Project SPA

There is an adventure in there somewhere. There always is. SPA or as I’m now terming it, expands to Single Parent Adventures. Running this SPA is nothing short of running a huge wide project. A programme even, if one may. 

Being a single parent is a hard business. The kids, here the number being 2, always manage to ask all the pertinent questions that I’ve overlooked all my life. Is this the same ‘Waterloo’ that challenged Napoleon. Blimey, I didn’t know and the worst of it all, having lived in London for quite a number of years, I hadn’t bothered to correlate the two. Waterloo was BFI IMAX for me. I hadn’t realised the wider connotation to it. 

Then the plethora of statues. Many of known names and faces. Many that I hadn’t bothered knowing. They were all the same to me. All stereotyped to nothing. It took me an adventure ride to realise that most statues came with a verbose description of why they were in the place they were. I hadn’t read them. 

These days, I’m a proud single parent of two. My mum and my dad. Every time we step out of the house to catch a glimpse of this city, the three of us embark upon an adventure. The walk to the station inspires the many questions that my dad has for me. Where does this road lead to? Did you know that there is flight coming into the Heathrow every two minutes? How many runways do you think it has? I think it’s 5, one for each terminal. Why don’t they have many runways for each terminal. I think they must.

Are we taking the district line or is it only the picadilly line this time? Which one is quicker, and importantly, Why? 

To be honest, years ago, I’d not have had the patience to sit through the plethora of questions. In time I had changed. Growing up and looking back, I know the kind of nightmare that I was. I’ve always asked a million questions. I still do. I remember this one time when our family was travelling and the chatter box that I was , I went on and on. One of my relatives did ask me to shut up for peace’s sake. I remained quiet. For a whole few minutes and then started again. 

These days , I know that I don’t have any of the answers to the questions that my dad asks. I hear it out though. Some, I answer. Most, I make up the answers, just to toy around. We share a giggle over it. The topics change. Things go forgotten, but etched forever in my memory. I’m learning to cherish the precious moments that I’m going through. 

Recently we were at the Museum of Natural history. With the arrogance of having learnt how the world worked, I felt a bit jaded by a lot that was on display. My mum was in a world of her own. She enjoyed the way the volcanoes have shaped up the modern age. She went on and tried all the exhibits that encouraged user participation. Touch that, push that, pull this, roll that cylinder. She did it all. She read through the contents. Dad would enrich the experience with the things that he had experienced. The conversations around the fault lines that wrecked havoc in the Andamans, where he was the chief engineer at that time. The violence of the planet that was so sweetly remembered. We came upon an exhibit that replicated the earthquake experience. We stepped in and walked out excited as kids. 

The planet’s precious minerals were displayed. Gems and crystals. One more beautiful than the other. Each, spell binding in their own right. Each mesmerising. Each reminding me of my state of poverty and how I couldn’t afford many, or even any of them. None of that nonsense ran through my mom. She just loved the opportunity of seeing those gems. The many diamonds ‘Gifted’ from India left us laughing our the course of human history. 

The day coming to a close, I felt proud of being a Londoner. It’s kind of odd to associate a nativity to London. It’s not the place that I took that pride in. It was the people. No matter how crowded the trains got, there were always and I mean ALWAYS folks volunteering their seats to get my folks seated. Gentle hands ushering them to their seats. For that brief instance, my parents had a hundred kids. Each doing their best to keep the parents comfortable and safe. I do feel proud of them. Of us. 

I’ve never experienced that in India. That’s not a reflection of the attitude of the folks. Back in India, I’d drive them to their destinations. When I wasn’t around, there was always that sweet kid (of varying ages) who had helped them have a safe and a comfortable journey. Right from the railway’s friendly porter, who’d walk slow, keep them company and talk to them and get them seated on the train to strangers on the flight who did their best to help them climb the stairs and navigate through the wild that is the airport. Some days I believe in the fact that the goodness that I express, gets rewarded by introducing the good and wonderful people of the world to my parents. These good Samaritans of the world occupy that role of a single parent in my absence. A parent substitute of sorts. One good deed deserves another and that’s my motivation in wanting and trying to help at each step. Yes, I am selfish that way. It’s just that hope that if I’m good enough, someone else will not be a villain on the street. 

The other day, as the evening got dark, my folks were walking back from a temple. They were approached by a bloke. Fear gripped them but soon changed. The bloke had approached them to tell them that they were the sweetest oldest couple that he had ever seen. He wanted to tell them that and expected nothing in return. 

Ain’t that an adventure of sorts? Don’t believe in the news that you read which speaks only of the devil and destruction. There are a billion folks out there who aren’t selfish. These are the unspoken daily heroes who go beyond their call of duty in being and staying human. Irrespective of what walk of life they hail from, these are the nice folks who make an effort to keep this world a better place. I used to think that this kindness, this goodness is a product of culture. I was wrong. It’s the fabric of being a human. Humans , by default, express that goodness and help others. That message does not come out. We’ve grown too skeptic from the abundant and constant flow of destructive information. Yes, granted that some of us are capable of evil deeds. Yes. But that’s not the general reflection of the world. 

Being such a single parent, each day is an adventure. You worry about the wellbeing of the kids. You worry if the world’s cruelty will affect them inversely. You also get to experience the innocent bliss that they experience. You get to see the innocence of the world that they see. Such a wonderful adventure that rejuvenates your faith in people. May it last. 

At this juncture, I am perplexed by a dilemma. How does evil exist in such a beautiful world? Or the alternative, In such a vile land, how does this goodness survive , endure and manifest itself. Something is not right. No wonder the battle between the good and the evil is an eternal one. By the looks of it, Good does have the upper hand. It always will. I hope and wish it does. 

Karthik 

Advertisements

The house of walls

Light.

The tiny streaks of light that managed to dodge the thick drapes that covered the windows were bright enough to illuminate the room. The luminance was soft and subtle without a glare that could strain the eye. There were days when I liked the house to be that way. She preferred a well lit house. Our separation started on that simplest taste over light. 

The bed looked made. It was empty. I couldn’t remember why I had walked in, but I was there nonetheless. This happens a lot to me. I walk into places without a faintest idea of why I got there. I shrugged my shoulder and patted the made bed. I was careful enough to not leave behind a crease. I turned around towards the dresser. Our anniversary photograph stood there, framed and neat. I examined it close to find no trace of dust resting on it. Typical, I thought to myself.

I left the room and made it towards the hall and occupied my usual recliner. I felt fatigued and I wasn’t sure if it was the age that was catching up or the fact that I couldn’t remember if I had any breakfast that morning, that made me feel tired. I sat wondering how my life turned out the way it did. 

Dark. 

Typical, she wondered. Her husband liked to leave the drapes closed, even on bright mornings like the day. He was her perfect opposite in many ways. She liked the house airy and bright. He liked it cold and dark. She had enjoyed cleaning and sorting things into their proper place while he had lived a hobo’s dream of untidiness and grime. Her lips twitched as she found herself lost in thoughts about how they had managed to endure the years together. 

She made the bed and walked towards the kitchen. She filled the water in the kettle and tried to switch it on. It just wouldn’t start. She wanted to call out to her husband. She knew there wouldn’t be an answer. She sighed and gave up on the notion of making tea. She glanced towards the hall to see if he was lazing around his chair. The hall was as empty as most of their life had been. Typical. He had this uncanny ability to never be around when she needed him. Had had never been around when she had needed him the most. Annoyed, in general about everything, she walked to the porch to find solace in the world around. Her chair on the porch had been her trusty support system. She had spent numerous hours sitting there and watching the world go by. The view wasn’t bad. She could spectate her neighbourhood in peace. The pointless business of the world comforted her. Deep down, she felt that the world shared her isolation. Nobody outside seemed to speak to anybody else. There wasn’t a casual chatter to be enviously spy upon. The transactions of the world were just that. Mere transactions. No soul in them. No life in them. To her, everybody seemed to be dead. At least on the inside. 

Shadows.

I heard the door creak. The sudden sound jolted me. I could feel my heart pounding. I knew I was being silly. I presumed it could have been the wind that was playing games on my otherwise dulled mind. Just to be safe and simply out of curious compulsion, I scanned the room to see if there was anybody around. I knew there weren’t. I felt silly over spooking myself over. It was a ridiculous thought. I knew fear had no place, at least not anymore. The worst was already in the past. There wasn’t any place for fears in the present or even the future. Things didn’t work that way. I shook my head in disappointment. The noise had left me unsettled and restless. I couldn’t bring myself to sit anymore. I decided to hit the porch. 

The porch had been a wonderful place of sorts. It held many memories. She had always usually been there. Looking at the world. Smiling at the world. The best of her was when she was outside. I knew the many promises that we had made together , sitting on that porch. I knew the many promises that I broke, that we broke, when we argued on that porch. The porch had become a world of its own ,to us. No one bothered us there. It always felt that we were the only ones , trapped in a wide vast world. 

I stood by the porch. The day had gradually dimmed its glory. It had become a gloomy day. The glum gloominess had somehow seeped away from the house and corrupted the world around. The metal railing felt cold. I stared far into the land, not wanting to focus on anything in particular. My eyes strained towards her unoccupied chair. It pained me to find that empty. The searing pain kept growing. The weight upon my heart felt heavier till I couldn’t bear the burden. I felt ambushed by the overwhelming grief that suddenly found me. I couldn’t explain where all the grief was coming from. The confusion left me dazed till I couldn’t hold on to a thought. Any thought for that matter. Everything started to black out. 

And then I saw a streak of light. 

She sat on her chair and her thoughts lost upon the world in front of her. Thoughts became tears. She couldn’t tell where the stream of tears started from. Was it that time when he screamed at her? It seemed unlikely. It must have been something grave that would have germinated that anger that led to a furious hate. The hate that left her with resentment. The resentment that fuelled her wrath. The blinding wrath had rendered her helpless. She broke down within the chain that bound her. She had endured the cycles of anger and hate till she couldn’t tell the two apart. In her state of misery, she blamed herself for what that had transpired and her guilt and denial alienated her from him. He wasn’t there anymore. He wasn’t there when she needed him the most. He just wasn’t. They weren’t a couple any longer. He was emotionally dead to her till.

The thoughts overwhelmed her. The anger flamed and hate burnt bright. She burned in her anguish. There was only that anger and hate that consumed and kept consuming till there was nothingness. The nothingness led to the dark. She blanked out, lost in thoughts, lost to self, Lost. She shut her eyes tight to cope up with the overwhelming strain. When she finally opened her eyes, all that she could see was the dark. 

The world of real

The door creaked wide open. The house was sparkling clean and tidy. It smelt fresh and unused. The barren house echoed the silence to a reverberating boom. The sound of footsteps amplified as it reflected from one wall to another. 

“This”, the lady proclaimed with a marketable smile, “is fresh in the market. A fantastic two bedroom house. Single owners. No kids. The house is in a fantastic condition and is selling under the market value.” , she concluded her practised pitch. 

She walked the guests through the house. The drapes were drawn and she opened them up to let the natural light spread through the room. The mild chillness of the house vaporised and the house started feeling warm again.

The viewing done, the prospective buyer couldn’t resist the temptation of asking why such a beautiful house was selling cheap.

The realtor paused. She knew the question was inevitable. People usually found out sooner than later. There wasn’t an easy way around it. 

“Sentiment, I presume” she started. “Tragedy struck the previous family. The wife had a long history with depression. You know. Things happen. She took the easy way out. The husband couldn’t cope up with the loss. One evening he went out for a walk and a car ran him over. The case was closed as a suicide. The street’s CCTV footage clearly showed that the guy jumped in. Lousy way to go but it’s still a romantic tale of sorts. The couple couldn’t stay separated. People blame the house!”

Within the Light and the Dark, amongst the shadows, the couple continue to struggle to reconcile and reclaim the life that they once shared. 

Karthik 

[Book Review] : The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage , by Rachel Joyce 

There comes a point in time when one has to do what one has to do. That’s precisely what this tale is all about. Harold Fry is an old bloke who continues to lead a mundane life. One day, he gets a mail that upsets the status quo of his blank , bland existence. Reading the letter, he learns that his long forgotten colleague/ friend, Queenie, is suffering from Cancer. He writes a half baked response and decides to walk to the post box to post it. It just so happens that when he reaches the post box, he feels that he should walk a little more, a little further before posting it. 

And just like that, he decides that he would walk all the way to meet her in her hospital. Feeling pumped up by that spontaneous decision, he calls the hospital and informs the nurse to tell Queenie that he’s on his way to see her and that he’s walking it all the way there. He asks the nurse to inform Queenie to hold on till he makes it. 

With that , a wonderful journey begins. Harold believes that he can walk the many miles (600 odd, to be precise) and also that Queenie would continue to survive her battle against her terminal illness. Caught unawares because of the spur of the moment decision, Harold is not equipped, both physically and equipment wise to endure the long trek. He doesn’t let that bother him. He constantly keeps reminding himself that all he needs to do is walk. One step at a time. 

As Harold conquers each mile, we are introduced to the details of his life. Harold’s marriage to his wife, Maureen, is strained at best and is left hanging by a thread. The crux of the tension is around the fact that their only child had alienated himself from the parents. Maureen holds Harold responsible for that separation. 

As Harold struggles to fill his heart with hope that would help him fuel his walk, Maureen is annoyed by the decision. The couple drift further apart because of the walk. The few exchanges between them are strained and colder than usual. Harold steers forward. Maureen struggles to cope up. 

Along the way Harold meets many folks who are as different as different could be. He manages to see something unique about them. He is greeted by both encouragement for his courage to embark on such a journey and there are folks who express their concern around the pointlessness of the exercise. Doubts start to plague Harold. 

The rest of the tale is a warm telling of the journey ahead. Does Harold make it all the way? Does Queenie live long enough to keep her end of the bargain? Will David ever reconcile with his folks and join them again? Will the couple’s marriage survive this tug of separation? 

The unlikely pilgrimage is a refreshing read about the human spirit. We are emotional beings and not all of us are bound by the laws of reasoning and physics. We do things because we want to. We do things because we associate actions to faith. We believe in things because we have nothing else to bank on. We hope that our faith gets rewarded. We are plagued by doubts and there are days when we give up. There are those days when we conquer our doubts and march ahead. These traits make us human and it is fantastic and wonderful to remain human. 

The further Harold walks, the clearer his thoughts become and unlike ever before, he finally manages to reminisce upon the course that his life had taken. He’s a man left with regrets and has a nice line of sight of things that were. I’ve seen this phenomenon in real life. We do what it takes to cope up with events springing in our lives. What we do to cope is different but the mechanism is a standard template of sorts. Do things to distract the self. Keep at it and have a moment of pristine catharsis. The book captures this moment beautifully. 

Two thumbs and a definite read. 

Karthik 

Hey

How long must time flow before once stops calling a table the usual table’, I sat wondering. The table had always been the usual table. The brands had changed, ownerships swapped, contracts renewed, and the location of the usual table had always been a near constant. Right by the window. During the summer, the window would be left, ever so slightly open, to let the warm breeze through. The winters were no different either. Different season, the same old warm breeze to gently kiss our faces and leave behind a moist comforting warmth. 

It had been a while though. Five years to be exact. I was surprised that the coffee house was still open. I was even more surprised to find out that the layout remained the same. Some things are better left unchanged. I placed the order and took the usual table. While I was traversing through the many thoughts of the past, the present , the multiple what ifs, the order was served. I was a stranger in my own ancestral home of sorts. A new face that didn’t not attract the familiar warm welcome smile. The bloke stood around waiting to see if I’d request for any besides my order. I offered a smile to close the transaction. Without any words wasted, the event came to a finesse close. The piping hot cup of hibiscus tea was steaming in front of me. The vapours carried the pleasant smell of fruity flowers and it filled the table with its aroma. Uplifting. Yes, that’s how it felt. I sank comfortably into my chair. The train of thoughts had arrived at the station. 

All aboard, I silently screamed. 

Five years is a respectable period of time where stuffs happen in life. Five years, I’ve gained and lost and gained and lost weight. The face now is littered with wrinkles of worries and the million thoughts pondered. The hair line had fallen back by a bit. I stared into the tan exposed on my ring finger. 

Thud-Thudd.. My heart started racing at the mere thought. I still remember the day when I removed the nice silver ring , threw it as far as I could. I screamed from the bottom of my lungs and attracted quite a lot of stares from the onlookers. I distinctly remember not giving them a moment’s thought. Never did ever after either. 

Thud-thud.. The mind ushered a rushed montage of the fight that led to that action. I was surrounded by the demons of my past. The moment long gone, the memories still fresh and nearly ready to start phasing into a fade, the pain and the misery felt horribly fresh. My heart kept beating faster and faster as I descended deeper into that long isolated, distanced memory. 

Thud..thud, and just like that my mind forced me to visualise the first time we had met. The details of the world around had eroded away in time. Her and everything about her never quite did. Floral. The colour whose name I never did make an effort to learn. For me , reds are still reds. Pink is pink. Yellows and blues. Blacks and whites. Every other color is one or the other color that I knew. Everything else was a transient state on my love drenched eyes. Everything else had forever and always remained illuminated. If only there was a color to denote light, the brightness it casts upon the eyes, my eyes. The weightlessness of the shade, the brightness and luminance of the shade of sun’s honey-glazed rays. Yeah, the moment was as vivid as I had first experienced. 

Thud……………………thud. The warmth slowed the beat and filled me with a certain happy, satisfying melodic lullaby. The kind of song that wasn’t meant to put a child to sleep. But to soothe it, comfort it, assure it that it was a beautiful world and that nothing would ever go wrong. 

Five years, I had lived a life without that rhythm. The music had long faded away, the curtains had fallen, the stage cleared, the audience had returned home. I had endured and survived the isolation of an empty auditorium. I had filled myself with echoes of my making, echoes of my breath, murmurs through my silence and thickness of my isolation. The time had been kind enough to fill my world with people, whose faces I had forgotten as quickly as their names I had stored on my phone. I had lived on a borrowed time of pretend smiles and forced laughs. I longed for a moment of a sincere smile. The moment where I could be myself. The real me, without my gilded guarding walls. 

Time had made a man of me. Strong, stiffer upper lip. Poker faced. Cold at heart, colder at mind. The cynic was the last to die. The romantic had died first. The realist died later. The pessimist faded away. I remained a shadow of a former glorious self. I remained. I wasn’t a prize, but survivors aren’t often one. It was the best that I could muster. A de-stringed instrument, discarded, discorded. An instrument nonetheless. In time the anger had dissipated, regrets ignored and then forgotten. I had learnt to live with the present. I had learnt to live with myself. I had learnt to live past the longing and the eyes had learnt to look past it’s desperate desire. 

Thud..Thud… The heart picked pace at the thought of the time my eyes longed. The truth is that the eyes had never ceased to stop longing. I had pretended to stop. I had pretended a lot. As the moment approached, the Five years were now taking a toll. 

What would she say? Would she say she missed me? Would she lie? Would she pretend? Where would it leave us? Where would I be, where would we be. Would we separate again? The questions were many and the answers were scary. I could give myself a happy fate and sit with the happiest of answers. I could lie to myself. I would be happy for a moment longer. I couldn’t bring myself to it though. I could assume the worst, it wouldn’t be far away from the truth. I could, but I sat frozen in thought. Frozen in fears. Frozen. 

There wasn’t much to do but wait. I reached for the cup of steaming tea. 

My eyes strained as I tried to focus on the one walking towards the table. Tears welled up, blurring my sight. Emotions welled up , blurring my existence. A void swallowed me whole and robbed me of words or sound. A ringing sound deafened my ears in that moment of first sight. Everything felt illuminated , once again. Everything was illuminated. 

“Hey!”

I finally managed to call out. 

A silence ensued. A million paragraphs went unsaid, un-typed, unspoken. A million words lost in blackened obscurity. A few seconds of eternity, engulfed in wistful separation , distanced and held together in hopes of a reunion.

‘Hey!’

The world had sunk into darkness while I was drowning in light. 

Karthik 

Inspired by this wonderful couple that I met on the tube the other day. I reckon one was leaving and the other held on, staring into her lovely dark eyes. I couldn’t help but wonder about the million things that went unsaid between the two. 

[Book Review]: Siddhartha

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse is a fictional take of the journey of a life. Written in the 1920’s, The tale has stood the test of time and does come out shining bright as it always probably has. 

I’d brave to call this book a spiritual fiction. It beautifully marries a fictional journey of life and core principles of spirituality. The audience is neither expected nor forced to accept the path laid out in the book. It only recounts the path taken by the protagonist. Where it works is the fact that the protagonist wanders through life. He makes his own decisions, lives to deliver the consequences of his actions, learns from it, unlearns from it, and eventually manages to elevate himself through the vicious cycles of life.

Born into a family of educated , Siddhartha masters the scriptures and soon awakens to the fact that he has learnt all that he could from the books and that there isn’t much to grasp from it. He makes up his mind to leave the comforts of his house and spend the time with Samanas, who live a saintly life in the forest. Siddhartha is accompanied by his dearest friend, Govinda. 

The ascetic live teaches Siddhartha a better perspective into life. Once again, he is faced with the challenge of stagnation. He walks away from the Samanas’ way of life. The duo chance to meet Buddha. Deeply moved by Buddha’s teaching, Govinda embraces the Buddhist way of life. Siddhartha and Govinda part ways. There is an itch, deep rooted in Siddhartha’s mind that keeps him detached from embracing Buddhism. The protagonist argues that the path of the one is through discovery of self and that there is no teacher who can unlock that mystery on behalf of the pursuer of that truth. With this in mind, Siddhartha, once again, leaves the comforts of a routine. 

Life does take a turn from here on. Siddhartha meets Kamala and in order to spend more time with her, he gets into the business of making money. Caught into the cycle of wealth, wine and wonderful woman, Siddhartha evolves into a very successful business man. His midas touch is spoken about through the land. 

Rest of the tale is about Siddhartha’s quest to discover the self. Does he eventually find peace? The book has the answer to it all. 

I loved the book and mostly because I do tend to view a lot of the traits of the protagonist in myself. I like to learn through actions and experiences. I don’t enjoy the comforts of an instructor led liberation. I’d rather fail on my own accord than succeed by nodding my head and walking without understanding the way of the world in a manner that makes sense to me. 

The book presents the best example of life that can ever be expressed. In life, one thing always leads to another. There is always a path to choose. What we do with that road, often determines the kind of person that we go on to be. There aren’t good or evil folks. There are just folks. Who either carry their actions or don’t. Both , action and inaction, lead to consequences and we enter a cycle of cause and effect , action and consequence. Some of us find ourselves trapped. Some , not so much. 

Then come the multitude of spiritual philosophes throughout the book. I shall not bore you with them. The simplest philosophy that is worth writing about is probably this. 

Believe in yourself. Heed to the inner voice that guides you. Fear is a by product of comfort. When you shed your skin and walk away from your comforts, the first to embrace you would be your fears. When you let that fear go, rest of the world’s million wisdom come running to you. 

Siddhartha’s journey of life is a one with many highs and many lows. It is easy and human to let ourselves get distracted. Getting distracted is not a sin. Getting distracted is pretty much alright too. If that brings you happiness. If that brings you the kind of happiness that sustains. Siddhartha had to go through a series of character defining sins in order to break away from the traps of life and elevate himself. It assures and confirms my faith in the fact that one has to do em all, saturate from it in order to reject the illusion. The book , to me, is a wonderful reminder that salvation is not for the elite. Salvation is only one thought, action, intent away. Rest are barriers made by the mind. 

In fact the crux of the book is that even barriers made by the mind aren’t real. Matrix called it right. ‘THERE IS NO SPOON. THERE NEVER WAS’

Are you a spiritual enthusiast, or a literature buff? Either parties would love the simplicity of this book and the warmth in the tale conveyed. Give it a read, There aint much that one stands to lose by reading this ! 

Karthik 

A greener grass

The routine has always been the same. I close my little shop around 5 in the evening. I head home. The road towards home takes me along a park. I usually make it a point to spend a little time in the park. In fact, it’s the best part of my day. I get to sit on a bench and observe the beautiful world. Kids usually run about there. It’s always the boys with guns made of either pretend or plastic, shooting at one another. Girls run without a defined purpose. When the kids are not playing pretend war on the streets, they hang around the jungle gym. They swing, jump or bounce. It’s always a pleasant sight. Kids are so full energy that never gets depleted on the playground. 

Moms talk with other moms. Dads talk with other dads. Some read books. Some lie down and bask in the glory of a shy sun that comes to play, once in a while. It doesn’t matter who you are in the park. Everybody comes there to relax and let the time fly by a little. I’m no exception to that cause. I rest in careless bliss. Looking at the present. Looking towards the future. Leaving behind the past. 

Things weren’t like this always. There was a different place that I used to call home. I think I still call it a house, but I know the difference. I won’t head back any time soon. Home used to have parks like the one in front of me. It used to have kids playing in them too. It used to have mothers and fathers babysitting and supervising. It used to have lovers, both young and old, holding each other’s hands. It used to be a magical place where dreams were conjured and wishes made to keep those dreams alive. Peace used to run amuck , back at home. Peace then ran itself dry. 

Peace was soon replaced by war. Love got substituted with hate. Trust got cast out and Insecurity and fear took its place. People stopped believing in each other. We viewed at our world through the eyes of fear and uncertainty. We could never guess who the villains were. They were everywhere. They concealed guns, strapped make shift explosives and left behind a legacy of hate, red , dust and charring remains of varying degrees. The explosions would often shake the ground and the ground did shake frequently. Kids used to play pretend war and then they just played war. Young teens and adolescents lost their innocence. They were soaked in red. They couldn’t see the scar that got left behind in their souls. To them, I wondered if all of it was possibly a game that was all too real. It might as well be the only means to continue existing. I never knew the reasons. Honestly, I hadn’t cared. In retrospect, none of us had cared enough to nip the malice when it was beginning to bud. We were all occupied with life. 

My life was a simple one. Small family of a wife and a kid. It was all that I had and it was all that I really needed. When the grounds began to shake, the fear of people missing kept growing. It was still a fear that I had shared and never experienced. One day, that changed. Things weren’t just news. I return to an empty house. Back in those days, an empty house prompted only one of two natural responses. Panic or Panic and fear. I panicked and rushed to the nearest hospital to see if there were any traces left to identify. Looking back, I did find some solace in returning home without finding my family scattered across the floor. I never did find my family. I never knew what had happened and where they had gone. I never got to know what happened to them. I was left behind. Left behind in both hopes and despaired sorrow. 

The place that I called home had left me with nothing. Not even with the courage to die. Not even with the cowardly strength to endure. One morning, I left everything that I had lost and walked. I didn’t turn back for that last nostalgic glance. I kept walking till there weren’t sights of debris. I continued walking through the barren land. I walked till the sea and someone shoved me into their boat. 

The new land was the same as how the old one was before the ruin ran rampant. Greener grass. Kids being kids. Moms being moms. Dads being dads. I found work and the day was occupied by labour and the nights embraced in nightmares. I shook, I shivered, and there were nights when I cried in silence. This became a routine. The routine gradually changed. The crying was the first to stop. The nightmares still continue. Unlike the nightmares of demons and devils, I’m haunted by the most beautiful smile that I would never get to see ever again. 

The new land became home. It had accepted me, a stranger, as its own. I stayed there for a while. I left it behind for another land. Then another and another. Lands ceased to matter. Homes weren’t home anymore. I found shelter and soon lost the strength to wander. I settled down. That was years ago. 

The routine is now here to stay. I run a shop during the day. In the evening, I help wanderers like me, who are in pursuit of peace and are lost along their way. In between those two routines, I take a moment to pause in the park. I’d like to believe that one day, I’d find the smile. I’d like to believe that the faces would have aged, the wrinkles now prominent, but the face to be there around. I scan through the park, hoping against hope, I find the many happy smiles. I participate in that spree of spirited happiness. I passively let myself get invited to their joys. Present, but never a direct part of it. I’m happy with that. It’s the best that I can afford. 

Karthik 

Inspired by this elderly couple who were playing table tennis. couldn’t help but conjure a tale around the sight.

[Book Review]: The bridge of clay

The Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak. 

” What’s the point to life if there is no love in it? Importantly, Can you imagine the magnitude of life that rests beyond love? ” – Katz 

The bridge of clay is a slow burner. It’s a tale written with the sole intent of consuming your mind. As we dwell deeper into the tale, we also dwell deeper into the many billion emotions that we didn’t even know that one could express. While Markus’ previous book, The book thief was all about life, the bridge of clay is just about life. I don’t think I have the words at my disposal to articulate what that statement means. Just Life. The phrase could stand to mean different things to different people. To me, its a glance at how much life , in itself , can at times overwhelm. Life has those many moments of celebrated brilliance. It has its fair share of days when it doesn’t pay to get off bed. There are days when everything falls apart and it’s a given bonus to not sit in corner and cry. There are days when life makes us feel invincible and we feel that the moment of bliss would last forever. 

Bridge of Clay is exactly all of that. It talks about the lives of the Dunbar boys. The five brothers are the heart of this story. Each, uniquely different from each other. Each is very much in love with one another and the boys form a close knitted bond that keeps them together as one. Dunbar boys is not just their identity. It’s their collective life, it’s their struggles in unison. 

The brothers are Matthew, Rory, Henry, Clay, Tommy. The brothers live all by themselves in their house. As a reader, you wouldn’t wander too long wondering why they live by themselves. Theirs is a house that’s seen a whole lot of life. The pets, a golden fish, a mule, a cat , a dog and a pigeon, keep the story fresh. Novacs are the neighbours of the Dunbars. Clay , in his own way, falls in love with Cary Novac. The two share a very unique love story. Clay aspires to be a runner and Carey has her eyes set on being a successful Jockey. The kind of jockey who rides horses rather than bore audience over a microphone. 

The narrative is by Matthew and he carefully exposes the right bits of information in the right enough amounts. The bridge of clay is in fact Clay’s story and is told by his brother Matthew. 

Most of the book is about what happens to the Dunbar boy’s parents and how the love blossoms between Clay and Carey. Every word in the book is about the brotherly love and the bond the Dunbar boys share. The story comes alive with their rowdy behaviour. They are funny, the boys fight like boys do. The boys are as dirty and unkempt like free spirited pigs are. The boys are a product of their environment and their wonderful upbringing. As the tale unfolds, we see the peace and warmth of love and how such a love transcends the boundaries of time, age, and generation. Each generation experiences this warmth and peace. Each generation feels the power of liberation and dreams that love offers. Each generation endures and survives such a love. Each generation, has folks whose life span exceeds that love and how their lives take a turn beyond that love. 

The way the tale has been said is simply fantastic. There are a few hard hitting themes explored in the book. The best and the biggest is about the nature of love. I bet there are billion other books that explain why love is a fantastic thing and how it makes us feel a billion things while we are drunk by its presence. What stands out in this tale is the way cope up with the aftermath of love. 

The other theme that’s expressed is around how we form bonds to survive in this world. The ties we forge in order to cope up a great eternal sadness. The book explores the raw need to have others in our life to nurture the strength to endure. The book talks at great lengths about the nature of relationships. It also speaks of guilt , at varying degrees. The guilt of being alive. The guilt over enduring life. The guilt over letting ourselves smile, from once a while. 

This is not a pessimistic, depressing book. It just walks through the saddest times and expresses the way the Dunbar boys find the strength and courage to cope up and move on. 

I think the strength of the book is around the way it explains how life finds a way despite the death that surrounds it. 

The bridge of Clay will never equal the brilliance that The book thief was, but it doesn’t have to. The bridge stands on its own foot, on its own merit of being a beautiful tale that’s told beautifully. 

I liked it. In fact , through the journey I started growing fond of the tale and felt the sadness of the tale coming to a close. The bridge of clay is indeed a book that fights for Life. 

Karthik 

Hard decisions and never made easy

I’m currently reading The bridge of clay, by Markus Zusak. MZ wrote the Book thief and I still do have certain expectations on the former. While the tale is distinctly different, I do see traces of the brilliance that was expressed in the book thief. 

As the pages turned , the plot thickened and characters established themselves, the readers get to see the history of the roads travelled by the characters. This is called the journey of the character. This is also referred as the Character Arc. Every story , worth reading, has a strong arc. There is the normal. Then there is the challenge to the status quo. Characters then falter and fall. They do recover and bounce back strong. Sometimes they just don’t. The journey then takes the character to where they presently stand. The readers either empathise with the plight or they unrelentingly hate what the character has become. Such arcs usually explain and justify the nature of the characters. Good, bad, lords of Greys. Everybody falls into one or the other bucket. I enjoy reading through such journeys.

These usually mirror life. They represent the choices that we have made, the ones we wanted to but never could make. They also represent the choices that we resent making. 

Anyways, I came across a section where a character goes through a hard phase. The road leading to the plight was ever so subtle. Two kids thrust into a world of adults. Two kids, entwined in love. A short coming of age of sorts, the two make a way for themselves in the wilderness of the real. And just like that, the two take their separate roads. What stood out was a silent scream of protest between the two said characters. One had already made a choice to separate and the other was caught clueless and off guard. The justification offered , in plenty, by one is barely digested by the other. Push does come shoving rapidly. One explores the wilderness further and the other is left behind. Waiting. 

Some how this resonated a lot with me. I’ve been in that place. In fact, if I were to be honest, I wasn’t as graceful as the protagonist. Clueless and heart broken, the protagonist barely utters a word. I wasn’t so lucky. I ushered myself into a self destructive spree. While the protagonist hid behind silence, I hid behind words and more words. The protagonist and the I , from that point in time, were fantastic examples of blokes caught in unfathomable misery. The world of future rested crumbled under the feet. Dreams had come crashing. There wasn’t much of a future that mattered. Story Arc. It builds the plot, it adds character to characters. 

As my station approached, I closed the book and secured it in my bag. I found myself transformed into that state of frustrated helplessness. Just like the protagonist, I couldn’t make sense of the state of oblivion that I had been a part of. I shrugged my shoulders in distaste for the future that I had endured. All the thinking made me wonder if I’m smarter today. I couldn’t help but wonder if the past version of myself would have managed the situation any better. Having the knowledge of life, mileage, changes in priorities, the ways of the simple world, would I have been better prepared with such vast, for whatever it’s worth, knowledge. 

Honestly, I don’t think any of this would have made a riggity rag difference in the moment.

Of course, the road to recovery would have been much easier and smoother. The moment itself, I don’t really think much would have changed. 

There are hard decisions that one either makes or endures. The perks of making such difficult choice is that we can tell ourselves that we made the said choices and that does ease us of the guilt and fears of not making them. The perks of enduring such choices is that it eases of the guilt and fear of making them. A funny, ironic duality of sorts. 

Age, mileage, borrowed ;stolen; acquired wisdom has taught me that making and enduring such choices aren’t the challenge. The fear and guilt of voluntarily altering the status quo can be overwhelming. Hence, making hard choices is tough on us. The fears of consequence keeps enduring the choices difficult. There is a misplaced guilt in both action and inaction. Action because we instigate it. Inaction leads to guilt because we keep telling ourselves that things could have, might have, would have been different, IF ONLY.

In my humble view of the world, the phrase ‘IF Only’ is probably the biggest burglar. The phrase robs us of the dignity of failing gracefully. The phrase robs us of all the infinite possibilities of that rest ahead. IF Only. 

As the day lingered on, I couldn’t help but wonder about the book or the course the author has set for his characters. I can only hope that the characters bounce and live up to their potential for the tale to remain interesting and gripping. As far as life is concerned, I’ve wandered the woods of If Only a lot. There is nothing by emptiness, sadness and resentment there. I’d rather brave a million more failures than lobby around correcting one Big mistake of life. If anything, life is a series of ‘Biggest mistake ‘ of my life so far. The further we walk the road, the more such mistakes we stand to make. I’d rather walk than stand still. 

Reading opens up the mind. The more one reads, one gets the pulse that there is nothing truly unique about an existence. There are loads who have either gone through the roughest patch that we can imagine. There are loads who come on top. There are those who succumb under its weight, every single day. Reading liberates us and offers us the freedom to choose how we’d like the future to be. 

Karthik 

[Book Review] : The tattooist of Auschwitz

The tattooist, by Heather Morris, is a memoir of Lale Eisenberg during the time he spent in the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The tale of the life of Lale Eisenberg is a bone chilling one. Set in the back drop of the rising Nazism in the world, his is a story that grows along with the rapid growth of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Lale is a Jew and as with most Jews of the period, both Lale and the book’s journey starts in an over cramped train bogie that transports folks from their lives in the cities to directly hell that awaits them. It is here , where we get the first look on Lale’s perspective towards life. Amidst the uncertainty, he’s a wonderful beacon of hope and optimism. Lale’s enthusiasm for hope keeps him going. His optimism keeps the folks around him going too. It is this hope that carries the grim tale over its shoulders. It’s the type of hope that gets stamped upon, squashed, beaten, bruised and still manages to endure, survive and eventually reward. 

Life in the camp is a billion miles away from anything humanitarianly sane and sensible. As Lale meets the challenges, the readers are exposed to a reality that shocks. With a little touch of lady luck, and the unrelenting charm of Lale’s determination to survive, he finds himself appointed as the tattooist of the camp. Lale’s job is to tattoo numbers on the forearms of all those poor souls that walk through the doors of the camp. Lale’s attitude triumphs and he’s soon fondly known and addressed as the Tattooweirer (Tattooist). 

Lale’s work brings him to meet Gita. It’s love at first tattoo. The bond that Lale and Gita share is possibly the one of the very few innocent and endearing acts of humanity in the camp. The fact that the two harbour love in their hearts, brave to hope a life beyond the walls of the camp, dream of a full life someday is the most supreme acts of subtle rebellion against their circumstance. This love blossoms in a place where hate and apathy blooms. The rest of the tale is about the time Lale and Gita spend in the camp, their eventual escape into the real world, their unrelenting love for each other and the love that finally brings them together and takes them to their promised land of happily ever after. The drama is gripping and the tale engages the readers , one page at a time. As the characters explore the camp, they and us, the readers, are exposed to the horrors that the camp is quite capable of. 

Lale and Gita’s tale is all about humanity at its finest best. In the face of horror, the human spirit has the capacity to refuse defeat and refrain from succumbing into the depths of existential depression. Love keeps the two characters from giving up on their life and their dreams. The tale is not about just Lale and Gita. The horror of the realities of the camp spans across millions of others who endure similar harsh challenges. The secondary characters add charm and warmth to the tale. There are acts of selflessness that touch you and remind you of how wonderful it is to remain human. There is greed and the darks of the human nature. Even in the deepest pit of hell, the vibrancy of human characters shines bright , shines dark and shines across the broad spectrum of what humans are capable of. 

The tale also speaks of the dynamics between the prisoners of the camp and the Germans who guard them. During the peak of the Nazi regime, not everybody was pure evil. We get to see the shades of grey where evil manifested in varying degrees. Lale meets guards who are committed to the ideologies, mind body and soul. He meets blokes who go with the flow of things and do what others do. While I couldn’t get a glimpse of any conflict that ran rampant in the minds of the Germans, we do get to read a human side in even them. A side that is bound by the realities of the era but at the same time, a touch of compassion, humanity, if you may , that exists in just sufficient quantities that qualifies evil men as still humans and not just demons. 

We are introduced to the Magic doctor Mengele. His sheer presence in the text runs chill down the spine. The portrayal feels real enough. The character does haunt, even after the passage of many a decades since then. He is the very embodiment of a body that is void of any soul. There probably isn’t a single cell, a fragment of a fabric of humanity in the Doctor. Sinister evil exudes from him. 

What I enjoyed the most about the book is the way the characters grow in time. Imprisoned in camp, Lale’s compassion for life is a beautiful example of what one can aspire for in life. The toll the place takes on his character is a heart wrenching one. As bonds are forged and readers get accustomed to a life, albeit a miserable life, in the camp, we are reminded of the short shelf life in the camp. People come and people go. The camp is a constant reminder of how close death loiters in the forsaken place. 

All said and done, the version of the book that I carried had pictures of Lale and Gita and other folks. Looking at them, smiling, celebrating life together, it felt wonderful to just read their tale and know a bit of the things that this couple has endured. Theirs is the kind of love that I believe keeps the world going. In an age where broken marriages and hearts are a common sight, Lale and Gita’s wonderful bond is a shining example of what the word stands to represent. 

I don’t think the tattooist is a very serious, very grim view of the life in the camp. It’s a retelling of a life endured and it’s narrated in a way that stirs the heart and makes us feel warm and cosy. I believe there are grimmer tales out there and frankly, I don’t have the appetite to expose myself to the struggles and eventual triumph of the human spirit. 

Tattooist is a much lighter toned book and that’s perfectly alright. Give it a shot. You’d probably wont feel disappointed. 

Karthik 

Roses and gray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Hi angel’ I called out

‘You are late’ my wife replied. 

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

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

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

‘Coffee ?’ she finally asked. 

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

Karthik