. 

That date is just one of many other dates that are etched in my mind and awaiting a guillotine of forgetfulness. One day, may that blade swing and that day, may I forget the significance of dates and numbers and what they once meant to me. Like the titular keeper of lost things, I see myself as a keeper of vagabond memories. These are memories that are lost in time, lost through life. These are memories that nobody wants anymore. These memories no longer deserve tears or pain. I still keep them handy. They are stored , locked and not forgotten yet. 

From a profound hate for 5 star chocolate to an old black and white telugu musical about demons, from the twilight spent staring at the city from the terrace of a building to siting on the stairs and looking at busy bee workers, the memories are here to stay. I do mean it when I say that I don’t remember names, numbers and faces. Maybe I have all the numbers , names and faces already locked up in the mind and have no space left to accommodate newer ones. Maybe the cupboard is overflowing with litter and a herculean housekeeping is in order, I’d never know. Sometimes I do wonder if my world is a very small, cramped up space , that constitutes of a very few people and a billion gallion things about them. No wonder I don’t have space for the rest of the whole wide world. 

Keeper of lost things 🙂

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

[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!

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

Born to raise hell

While the title is a song from one of the metal gods, Motorhead, it predominantly has nothing much to contribute towards the context of the things to flow. I find it easier to talk about Jungles and animals than humans. For starters, talking about a forest and the flora , fauna robs me of the pleasure of offending anyone who can read. On that defensive note, here goes.

And so this animal ventured into a big scary forest. The woods were thick and dark. The day’s sun brought warmth and light to the wilderness and the cover of the night brought fear and damp cold. It was a harrowing place to start one’s life, I’ll give you that. The animal made its first batch of friends with the ants. The ants of the forest were everywhere. They led the numbers game. Their were a gargantuan workforce and were the most easiest to spot.

And so our animal of interest soon started to learn the ways of the ant. Work work work and always busy for the rainy day. The ants were driven by purpose and , frankly between the two of us, lacked ambition. Their quest for the purist satisfaction of work and effort wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Our animal eventually realised this. Resentment on one hand, boredom on the other, and throw in a healthy mix of ‘ What the hell am I even doing here? ‘ later, the animal decided to part ways with the ants. It wasn’t the end of the world and the jungle was a huge place after all.

Our animal of interest migrated from one herd to another. It moved from one pack to another. With each group it joined, it soon realised the mundane nature of the works. Each animal had a task to accomplish. Most of the animals did not worry about the larger picture. They were tasked with an action and the animals would do their best to accomplish it. For them, they took each day as it came. The work would start with the sun and would end with it as well. Some animals would work the nights. The context of purpose was rigid. All animals had a place in the jungle and fulfilled the purpose bestowed upon them. That was the unsaid status quo and nobody usually challenged it.

The king of the jungle had always been the Lion. All animals knew that and acknowledged that. To each of them, they had a view of what the king did. Some saw him as the beast of justice and others saw him as a slob who mooched off the efforts and hard work of the rest of the forest. The king barely had the time to sit down and hear the rumours pass around. Our animal of interest gradually worked its way through the food cycle. One fine week, it had an audience with the King. It was to work with the King for a while.

‘So what do you do?’ the animal asked humbly, addressing the king.

‘Nothing much. I sit around. Hunt when I’m hungry. I’ve got a pretty boring life actually. I don’t have many friends. And then when others try to take over the forest, I’ve got to go and put up a fight. Irony is, I’m actually a passive chilled out bloke. I hate violence but my job mandates me to be stand the ground and fend off invaders. It’s such a boring life, I tells ya’, the lion went on to mope.

So what happened to our Animal of interest? Ever wondered what animal it was when it started its time in the jungle? Ever wondered if it became something else when it migrated herds and joined other packs? Ever wondered if the animal managed to cope up with the reality of the Lion?

We are not so different from the animal of interest. We start both our lives in pretty much the same manner. We walk into the jungle of personal and professional life in the same way. As an empty slate. We explore our surroundings and make friends with blokes in the vicinity. Some are happy being ants. Some are happy being something else. Some are always unhappy , no matter where they are and what they do. We all pursue a holy grail. Some reach it, satisfied and happy. Some reach it, and sit bored from there on. Many just aspire it and keep wishing that one day they’d get there.

The moral of the story isn’t doused in pessimism. In fact, its the other way around. We aren’t restricted to be what we currently are. We are free enough to explore the world and be what we choose to be. There are limitations to the choices that we make. The rooted our choices, swaying away becomes hard. It just takes more effort. And so we lead our personal and professional lives in pursuit of borrowed perceptions. As long as such views offer hope, ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Going back to the tile. All of us are born to raise hell. Some do it, some aspire it, and many still wish and wonder if they’d ever manage it one day.

Karthik

What does it mean?

Hi

I’m 35 today. I used to be 15 a different lifetime ago.

I am known by many names. When I was a kid, I had just 2 names. Today, I have many.

I had many friends growing up. I think I still have friends today.

I think a lot. I’m both proud and worried about the fact that I can think. A lifetime ago, before I became me, I don’t remember thinking at all.

I try to understand the meaning of my life. I try to see if there is a purpose to it. When I was young, I didn’t care enough about such stupid questions. I had better things to do.

I’ve been writing a lot , these few years. A lifetime ago, I didn’t know I could write.

And just like that, my thoughts took to me on a conversation with my past self. Try hitting the search string ‘Why Unhappy’ in google and you’d find a million reasons and million thoughts on the matter. I think the first lesson that already goes overlooked is the fact that happy folks don’t usually sit down to think about trying out a search string on unhappiness. Am I happy or am I unhappy is something for me to sit and ponder. The context of this is about something else.

With the curiosity instigating a search, I managed to quench it through a quick scan of the things scribed in the first few search results. In their own right, I’d like to believe that every word written is a wisdom suppressed.

Let’s take a minute and choose to have an honest thought. Unless one is of an unsound mind, medically diagnosed with a condition that keeps the brain from forming a string of rational thought, I don’t think the cause of our unhappiness is a mystery at all. Denial is a yes, but mystery it isn’t. The popular information that flooded the so called ‘Help-Blogs’ was Pop Science at best.

In the brief amount of time that I spent looking at the content and before I could jump into throwing in a content of my own, I decided to sit down and classify the factors that lead to unhappiness in many people. My take is as follows

1. You don’t have what you want and you cant get over it

2. You think others are better and you don’t like what you are and what you represent

3. You are scared and have no means of pulling yourself off things that scare you.

4. You want others to like you but unfortunately they don’t.

There are at least a hundred more things listed out across each portal. I could see them as a derivative of the ones that I had listed out. To even shrink the list of four further, I think they can be classified as,

1. In your mind, you don’t like what you are

2. To your mind, others don’t like what you are

In and out. The simplest classification there ever is.

Back to the unhappiness quotient. One of the things that caught my attention was a line that read , ‘You don’t have friends’. Another one said ‘You hang out with Unhappy people’.

Those sentences led me back to being a kid. When I was a kid, I either liked others or I didn’t. I’d either choose to play with the kids or I’d choose to be on the opposing team. Life was simple because I hadn’t learnt to complicate myself back then. Today, under the guise of intelligence, we take comforts in throwing words to complicate our lives beyond compare.

The one about friends, it still haunts me. It leaves me with far too many thoughts. How in the world did we manage to complicate a simple thing called ‘Friends’. As kids, one made friends by virtue of proximity. Bunch of kids living in the same neighbourhood were very likely to be friends. Kids in the same class in a school, Friends. Kids sharing the same commute , Friends.

The trend was simpler. Face to Face. If I can see you, talk to you, pick up a fight with you, we had a good chance of being friends. And then came the digital revolution. Anonymity and digital incognisance made the deal of ‘Making friends’ easier.

It’s not easy to pretend and keep pretending when you meet someone in person, looking them right into their eyes. Your body language speaks volumes. You are either in and invested or you are out. There are good days and bad days. You learn to cope up with your friends and your friends learn to cope up with you. In the digital space, the dynamic changes drastically.

You are free to pretend whoever you want to be. You digital avatar is as real or as fake as you want it to be. Your face can be left natural or you can apply a million filters to it. It pans back into the above listed 4 categories. You want to be liked and hence you alter the way you appear, sound and think. The ones you get along with, you exchange more senseless banter. The ones you don’t, ignore and block is a click away. In short, we go through life, filtering people to meet our needs and specs rather than learning to live with differences and tolerances.

Then again, why would you bother to adjust and accommodate. It’s not exactly like you get to see them everyday, or work right beside them, or share actual physical space with them.

Friends. It used to be such a simple thing and now it aint so easy. No wonder, most of our strongest bonds of friendship are from Decades ago. School buddies, college buddies. I think , by now, you know why those bonds have been strong. Because they were real and not Virtual. Things that have a foundation in the real, have the capacity to survive in the virtual. The vice versa is not true.

We are unhappy because we cant stay happy. We cant stay happy because we either haven’t made peace with being ourselves. We also haven’t made peace with how the world views us. It’s that shift in perspectives and our inability to cope up that makes us unhappy.

Ask yourself this. Should you delete all your social media apps, even delete your whatsapp app. How many folks would really invest in an SMS or a phone call to stay in touch?

Ask yourself this. If you are dead in your digital social life, would that also mean that you are actually dead in the real life?

That should clear the illusion that a digital self provides. Art of staying happy comes from the art of knowing what’s real and what isn’t.

Karthik