Book review : Norwegian Wood

Cover Page of Norwegian Wood, Murakami

Norwegian wood by Haruki Murakami.

It is an infinitely difficult tale for me to review. It’s not because the tale is beyond a justifiable review, it’s solely because I am blinded by the emotions that I’d bring to the table when I talk about this book. I shall do my best to alienate myself from the book while I attempt to review this Masterpiece.

Norwegian wood, a song by The Beatles, also happens to be the song that the leading lady of the tale likes. Naoko. Toru Watanabe is the narrator and this story revolves around his life, how it intersects with Naoko , Reiko and Midori. The book is a testament to the predictability of how unpredictable our reasoning becomes when we face challenges that test our emotional stability. In short, Love, is the most predictable means to call out how we become unpredictable because of it.

N.W is a simple tale of love. Toru, his best friend Kizuki and K’s girlfriend Naoko are a trio. The story takes place when Toru is aged 17. Kizuki kills himself which leaves a void in Naoko and Toru’s lives. It’s a void that is beyond repair. It leaves a gaping hole in their lives. Toru and Naoko move to Tokyo, each pursuing their education. Toru and Naoko seem to find solace between themselves and Naoko , one fine day, exiles herself from Toru’s life. Toru feels the icy talons of isolation once again.

He later comes to know that Naoko , who is suffering from depression, has checked herself into an institution. Naoko reaches out to him through letters. Toru makes it a point to visit her and that’s when they meet Reiko. Reiko is Naoko’s roomie and she’s also a victim of a breakdown. There is a new trio that is formed.

While all of this happens, Toru meets Midori and finds her to be full of life, a quality that he misses both in his life and that in Naoko. She represents everything that Toru misses. Toru is in love with Naoko. Naoko is imprisoned by her depression. She’s a broken version of what she can be. She’s unable to reciprocate that love. Her solitude leaves Toru in a state of solitude. Midori start to fall for Toru and he feels the conflict.

So far the plot of the book does point towards the simple fact that love can get as complicated as one wants it to be. It’s not the mere words of love that this book represents. It is a hurricane of emotions that each of the character expresses. The volatile nature of emotions, the impact of such emotions on our lives, the way our lives affect the lives of folks around us, and this book absolutely , precisely rams the hammer down the perfect nail.

As the protagonist suffers the misery of helplessness of his love, we feel his pain. We feel the pain and misery that keeps Naoko trapped. Her inability to jolt herself off her depression, the toll and strain that has on the love, the residual sadness and guilt of Kizuki’s death, a world of walls keep the lovers apart. Toru’s love for Naoko keeps him disconnected from Midori. Midori’s solitude finds comforts in Toru.

It’s not hard to imagine the way love flourishes through pain and sadness. Each character is trapped , waiting and longing for that special attention. Each character denies that special attention to someone that desperately seeks from them. We are left with human nature in its rawest unblemished form.

What happens to the love? Whose love finally endures the test of time? Whose battle with depression, loneliness finally sees the light of dawn? The story goes on to conclude in the most fashionable way that readers of Murakami are now used to.

I loved this book. This book struck a chord and I couldn’t keep myself away from living the characters in my head. The book expresses a lot of themes.

We find it hard to accept but the under appreciated truth to many of us is the fact that we put our happiness in someone else’s hands. The tale is a testament to that fact. There is the side of love that the book ventures into. Love, while is empowering, it also has the capacity to render us helpless. There is frustrated helplessness plastered across the walls of this tale. Then comes the big elephant in the room, Depression. What I loved the most about the book is that it portrayed a picture of Love in the time of a depression. I guess it’s hard in real life as it’s conveyed in the book.

The book also explores the fact that people are drawn to certain people. Toru is broken inside, he finds himself gravitating towards Naoko, Midori and Reiko, and all of them are broken too. Like attracts like, I’d presume. There is a certain nativity in such pain. We draw and reach out to similar folks.

This book is most definitely not about giving up on life. The broken lives of Toru and Naoko represent the baggage of the past. Midori represents the present. Reiko represents the way future unfolds. It’s a convoluted thought that connects the characters to the linearity of time. But that’s how I see it. Toru and Naoko are anchored to the past and hence neither is able to move on. Midori on the other hand, represents life. She’s the one character that makes choices in the right time. It’s just a matter of time for her to realize if her choices were right or wrong. Reiko represents the future. She is both an outcome of the past, and also changes with changes to the choices that are made in the present.

For what it’s worth, somewhere , some time in the future, I’ll read this again. I love this book!

Karthik

The sparkle

‘Daddy’ the little one called out as she restlessly pulled my arm.

The bright day of August, it was the brightest that it would ever get. The grass looked lush and it glistened from the dew that caught the sun’s warm vivid rays. We sat together on a grey concrete bench. The view was spectacular as it has always been through the summer. During the winters, the whole place did appear gloomy. The pristine white of the snow, the dirty sober white of the building, the dried leafless trees, grass that yearned for enthusiasm, it did grow a bit gloomy in the winter. The winter was still miles away from today.

This was the first time Krishna had accompanied me. She was too little to make it there before. At 10, there was a part of me that felt it was still a little too young for her to be there. There was a part of me that felt that she was a decade already behind schedule. It was a convoluted conflict and there was no escaping it. We sat by the bench and rested while we waited. I couldn’t help but reminisce about how we had gotten there. The journey of life, the miles walked and all of it did have humble beginnings. ‘It’s going to be alright’, those were the words that had started it all.

She was not older than Krishna when we had first met. It was uncommon in those days where boys and girls wouldn’t socialize. There was nothing that stopped us and yet none of the other kids had bothered breaching that wall of imposed ideology. I wasn’t any different from the usual average. I was neither special, nor lost in the obscurity of stereotyped mundane of normalcy. I was me and I guess I fit in without much fuss. We were neither poor nor super rich back those days. We lived in a small flat in an apartment complex. They were our neighbours. We had a small park in front of the building. I liked the park. It had one big tree and the rest of the small land was covered in grass. The grass was cut short, the zone was kept litter free. The building association were obsessed with keeping the park clean. Us kids, we were the ones that haunted the grounds. We were always there. Good times.

One normal twilight, it was the first time I saw her in the park. She was sitting under the tree, under the dirty night sky whose moon looked oddly brown. So much for comparing the moon to pristine white, I wondered that night. She sat alone, all by herself , staring at the sky. It wasn’t odd that there weren’t many kids when the sun had sunk. One by one , we’d have our mothers yell out our names from the balcony. One by one, we’d disburse from the park. No one had probably called out her name. She might have been too occupied to realize that the other kids had head home. None of that seemed to matter to her. She sat alone.

There was a troubled peace on her face. I was too young to realize what all of it had meant. I approached her, without saying a word, I sat quietly beside her. Nothing sparked that moment, nothing blossomed that night. We both sat in comforting silence. The night had grown thicker by the minute. She got up. ‘Thanks’ she said and nothing else flowed from her lips that night. She walked back home.

She was back to her smiling self the next day. Of course, neither of us bothered acknowledging the tree or sitting dumb under it. We’d silently sneak a nod of acknowledgement. We rarely used words to keep in touch. every once a while, she’d sit alone by the tree. Every day, I’d watch the tree for her presence. I never let her slip my watch. The days she was there, I was right beside her. As our silence grew , our bond deepened. A deep bond , not formed of words, but from a comforting silence.

It would be a few years before the normal routine would blossom a change. Beyond the word thanks, she’d find words to explain her escape from home. The obscene violence, the abuses, the mental fracture, she’d tell me her story in a way that made no sense back then. It was only years later when I had the intelligence to connect the dots. Back then, all I could understand was that hers was not a home of peace. I didn’t know what to make of it. ‘It’s going to be aright;, I told her once after she thanked me for sitting beside her.

She smiled and made it back home. That was a smile. Etched forever in my memory. The day I saw her eyes sparkle. It could have been the reflection of the stars on her eyes, it could have been her eyes. I didn’t care to worry about the difference.

The years passed. Her solitude didn’t. We grew closer as friends. ‘Thanks’. ‘It’s going to be alight’. It made sense for us to marry. We weren’t sure if we had found love. We were sure that we had found traces of ourselves within each other. It was not an easy relationship. Her solitude made her fragile and unpredictable. Her solitude made me feel lonely at times. We had the best of times, we endured the worst of times. Through the years of us being together, we grew miserable and closer. I shared a part of her pain but I couldn’t ever understand them. I head rushed with ideas to cheer up her life. I later realized that it was the dumbest thing to do. I tried patience as a substitute. It got better and then it got a lot worse. Nothing I did could ever piece that emptiness in her forever.

We spoke of a divorce and my heart cried blood. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. Heart broken, two hearts broken, she was determined to not place my life on hold. I was adamant of not letting her go. One more time, the words came to my rescue. We embraced under the tree of moon and stars. ‘It’s going to be alright’ I assured her.

The place was picked, the isolation mandated. It was a place of healing , the ones that fixed broken hearts and shattered minds. It wasn’t an asylum, that was not the name they preferred. For what it was worth, it was a prison for both of us. She was confined within it’s wall. I was confined outside it’s walls. Every month I’d pay my wife a visit. We’d share smiles most days. We’d share her tears some days. It wasn’t meant to be easy. It wasn’t easy. I don’t know what we shared. Was it love? Was it pity? I didn’t have time to ponder. I’d sit beside her by the concrete bench, just like old times, we’d sit in silence.

My heart would fill from the satisfaction of being with her. I couldn’t explain the happiness, I couldn’t quite understand it though.

A decade later, it was time to expand our world. Krishna would finally reunite with the love she brought to this world.

‘Daddy’, little Krishna restlessly pulled my arm. ‘When is mom coming to see us?’ . Her excitement couldn’t be capped.

Krishna walked in and sat between us. Her eyes swelled with tears of joy. She grabbed my hand with her right , she hugged our daughter with her left , the three of us would go on to set our world right.

Love in the time of depression!

Karthik

Concentrated and yet diluted

Ah the good old days. I usually restrict the past to the previous decade. It’s been a fun decade. The move from being a kid to a responsible adult (Ahem!!! that’s a little contentious at best) , the bifurcation of life into personal and professional, the tryst with music ; instant love, instant karma, divorce and reunion and the whole nine yards around it, the journey into words. I think it’s fair enough to say that the decade has been quite a jolly ride.

This blog ain’t about that. This one takes me back to the simpler times. With the Independence day, also comes the months of bailing out on classes under the pretext of drama practice, the marching thingy, events and eventualities surrounding the big gig. Life was fun. It was a point in time when I soared through life without many thoughts. I think it was during the time when I didn’t get to think much. I kept things at a bare minimum, thinking that is.

Back to school. The months leading up to the big day were always fun. There were planners. Bless their soul, the natural leaders, they’d always have a plan. They knew exactly what was needed. They’d meticulously jot the events out, time them, arrange for the logistics. There were the dancers. The gang that danced. They’d be locked away into rooms, popular trance and dance numbers would blare through the handy portable 2-in-1’s. ‘Firestarter’, ‘MI-theme’, a bit of Enigma, and a lot of songs that I didn’t even know who composed. The dancers were a tribe of their own. Far away from the brotherhood of the studious ones, they had realized their purpose of existence. They’d dance. That’s all they cared for. Theirs , was a life of pursuit of putting up a good show, getting a recognition. They seemed to be lost in their own world.

Then there were the singers. Oh, I envied the entire lot. I could sing, yup I could. I never made the cut. I was never the soloist that I always yearned. Truth be told, I was a small fry. Good enough to win when the serious singers wouldn’t bother participating. I didn’t stand a chance , back in the day. The disappointment did fuel my passion for the stage. I’d take the mic. Hell I would. I’d not sing though. I’d speak. And Spoke I did. I found the laurels that had evaded me in my quest for being a singer. Vengeance and retribution were served cold, that one eventful fete where the music team had categorically failed and I returned home with cups and a rolling shield. It feels petty now. But, yeah I had my moment of glory.

Damn, got side tracked. So, the singers would huddle. They’d quickly distribute the songs amongst themselves. The usual girl would sing the devotional song. If I remember her right, predictable and to a teen back in the day, that was uncool. Decked in conservative garb, flowers that adorned her hair, she was the girl that represented holy purity. Nobody hit on her, nobody would flirt with her, In fact, I’d refrain from trying to pull her leg. She was always revered as something precious 🙂

Then came the ARR wannabe singers. The popular numbers would be picked. Folks would practice. I was there. Waiting to swoop in and make fun. I enjoyed being an outsider to the gang. I wasn’t a misfit to music. I’d pick up drums, I’d pick tambourine. I was the unskilled labour of that group. It was always exciting to be around the music folks.

Then came my forte. The ask was always to present a sensible Drama(play). I was the chosen one. The responsibilities of the dialogue would land on my shoulders. It was good fun. The spirit of collaboration soared high. I remember the first few weeks of the preparation. I’d have a vague idea of an idea that I thought was funny. We’d talk about it, try to breathe characters to it. It was always an organic discussion. It bloody well was an excuse to invite the girl that I had a crush on, to act out a part. The hush hush giggles, being rampantly teased, trying a lame means to explain the laughs to the otherwise clueless one(oh everybody knew), it was all good fun. The icing on the cake was the fact that the teachers would have a face-palm moment when they finally witnessed the play. Yeah, I’ve always been sneaky and deceptive.

That’s the fondest memory I have of the Independence day. As time wore on, I found myself moving away from feeling the zeal and frenzy to the day. The craziness nipped, the day was now a welcome holiday, meant to be sat at home glued to the silly idiot box. My mom would make a sweet, she’d always tell me about my paternal grandma, who through near poverty, would still manage to make sweets to celebrate the day. The story had grown numb to me. I couldn’t bring myself to associate personally to my granma’s ordeal.

And in due time, the cycle had come full circle. I found myself swaying away from being cool, uncool, to pragmatic. I do love my nation. I respect the effort and sacrifice and blood that’s gone into building our nation to what it is today. I recognize that we , as a nation, have a way to go. I also acknowledge that we, as a nation, should be happy ;satisfied; and for lack of better word, proud of what we’ve achieved so far. All of that’s there.

And so today, as I reflect on what the day means to me, I did make it a point to buy a jar of gulab jamun. I do intend to share the sweet joy of us being an Independent nation, a young adolescent who can achieve all the greatness if she puts her mind to it. On that note, Happy Independence day. It means different things to a lot of us. None of that disparity matters. Smiles all the way.

Karthik

Journey of a million miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That had made sense to him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Hello little princess' he called out softly.

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

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

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

Karthik

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

Book Review : One hundred years of solitude

A hundred years of solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a stifling tale of the Buendia family. It picks off with Jose Arcadio Buendia and a lot of kids named Jose Arcadio and Aureliano later, the book speaks about the very meaning of solitude that does transcend generations in the Buendia family. There is no short and easy way to capture the tale. It is a progressive journey that makes us ponder all the way at every stage and every generation that gets added to the family tree.

The characters are obviously the strength of the book. Jose Arcadio Buendia, his wife Ursula , their kids Aureliano Buendia and Jose Arcadio Buendia and daughters Amaranta and Rebeca are wonderfully pictured across the many pages of the book. The madness kicks off with the third generation. As the family tree expands, one can't resist but observe the way the solitude of their lives concentrate to grow into the very core of what that represents the family.

The book is a masterpiece. The varying degrees of solitude that is captured , painted, lived and experienced by the characters is a true enough reflection of the loneliness that plagues our own lives. In that sense, this book blurs the boundaries between real and fiction. Loneliness is , as experienced through both life and the confines of the book, not a single event that occurs at a random single point in time. It is a circle of sorts. Lives that have loneliness at their epicentre, have the capacity to travel the world, meet a million people, share a million laughs and yet embrace the cold arms of being lonely. The book does not shy away from introducing us to this aspect of loneliness. It's not the number of people that we are surrounded by, it's just how many do we let into our mind that calls out the solitude.

Coming to the plot, it's convoluted. J.A.B is in a pursuit of lot of things. Science, truth, alchemy, business acumen, gypsies and the many wonderful mysteries and secrets that they have in their hearts. The purist pursuit pushes him to the brink of alienation. Ursala, his wife, most definitely the strongest woman in this saga of men and women, works towards keeping the family together. She's a miracle worker and through the century of her existence, you'd fall in love with her tryst and will sympathise with her life.

Aureliano , who grows up into Colonel Aureliano; a man of legend, a man who led the civil war (oh yeah, a civil war breaks out between liberals and conservatives) a bloke with a loooooooooooooooooot of kids, a man consumed by ideologies and a man who hits upon a crystal realization that helps him view the war. The way Aureliano matures, grows drunk with power, very much outlines the life of those among us who crave that power for the reasons that helps us sleep at night. Aureliano does not beat around the bush and hide behind the veils of denial. This is a man who knows the price that he pays for the choices he's made.

The plot dwells across a few touch points. The life of J.A.B, the rise and fall of the colonel, the tribunals of Jose Arcadio, the mystery that Amaranta is. The rivalry between the sisters, Amaranta and Rebeca. Throw in kids, their kids, their kids and we have a tale that constantly keeps converging. That segways us to the themes explored in the book.

The entire tale is set in the town of Mocondo. All characters manage to find their way back home. Of course, they do leave their homes , the course of life kicks in, they all revert to Mocondo for varying reasons. That convergence of life itself is a theme that is expressed in the book. No matter how far we are from our roots, we still gravitate towards it in some capacity.

Then comes the ghosts. Yes there are ghosts in the tale. Ghosts , to me, represent the past. They are a bridge to a point in time in the past. These ghosts do not haunt everybody. They are selective. Which is a reflection of how our choices in life are anchored and defined by our past. The longer we indulge in the past, the longer we stay haunted by it, the longer we struggle to come to terms with it, the longer we find ourselves struggle to reconcile with the present.

Solitude, a word that is featured in the tile, plays a major role in the book. The book is a testament to the misery that is life. It is there because we let it be. All the characters experience that alienated loneliness. Some, because of their choices. Some , because of the way how fate intervenes. The way the characters deal with their solitude is a fantastic portrayal of how we cope up with the coldness of our lives. Drowned in work, lost in passion, we exhibit the same symptoms that the characters do.

I enjoyed the book. I loved peeking into the lives across generations of the family. I smiled at the simple fact that most of the characters were trapped in time, caged in habit and resistance was futile. It did make me wonder. I couldn't tell where the fictitious nature of the tale blurred and where the mirror to the society started.

Give it a read. 🙂

Karthik

Books, life, death and interviews

"Burning a book is a good way to find warmth on a cold night. Reading one instead, provides warmth for a lifetime!"

Fine, that's neither the funniest nor the wisest quote in the world. I had to coin it because I couldn't remember the one from book thief. It mocks, rather observes the effectiveness of WW2 because ze germans enjoyed burning things. Especially books.

Two book on life and death, the third : hundred years of solitude is something that's one imaginative surreal mess so far, I couldn't help but connect the experiences gained by the books I read, tie them nice and neat to the things that I do on a daily basis. The outcome was nothing short of stuff worth reading in books.

Right. On with the show. The books did leave me with thoughts on life, death, what one does with a life, what makes a life a life, why do we or rather why don't we take sides with life and always find nativity in misery that define our choices. Far too many questions and the best way around them, in my pointless opinion, is to not do a thing about the questions. We spend ample time in pursuit of far too many things. Walking a mile on account of such questions would eventually end up wasting our time. Do nothing about it. You read me right. Do absolutely nothing about it. Walk along.

I did just that. I couldn't place my life on pause to seek out answers. Who has the time for important things in life ??????? Instead, I continued being what I am. That didn't quench my thirst for knowledge, but I wasn't parched enough to experience a thirst of that magnitude.

As I settle down and get comfortable with my new workstack, align myself to the objectives of my boss , Interviewing also happened to be a part of the responsibilities that I was soon trusted with. I got to interview a lot of candidates. I enjoyed the process. It was nice to be on the other side of the table. I enjoyed having the harder job. Yeah, being interviewed is easy in comparison to carrying out an interview. We do have a task at hand, we do need the right people for the right job, we do need to watch out for the subtle signs of attitude towards work and life. End of the day, we'd still need that someone who could deliver. Carrying out an interview was hard indeed.

Like most hard things at work, if you had a plan and a strategy of getting it done, one would eventually find a way to enjoy the hardship. I managed to enjoy the sessions.

One session after another, the long day eventually came to a close. I finally managed to have a conversation with my boss.

So.. he enquired. What's your take?

We sat down to discuss the highlights and the lowlights of the day. We spoke about the strengths that we could spot in the people. We spoke about personal limitations and weighed them against our team's collective strength. We had made our choices. I had made my recommendations. But all of that is the boring side of a normal business day.

This is where it got interesting. I found myself lost in thought amidst our conversation. My boss does enjoy my whacky take on life. He decided to indulge a little into my thoughts. What's on your mind, he asked. I told him what was on my mind.

While Book thief and Never let me go focused on the life that either could be lived or wished that was lived, both highlighted the simple fact that most of our life, we spend wishing for the way it could have been rather than living it and making it the way we'd want it to be. Carpe the bloody diem. Seize the day. Live the moment. Don't live in the past, don't worry about the future. WHAT DOES ALL OF THAT REALLY MEAN?

Life doesn't throw me those silly fill in the blanks questions. The answer to many of our problems can not be lifted and pasted from the motivational pep talks and are you alive yet forwards that go slapped on our social walls.

'Of all the folks we spoke with, I do wonder, Why didn't even one bother asking us what we were looking for? Had they asked what we were looking for, I'm sure they could have framed their responses and cited their experience that would have met our expectations'.

My boss gave me a blank stare.

I shrugged my shoulders at the obviousness of the ask. It was one of the simplest thing to do. We appear for an interview, it does make business sense, common sense to ask what the needs were. Strategically, it could help us articulate better about our work experience. We could help the interviewer visualize how the experiences of the past can add value to the experiences waiting to be made in the future.

My boss smiled after a period of a brief silence. 'I did the very same thing when I joined here years ago. I knew I'd not make it. The interviewer knew I was not right for the part. Then the magic turn around happened. I stopped and asked them what they wanted me to deliver. I asked them what skills they were looking for. Once that ask was out in the open, it no longer was a struggle.'

So, your books, did they really tell you that? Ask?

I didn't have an answer to that. I guess that's the beauty of a book. That's the power of words. Once written, they have the capacity to convey what ever the reader is ready to accept. Rather, wants to accept.

Books, life and death, and interviews…

Karthik

When in Rome.

One of the funniest aspect of living in the UK is along the way you get greeted. 'You alright?' . The first thing , every day, every new meeting, you are asked the question which is always accompanied by a smile and sincere tinge of politeness. You alright? It is the quintessential ice breaker here in the UK.

Of course, none of that goes down well in my head. I'm from Chennai. Where I come from, When careless motorists ram their vehicle on carefree pedestrians who carelessly , drowned in their pressing mobile call or a whatsapp message, BHAM, accident later, the first question that gets popped is, 'You alright?'.

To me the question is, and probably will be, always tagged to self preservation and overall enquiry about the status of being alive or dead upon an impact. The question is not confined to the road. Walk the canteen with piping hot sambar in your plate( he he he he, irony is humongous. Hot food and canteen!!!), a mad rush during the peak hour and we are bound to bump into someone. Accidental spillage is inevitable. You alright? followed by an awkward sorry boss!

Now that's what I call comforts of home. The parlance is ingrained into the subconscious. The reflexes are sharp. The responses are immediate, to the point and crisp. The instantaneous delegation of blame and accountability is spot on. If we are the guilty one, sorry boss comes up. If we were but innocent victims of circumstance, you alright? sorry boss with a air of entitlement. Human to human interaction at it's elemental best. Yup. That's the way I like things.

Here, it's a different beast. Although I'm a bored shopper , I do accompany my friends when they visit the malls here. Stand idle inside a shop for a little while, vultures start to circle and the inevitable happens. You alright?

Just looking, I'd sheepishly admit. Awkwardly wait a little while longer, I'd get the question asked by another vulture. Endure a few iteration and a random sense of obligation kicks in, exit shop one. Enter shop two.

I've done my part trying to understand the phrase. Of course I failed. It's just the way it is. I trained hard to adapt to it. I still don't offer a 'You alright?' as a response. Much like I don't bother with How do you do to meet a How do you do. Excellent. Not so bad. And smashing. I've found creative and yet perceived as a bit imaginative and annoying way to reciprocate. That being said, my struggle with the question has also been very real. I hate it, I detest it, it irks me. I leaves me uncomfortable. Naturally, I found deliverance by whining about it from time to time.

And so, one late evening I made it back home. The night was cold. The street was deserted at 9. I knew there wouldn't be much movement on the streets that night. The routine was almost set. I'd gently open the front door, soft enough to muffle the creaking sound it'd make. I'd then tippy toe upstairs. The wooden stairs always did announce the return of the king! Two quality gates, passed with flying colours. I always failed the last one. I always, and I mean on most days, would end up slamming my door shut. Call it the breeze, call it carelessness, call it the euphoria of knowing that your bed is a minute away from transporting you to a land of sleepy lazy heaven, net result ; that door would slam. Everybody knew I was in.

Silently I made a mental note to refrain from slamming my door. I reached the house. With an expertise that would put a petty burglar to shame, I opened the front door stealthily. Success.

I walked in, only to notice my neighbour, an Indian, was waiting by the washing machine to wrap it's spin cycle.

This was odd. I never bump into my neighbours. His presence obviously put me off guard. I'm willing to bet that my presence was just as awkward to him as well.

A few seconds of shocking silence later, I thought I might as well get on with the show. Whats up, hey buddy, yo dude, pair laago maaji, I knew I could exercise the birth right of being an Indian by picking a cheesy greeting.

'You alright?' I popped impulsively.

It was his turn to shake his head disapprovingly.

Karthik

Book Review : Never let me go , Kazuo Ishiguro

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Karthik

 

Never let me go

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“Through rain, through the thunder that roars

be my strength and never let me go”

I cried through the rain. The screams of my heart felt eclipsed by the night’s thunder. I had always known the day would come. I had braced for it. I had put a brave front. I smiled through it all. The day of joy and excited new beginnings, I was there , armed with smiles. I pretended as far as I could, for as long as I could. Moments before my crushing surrender, I had walked my road alone. Broken, wistful, the comforts of home weren’t mine for the taking today. I walked as far as I could. Far away from everything I had ever known. Far away from everyone I had ever known. I walked, walked away from myself. It was when the skies had opened. Under the cover of the tears of the twilight sky, I secretly shed a few tears of myself. In that moment, my tears went unnoticed. Insignificant to the ways of the world. The crushing weight in my heart grew heavier by the minute. Tears were my only comfort.

 

 

“Through the night, the light of a mourning moon

be my shadow and never let me go”

 

All was soon forgotten, and beginnings were soon to be made. It was all a distant memory. The day for what it was, the night for what I was, the tears that bore witness to the matters of a heart without a voice, all of that was a fading memory waiting to be forgotten. I endured it all, I survived it all. The relentless nature of time had helped me mask my broken self. In pursuit of goals and pretended ambitions, I set upon a task to excel. I drowned myself into work and life was good. All things considered, it was good indeed.

 

That evening the moon was high. Her blemished radiance had left the world seduced to her charm. I, however, remember the night for something else. We had finally met. Through bruises and a busted lip, through her reddened eyes and swollen tears, I knew what it meant that night to have the very fabric of your heart distraught in pain. The sight of her tears froze my eyes from joining in. There was lot to do, there were things to set right. Broken, now twice, I lost myself again in pursuit of newer goals.

 

“Through time, the memories forgotten and cherished

be my soul and never let me to”

 

Time , once again, was relentless as ever. Wounds healed, scars remained. We were thrust into changes that we had never contemplated before. A lot had changed, some remained the way they always had been. I knew there wasn’t a rewind. An ocean had passed under that bridge. This felt new but was still an ancient rite. We sat across the table to watch the little one dance. The day was bright, all things considered. The skies had opened, the little one wanted to dance under the comforts of a warm soothing rain. we both sat and watched her in silence. Ah, the silence. I had lost my heart to silences once. I stayed quiet when it was the turn to speak. I embraced silence. I feared the road ahead. This would have to do, I reminded myself. We both sat in silence. I knew what her silence meant. I wondered if she knew what mine was screaming. We glanced into each other’s eyes. A smile there. A smile here. Two stories were denied a voice.

 

“Through the distance, our hearts will stay bridged

find me when i’m lost, but never let me go”

 

Today , as I look back the decades that have passed, I couldn’t help but cherish the memory that had warmed my heart for the longest while. I was 12 and so was she. Mrs Valli who taught english at school, had tasked us with a poem. I wrote something that wasn’t destined to be remembered. She wrote , something that wouldn’t go forgotten ever.

And there she was, and there I was. Two kids walking the road back home. The sky bestowed a gentle rain. She danced her silly dance. I knew I could watch that dance for the rest of my life. The rain had stopped.

You know what I wrote? , she suddenly sprung to excitement. We went on to narrate her little poem.

Through rain, through the thunder that roars

be my strength and never let me go

Through the night, the light of a mourning moon

be my shadow and never let me go

Through time, the memories forgotten and cherished

be my soul and never let me to

Through the distance, our hearts will stay bridged

find me when i’m lost, but never let me go.

 

She held my hand tight and gently whispered, ‘Never let me go’.

 

 

I stand watching her grave. I’m now an old man. I have had many possessions, I’ve had trinket around the world. Her poem, I cherish it the most. Every year, for the last 5 years, I see her once again. I read her the words that once she wrote. The words that she gave life, wonderfully were the ones keeping her alive today. As tears flowed, I gently wiped them. I kissed the poem and folded it neat.

Maybe next time, I looked at the heavens and begged a promise.

 

Karthik

The hashtags of life

Now that I sit back and reflect on the road of words, I see a distinct pattern. The more I found myself lost in words, I realized I had found a little more about myself. Writing brings me clarity. Writing to me is more than just a mere expression of thought. It is a way where I contemplate life and find ways to articulate those tiny nuances to daily living which I couldn't enjoy in real time. I am, hence I write. I write, hence I am.

Interestingly, I've had a relative success blogging in the public domain. Far away from the comforts of an assured 20 likes , blogging in the open internet was a challenge. It helped me relive the excitement of the early years of blogging. It reminded me of a time when I was still Katz and that word meant absolutely nothing to anybody. I kept the translation of thoughts into words consistent and in time the name found an acknowledgement. Blogging in the public domain helped me find that joy again. It wasn't until recently where I stumbled upon the significance of picking my categories and tags wisely. When I moved away from the default 'Uncategorized' to adding meaningful categories to my thoughts (now that's an oxymoron playing itself out) , it improved the stats to my posts. Folks with a shared interest paid a visit and the visitor's tally improved a bit.

I'm still no where around the aspirational phenomenal writer that I'd like to be someday, but I'm glad with waking up from oblivion. It's a start. It sure does suffice for now.

As I started this one, writing and life, I don't think I can separate the two. They coexist, they each reflect that attribute that defines what it means to write, or even to live. I started off as the persona Katz, I write today as Karthik and apart from the way my words are signed off, there is a far more serious change that I underwent that stays comfortably hidden behind the proverbial screen. I'm interested in exploring the territory of the humble hash tag today.

The way of the words, a hash tag serves a simpler purpose of engineering a nativity to a larger collective classification of interest. While the hash doesn't really dictate terms of what is written, it adds , it enriches , it helps deliver the words to an audience. Is that not how life also works? Haven't we all experienced that before? Only we do call it by different names.

Virtue by association. That's the phrase I'd use. By virtue of what or whom we associate ourselves to, we define what we are. Thoughts transpire into actions, company transpires thoughts and in effect, it's all a connected mesh and they all feed into the hash tags of our very own life.

Far away from the comforts of my home, exiled from the familiar faces, banished from the routines of norm, I realized the value of that virtue of association. We are the company that we keep. Our thoughts are a reflection of whom we speak to , and what our collective conscious thoughts are. Our reactions are defined by perceived and witnessed reactions of the flock that we are a part of. There is solace in numbers. There conformance in numbers. Which is why, keeping a stock of the identity and the nature of the participants of a flock is just as, if not , most important aspect of this collective existence.

I'd like to believe that I've stayed adaptable over the years. When the common mood was offence, I found myself as an aggressor. I played defence for a while. I also rejected nativity to thoughts that I couldn't associate myself with. I've been and I'd probably ever remain a rebel to things that I'm not convinced about. I've turned my back to social dogma and conservative living, I've turned my back to rebellion for the sake of being a rebel. I've turned my back to altruism for the image of it. In fact, I do what that I please and there does not go a day where I don't pay the price for the life of my choosing, or soak in the satisfied happiness to being that misfit. But that's me.

The point is, a hive mind alters the way of individual thought. While everybody enjoys the comforts of staying unique, there many among us who prefer the comforts it provides. The cost? Surrender of free-will, suspension of free thoughts, compliance dedicated to conformance rather than compliance that arises because of acceptable goals.

Life's many hashtags are but a reflection of that virtue of association. The story of our lives, now they are represented by these borrowed tags. The world views us by those tags. In fact, in time we start viewing ourselves as these tags. All of which made me wonder. If life was a blog, a story of sorts, why does it take us that immense effort to identify the tags rather than focusing all that effort into scripting the construct of the story itself. If tags are not as important as the content, why does the world stay influenced and seduced by the tag clouds rather than staying informed and awakened by the words of the content.

The simplest answer is convenience.

One plays to the strength. Yeah, that's probably how I'd wrap this up. Like life, like the words that go conjured , tags and content both define the nature of what gets scripted. End of the day, the thingy called happiness and satisfaction, they are relative commodities. It goes back to the larger question that looms around the horizon. Are we happy because we are capable of doing things, or are we happy because we get recognized by our capability of getting things done.

And so Maslow's obsolete pyramid speaks of things beyond acceptance. Actualization. The perfect imaginative utopia where we know what we are capable of, other's opinion seldom matters and we do things because we'd like to.

Hash tags of life, ladies and gentlemen. Hash tags of life.

Karthik