The house of walls

Light.

The tiny streaks of light that managed to dodge the thick drapes that covered the windows were bright enough to illuminate the room. The luminance was soft and subtle without a glare that could strain the eye. There were days when I liked the house to be that way. She preferred a well lit house. Our separation started on that simplest taste over light. 

The bed looked made. It was empty. I couldn’t remember why I had walked in, but I was there nonetheless. This happens a lot to me. I walk into places without a faintest idea of why I got there. I shrugged my shoulder and patted the made bed. I was careful enough to not leave behind a crease. I turned around towards the dresser. Our anniversary photograph stood there, framed and neat. I examined it close to find no trace of dust resting on it. Typical, I thought to myself.

I left the room and made it towards the hall and occupied my usual recliner. I felt fatigued and I wasn’t sure if it was the age that was catching up or the fact that I couldn’t remember if I had any breakfast that morning, that made me feel tired. I sat wondering how my life turned out the way it did. 

Dark. 

Typical, she wondered. Her husband liked to leave the drapes closed, even on bright mornings like the day. He was her perfect opposite in many ways. She liked the house airy and bright. He liked it cold and dark. She had enjoyed cleaning and sorting things into their proper place while he had lived a hobo’s dream of untidiness and grime. Her lips twitched as she found herself lost in thoughts about how they had managed to endure the years together. 

She made the bed and walked towards the kitchen. She filled the water in the kettle and tried to switch it on. It just wouldn’t start. She wanted to call out to her husband. She knew there wouldn’t be an answer. She sighed and gave up on the notion of making tea. She glanced towards the hall to see if he was lazing around his chair. The hall was as empty as most of their life had been. Typical. He had this uncanny ability to never be around when she needed him. Had had never been around when she had needed him the most. Annoyed, in general about everything, she walked to the porch to find solace in the world around. Her chair on the porch had been her trusty support system. She had spent numerous hours sitting there and watching the world go by. The view wasn’t bad. She could spectate her neighbourhood in peace. The pointless business of the world comforted her. Deep down, she felt that the world shared her isolation. Nobody outside seemed to speak to anybody else. There wasn’t a casual chatter to be enviously spy upon. The transactions of the world were just that. Mere transactions. No soul in them. No life in them. To her, everybody seemed to be dead. At least on the inside. 

Shadows.

I heard the door creak. The sudden sound jolted me. I could feel my heart pounding. I knew I was being silly. I presumed it could have been the wind that was playing games on my otherwise dulled mind. Just to be safe and simply out of curious compulsion, I scanned the room to see if there was anybody around. I knew there weren’t. I felt silly over spooking myself over. It was a ridiculous thought. I knew fear had no place, at least not anymore. The worst was already in the past. There wasn’t any place for fears in the present or even the future. Things didn’t work that way. I shook my head in disappointment. The noise had left me unsettled and restless. I couldn’t bring myself to sit anymore. I decided to hit the porch. 

The porch had been a wonderful place of sorts. It held many memories. She had always usually been there. Looking at the world. Smiling at the world. The best of her was when she was outside. I knew the many promises that we had made together , sitting on that porch. I knew the many promises that I broke, that we broke, when we argued on that porch. The porch had become a world of its own ,to us. No one bothered us there. It always felt that we were the only ones , trapped in a wide vast world. 

I stood by the porch. The day had gradually dimmed its glory. It had become a gloomy day. The glum gloominess had somehow seeped away from the house and corrupted the world around. The metal railing felt cold. I stared far into the land, not wanting to focus on anything in particular. My eyes strained towards her unoccupied chair. It pained me to find that empty. The searing pain kept growing. The weight upon my heart felt heavier till I couldn’t bear the burden. I felt ambushed by the overwhelming grief that suddenly found me. I couldn’t explain where all the grief was coming from. The confusion left me dazed till I couldn’t hold on to a thought. Any thought for that matter. Everything started to black out. 

And then I saw a streak of light. 

She sat on her chair and her thoughts lost upon the world in front of her. Thoughts became tears. She couldn’t tell where the stream of tears started from. Was it that time when he screamed at her? It seemed unlikely. It must have been something grave that would have germinated that anger that led to a furious hate. The hate that left her with resentment. The resentment that fuelled her wrath. The blinding wrath had rendered her helpless. She broke down within the chain that bound her. She had endured the cycles of anger and hate till she couldn’t tell the two apart. In her state of misery, she blamed herself for what that had transpired and her guilt and denial alienated her from him. He wasn’t there anymore. He wasn’t there when she needed him the most. He just wasn’t. They weren’t a couple any longer. He was emotionally dead to her till.

The thoughts overwhelmed her. The anger flamed and hate burnt bright. She burned in her anguish. There was only that anger and hate that consumed and kept consuming till there was nothingness. The nothingness led to the dark. She blanked out, lost in thoughts, lost to self, Lost. She shut her eyes tight to cope up with the overwhelming strain. When she finally opened her eyes, all that she could see was the dark. 

The world of real

The door creaked wide open. The house was sparkling clean and tidy. It smelt fresh and unused. The barren house echoed the silence to a reverberating boom. The sound of footsteps amplified as it reflected from one wall to another. 

“This”, the lady proclaimed with a marketable smile, “is fresh in the market. A fantastic two bedroom house. Single owners. No kids. The house is in a fantastic condition and is selling under the market value.” , she concluded her practised pitch. 

She walked the guests through the house. The drapes were drawn and she opened them up to let the natural light spread through the room. The mild chillness of the house vaporised and the house started feeling warm again.

The viewing done, the prospective buyer couldn’t resist the temptation of asking why such a beautiful house was selling cheap.

The realtor paused. She knew the question was inevitable. People usually found out sooner than later. There wasn’t an easy way around it. 

“Sentiment, I presume” she started. “Tragedy struck the previous family. The wife had a long history with depression. You know. Things happen. She took the easy way out. The husband couldn’t cope up with the loss. One evening he went out for a walk and a car ran him over. The case was closed as a suicide. The street’s CCTV footage clearly showed that the guy jumped in. Lousy way to go but it’s still a romantic tale of sorts. The couple couldn’t stay separated. People blame the house!”

Within the Light and the Dark, amongst the shadows, the couple continue to struggle to reconcile and reclaim the life that they once shared. 

Karthik 

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How long must time flow before once stops calling a table the usual table’, I sat wondering. The table had always been the usual table. The brands had changed, ownerships swapped, contracts renewed, and the location of the usual table had always been a near constant. Right by the window. During the summer, the window would be left, ever so slightly open, to let the warm breeze through. The winters were no different either. Different season, the same old warm breeze to gently kiss our faces and leave behind a moist comforting warmth. 

It had been a while though. Five years to be exact. I was surprised that the coffee house was still open. I was even more surprised to find out that the layout remained the same. Some things are better left unchanged. I placed the order and took the usual table. While I was traversing through the many thoughts of the past, the present , the multiple what ifs, the order was served. I was a stranger in my own ancestral home of sorts. A new face that didn’t not attract the familiar warm welcome smile. The bloke stood around waiting to see if I’d request for any besides my order. I offered a smile to close the transaction. Without any words wasted, the event came to a finesse close. The piping hot cup of hibiscus tea was steaming in front of me. The vapours carried the pleasant smell of fruity flowers and it filled the table with its aroma. Uplifting. Yes, that’s how it felt. I sank comfortably into my chair. The train of thoughts had arrived at the station. 

All aboard, I silently screamed. 

Five years is a respectable period of time where stuffs happen in life. Five years, I’ve gained and lost and gained and lost weight. The face now is littered with wrinkles of worries and the million thoughts pondered. The hair line had fallen back by a bit. I stared into the tan exposed on my ring finger. 

Thud-Thudd.. My heart started racing at the mere thought. I still remember the day when I removed the nice silver ring , threw it as far as I could. I screamed from the bottom of my lungs and attracted quite a lot of stares from the onlookers. I distinctly remember not giving them a moment’s thought. Never did ever after either. 

Thud-thud.. The mind ushered a rushed montage of the fight that led to that action. I was surrounded by the demons of my past. The moment long gone, the memories still fresh and nearly ready to start phasing into a fade, the pain and the misery felt horribly fresh. My heart kept beating faster and faster as I descended deeper into that long isolated, distanced memory. 

Thud..thud, and just like that my mind forced me to visualise the first time we had met. The details of the world around had eroded away in time. Her and everything about her never quite did. Floral. The colour whose name I never did make an effort to learn. For me , reds are still reds. Pink is pink. Yellows and blues. Blacks and whites. Every other color is one or the other color that I knew. Everything else was a transient state on my love drenched eyes. Everything else had forever and always remained illuminated. If only there was a color to denote light, the brightness it casts upon the eyes, my eyes. The weightlessness of the shade, the brightness and luminance of the shade of sun’s honey-glazed rays. Yeah, the moment was as vivid as I had first experienced. 

Thud……………………thud. The warmth slowed the beat and filled me with a certain happy, satisfying melodic lullaby. The kind of song that wasn’t meant to put a child to sleep. But to soothe it, comfort it, assure it that it was a beautiful world and that nothing would ever go wrong. 

Five years, I had lived a life without that rhythm. The music had long faded away, the curtains had fallen, the stage cleared, the audience had returned home. I had endured and survived the isolation of an empty auditorium. I had filled myself with echoes of my making, echoes of my breath, murmurs through my silence and thickness of my isolation. The time had been kind enough to fill my world with people, whose faces I had forgotten as quickly as their names I had stored on my phone. I had lived on a borrowed time of pretend smiles and forced laughs. I longed for a moment of a sincere smile. The moment where I could be myself. The real me, without my gilded guarding walls. 

Time had made a man of me. Strong, stiffer upper lip. Poker faced. Cold at heart, colder at mind. The cynic was the last to die. The romantic had died first. The realist died later. The pessimist faded away. I remained a shadow of a former glorious self. I remained. I wasn’t a prize, but survivors aren’t often one. It was the best that I could muster. A de-stringed instrument, discarded, discorded. An instrument nonetheless. In time the anger had dissipated, regrets ignored and then forgotten. I had learnt to live with the present. I had learnt to live with myself. I had learnt to live past the longing and the eyes had learnt to look past it’s desperate desire. 

Thud..Thud… The heart picked pace at the thought of the time my eyes longed. The truth is that the eyes had never ceased to stop longing. I had pretended to stop. I had pretended a lot. As the moment approached, the Five years were now taking a toll. 

What would she say? Would she say she missed me? Would she lie? Would she pretend? Where would it leave us? Where would I be, where would we be. Would we separate again? The questions were many and the answers were scary. I could give myself a happy fate and sit with the happiest of answers. I could lie to myself. I would be happy for a moment longer. I couldn’t bring myself to it though. I could assume the worst, it wouldn’t be far away from the truth. I could, but I sat frozen in thought. Frozen in fears. Frozen. 

There wasn’t much to do but wait. I reached for the cup of steaming tea. 

My eyes strained as I tried to focus on the one walking towards the table. Tears welled up, blurring my sight. Emotions welled up , blurring my existence. A void swallowed me whole and robbed me of words or sound. A ringing sound deafened my ears in that moment of first sight. Everything felt illuminated , once again. Everything was illuminated. 

“Hey!”

I finally managed to call out. 

A silence ensued. A million paragraphs went unsaid, un-typed, unspoken. A million words lost in blackened obscurity. A few seconds of eternity, engulfed in wistful separation , distanced and held together in hopes of a reunion.

‘Hey!’

The world had sunk into darkness while I was drowning in light. 

Karthik 

Inspired by this wonderful couple that I met on the tube the other day. I reckon one was leaving and the other held on, staring into her lovely dark eyes. I couldn’t help but wonder about the million things that went unsaid between the two. 

[Book Review]: Siddhartha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik 

A world of many worlds

“Breathe in….” I softly whispered to myself. I took a heavy heave. I paused as I could feel my lungs fill up. “Breathe out” I silently thought the words. I exhaled. I repeated the steps a few times. A few iterations later, I stopped feeling dizzy. Dizziness is a natural symptom, or something along the lines , I did remember being told. Or was it something that I overheard , I wasn’t sure. Not that it mattered anyway. I gave up on that immediate chain of thought. 

The lavish field of brown and green was in front of me. A gentle breeze blew that swayed the crops. The view was mesmerising. It was a scene that I knew I’d cherish. I had viewed similar frames on the telly and the big screen a billion times before. The earliest that I could remember was from the movie Gladiator. Russell Mr Crowe would walk in such a field. His sword dripping red, the violence of his life was a beautifully juxtaposition over the peace that nature’s best could offer. 

It almost felt that. I almost felt that juxtaposition. Only, I couldn’t elaborate the things I was comparing the field to. Was it my inner turmoil as opposed to the pleasant view that surrounded me? Was it the stir of the gentle breeze as opposed to the storm that was raging in my mind ? Was it the intellectual arrogance that I knew the word Juxtaposition and was desperately trying to play it cool by using it? I wasn’t sure. I’m also told that this feeling of staying lost and confused was common. 

I took a stroll through the field. I thought that the experience might make me feel epic. It was and then a few steps later, it wasn’t. It felt like the other billion roads that I had previously walked in. The magnificence of the moment soon expired and I was left with the mundane reality of the present. I was all alone in a field, which was probably in the middle of no where. I probably walked a mile more. It was long before I stumbled upon another fellow bloke. He was dressed in red and blue. He was a worker. His attire made no attempts to disguise that fact. He was a man of the soil. He had probably toiled the land for all his life. He had a pleasant face. He carried a warm smile. I couldn’t place his face but deep down, I knew I had seen him somewhere. Maybe in a different life , in a different time. He seemed familiar and I would vouch for that familiarity. 

We exchanged a short burst of greetings. We crossed our paths and walked away in opposing direction. I didn’t make much of that anymore. And soon my feet carried me to a small shop. Rusty and dusty building that probably sold the essentials. Water, bread, fuel, USB charger! I could almost imagine the state of the shop from the inside. I knew with a sort of certainty that my imagination wasn’t far off the mark. I entered the shop and immediately felt a buzzing sound humming inside my head. 

“That wasn’t bad” I exclaimed. I removed my VR headset. It was a bit bulky. The landscape exploration APP that I was working on was slowly getting into a decent shape. The textures felt real. The lighting, the cast of shadows, felt real. The physics engine was nearly spot on. I wasn’t sure about the gravity engine. I hadn’t made an effort to notice how the dynamics behaved but I made a quick mental note to observe if there were any flaws. The testing department of monkeys would find flaws anyway. I knew their existence served a singular purpose of making my life miserable. The apes would pile up their work stack and clear them off just when I’d have my vacation plans. They were consistent at this monkey business. Certain things never did change. I was mentally gearing up for that confrontation. 

Satisfied with the beta run, I wrapped up the day’s work by shooting out pointless emails. Status updates to folks who either didn’t care or didn’t care enough to key in words to acknowledge that they had caught up on my day’s worth of work. None of that mattered. It was all a part of the job. 

I exited the building. I stood facing the city. Barren. Treeless. Nature-less. The city was a void. It had been that way for centuries now. Somewhere in time, someone had mucked up. One by one, the water had first vanished, plants and other flora were next to go. Fauna followed suit. I think the bees were first to go. Sparrows next. No body gave a damnN about them fishes, but they vanished too. Within a blink of an eye, in that splice between three generations, the big ball of blue reduced to a big dust bowl of brown. The surface is now blisteringly hot. We burrow ourselves. We no longer reach for the skies. We reach for the centre of the ball instead. Everything is artificial. Internet, or the web as we call it, exists. That’s all folks apparently needed and desperately wanted. Give them a web and they’d endure through inferno and beyond. It kept their appetite for pampered distraction satisfied. We no longer have water or natural food. Everything is assembled to resemble things that once were. 

I made it back home. Ate the usual pot of goo. I’m told that the goo resembled spinach. It wasn’t green and I don’t know what spinach tasted like. To me everything tastes like sand. We are forbidden to taste exposed soil. I don’t know what sand tastes like. That’s a guess that I can fathom. I turn off the lamination in my capsule and close my eyes to rest. 

I see a lush field of green and brown. 

Sometimes , I don’t know which of the world is a real one. 

Karthik 

A state of affairs

In all honesty, I’d very much like it if the post does not offend anyone. Then again, I’d be lying through my teeth if it really doesn’t. I’d enjoy it a lot better if someone took offence to it all. The things that I do in the name of satisfaction. 

So you know the drill. With lunch done and dusted, my eyes loomed around the spreadsheet. Cells and more cells and numbers and cells and even more cells. I tried to distract my mind by doing something exciting. I thought for a while and then hit a brilliant idea. I pressed the buttons , control and B. Bold. That ought to spice things up. I emboldened the contents of alternate cells, to begin with. And then moved to braver patterns. A whole two minutes later, I couldn’t help but lament at my pointless existence. 

Burdened by the acknowledged satisfying guilt of staying unproductive, I embarked upon a quest to quench my thirst of immediate knowledge. News has always been a reliable partner. There is nothing much there is left to be gained from reading ‘The News’. It does serve as a perfect foil to tackle snooze city at desk. IPhone 11 plans revealed, the headlines read. I could almost imagine the sheer bliss and enthusiastic zeal oozing from apple-folks(apple boys, apple girls, and the politically correct way of addressing them loaded pigeons, apple folks) upon learning that their favourite device is now capable of supporting dual simcards. Or knowing that their device is now capable of presenting easily accessible notifications. I mean, it’s a tried and tested feeling. Back in school, there was always this one kid who’d walk in, jumpy and jolly as ever, narrate a joke that the rest of the class, and quite possibly the whole wide world, would have heard atleast a decade ago. 

That’s apple for you. The one company that is so far out advanced that it takes them years to newly accomplish what the rest of the world has already taken for granted. 

I digress.

Having giggled at apple, I did start feeling a bit fresh. I changed the online edition of the news to India and whoa!!!! Politics was at the heart of it all. Things got interesting. 39% voters in Gujju Land, some crummy still wondering why the world ‘FORGOT’ the incident. I mean clearly we don’t talk about it anymore. Clearly , I’m not the ideal candidate to throw the light on what transpired and what happened there after. Clearly, I’m not the only one who still remembers the horror. But yes, billion years later, around the time of elections , someone decided to talk about it. Good luck champ. 

Justice, maybe denied, deferred or even forgotten, my eyes strained forward. Apparently a snake had turned up to Vote. Evolution had left it without an opposable thumb. It hissed, and hissed a little more and still couldn’t push the button on the polling ballot. I’m sure the snake is just as frustrated as the rest. The rest of the forum had mixed feelings about it. I mean, its one thing to protect the cows, it’s another to protect a snake. Unlike cows, I don’t think there exists a huge fan following and protected ideals around saving a snake. Anywho, the snake had charmed its way out and left behind a frenzied mob who hit the polling booth. I’m quite hopeful that the mob soon made their way back home, without Voting. I mean, who goes all the way to the booth to vote. Even the neighbourhood Idli walla stall has a door delivery scheme. voting-smoting is for the educated elite! 

A dash , a dollop, or just a bucket load of smear campaigning later, it was refreshing to read about the context of the National Adhar Card. It’s just an ID said the guy who drove it to fruition. Little did he realise that the card would be dragged to hell and beyond, mapped to life and separated at death. A success beyond the wildest recognition. An implementation to suit heavily vested interests. The layman left trampled in the middle. The curse of being born in the land of non violence. We are so non-violent that we’ve lost the spine to stand up for what’s right. We are so non-violent that we are easily swayed. We are so non-violent that we shed blood over things that seldom matter and evolved into door mats for most things that really do matter. 

Somewhere amidst all that is the last pipsqueak of the like of Rahul , Don mr Trump, who are lost in trying to find their way back into relevance. The layman is stranded in the desert of the real. Surrounded by gadgets that both amaze and astonish his imagination, crowded by manipulators who influence his daily existence. The layman is lost to the world of business magnets who go missing and yet are on tellies across the world, leading flamboyant lives. The layman is plagued by the impotence that arises from both inertia and ignorance. I think it’s just the apathy to give a hoot. Who has the time. Definitely not the layman. 

Crazed fanatics blowing up places of worship and hotels alike, the layman sits scared, waiting to sign up the last remnants of rights and dignity that he still has left. Fear grows in the land of fear mongering. Fear breeds fear. Ignorance breeds fear. Layman breeds more laymen.

With the words now swinging towards graver realities that otherwise go unappreciated, I’m finally caught up to my faculties. Awakened from the daze of one slumber, I sit wide awake in another life of deep slumber of inertia. Funny state of affairs. Funny land of inertia. As long as I’m asleep, I still have miles to go before I arise. I still have dreams to make real, before I awake. 

Karthik 

Hard decisions and never made easy

I’m currently reading The bridge of clay, by Markus Zusak. MZ wrote the Book thief and I still do have certain expectations on the former. While the tale is distinctly different, I do see traces of the brilliance that was expressed in the book thief. 

As the pages turned , the plot thickened and characters established themselves, the readers get to see the history of the roads travelled by the characters. This is called the journey of the character. This is also referred as the Character Arc. Every story , worth reading, has a strong arc. There is the normal. Then there is the challenge to the status quo. Characters then falter and fall. They do recover and bounce back strong. Sometimes they just don’t. The journey then takes the character to where they presently stand. The readers either empathise with the plight or they unrelentingly hate what the character has become. Such arcs usually explain and justify the nature of the characters. Good, bad, lords of Greys. Everybody falls into one or the other bucket. I enjoy reading through such journeys.

These usually mirror life. They represent the choices that we have made, the ones we wanted to but never could make. They also represent the choices that we resent making. 

Anyways, I came across a section where a character goes through a hard phase. The road leading to the plight was ever so subtle. Two kids thrust into a world of adults. Two kids, entwined in love. A short coming of age of sorts, the two make a way for themselves in the wilderness of the real. And just like that, the two take their separate roads. What stood out was a silent scream of protest between the two said characters. One had already made a choice to separate and the other was caught clueless and off guard. The justification offered , in plenty, by one is barely digested by the other. Push does come shoving rapidly. One explores the wilderness further and the other is left behind. Waiting. 

Some how this resonated a lot with me. I’ve been in that place. In fact, if I were to be honest, I wasn’t as graceful as the protagonist. Clueless and heart broken, the protagonist barely utters a word. I wasn’t so lucky. I ushered myself into a self destructive spree. While the protagonist hid behind silence, I hid behind words and more words. The protagonist and the I , from that point in time, were fantastic examples of blokes caught in unfathomable misery. The world of future rested crumbled under the feet. Dreams had come crashing. There wasn’t much of a future that mattered. Story Arc. It builds the plot, it adds character to characters. 

As my station approached, I closed the book and secured it in my bag. I found myself transformed into that state of frustrated helplessness. Just like the protagonist, I couldn’t make sense of the state of oblivion that I had been a part of. I shrugged my shoulders in distaste for the future that I had endured. All the thinking made me wonder if I’m smarter today. I couldn’t help but wonder if the past version of myself would have managed the situation any better. Having the knowledge of life, mileage, changes in priorities, the ways of the simple world, would I have been better prepared with such vast, for whatever it’s worth, knowledge. 

Honestly, I don’t think any of this would have made a riggity rag difference in the moment.

Of course, the road to recovery would have been much easier and smoother. The moment itself, I don’t really think much would have changed. 

There are hard decisions that one either makes or endures. The perks of making such difficult choice is that we can tell ourselves that we made the said choices and that does ease us of the guilt and fears of not making them. The perks of enduring such choices is that it eases of the guilt and fear of making them. A funny, ironic duality of sorts. 

Age, mileage, borrowed ;stolen; acquired wisdom has taught me that making and enduring such choices aren’t the challenge. The fear and guilt of voluntarily altering the status quo can be overwhelming. Hence, making hard choices is tough on us. The fears of consequence keeps enduring the choices difficult. There is a misplaced guilt in both action and inaction. Action because we instigate it. Inaction leads to guilt because we keep telling ourselves that things could have, might have, would have been different, IF ONLY.

In my humble view of the world, the phrase ‘IF Only’ is probably the biggest burglar. The phrase robs us of the dignity of failing gracefully. The phrase robs us of all the infinite possibilities of that rest ahead. IF Only. 

As the day lingered on, I couldn’t help but wonder about the book or the course the author has set for his characters. I can only hope that the characters bounce and live up to their potential for the tale to remain interesting and gripping. As far as life is concerned, I’ve wandered the woods of If Only a lot. There is nothing by emptiness, sadness and resentment there. I’d rather brave a million more failures than lobby around correcting one Big mistake of life. If anything, life is a series of ‘Biggest mistake ‘ of my life so far. The further we walk the road, the more such mistakes we stand to make. I’d rather walk than stand still. 

Reading opens up the mind. The more one reads, one gets the pulse that there is nothing truly unique about an existence. There are loads who have either gone through the roughest patch that we can imagine. There are loads who come on top. There are those who succumb under its weight, every single day. Reading liberates us and offers us the freedom to choose how we’d like the future to be. 

Karthik 

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

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