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 🙂

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[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

[Book Review] : Shantaram

“Sooner or later, fate puts us together with all the people, one by one, who show us what we could, and shouldn’t, let ourselves become” – Shantaram

Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts is a sublime tale of a journey towards life. The book serves as a fictional , semi – pseudo auto biography of sorts. This is a book where fiction and reality hold hands together and they both , rather conveniently, chose a cinematic narrative approach to story telling. The book starts with a bloke who flies into Bombay with a fake passport that belongs to a certain Lindsay Ford. The assumed identity becomes the only identity of the tale’s protagonist. If I were to sum up the tale into a line, it would read as the journey of a man from being Lindsay Ford to Lin to Shantaram. While the sentence is short, the road taken by the protagonist is wonderfully entertaining , thought provoking and long.

Lindsay or the bloke who soon is addressed as Lin, is a man of violence. There is violence in his heart. There is guilt from that violence. A shade of repentance and a longing for redemption. Lin, as he starts, is no saint and the Bombay of the 1970’s happens to be the perfect city for vices. The retro vibes to the 70’s set amidst the blossoming Mumbai Mafia sets the stage for the tale. From substance abuse to suckering unassuming, unsuspecting travellers, Lin beings to offer a bespoke professional service of procuring and delivering instruments of vice based on fluctuating demands. That’s fancy for Lin working the streets and peddling whatever he can.

At every page there is crime and its holistic view. Crime , is both a source of escape and a means of entrapment. It keeps the characters in a state of inertia. The characters endure a distinct sense of irony. Their lives of crime keeps them free. It’s the crime that keeps them chained. The world revolves around a subtle balance.

The characters are the strength of this book. There are far too many characters and the best part is, as readers, we’d grown warm to most of them. We’d passionately root for them. We’d vengefully want some of them to suffer. The heart of this tale is the nurturing of the bonds that the characters share. From the smiles of Prabhakar, the wisdom of Lord Abdel Khader Khan, the friendship that is with Abdulla, the charismatic Didier Levy , the whacky-do-doodle that is Vikram and the frustration that is love in the form of Karla.

“Nothing grieves more deeply or pathetically than one half of a great love that isn’t meant to be.” – Shantaram

I don’t think there are any stories worth telling that do not concern the matters of the heart. Lin shares the same sentiment. Neatly set in the backdrop of a violent mafia, wars across the world, poverty , the human spirit (aka the Mumbai spirit) that never gives up, is a frustrating love story of Lin and Karla. The two are equally matched, in coefficients of both the intellect and emotions. One cannot be a lover unless one is a certified fool and this tale is a testament to that foolishness. Not that there is anything wrong with being a fool. Karla and Lin, all the other tiny tales of love and life, render the characters to either remain as fools or volunteer to be one. I’m a romantic and I find that state of foolishness as cute. Reality does come and it comes biting. Wisdom, I reckon, is attained by not staying a fool forever.

There is a lot of philosophy plastered across the pages of the tale. Lin shares his view of the world and the principles that he holds close. Lord Abdel is another wonderful source of wisdom that covers all realms of existence. The moralities are put to the test. We, along with Lin, have a glimpse into the world that sits comfortable between the two extremes of black and white.

One of the best feature of the book is the way that all the characters are flawed and broken. Nobody is holier than the rest. The virtues and vices grip everybody alike. There are no saints in the land of the vice. Despite the evil, it is the quintessential struggle to do good, that quest to make this world a better place, that effort to make life better for others, that sets the book apart from rest of the fiction. As Abdel says, it’s the capacity to do bad for the right reasons is what that defines us as humans. I’m tempted to both agree and disagree. Good finds a way. So does evil. We are left to our own wits to embrace either, or even both.

Speaking of the huge list of characters, Bombay, or the present day Mumbai is also a subtle character in the tale. Mumbai takes in people from all walks of life, accepts all moralities and ethics that people choose to live by, and lets its people be. Some bring it pain while others endure pain to spread joy. The book is a fantastic tribute to Bombay. It lives and breathes the fabric that is the city. Right from the underbelly that has the slippery grime that is crime , to the most humane face of humanity that’s expressed through poverty, from the front where money buys a £150 cup of coffee to humble villagers who migrate to the city with nothing but hopes and dreams in their eyes, the book has the city painted all over its pages.

The big theme in the book is around what it means to belong to someone or even some place? Why do we yearn that sense of belonging? How does that belonging change our life? Each character in the book is , in one way or another, an alien to the city. They all walk in, fall in love with the city and endure and survive.

The next big theme is around ‘Karma’ of things. The big question around should we continue to be what we were or do we allow ourselves to evolve and in time, repent, atone, grow , and adopt a new path? Lin is a perfect example of man of violence who blooms into a man with a golden heart that has a few thorns that adorn it.

The biggest payoff from the book is the mention of the name “Shantaram”.

The many lives of Lin reflect the many conflicts that arise within his heart. Lin is driven by love, loyalty, anger, regret, guilt and he embraces all the choices that he makes and is forced to make. As Lin adapts to the consequences, we as readers, no longer remain blind to the way he evolves. The fantastic irony to the tale is that Lin is soaked and bleached in crime and yet there is a saint in him that comes out strong.

A name is just a name and it seldom defines the nature of the person that it is tagged to. Shantaram is a beautiful example of a man living his life, in pursuit of earning that name that emanates peace that is Shantaram.

Definite read. Give it a shot.

Karthik

Toys and Trinket

‘Last one daddy’ I remember promising. I knew it was a lie. My dad knew it was a lie. The smiling shopkeeper knew it was a lie. All of us had heard that very statement ample times to know that it would be declared soon enough.

Looking back, the thrills and spills of acquiring a new toy has always been a joyous one. There was a certain ritual to the madness. The tell tale signs of the arrival of a new toy , always seemed to be the same. I’d grow more chatty that week. We’d pick a pleasant Saturday, early morning, to mark the occasion. Dad and I would walk to the shop. The shop stayed the same. I was a bit of a loyalist to cheat on that shop. I knew everybody there and everybody there knew me. Dad would have a word with the ‘Guys’ in the shop and I’d feast my eyes around the million things that I desired and the one thing that I knew I could bring back home.

Dad would collect my promise of that toy being the last one ever. The return home was almost a race. I’d itch to head back home as fast as I could manage. Dad would keep up. The way back home, I’d spin many tales around the GiJoe. I’d share details of the cool factor that made the toy special. My dad would ask me about What a Cobra was. I’d tell my dad that he was silly and wasn’t paying sufficient attention to the details. To be totally honest, I hadn’t had a view of the financial toll that I’d subject my dad to each month. To be totally candid, my dad never let me in on it ever. There were days when the shop would be closed. There were days when we’d walk. I wasn’t greedy and I wasn’t a stranger to my bag of toys.

“Last one da” I now heard a promise. The wheel of time had churned plenty. The amount of ceramic vessels around the house made my dad a bit jumpy. He saw the inevitability of the plates , assisted by gravity, meeting the wooden floor. He didn’t want any of that nonsense. We had our usual run to the shop to replace the fragile ones with durable melamine ones. With each iteration, I giggled and reminded dad that for a house of 3 , we sure had ample cutlery to feed an army.

The weekend set, I hit the gym while my dad made plans for the day. It wasn’t huge or spectacular. Dad had spotted a stand in Wilco ( a big fancy enough shop that sold bits and bolts) He wanted to place all the breakable cutlery in a treasure chest of sorts. The Davey Jones equivalent of drawers. It was the kind of a chest where fragile things in the house went to never come back ever again. The walk to the shop was exactly the same that we had those many decades ago.

Only now, dad was the excited kid. We spoke at lengths about the benefits of the new trinket. We spoke of risk avoidance and how the trinket would breathe a sense of relief. We spoke of the city, we spoke of the shops. We spoke of the economy and the football world cup. The shop reached, dad set upon the task of finding the stand that he had spotted a week ago. A long search and a compromised pick later, it wasn’t a chest of plastic as he had hoped. We had opted for a british steel instead.

“Last one da. You can either keep them or throw them off later. I think everything is now set. We don’t have to pick anything any more” my dad assured me. I couldn’t help but laugh. I knew that statement. I had said it for years. I knew it wouldn’t be the last time. He knew it wouldn’t be the last time. And sure enough, a few days later, he braved the city again to pick a few more.

In time, we all swap roles. In time, we get to experience the other side. It’s such a warm and a fantastic feeling , just to know that I’ve been fortunate enough to witness and participate in the turning tide. Through the busy oddities of life, I do feel lucky that I’ve had the priorities and time set aside to spend a little time. For all the money, fame and fortune dangling as carrots , time is the most precious commodity that most of us never quite have. It’s good to have time. It’s great to make time. Give it a shot.

Karthik.

Mama’s boy

I mean I did used to wonder a lot about the way I am. The visible flamboyance is not a family trait. I didn’t get that from aping the way of my folks. If I had to copy their way of life, I think I’d have grown up being modest, humble and firmly grounded. That , very clearly, hasn’t been the case.

And so there I was, eyes glued to the smart phone. I was catching up on my reading for the day when I opened a door without a second thought. The lady on the other side hadn’t quite anticipated that. The surprise rendered her jumpy. I meekly apologised for startling her. We exchanged a smile, we spoke about how ineffective the maintenance team was, when it came to addressing the woes around the lift. We parted ways without a wonder and that was just that. The story was also a subtle tale of my lifestyle. I’m quick into a small talk. I ease my way into conversations and I exit off them as I please. Moments , as random as these, I make an effort to fill them with strangers. While this doesn’t make me any special, this always ensures that I’m never too bored.

And fast forward to the Saturday that followed. The day was new and challenges were new too. I got to introduce the wonders of the ‘Oyster card’ to my parents. We had decided to commute to ‘East Ham’. A place far away from Chennai and the kind of place that was Chennai-like in many ways. Dad enjoys such travels and the carrot that I used to entice mom was a promise of a temple that was there. Throw in a temple and my mom would gladly make that effort to commute.

Travelling with aged parents is both stressful and a deeply satisfying affair. The super off peak travel ensured that I didn’t have to worry about Londoners who were on a time bound quest to get form point A to point B. The carriage was nearly empty and despite all the planning, my mom had plans of her own. She separated from the herd of three and managed to acquire a seat.

As the train picked speed, she tumbled from the acceleration. Fortunately, no harm done. She managed to recover and took her intended seat on the train.

The onlookers expressed their healthy concern. A quick enquiry over the incident later, they went about their business. Mom and her new neighbour got into a conversation about how the KumKum bindi is a quintessential Indian thingy. ‘I’m sorry if I caused a stir’ my mom casually implied.

I was standing right by my dad when I overheard her statement. It took me by surprise. And so there she was, my mum, casually building conversations with folks around her. She offered to manage the neighbour’s kid on the train. A few Long-enough conversations later, it was the time to jump stations and take a new train. She got off without an adventure. Dad managed his solo exit too.

The next train was another long ride and this time, mom’s network with strangers around was on wonderful display. Effortlessly, she was every bit a Londoner. She was more a Londoner than I had ever been. She embraced the new land, the new people in it. The world was her muse and conversations were at her easy disposal. I stopped trying to babysit mom.

Dad was busy comparing notes from the land he had visited 3 decades ago. A lot had changed and a lot yet remained to be the same. The sunny , hot city was a new. The ambience of East ham was a new. The saravana bhavan continued to remain the same. England’s happy win added a certain charm to the city. The flags swayed proudly and the pubs were humming with a jolly score. The city started to paint itself in red. The sun wasn’t a bother anymore.

I’ve set aside my immediate fears of how my folks would cope up with this new world. They are doing fine. In fact, they are doing much better than what I’ve managed. Most evenings when I return from work, they do have a story to share. Their world of the usual shop runs, the giggles over groceries, new faces and tiny tales, I do feel awed by their adventures.

I guess apples don’t fall from Lemon trees. I’m proud to acknowledge that I’m a mama’s boy. Glad that I got that from her! It does compensate for the other vices that I’m proficient with.

I do have a question outstanding that waiting to be answered. Why is the district line named the way it is? I hadn’t really thought of that ever. Leave it to dad to ask sensible questions!

Karthik

[Book Review]: The Vegetarian

The Vegetarian , Han Kang.

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

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

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

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

Lets focus on the themes instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karthik

Coming up next : Shantaram.