[Book Review] The old devils

The old devils, Kingsley Amis

Cover page of The Old Devils

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

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Trains and coffee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

A shoulder to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

T’was a good day

“Local youngster found brutally hacked”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

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

It happened one night

Lady luck has a profound sense of irony.

It happened one night is a template for destiny. Things just happen.

Speaking of luck and destiny, I do have a very soft corner for life’s many fairy tales. A picture perfect warm story of serendipity. As luck would have it, it was a conversation that kick started a string of other related conversations.

Do you know? A question was popped. My friends and some of their friends have managed it.

Oh tell me about it. I have a few friends who have managed it quite well too. But you know what?, I introspectively reflect. It never happens to me.

When it comes to an flight, I’ve never managed to get a free upgrade to class up my travel. I always fly for what I’ve paid for. I’ve never shared the row with a wonderful, engaging, conversationalist. I’ve never had the chance to play seated neighbour with a girl with them warm smile. That being said, there are certain things that I’m absolutely certain about. I always find myself sitting right next to a drunk slob. My neighbours tend to usually spill over from their seat and encroach into my personal space. My neighbours do have a tendency to skimp on deodorants and do manage to take my breath away.

Now that I think about it, I’ve never realized the eternal dream of a romantic fairy tale that starts with strangers seated next to each other who go on a fantastic journey of discovering each other. Nope. Zilch and I have better odds of being a CEO of a company than the other dream materialising. What’s ironic is the sense of certainty that I have when it comes to articulating about my tryst with Lady luck.

The dreams that I have are petty and are pretty inconsequential as far as life goes. While the conversation came to life about brushing aside the perks of such luck, it also ushered the seriousness of surviving an eternal spell of rotten luck. For instance, the things that we desperately want, need , desire, we never find ourselves finding it. Others seem coast through life without facing the challenges that we do. Similarly, if you feel altruistic enough, you do manage to realize that the things that we take for granted, there are so many people out there who would sell their soul to the devil to be in our place.

Hell in fact, my last evening in Chennai, I remember driving back with a single and a Single thought alone. I so wished that I could be someone else. I had even decided to sell my soul, burn the world just for a chance of being someone else. Without a moment to spare, I was very eager beaver to throw away everything that I’ve built in my life to embrace being someone. Cest la vie. That is life. Our treasures are someone’s scrap. Our scrap and junk is extremely precious to someone else. There is this gap that can never be bridged. We all must learn to live with it. We all must learn to accept it, go easy on ourselves and do what it takes to make our life mean something. It’s always been the only battle ever worth fighting. It’s the only battle worth aspiring a win. Be yourself. Continue to remain being yourself.

The ten hour flight was both horrible and eventful at the same time. While I could manage to lament my brush with luck, I also couldn’t help but feel thankful about the things that I have earned in this life. I have a bit of a character built from all the character building events from life. I am extremely lucky when it comes to the company that I keep. My friends will smack my head to knock some sense into my otherwise thick head. I am very lucky to have a very supportive family. I’m very lucky indeed to have a job, to have an ability to work that helps me play to my strengths. while some of the things that I’ve called out are beyond my control, many of them are an outcome of life’s many choices that I’ve managed to make. Each mistake has helped me make a slightly better choice. Each mistake that is waiting to be made would eventually help me learn a bit more about myself and the world around me. The key word is that while we feel that we are not in control of the million things that transpire around us, we ALWAYS and I mean ALWAYS have the power and the birth right to make our choices. We either own our choices or we struggle to endure what that was a forced decision. Either way I view it, it always points back to the simple fact that we own our choices and the quicker we realize that we ought to accept it to survive, the lesser is our misery.

I’m not lucky with the fancy Disney fairy tales of life. I’m not lucky with the trinket miracles. I’m not the ‘It happens one night guy’. I do feel lucky that I’ve learnt and adapted myself to be the ‘I’m pretty certain that IF I work towards it, I might make it happen one night’ kind of a guy. Fortune favours the brave and the foolish. I kiss lady luck for bestowing me with the two traits that defines such literature heroes. I am blindingly foolish and courageous. Thanks Ms Lady Luck. Rest, I think I can manage all by myself darling.

So what’s your take on luck? It happens to me all the time, not because the world has the time to conspire against me. It’s mostly because I am written that way 😉

Karthik

Of dentists and enlightenment

‘Don’t walk in the middle of the road. Here hold my hand , we are going to cross a busy road’.

The father was unperturbed by the child’s endeavour to conquer the road. The roads had not changed a bit in the many years. The cars grew in number, the world grew in number. The child and the father grew a lot too, in time. The child walked slowly and a bit carelessly too. I reckon that it’s in the nature of the child to enjoy that carefree liberation when walking the roads of the world. Children are children and fathers are fathers.

I remember the time when my father used to walk me to the toy shop. It was a bit far from where we still live. I’d hold on to my dad’s finger and I’d chat all the way to eternity till we’d reach the shop. Once in the shop, I’d usually forget the whereabouts of my dad. I’d lose myself to the many toys that the heart would long and that the wallet of my dad couldn’t aspire to conquer. I’ve not been a greedy child. I’d enquire about the biggest of toys but would always settle down for affordable ones. If memory serves me right, a figure of GI JOE was around 29 bucks. Inflation is the best yardstick to measure one’s age. Yup, that was a few decades ago.

I do take pride in acknowledging that I’ve always been a tough kid to raise. I’ve always been free spirited, and yeah, a bit lot spoilt too. My folks have always been patient with me. The perfect example of how to cope up with a kid, how to encourage it to improve its strengths, how to slap some sense into it when it goes wrong. My dad is epic huge on character. He’d tolerate a lot of nonsense from me, but would never compromise when it came to the value system that I chose to inherit. My folks didn’t drill religion into my head. They helped me understand what it meant to be a better human. Of course, I’ve always been a slow learner.

All said and done, I did manage to chip of my tooth when I was in the UK. The fears of a massively hefty bill deterred me from seeking an appointment. I endured the broken tooth and waited to head home to fix the issue. Fix the issue I did. Learnt a lot , I DID.

Don’t walk in the middle of the road, Daddy, I told my dad a lot of times yesterday evening. Here, hold my hand. We are going to cross this busy road. I held on to his hand , instinctively , and instead of rushing him, I enjoyed slowing down my pace and tried to make him feel comfortable and confident. The Karthik from a few years ago would have disgracefully failed the situation. It’s not about judging. It’s not about guilt. I accept what I was and I acknowledge what I’ve become.

I couldn’t help but realize that my folks are now kids. My kids, to be precise. I’m single and yet I am helping raise two kids. My mom and dad. We walked slow. I saw the children that my parents currently are. They keep their secrets about health and their world. I engage in conversations and they confess without realising their confession. I choose to not scream, most times. I hear them out , make a mental note and see what I can do better.

My folks have always been nurturing and supportive in my formative years. They did a great job on me. It’s my turn to offer that nurturing and supportive environment for them to grow confident and self reliant , all over again.

I sat on the dentist’s chair, I endured the probes of the pokey metal thingy and my mind was focused and determined in a chain of thought. This wasn’t a time to feel guilty that I’ve not been the perfect son. This aint the time to throw a career and reprioritise life choices. It was the time to accept the effects of time on us. We live, we grow old. It’s an inevitability. We try to do the best that we can.

I cant help but see the similarities of choices. My dad didn’t quit his day job to spend more time with me. Neither am I going to adopt that approach. Living each day amidst the rush and hustle of survival. Living each day, a foot in the past and an eye on the future. ‘Jeena isi ka naam hai’ moment (Cest la vie)

This aint a preachy tale of adjusting one’s priorities in life. Our choices are ours to make and we have our reasons. This is a modest acceptance of time and the effect it has on us. My Granny’s ‘cursed blessing’ has come true. ‘Someday, when you have kids, you’ll understand’, she had said. I kinda do get the point today.

I walked in to pull a tooth, walked out with realized wisdom.

Karthik

An ode to villainy

And so once upon a time, I was young and brash. Actually, I’m still all of that. The simpler times were a bliss. Growing up, I had a vast circle of friends. I had nominated and publically declared a few enemies. By virtue of branding blokes as enemies, I would do whatever it took to refrain from any communication with them. I still remember the joys of plotting and scheming over petty wins.

That was decades ago. A few days ago, I was in a conversation with a friend. A kind of friend who has always been ignored and kept at a very generous , healthy distance. Social etiquette was on its grandest display. We’d joke around, exchange petty messages from time to time. We would maintain a cordial public image. If one were to ask the bloke if they deemed us as bitter enemies, I’d not be surprised if they express a pleasant shock over such a dramatic conclusion.

Half way through the practiced execution of social nicety to near perfection, I sat amused wondering about the complexity of grey that is life. Gone is the time where one could enjoy the existence of enemies. Gone is the time where life’s biggest purpose was to outsmart and outplay the identified enemies. These days, the world has no place for enemies. Maybe in other words, Villainy exists only as an exaggeration. There is no room for realistic and subtle evil that we are capable of. It , mostly, goes unnoticed or overlooked.

I do find it ironic that as we age and grow wiser, our outlook and definitions grow murkier. It is convenient to blur the lines. Boundaries are a mirage. In the name of social conformity, we deter ourselves from most confrontation. Sin is branded on honesty. Honesty is an inconvenient vice. Think about it. We live in a very complicated and extremely connected world. Or make that a very complicated and extremely connected digital world. Sometimes, it becomes a paramount headache to exile a few blokes from our spheres of influence. The deeper our connection in the virtual world, the harder it becomes to lead a personal life. We are on display and all our actions are understood, misunderstood, misinterpreted, twisted convolutedly or simply put, judged.

The fear of social persecution keeps us deterred from our birth right of choosing the blokes in our life. The advent of frenemies is a testament to that shallow choices towards living. We appease and accommodate. We avoid to accommodate. We even abscond to accommodate. It takes a herculean effort to speak our mind.

That seems to be the case. Or that seems to be my case anyway. It does bug me. The knowledge that I see myself as too polite and too nice to confront people head on.

Oh by the way, such perpetrators are guilty of exhibiting passive aggression. They aggressively encroach our personal space. They are quite aware that social etiquette warrants that we don’t retaliate. Such perps bank on our silence to thrive being the way they are. Passive aggression is a social malice. It affects us , both in our personal and professional life. There are so many victims out there who find it hard to even breathe because of such passive aggressors. there was a time when people would rather quit than find a way to solve their people problems.

Here is an ode to such vile villainy. Heroes must fall in order to fell such villains. In this age of acceptance, do heroes even stand a chance !

I do miss the simpler times. It was easy to brand people in my world. The status quo was thankfully transparent.

What’s your take on Passive aggression?

Karthik

One day

‘As a child’ I started and paused for a second to see if she was paying proper attention. She was. Instinctively I smiled at her attention. I’ve always been a charismatic speaker. I’ve always been arrogant too. The lines had blurred a long while ago. I existed believing in the nonexistence of such a line.

This wasn’t a bad place to be in. The last few years of relentless pursuit of cases, the taste of victory, the parties and after parties, the ever growing stash of money in the bank, It definitely wasn’t a bad place to be in. On any other day, I’d have argued that this resort was the , or was to be treated as the eventual fruit of my labour. It hadn’t been an easy road. I had left behind many people and principles. I had grown accustomed to a solitary life. I grew into a life without strings attached. None of that mattered to me before. I don’t think it matters much now.

It hadn’t been an easy life though. I’ve always toiled hard. First, it was that struggle for being popular and noticed. I had neither at my disposal. Then it was the struggle to compete and get noted. There was a price to pay. I had exiled myself from the world in pursuit of that glory. Once I graduated, I didn’t have the need to turn back and take a stock of all my sacrifices. Only losers have the time to sit back and reflect on all the things they’ve lost. I wasn’t a loser. Not in my book. I was a winner. I went for the things I wanted. I fought for the things I wanted. I didn’t care about the moralities of the things that I wanted. If I wanted something, wrong was a word that ceased to exist. Everything was fair game. In fact, everything was a game to me. I kept winning and that’s all that mattered.

When I was a kid, I had many great many promises. All of those promises started with the words, ‘One day’. ‘One day, I’d be rich that people would flog around me’. ‘One day, I’d be successful that the world would stay envious of me’. ‘One day, I’d be too busy having fun that I wouldn’t notice that people who went missing from my life’. ‘One day I would jump of a plane and float free in the sky’.

My promises were both innocent and tainted. I promised myself a better life. I promised myself tangible treats for all the sacrifices that I had once made. I didn’t have the time to pursue the silly promises though. There was one case after another, one alleged perpetrator after another whom I had to protect in a court of law. I walked in with the guilty and usually walked out with the innocent. That’s my life. Ever heard of the phrase ‘ Swimming with the sharks’. I am a ruthless shark myself.

‘As a child, I had made many promises darling. Most of them started with the words, One Day’ I continued. She shook her head in disbelief.

I had taken my first proper , sober vacation in years. It gave me a lot of time to think. All the memories of my world gravitated back to one person. I was sitting by the beach, soaking the warm rays of the sun. I typed away a lot of lines at first. I read them once. Dissatisfied with them all, I deleted a lot of lines and gave it another iteration of a review. The lines still felt wrong. I deleted a few more. Eventually I settled down with the ones that I was happy with.

‘It’s been a while. Hope this is still your mail id. It’d be nice to hear from you’. I pulled the email address from the contacts list. It was a name that I hadn’t reached out to in decades. I had nothing to lose. This was beyond the point of pride.

I waited a week for a reply. None came. I shrugged my shoulders and flung the phone across the bed. The vacation had come to a close. I had bags to pack. I left another email. This time , I had left my mobile number. I prayed a bit , remembered god for a bit and then hit the send button. Prayers, God and my recipient, none of them answered.

Over the last few weeks, I did have a lot of time on my hands. I hadn’t taken a case. Money wasn’t a problem. I needed the time out. A few more mails sent and no responses received. I had shared the non consequential bits and bob of my life. About work, about the thrills of winning a case, about the raging parties , about how I had turned out to be a maverick. Email by email, I had opened up myself to a mailbox that didn’t reply. In course of the mails, I had learnt a few things about myself too. I had turned hollow inside. I now wasn’t even a shade of my former self. I had swapped excess in lieu for a wholesome life that had been constantly denied. I had rejected the world with the same passion that the world had used to reject me. I had gotten even with the world. Getting even and living in peace weren’t the same things.

I then opted to stop the emails. The saga had run for a month. I started to feel foolish about the exercise. I reverted to my current self. I had nothing to lose and it did help to nurture the ‘hell don’t care’ attitude. The attitude had served me well for so long.

‘So’, she asked. ‘What does that have to do with anything. We’ve talked about this before. I think you are being a stubborn child now. You are doing this because you are afraid. You are running away from life, just like you’ve run away from everything that had mattered before. This is serious.’

She did have a point. She would have made sense to me if I was the kind of a person who had the right kind of smarts to listen to people and learn from them. I wasn’t that. I had made my choice. There wasn’t much that would sway me away from my choice. I can be very dense when I’m that way. Occupational hazard, I’d tell her that. Today, the charm wouldn’t work on her. She wasn’t there to sit transfixed by my charm. She was there because she meant business.

‘I don’t care. I don’t want to care. Can you stop bothering me please?’ and finally the holy grails of emails had arrived. I read through the lines and smirked arrogantly. Of course that wasn’t the intended meaning. There was anger. Yes. There was so much hate. Yes. There was also a mobile number , right under the body of the mail. I read between the lines.

‘The thing is, I’ve lived an entire life waiting for that one day.’ I said. ‘I have a choice now. Right here, Right now. I can either sit here and make another promise that starts with One day, or I can just call tomorrow as that fateful One day and start living things up. I pick the latter. I think tomorrow is a wonderful start’. I concluded and started outside the window. The skies , dark as ever, felt inviting.

‘This is insane’ she replied. ‘I wonder what the hell made you decide such a thing’

It wasn’t a hard choice to make. Of course I didn’t feel like telling her about it. I had reached out to the mobile number. Since my number wasn’t published, my call was picked and answered. Answered it was. It drove her completely nuts. Disbelief took over her. Then came anger. Then came wrath. Then came her slew of abuses. Ten years of resentment and contempt , articulated using the flimsiest of abuses. She had vented out the block of boulder that had been buried in her heart. I listened to it patiently.

‘SAY SOMETHING’ she finally screamed. It wasn’t bad. The call wasn’t cut off. I smiled and thanked my stars for that emotionally super charged welcome.

‘I’m dying Sonia. Could be a year. Could be less. cold be more. But there is no escaping it. I can either stay here in the rehab centre while they try to prolong my life, or I can spend a bit of my time seeing you, spending a few moments and making a few memories before I conk. So the choice is yours. You are the only world outside these walls that matter to me. Either you agree to meet me, or You don’t hear from me after this’

Life wasn’t how I planned it to be. Of course, Sonia couldn’t care less if I lived or died. She refused to meet. I didn’t feel like sitting in a room and spend the time waiting for my death. I made a nice little list of the things that I wanted to do, people with whom I wanted to make a few amends. If I were to die, I’d die on my own terms.

I guess I’m arrogant that way. Or brave. I don’t know. That line had been blurred a long while ago.

‘I want to die on my own terms Doctor‘ I told her and hugged her.

‘Fine. It’s your life after all’ she said and stormed off the room. I looked at my packed bags and the empty room. It felt weird. It felt both right and wrong. I felt the pangs of anxiety grip me. In a nutshell, I finally felt alive.

#Fiction

Karthik

Book review : The travelling cat chronicles

The cat chronicles , Hiro Arikawa

Coverpage of The travelling cat chronicles

I was almost done reading The marble collector. As an insurance, I had opted to pick up a few books to keep me engaged on my train to Liverpool and back. The station is the worst place to pick a book. They usually sell books that are popular and are in demand. I’d like to believe that I’ve grown warm to reading books that are deviant from Pop Culture. Classics and Vintage are more of my thing.

I stumbled upon this book, assumed that it was a different book. I’m happy that I had picked this one. The travelling cat chronicles is a story that would leave you feeling both sad and hopeful about the future. It is the kind of a tale that would leave you with a sadness that forms a grey cloud over your heart. It will warm your heart, bring those happy smiles of tears, it would leave you feeling bad that the story is done and the book would now sit somewhere in your expensive wooden shelf. Pick it up. Enjoy the wonderful journey. Skip the review. Thank me later. God bless.

For those who need a little more persuasion, the story begins with a stray cat. A cat without a name and one that speaks. The stray finds his way to a silver van. The van happens to be his shelter of sorts. The smart cat with a sharp tongue enjoys his vagabond life. He lives a life without strings. He is the master and lord of his own destiny and boy, the cat can hold his own on a fight. It is by the silver van, where our feline hero meets a human. Unlike the rest, this human seems to be kind. He leaves food for the cat and tries to pat the cat. Apparently cats, like smart kids, are privy to strangers. They do not encourage strangers to get cozy with them. However, the cat is grateful about the food and lets the human brush him. The cat , still not domesticated, goes about its business. No strings attached.

One fine day, the cat meets with an accident that leaves him with a busted leg. In desperation, the feline hero drags himself to the silver van. He reckons that the kind human could help him. The kind human, Satoru, does end up helping the cat. He takes the cat in, nurses it back to health. The two get along well. The cat discovers that Satoru is a cat lover. Satoru names the cat as Nana. Nana considers this as a funny , weird name for a male cat. Nana also acknowledges that Satoru is very perceptive for a human. They both seem to understand each other perfectly well.

Nana, now back on his feet, is now ready to part his ways with Satoru. Satoru does feel bad about parting away with Nana, but doesn’t stop him from being free again. Nana opts to stay back with Satoru. And with that, our journey begins.

After a passage of a certain duration of time, Satoru is in search for a different home for Nana. He reaches out to his friends from the past and hopes that they can adopt Nana. And so Satoru and Nana being their adventure on the road to meet people, places and enjoy the world’s vibrant best. Each of the friend wants to adopt Nana but circumstances prevent them from keeping him home. The journey on the road brings us closer to Japan and the chemistry that Satoru and Nana share.

Why does Satoru wants to give away Nana? It does seem a bit odd because Satoru loves Nana. Why does Nana make it near impossible for Satoru’s friends to adopt him? Nana is a free spirit and yet decides to stay with Satoru. Why does Satoru make that trip to meet all of his friends? What secrets are they all holding?

You’ve got to read the book to see where all things lead.

This is a beautiful story of life. It exemplifies the nature of relationships in our lives. It talks about solitude and how it erodes us from within. It talks about the warmth that companionship provides. It’s a story of friendship. Every inch along the way, we see the beautiful blossoms of friendship bloom. The characters are beautifully drawn in this tale. Satoru’s outlook towards life and the world will win you over. Nana’s personality will entertain you and you’d fall in love with him. Satoru’s past is revealed through the eyes of his friend. Each character adds to the depth of the tale and each character enriches the reading experience. Nothing is wasted in this book. Even the back drop of Mount Fuji plays it’s wonderful part in this tale.

Life. This book is about life. It outlines the misery that we trap in our hearts. It talks about redemption that liberates us. The book calls out the quality of life that we choose to live. Why aren’t we happy? Why are we holding on to pain and the past. Why aren’t we free to be ourselves? What’s stopping us? What do we need to offset that inertia? The book manages answering all the questions without trying to sound preachy and without letting the answers overwhelm the beautiful story.

This book is a beautiful must read. I do feel sad that the tale is now over and the book will rest in a shelf somewhere.

Karthik

Holy Christ and Strings!

I do like drama in real life. I enjoy the drama , mostly because I see them when they usually don’t even exist. This perfectly places me between two states of the mind. The one where I’m naïve and the one where I’m a suspicious skeptic. Through a few iterations, a baggage of lessons learnt, I’d like to assume that I’ve grown a bit wise. I’m not sure if I’d ever be wise enough.

The fantastic part of telling a fabricated story is the treasure hunt phase. The other beautiful part is the execution of the idea itself. I could have made this a tale. I chose a different approach this time around. Leaving this in the realm of fiction would have diluted the seriousness to the tale. When I talk about strings, what do you think of? Strings could be the ones from a musical instrument, like a guitar or a violin. Strings could be the emotional ties that keep us anchored to something. Strings are also the ones that the ‘Master of the puppets’ pulls. We’ll be talking about such masters of the universe. One sentence that pays its tribute to both Metallica and HeMan. I like that.

It doesn’t take much for one to understand the nature of written and verbal communication. Very similar to forensics, every time we leave a trail of words (written or spoken) around, we also leave behind an imprint of our truest nature. I call this a reflex honesty. There are times when our minds work faster than the speed of our thoughts. It’s precisely at these moments when people exhibit their natural self. It’s not all that very difficult to pretend and put on a show. It, however, does take a lot of effort to sustain that show. Putting on a show, indefinitely, forever, without inconsistencies, and always staying in a make believe character is hard. It takes a lot of conscious and subconscious effort to maintain that façade.

And so our tale takes us to the realm of manipulators. I find these folks interesting. They make a wonderful character to explore and add elements to a said story. Manipulators are an Archtype persona. They pull strings to either keep themselves satisfied, or do it because doing so servers their purpose. Such Archtypes are impressive because uncovering the motivations that drive them , is often the hunt that takes us, both the readers and blokes in real life, on a journey of discovery.

These Archtypes have always existed. Right from Mahabharat, the earliest known Manipulator that I can think of, the Bethal ; which also manipulated in the interest of it’s preservation and vested interests, this archtype is one that transcends time and stays relevant to the modern context. I think it’s also pertinent to note that we, as folks; as a herd; usually don’t mind the manipulation as long as we are not told that we are being manipulated. As with most things that govern life, being manipulated could be a good thing or something to regret later on.

Since manipulators are an Archtype, they do exhibit a specific type of modus operandi! I made that sound more sinister than it usually is. But , you get the general idea.

1. The Jeebus Syndrome – Or as science calls it, the Messiah complex. Most manipulators enjoy playing the compassionate god. If you remember my works on Carl Jung, the archtype personality is that of a Wise old man/Wise old woman. The underlying ploy is to fuel trust and faith in the victims, but posing as not a threat but as the designated chosen one who is put on earth to serve all humanity :)))))

2. All ears, all guilt – Most manipulators are great listeners. I’m not sure if the vice versa is true enough. Their ability to listen, to throw light on our misgivings, also feeds their status as the Wise old bloke. They are prone to deflect questions that try to expose their intent. They usually deploy guilt to sneak out of tight spots.

3. Victim card – Most manipulators , always and I mean ALWAYS, play the victim card. They exhibit a certain charm that accompanies the fact that they have been there, they have suffered and hence can understand what you are going through. If you start to connect the dots, point 3 feeds into Point 1 and therefore Point 2 is the way they run their business.

4. All in, all the time – Most manipulators go all in and all the time. It is human to have skeletons buried deep in the closet. It takes an enormous effort for us to open up and share our deeds to others. Manipulators usually rapidly accelerate that phase. They go all in. It’s a tease and a gamble of sorts. By feeding us personal , all too secrety secrets, they A : Obligate us into opening up trust B: Obligate us into reciprocating with a few nasty secrets of our own. And bada boom, feeds into the victim card

The dynamics between a manipulator and their prey is also interesting thing. It banks on TRANSFERENCE. Transference is similar to a Stockholm syndrome, just without a Stockholm in place. There is a symbiotic relationship at play here. Victims are kept in that stasis of misery and guilt so that the manipulator stays relevant and in context. Manipulators really do look for their victims to remain miserable because if folks are not miserable, they’d not go about painting their lives to such manipulators. It is a vicious cycle. They both need each other, they both feed into each other and as long as the victims and predators co-exist, neither would fizz out.

I am but amused at this cycle of prey and predation. Things used to be different before the dawn of the age of 24/7-365 social outreach program that the Internet is. We do make it easy to get manipulated. In ways, we also do manipulate/influence the course of the lives of folks that we are connected to.

Emotional manipulators are real. They walk among us, they talk to us everyday. They are not monsters who hide away in shadows. In fact , they are not monsters at all, till we start making them one. That said, it’s nice to recognize the world around us. Staying observant and staying sceptical is a survival skill that comes handy. At all times.

Karthik