[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 

Advertisements

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 

A password reset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All that, thanks to a password reset. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two thumbs and four paws up. A definite read. 

Karthik 

The keeper of things Lost!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeper of lost things 🙂

[Book Review] A Brave New World

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then comes the trouble.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik 

[Book Review] : 1984

Nineteen Eighty Four is probably one of most definitive book that outlines the realistic and yet very likely possible dystopia that is already here. Birthed right on the shores of the second world war, this masterpiece by George Orwell is a master class in mass psychology.

The book is both grounded in reality and at the same time, is almost prophetic in nature.

The fact that reality can be shaped and scaled to present a realistic future is a chilling reminder to why fact is more chilling than fiction could ever aspire to be.

1984 is a tale of Winston Smith, who works in the Ministry of Truth. Winston’s job is pretty mundane which revolves around making changes ,both subtle and blatant, to all the written records of the past so that they are aligned to the events that transpire in the present. In short, Winston is one of the many who rewrite the past on a daily basis.

The world that Winston is one of the three existing super states that are absolutely totalitarian in nature. Winston is a citizen of Oceania. The other two states are Eurasia and Eastasia. In Oceania, the state’s defacto leader is The Big Brother. BB is the omnipresent, moustached icon that eternally reminds the citizens that they are always under his watchful eyes. Oceania is the perfect example of a single party state that reigns the land with absolute, unchallenged, unrivalled, unopposed POWER. The citizens are usually compliant either through free will or through sheer fear of persecution. Oceania is governed by a few ministries.

The Ministry of truth deals with control of information and propagation of the party propaganda. In short, Ministry of truth deals with lies

The Ministry of peace deals with war. It maintains and sustains the momentum of a perpetual war against the opposing super states.

The Ministry of love deals with crimes, criminal and all things hate.

The Ministry of plenty deals with rationing of resources that are scarce in the land.

And then there is the Thought Police who monitor the land for Thought Crimes. In Oceania, it’s a crime to harbour a thought. The party exerts its absolution by controlling the thought. The Thought Police are properly feared by the citizens.

Winston is a borderline ideal citizen. He is compliant and then deep down, he isn’t. There is something about the BB and the party that doesn’t gel well with him. It’s this burning silent revolution that runs inside him that triggers a series of events that soon alters the course of his life. Winston gets his hand on a book and decides to start maintaining a diary. The very act of thinking about it, writing an entry, that intent to even continue writing one qualifies him as a thought criminal.

Winston tries to keep this part of his life a secret. And then cue in the Damsel. Winston meets Julia and she happens to be a rebel. Rest of the tale is about the silent revolution. One has to go through the book to see the human nature at its best. It is in our nature to reject things that do not appease to our thoughts of reason. Thoughts of reason in this land, FAT Chance!

The party governs the land through 3 fundamental principles

WAR is Peace

Freedom is slavery

Ignorance is Strength.

These tenets of ideology are in strict conflict with the freedom to express thought.

The book plays around with a few crucial themes. The big one, of course, is the very nature of a Totalitarian regime. The question, is a dictatorial rule with intent for greater good worth sacrificing fundamental rights and freedom of the citizens? Is the ‘for the collective good’ a good enough reason to cull individualism? Does any political ambition go hand in hand with social welfare? Are humans evil enough to crush other humans to nothingness? What is the price of individualism and why is it important?

The book leaves you with many thoughts on the value of individuals, the value of collective good, the value of the ruling class and the purpose of a ruled class. The book also defines the nature of power. It possibly predicts the hunger that power has. The nature of power is to yield and exert power. The nature of power is to dominate and decimate without qualms. Power is sustainable , if and only if, wielders of power do not shy away from the pure corruption that power provides.

1984 is a scary book to read. The dystopia is present today. The dystopia that was envisioned in 1949 is a reality today.

We are a world of ignorance and we are the sheep that are herded by the manipulative strings of gas-lighting manipulators. We embrace ignorance not by choice, but because we consume copious and vulgar amounts of fabricated , falsified information and we tend to believe in what we read without exercising our right to disbelieve it. We take and since we take without restraint, we are reduced to refraining from questioning the whys of any information.

The book rightly calls out the plight of this truth. Sanity is not a popularity contest. Are we sane because we cant bring ourselves to believe the insanity that the masses embrace? Or are we sane because we embrace the insanity that everybody does?

1984 is one man’s struggle against reality and is also the bloke’s evolving understanding of what a reality is all about. Go for it. You will enjoy the ride.

And with that, we shall meet where there is no darkness 🙂

Karthik

ABC’S of life

The doctor’s reception lobby was rather quiet that morning. The room was pristine and was painted in a rather dull shade of grey. It made sense for the room to be that sober. Patients were used to walking in with pain and possibly walking out high on pills.

The receptionist was a young lady of maybe thirty. Tall, composed and pleasant with a voice that matched all her traits. The calls weren’t pouring in and the room was as silent as it could be. The doctor was seeing a patient and that meant I had to sit around for a while. It suited me proper. It was one of those ‘Bring your kids to work’ days. Gladly I obliged. In fact, I was happy that the kid was around. I had all intentions to make the best use of that time. It wasn’t everyday where I got to hang around the kid and see how his life was shaping up. When you are ten years old, life does shape slow and steady.

We found ourselves seated in the waiting area. The cold metallic arm rests , cushions that were used aplenty. It wasn’t the best seating experience. I guess it couldn’t be worse either. The kid had opted to carry his backpack. He had brought along his favourite comic book, a ruled notebook , his box of colouring pencils, and an activity book of sorts. It was the kind of book that had a motley mix of puzzles, join the bloody dots and colour fancy animals. It was serving its intended purpose of keeping young mind engaged and occupied.

‘So what are they teaching in school these days’ I asked in a hushed whisper.

I had managed to interrupt his adventures with the Spiderman comic. The kid didn’t complain. Slowly and gracefully, he closed the book and placed it obediently in his backpack. I respected that in the kid. He was meticulous and thorough. It was a sign of a trait that he’d inherited.

‘We are learning the ABCs of life dad’ he casually replied.

‘What that again? ABCs of Life? What’s that about?’

The book took a practised deep breath. It announced that he wasn’t new to the routine of explaining the things that he had learnt at school. I must admit, when I was in school, we didn’t have that ABC. The school that we went, it wasn’t particularly a mainstream one. It had requisites. It worked on the principles of first getting invited, then getting interviewed. The filter process was stringent. I still do find it amusing that the demand is a lot more than I thought there ever would be one.

‘ABCs dad. Always, Be, Composed’ he articulated each word slowly , emphasising their significance.

‘What does that mean anyway? I’ve not heard of that’

The boy was excited about explaining things. Maybe, in a different life, he could have been destined to be a teacher. Then again, it needn’t be a far fetched idea this life either. There were those of us who taught. Maybe he’d grow one day into being an exemplary teacher.

‘As my teacher says’ he paused to check if I was paying a close attention. I was. Satisfied with intent of keep interest, he resumed.

‘We will end up in a lot of situations in life. For example, what If I miss the morning bus to school? ‘

He waited for me to express a dramatic disbelief. This was a lot more practiced than I had anticipated. This was delivered almost as clinically as them brainwashers impart misguided propaganda. I played along with a show of shock

‘Yeah, so if I miss the school bus, Do I sit and cry? Do I feel bad? Or Do I safely walk back home and inform mum that I missed the bus? That is about always being composed. No matter what happens, one should always be calm and think about the list of things to do next.’

The kid delivered his explanation with a pedigree of pride that is usually observed in celebrities who receive prestigious awards.

‘That’s fantastic’ I said. ‘What else is new? Made any new friends’

The kid didn’t bother with a response. He slunk back into his chair and reached out into his bag to resume reading his comic book.

‘The Doctor will see you now’ the receptionist announced.

I smiled politely and thanked her for the update.

‘Listen, this shouldn’t take me long. Sit back and continue reading. ‘ I instructed.

As I was about to enter the doctor’s office, the kid called out.

‘Can we stop for a burger? I’m hungry’ he said meekly.

‘Sure kid’ and I gave him a thumbs up to confirm the itinerary.

With that done, I opened the door and slowly closed it shut. The door didn’t make a noise. I appreciated a well maintained building. As far as buildings went, this was a properly maintained one. I couldn’t find a reason to detest it. The doctor was seated in his chair. Pleasant chap. He was slim, balding and had a pleasant welcoming smile. I could see why he was a popular bloke.

‘Doctor Mathew ?’ I politely enquired. It was redundant at this point. I knew who the doctor was. I knew I was in his room. I was a creature of habit.

‘Yes, That’s me. How can I help you today’ he said.

I reached into my overcoat and pulled Trippy. Trippy was my favourite German. Silent, efficient and never failed to deliver.

‘Doc, I’m sorry that I’m the hand of god today. God wants you squashed’ I said as I pulled tripped out.

The good doctor sat dazed and confused. Most people who come face to face with a German made gun do tend to behave that way. I don’t think it’s any tribute to the German engineering. I think the make of the gun is immaterial. It’s just the gun, the shape and the immediate thought of death that freezes people over.

Phew, Phew. Two shots fired. Two shots silenced. The world left unaware of the drama that transpired behind a closed door. That was that. I collected the spent shells and pocketed them. That’s a wrap, I told myself silently.

I opened the door and closed it again gently. I sat next to my kid and pulled out a piece of paper from my other pocket. I asked my kid to lend me a pencil. He reached out into his bag and a quick search and a yank later, handed me one. The scanned for the good doctor’s name from the list. It wasn’t a long list. This month had been ok. The business does tend to slump a bit around this time of the year. I stroke off his name from the list. Number 8. Done.

I returned the pencil to my kid. I folded the paper and placed it back into my pocket again. The work for this month was done. The rest could wait.

The kid and I got off our chairs and as we were about to leave, I thanked the receptionist for the appointment. The kid stopped and as good manners mandated, he also smiled at the nice lady and thanked her. I was proud of my boy.

‘Them ABCs, that’s a mighty good lesson there kid.’

‘Thanks dad’ he responded.

Burgers were next.

Karthik

Finding Marlin

Finding Nemo is an example of Disney at its best. The tale outlines the journey of a dad who is in pursuit of finding his kid. The dad labours through challenges, defies the odds, meets a whole barrage of strangers before winning the day. The movie , in a way, is a testament to how far the dad goes in his quest to reunite with his kid.

I do find it odd that the movie was called Finding Nemo. We , as viewers, join Marlin in his adventure. We both collectively grow up and evolve from our initial state of inertia. The kid endures a few character building lessons. Both fishes flirt with death and come out stronger and more compatible than they had ever been. From a sales point of view, Finding Nemo is a lot catchier than Finding Marlin. I guess that explains the whys of the movie being titled that way.

I am reminded of the movie. Partly due to proximity to the fishes, which I’ll explain in a few minutes and partly because I see the irony behind that adventure. Like all wonderful things in life, let’s start with the Irony.

The biggest irony to the movie is the fact that both fishes were equally capable of embracing a change to grow more compatible with each other.

Both fishes were victims of circumstances and in a way, they both dealt with fears in a way that they knew. The separation gave them both a much needed push to evolve from the forced change.

There wouldn’t be a story if they both woke up one day and opted to be a better , tolerant version of themselves. Let the irony sink in for a minute.

As a child, my enthusiasm knew no bounds, each time my dad took me to new places. I have a vague recollection of staying wowed by the animals in the zoo. I remember the curiosity of different species that inherited this ball of blue and green. I don’t remember asking many intelligent questions, but I do remember wanting ice cream. As I grew older, these ‘new places’ weren’t new anymore. Then my nephews and niece came into being. I remember babysitting them as I was forced to revisit these places. I remember putting up a futile resistance over how boring these places were. The kids got to experience something new and I got to experience a boredom that was gift wrapped in resentment. In time, I had evolved to equate the witnessed places as places of no implied interest. Unless the places had something new to offer, I wasn’t going to make an effort. It’s called the been there, seen that syndrome.

The weekdays are a usual bunch. There is nothing magical about them. I head off to work. I have my petty adventures through the day. The weekends are a new beast. Left to my own devices, I’d have probably dedicated them to laziness and music. With my folks around, it did give me the right excuse to tour the city of London. Last weekend, we managed to loiter the halls of the Sea Life aquarium.

The unplanned stop at the Waterloo station unwrapped the first surprise punch of the day. My mom made a very cautious effort to reading through signs and posts that adorned the station. ‘Is this THE waterloo, where the battle took place?’ I didn’t have an answer then and I cheated and checked wiki now. Her question had never popped in my head ever before. I silently made a quiet note of the innate curiosity over things that interested my mom. We made it to the exhibit without a lot of questions.

‘Do they have Sharks here?’ my dad popped his share of many questions for the day. I didn’t know and I thought it was a bit too silly for an aquarium to house a great white shark. I think so dad, I replied and we didn’t have to wait too long to catch a glimpse of the first shark. It was a huge fish. I don’t think it was the great white, but the fish had the popular features that we associate with them sharks.

From Sharks to Stingrays, I was amused and satisfied at the childlike glee that my folks expressed. I hadn’t really thought of their amusement when we opted to view the house of fishes. I thought they’d stroll through the place and walk out in a semi-bored stoic way. I couldn’t be any more wrong. The colours and the diversity of the species housed grabbed their attention. The exhibits on jellyfish was a pleasant surprise. Sea life hosted a plastic exhibit that shook and vibrated as we touched them. My mom wanted to brave and touch the star fishes.

I’d have expected all of that from kids and soon I realised that I was walking with a bunch of kids. We saw a large tortoise and it warranted our undivided attention and admiration. The sight of the creatures of the deep, swimming free , warmed us up. Sea life was flooded with kids of many ages and I got to witness a simple fact that kids of all ages usually acted the same way!

Then came the biggest surprise of the day.

‘It’s really them’ my dad exclaimed. There was no denying the sense of awe and disbelief. His face lit up as we walked past the section that housed penguins. Them penguins were as real as real was. Some were standing lazy, some minding their own business.

The sheer sight of penguins brought out the kids in my folks. Their smiles symbolised the accomplishment of the day.

A few stories of ships and Andamans later, we had covered every inch that the house of fishes had to offer. The day came to a close with ice cream.

I don’t think I’d have ever found the time to take my parents out if I was still in Chennai. The best that I’d offer , the best that I had offered was to drive them to far away temples. I did that because I loved to drive and driving with them had always been a pleasant experience. The precious few hours of hearing them bicker and fight over things, conclude arguments and agree on decisions, I’ve always been amused by that. I don’t think I’d have volunteered to join my family on a visit to the beach or a zoo or any place for that matter. The newness of the land has been a good excuse.

I guess in that sense, this Nemo managed to Find Marlin. I cant put a price tag on that precious memory of my folks turning into an excited bunch of rug rats. I’ve never witnessed that childlike excitement. Far away from daily thoughts of being adults, it was a fantastic detour from adulthood. The irony doesn’t disappoint either. I definitely needed a push to embrace and evolve a change. It’s nice to be a supervising adult for once.

Karthik

Giving into it

‘Chalo, lets go for a drive’ I said.

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

That was that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Know what?’ , I paused.

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

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

‘And then what happened’, he finally asked.

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

‘I don’t understand dad.’ he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The kid sat back and let his thoughts guide him.

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

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

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

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

Karthik