Roses and gray

The morning had dawned and the birds had done their chirping. The cool morning breeze had given way to a pleasant warmth that now cruised through the open window. The sun was out and it was burning bright. I wake up grumpy and worn. I wake up grumpy on most days. For as long as I can remember, I’ve never been a morning person. 

Age has a bit to do with the perpetual state of staying jaded. I am pushing 70’s and the body does show the signs. I don’t think I have it in me to transform into a morning person. 

I get off the bed to realise the calm silence in the house. It has been many a years but I can’t bring myself to reconcile with an empty house. A house is a house made of people. People are more important than marbles and bricks that litter the floor. The sound of nothing kept constantly buzzing in my ears. The hissing sound of nothingness. I shook my head in a defeated disappointment and headed to the wash to freshen up. 

The Calendar declared the day as 13th, Sunday. A nice red line circled the date. An anniversary , obviously. I do that. I like to set the time aside to call out important dates in the year. I let a wistful smile as I let the significance of the date sink in. The date took me down the memory lane. Decades of life lived, dreams dreamt and regrets accumulated over time. The thought almost overwhelmed me. 

As I look back, it wasn’t an easy marriage. She always reminded me of my ineptness. Nothing I did was ever good enough. The first months, anger had swallowed me. The first year, I had breached my tolerance and was left with nothing but contempt and spite. I remember the time she fell sick. It was the first of the times when I noticed the hissing sound of nothingness through silence. Her usual chair was empty. I missed her morning taunt. Starting the day without her reminding me of how useless I was, wasn’t something that I was accustomed to. It felt unnatural. That day, I had wrapped up work early and had gone to visit her in the hospital. She had looked weak and frail. Deep within my heart, I wanted her back in her former glorious, spiteful self. It was an evening spent praying in the hospital. A few days later , she had pulled through. A few weeks later, the chair had its owner back. The mornings returned to their normal self. The snide resumed. I saw the satisfied smile return to me. It felt good to be home. 

The incident hadn’t salvaged the relationship. It remained as volatile as it had always been. Through health and sickness, we both endured and survived. The little signs of kindness and care went undisclosed and undiscussed. In time, the spite and the anger had vanished. We were now reduced to players of an act. The deride was a routine. All bark, no bite. All snake and none of the venom. 

Our child into this world made the house better. Laughter bloomed. Happiness doubled. There wasn’t time for the silence to yelp its hissing. Silence had been replaced by wonderful chaos. The chaos kept all of us sane. The years rolled forward. There were days when we’d sit , separated of course, but sit in proximity nonetheless. We had grown tolerant to each other. As I said, it wasn’t an easy marriage. 

Somewhere down the line, she departed. The date is now circled each year. I wish , back then, there was a sign or hint of the event to unfold. I might have done something different. I didn’t. She didn’t. We had carried on with the duties of the day. Indifferent and yet connected in a special way. The news came as a message at work. I had rushed and all the rushing hadn’t made any difference. 

She had loved roses and roses ushered her to the heavens. Her death had left me changed. I missed her. The house missed her. The silence found its way back home. Sunday the 13th was her last day on earth. Every year, I pick roses and leave them with her. I’d like to believe that she’s up there, smiling and passing condescending sarcastic criticism of the roses I’d pick for her. I wouldn’t let things be anything besides that. It was our way. It was what that kept us together. 

The clock struck 10 and I walked out of the house. I stopped by the usual florist. She knew what I was there for. She handed me a special bunch that she had set aside for the cause. The comforts of a routine are a blessing. The sun shone bright. This year, there weren’t any rains. I’m a bit of a sentimentalist about a rain. The gentle shower usually comforts me. In my personal opinion, the rain adds a certain charming vibe to the meeting. It wasn’t that kind of a day today. 

The roses picked, I walked to the cemetery. I walked to the place where she rested. 

‘Hi angel’ I called out

‘You are late’ my wife replied. 

‘That’s the spirit. Your mother would have definitely reminded me of that’, I joked. 

‘Oh shut up’ and she concluded. We both stood beside each other and lost in the many thoughts of her mother. She was a wonderful kind lady. She hated me in her own way. She loved and cared for me in her special way. She was an integral part of our lives. She fortified our lives with her strength. She stood by us during the troubled times. She helped us cruise through the decades. 

The roses rested on the gray. We both stood for a while in silence. 

‘Coffee ?’ she finally asked. 

What can I say, the comforts of a routine are a blessing indeed. 

Karthik 

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A password reset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All that, thanks to a password reset. 

[Book Review] A cat, a man and two women

Cat , a man and two women by Jun’ Ichiro Tanizaki.

Cat , a man and two women is a tale that stays obsessively true to the title. As the name suggests, this is a story about a cat, called Lilly; A man , ‘Shozo’, and two women, ‘Shinako, and ‘Fukuko’. 

There is something about Jun ‘Ichiro that reminds me a lot of Haruki Murakami. Unlike most works of Murakami, this one is not generously littered with demented perversion. The story maintains a clean rating of G. This was my first venture in to the words of Jun and I wouldn’t be surprised if his works have had a lasting impression on Murakami. 

Besides the obvious lack of perversion, what connects this tale to the rest of the works of Murakami is the sheer indifference shown by the author towards how the tale concludes. There isn’t an explicit ending to the tale. The readers are left free to make whatever they want to make off the tale. This trait is something that I’ve always loved, admired and aspired to emulate from Murakami. I was pleasantly surprised when Jun ‘Ichiro had adopted the same style of narrating a gripping story. Both authors really couldn’t spare a damn when it came to spoon feeding the audience with a stereotyped structured way of story telling. 

The other thing that stood out was the brilliance of the simplicity of the tale. The book made the aspiring , budding author in me feel ashamed. What Jun ‘Ichiro manages in under 130 pages is nothing short of pure magic. It took the author so few pages to weave a tale around the entities in the title, build an arc around their character traits, enrich it with secondary characters, throw in some life around all the characters by giving us a glimpse of their respective backgrounds. Top that with different vested motives of all of them. WOW. The book is busy , considering it’s a short one. At the same time , the words don’t feel heavy and the mind does not feel taxed with information hitting us in bursts. The author establishes the tale at a very comfortable pace. 

The story opens with Shinako writing a letter to Fukuko, asking her to give her a cat. Shinako was married to Shozo and things didn’t pan out. She found herself kicked out of the house. Shozo goes on to marry Fukuko. Shinako is left with absolutely nothing. She pleads for the custody of the cat, Lilly. She reasons out that her empty life, filled with void, could be a little easier if the cat was with her.

Fukuko manages to get rid of the cat. While that statement is simple, it also encapsulates the power dynamics within the family. Shozo loves the cat like his own child. He pampers Lilly and spends all of his time with her. He even makes Fukuko slog in the kitchen to feed the cat like it’s Christmas every day. Fukuko weighs the options and decides that she deserves a better place in Shozo’s life than his cat. For Fukuko, it’s a win. Shozo is left heart broken. 

Then there is the ulterior motive behind Shinako’s ask. She hopes that Shozo would miss the cat and come running to her to see the cat. Eventually, she speculates, that things would heal between the two and they’d reunite. 

While the games begin, the readers are introduced to the white elephant in the room. Shinako hates the cat. Fukuko hates the cat. While the latter gets rid of the problem at the cost of breaking her husband’s heart, the former acquires the problem in hopes of regaining her ex husband’s heart. Shinako and Lilly never got along before. It was this friction that had ultimately led to the couple separating. The game that Shinako plays, it brings her up close with the cat again. Will the lady and the cat get along? What happens to either of them? Do they both manage to endure and survive together? 

Rest of the story is about the game of cat and mouse played across human minds. The schemes plotted, the moves predicted and the outcome that eventually shapes up the lives of the players. Will Shinako and Shozo reunite. Will Shozo realise his love for Shinako ? What happens to Lilly?

With each chapter, we get to uncover the character traits of the primary and the secondary characters. And boy we are in for a wonderful thrilling roller coaster ride. Our prejudice gets thwarted at every turn. We sway from the verdict of guilty to innocent, victim to perpetrator with every turning page. The grand climax leaves with life in it’s absolute purest form. We are forced to accept all the characters for what they are and along the journey, we grow warm to all of them. We end up rooting for our favourites. We are made to choose between the devil and the deep sea. We are forced to pick what we think is the lesser of the abundantly available evils.  

Aint that the grandest display of life? If this doesn’t emulate life, I don’t know what else will! 

The tale is simple, the book is short, the pace is comfortable and the narrative is gripping. I must admit, I can’t think of one good reason as to why one would want to skip reading this lovely story.

Two thumbs and four paws up. A definite read. 

Karthik 

The keeper of things Lost!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeper of lost things 🙂

Giving into it

‘Chalo, lets go for a drive’ I said.

Being a dad is not about always being there. There are just a few right enough moments that mandate my presence. Being a good or a bad dad is about being there during those moments. Today, it felt like I was in the right place at the right time. The last few weeks were foreboding at best. The world was still intact, but my kid , apparently, wasn’t. The chirpy cheerfulness , that he inherited from his mom, was on a slow fade. He was there and quite not around. There was something amiss. We gave him time to recover and we kept telling ourselves that we’d be there to support him when he needed it the most. Years ago, even before his time, we had spoken at great lengths about the kind of parents that we’d be. We wouldn’t pamper him and smother him with care, we had agreed. She kept her part of the bargain. She buried the worries in her heart as she faked the courage to let him grow untamed, in a wild word.

That was that.

I jangled the keys in front of him and offered him to drive the car. He politely declined the offer. I found his state of relentless disinterest rather interesting. I guess that boys get their best traits from their mothers. We took our seats and I eased the car smoothly onto the street. The car hummed its boring siren as it backed. I threw the stick to drive and the road was set for a smooth drive.

The silence in a car is two things. It always feel amplified and depending on the moment, that silence is either unsettling or reassuringly comfortable. Today, it felt the latter. I didn’t want to shatter the silence. The darkened night looked splendorous. The night came with a kiss of a gentle mist that left behind the signals in a subtle haze. The passing lights didn’t have to try too hard to leave my mind mesmerised. As the road rolled, the pleasantness of the silence had overstayed its welcome.

‘So, who is the girl’ I popped abruptly.

I guess boys will always be the same. His surprised take reminded me of my first intervention. My dad had defied my expectations and had asked me in a calm manner rather than slapping the be-jeebus out of me. I guess a similar sentiment was running in my kid’s mind.

‘Forget about it dad. You won’t understand’ he said defensively.

The silence swept us again. Only this time, it didn’t last long. His tears followed his helpless sniffle. I couldn’t help but feel amused by the universality of a heartbreak. It affects all of us the same. The first time it attacks, it takes us back to the cute helpless suffering of our childhood. We see no shame in it. Our dignity does not feel threatened by it. Even the strongest of us break down. Especially the strongest amongst us break down.

‘Hey, it’s ok. It’s going to be alright da’ I said.

The kid wiped his tears and picked his moment to man up. ‘I’m ok dad’ he said.

We both stared at the distance. We both felt robbed of the words that we couldn’t bring ourselves to say.

It was the right time for me to be a dad. ‘Know what, your mum wasn’t the first person that I fell in love with’.

It made no bloody difference to him. I heard the big bubble of my ego burst.

‘Thing is, the first time I lost my love, it wasn’t losing her that scared me’.

Something struck his interested. For the first time that evening, he turned himself towards me and appeared to be interested in what I had to say.

‘Know what?’ , I paused.

‘The moment the reality sunk in that I wasn’t in a relationship anymore, the moment I came face to face with the fact that I didn’t have my love, the moment I knew that love was over, I felt scared. It wasn’t the loss that scared me. I felt afraid that I had loved someone with all my heart and that it didn’t mean anything. I felt afraid that I didn’t have love anymore to repeat the process with anyone else. I knew that eventually I’d meet someone. I also knew that I couldn’t love them the way I had loved and lost. There would always be something that I’d holdback. There would always be something that I held on, within the deepest recess of my heart. I knew that I’d never be a holistic version of myself. I was afraid that I was afraid.’

The lad sat to soak the things that he had just heard. I could hear his heavy breathing.

‘And then what happened’, he finally asked.

‘And then I realised everything I feared was true’ I smiled.

‘I don’t understand dad.’ he said.

‘I was right about it all da. I wasn’t myself anymore. The failure always has and even today, it continues to haunt me in one way or the other. No matter how hard I tried, I always knew that I wasn’t the me that I knew I was. And then something strange happened. I met someone. Initially, I made a conscious effort to not replay the love that I had lost. I stayed away from presenting chocolates and soft toys. I consciously kept myself away from doing everything that I had done before. But I soon realised that she was a different person, different ideas of the world and love, different interests and different needs. In time, it didn’t feel like I had lost in love and tried my hand at it again. I just felt the joys of falling in love with someone and the simple satisfaction of knowing that I was loved in return.

‘And then you married mom? It’s barely a tale of life experience dad’

Yup, not all my son’s best traits came from his mum.

‘Naah, your mom was 5th in the list. She was the 5th and the last one on that list’

‘How did you manage to fall in love 5 times appa. I mean apart from the fact that you were lousy bad at it, how do you even say that you could love 5 times!’

The kid had a point. I couldn’t even remember the last time that I had asked myself that question.

‘It’s just that I managed to find the courage to give da. I tried to fall in love with the people in the way I knew how to fall. I did my best. I smiled when I could. I broke down and cried when things didn’t work out. I was angry for a while. I was frustrated for a while. I was miserable all the time. It’s just that people came and some caught my attention and fewer caught my heart. I took my chances.

Love is love da. There is nothing like first or best about it. Either you feel it or you really just don’t. Thing is, give it all your best. It’s nice when it works and it crushes you when it doesn’t. You get the hang of it. That’s part of life and growing up’

The kid sat back and let his thoughts guide him.

‘Dad’, he called out after a while of thought.

‘What if I don’t find love ever again?’ his voice shivered.

‘When your mother died, I knew I couldn’t bring myself to love anyone ever again. In fact, I don’t think I have it in me to fall in love with a woman anymore da. I just realised how much I love you and how much I see her in you. Love always finds a way. Don’t sit scared that you’d never have ample of it to spread around. If you find the courage in yourself, you’d find ways to express it. Trust me on that’ I concluded.

He put his head back and drifted away into another stream of thought. We both welcomed the silence that came sniffing. We drove for a while more. He started to hum tunes in silence. It was a sign of his mind clearing up. It was the sign that I had not really lost my wife. It was a sign that she was around, sitting amused at how much I had grown up.

Karthik

[Book Review] : Shantaram

“Sooner or later, fate puts us together with all the people, one by one, who show us what we could, and shouldn’t, let ourselves become” – Shantaram

Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts is a sublime tale of a journey towards life. The book serves as a fictional , semi – pseudo auto biography of sorts. This is a book where fiction and reality hold hands together and they both , rather conveniently, chose a cinematic narrative approach to story telling. The book starts with a bloke who flies into Bombay with a fake passport that belongs to a certain Lindsay Ford. The assumed identity becomes the only identity of the tale’s protagonist. If I were to sum up the tale into a line, it would read as the journey of a man from being Lindsay Ford to Lin to Shantaram. While the sentence is short, the road taken by the protagonist is wonderfully entertaining , thought provoking and long.

Lindsay or the bloke who soon is addressed as Lin, is a man of violence. There is violence in his heart. There is guilt from that violence. A shade of repentance and a longing for redemption. Lin, as he starts, is no saint and the Bombay of the 1970’s happens to be the perfect city for vices. The retro vibes to the 70’s set amidst the blossoming Mumbai Mafia sets the stage for the tale. From substance abuse to suckering unassuming, unsuspecting travellers, Lin beings to offer a bespoke professional service of procuring and delivering instruments of vice based on fluctuating demands. That’s fancy for Lin working the streets and peddling whatever he can.

At every page there is crime and its holistic view. Crime , is both a source of escape and a means of entrapment. It keeps the characters in a state of inertia. The characters endure a distinct sense of irony. Their lives of crime keeps them free. It’s the crime that keeps them chained. The world revolves around a subtle balance.

The characters are the strength of this book. There are far too many characters and the best part is, as readers, we’d grown warm to most of them. We’d passionately root for them. We’d vengefully want some of them to suffer. The heart of this tale is the nurturing of the bonds that the characters share. From the smiles of Prabhakar, the wisdom of Lord Abdel Khader Khan, the friendship that is with Abdulla, the charismatic Didier Levy , the whacky-do-doodle that is Vikram and the frustration that is love in the form of Karla.

“Nothing grieves more deeply or pathetically than one half of a great love that isn’t meant to be.” – Shantaram

I don’t think there are any stories worth telling that do not concern the matters of the heart. Lin shares the same sentiment. Neatly set in the backdrop of a violent mafia, wars across the world, poverty , the human spirit (aka the Mumbai spirit) that never gives up, is a frustrating love story of Lin and Karla. The two are equally matched, in coefficients of both the intellect and emotions. One cannot be a lover unless one is a certified fool and this tale is a testament to that foolishness. Not that there is anything wrong with being a fool. Karla and Lin, all the other tiny tales of love and life, render the characters to either remain as fools or volunteer to be one. I’m a romantic and I find that state of foolishness as cute. Reality does come and it comes biting. Wisdom, I reckon, is attained by not staying a fool forever.

There is a lot of philosophy plastered across the pages of the tale. Lin shares his view of the world and the principles that he holds close. Lord Abdel is another wonderful source of wisdom that covers all realms of existence. The moralities are put to the test. We, along with Lin, have a glimpse into the world that sits comfortable between the two extremes of black and white.

One of the best feature of the book is the way that all the characters are flawed and broken. Nobody is holier than the rest. The virtues and vices grip everybody alike. There are no saints in the land of the vice. Despite the evil, it is the quintessential struggle to do good, that quest to make this world a better place, that effort to make life better for others, that sets the book apart from rest of the fiction. As Abdel says, it’s the capacity to do bad for the right reasons is what that defines us as humans. I’m tempted to both agree and disagree. Good finds a way. So does evil. We are left to our own wits to embrace either, or even both.

Speaking of the huge list of characters, Bombay, or the present day Mumbai is also a subtle character in the tale. Mumbai takes in people from all walks of life, accepts all moralities and ethics that people choose to live by, and lets its people be. Some bring it pain while others endure pain to spread joy. The book is a fantastic tribute to Bombay. It lives and breathes the fabric that is the city. Right from the underbelly that has the slippery grime that is crime , to the most humane face of humanity that’s expressed through poverty, from the front where money buys a £150 cup of coffee to humble villagers who migrate to the city with nothing but hopes and dreams in their eyes, the book has the city painted all over its pages.

The big theme in the book is around what it means to belong to someone or even some place? Why do we yearn that sense of belonging? How does that belonging change our life? Each character in the book is , in one way or another, an alien to the city. They all walk in, fall in love with the city and endure and survive.

The next big theme is around ‘Karma’ of things. The big question around should we continue to be what we were or do we allow ourselves to evolve and in time, repent, atone, grow , and adopt a new path? Lin is a perfect example of man of violence who blooms into a man with a golden heart that has a few thorns that adorn it.

The biggest payoff from the book is the mention of the name “Shantaram”.

The many lives of Lin reflect the many conflicts that arise within his heart. Lin is driven by love, loyalty, anger, regret, guilt and he embraces all the choices that he makes and is forced to make. As Lin adapts to the consequences, we as readers, no longer remain blind to the way he evolves. The fantastic irony to the tale is that Lin is soaked and bleached in crime and yet there is a saint in him that comes out strong.

A name is just a name and it seldom defines the nature of the person that it is tagged to. Shantaram is a beautiful example of a man living his life, in pursuit of earning that name that emanates peace that is Shantaram.

Definite read. Give it a shot.

Karthik

[Book Review] : How to be human

How to be human, Paula Cocozza.

” The comfort, that is the delusion of love, is an opiate beyond compare. ” – Katz

How to be human is a beautiful story of love, companionship, loneliness and madness. The tale picks up with Mary finding a baby at her door step. She holds the infant close to her heart. She decides to call the little one flora. As we , the readers, sit and wonder over the things we’ve read so far ; the story abruptly shifts its focus to the life of Mary.

Fresh out of a divorce, Mary is struggling to cope up with life. The irreconcilable reason for the divorce is a simple fact that she does not want to bring a child into this world while her husband, Mark, wants one. The fights lead to an inevitable moment in their life. A moment that is consumed by rage and anger, a moment that would fill the hearts with regret and resentment, a moment where words are uttered and lives are shattered. And bada boom, Divorce.

Mary turns to a shut-in. With fewer and fewer ties with the outside world, her world is consumed by the past. She wonders about the divorce, she wonders about her own relationship with her mother, she wonders about what ifs to life. Mary embraces the loneliness that is her current life. She accepts her fate and succumbs to it without much of a fight.

And then she spots a fox. A fox that invades both her garden and her life. Mary ferociously defends her house against her ex, Mark and odd enough, she doesn’t go all guns blazing when it comes to keeping the fox away. She finds him as an inconvenience and longs to get rid of the critter. The introduction of the fox has an unexpected effect on her life.

Mr Fox happens to be a charming fella. He’s smooth, cautiously intrusive but is neither hostile nor perceived to be that. His demeanour is rather gentlemanly. The fox soon wins the curiosity of Mary. She observes him at a distance and as the days start to grow, so does the fox on her. They both adjust to tolerate each other. The fox becomes a regular visitor in her garden and he always behaves well. Mary starts to find a sense of some misplaced comfort through the fox’s very presence.

This odd companionship inspires a change in Mary. She , without trying too hard, starts to adapt to the world around her better. In this human fox couple, She is the talkative one and he , Mr Fox, speaks through his nature’s intended body language. Mary makes meaning of everything about the fox. She manages to open up that channel of communication by correlating her own words and the response like reactions that the fox expresses.

Trippy and so far , so twisted good.

Rest of the story is about , who the hell is that infant Flora. Does Mary marry a fox? Will rabies replace Mary’s fear over having babies? Nasty pun but apt on the context.

The book is a wonderful journey of Mary’s emotions as she meets and greets the new Mr Fox into her life. She replaces the failed relationships with humans with a new relationship with a fox. Their conversations are unidirectional but that doesn’t stop Marry and her fox from having their dialogue. Your curiosity over where the roads would take them would keep your eyes glued to the book.

At the heart of this book, the central theme is that of love. What does it mean to love someone? When does love suffocate? Why do people love other people and importantly, why don’t some people ever love others?

Love, through Mary’s life is also about the nature of companionship. Love seems to be key in her fight against loneliness. Our lives do change when we lose the people that we once used to love. Mary’s desire for companionship and the fact that she finds that gratified by a fox is a testament to what makes us human. Our undying need to stay protected away from loneliness makes us human.

The other big , subtle theme is around how much humans endure in that battle against loneliness. I’m not surprised at all by how much one would choose to give, or even accept in order to build a bubble of delusion to keep that element of isolation away. With the tale, how far does Mary go is a question that keeps us hooked.

The final catharsis is quite a bliss to read. There are no ‘TA-DA’ moments to it. The sun doesn’t shine better or different, the time doesn’t pause to hint a difference, the world goes about its business and somewhere amidst all that , there is a pristine moment of a realisation.

The world indeed is a better place if you don’t house a black hole in your heart.

Two thumbs and definitely worth the time invested into the tale. You probably won’t feel disappointed.

Karthik

And coming up next : The state of freedom!

[Book Review] The old devils

The old devils, Kingsley Amis

Cover page of The Old Devils

This is a book about old timers who’d have lived all their lives in the same town in wales. Their lives take a turn when Alun and Rhiannon decided to come back to the Wales and spend the remainder of their lives there. The arrival of the couple stirs up the neighbourhood and it does for a very good reason. Love.

Alun is an established author who follows the footsteps of Brydan, a welsh poet. Alun is a celebrity of sorts. Books, public appearance and interviews for the telly and the radio are his way of life. His wife Rhiannon, she’s something else. She coexists with her husband, doesn’t really come in his way. Together, they do make an enviable pair.

Alun’s friends , Peter & Muriel, Charlie & Sophie, Malcom & Gwen spend most of their time drinking the town dry. Everyday is an occasion to bid sobriety a farewell. Alun and Rhi quicky get inducted into the drinking games. The tale picks pace in establishing the lives of the old couples. Complications arise, because they bloody well would. Alun is promiscuous. Peter and Rhi were a couple at some point in the time before Peter got her knocked up and dumped her for someone else. Malcom and Rhi were a couple at sometime too. The men in the book go around rekindling the flame that had gripped their lives in the past. While secrets are kept close to the chest, the unspoken truth grows into a white elephant that is deaf, dumb and blind. Truth becomes an inconvenience which is not worth uncovering.

The tale is a wonderful example of how appearances can be deceiving. As we continue our journey through the tale, we take a closer look at the lives of the couple. Peter, for example, was a player in his youth. He was charming , seductive and had his way with women. In the present day where he is pushing 70, Peter’s life is lacklustre. He lives an isolated , alienated life with his wife who barely even acknowledges his presence in the house. Gone are his days of love and raging romanticism. His reality is void of any emotional connect at home. The two stay clear off each other. Peter longs for companionship and Muriel resents the very existence of Peter.

Charile on the other had is a man born for drinking, He drinks and drinks unconditionally. He battles his demons in the form of panic attacks. Charlie can’t endure being left all by himself. The dark and the loneliness gets to him. Sophie , and his brother Victor, ensure that they accompany him whenever they can. While it’s not explicitly implied, but one can fathom the dynamics of the relationship that Victor and Sophie share.

Malcom and Gwen’s lives take a turn because of Alun. Gwen an Alun were a thing. Alun and everybody else were a thing. Alun being Alun, complicates Gwen’s life. Gwen retaliates vocally under the influence of alcohol in a party. The friends reduce her hateful words as booze driven rage and set things aside.

The book is painfully slow. It does offer a subtle insight into a life of regret and resentment. In the book, nobody marries for love. The marriages are for convenience. Everybody harbours a longing that goes unrewarded for as long as it can. The stark difference between life in the prime of our youth and life of old age is wonderfully drawn. The strengths that we took for granted do vanish with time. While it’s easier to live a lie when we have the energy and zeal to compensate it, when it’s the time to slow down and sit back, the lies turn around to haunt.

My biggest take away from the book is about closure. I think it’s easier to wrap up a chapter in life and move on as long as we bag and tag the past and cast it aside, beyond our line of sight and hence beyond our realm of thought. Unless we reconcile with it, we’d never find peace with it, should the past catch up with us in the future. Considering life, the past always manages to catch up. The characters in the book are both victims of circumstances, are instigators of actions made of choices, and are aloof to owning their choices in a befitting manner. They all take to the bottle to keep their demons locked. They carry on for as long as they can maintain the façade.

This book ushers us to take a good look at the lies that we tell ourselves.

This is a slow book and it lacks sudden jump surprises. This book takes its time to establish the characters really well. If you endure it, it does reward you in parts. This is not a definite must read, but there is a happy ending of sorts, should that matter to you.

Karthik

Trains and coffee

“I don’t know. I don’t see a way out.” the sadness of my voice made its plea with words. I discretely wiped a gentle river of tears away from my eyes. I did hope that it would go unnoticed. Clearly, it wasn’t my day of luck.

“I’ll figure something out. Please don’t cry. I’m here now. We’ll find a way and do what needs to get done” he assured. I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, a girl could manage to get a break from the cruel talons of life.

Now that I think about it, it only takes mere moments for people to stop being strangers. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to know someone. I didn’t know David for all my life. The first time I noticed him was the morning train to work. He stood by the door, facing me. I glanced at him without an afterthought. That was that. I got off my stop and made it to work. I didn’t have a reason to spare a thought about him.

My life is a little complicated. I’m a simple girl and I’ve had a rather humble beginning. I walked into this land with hopes of a better life. I did find a better life and it was good for a while. I met my future husband at work. We both felt a mutual spark and we married soon. The troubles started slowly. There were days when my darkened glasses would mask my bruised face. The loving tender and care had soon vanished and had left behind booze fuelled rage and resentment. There were days when I saw more of his roughened fist than his caring face. I had quietly accepted my fate and had opted to succumb to the cruelties of destiny. This was my life and I couldn’t do anything about it.

It was one of those days when I noticed David. He had been taking the same train, always standing at a safe distance away from me. I was always in his line of sight, as was he on mine. I had seen enough of him to find his face familiar. He had the same kind blue eyes. I secretly wondered if he also had demons locked away behind his innocence.

A good two weeks later, he managed to muster up the courage to approach me. We had been neighbours on a train all the way. The one off glances had changed to acknowledged smiles. It wasn’t long before he had braved to speak. It wasn’t much. A generous offer for a cup of coffee. I didn’t see a harm in that. Sharing a cup of coffee with a stranger wasn’t the same as cheating. It wasn’t the same thing. It was always going to be an innocent cup of coffee.

A few cups of coffee later we realized that we had become friends. The Friday was sunny and the clouds had made way for the sun. It was a beautiful pleasant day to be outdoors. I had carried my dark sunglasses with me that morning. Things had gotten rough the previous evening. I needed someone in the world to know what I was going through. I needed someone to see me for what I was. I wanted someone to hear my trapped misery. David was all that I had.

I told him the horrors that I had accepted into my life. He was deeply saddened by it.

“I don’t know. I don’t see a way out.” the sadness of my voice made its plea with words. I discretely wiped a gentle river of tears away from my eyes. I did hope that it would go unnoticed. Clearly, it wasn’t my day of luck. It was all that I could manage to do. I had given my life the best that I could.

I do believe that in a world where Karma catches up. It wasn’t long before David came up with the solution. In his mind, a murder felt justified. It justified my pain. It justified a revenge and the most important thing to it , he knew it couldn’t be traced back to us. The simplicity of his plan terrified me. I couldn’t have imagined a sinister mind hiding behind his innocent eyes. I had made up my mind and had accepted to let fate take its course. I had to endure my cursed life for a month. Liberation was waiting for me on the other side.

It wasn’t long before David popped a proposal . It was the same coffee shop. It was the same David. I felt newer and livelier. Of course I said yes. I was always going to say yes. For good and for worse, David was the one that set me free. He had both my heart and my gratitude.

Now that I think about it, it only takes mere moments for people to stop being strangers. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to know someone.

“I don’t know. I don’t see a way out.” the sadness of my voice made its plea with words. I discretely wiped a gentle river of tears away from my eyes. I did hope that it would go unnoticed. Clearly, it wasn’t my day of luck. I had broken down in front of him.

Six months of a marriage later, I had met Michael. Same blue eyes. Same innocence. I knew there was a demon hiding away in plain sight.

“Please don’t cry. I’m here now. I mean it’s fate now aint it. We met on the train and now you have a problem and I think I know how to get that sorted” , Michael tried to console me.

As I said, I’m a simple girl with humble beginnings. Our coffee had arrived. A murder was in the horizon.

Karthik

A shoulder to go

I’ve never had trouble lending a shoulder to lean on. Offering a shoulder for folks to lean on is both a gesture and an emotion. It transcends the boundaries of age and gender. I’ve had friends across the spectrum rely on my shoulder , lean away in a comfort and loiter away in a maze of crisscrossing thoughts. Some times, being a good listener is all about keeping your shoulders open and mouth shut.

The comfort, as I’d call it, also was a service offered to the general public that was either in transit or on a routine commute. Yes. I’ve had strangers doze away in happy oblivion. I never did have the heart to discriminate and rudely awaken people. I let the heads be in their resting position and carry on with my book or music.

The thing about different days is that I usually can’t predict about the people who’d turn up and turn on their snooze button. I had the most awesome girl in the world who found her cozy comfort in my shoulder. Left shoulder to be exact. I’d place her at about less than a year of mileage in life. The morning train, as crowded as ever, she sat obediently for a while watching the strange giants around her. Her boredom inspired her to brave new conversations. A few stops later, the little lady got chatty. A world of her own, a language of her own. Rest of the world would find warm smiles , thanks to her presence.

As the train progressed on its predestined path, fatigue crept up on the little girl. She started to doze away into her slumber land. I’d sneak a glance from time to time and return my eyes to the book that I had in hand. A little person who had just started life , on my left. A book about a bunch of 70 year olds on the spectral end of life, in front of me. It wasn’t hard to ditch a concentrated focus on reading about life fading away into retired obscurity. With the little one now asleep, with the drama from moments ago vanished, I had no choice but to pay more attention to the book.

I felt a tender tug on my arm. The little one had lost balance and had found cushioned comfort in my arm. Her mother , in her pursuit of maintaining public decency and decorum, repositioned the kid a few times. Repetition ushered monotony. Thankfully, the mother gave up and let the kid be. I hadn’t even considered thinking about protesting for my personal space. It was a victory of convenience.

The thing about babies is that there are only two easy ways around them. One, either you make one or Two, you take one. I’ve not aligned myself to either of those opportunities. That said, I’ve not been a stranger to thoughts on having one. I still remember the pointless conversations that I’ve had in the past about them kids. Conversations destined to fade away in time and fade slower in thought. As chance would have it, I bumped into a wonderful kid the other day, when I was in Chennai. This kid was not any cuter than any other kid I’ve come across. This kid was not as familiar as other kids have been. Yet we shared a very small connection. We both knew it’s mom. If life hadn’t taken the course it had, there was a definite chance that that kid wouldn’t have been a stranger to me. Could have been mine.

It’s funny how life introduces moments. They pop in at a time least expected, they leave us impacted in ways unimaginable. When the events conspired, it left me with very few thoughts. A sign that I wasn’t the same bloke from the past. A sign that I had travelled a few miles from where I had once started.

It’s nice to know that an open shoulder goes a long way. Unperturbed by the comforts of once being shackled by chains of choice. Unperturbed by the uncertainties of chance. It felt nice to know that a shoulder left open ushers limitless possibilities that the future lines up. A shoulder to go on is a commitment to stay away from inertia. It is a reflection of an open mind, it’s a reflection of a willingness to give oneself a fair shot at life. Despite the challenges, right through the curve balls. It’s nice to know that I don’t know who the next stranger is who might make a dazed effort of borrowing a strangers shoulder. It’s a fantastic , insignificant, inconsequential subplot of the tale called life.

A smile and a toast to the many journeys in life.

Karthik