[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.

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[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 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

Born to raise hell

While the title is a song from one of the metal gods, Motorhead, it predominantly has nothing much to contribute towards the context of the things to flow. I find it easier to talk about Jungles and animals than humans. For starters, talking about a forest and the flora , fauna robs me of the pleasure of offending anyone who can read. On that defensive note, here goes.

And so this animal ventured into a big scary forest. The woods were thick and dark. The day’s sun brought warmth and light to the wilderness and the cover of the night brought fear and damp cold. It was a harrowing place to start one’s life, I’ll give you that. The animal made its first batch of friends with the ants. The ants of the forest were everywhere. They led the numbers game. Their were a gargantuan workforce and were the most easiest to spot.

And so our animal of interest soon started to learn the ways of the ant. Work work work and always busy for the rainy day. The ants were driven by purpose and , frankly between the two of us, lacked ambition. Their quest for the purist satisfaction of work and effort wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Our animal eventually realised this. Resentment on one hand, boredom on the other, and throw in a healthy mix of ‘ What the hell am I even doing here? ‘ later, the animal decided to part ways with the ants. It wasn’t the end of the world and the jungle was a huge place after all.

Our animal of interest migrated from one herd to another. It moved from one pack to another. With each group it joined, it soon realised the mundane nature of the works. Each animal had a task to accomplish. Most of the animals did not worry about the larger picture. They were tasked with an action and the animals would do their best to accomplish it. For them, they took each day as it came. The work would start with the sun and would end with it as well. Some animals would work the nights. The context of purpose was rigid. All animals had a place in the jungle and fulfilled the purpose bestowed upon them. That was the unsaid status quo and nobody usually challenged it.

The king of the jungle had always been the Lion. All animals knew that and acknowledged that. To each of them, they had a view of what the king did. Some saw him as the beast of justice and others saw him as a slob who mooched off the efforts and hard work of the rest of the forest. The king barely had the time to sit down and hear the rumours pass around. Our animal of interest gradually worked its way through the food cycle. One fine week, it had an audience with the King. It was to work with the King for a while.

‘So what do you do?’ the animal asked humbly, addressing the king.

‘Nothing much. I sit around. Hunt when I’m hungry. I’ve got a pretty boring life actually. I don’t have many friends. And then when others try to take over the forest, I’ve got to go and put up a fight. Irony is, I’m actually a passive chilled out bloke. I hate violence but my job mandates me to be stand the ground and fend off invaders. It’s such a boring life, I tells ya’, the lion went on to mope.

So what happened to our Animal of interest? Ever wondered what animal it was when it started its time in the jungle? Ever wondered if it became something else when it migrated herds and joined other packs? Ever wondered if the animal managed to cope up with the reality of the Lion?

We are not so different from the animal of interest. We start both our lives in pretty much the same manner. We walk into the jungle of personal and professional life in the same way. As an empty slate. We explore our surroundings and make friends with blokes in the vicinity. Some are happy being ants. Some are happy being something else. Some are always unhappy , no matter where they are and what they do. We all pursue a holy grail. Some reach it, satisfied and happy. Some reach it, and sit bored from there on. Many just aspire it and keep wishing that one day they’d get there.

The moral of the story isn’t doused in pessimism. In fact, its the other way around. We aren’t restricted to be what we currently are. We are free enough to explore the world and be what we choose to be. There are limitations to the choices that we make. The rooted our choices, swaying away becomes hard. It just takes more effort. And so we lead our personal and professional lives in pursuit of borrowed perceptions. As long as such views offer hope, ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Going back to the tile. All of us are born to raise hell. Some do it, some aspire it, and many still wish and wonder if they’d ever manage it one day.

Karthik

What does it mean?

Hi

I’m 35 today. I used to be 15 a different lifetime ago.

I am known by many names. When I was a kid, I had just 2 names. Today, I have many.

I had many friends growing up. I think I still have friends today.

I think a lot. I’m both proud and worried about the fact that I can think. A lifetime ago, before I became me, I don’t remember thinking at all.

I try to understand the meaning of my life. I try to see if there is a purpose to it. When I was young, I didn’t care enough about such stupid questions. I had better things to do.

I’ve been writing a lot , these few years. A lifetime ago, I didn’t know I could write.

And just like that, my thoughts took to me on a conversation with my past self. Try hitting the search string ‘Why Unhappy’ in google and you’d find a million reasons and million thoughts on the matter. I think the first lesson that already goes overlooked is the fact that happy folks don’t usually sit down to think about trying out a search string on unhappiness. Am I happy or am I unhappy is something for me to sit and ponder. The context of this is about something else.

With the curiosity instigating a search, I managed to quench it through a quick scan of the things scribed in the first few search results. In their own right, I’d like to believe that every word written is a wisdom suppressed.

Let’s take a minute and choose to have an honest thought. Unless one is of an unsound mind, medically diagnosed with a condition that keeps the brain from forming a string of rational thought, I don’t think the cause of our unhappiness is a mystery at all. Denial is a yes, but mystery it isn’t. The popular information that flooded the so called ‘Help-Blogs’ was Pop Science at best.

In the brief amount of time that I spent looking at the content and before I could jump into throwing in a content of my own, I decided to sit down and classify the factors that lead to unhappiness in many people. My take is as follows

1. You don’t have what you want and you cant get over it

2. You think others are better and you don’t like what you are and what you represent

3. You are scared and have no means of pulling yourself off things that scare you.

4. You want others to like you but unfortunately they don’t.

There are at least a hundred more things listed out across each portal. I could see them as a derivative of the ones that I had listed out. To even shrink the list of four further, I think they can be classified as,

1. In your mind, you don’t like what you are

2. To your mind, others don’t like what you are

In and out. The simplest classification there ever is.

Back to the unhappiness quotient. One of the things that caught my attention was a line that read , ‘You don’t have friends’. Another one said ‘You hang out with Unhappy people’.

Those sentences led me back to being a kid. When I was a kid, I either liked others or I didn’t. I’d either choose to play with the kids or I’d choose to be on the opposing team. Life was simple because I hadn’t learnt to complicate myself back then. Today, under the guise of intelligence, we take comforts in throwing words to complicate our lives beyond compare.

The one about friends, it still haunts me. It leaves me with far too many thoughts. How in the world did we manage to complicate a simple thing called ‘Friends’. As kids, one made friends by virtue of proximity. Bunch of kids living in the same neighbourhood were very likely to be friends. Kids in the same class in a school, Friends. Kids sharing the same commute , Friends.

The trend was simpler. Face to Face. If I can see you, talk to you, pick up a fight with you, we had a good chance of being friends. And then came the digital revolution. Anonymity and digital incognisance made the deal of ‘Making friends’ easier.

It’s not easy to pretend and keep pretending when you meet someone in person, looking them right into their eyes. Your body language speaks volumes. You are either in and invested or you are out. There are good days and bad days. You learn to cope up with your friends and your friends learn to cope up with you. In the digital space, the dynamic changes drastically.

You are free to pretend whoever you want to be. You digital avatar is as real or as fake as you want it to be. Your face can be left natural or you can apply a million filters to it. It pans back into the above listed 4 categories. You want to be liked and hence you alter the way you appear, sound and think. The ones you get along with, you exchange more senseless banter. The ones you don’t, ignore and block is a click away. In short, we go through life, filtering people to meet our needs and specs rather than learning to live with differences and tolerances.

Then again, why would you bother to adjust and accommodate. It’s not exactly like you get to see them everyday, or work right beside them, or share actual physical space with them.

Friends. It used to be such a simple thing and now it aint so easy. No wonder, most of our strongest bonds of friendship are from Decades ago. School buddies, college buddies. I think , by now, you know why those bonds have been strong. Because they were real and not Virtual. Things that have a foundation in the real, have the capacity to survive in the virtual. The vice versa is not true.

We are unhappy because we cant stay happy. We cant stay happy because we either haven’t made peace with being ourselves. We also haven’t made peace with how the world views us. It’s that shift in perspectives and our inability to cope up that makes us unhappy.

Ask yourself this. Should you delete all your social media apps, even delete your whatsapp app. How many folks would really invest in an SMS or a phone call to stay in touch?

Ask yourself this. If you are dead in your digital social life, would that also mean that you are actually dead in the real life?

That should clear the illusion that a digital self provides. Art of staying happy comes from the art of knowing what’s real and what isn’t.

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

Coz everybody knows!

A week in the new land and I’m already a creature of habit. The virtue of sharing a living room inspired the gentleman in me. I make it a point to wake up around five-ish in the morning. I brave the cold with my trusty beaten up cardigan. A phone in hand, cool winds that play seek and freeze, it’s a beautiful feeling to listen to the voice of my parents that way.

While Chennai is warm and cozy and London is at its unforgiving best, I do like the peace and quiet of the morning. There is nothing like disrupting peace , early during the day. Back to being a creature of habit, I am a kat of music. I like the empty spaces and silences of my life filled with the sound of music. This morning, I reached out to a personal favourite of mine. It’s from the repertoire of the movie The Justice League. In my pompous , arrogant, condescending and mighty judgemental view, the first 5 minutes of the movie is a masterpiece. Things spiral down from there.

Elevating the master class that is the first five minutes of the movie is a wonderful song called ‘Everybody Knows’. Very similar to my writing and the music that I make, this song oozes with emotions. This particular song is a testament to optimism. This comes at a time when the hope (personified by the, *Spoiler alert and in case you haven’t watched it yet, I don’t see why you might want to give it a shot now, death of Superman. Another spoiler on that note, he comes back alive!!!!!!! Bet you didn’t see that coming!) dies.

The voice of Sigrid is at its melancholic best. I fell in love with the voice the moment I heard it. That love has no means of faltering. It’s here to stay.

The lines of the song got me thinking.

“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded

Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.

Everybody knows that the war is over

and everybody knows that the good guys lost.

Everybody knows that the fight was fixed

The poor stay poor and the rich get rich.

That’s how it goes and Everybody knows”

While the song and it’s context are tremendously appealing, I couldn’t help but wonder about the simpler subtleties of life. The minute we are born, we are against the clock. The timer ticks and with every tick, we are a moment closer to death and simultaneous a moment away from life. All of us will eventually fail. All of us fail a lot of times along the way. Some fail and stay a failure. Some fail, fight , fight back and are victorious and go on to fail another day. When nothing else fails, they just die one day.

Some find luck and are happy and others are lucky if they find luck. The point is, Everybody knows 🙂

Life seldom is picture perfect. I wont take the liberty of speaking for others. My life ain’t picture perfect. It aint a fairy tale. It aint the tale that brings warmth to the heart and inspires courage and wisdom when others get to hear it. But that’s the beauty of it. It doesn’t have to be any of that. I have my wins. I have my loses and I tread upon life hoping to make that miracle win each day. There are days when I fall flat and there are days when I sing my song of victory. It doesn’t matter what everybody knows. I know and I can make my peace with that.

The above passage is not my birth right. It’s not an exclusive story of my life. We share that tale. We share many similar and dissimilar fates. We are not alone in our misery and we aint ever going to be alone in our moment of triumph. With gazillion people walking the mortal earth, nothing that we do, ensure, survive, succumb to, rejoice or mourn is a 100% exclusively unique deal. While the factors change, while the contributors change, the sentiment itself is shared.

Everybody knows that. We have trouble believing in that. The irony screams at the top of its lungs everyday. Was it the Gita where the good lord said it? ‘Humans are the only ones where the dead of the future mourn the dead of the present. I don’t advocate a stone cold stoic disconnected way of life. At the same time, I don’t advocate that we are here, surrounded by eternal misery.

If you have your bed cover wrapped around your face, all you might get to see is the darkness that surrounds you. Lift the blanket and let yourself view a wider world. Coz, that’s how it goes and darling , everybody knows 🙂

The best the world can do is either Jeer you or Cheer you. The world is a huge spectator and it spectates. It usually is up to you to put on the greatest show that you are capable of putting and nothing else has to matter.

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.