[Book Review] A Brave New World

A brave new world , by Aldous Huxley is a depressing take on the state of humanity in a futuristic society. This future of mankind is also possibly set in a alternate timeline of history. The tale relies on the current principles and practices of science to forecast a predicted future rather than calling scenarios out of thin air to paint a state of dystopia. The tale felt chilling and terrifying because of its nature of staying grounded in plausible reality. 

The tale kicks off with an introduction of the new London. It’s a London where science triumphed and led humanity into a consumerist civilisation. It is a new land where babies are manufactured and are no longer a planned/unplanned outcome of intimacy. The babies are then sorted into different categories, ranging from Alpha + to Epsilon -, which determine the nature of the future that awaits them. Alpha plus, is the top of the tops of the society. Epsilons are reduced to beings that carry out menial tasks and enjoy almost near perfect invisibility in their world. Nobody really cares about the epsilons. The whole society , however, believes that there is a proper place for each of the classes. 

Science also lends a helping hand in conditioning the society. The science of brainwashing is transformed into an ART of flawless perfection. The babies are conditioned right from the act of inception. Different messages are drilled across different spurts of growth. The conditioning is not just restricted to infants. It alters the formative years of the individuals and kids grow into brain washed adults. The new world accepts this conditioning without exception and without any protest. 

The land has also evolved away from the confines of emotions. This new world believes in the consumerist excess. Love is no longer defined as conditional or unconditional. Love is no longer exclusive. The land enforces a regime of un-exclusivity where the thought of individualism doesn’t exist. It’s a free for all, within acceptable classes, state of existence. 

The passages above are not attempts at passing a judgement over the state of this new world. It exists. In it, there is no crime. There is no greed and jealousy. Mankind has evolved to pursue desires rather than trying to win it over through the acts self control and discipline. Mankind , in fact, would have evolved beyond the need for introspection because a life of excess and fulfilment of pleasures keep the species far away from pointlessness of self or what it means. There is unilateral happiness and contentment across the society. This world is probably a kind of world that most worlds would have desired, at some point in time. 

In a nutshell, there is no judgement because this new world delivers the results of peace and harmony and simplified living. 

And then comes the trouble.

The take kicks off with Bernard Marx. Bernard is an Alpha but has appearances of a delta. This leads to resentment and insecurities within his head. Bernard has an opportunity to explore the uncivilised world and he takes it. Bernard is accompanied by Lenina. Lenina is a woman of this new world. She , like rest of the new world, believes in unrestricted get togethers. The new world has funny interpretations of Relationships. Get-togethers is more like it. 

The uncivilised world resembles the normal world of Gods, Love, emotions and misery. The uncivilised word is not a product of science. It’s a world where men are men and women are women and the two learn to live together , forming meaningful relationships and enduring the miseries of life. This world has a god , who is worshipped, ideals that are pursued and dreams and desires that are worth dying for. 

Bernard and Lenina find the uncivilised world silly. Lenina finds it hard to understand the word Mother. She struggles to understand the logic and reason behind any woman wanting to suffer the process of birthing. To their minds, it’s not a wonder that the uncivilised world is an animalistic mess. Unlike their modern world, People age old in the uncivilised world and oldage manifests and plagues the body there. 

Bada boom, twists and turns later, John and Linda are moved to the new world. Rest of the story is about how the civilians from the uncivilised world cope up with the civilised new world. PS: There is no and then they all lived happily ever after. 

The book, while being a depressing read, is also a fantastic eye opener of sorts. It cruises through the many human emotions effortlessly. The discrimination amongst the classes, the construct of a polygamous society which conditions humans to not express any affections towards any other specific individual. And then there is the absolute disappearance of individualism. It’s also both ironic and interesting to find that irrespective of what and where a human is, humankind will never be free from the demons of insecurities. 

In a stark contrast to the civilised world, the uncivilised world offers the comforts of acknowledging and accepting the many emotions that humans are capable of expressing. Individuality exists and there is a need for a central god to govern. And then there is the misery of just being a human. 

The book presents a wonderful case of what humanity has to shed in order to attain a peaceful and a harmonious existence. It calls out the nature of such a life. Maybe reality is the fact that humans make life a miserable affair and humans would have to be stripped of humanity for peace to prevail. Maybe cold clinical science is the way to go. 

Give it a read , if you have similar questions on what it means to be Human. 

Karthik 

Advertisements

Fancy a cup of tea?

I was late. Late as usual. Parties are meant to be crashed late. I was rushed once and that left me in a whole world of a daze. I chose to not be rushed anymore. He does that. In fact he does that a lot. Prances upon other people’s business and always lending a ready hand to shove those who are waiting to be pushed. I fell for his trap once. I knew I’d not fall for that one again.

The day had been long. I could barely recognize where I was. Each step felt like I was in a land of magic. It was a funny thought that I had. I thought magic was meant to be a source of entertainment to jaded minds. And here I stood. In a magical land, with magical creatures around speaking their foreign tongue. A life was now in magic. The thought mustered. How jaded had to be my life for magic to be of this magnitude. I secretly wished to feel fresh and happy once this grand trick was over. If it got over. I didn’t sit on sureties over the matter. I accepted the new realities of where I was. I had to let time run its course. Besides, I didn’t know how to get back home. There was only way ahead. I was taking it with an open mind.

“Ah already late”, the March Hare( that would be Mr White Rabbit to us all) said. “Don’t you ever learn your lessons Alice? “, he asked looking at me. He was cross. He wasn’t all that great when it came to keeping a poker face.

“6 times, 6 times I tell you and still turn up late!!!!”. 

My face contoured to a disgust. The rabbit was mad. What did he mean SIX. This was the first time I was ever here. Here, wherever it was. I decided against putting up a fight. It seemed rather pointless to me at the moment. I was more interested in getting the day done.

“Over here”, the rabbit continued speaking . “That would be Mr Hatter, we call him Mad Hatter. He’s, ah well, a little mad. You’ll know once he starts talking”.

I stared at the hatter. He sure looked goofy enough. Explicitly long hat. Only his hat looked clean and crisp. His clothes were tattered. His clothes were dirty. Now that I got a good second look at him, he looked a little dirty too. I smiled out of compelled courtesy at him. I didn’t bother to wait and see if that smile was reciprocated or even acknowledged.

Towards my right, I think I saw a rat who was snoring. I shot Mr White rabbit a puzzled look.

“Ah, yes .. yess.. that would be Mr Dormouse” , he said. “Ignore him. He’s lazy as a , as a, Dormouse!!! That’s all he ever does. Sleeps. or pretends to sleep. Never does anything besides sleeping.”

I pulled up a chair and sat across the table. There was a huge ceramic tea pot. I guessed we had enough tea for all of us. In fact, I suspected that we could go seven rounds of tea and there might be a little more tea left. I wondered why I thought of 7. I shrugged my shoulder. I had read it somewhere that 7 was considered a lucky number and 7 out 10 people would associate themselves with 7 as a lucky number. I was amused at how my mind was fixated over the number 7. I wondered for a second about what the rabbit said. Mr Hatter helped me dismiss that thought. His voice was not what I had imagined. He turned out to be pleasantly soft spoken fella.

“So , are you here? “, he asked me.

“I am here, so I must be here!!!”, I replied.

“That still did not answer my question” , he said.

“I didn’t realize that was a question. I thought of to be silly. I’m here. Why even ask if I was here!!!!!”, I sounded annoyed. The rabbit was right. Hatter was mad after all. He had a knack for making pointless conversations.

“But it is a question. When I asked you if you were here, you vouched that you were here. But that can not be right now, can it? A yes confirms that you know what here is ! Such an awareness of the whereabouts also warrants the cognizance of your raison d’etre (reason of being here). ” he said.

I could not believe what the hatter was speaking about. It made no sense and strangely it was all starting to make sense.

“Is there a reason? If there is, and you know it, yes you are here. If you don’t know and still here you are, so are you here? If you know it and not here, are you here? if you don’t know it and you aint here, then where are you, My dear?”. The hatter paused to breathe. 

“Would you like some tea?”, he offered

I nodded. I definitely needed some tea. He gracefully poured the brew into my cup. I took a sip and I smiled. This tea tasted like coffee. 

“Hey this is not tea, this is coffee!!!!!!”, I teased.

“Sure is. I call it tea. I drink this tea all the time. I call it whatever I please.”, said the hatter. “No matter what I call it, it is what it is. Self assured little rascal, this tea is, aint it?”.

I felt lost all over again. I came to wonder if the hatter was mad or profound. I couldn’t call the difference. He looked mad, spoke mad and his body language was equally goofy. I couldn’t judge him yet!!!

I heard a loud yawn that forced me to turn around and seek out the source. The Dormouse had woken up. 

“Oh, so you are here after all Alice, we’ve been waiting for you”, he said.

“Don’t worry, calm your bones. You have travelled far. You shouldn’t have. You hang in there, you’d be back home, safe and sound. None of this will ever mean anything to you. “, he continued. And as abruptly as he woke up, he was the same abrupt and sudden when he slipped back to his slumber.

I found the Dormouse’s words very comforting and yet there was this coldness to it. His kindness rejected my acknowledgement of being here. His comforting voice robbed me of my journey so far. He was quick enough to dismiss the distance I had covered. Yet, he did promise that everything would be ok..

“That’s it. we are getting late again” , the white rabbit announced. off the chair, lazy bones.. we have places to be and time’s not plenty…

I stood up. I took a deep breath. I inhaled deliberately, and exhaled the same way. For the very first time I realized. I was lost and I was finding my way. Not necessarily in that order.

Alice 

[Book Review] The blank slate : modern denial of the human nature

The immediate thing that comes to my mind when I think of the word Psychology is the image of Hannibal Lector , portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins. From there on, my mind drifts away to the many serials and movies on crime thrillers whose plots revolve around the super smart sleuth who deduces the criminal based on psychological profiling.

In short, psychology seemed to be the quickest way to identify the worst and the most exciting breed of criminals there is.

Of course, that view is such a juvenile way of viewing the wonderful world of psychology. I’d like to believe that there are many roads that one can take in order to discover and understand oneself. There is spirituality and there is behavioural psychology. Both roads usher us to the same tangible output. The ability to know and understand oneself better.

The Blank slate by Stephen Pinker makes a compelling case for the evolution of behavioural psychology. It dissects the known and accepted views of the world and tries to expand our understanding by explaining the world through the fresh eyes of the science.

There are three fundamental questions that the book tries to answer.

1. Are we born as a clean slate? : In effect, everybody is born the same and the difference is what we do with our life during our lifetime.

2. Are we born with a natural tendency to be good? : In effect, are we noble beings who choose to get corrupted in course of a given lifetime?

3. Is there a purpose to life that involves destiny and souls? : In effect, is being human more than just being a human?

The questions seem to be fundamental enough and interestingly, these are the questions that help shape the human behaviour. If I’m born to be good , I have a destiny that holds an end, if I’m the same as everybody else, one of life’s greatest pursuit would be in search of finding something that sets me apart. If being unique is not my cup of tea, then fulfilling the prophecy that is life becomes a mandate. If there ain’t a prophecy, then as a clean slate, then all I have is the thirst to learn and acquire skills that takes me closer to my dreams.

Contrary to popular beliefs, people are born as artists and of course as murderers too.

This might sound silly at first and it also rubbishes the history of LAW in this world. If people are born with their virtues and vices, how do we hold them responsible to their actions. It automatically becomes a journey of fulfilling their destiny of being an artist or an murderer.

That statement can be viewed through two filters. One, reductionism. Two, Causation which can be proximate and ultimate.

Reductionism is the way of trivialising an understanding. If our nature is in our blood, then we aren’t responsible for our actions.

Causation is the way to justify that cause. I make music because I was born a musician. – Proximate view. I make music because i’m interested in music and I have dedicated years to that cause. – Ultimate Causation.

The reality , or the current understanding of that reality lies somewhere in the middle.

We are born with predisposition to certain behaviours. Science does not know why. Science is seeing the effects though. Most behaviour traits can be traced back to the genetic mark up. This does not explain and guarantee that people born with such traits will always end up exhibiting them. Science, today, says that people born with such traits, have a higher tendency to express that behaviour.

Science is not fully there yet. There is so much that we do not know about the innerverse.

Since this predisposition is shaped by the way the brain is formed and how the emotions are framed and formed, it also defines the understanding that we are all born with the tendency to be good. Evolution points towards survival and self preservation. Intelligence does state that survival and preservation is efficiently achieved by staying good to both the self and the society around.

Behaviour is a curious thing to ponder about. The whole discussion on nature and nurture, it does point to the fact that our surroundings shape up our behaviours. Which is true and truer. We are both with predispositions to be in a certain way. Our surroundings and the nurturing, they both ensure that we either pamper our innate nature or through conditioning, we gain a better control over how we choose to behave. The simplest example is that when in India, we choose to treat the roads as the defacto trash bin. When on international waters, we cultivate a civic sense. We revert states , once we return. This is a good example of nature and nurture at play. While there is an equal opportunity to improve our civic sense, free will takes shape.

The ability to follow a herd and acquire the behaviour that is mandated by the society is equally real to the behaviours of individuals shaping up the behaviour of the society. The ability of individuals to shape up the behaviour of the society has manifested numerous times in the past. It’s easy to cite Hitler but it’s more effective to cite yourself.

In your social circle, there are influencers and there are followers. Each circle exhibits these characteristics. There are people that we gravitate towards. These people are a said to be natural leaders. In such groups, the collective behaviour is often determined by few of its prominent members.

Scale it up and you start seeing that the society behaves in the way its influencers want to behave. When I was with a bunch of musicians, all discussions were around music. Then when I walked a mile with the altruism enthusiasts, it was altruism. I walked a mile with wannabe authors and the pulse was around words. individuals have the capacity to shape up the culture and behaviours of the society around them.

Donald Trump and America. Enough said.

The insight into psychology explains the way the world has shaped up. Collective behaviour is manipulated by Politics. Politics influences policies. Policies structure our daily civilian lives. Civilian lives continue remain in order because of the law. Law is in place to safeguard humans against their ability to be their worst. The cascading effects of behaviour of both individuals and societies impacts the world.

The book leaves you with so many questions about the world around and it offers a lot of things around why we choose to be the way that we are. A better awareness of how psychology works comes handy in identifying how psychology is used to manipulate the world around. It is the fastest way to open a can of worms.

I don’t think I have done much justice to the book. I take accountability over the fact that I’m a novice in this field of science. The book did play its part. I’m more curious than ever. Hopefully, I’ll expand my reading in the time to come.

Karthik

Project Psychology and Paramatma!

Lets talk about a simple day to day way of life. The project that we are running, assume that it hits a snag and push comes to shove, you happen to be in the line of fire. The immediate world holds you responsible and lets face it, you are as nervous as politician sitting in an honesty summit!

I’ve been catching up on Cognitive psychology and so far, it has been a wonderful detour from my usual list of literary fiction and spiritual philosophies. In many ways, it affirms my bias. In many ways, the world of cognitive psychology is more familiar than I initially thought it would be.

Lets dissect the scenario through a few filters.

Let’s start with the easiest of the lot. Determinism.

Determinism as called out in google states that all actions, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes regarded as external to the will.

That roughly translates to Of all the projects in all of the companies in this world, you had to inherit this one. By virtue of determinism, one is fated for failure and it’s inevitable. Then comes the SKYNET argument. Through stones and studied trinket, one might manage to delay the inevitability. It eventually catches up and one given morning, one would have to face the consequences.

Through determinism, the outcome is predetermined. Either you walk off it or you are tarnished by the event. If success is written, no matter where you find yourself, something will open up. If a failure is branded, no matter what you do, no matter how high you jump, if not this, something else would manifest to bring you down.

The big benefit with such a thought is that there is no point in worrying over it. The ground reality , however, is that we are governed by fear and sit paralysed by it.

Then comes Innatism. Innatism is a bit more scientific and easier to quantify than the deterministic view. Innatism refers to the traits that you express. These are the behaviours that one picks through the formative years of life. We are stuck with it unless we learn to unlearn and adapt. Innatism mandates that just by virtue of being ourselves, we are predisposed to such failures. A good example is that if one is careless and unstructured at work, a slip is a matter of When and not IF. Eventually we’d slip up. Eventually we’d have to face the consequences of such a slip. Innatism is an unholy child of nature and nurture. Our traits, even if we are born with it, are also heavily influenced by the company that we keep and the environment that we are brought up in.

When we work in a toxic workplace, the smarter ones see the signs and plan ahead to keep a good trail that ensures that they are not blamed for all the failures of the world. When we have a lethargic sense of observation of our environment, by going with the flow, we also have to learn to react as and when surprises pop.

While nurture is explained in how we perceive the environment and how we adapt ourselves to it, nature also has a say in the way we are equipped to deal and adapt. Cognitive science explores the modular nature of the brain. The Brain, besides thinking and being underused, is also extensively at work all the time. While we do not acknowledge that, the construct of the brain, the way synapses and neurons work, it impacts our behaviour and hence dictates the way in which we lead our lives.

This is quite interesting because to a great degree, all crimes can be held accountable by the way the brain functions. It’s not in everybody’s construct to execute a cold blooded murder. Most of us don’t because the brain enforces inhibitors that keep us away from doing it. While the example is a drastic one , there are a lot of mellow examples around it. Some of us as people pleasers, some of us are agents of hell don’t care club. We are that way because our brain is hardwired that way. Nature goes hand in hand with nurture. While nurture minimises the risk of such behaviours manifesting, the nature warrants that we are only waiting for the right stimulus to go nuts. We are built for the crime. Unfortunately.

Then comes the philosophy around it all. The Paramatma.

Genetically speaking, the way we are is an outcome of how our mind is constructed and how our experiences fuel the way the mind operates, it also strips us away from accountability of actions. Yes. Purist science says that. Even if I commit murder, I did it because my brain is built that way. Legal definition of a crime is that if an individual is aware of what is being done, and is in the faculties to know the difference between what is right and wrong and still makes a wilful choice to commit the act, GUILTY.

The purist science flags towards nihilism. It says that nothing we do is part of a super plan. There is no grand scheme of things. We do because our brains work in a way they do. We are a product of how the mind operates and mind is influenced by our experiences.

Science sets us free from the burden of birth. Interestingly, spiritual philosophy aims to do just that. It is a means to relieve us from the burden of birth. Only spiritualists tag it to universe both inner and outer. Cognitive science talks about electrical impulses.

Viewing a problem statement through the hats of science , fate and spiritualism, the fundamental question that we ask is often a reflection of what we are.

Ask yourself a question based on the scenario outlined. Ie, the project that you are held accountable for, fails.

?

Done?

Good.

Now comes the kicker.

The question could be anything. There are a few themes that the nature of question could explore.

A few questions that I can think about are

1. What did I do to deserve this?

2. Why is it happening to me?

3. Why am I the only one getting blamed?

4. Hmm, how is this mess going to cost me?

5. Is this the end of my career?

6. Is this going to haunt me forever?

7. OK, Now how do I sort this mess out?

8. Who stabbed my back, who suggested that this failure was because of me?

9. What all and who all do I need to fix this?

10. Whom should I inform, whom would I have to call first to diffuse the situation?

There are many such questions. But the kind of question you ask, describes the kind of person you are. Questions could centre around fears, around resolution, around the future. That, again, is a wonderful thing to think about if you view it through the filters of Cog Psych!

If you think about it, all the explanations in the world, have absolutely nothing to do with the next step of actions that ought to be taken 🙂 Cest, la vie

Karthik

[Book Review]: The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian , Han Kang.

There is no easy way to say this. This is a complex book that dwells in the abyss that is the human mind. It toys around with emotions and is rather cold and stoic in the way it settles to narrate the tale of two sisters , Yeong – Hye and In-Hye.

Yeong- Hye leads a pretty normal life. The term normal is an understatement. If I had to trivialise a loveless marriage, emotional impotence, suppressed insecurities, passive aggression, masked intolerance, manipulative relationship, pretend smiles as a BAU normal of a life, then yes, Yeong does lead a normal life. One fine day, she decides to become a vegetarian. She rejects meat of any kind into her diet. This leaves her husband unhappy.

The choice of being a vegetarian, given the Korean context, we are led to believe that the choice is an unpopular one in the society. Yeong’s husband, Mr Cheong is left alone to fend off the snide remarks from the judgemental society. This decision adds tension to their marriage. The family meet up with Yeong’s wider family over a get together and things get worse. Her family feels ashamed of her decision to shun meat. Her dad manages to slap some sense into her.

Push comes to shove and plot details later Yeong gets committed into a mental institution. Oh boy, this is a hard book to review without giving away the plot. I shall have to adopt a different strategy to review the book.

Lets focus on the themes instead.

What is beauty? What one finds ugly is someone else’s white swan. The age old word that says beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, while that makes sense, it’s also worth the while to note that the eyes that see you as beautiful, do they belong to the people in your immediate world? The book establishes the reality of an unsatisfying relationship. The lack of emotional and physical satisfaction and it’s effect on a relationship is horrifically screamed out in a gentle whisper.

Then comes the whole big bang around the nature of oppression. The tale is about oppression. The tale is about violence. The tale is about the might of the will of a few to crush and stamp on the voice of the others. This is a tale of how fractured people and the way they cope up with a flawed life. What choices do we have? Are we strong enough to even make choices? The helplessness of the circumstance would leave us with thoughts and a tinge of depression.

And then comes the theme around choices. There comes a point in time when we have a moment of pristine , demented, twisted catharsis. We act on that impulse and that action goes on to define the way of our life. How far would one go on that conviction? How far would you defend the honour of your choice? How far would you go? What is the extent of what you’d endure and survive in order to hold on to that singular, one and only hope-like thought of a choice? Our protagonist’s choice to be a vegetarian is one such choice. It spawns from a nightmare and Yeong does what she thinks is the right thing to do. The entire tale is her testament to that choice.

The whole book is a glance into the psychology of a person. From a nightmare to a choice. From a choice to an Action. From reasons around that nightmare to the mind’s projection of what it experienced to what it presents as a nightmare? The whole world of interpretation of intent, cause, symbols and their meanings, this book effortlessly tosses all of that out of the window. The book doesn’t pretend to be a super smart , slick dissertation of the human psychology. It does manage to beautifully outline the consequences of gradual and consistent fracture of the self over prolonged duration of time.

The other big theme in the book is Violence. This is a tricky subject. The violence that Yeong endures is almost a 360 degree wrap.

From physical to emotional, from carnal to exploitation, the violence again this woman comes hidden behind masks of varying socially accepted norms.

It makes us question the status quo of right versus wrong. It holds a big ugly mirror that reflects the archaic values ingrained into a patriarchal society.

What stood out in the book is the history shared by the two sisters. It left me numb through implied pain. The little things that had no significant value , the way the little things add up and in retrospect, turn out to be a series of massive life changers, the tale of the two sisters is a culmination of what ifs and regrets. The subtle horror would run chills down your spine.

The rest of the book is around life, death, and death that one endures through each day of a life. The book also elaborates the soul’s metamorphosis into a butterfly. There is far too much going around in this book. The beauty of this is that you get to take what you want to take away from the book.

It is a definite read, if you are used to reading between the lines. There is so much said across everything that is left unsaid.

Karthik

Coming up next : Shantaram.

[Book Review]: The boy who could see demons

“There can be no faith without bias” – Katz the sober.

The boy who could see demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

My name is Alex. I’m ten years old. I like onions on toast and I can balance on the back legs of my chair for fourteen minutes. I can also see demons. My best friend is one. He likes Mozart, table tennis and bread and butter pudding. My mum is sick. Ruen says he can help her. Only Ruen wants me to do something really bad. He wants me to kill someone.’

With that back over , buying the book was a no brainer choice.

The quick snap shot review of the book : Brilliant Story, wonderfully written, engaging plot and intriguing characters, poor lousy lazy ending, but ,and that’s a rather enormous but, it’s a tale worth reading.

Now lets get down to the bits and bolts.

And then there was a tale that was caught right in the middle between the eternal conflict between belief, faith and Schizophrenia. Alex is a ten year old, who lives in Belfast (surviving the aftermath of them troubles) , can see demons and one in particular called Ruen is his best friend of sorts. Ruen wants Alex to kill someone.

Welcome to the world of what the hell is going on.

The world painted , rather scripted in the book is beautifully balanced by the author. We are introduced to the little boy who starts seeing demons on the day he learns that his dad is dead. Ruen, the demon, manifests in different shapes , sizes and forms to Alex’s eyes. Ruen is not seen by the rest of the world. Ruen is a bit of the snobbish, posh kind. He loves Mozart and is far too sophisticated to be the run of the mill hound from hell. In fact , Ruen isn’t the average joe of the demon world. He is a ‘Harrower’ , a top general in the realm of demons.

Ruen is Alex’s best and only friend. Ruen dictates the right words into Alex’s mind. Ruen is in fact the power that helps Alex cope up with his life. The world sees Alex as a bit dense.

Cue in Anya. Anya is a psychiatrist who specialises in paediatric psychology. Anya comes with the baggage of having lost her daughter to a suicide. The cause, Schizophrenia. Anya is broken into far too many pieces but her strength reverberates through the pages of the story. Anya sees Alex as her shot at redemption. She couldn’t save her daughter. She wouldn’t let another kid die.

And so beings the chase of a cat and a mouse. Science and the understanding of mental distress and disorders that it unravels fights heads to head with Demonic possession which has its roots in Faith and belief. Anya and us, the readers, we are introduced to many supernatural-esque capabilities exhibited by Alex. Throw in clairvoyance, access to knowledge beyond the usual means of a normal individual, we witness the battle of the mind. Anya deciphers the clues and finds ways to justify the phenomenon through the eyes of accepted and proven medical science of psychology.

It’s not the case of science hurling sticks and stones on the village idiots of believers. There are things that Anya’s science cannot explain. The story hinges on the uncertainty of what if demons really do exist. The story brings that balance of belief and the debunking of that belief brilliantly. As we dwell deeper and deeper into the minds of the characters, we also get to understand the power of psychology that governs the lives of us, humans.

Alex’s mom is suicidal and her battle reflects upon Alex. Then there is Ruen. A demon whom we cannot easily dismiss as the figment of imagination of a mentally troubled ten year old little boy. The evidences don’t always tally up. Psychology does not explain it all. The alternate world of the super real, super natural does not always sound believable. We journey through the book, living with that conflict.

So is Ruen really a demon? Is Alex really really mentally disturbed? Is there a happy ending for Alex or his suicidal mother? Does Anya finally find redemption? Does science outsmart a world of faith and belief? Do we realize that science, while magnanimous it is, is still too young to explain everything there is to the world?

The book’s conclusion offers some answers to those few questions. Personally, I wasn’t too thrilled about it. The return on the investment that I had made through the pages, was too little by the time the tale ended. The cheesy last minute jump scare was too clichéd and too cheesy and way too subtle to leave a lasting impression. That said, ignoring the book because of one chapter would be a crime. This is a fantastic book and has a smart story to tell. It is well worth the time.

The core of the book is the way of the mind. It captures the ability of a mind to cope up to a trauma that overwhelms it. Some sit and cry, some kill themselves, some sleep off the night and wake up stronger than ever before. For some, their personality rips and they dissociate into multiple personalities with the sole intention of coping up with the trauma. The book, like many other sources, is a beautiful reminder of how fragile the human mind is.

To that fragile nature of the mind, add a hint of God and the Devil. Throw in a healthy bunch of Angels and Demons. What if they are real? What if the human soul really does exist and that the god and the devil are wagering for a piece of that pie? What if a demon, or an angel is not the response coughed by a broken mind? What if a broken mind and the supernatural coexist? Where does that leave us, the vulnerable humans?

There can be no faith without bias. Rest your faith to the modern day gods that go by the name of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Ellon Musk or rest it within the bucket of the many gods that are in our prayers and devils in our nightmare, that faith cannot exist without a bias. Wisdom is gained when we learn to see beyond our bias and observe without resistance and evaluate without prejudice. Maybe there is a lot more to this world. Maybe there is a lot more to the universe that is the human body.

The book does leave you with such questions. To me, that is a better win than a stronger ending.

Four stars . Enjoy the madness. Enjoy the mind trying to see through the madness.

Karthik

Mirrors and Exaggeration

This almost feels like a patch of anxious nervousness after a brief stint of sabbatical from everything that surrounds life. It’s been a while since I’ve been myself. Plagued and haunted by woes of the mind and the body, it feels nice and at the same time , a bit daunting, to write again. I’ve been someone else for a while and my eyes strain when I try to view myself amidst the blaring glare that engulfs the background.

For what it’s worth, it’s been a voluntary exile. I had things to do and in the process I got to sacrifice the things that I enjoyed doing. Push to shove, it’s back to the proverbial square.

Speaking of mirrors and exaggeration, I’d like to believe that I could manage to pick a few lessons during my hiatus. Mirrors have a tendency to reflect and the mind has a tendency to exaggerate what that it perceives. And so we Segway to a train of thoughts. To set a little context, ever heard of this series called Black Mirror? It’s a series that reflects an exaggerated view of the kind of life that we lead in the modern social age. The series focus on how our lives gravitate towards social media. The series talks about how technology has been having a say on the quality of life that we are leading.

The blatant snide of the irony to the moment couldn’t be ignored. One of the episode from Black mirror talks about a technology that offers a chip to get embedded in the body. This device records all moments to life, it stores and catalogues all the memories that are made into classified moments. Imagine the moments feature that IOS offers, only here it is real time on the things that we see. The story revolves around the protagonist, if I could call him that, and his wife. The couple make it to a party and eventually all hell breaks loose from there on. The protagonist reviews the moments of the day and starts to pick on visual cues which lead him to suspect his wife.

The suspicion runs its course and rest of the episode is about the ability to call out specific moments from life and use them all to fuel the fight that is currently, in present, being waged.

I’ve been there myself a few times. Of course, by virtue of being the perpetrator, I’ve not often found myself digging through the past for specifics. There have been times when I’ve racked my mind in order to pull out phrases and context that resembled the actual words being said, that reflected the actual moment that was once experienced.

The past is easier in comparison to let go when we don’t have immediate access to all its glory. The human memory fades in time, it alters and fragments into a perspective memory rather than staying retained as the actual true north. In fact, there is no true north when it comes to any memory. Thanks to the simple fact that we lead a biased life, we apply our personal bias to everything , and that the process of applying this bias is both voluntary and involuntary , there is no memory which is a 100% free from any bias whatsoever.

There have been days when I’ve tried to access every available fragment of the moments once lived. With relative ease, I’ve always managed to assemble the moment back to what I thought the past was about. I could replay the conversations, observe the tempers and emotions at play, try to decipher the million things left unsaid. The exercise has always left me miserable. In real time, we usually live through a moment only once. Through our memories, we live through moments a million times over and over again. All the ‘action replay’ and ‘rewinds’ later, I’ve never managed to alter the outcome of the events already lived.

In Black mirror, the technology existed to replay everything. Memory on demand. Memory as a service. That’s just one episode. It mirrored the nature of being a human. We , rather I, have a tendency to look back and relive and re-experience. While I continue to grow and evolve each day, the mind’s affinity to subscribe to ‘ On demand misery’ has not drastically changed. Humans do that. Humanity does that a lot. We cling on to the past. We hold on to a few memories. As time goes on, our memory alters and changes. With ample time, we forget and things fade out.

While the episode exaggerates the nature of being human, it also mirrors what that we hide away from. We do live in the age where we try to compensate for real loses in the virtual world. We seek emotional gratification from texts and digital cues. We continue to alienate ourselves from expressing ourselves. The future is already here and the mirror reflects black. Maybe we aren’t fully there yet. We are getting there though.

On that note, Black mirror is a fun series to watch. It does pose a few interesting questions on technology and our additional to it. Do give it a shot.

Karthik

[Book Review] : Tibetan book of the dead

If there was an illusion that could be called the mother of illusion, I think spirituality would be just that.

The Tibetan book of the dead is a fantastic book on spirituality. I’ve not read many books on the matter, so to me, it’s good enough. It just has way too much information that my jaded mind struggles to comprehend.

This review will stay away from the bias of a spiritual aspirant. This is my attempt at writing a non spiritual view of a quintessential spiritual book. Here goes. Fortune favours the brave.

Reverse Engineering : The process is a product to conception approach to problem solving. Just because all the parts and clockwork are there, it doesn’t translate to an easy approach. It does however establish the building blocks required to conjure the final finished product. Life’s biggest antonym is Death. What better way to define life than starting at death and sweeping back to the point of origin. The book of the dead does exactly just that. It’s a book about the list of things that ought to be passed on to folks who are near death. It’s still not a cool idea to say ‘ PSSST, you are gonna konk out bro’ .

Whilst the ideals are to help the near dying transition better into death and beyond, the principles work like a charm if the living were to follow it. That’s like having an issue in the production system, painful escalations and an extensive RCA later, one figures out that blokes did not bother having a review or running a unit test case.

The point is, knowing what matters in the end is a fantastic guideline to accommodate practices while we are still alive and kicking.

Fears , Regrets and messy closet! : Oh but I am trying hard to not sound like a frantic wannabe spiritualist trying to solicit the words of wisdom from a book. Through the eyes of psychology and behaviour, the message is not that difficult to understand. Bottom line, fear. Fear leads to everything else. Fear of failure results in lack of actions which results in regret. Fear of failure leads to insecurity which leads to lack of actions. Fear of failure, leads to inertia which leads to lack of actions. I think when fear paralyses the mind, we find ourselves incapable of progressing with life.

Science offers a way to confront such fears. Fish bone analysis, Root cause analysis, cause and effect analysis, they are all roads to identifying what fails and what the consequences of failures are. One can start with, I get this wrong and my entire life is wasted. By virtue of sitting down and deconstructing the effects of consequence, one might soon realise that not many things usually lead to a life getting wasted. Mess up a delivery, mess up the immediate appraisal. That’s a cause and effect. But assuming that one would always mess everything up hence forth is just paranoia taking creative control over all the choices we stand to make in life.

The worst that can happen is one can lose one’s job. The worst that can happen post that is one may never find a job. The question to ask is, why am I so unemployable? That question alters a lifetime of unemployment. It facilitates options that we had never considered before.

The road to a happy death, and a happy staying alive is taking a stock of the things that scare us crazy. It’s human to fail. It’s human to fear that failure. It’s very human to assume that there is no success ever , after a failure. It is also human to have a bit of a common sense and argue that one has to be an idiot to volunteer to carry out the same set of mistakes over and over again. That special skill is called reluctance to learn , adapt, evolve and grow. Science or spirituality can do very little to help such people from their moment of inertia.

Acceptance and denial: The big deal is, when you are about to die, would you rather accept everything that you’ve done or would you choose to die staying comforted by the talons of denial. Denial is the ability of a person to blame oneself or rest of the world in order to justify why one deserves misery.

Acceptance is the ability of a person to accept that one might have been responsible(partly or in complete) to actions that led to a failure. Acceptance leads to acknowledgement that there is something to learn and something new to adopt to. Acceptance is key to evolution and growth. Either lead a life in denial and face the moment of truth where time doesn’t really matter anymore or make that effort to accept, face your failures, make an effort to call out the different grades of consequences to deal with and live a life of choices rather than feeling helpless and saying ‘i’m going with the flow’.

Forget about the million gods and billion souls. It’s psychology one on one. One either learns or resists. Resistance is futile. Consequences are inevitable. One faces them one day.

Illusions and Illusions of illusions : The biggest take away from the book is that once we reach the choice of acceptance or denial, should one choose to accept, one also sees through the illusions that one has always been surrounded by. We are not talking about the entire world being an illusion. I’d very much like that if that were to be the case. It isn’t. Violence is real. Hunger and poverty is real. Abuse is real. Misery is real. Pain is real.

The things that aren’t real are our forced choices to stay succumbed and imprisoned to the realities. Violence is real and walking away from it is a choice. Hunger is real, but trying hard to stay away from it is a choice. Abuse is real, standing up against it is a choice. We love our excuses. We hide behind words like ‘Insignificance’, ‘Powerless’, ‘What can one person really achieve’, ‘ its my fate’, ‘Destiny’ to stay comfortably numb , connected strong to such illusions.

There is no miracle cure. There are no one stop shops. Embracing science or spirituality for the sole reason of escaping the choices that one couldn’t find the courage to make is the biggest illusion of them all. In that context, Spirituality is the biggest illusion of them all. We are so eager to surrender and embrace something divine in order to distance ourselves from the responsibilities of the choices that we’ve already made and the choices that we hesitate forever to make It boils down to acceptance and denial. We awaken from one illusion only to embrace another.

One doesn’t need to read ancient scriptures or words of the wise to know this simple truth. As kids , we were told stories about god helps those who help themselves. As adults, we hide behind convenience that words from various sources provide.

And so even from a purist skeptic point of view, I do feel refreshingly enlightened by the book. It was easier to distance the imagery and symbolism adopted in the book and associate myself with the lessons that were intended to be imparted. I see the argument of science versus spirituality as a quintessential epitome of pointlessness. They are the same, different words and both leading to the fundamental simple truth. WAKE UP , SMELL THE ROSES, and START LIVING

Tamaso mā jyotir gamaya – From darkness, lead me to light

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

T’was a good day

“Local youngster found brutally hacked”.

It wasn’t the best of the headlines to read out loud at seven in the morning. I did so nonetheless. I’m habituated that way. I’m 70, I live with my son and his family. The nice comfy cane chair is mine for the taking and I take to it everyday without fail. The routine is the same. I sit and read the paper. I’m usually quiet, but there are those few headlines that I make a point to read out loud. It’s an old fool’s cry for attention. My son and daughter in law don’t have the time for me in the morning. Peak hour rush to the office. They usually don’t have the time when they return from their offices tired. Their weekends are packed. They don’t have kids.

I’m not the kind of a person who enjoys complaining. There is no point. I’m only making an effort to call spade a spade. I had never imagined my life to take this shape. As a kid, I aspired an education. As an adolescent, I aspired a good job. As a man, I aspired a good wife. As a husband, I aspired a good son. As an old father, I don’t aspire much. I hadn’t thought of a life post retirement before. The slogs of the daily rat race had kept me too busy to sit back and contemplate about the life beyond a job. The day I lost my wife was a stark wake up call to my evolving reality. These days, I’ve accepted this way of life. And so I sit on my chair. I call out a few headlines and hope it attracts a few words of a conversation either my son or my daughter in law.

The bait worked today. The headline caught my daughter in law’s attention.

“Oh that’s bad appa” she stoically replied. “Don’t go out alone. Stay away from deserted roads”. That was the extent of her concern. I knew I shouldn’t expect much.

“Don’t be silly pa” my son joined in. He usually joins in whenever she has something to say. “Things happen. If it’s meant to happen, there is nothing we can do about it. Stay in the house. Why do you have to go out”.

My son’s words were for me to hear. He didn’t have the time to hear what I had to say. His words conveyed, I saw him pick the car keys that were dangling on the keys holder that was mounted near the door. Like always, no goodbyes. And just like that, he had vanished. Soon after my daughter in law left for work too. She always has been kind enough to tell me when she leaves for work. Today was no different.

For a man my age, most days are no different.

I ate my breakfast in silent loneliness. I was used to the quiet. It funny when I look back now. I had always assumed that the words peace and quiet coexisted. I thought the two words were a pair made in heaven. It happens that they aren’t. I’ve embraced the quiet. Peace continues to remain elusive. With the breakfast done, the dishes cleaned, I stepped outside. I have a nice little routine of sorts. Temple, that’s a few blocks away from the house. Then I hit the little shop by the corner of the street. There is a school, a few minutes away. I enjoy walking past it. I don’t have distinct memories of watching my son play in his school’s playground. I like to see the energy and enthusiasm of the kids. The noise brings me a momentary peace. Not the quiet, the noise.

I then walk a bit longer before I make a U-Turn and head back home. The roads are usually empty. It’s fine during the day but it gets rather dark at night. The lamps don’t work well here. A man’s got to make due with what he has. A routine is an old man’s companion. It keeps me alive. It keeps me moving. It is the only thing that helps me maintain a sense of purpose to waking up every day. Don’t let literature and movies fool you. One doesn’t quit on life that easy. While I have harboured a few suicidal thoughts in the past, they have always been just thoughts. It’s like wishing upon a million bucks or a fancy car or that dreamy vacation. It’s fun to think of an exit from the misery. But that’s all there ever is it to. I lack the conviction to see things through. I’m well accustomed to stay in the land of the living. I’m neither immortal nor eager to end my time. When it’s time to go, I shall go without a fight.

Walking is fun. I’ve never really walked much before. I used to drive in my youth. The time came to pass the baton to the next generation and along with it, I passed the keys to my cherished car. Truth is, it was a car that my wife loved. It was her very first car. She wanted black but her beliefs wouldn’t let her live with the shade. She chose grey instead. After her, I didn’t feel that bonding attachment to the car. It was just a bucket of metal and plastic with wheels. My son took it. He complains about it from time to time. I’m sure he’d pick a new one too.

Walking has been a different experience. The world treats me with smiles and hostility. I’m usually called a nuisance on the road. Angry drivers honk and remind me to stay locked indoors. A few nice folks greet me every day. It’s a balance of smiles and frowns. I like the surprise that the world brings every day. Today was no different. Unlike yesterday, today has been relatively quiet.

Yesterday was an inconvenience. I saw this boy stalk a girl. As the distance between the two narrowed, I could see the girl feeling apprehensive. I stepped in to remind the boy that what he was doing was wrong. The rascal shoved me away. An old man takes a fall, a girl walks home safe. I could live with that. I collected myself and made it back home. I sat restless through the day. What could an old insignificant invisible man do anyways.

As luck would have it, I spotted the boy again on my evening walk. As I said, the roads are empty and the lights are dim. I continued my slow paced walk. The boy was busy on his phone and hadn’t bothered to register my existence. That was that.

I smiled thinking about the headlines today. Insignificance and invisibility are an old man’s friends. T’was not the first day of the kind. T’was a good day. The things I did for a little attention! Another day to look forward to. Another headline to read out loud.

Karthik

*Inspired by this old man that I met on the tube.