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?

Poetry: The path a path takes

But then who could you count as reliable who could not manage a stave or two of The Waste Land?

– Imperfect Recall, Christopher Hitchens

It is true
That movement is traceable
And has an origin.
Yet, one’s origin
Is invariably the end of another.

Like a flower in endless bloom,
In the moment the petals wilt,
The new ones are born again.
Though the flower forever lunges forward,
It never quite is alongside Time.

Such is the world we live in:
A complex web of action
With inevitable reactions,
Where every action
Is also a reaction
To an action prior.

Think about it.

Even Birth, that most initial
Of beginnings, the most prior,
Is but a reaction
To Attachment and Attachment,
A reaction to circumstance.

It may seem futile, being pieces
In a puzzle but never
The puzzle itself.
But, futility is a conclusion
We must all be resigned to.

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.

Musings: The typing dead

One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.
– Bertrand Russell

The ubiquity of the internet gave birth to one of the 21st century’s most banal and detestable cultural phenomenons: fandoms.

Fandoms are groups of fans that share common interests over mutual feelings of empathy and kinship. They sound tolerable on paper, even pleasant. But one mustn’t speak unless one has survived the horrors of their online orgies. Fandoms discuss everything- right from the daily outfits of their Objects of Devotion (OoD, from here on) to intimate details like dress sizes, blood groups and, yes, even their children.

Consider the recent case where the internet had a meltdown over the published photos of a pregnant Beyoncé. Fans congratulated her, suggested baby names, extolled her physical virtues and called her pregnancy sublime. Some reached the conclusion that very few women could carry a pregnancy off with grace like her’s. Honestly, how is her pregnancy in any way significant? Or different, for that matter, from millions of other pregnancies?
Beats me.

As such, fandoms have manufactured countless zombies devoid of individual opinion. These zombies create gaudy social media profiles full of pictures of their OoD. These profiles serve as podiums while they discuss, debate and ultimately swear allegiance to specific fandoms. This process is repeated and loyalties are reaffirmed, multiple times. Quite often, this is done through vague code on public profiles. This is a tactic fans use to stymie their less aware peers and spark their curiosity. Their online revels are voyeuristic as they bask in the attention their posts garner.
The hypocrites might allege libel and sue me over this, but this is true. Invariably and undoubtedly so. I was  a part of this mess as well, until I chose the burdens of a real life over the shackles of an online one.

All of this bears the semblance of a militia recruitment campaign. These fandoms, at first, name themselves. Then they begin to collect under this name, their banner. They market their values and lure people into an online army. How this works is through a complex system of social reward, best explained through the example of Pavlov’s dog. Initially, one is encouraged to declare affiliation to a fandom, subject to peer approval. Once this initiation is done, the wheels are set in motion. Every post one makes in support of the fandom, points of approval are gained. Like Pavlov’s dog, they too salivate at the approach of their food- approval. Soon enough, the approval ceases, like Pavlov’s food did. Yet, like Pavlov’s salivating dog, they continue to ooze adoration in the hope their favourite food returns. As such, over time, these fandoms grow to occupy vast swathes of internet territory- erecting barriers and inventing languages.Doing so, they suck the meaning out of their surroundings.

Look at Tumblr, for instance. What started off as a promising space for bloggers to post and interact has now been reduced to a barren wasteland. It died in the fire it helped set off. It never took much to get the party started. The smallest spike in some OoD’s activity and Tumblr erupts. The fandom citizens crawl out of their holes and instantly leap into a whirlpool of mindless chatter and squabble, severing ties with reality.

There is yet another detestable subspecies, the most insidious of the lot.
Herein, members lament their ‘overwhelming dependence’ on the fandom and the communities it has spawned. These specimens whine about losing sleep over pointless virtual conversations held on electronic screens. Simple, sane suggestions like ‘get the hell off the damn fandom then’ do not enter their brains, which by then have been mummified.
Sympathy, alone, gets them to shut up. These are the kind that want two birds for the one stone they throw- approval and sympathy. Day after day, they re-enter the Motherland, sacrificing precious sleep and scorching their eyeballs under the harmful blue light of their screens, addicted to the concoction of approval and sympathy they get out of it.

Meanwhile, as these online zombies tear themselves to pieces over items of increasing insignificance, I shall quietly catch my TV episodes and the latest chapters of my preferred manga in the privacy of my room. Once done, I will turn the lights off and tuck myself into bed- safe from this epidemic of banality.

For what it’s worth, I refuse to be an insignificant bunch of lines on strange screens- alone and sans purpose.

Musings: The impotency of water & what it portends

If you base medicine on science, you cure people. If you base the design of planes on science, they fly. If you base the design of rockets on science, they reach the moon. Cars drive. Computers compute.
It works, bitches.
               

 – Prof. Richard Dawkins
(when asked to justify the scientific method)

Here lies my case: as a species, we share an immense susceptibility to fantasy.
This is why sensationalism is rampant in today’s reporting. Nothing grabs eyeballs better. Except, perhaps, mysterious little North Korea and its chubby head honcho.

Consider this:

In the summer of 2016, my father visited a few farmers’ collectives. He went to survey their opinions on an upcoming hydroelectricity project. Despite the project’s benefits, the farmers expressed immense dismay. Further inquiry revealed the reason- the farmers strongly suspected that the hydroelectricity project would diminish the water’s ‘strength’. They thought the water would lose its fertilizing power. They lamented the supply of impotent water to the farmlands. 

This might seem like a hilarious anecdote at first. A fond memory of the naivete of the country folk. Look closer, however. It is evidence of the susceptibility I mentioned earlier. We imagine explanations where we lack them. We prefer fantastic conclusions to obvious natural reasoning. Conclusions that satisfy our ego. Adapting these to fit the limits of reason is thought inconvenient. Science is declared ‘limited’ and ‘incapable’. Fantasy suffices, then suffuses,

If you haven’t observed this already, you’re either a part of it or have entirely escaped it. The latter is highly improbable.

This susceptibility is toxic, tantalizingly so. It provides a widely accepted alternative to logical thinking. Science is not malleable. It is impersonal and people hate it for this apparent coldness. Science paints a picture of their lives they cannot digest. More edible and tastier alternatives are sought. Cue: innate susceptibility. Unlike animals, we evolved an intelligence that can imagine. Not just adapt and grow but imagine. We can ask the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘why nots’. This makes for a very potent stew.

Where science proves inconvenient, where it proves harsh- we ignore it. This baffles me. How can one ignore science as if it were a choice? If the rock above one’s head falls, it will hit- regardless of whether one sees it coming or not. Where one’s personal ideas are rubbished by science, one worries. One escapes from its constraints, sailing the ship of imagination. We invent ideas and create explanations that please and encourage. Entire industries have developed around this- religion being the most formidable.

This is my plea- don’t look away. However bleak or cold reality may be, it is the only thing there is. Nothing else exists and in nothing else, will you. We must desist from buying this inherited delusion of convenience. Science cannot be disposed of. Its laws have preceded us and will go beyond us. It is why we are here- products of evolution. It is immune to us, just as it must be. For if left to us, scientific law would be an awkward and insecure apology incapable of deciding what two twos must equal; let alone what flies, what swims or what does both.

Scientific law is inevitable and ubiquitous- the only law that needs no constitution. The entirety of the solar system and all of the galaxies- each bigger and hotter than the other, spread over an endless space, have been unable to achieve the most momentary suspension in the laws of the universe.

How can you?

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.

Musings: My Beef With Spirituality

I cannot remember when last beef and spirituality were in the same sentence, if ever.

A spiritual seeker seeks insight into what one does not already know. One meditates on the unknown to somehow grasp the known. One dismisses the obvious in deference to its alternates. The system of inquiry that allows for such methods is spirituality.

However, there is another occupation which is not entirely dissimilar. There too, one questions the unknown to try and make it known. Therein, one dismisses the obvious in deference to its mechanics. William Whewell, an English philosopher and a gifted wordsmith, termed one occupied with such interests as a ‘scientist’.

Though technically identical in their quests, a scientist could not differ more from a spiritual seeker. The latter relies on the abstract whereas the former employs logic as the tool of discovery.  Scientists make the unknown known on the back of irrefutable evidence. Universal truths emerge as the culmination of their investigations.

What, then, does the spiritual seeker do?

One studies the abstract and the obscure with dubious tools. These tools have no form nor any defined function. They do not operate within the constraints of reality. Inquiries typically precede birth and go beyond death, scrutinizing everything in between.

This is where I sniffed my beef out.

Spiritual inquiry is not built on a scaffolding of logic. It is an attempt to grasp a superior reality with inferior tools. It is random and personal, expansive and fragile- all at once. Spirituality obeys no laws, nor does it contribute any. Fact checking, unfortunately, holds no weight in spiritual inquiry.

Fraught with such inconsistencies, spirituality sometimes confuses fiction for fact. The converse is true as well, sadly.

I consider this kind of inquiry dangerous. To me, it is a haven for those entrapped by dogma. Imagine the endless labyrinths of fact-fiction one can weave herein! Anybody can aspire to spiritual inquiry; intellect not being a barrier to entry. Contrived inferences on the same reality emerge, desperate to reinforce the overarching dogma. Fiction pervades, fact is shunned.

It does not help that spirituality has garnered immense acceptance. It has suffused every zone of life. We have spiritual solutions for workplace issues. Sportspeople win gold medals and credit them to spirituality. Families resolve domestic disputes, courtesy spirituality.

But for how long will fiction shield one from reality?

It is bound to break, sooner than later. And when it does, your happy little bubble will implode. You’re back to the beginning and realize you had actually never progressed. Just imagined it, that’s all, but never have.

Listen, should you ever feel the irrepressible urge to question- stop. Think. Will answering this question transport you away from logic? If the answer is no, proceed. If the answer is yes, good luck.

30/100: An Open Letter to Osmania University

 

 

The 27th of December, 2016 is a date I will commit to memory so I can relive it over and over and do naught but laugh at the sheer irony of affairs.

After missing out on an entire year of university due to my travels, I came back earlier this year to catch up with all of the pending work. As such, I had given exams during the months of October, November and December for the academic year that I had missed, the results of which exams were declared today- the 27th of December, 2016.

I had done respectably well within my expectations in everything but English.

Some background before I go any further- my childhood was marked by episodes of reading frenzies; sometimes Enid Blyton would have fallen prey, other instances it was either Rowling, Tolkien or Dahl. Fifth grade had me attempting to form my own cricket club a la Swaminathan from Narayan’s timeless Malgudi Days whilst supplementing this initial foray into Indian fiction with as many copies of Asterix and Tintin as I could lay my hands on. The following summer found me nose-deep in my sister’s copy of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, my self-assigned project for the holidays. Then came along the ouster from my school’s Sports’ Day program for my display of insufficient interest in participation, which led to my seeking refuge within the school library, the inhabitants of which were scoured from shelf to shelf with a carnivorous appetite. Growing up meant moving on from Hardy Boys, Artemis Fowl and the Anthony Horowitz mania to Archer, Crichton and MacLean. Soon, Doyle and Forsyth had joined the menu too along with the likes of Tolstoy, Asimov and Austen. By then, Shakespeare had become a regular holiday affair. Finishing school was marked by my first tryst with Dostoyevsky through The Idiot- Notes from Underground and The Brothers Karamazov followed. Eleventh grade was a storm of Hosseini, Saki, and RR Martin interspersed with the casual swim in British and American TV. Twelfth grade witnessed my growing obsession with translated Japanese literature and manga which ended with the best relapse I had never asked for- Crime and Punishment.

I then made the decision of joining a college affiliated to Osmania University, which holds a monopoly in this sort of thing. It was perhaps towards the end of my first year when I discovered the university’s motto, printed on the calendars they issued: ‘A University with Potential for Excellence’. It depressed me to no end, for it reeked of blatant complacency; ergo, the University was well aware that it was within reach of attaining excellence but was satisfied with just being aware of the fact and doing nothing about it.That was when I had departed for my travels- with no clear date of return in sight, for I was dissatisfied with the quality of my education. By then, the term ‘education’ seemed almost like an euphemism for a curriculum which asked for nothing but the mere consumption of data and its subsequent vomiting on the exam paper.

The past two years were very special, for I had managed to expand my reading horizon. Garcia Marquez, Allende, Rushdie, Sabato, Nasreen, Murakami, Mukherjee, Seth and more recently, Beatty, were all enjoyed with mounting relish. I had finally polished off the works of Virginia Woolf and Joyce, accompanied by the occasional doses of Heller and Vonnegut, among others.

So considering all the information I have just shared, you would not totally misunderstand my imaginable disappointment after discovering that I had failed my English exam- scoring an abysmal 30 marks out of 100. The solution is simple- wait for the revaluation dates to come out, pay the fee and have my paper reexamined so I can clear this backlog.

However, I refuse to be comforted by this. What the university has done is not a mere oversight but failing the hopes a student vests in them. This particular English paper had not been a bad one. I had expected to score anything over eighty-five on hundred after possible mistakes in answering questions about the synonyms of Latin terminology and the technicalities of grammar, for I had never made the effort of learning them.

What you are doing is just plain unfair. I do not understand why I have to pay for you to correct your own mistake just like how I do not understand why the system thinks it is okay to ask students to watermark their A4 sheets before writing their records. I have to write seven records this year wherein each record averages at 70-80 pages. Watermarking an entire ream of paper along with the numerous print outs and the mandatory spiral binding is an expensive affair and I don’t understand why it is okay to demand such things of a student. What is the point of making ‘Environmental Science’ a mandatory paper and then making us go through this entire exercise of writing on so much paper, paper which is just bundled up and thrown into storage? What is the point of having us learn coding in different languages and then have us write those codes on paper, where they cannot even be complied or applied? Why this hypocrisy, Osmania?

Thankfully, the marks you have given me for my English paper have cleared any doubts I may have had about the system. 30 marks out of 100 is what I get for having explored literature that is for most of my peers, unheard of. 30 on 100 is what you give me for being passionate about the English language and working for the longest time to only further cultivate this interest. 30 on 100  also tells me why you will always be stuck at just having  the potential for excellence, but never excellence in itself. 30 on 100 is also what will be relegated to a dark and dank recess in my brain as I curl up with The Enchantress of Florence by Rushdie.

Disclaimer: Through this post, I do not mean to slander the university in any way. I respect its immense outreach and how it empowers students from all walks of life but that in no way excuses this shoddy handling of affairs. My examinations were postponed thrice. The dates given, in one instance, were not the actual dates. One of my invigilators at one of my centers even asked me for 2,000 rupees so he could give me good marks. And now this, 30 on 100. It is time we let the university know its standards cannot be a set of such vast compromises on so many levels.

Thoughts on Murakami’s Norwegian Wood

norwegian-wood-cover

 

Hailed as Murakami’s defining novel that had become so popular in Japan that it forced him to retreat deep inside European retreats in Greece and Italy, it somewhat came as a surprise that I read Norwegian Wood so late in my career as a reader of fiction.

I bought it at a tremendously discounted price at Mumbai’s glorious Flora Fountain and started digging into it on my bus ride back home. It strung strings deep, deep inside. That’s the beauty of it, Toru Watanabe is so ordinary and plain that there is some of him inside each one of us, though I can’t be bothered with alcohol and women in the same way.

I am sure the book is autobiographical to a large extent (a point heatedly debated by Murakami) but my point is, which work of fiction isn’t? After all, fiction is fragments of reality, sometimes a few, sometimes several, woven together using the threads of imagination. The proportion between the real part and the imagined part varies, but the underlying composition is the same thus making way for genres in fiction.

It was three quarters an hour past midnight earlier today when I had promised myself I’d read just a chapter and then sleep. I slept at a quarter to five in the morning, after having finished the book. In that time, I had read the book cover-to-cover, re-reading several parts of it and just, on the whole, had let myself be swept away by Watanabe’s endearingly dispassionate detachment. It is addictive, this book, one of the few where you can open any page and read till any other, and still walk away with a lot of understanding and clarity. No wonder it swept the Japanese youth off their feet back then, no wonder it propelled Murakami to such stardom.

As to my thoughts on the characteristically cryptic ending- all along, for Watanabe, the memory of Kizuki’s death-by-suicide haunts him, leaving him convinced that death is but something you wake up and stare at everyday and not a distant harsh truth as often misconstrued. He is, however, convinced that it is an invisible face that Death has and not a living, breathing and dying one. To me, Naoko is the death Watanabe refers to, the death that is a part of life, the death we nurture by living our lives. She is always there- teetering on the edge of the wall separating the existing from the existed, a place Watanabe unknowingly gets sucked into because of his love for her.

Till the moment she passes away, Toru always had death with him in the form of his memories of Naoko, giving him that detachment from life in general on account of his pull towards something that was dying.

Which is why, in the end when Watanabe calls Midori and doesn’t know where he is, it represents that he is unfamiliar with the concept of life wholly devoid of death’s baleful gaze. Midori represents that spark of life which is the only thing that can light Watanabe’s way out of the dark tunnel of the dead and the long gone.

Norwegian Wood will always hold a special place in my head- it was every bit more magnificent than I had ever expected it to be. It was as naked and simple as life generally is- no grand plots, no groundbreaking ideas and other such things. It’s beauty lies in its honesty and in its lack of internal bias or favour for after all, the mills grind slowly and steadily for us all.

 

 

A Mirage Called Ego.

Recently, my cousin and I decided to assign each other a writing exercise wherein we’d pick a common topic and write whatever story germinates from the idea of it.

The topic we had picked was a grandfather clock and below is the story that struck me when I contemplated on it:

 

Sleep. In the eight years that she had lived, sleep was the one thing she had never experienced, or rather, had never remembered experiencing.
Insomnia, the doctors claimed. Fancy excuses for staying awake, her weary old governess dismissed.

But from what she had heard and read and seen of sleep, she found the lack of it not as perturbing as she thought it would be. For sleep was nothing but a transcendental state of existence where you could walk in your dreams. Sleep, as her governess had once wisely educated her, was when all the information swirling around inside the head came to rest down on the nerves and from there, be absorbed into them and flow straight into the brain which consequently ensured that this information stays remembered.

But all of this was too scientific for the girl. Too technical.

Every night while her governess slept, the girl awoke from her feigned sleep. She used to hastily stuff the blankets with pillows which vaguely resembled her lithe eight year old figure and slipped out of the room into the Mansion.It was a busier night than usual at the Mansion, she observed as she skipped around. She patted the armchair on his arms and waved at the lamp. She greeted the wall by trying to hug him and the couch by jumping onto him from behind. The closet groaned in discomfort when her door creaked open in the wind. The girl got up and shut the door for her firmly, all the while growing increasingly curious about the excited buzz all around the house.

“Mrs. Closet, do you know what is up with everybody? Why are they all so excited and loud tonight?”
“Oh little one, it is a matter that is best left unexplored. Thank you for your help anyway, but it is now time for me to sleep!”
But just as the girl had spun around to walk back, the closet said in a hushed voice, “Little one, whatever you do, just don’t go to the corridor on the second floor.”

“Why not?”

But the closet was already fast asleep or pretending to be fast asleep.

“Stop, quick one, stop!” cried the steps as she ran up them.
“Oh, hello there Mr. Steps! What can I do for you?”
“Just don’t climb any further, o quick one, for on the floor above, The Lord of Us All stands tall and awake.”
The girl grew wide-eyed in wonder. Her pudgy stub of a chin quivered in excitement as she contemplated on what Mr. Steps had just said.

“Don’t fret, Step! I would do just about anything to meet the Lord of You All.”

And saying so, she scampered up the steps, turned a right, ran straight and turned  a left and lo! Before her lay the now infamous second floor corridor. It was a peculiar inclusion to the mansion, for it led nowhere and had no rooms alongside. Its far end was always shrouded in darkness and there was just one window.

Although she had never visited the corridor before, she was familiar with its door. The door was an old and bitter fellow. Broken and cracked in many places with rot all over his wood and rust over his knobs.

His only claim to significance was being the door at the entrance of the study but now, he had not even that for he was replaced with a fresher and sturdier one, rendering him purposeless and bitter.
He was placed instead at the entrance of the second floor corridor, which had once been an impromptu smoking chamber. He was always muttering to himself and cursing at all that walked past. On many an occasion, he refused to let stray smokers or kids playing hide-and-seek out of the corridor just for the sadistic pleasure of it.
He reveled in the discomfort his creakiness caused everybody and made it a point to be as creaky and creepy as possible.

But the girl was familiar with all tricks, and greeted him by roughly twisting his rusty knob and pushing him wide open.
The door let loose a roar of displeasure and screamed in his rickety voice, “You insolent little rodent! You brat! You will pay dearly for your insolence, you will pay so badly, so heavily. Mark my words!”

But the girl was already inside the corridor, ignoring Grandpa Door (who had fast shut himself) and walking briskly towards the moonlit dead-end.
As she neared the pale moonlight, she could feel a presence and something else about it that she couldn’t quite grasp.She could make out a vague physical shape and what struck her immediately was the imposing height of this figure. Whoever he/she was, the girl knew within that they had to be old and very tall.

DING DONG. DING DONG.

The midnight chimes resonated through the corridor, giving the girl a start.

It’s just a clock. An old grandfather clock.

The girl couldn’t contain herself any longer. It was this ancient and weary timepiece that had had all her friends on tenterhooks. She swelled up in anger, balled her fists and stomped right up to the clock.

“Look Mister, I don’t know who you..”

“Aaaaahhhhhhhhhh!” yawned the grandfather clock.

He was tall and very old, built of sturdy wood. His wood was dark and very plainly designed. The golden pendulum kept moving steadily, hypnotically.
He spoke in a raspy and gravelly voice, “What brings you here, child?”

“I’m here to find out who you are and why my friends are scared of you. You shouldn’t scare people, it’s a mean thing to do!”

The clock stood silent, scrutinizing the girl. He wasn’t used to being spoken to in this manner.

“Why don’t you respond, Mr. Clock? Who are you? Why are you the Lord of Them All? What’s so special about you?”

There was a soft creak as the rotten door stood himself up straight, “He not only is the Lord of Us All, but the Lord of Everything. Including you, o insolent one.”

The girl’s teeth were clenched and her tiny stub of a chin was quivering as she turned around to face the door. Her body was stiff and her chest was puffed up in rage as she boldly announced, “This old clock is not my lord. He’s just another person living in this house, but he most certainly isn’t some big Lord!” Her mouth was an angry pout as she gazed daggers at the door.

The floorboards creaked as they spoke, “Young one! Such courage is admirable but alas, youth lacks the wisdom to recognize without fault where it must be employed!”

“Youth lacks the wisdom and depth to reconcile itself with reality”, continued the Clock. “In a world far removed, isolated from all that is ordinary, sits your age- choosing to imagine the extraordinary and bemoan its absence rather than experience the ordinary and live with it.”

“But behind everything ordinary, there is always something extraordinary, Mr. Clock. Behind the honey we cherish is the extraordinary story of the honey bee’s travels and travails. Behind the water we drink is the extraordinary fact of minuscule orbs fusing in multitudes to bring to life the very source of life.

Ordinary is but a direct consequence of the Extraordinary, for without the latter, the former ceases to exist, to operate”, said the girl. She had sat herself down and on her crossed legs lay her loosely clasped hands. Her black hair hung behind her face as she gazed at the clock, relaxed and confident, polite but irreverent.

The steady tick-tock of the clock punched through the silence that curtained the room after the girl spoke. The floorboards and the door were paralyzed with wonder as the clock stood tall, contemplating and understanding.

At long last, he spoke, “It pleases me that someone as young as you is capable enough to recognize the process behind the ordinary world and all that is worldly and ordinary. But tell me, little one, have you understood what the Extraordinary is?”

“No. I have been searching for it, trying to isolate it, but to no avail.”

The clock coughed- dry and gravelly, before he spoke again, “Before you, right now, stands the Extraordinary. I am it. I am the Extraordinary!” exclaimed the clock suddenly, possessed by a sudden fervor.

She still sat unabashed but gazed at the clock with more curiosity and puzzlement. “I’m sorry”, she said. “I still don’t see the Extraordinary.”

The clock drew himself up with a huge breath and exploded into explanation, “Don’t you see, little one, don’t you see the evident? I am Time! I measure all, control all and kill all! I am the Master the universe itself hurries to answer! I am the beginning and the end of all, the very fabric of existence! I lend definition to all just as I erase all, I protect all just as I expose all and I create all just as I kill all! Nothing escapes my gaze as age is common to all and all that exists must age! And therefore, I stand here- the Perpetual Counter, the Eternal Overseer. I am Time. I am all. I am the beyond. I am the Extraordinary- the cause behind all that is ordinary.”

The girl slowly turned her head away from the clock, her eyes lingering on him for a moment thoughtfully before they followed suit. She stared outside the window, elbow on her thigh and head perched on her fist. Her stubby chin was even stubbier now that it was pushed upward by her fist, making her face look all the more intense and at the same time, child-like.

“But Mr. Clock”, she said, still staring out the window, “You are just that. A clock. You have been built by the hands of men and designed for the eyes of men. Your purpose is to display time, in all its accuracy and continuity. But you are not time itself. For if I bring my fork and fork those clock hands off of your dial, you will not be able to display time, but time will not for a moment cease flowing. Its perpetual nature will not for a moment change nor will its ubiquity for a moment stand masked.” She turned to face the clock, eyes burning with the fire of discovery. She stood up, head cocked to one side, hair thrown over her back and hands balled into fists. She stood with her legs slightly spread apart, staring back at the clock with a sneer. “You are nothing but a mere display, a common tool, with millions like you over the world. Your capability is and will always be the display of time and never will it be possible for you or anyone like you to transcend this limitation.”

The clock seemed to grow smaller as she spoke, with her voice hitting stronger and stronger notes as she continued. “In this house, perhaps you are the only one of your kind- old, wise and strong for which, I respect you and encourage others to do too. But this house is but an insignificant dot in this world, for the world is vast. And because all the residents in this house recognize the universal importance of time and its subsequent realities, they were beguiled into respecting you, you who happen to be a mere
representation of time. I ask you, Mr. Clock, are you too not affected by the passage of time? For I refuse to believe when you were built anew, the designer saw fit to use chipped and cracked wood in your construction. Therefore, it stands to reason that the Mills of Time have ground you down too, over the years, just as they have ground all that exists and existed.”

She tapped the floorboards with her foot and patted the wall with her hand. She walked towards the door, which swung open without a word. She walked to the far end of the passage and turned to look at the clock. Illuminated by the pale moonlight, he stood tall once more and ticked steadily, as he had been all his life. However, his ticking seemed to have new energy and his countenance seemed in possession of new strength- a new awareness had crept through him.As the girl skipped down the stairs, not a word was spoken. The silence prevailed as she walked across the hallway back to her bedroom. As she opened the door to the bedroom, she encountered some resistance from the door.

“Little one, you have been awake all your life, while we slept through ours. Now that you have awakened us, it is time you slept.”

“Door my dearest, we are all awake, at all times. It all just boils down to what extent we are awake and more importantly, to what it is that awakens us.”

She kissed the door goodnight and crawled back into her bed and lay under her blankets, feeling warm and snug.

It was perhaps the soundest sleep she had feigned in a long time.