Murakami and me

In all honesty, this love for Murakami’s work is a complex one to talk about. It’s not about throwing words of praise and hunting for the right adjectives to symbolize the passionate addiction , obsession, that I have for his works. I’ve struggled to express the thought so much that I had to rewrite this piece a whole lot of times. I still struggle to find that balance. I’ll attempt , nonetheless. Fortune usually favours the foolishly brave.

I’ve not been an avid reader and Murakami didn’t exist in my world at all. Times changed and I chanced upon his book. Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage .The word on the street was that the gifted author was a lunatic. They had said that his works had an aura of depression, that his works would never paint a rainbow picture of the world, that I had to be a special kind of mad to enjoy his works. I guess the last sentence is true enough and a lot of folks did end up missing the point. It’s a very subtle point that is not that difficult to miss.

To empathise with his works, one needs to view the world around in a different light. The world that Murakami paints, has all sorts of demons and angels that walk among us. In fact, his works are heavily laden with crafted layers of existential philosophy, the nature of soul and body and the separated worlds of wishes and reality. If none of that interests you, the casual convoluted narrative would keep you intrigued. To understand the world that Murakami paints one should also understand the nature of the worlds of the many.

We all lead multiple lives. That alone warrants a divorced , disjoint view of the worlds that we are a part of. Each fracture that is led by our choices, we also leave behind bits and bolts of ourselves locked away in the altered realities. To simplify that statement, each time we pretend, adjust, accommodate or compromise to cope along with something, we also either make peace with that alternate or harbour a longing of a ‘what if’. While for most of us, this fork in the road does not dissociate us from being ourselves, the works of Murakami exaggerate that fracture. He runs wild with possibilities of the alternates and goes on to paint the picture of how the characters cope up with the altered outcome of their choices. In that sense, all the worlds that surround us start to make sense.

Many find Murakami depressing. I wish I could agree to that. I don’t. This again ties back to the world of the characters that we are introduced to. I’d be lying if I were to say that the world is a happy place and that at every corner of this world, we humans embrace happiness and blissful joy. I’d be lying if I said that the world was dark and there is nothing there which finds a nurturing care in this forsaken land that even god looked away from. For most of us, the world is a semi-balanced blend of the extremes. We are happy when we can. We are sad when we are. Smiles and tears when the moments usher themselves in our lives.

The world that Murakami paints, his characters always and I mean always , go through moments of pristine pain. This pain is crucial to both the development of the character and the story itself. I’m a philosophical bloke. I’m a skeptic and a believer too. I believe that unless there is an entropy, there will always be an inertia. In short, there is nothing like a good dose of jolting pain to shake us away from the inertia of disillusionment. It’s that pain that delivers us towards awakening and enlightenment.

in the non philosophical sense, if it aint broke, there aint a story. The author challenges the status quo of the character’s world by breaking them or pushing them to the brink of a collapse that they no longer can contain behind a wall of denial. This usually sets off the domino effect. The plot moves away from establishing characters to forwarding the plot of the story.

Like the rest of us, the characters are faced with choices. Either stay broken. This charts out a linear flow of events to come. Or, do something. The do something part takes the characters on a journey of awareness of the self. The characters start to understand themselves. They are now free to face their demons without the fear of it.

We are no dissimilar to the characters in Murakami’s world. We are equipped with experiences. We also witness those jolts that try to shake us away from our inertia. We either sustain in denial or reject our realities and embark upon a journey of rebuilding ourselves.

This phase is not possible by chewing on a sugar coated , hard boiled candy. Many of us single out this phase and brand the works as depressing. I don’t have an opinion on that perception. In the words of Homer Simpson, it can either be the worst day of your life or be the worst day of your life SO FAR. It’s that so far, that defines our life. That defines our identity. That defines the characters in Murakami’s world.

The journey leads to realization and then there are choices to make. Do the characters accept that realization or do they reject it. More choices and more forks on the road in terms of the narrative. Eventually, that acceptance leads to different outcomes. That’s the simplest view of a cause and it’s effect and the consequences that follow. The cause, the effect, the consequence, the trio dictates the future of all the causes, all the effects and all the consequences that the characters will endure.

What I love the most about a Murakami book is that the ending is never inked. There are no ‘and so they lived happily ever after’. Most of the works take us, the readers, to the point of acceptance of the characters. We are then left to interpret the action of the characters. The characters accept or reject their reality based on our acceptance or rejection of what we witness in the journey. While most readers would call this a lazy writing technique, I think it would have been lazier to spell out the choices that the characters would go on to make. It’s easy to say that the prince kissed the princess and then they lived happily ever after. It’s a challenge to tell us that the prince is wondering if he should kiss the princess. It’s brilliant to leave us to wonder if the princess wants a life with the prince. It’s sheer blissful magic to contemplate if there is a happy ever after to the tale at all.

You’d have to be a special kind of crazy to fall in love with Murakami’s works. I am a special kind of crazy. I am a wreck when I endure the depression. I’m an eternal optimist when the characters embark upon their journey of awakening and self realization. I am a skeptic when they make a choice to believe in the new status quo. I am a realist when the tale comes to a close. When the story is said, I enjoy the peaceful stream of thoughts that drifts carelessly in the raging rapid that the story is.

Like any other book in the world, it is what we make of it. While the world sees depression and resentment, I see life and the struggle to want to live.

Karthik

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The age of innocence

There will always be a part of Chennai in my blood, no matter where in the world I get to be in. I’ll always be the bloke who loves the sun and whines about it too. I’ll always be the pampered spirit who cant sleep without an air conditioner or, at the very least, a fan. I ‘ll probably always be the guy who is mesmerised by a snow fall.

London has been kind and gracious. We had a bit of snow the whole day on the Sunday. Saturdays are the worst, and in the right light, they also are the best day in the week. Saturdays are usually quiet. I get to lose myself in making music. The days have come and the months have passed. Something that has refused to change is the way Saturday treats me. The day loitered, the evenings wandered, I do always manage to make it back to the confines of my room with a million unspoken thoughts and a sounds that give my emotions a voice.

This Saturday was no different to the usual practiced rote. Late to bed, early enough to the window, the Sunday greeted me with a glimpse of falling snow. And just like that , I was a kid who was staring blank into the blanket of white. And just like that, I was someone else in a strange land of gleeful excitement and innocence.

It’s beautiful the way nature inspires the best in us. All it took was a shower of snow to transform my mind. I was no longer myself with arms weighed down by thoughts. I was no longer a bloke who was trapped in mind , soul and time. I was no longer a mirage of what I had become. It felt nice to shed some skin and stare at pristine innocence.

Flake by flake, as the ice fell through the open heart of the sky, with each falling drop I could see the many timelines blur and transcend. The snow resembled the flow of time itself. With each free falling flake, it felt like time had reset itself and that it had unconditionally altered itself free from the bonds of experiences that it had subjected me to. With each falling flake, I found myself closer to the liberation of the imprisoned mind.

I was staring right into the age of innocence. An age where time was immaterial. An age where experiences amounted to nothing. An age where everything was new. An age free of definitions , meanings and insinuations. I was finally free to feel trapped in a moment. The sweet comforts of swapping one prison for another. Only this one offered a comfort that I had never known before. A prison without an yesterday, without a tomorrow. A prison where today wasn’t relevant either. All that mattered was the unconditional existence in the moment. A moment that constituted of just snow and a pair of eyes admiring them.

As the day raged on, the snow manifested itself in different ways. It started as a soft magical shower. It picked speed and expressed a fury of purification. The sky had painted the land white. Then black and the world of grey did not matter. All was white and pristine was an one-dimensional direction. I joined its vigour. I felt the clouds lighten within. I was caught in that moment. Mad, zealous for that purification. The time of reckoning was finally here. Unlike the devil’s scripture, it wasn’t a time for judgement. The whitened land offered no prejudice. There was white and that’s all there was to it. A redemption offered without asking. An atonement gained without a longing.

As the phase slowly vanished, I decided to step outside my prison. In mind and the body, I found myself under the vast open sky. High up , all the way to the heavens, snow had painted the world white. Right below my feet, the price of that white was being paid. The bewitching beauty of the innocent snow had left behind a swamp of dirt and grime. The sky and the land were locked in a conflict. As the sky redeemed itself, the land felt burdened with conscious. White above, black below and I was right between the two.

I smiled at the age of innocence. I had been naïve. The moment had passed and realities were now spotted. The seduction of the white no longer mattered. I was a bloke of the land. This land’s my home. All the whites looked dark in comparison to the compassion of the soiled earth. The sky’s preoccupation felt bullish. It had exerted its will. The land took it all. It offered me my moment of bliss. It offered me it’s truest colour. I loved the land for what it was. It could take it all and still offer a nurturing embrace. I finally understood its soiled skin. Beauty was the blemish. The beauty without par.

Karthik

Digital singularity and the way of a cyber punk reality

I don’t think we ought to worry about a future where Digital singularity is a reality. There is no point to mull about it. That’s because it’s already here.

Singularity, the term has many definitions as it sits smug among many contexts. The crux of any Singularity is the convergence point of a collective conscious. Many , grouped and represented as one.

Lets take a look at how we’ve managed that singularity in the past. I always go back to the dude with a funny moustache. To my mind, he represented a point in time when there was a singularity. Anti Semitism, racial purity, a 1000 years of reich, they weren’t necessarily the unanimous individual voice. It was a single collective voice. The voice of the individuals were either silenced or oppressed. Murmurs were present in discrete pockets. The dude with the funny moustache had managed Singularity. For a while, it existed.

Lets rewind back to the usual modern times. Xenophobia is a collective singularity. It also does not represent individual voices. It is an accepted collective voice. The way social media reacts to many triggers also represents those many moments of digital singularity.

We aren’t talking about bits and pieces of such a singular existence. We are talking about full blown societies where natural scientific evolution would have taken us to adopt a collective conscious. We are getting there with each day passing. The trouble with such a collective conscious is that it does not take into account the individual voice. The greater good is a sentiment that directly conflicts with the most basic human need. That need to be unique. We , currently, feel offended to be tagged as average and normal. We are ok with it , as long as no body points out that mediocre existence. We are ok with ignorance.

I do think that, strike that, I do believe that we would eventually adopt a collective conscious for our society. We’d have gone through the usual iteration of corruption, oppression and politics and opt that technology ,which is both transparent and focused on delivering social good, as the right alternative. The biggest challenge that such a singularity would face would be along the lines of harmonizing multiple voices and opinion.

The simpler view of that conundrum is that in today’s world, we are not free enough to do good. There are many vested interests that deter us from doing good. Poverty and hunger. If the world wanted to eradicate them both, it could have. It exists because hunger and poverty serves vested interest. The essential conflict of interest has always shaped up the political picture of the world.

The deal with a digital collective conscious is that it would easily expose the conflict of interest. The interest would stick out like a sore thumb, the collective hive would eliminate it and plan ahead by bull dozing through it. That’s the bright happy picture.

As long as we identify ourselves as humans, we embrace disruption. The human desires of acceptance, acknowledgement, recognition, these are meaningless without an Identity. Ego, it’s not a bad word. Ego sketches an identity for us. We embrace it. Through it, we announce ourselves to the world. Resentment arises when we eliminate the need for that identity. That identity is the line that separates the men and the women from herds of sheep.

We are witnessing an interesting age of compliance. Take a good look at the usual activity. We do what others are doing. We play the same games, we forward the same posts, we voice out for the same causes, we click, like, share alike. We , as a species, are the closest to compliance. We live to standards without recognizing that we are aligning ourselves to established templates. Take a good look at your instagram photos. Same filters. Different places and yet everything looks similar to everything else.

And so, this wonderful Friday, I do sit amused at the compliance conundrum. We are a conflicted kind. We crave to be unique and do whatever it takes to fit in. Singularity is here. It’s where we all would eventually end up being a part of. It’s a scary cyber punk future and I’ve already started crying Wolf.

Karthik

A little faith

‘And you, whats up with you? You look like shit. Feels like a truck ran over you!!’

That, to me, is a compliment of the best kind. It affirms my faith. There are masks that we wear and there are days when the face reflects the storm that’s raged within the mind. I do look like shit. It affirms my mind. It’s definitely the kind of a deal that says that there are days when words are best that will ever be. It is a reminder that words mean.

And so just like that, I found myself in the usual crowd of the train. The more I think about the morning, the more I feel amused at the irony that faith has guided me to. There was a point in time where I believed. There was a time when I didn’t anymore. And then there was a time when I choose where I got to invest my faith into. Life finds many ways to remind me that the choice wasn’t a bad one.

Words got me here. Words got me to this calm forest of faith. I jumped in clueless. I jumped clueless to conclusions. I then stopped jumping, I was still clueless. Today, I’m comfortably clueless. I’ve moved away from facts and evidences that once inspired my thirst for curiosity. I choose to experience these days. Experience without bias. Experience without exerting an effort to understand the far corners of the whys and whats to the plot. It is quite something to just experience and refrain from the desire to understand the bigger picture. It’s quite a challenge to curb that innate curiosity to judge real from delusion. For what it’s worth, I do like to believe that experience comes first and understanding of it might come someday.

The simplest example is that of coincidences. I see far too many coincidences to a lot of things. I’m surrounded by coincidences. It does place me in a tricky spot. Am I seeing what I want to see? Am I seeing something that’s not real, but does sound surreal and good? Am I seeing a lie that I’ve subconsciously made a reality of sorts? The exhaustion from wanting a proof does act as a naughty accomplice. I don’t want a validity and is that because I believe or is it because I don’t want to lose a faith? I could argue both ways.

The fact is, irrespective of the side that I choose to pick, I still end up witnessing coincidences unfold before my eyes. I couldn’t brush them away.

This morning, off the blue, I decided to shut my eyes a bit and reach out to the infinity above and the vastness below. Like a spoilt brat, I reached out to the universe and the earth. I bridged myself firm between the two extremes. The drill was usual. I grounded myself to the earth. I asked for a favour from the universe to share a bit of light. I deliberated the energies trapped within me to run down through my body, reach to the depths of the earth and neutralise themselves.

This was different from the ones I’ve tried before. I wasn’t seated in the comforts of a room. I didn’t have a music to keep me company. I was in a loaded train. I was standing and conscious of the stations passing by. I had heard a station’s name call out. I knew I had time.

And so one by one, chakra by chakra, I deliberated that transfer of energy. Despite the rushed endeavour, the experience felt similar. I had managed to jump right into the phase where I didn’t have to spell out the sentences and words in my mind. They naturally truncated themselves. There only and intent of a thought. Intent manifested.

I disconnected my chord with the earth and looked above for a light of protection. Ask and it shall be given. I asked and it was graciously granted.

Faith is a tricky and slippery business. I don’t know what worked today. Did I convince myself of a lie? I did feel fresher and rejuvenated. I could feel the strength booming back into my body.

Did the exercise really work? Did my mind trick the body and prove the mind over matter theory?

It could be anything. When you go searching for a proof, you shall find one. When you experience and don’t bother about the logistics of what, why , how and when, nothing really matters. The biggest proponent of faith is when you don’t get what you pray for. It tests you. It makes you question your faith. It doesn’t really mean much to harbour a faith when every prayer goes answered. That faith defines you as a person when you hold on to it at a time when nothing goes in your favour. I’d like to believe so.

And so the coincidences keep me assured that I have my faith in the right spot. If that aint true, I’m at least blissfully foolish.

Book review : The travelling cat chronicles

The cat chronicles , Hiro Arikawa

Coverpage of The travelling cat chronicles

I was almost done reading The marble collector. As an insurance, I had opted to pick up a few books to keep me engaged on my train to Liverpool and back. The station is the worst place to pick a book. They usually sell books that are popular and are in demand. I’d like to believe that I’ve grown warm to reading books that are deviant from Pop Culture. Classics and Vintage are more of my thing.

I stumbled upon this book, assumed that it was a different book. I’m happy that I had picked this one. The travelling cat chronicles is a story that would leave you feeling both sad and hopeful about the future. It is the kind of a tale that would leave you with a sadness that forms a grey cloud over your heart. It will warm your heart, bring those happy smiles of tears, it would leave you feeling bad that the story is done and the book would now sit somewhere in your expensive wooden shelf. Pick it up. Enjoy the wonderful journey. Skip the review. Thank me later. God bless.

For those who need a little more persuasion, the story begins with a stray cat. A cat without a name and one that speaks. The stray finds his way to a silver van. The van happens to be his shelter of sorts. The smart cat with a sharp tongue enjoys his vagabond life. He lives a life without strings. He is the master and lord of his own destiny and boy, the cat can hold his own on a fight. It is by the silver van, where our feline hero meets a human. Unlike the rest, this human seems to be kind. He leaves food for the cat and tries to pat the cat. Apparently cats, like smart kids, are privy to strangers. They do not encourage strangers to get cozy with them. However, the cat is grateful about the food and lets the human brush him. The cat , still not domesticated, goes about its business. No strings attached.

One fine day, the cat meets with an accident that leaves him with a busted leg. In desperation, the feline hero drags himself to the silver van. He reckons that the kind human could help him. The kind human, Satoru, does end up helping the cat. He takes the cat in, nurses it back to health. The two get along well. The cat discovers that Satoru is a cat lover. Satoru names the cat as Nana. Nana considers this as a funny , weird name for a male cat. Nana also acknowledges that Satoru is very perceptive for a human. They both seem to understand each other perfectly well.

Nana, now back on his feet, is now ready to part his ways with Satoru. Satoru does feel bad about parting away with Nana, but doesn’t stop him from being free again. Nana opts to stay back with Satoru. And with that, our journey begins.

After a passage of a certain duration of time, Satoru is in search for a different home for Nana. He reaches out to his friends from the past and hopes that they can adopt Nana. And so Satoru and Nana being their adventure on the road to meet people, places and enjoy the world’s vibrant best. Each of the friend wants to adopt Nana but circumstances prevent them from keeping him home. The journey on the road brings us closer to Japan and the chemistry that Satoru and Nana share.

Why does Satoru wants to give away Nana? It does seem a bit odd because Satoru loves Nana. Why does Nana make it near impossible for Satoru’s friends to adopt him? Nana is a free spirit and yet decides to stay with Satoru. Why does Satoru make that trip to meet all of his friends? What secrets are they all holding?

You’ve got to read the book to see where all things lead.

This is a beautiful story of life. It exemplifies the nature of relationships in our lives. It talks about solitude and how it erodes us from within. It talks about the warmth that companionship provides. It’s a story of friendship. Every inch along the way, we see the beautiful blossoms of friendship bloom. The characters are beautifully drawn in this tale. Satoru’s outlook towards life and the world will win you over. Nana’s personality will entertain you and you’d fall in love with him. Satoru’s past is revealed through the eyes of his friend. Each character adds to the depth of the tale and each character enriches the reading experience. Nothing is wasted in this book. Even the back drop of Mount Fuji plays it’s wonderful part in this tale.

Life. This book is about life. It outlines the misery that we trap in our hearts. It talks about redemption that liberates us. The book calls out the quality of life that we choose to live. Why aren’t we happy? Why are we holding on to pain and the past. Why aren’t we free to be ourselves? What’s stopping us? What do we need to offset that inertia? The book manages answering all the questions without trying to sound preachy and without letting the answers overwhelm the beautiful story.

This book is a beautiful must read. I do feel sad that the tale is now over and the book will rest in a shelf somewhere.

Karthik

I want to tell you

‘Never believe anyone who tells you that they don’t know what to tell you’.

I blinked clueless. Of course, I had told a lot of folks just that. I opted let silence have its moment.

‘People know exactly what to tell you. They probably aren’t sure if they should tell you or otherwise. Anyways, I know exactly what to tell you. I precisely know where to being. I think I know where I’ll end.’

That seemed fair enough to me. I nodded my head in acknowledgement.

‘I wouldn’t disagree with others when they say that the town where I grew up , was a lousy one. There was nothing interesting ever going on there. The houses were bruised and damaged. The people never had the right amount of money to repair their homes to a satisfied perfection. The houses survived. The residents endured. Unlike the movies and books that I had read, the town wasn’t made of a bed of grass, picket fences of white, there weren’t many colourful vibrant flowers that looked like a rainbow that had fallen from its place in the sky and landed right on our town.

Dusty, filthy, grimy. That was more the realistic description of the place. As I said, I wouldn’t disagree with others on the town. I wouldn’t blame them. They were not the chosen ones. They weren’t kissed by the lady luck. They weren’t your neighbours. I was. The first time I saw you, you were holding on to your mom’s finger as you both walked into your new home. Yours, was just as dilapidated as ours. ‘Is this our new home mommy?’. That was the first time I had heard your voice. I imagined that it would have been sweeter than what I had heard. Eavesdropping , secretly , behind the incognizant comforts of my window made me believe that your voice must have sounded much sweeter in person. I was eight. It was an innocent curiosity. I had to wait restlessly for a few more weeks before I got to meet you in person. Those two weeks I had given my mom hell. I had bugged her and annoyed her to the brink of insanity. She finally managed to pick the cues on my subtle hint to meet you and your family. It took me two weeks to pass that message. Those were the most exciting two weeks of my life.’

I hadn’t realised any of this. I had never strained to even fathom a guess that there could be something beyond the norm. I did feel a bit ashamed and guilty of never having bothered to ask any of these before.

‘Well, so that was that. You did sound sweeter in person. Angelic, that was the word that had popped into my mind that day. The years that followed were good. We were thick as thieves. I thanked the stars for the options. We had none. Advantages of living in a ghost town. The years were kind. The passage of time brought us closer. I was almost sure, back then, that one of us would die in the arms of the other. I knew that we’d grow old in each other’s company. With time, I had learnt of different words that defined that sentiment.’

I was speechless now. I hadn’t known there was love locked away in his heart!

‘Well, so that was that. Your mama died one winter morning . We cried under our tree that night. You cried because your mom wasn’t there anymore. I cried because you cried. I had a nagging feeling of things to come. There wasn’t much that I could do anyway. You’d have eventually made your choice. You’d have moved off , no matter what I could have said.’

I felt bad about the broken heart. Life, I wondered. It wasn’t uncommon for folks to experience a broken heart. Hell, I’ve survived a few jolts myself.

‘So here is the deal. Never believe in anyone who tells you that they don’t know what to tell you. I’ve always known what to tell you. I’ve never had the courage to tell you though. I panicked at first. It was the right moment to tell you what I wanted to. I didn’t. And then a few more opportunities, I had squandered them away. I could have, If I wanted to. I had weighed the options. They weren’t favourable. I knew you wouldn’t leave behind your life in the big city and head back to the town for me. When you wrote to me about that ‘Ricky fella’, and I knew that I had missed my chance. And so I didn’t have a reason to tell you anything anymore.

I’ve spent many months sitting in the dark. I’ve spent a few tears. I struggled with the reality that you wouldn’t be there anymore. I felt hurt and helpless. I hated the way the time had flowed its course. There wasn’t a thing, not one thing, that I could do to change back time. It hurt to accept that. It hurt to know that I was hurting. I guess that was that.

I wish I could tell you all of this. I wish I could tell you all that I’ve always felt. None of that means anything anymore. There is no consolation to having words thrown into your ears. I see the pointlessness to it. We had become two people, separated in mind, time and thought. I couldn’t fight that anymore. It’s still nice to know that someday, when I’m gone, you’d magically get to read this. Wishful thinking. Some times, that’s all there is to things. You hope and then hope some more.

Things are getting better though. I don’t hurt as much. Doctors say that I wont remember much anymore. Amnesia does that to you. Of all the million things I once remembered about you, these days I struggle to hold on to any memory. This is my final fight against the flow of time. I shall not let my words fade away into black. I guess that’s that’.

I couldn’t help myself cry. I had never realised that Mr Credence had this side to him. I was the nurse who looked after the patients in this ward. Mr Cre had been with us for long. We are the kind of hospital where old people, who have nobody to take care of them, come to. We are like a hotel of sorts. Pay for care.

The doctor did say that he had a degrading memory. I wish I could have sat with him, listened to the tale of his life. He had passed away yesterday. I had to pack his things and box them away for scrapping. No next of kin. there wouldn’t be anybody to claim his belongings. Mr Cre’s letter , I found it neatly tucked away in his cupboard. I wish I knew who the lady was in his letter. I wish I could pass his message to her.

I turned off the lights. The room smelt of disinfectant. It was ready to house another soul. It was ready to hear another tale of a life.

Inspired by the words of Pablo Neruda. Thanks Shix. 🙂

Karthik

Ink and life

ZZZZZZZZZZZZRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR . That was the noise that quietened the noise in my head. Zzzzzzzzzzzr, then the noise was muffled a bit. And hello pain.

The story doesn’t really start with the numbing pain. In fact, it doesn’t even end on that painful note. The bags packed to Liverpool, I knew it was the right moment to get another tattoo. On an impulse, I had finalized on what I wanted to get. The same impulse got me an appointment. The dates were now set. The design was now set. To go or not to go with the plan, was the only question running in my head.

Getting a second tattoo did pose challenges of a different kind. Once one has experienced the needle, the nature of questions around tattoos does change. Does it hurt? , is a question no longer asked. Of course, it was going to hurt. It was always going to hurt. I knew that. The new batch of questions were around,

Do I really need this one?

Am I dumb enough to go through the process again?

Do I really really really want this one for all my life?

The first tattoo was a child of a lifetime of desire to get inked. I had invested a lot of time into thinking about symbols and formulating the wider deeper meaning of what it stood to represent. I knew that I’d do whatever it took to get that first tattoo. The second one was different. I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone. I didn’t need another tattoo to tell the world that I was demented enough for a tattoo. I hadn’t really invested a lot of time and thoughts into what I wanted. The fact that I wasn’t a 100% sure on what I wanted, also pushed me to have second thoughts about them.

Did I really need one? Yup. Was I dumb enough to go through the process again? Yup. Do I really really really want this for all my life? I guess so.

I guess so. That’s the whole point. There is so much life spent around those words. I GUESS SO. Choices that sit on the fence that separates decisions and doubts. I guess so is the easier road to take. We are almost there. Nearly confident that we are geared up for the unknowns that are ahead of us. There is a fear of that uncertainty. I guess so is a win win state to be in. It’s not the same as staying inert because of the paralysis of fear. It’s not the same as galloping bravely into the arms of the future. It’s a slow , cautious walk in a direction. Any direction.

I guessed that I could use another tattoo. The first thing that came to my mind was the full moon. I remember the many days I’ve spent admiring the ball of white. It wasn’t the white that I fancied. I liked the orange full moon. That was almost immediate. I had opted to ink a full moon that was a ball of Orange. With that in mind, there was a destination to look forward to.

The decision now made, I wanted to spend a little more time understanding the whys of my choice. Moon shares a deep association with spirituality. Spiritual aspirants draw on the moon’s grace in their journey. The colour also had a meaning. I wasn’t surprised by my choices in them. Red and Orange. They both deal with the first two chakras.

The skeptic , within me, calls this as Confirmation bias. I had made my choice and was looking for meanings to tag along. The believer in me laughs at the chain of coincidences. I had never imagined getting a moon, of all things, inked. Far away from dreams of getting skulls and bones, there I was shooting for the moon.

The inking began. I tried to zone out of the pain. The process lasted two hours and there is only so much that one can tune out off. I got chatty with my tattoo artist, Mr Auris. Then I got bored of sitting idle and still. I even braved looking at the needles playing poke -e -man with my skin. In time, I got used to the pain, I was starting to get excited about the final product.

The two hours of pain and dreams did give me the opportunity to think. Somewhere along the first 15 minute mark, I wanted to give up. I didn’t want to believe in the tattoo any more. I didn’t see a purpose. I didn’t see why I had opted to sit through pain. It was the lousiest moment of the entire bloody day. I channelled out the pain by thinking about the image of the moon that I was aiming for, It didn’t bring me peace. Take that Dramatic moments written in literature.

It did distract me away from the pain. The wave of pain subsided. It didn’t feel hurt that bad for a while. The pain kept coming in waves. I sat satisfied that I could sit through it without tears. I had started to enjoy the moment. I was getting a tattoo. I was getting one that had 9 colours in them. That’s two more than the average joe Rainbow!

I guess life is like that. It’s exactly how we choose to reflect and describe. We either make a choice , or sit around wishing that we could make one. We either enjoy the choice made, or lament it. We either write a wonderful tale of purpose and joy, or lament it and blame the many factors that were unlucky. Life is what we make of it. And an ink is what I make of it.

I have a moon on my shoulder. I guess that makes me a star 🙂 and I can live with that.

Oh, live a life doing stupid things, you are bound to learn a lot of lessons. Getting inked during winter, in Liverpool, not the smartest of ideas. It does make me stronger though! A big bar of hazelnut candy made the experience a lot sweeter. Everything feels better with a baby diaper rash ointment!!!!!

I now have my eyes on the next batch! Third time is the CHARM

My tattoo of a full moon

Karthik

Book review : The marble collector

“Hurtful things are roots,they spread ,branch out, creep under the surface touching other parts of the lives of those they hurt. It’s never one mistake, it’s never one moment, it becomes a series of moments, each moment growing roots and spurting in different directions”

Coverpage of The marble collector

The marble collector, Cecelia Ahern.

There was something about the book that made me pick it. I was oblivious to Cecelia when I picked a copy. Something appealed to my sensibilities and on an impulse, I had clicked it for a speedy delivery. It turned out to be a happy turn of events.

The marble collector is a warm tale of life, love, secrets, resentment and ties that bind a family together. The story starts with a little kid, Fergus, who gets punished at school. He spends a significant portion of the day , locked away in a dark room, under solitary confinement. The darkest of rooms does hold the warmest of light in Fergus’ life. His lifetime passion for marbles starts there.

Decades later, we are introduced to Sabrina Boggs. She leads a stagnated life. A job as a lifeguard in a country club for old people, a marriage in trouble, kids playing on her nerves, all of that renders her bored with her life. She survived her parents’ divorce when she was fifteen. Her dad is now under a special care. Doctors do recommend that stress had caused him to have a stroke and the stroke leaves him with an amnesia. Her dad doesn’t remember a lot. He gets a clean slate, fresh start to life. On days her mom visits the dad, they do enjoy their company. Irony. The couple had separated as they couldn’t tolerate each other any more and now with memories erased, they were finding a companionship that had always evaded them.

One morning, a mystery box arrives at Sabrina’s doorsteps. It has boxes and boxes of marbles in them. It has a note, written by her dad, that serves as an inventory of all the marbles collected. Some are precious, some are cheap, but all of them hold a mystery to Sabrina. Neither she nor her mom knew that their dad , Fergus , collected marbles. Two of the most expensive marbles listed in the inventory are found to be missing. Sabrina tries to find them.

As the road takes Sabrina closer to the missing marbles, they also take her closer to a side of her dad that she never did know. She learns that her dad was passionate about marbles. She learns that her dad had lived two distinct lives. As she inches closer to finding out the missing marbles, she also realizes that she has been missing out on quite a lot of her dad’s other life. Far away from a serious, workaholic man , his other life had been quite on the wild-enough side.

Rest of the tale is how the two worlds reconcile. Does her father regain his memories? Does the man who’d lost his marbles, finally find them? The book is a warm tale of a daughter who is on a quest to find out about her father.

The characters are plenty in the book. There is Fergus, his mom, dad and brothers. There is Fergus’ divorced wife. He still calls her his wife even though she now has been married to someone else. There is Sabrina, caught right in the middle of what she doesn’t know about her dad and what the rest of the world isn’t tell her about him.

The story outlines the price that one pays in order to keep secrets. Why did Fergus keep his passion for marbles a secret? Of course, it is rather silly for a grown man to play around with marbles. Was that silliness , or rather, was keeping that silliness a secret worth the price that he had paid in life? The book is a testament to simple honesty to life. The book talks about how hearts want to be honest. The book talks about how people don’t always readily award honesty. It’s one thing to want honesty but it’s a whole new challenge to hear it out.

The book’s themes centre around choices. It articulates on how a life branches out each time we make choices that keep us from staying true to our character. It is human to want to fit in. It is human to present our finest, best version of ourselves to the people that we want to impress. It is human to lie. An acceptance based on a foundation of lies, context determines if its worth the toll it takes to sustain that. The book captures that fracture. The irony is melancholic at best. We give our best, beyond what that is us, and in the end the relationship crumbles because we couldn’t just give ourselves for what we were.

The other arching theme is around the nature of relationships. Sabrina has a marriage that is under stress. Fergus’ ended up in a divorce. There are aspects that connect the causality of the state of their respective relationships. Honesty , I’d like to believe, is a by-product in a relationship. Contrary to popular sentiment that honesty is the holy grail of relationships, the book made me wonder about the lack of honesty. Why do the characters choose to hold secrets? Why aren’t the characters free to open up? In a relationship, it takes two to tango. Honesty often flows when the two vested people are receptive to each other. There are barriers that keep us away from honesty. Fear aces that list. Fear of losing the person. It’s in that pursuit of holding on to the people we end up doing a whole lot of things that destroy the said relationship.

The other big theme in the book is that of Association. I loved this to bits. Like it or hate it, we do tend to associate things to people. Marbles are a symbol throughout the book. They mean something else to Fergus, they mean something different to Sabrina. We are attached to things and that’s because we are attached to the people in our world. Things hold no meaning by themselves. This association gets delicately conveyed throughout the book. Fantastic job there.

The book did leave me with a thought that honesty in a relationship is probably not an entitlement. It’s earned by both. If honesty is reciprocated with punishing judgement, it is human to avoid confrontation. It’s easier to lie. The simplicity of the choices the characters make, their justified reasons, their individual pursuit of redemption, the consequences on people, I enjoyed every inch of this tale.

I’d definitely recommend the book. A simple story did leave me with lasting thoughts about the many marbles that I’ve lost.

Karthik

A cycle of circles

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm, followed by a brief moment of a pause. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. The mechanical sound of assisted breathing wasn’t anything like I had ever imagined. Breathing. The simple, unappreciated , biologically reflex process of iterative inhaling and exhaling felt sinister and daunting when there was a machine assisting it along the way. I had never paid any attention to the sound of breathing ever before. It was the mechanical hum and a sense of distortion , which felt added to the natural sound of the rhythm ,that had caught my attention.

Hmmmm and an Ahhhhh. It felt scary.

The peace and quiet of the white, dull room of the hospital to the eeriness of the mechanical breathing. There was nothing comforting and assuring about the white walls anymore. It then dawned on me. The reason why hospitals pick those colours to paint their walls. I realized the colours played a role in messing with our psychology. It was a subliminal messaging of sorts. Everything about hospitals were to either assure that things would be ok or to pacify the agitated state of minds. My mind had been racing with many thoughts. I did feel a bit distracted at the moment. I couldn’t explain how I ended up in this state of the mind, but I was there nonetheless.

I saw my dad resting silently. Unaffected by the sounds and noise. Good for him. It felt reassuring to see him rest. The past few days were a nightmare. It all started a few months ago. I think age is just a number. When there is a medical professional at the other side of the table, reminding you of mortality and that in god’s mighty plan, nothing lasts forever; It shakes your steady , concrete foundation. Neither dad nor I were prepared for the news. Dad being dad, took it all with a stiff upper lip and his usual poker face. I am my dad’s son. I didn’t display the crushing emotions publically. Inside, I was just as broke as my dad was. The news had changed our worlds. Yeah, doctors do tend to alter lives, more than god has ever altered.

I found it peaceful to see dad rest. I think , deep down , deep within his rock exterior, he had accepted his fate. He no longer resisted it. Unlike what the self help books prescribe, acceptance does not always translate to a better living. The deeper my dad’s acceptance penetrated within him, the frailer he started to appear. He was a mirage of his former self. Disinterested, disconnected and lived a hopeless existence. It pained me to see him that way. I guess , my dad also endured such a pain. He would no longer look me into my eyes. His gaze found a new way of staying distanced. We no longer spoke. We both had accepted this twisted new fate and silently choose to drift away into fears and oblivion.

That changed a three days ago. A ride in a manic ambulance does that. Circumstance had changed my dad once again. I think it was more to do with the realization of the dwindling eternity of time ahead that forced the change. Weak and distraught, my dad finally managed to see me in my eye. It was a moment , of something that I couldn’t even being to explain. It meant we both had made a choice to live in the present. We both had chose to ignore the future. Future didn’t matter, especially when there wasn’t a future ahead.

The doctors got busy and they wouldn’t let me see dad for a while. The sun had risen and had poised to set. The orange hue of the sunset dictated the flow of time. It was the first of the many conversations that dad and I managed to catch up. It had been a while. We had grown strangers in time. Dad told me of his days. How he’d ride a crowded train, on its steps, for three hours each day. He’d commute through rush to watch mom for five minutes. He’d wait by the gate and watch her walk into her university. He’d watch her leave for home in the evening. That five minutes of bliss was evenly split across the day the and the evening.

Dad paused and asked me about my tryst with love. He had never had the time to contemplate the circle of life that I’d go through. He thought there’d always be time for that chit chat. It was finally the time. I told dad about the heart. Parts broken, parts sewn back together. My dad, rather weakly, brushed my hair and said it was the way of life. He said that people often meet the right people on the rightest moment in time. For some, all it takes is a few minutes. For some, it takes a whole lifetime. Everybody eventually meets their people on the rightest moment in time.

Dad then spoke about how his world had crashed when mom passed away. He confessed his supressed guilt of choosing work to drown his sadness. He felt bad that he wasn’t there enough. None of that mattered anyway. Not any more.

Things improved for a while. We had two more days of long conversations. The doctors would take him away from time to time. Each time he returned, he looked more broke than before. I knew it wouldn’t be long now. There was only so much a man could break. I knew my dad would hit rock bottom fast. I had already reached there.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.. The noise started to haunt again. There was dad. There wasn’t much that I had to tell him now. All had been said. I wanted him to know that everything would be alright. I couldn’t find the words. I couldn’t. The body wouldn’t. The last thing that I ever saw was the most beautiful sight of my dad, resting peacefully.

Ah crap, I thought to myself. It wouldn’t last for long.

Fade to black.

Karthik

Book Review : The trouble with goats and sheep

“You only really need two people to believe in the same thing, to feel as though you just might belong.”

The trouble with goats and sheep , Joanna Cannon.

Coverpage of The trouble with goats and sheep

Sometimes the whole wide world is a small place. There is no vast expanse. There are no far away horizons. The trouble with goats and sheep is a tale of such a small world. 12 to be precise. This is a tale of 12 houses in an avenue. The avenue comes alive because of its inhabitants. The people are fantastically portrayed.

One very hot June in 1976, Mrs Margaret Creasy goes missing. This jolts the residents of the avenue. They are a very tight close knit community. The disappearance disrupts their lives. Mrs Creasy was the heart of the avenue. She spoke to all , without any reservations. Everybody felt warm and nice in her company. Her disappearance leaves a gaping hole in the lives of the 12 families.

Gracie, a ten year old, and her friend Tilly , an almost a ten year old, take it upon themselves to solve the case of the disappearance of Mrs Creasy. The girls do miss her. The embark upon a quest to find her. Their journey takes them to a very interesting junction. If only they could find God , everybody would be protected and all will be better again. By implication, finding god , they feel that they’d manage to bring Mrs Creasy back into their lives again.

And so the kids start their investigation.

The kids go about the neighbourhood asking the adults if they believed in God and if they had seen one. Each character has a representation of god and the diverse answers that the kids get, leave them convinced that god doesn’t really reside in their avenue. God wouldn’t, and there is a reason for that. While kids struggle to uncover the mystery, the adults are holding on to a terrible sinister secret. The adults are nervous about Mrs Creasy’s vanishing act because it had attracted the police’s attention. The adults do worry about what the police might discover.

Hidden away within the confines of the avenue that houses 12 families, One cold winter in 1967 , the residents make that decision to burn down the house with the door #11. Why ? Mr Walter Bishop. Mr Bishop is perceived as creepy , wicked, and a pervert. The families bank on collective evidences to justify their justice. They pick a night ,when Mr Bishop and his mum are away, to burn the house down. The logic behind the act was that without the house, there wouldn’t be a Mr Bishop in their neighbourhood.

The plan goes well. The house does burn down and it is made to appear like an accident. Unfortunately, Mr Bishop and his mum get caught in the blaze. The mum falls victim to the incident. This does bear down a bit on the collective conscious of the residents.

The narrative swings between that winter in 1967 and the current summer in 1976. As the girls prod about Mrs Creasy, we get to uncover the series of events that led to that fateful night. Rest of the tale is about the fate of Mrs Creasy. Is she dead? Was she murdered? Did she leave because she figured out that the residents had killed Bishop’s mom? The community starts to crumble under it’s own weight of guilt and prejudice.

The book is about the collective conscious. This book beautifully captures the dynamics of families living together as a closed community. Each character brings a bag of prejudice and bias to the table. Each character is flawed and broken. Each character tries to fit in, and find that sense of belonging to the wider community.

The conflict between conformance and fitting in with staying unique and true to character is portrayed through the eyes of the two little heroes, Gracie and Tilly. The girls are a social outcast in their school. They do not fit in. They get bullied. Gracie looks up to another kid, Lisa, and tries to ape her to gain acceptance. Gracie is prepared to do what it takes to fit in.

Tilly on the other hand, has an overprotective mom who smothers her all the time. Tilly wants to be free, she wants her dad, who is separated from her mom, to acknowledge her and accept her. Tilly feels that being Gracie’s friend is all the acceptance that she needs in the world. The contrasting nature of the girls serves as the perfect juxtaposition to the community and Mr Bishop , who the community unanimously detests.

The biggest theme explored in the book is about conformance to society and the nature of the society to tolerate people who are different. Under the pressure of wanting to fit in, many of us do the things that we do. We gang up and pick on people who are different. While , as individuals, we do not express strong views; under the safety of numbers, we do tend to promote the ravaging beast that we hold dormant within.

I loved this book. The characters are sculpted to near perfection in the book. It holds a mirror to us as a society. It makes us think.

Give this a shot.

Karthik