Observations: My motley fools

For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?
– Jane Austen

 

PART I: Suspicion at first sight

I live on a street with five flat complexes, three in use and the other two almost constructed. Ours has the distinction of being the oldest and the shortest of all. The one next to ours is the biggest on the street and is not bad-looking. It has a grand compound wall and a stately entry gate. It even has 24 hour security. It’s incredibly royal when compared to our small, sporadically manned, dismal-coloured building.

We had moved into this flat during winter three years ago. Strangely, that same winter felt much darker and colder within the flat. I couldn’t understand it, but I didn’t mind it. I enjoyed the coldness and dreariness; they relaxed me.
So, during this time, I took to the habit of staring out my window for long durations. My room faced the east face of my neighbours’ complex (the aforementioned biggest one) and their parking cellar. Although a drab view, it was redeemed by several pigeon families that had colonized this aspect. Their antics never failed to amuse me.

As a few days went by, I caught glimpses of my neighbours. Most were middle-aged men and women who kept well-maintained cars. They dressed well and looked wealthy and desirable to me. At times, I spotted a handsome young man heading out in a grey hatchback. He always dressed trendily and listened to loud music; of what kind, I couldn’t tell you. He looked like a student of my age and impressed me terribly. I casually envied his car along with the freedom and wealth its possession implied.

But one morning, a few days later, my habitual survey of the east face left me slightly perturbed. Something was different today, though I wasn’t sure what. I scanned the entire face of the building, top to bottom and criss-cross. It felt like a larger-than-life ‘spot the difference’ game and I was as bad at this as I was with the one in the newspaper. I frowned and was in the act of turning away, when something stood out in the periphery of my vision. A brown hand. No, two brown hands.

In the window opposite stood a man, hands stretched diagonally above him on either side and gripping his curtain rod. He was wearing a white under shirt and had a sizeable paunch. His face, and only his face, was in shadow. From the way it was angled, he had to be staring right at my window, right at me. I managed a weak wave, but elicited no response. He just stood there (or maybe floated, because I couldn’t see his legs) and stared. Or slept; there was no way to know. I shut my blinds and withdrew. My room suddenly felt very stifling. I decided to go and chat with my mother for a bit. I bolted my room’s door shut when I left.

Part II: Strangest things

What started off as a puerile speculation soon grew to be a confirmed prediction. My neighbours are terrible people. At nights, the night watchman tends to doze off at times. He is a migrant from India’s North-East and works inhuman hours. My neighbours drive up to the gates at night and don’t get down from the car and knock/pat on the gates to wake him up. They don’t even call for him. Instead, they honk. In the dead of night, bang in the middle of a residential street, those barbarians honk. Not once, at that, but several times. And not one of them ever bothers to do this differently.

The mornings don’t disappoint too. They bring with them an elaborate spectacle. A lady, on her way out in a chauffeured Mercedes has the car stop by the gate. She exits the vehicle barefoot and saunters down to a tree along the compound. It is a big tree with a considerable circumference but otherwise unremarkable. I began to doubt my opinion on the tree though, after I saw the kind of fidelity it inspired in the woman. She stops in front of the tree and aligns her hands in prayer. Then, eyes closed and palms joined, she begins walking round the tree over and over till she halts at the end of the 21st round. She bows her head one last time, murmurs a tailpiece and gets back into the car, which promptly drives off.

But, the weirdest and surely the most alarming of them all was the man who shot at the pigeons. The balcony in my parents’ room affords a scenic view of the surrounding greens and neighbourhoods. Naturally, it also doubles as a pleasant spot to enjoy one’s morning coffee at. The sparrows’ chirping is louder and the peripatetic bees of the nearby hive make for a charming morning vista. So one’s cries of distress are redeemable when a neighbour begins shooting at the pigeons. Our intervention came later, after that day of disbelief. It was a short episode: loud consecutive shots out of nowhere followed by a pregnant silence. The awfulness of such silences lie in their unpredictability. One prays for them to end but fears how. In our case, the silence didn’t break at all for the day. It just dissolved into the night air and almost out of our memories. The next morning, we were back at the balcony, now our outpost. Our nerves were on fire as we lay in ambush; the slightest rustle drew shouts which were quelled just as quick. So when the neighbour came with his air gun and fired the first shot, our screams were heard even at the street entrance. He made a few threatening noises but ultimately, we proved too loud for him. His end has been quiet ever since.

What a motley crowd.

My neighbours and their complex seemed designed to confound me. Their complex has two blocks on either side of the parking cellar’s entrance. These blocks are linked by a wooden walker’s bridge that subtly arches over the driveway. Yet, not once have I seen one neighbour cross the bridge and meet another neighbour. However, I did spy a female neighbour hurl insults and allegations of theft at a young and skinny adolescent girl in the parking lot. From my understanding, the girl presumably worked as the neighbour’s domestic help. After the girl had left for a vacation of some kind, the lady discovered a theft at her house. Maybe it was money, or jewellery; I did not know. Whatever it was, the lady was loud and livid with rage. It was only when she began to recycle the insults and accusations did I realize she was putting up an act. In fact, the neighbour was mighty pleased with herself for unearthing the theft. Under the theatrics, she boasted of this and praised herself constantly. Finally, she threatened the girl with broken limbs should she return and exited my line of sight. The girl stood with her head bowed for a long time after the neighbour left. The show was over. I don’t know what happened after that.

Part III: Tailpiece

Even today, I don’t know a single neighbour personally. Hell, I’ll be damned if I’ve ever seen one eye-to-eye in the past three years. I don’t know them but I can testify to their awfulness. I haven’t seen them but I have witnessed their failings. I’m sure they haven’t seen me, apart from the faceless man who may or may not be staring into my room. They’re strangers to me, complexes apart. Yet, I am positive I hate them. Maybe it’s how they cycle through an assembly line of watchman replacements every year or how not one bothered to react when our complex had a fire break out in it. I don’t know why I hate them but I just unambiguously do.

Is that okay?

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Musings: It’s okay to send your brain fishing in Mexico

12% of employees eat because they are hungry. 88% of employees eat because it is 1 o’clock.
-Mokokoma Mokhonoana

PART I: WE ARE ALL ANDY DUFRESNE

21st century intellectualism is a joke. I don’t even think it exists anymore; conditions are far too hostile to sustain it.

Over this century, we have set up factories at almost every place in the world. These factories, unlike any other, lack in machinery, time cards and uniformed labour. Their workforces are educated in the sense that they had all been students, at some point in their lives. These workers man the length of an invisible assembly line that snakes from factory to factory, indifferent to national borders, as its products acquire more parts. Finally, at random drop-off points all across the globe, this borderless invisible crisscross delivers its goods.

Unlike other capitalist assembly lines, this one doesn’t make tangible goods. However, like their more tangible cousins, these intangibles sell just as well. Those who do not buy them, out of personal reasons or even a simple lack of awareness, have them fed down their throats. These goods are nothing but the opinions we mass-manufacture and guilt people into buying.

Today, opinions own everything- conversations, food, education, and most teenagers. Your brain can take an early retirement and go fishing in Zihuatanejo because you certainly do not need it these days. The internet shows you menu cards with the bestselling opinions. All you have to do is figure out the ones that you like and can understand, even when the brain is on holiday, to call them your own.

If this feels tough for you, worry not. Just look around and people will tell you the good opinions from the bad. Newspapers are the best sources of such information. They will tell you, right down to the day, hour and second, which opinions are the best to hold for the time. The bad opinions are not tough to spot actually. People boo them at conferences and call them names at the end of concerts or theatre performances. Twitter comes alive at their mention. Memes flood the internet until this heresy ceases.

With all this a few taps of your finger away, why think? YouTube and Reddit have already done that for us. People on those platforms have already thought about everything and have given opinions on everything, so why not scroll through your feed, pick some interesting ones up and then walk around feeling and sounding intelligent?

Listen, individual opinion is outdated anyway. Taking your time to understand issues and then speaking your mind is a thing of the past. Listen to the experts, they’ll tell you why such and such is such and North Korea and Trump and France and the Middle-East. They’ll also talk about the clothes you must wear, the places you must go, the food you must eat and the music you should listen to. They will also tell you the converse- the clothes you must hate, the places you must avoid, the food you must detest and the music you must ignore.

To stray from this loop is asking for a death penalty. Not for you, of course, but for your individual, sometimes immature, irrational, and error-prone thoughts. Once the experts and the ones with the trending opinions execute your individual and nascent ideas, you are back to the center, away from the fringe. The fringe is for the abnormal ones, who would much rather sit and voice infantile ideas of their own rather than swallow the more mature ones of the pack.

And so, I rest my case.

PART II: WHAT IS A TRUMP?

Let’s get a little personal now. I want you to keep this a secret, okay? I am a fringe-person. I confess to not caring about what Trump does or does not, I confess to wanting to travel to mysterious North Korea. I also confess to not being a full-time feminist and other such unheard-of things. I’m all for gay rights, so you can calm down a bit. In other words, I respect no opinion but my own. I also recognize the possibility of my opinions being ill-formed ones or irrational ones. That’s okay. Opinions are ideas you form with experience and they’re as personal as your thoughts. It’s okay to have a contrarian opinion. No, one does not aim at sensationalism through contrarianism, one just thinks different and believes it is wholly okay to do so.

In other words, it is okay to not hold an opinion on everything that’s happening everywhere. Opinions are heavy and carrying too many hurts your brain. Think about the things you really care about, the ideas that come back to knock at your mind’s door every night as you lay down to sleep.  They come back because you are yet to let them in. Dwell on those, instead. American presidents, European elections, Korean threats and celebrity hairstyles can wait. For me, lunch, my beard, and the intricacies of Haruki Murakami’s latest short-story collection are enough to think and opine about, for the moment.

As a parting gift, I’ll give you this pearl of wisdom- in a world where everyone is correct, be a rebel and allow yourself the freedom to be wrong. It’s the only way to stay sane.

On Humans

Our common sense and intuition can be mistaken. Our preferences don’t count. We do not live in a privileged reference frame. If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.
– ‘Man In His Arrogance’, Carl Sagan

The child stared out the spaceship’s window, visibly moved. He strained against the glass, unable to rein his wonder in. His little tentacles wiggled with emotion and his antennas stood erect. Out the window, distant in the blackness, floated a planet. It was the oddest he had encountered so far. A perfect ball of worn-out blue with a smattering of wispy whites and dull browns.

Onbe, isn’t that Earth?’ the child asked.

Veta, Vak-Pak, it is’, replied his older and greener mother. Onbe had many more tentacles than him- thicker and longer. She lay on her side on a bed of neatly tucked white linen, watching her son through large black eyes. Dressed in a blue corset that glimmered in the spaceship’s dim lighting, she possessed all the grace of the galactic elite.

Vak-Pak turned around, leaving smudges where his face had been pressed against the glass. ‘Why are’t we stopping, then? Ante always told me it was a very good planet.’ He hoisted himself onto the bed and snuggled up to Onbe. 

Veta, Vakkoit is. One of the universe’s best’, said Onbe. She softly caressed his green arms as she spoke. ‘But we will not stop here, Vakko. It is dangerous.’

‘Why?’ came the question, immediately. Vak-Pak still stared out the window, his face lit by the faint glow of the lonely planet.

Onbe smiled at the suddenness of the question- the brisk curiosity of a child.

‘It is because of the aliens that live on that planet. They have two hands like us but no tentacles. Instead, they have two legs, much like our monkeys. These things, Vakko, they are really, really bad. They will’- she broke into a whisper- ‘kill us. First chance they get.’

‘Why?’ the question came again, more urgent this time.

‘They just can’t bear anything that looks different. You know, Vakko, these things kill each other just because they can’t bear the difference!’

Vak-Pak sucked his thumb as he listened. He still gazed at Earth, though it somehow looked duller now.

‘Why?’ a third time- more subdued, more deep.

‘They are a bunch of fools Vakko, even worse than our monkeys. They fight over everything. You know, they all believe that there is a Bigger Alien above their planet that can hear them talk and’- she broke into a soft giggle here- ‘that It actually created Earth. These things think that this Bigger Alien made them, too!’

Vak-Pak shifted position and chuckled, eyes twinkling in amusement. ‘But Onbe, that is just silly. Onbe, it is silly because nobody can make an entire planet! If you can, then you can do anything, Onbe! Anything!’ he stretched his arms out as wide as he could to emphasize his point.

Veta, Vakko, I know. But these aliens think the Bigger Alien is real. They keep talking to It and nowadays, your Ante told me, they say even the Bigger Alien talks back to them!’ said Onbe. The spaceship had moved along considerably; Earth now a tiny, blue dot.

Vak-Pak sat up, thumb out and back straight. ‘Talks to them?’ he said, dragging each word out to convey his astonishment.

Veta, Vakko. Some of these things say the Bigger Alien asks them to kill and hurt each other. A few of these aliens say the Bigger Alien asked them to build a city, some- a country. Some even say It asked them to write songs and win at games!’ said Onbe, fully lying down on the pure white bed.

Vak-Pak lay down by her side, antennas still erect and twitchy. ‘Onbe’, he whispered. ‘Onbe, how does this Bigger Alien look? Does It also have two legs and hands? Is It bigger than the other aliens on Earth, like a giant?’

Yella, Vakko, they don’t know what it looks like.’

‘Where does this Bigger Alien live? It looked empty above Earth!’

‘Nobody knows where it lives, Vakko.’

Vak-Pak looked into his mother’s face- one final question burning within.

Onbe, why does this Bigger Alien even help them? What is so special about these aliens on Earth? They sound like really bad things.’

A ghost of a smile played on Onbe’s lips as she drew her son closer to keep him warm.

‘That’s the crazy thing, Vakko. There is nothing special about them. Nothing.’

The spaceship had by now left Earth behind- indifferent to the joys, worries and prayers on that distant pale blue dot.