And what if I told you

Oh there is something absolutely romantic and loaded with a sense of a purpose that spans a lifetime when we make a promise to take a secret to our grave. I can almost visualise the cinematic experience to the moment. Blackened clouds, rainfall over a freshly dug grave. There is a good chance that I’d be tossed into a furnace, but then I do digress. Back to the picturesque view of the immediate beyond. Cemetery, red roses, black dresses and a matching umbrella of black, rainfall. A bloke six feet under and a secret buried along.

And that’s precisely where the pointlessness starts. For starters; Secrets, promises, grudges and many billion moments remembered are memories. And what if I told you that the mind is neither the best or the most reliable scribe. I’m not talking about the mind’s ability to forget. I’m talking about the other side of the spectrum. The mind remembers what it wants to remember. What it wants to remember isn’t necessarily the absolute true north reporting of an event that occurred.

Memory is , at best, a placeholder. It is a flagging of a moment. Most of us pin that flag to remind ourselves that a certain event had occurred. A lot of us manage to retain some of the details and specifics of things that transpired. A very few of us retain the details without applying a bias. To present a simplified view of the process, a memory can be summed as

Memory = What happened + How we felt when things happened + What we thought led to that event transpire + Our reaction to that event + How we processed the moment of the reveal + Our bias on the all the participants who contributed to that event + HOW WE THEN WENT ABOUT ARTICULATING ON THAT MEMORY.

A memory is not as simple as a recording of what happened. It’s a recording of who you were when things happened. No wonder that a memory is a deeply personal affair.

That said and established, all of us change over time and only few of us have the courage to accept that change. History only repeats itself as long as we fail to acknowledge that we aren’t the same person that we once were. The longer we cling on to what we were, the longer the history runs on a loop. Memory is one massive contributing factor that keeps us glued to the person that we once were. Memories keep us away from embracing the present.

While the power of memory, and by implication the past , cannot be trivialised ; it’s also worth the while to ponder over how unreliable a memory is. The world of humans define the rest of their lives , basing their entire life on something that is biased, unreliable and not necessarily even true. There are truths and then there are versions of that truth. A lot of our decision making process relies heavily on these versions of the truth.

Only we fail to recognise the subtle difference between truth and it’s many diverse versions.

What got me thinking about memory is the conviction with which my Grand father reminded me that I had squandered away a life. His view of the truth was that during my days as a musician, I was crowded and adored by the huge fan base of groupies. He said I had skipped the phase of finding a right life partner. My grand pa believes in this view of my history with all his heart. He swears by it.

My version of the truth is that my band never did have any fan base. We weren’t even cool enough to have groupies. We were a bunch of guys, who were in it for the thrills of the music. My gramps has managed that alternate history for a few years now and with each year passing, his certainty of that alternate history keeps growing stronger.

My grand pa is not all that very unique and special. I’ve had many memories , the bubbles of them, shattered over in time. I came to terms with other versions of the truth that weren’t necessarily mine. In time, through growing a little wise, through unlearning and adapting an open mind, I’ve come to realise that a lot of the past that I retell, are only accounts of what I think happened. They are in no way an honest to god, truth to the line reporting of events.

It’s just sad that we , as normal ; average ; mundane ;sober and rational people, invest so much effort , time and emotions into Hate, Grudge, Love, Past that it alters the very present of our existence. We live in a fool’s world, base our decisions on a fool’s gold chest of memories, reason out that ours is the only version of the truth and that there doesn’t exist another form of the truth. It’s just way too many decisions being made on a shaky foundation.

And in that sense, what if I told you that most of our lives are based on a Lie? A lie of our choosing and making.

Karthik

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[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.

[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

Book review : a man called ove

“Maybe to her destiny was “something”; that was none of his business. But to him, destiny was “someone.”

Coverpage of A man caled Ove

A man called Ove, by Fredrik Backman.

I picked this book because a friend recommended it. To be perfectly honest, it was a spur of the moment decision to quench my curiosity about the book. I dived into its pages without a shimmer of expectation. When I was done with the book, something within me had snapped, there was something that I could spot as odd in the way I lived. With eyes wet with tears, my heart warm with satisfied overwhelmed emotions, it was time to move on to a different book. I did my best to savour the memories of the book and it was precisely because of that pleasure, I delayed writing about it. Words once read, words once written would probably move on to become words once cherished.

Back to the tale, Ove. Ove is an old geezer whom you’d probably dislike. He is a stickler for rules. He incessantly keeps reminding the world around that they don’t follow the dogma that rules are. He’s not much for small talk. It’s hard to enjoy a pleasant conversation with him. Ove is perceived as old, grumpy and chip of the block from a generation that’s been comfortably forgotten. That’s Ove. He’s unapologetic about what you’d think about him. He doesn’t really care. It probably wouldn’t be Ove if he did!

That’s Ove. That would probably be your first reaction to Ove.

The book is a tale of the life of the man who goes by the name Ove. As we get a glimpse of his present, we are also introduced to his past. The story of what he is now feels almost incomplete without seeing the story of what he was before. As we catch up on his past, we also find ourselves getting very eager about his present and the course of his future.

Hidden away in the tale is one of the most romantic relationship that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Far away from clichés of roses are red, violets are blue, I got a letters of love and you need a stick of glue, there is a beautiful story of romance that blossoms and grows warmer and warmer till it occupies every inch of your heart and soaks you with its warmth. Ove and his wife Sonja. Theirs is a very romantic relationship which is very far away from dramatic and cinematic romance. Theirs is a world of sweet nothings, a wonderful intersection of two people’s very distinct life that come together and form a pleasant harmony. We , as readers, witness a cute love that they both share. Theirs is a kind of love that span through health and sickness. It spans across life and death. It’s a kind of a love that refuses to die away despite death at it’s doors.

Ove does have a secret. He knows how to solve all his woes and wants to put an end to his misery. Only, it’s not his time yet. It’s just about the right time for Ove to be thrust into a world of people around him. His world is all set to explode. Cue in the people around Ove.

The secondary characters are phenomenal. They are vivid and colourful and blend blissfully into the life of Ove. Parvaneh, a pregnant Iranian lady , her daughters, the Lanky one, Ove and Rune’s big conflicts, you’d fall in love with everyone in Ove’s world.

There are wonderful themes that are explored in the book. It offers us a glance into questions like, What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean when people say that lives are meant to be colourful?

“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had”

Ove’s story is a gentle reminder that sometimes our lives are meaningless without our special people in it. It calls out the similarities between existing for existence sake and living void of colors and emotions. It is through Ove, we get to assess our own hues about life. Ove’s story is also a wonderful example of going with the flow and letting life take it’s own course.

We are a product of what we choose to be and the people we let into our lives.

Would I recommend his book? ABSOLUTELY. Go ahead and grab yourself a copy today. You wont regret it.

Next stop :The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

Karthik

Book Review : Atonement

Coverpage of the Book : Atonement

Atonement by Ian McEwan

There is something so familiar in this book that struck a chord. It’s a tale of an affair with words, the world of imagination , the choices made and consequences eventually atoned for.

This is a story of Ms Briony Tallis. She’s a bored little teenager who dreams big of being a writer one day. A summer that changes her life and the lives of people around her. The story is set amidst the boredom of this girl, her way of coping up with the boredom by imagining a world of drama and thematic challenges. With her brother Leon returning back home from university, it presents her with a wonderful opportunity of hosting a play to entertain the guests.

Briony’s world is her home, her sister Cecillia , Robbie; who is the son of the housekeeper who helps around the Tallis household, Lola and the twins who are her aunt’s kids and are guests in the house. Briony engages Lola and the twins to take part in her play. Briony has a change of heart and decides to call off the play.

She also happens to witness the raw and crude strained love that Cecillia and Robbie share. Her age of ignorance and naïve innocence, her lack of understanding of young blossoming love, her pampered outlook towards life, all of this results in her bearing witness to Robbie assaulting Lola. Briony’s testament , her dedicated unwavering conviction to her testimony seals Robbie’s fate.

The story then branches out to its next two acts. Set in the backdrop of Dunkirk, Robbie is now a man, a solider who has one and only reason that drives him to survive the war and return home to his one true love Cecillia. Robbie , of course, is innocent of the crime that he was charged with, finds it hard to forgive Briony but also wants Cec to unite with her family and sister again. The incident had fractured the family and the lives of its people. Forgiveness becomes a commodity that is not easily exchanged.

Act three revolves around Briony’s penance. In time, she realizes the magnitude of her childish act. Now fully aware of the consequences of her actions, the striking difference between words of fiction and words that are stated in the real world, Briony is plagued with the knowledge that her thirst for fiction and drama in life had resulted in fractured lives. Briony decides to face the consequences of bearing the truth.

Atonement is a book that bored me to hell. The pace was slower than a dead horse trying to drag itself from point a to b. While the premise was promising, the execution lacked drama and was far away from it’s potential. Briony’s atonement was barely a crescendo. It fizzed away and drowned in distracted narration , much like a sound of triangle getting lost in a blaring orchestra. By the time one reaches the end, we don’t feel Briony’s burden, we don’t share her guilt, we remain unaffected by the choices of the characters.

I’m glad that this was the last of the 5 that I picked up. Another day, another book read, another lessons learnt and a few ones skipped. I wish I felt inspired to explore the themes that the book covered. Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with it to bother that effort.

If you have the time to kill, if someone gifted you this book and you feel compelled to not cheat, not sneak up the plot in Wiki, then have fun reading the book.

Karthik

Never let me go

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“Through rain, through the thunder that roars

be my strength and never let me go”

I cried through the rain. The screams of my heart felt eclipsed by the night’s thunder. I had always known the day would come. I had braced for it. I had put a brave front. I smiled through it all. The day of joy and excited new beginnings, I was there , armed with smiles. I pretended as far as I could, for as long as I could. Moments before my crushing surrender, I had walked my road alone. Broken, wistful, the comforts of home weren’t mine for the taking today. I walked as far as I could. Far away from everything I had ever known. Far away from everyone I had ever known. I walked, walked away from myself. It was when the skies had opened. Under the cover of the tears of the twilight sky, I secretly shed a few tears of myself. In that moment, my tears went unnoticed. Insignificant to the ways of the world. The crushing weight in my heart grew heavier by the minute. Tears were my only comfort.

 

 

“Through the night, the light of a mourning moon

be my shadow and never let me go”

 

All was soon forgotten, and beginnings were soon to be made. It was all a distant memory. The day for what it was, the night for what I was, the tears that bore witness to the matters of a heart without a voice, all of that was a fading memory waiting to be forgotten. I endured it all, I survived it all. The relentless nature of time had helped me mask my broken self. In pursuit of goals and pretended ambitions, I set upon a task to excel. I drowned myself into work and life was good. All things considered, it was good indeed.

 

That evening the moon was high. Her blemished radiance had left the world seduced to her charm. I, however, remember the night for something else. We had finally met. Through bruises and a busted lip, through her reddened eyes and swollen tears, I knew what it meant that night to have the very fabric of your heart distraught in pain. The sight of her tears froze my eyes from joining in. There was lot to do, there were things to set right. Broken, now twice, I lost myself again in pursuit of newer goals.

 

“Through time, the memories forgotten and cherished

be my soul and never let me to”

 

Time , once again, was relentless as ever. Wounds healed, scars remained. We were thrust into changes that we had never contemplated before. A lot had changed, some remained the way they always had been. I knew there wasn’t a rewind. An ocean had passed under that bridge. This felt new but was still an ancient rite. We sat across the table to watch the little one dance. The day was bright, all things considered. The skies had opened, the little one wanted to dance under the comforts of a warm soothing rain. we both sat and watched her in silence. Ah, the silence. I had lost my heart to silences once. I stayed quiet when it was the turn to speak. I embraced silence. I feared the road ahead. This would have to do, I reminded myself. We both sat in silence. I knew what her silence meant. I wondered if she knew what mine was screaming. We glanced into each other’s eyes. A smile there. A smile here. Two stories were denied a voice.

 

“Through the distance, our hearts will stay bridged

find me when i’m lost, but never let me go”

 

Today , as I look back the decades that have passed, I couldn’t help but cherish the memory that had warmed my heart for the longest while. I was 12 and so was she. Mrs Valli who taught english at school, had tasked us with a poem. I wrote something that wasn’t destined to be remembered. She wrote , something that wouldn’t go forgotten ever.

And there she was, and there I was. Two kids walking the road back home. The sky bestowed a gentle rain. She danced her silly dance. I knew I could watch that dance for the rest of my life. The rain had stopped.

You know what I wrote? , she suddenly sprung to excitement. We went on to narrate her little poem.

Through rain, through the thunder that roars

be my strength and never let me go

Through the night, the light of a mourning moon

be my shadow and never let me go

Through time, the memories forgotten and cherished

be my soul and never let me to

Through the distance, our hearts will stay bridged

find me when i’m lost, but never let me go.

 

She held my hand tight and gently whispered, ‘Never let me go’.

 

 

I stand watching her grave. I’m now an old man. I have had many possessions, I’ve had trinket around the world. Her poem, I cherish it the most. Every year, for the last 5 years, I see her once again. I read her the words that once she wrote. The words that she gave life, wonderfully were the ones keeping her alive today. As tears flowed, I gently wiped them. I kissed the poem and folded it neat.

Maybe next time, I looked at the heavens and begged a promise.

 

Karthik