When the sun stops shining

Can you imagine how tiring it is to shine constantly? To be the beacon of hope; the bringer of life.

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Can you imagine how tiring it is to be the sun? The world may fall asleep, then rise, go about their day’s work, and then sink into bed again. But the sun, no, it never sleeps. It never stops shining. At every given second, there’s one part of the world covered in its golden hues.

But can you imagine how tiring it is to shine constantly? To be the beacon of hope; the bringer of life.

And that’s probably why, sometimes, it dulls down. Otherwise, how could a few clouds manage to dim the great ball of fire; it’s magnificence unparalleled? Neither could a puny moon eclipse the solar god into dusk, right?

No, the sun sometimes gets tired of producing one yellow stream of thought after another; another golden ray that sets another life alight. And so, it lets the monsoon play for a while; or allow the dust winds to gear into action small tornadoes that make everything seem brown. Sometimes, the sun even drapes a shroud of cold, dull smog—a small win for the polluting mankind.

But only for a short time.

Because its very soul is fire; sheer flames with the potential to burn everything down in its path.

So, after a short break, the sun gets up like a dog or cat from its nap; shrugs the dust of comfort and compliance; yawns to shake away the misery of drudgery, and then, trots towards its feisty spirits that wait in patience, slowly gathering pace.

Sometimes, it’s assisted by cheery friends called seasons. They swoop by and supply the necessary dose of energy, bringing with them loud noises that shatters cars’ windowpanes. Other times, they materialise in silence and simply exist in tandem.

And then, just like the sun, your soul breaks from its dull reverie and shines like the fiery spirit it is.

Why love feels bittersweet 

The human body feels. It’s because of the tiny blue-green nerves that connect every single cell in the body. These nerves pass on ‘feel’ messages to the brain. A head ache, for instance, is one or many of the nerves telling the brain of some pressure. The brain, then, interprets this as pain. The same goes for smell, touch, sight, taste and sound. 
And then there’s the feeling inside your gut. Where you feel sorrow, happiness, nostalgia, anger, jealousy, fear, and yes, love. 
Love is that potent feeling that makes all your nerve endings exposed to the elements. Imagine every single nerve in your body screaming to your brain. It can be overwhelming. The feeling–the pain from the sheer excess–is at once both internal and external. 
And only the person you feel the love for can be the thin layer of balm to sooth the frayed nerve endings. 
Yet, this layer is thin, almost to the point of being a transparent layer. You want to wear your lover like skin. Very few lucky people actually do. 
But even then, the thinness of the layer reminds you of the danger lurking around. One tiny tear, one loss of layer, and your very soul can be in a world of pain. Your life can turn upside down. 
And you know there’s no medicine, no cure. Only the passage of time can dull your tired nerve endings. Only dull it, mind you. It never really goes away completely. Unless, you learn to wear a thick layer of defense that no one can smash through. 
But what suffocated survival can it be? 
Oh, what painful life loving would be? 

A Legend in 4 hours

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You know you’ve read a good book if you would rather think about it for the 10 hours left in the day than pick up a new one. And that’s what happened to me—still is happening to me—after ending ‘The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad’.

It started as an innocuous read to satisfy my curiosity regarding the author’s popularity. But it ended up with the sensation of… let me explain it better with an analogy.

You know that feeling when you are hungry, and then eat a delicious meal—simple, home-made, down-to-earth but wholesome. That feeling when it seems like your entire being starting with heart—and not just your stomach—is full and ‘complete’. That’s the feeling I relished after finishing the book. So much that I ‘had’ to put down my thoughts in the form of words. Mind you, I’ve never given reviews about books—especially in the form of a blog post.

About the book

For reasons unclear to me, what I felt about the book comes across as a string of jagged adjectives and words. If I attempt to weave sentences out of them, they seem to lose their value and meaning. It’s like they refuse to let go of their individual characteristics amidst the other words forming the sentence. So here we go:

  • Subtle
  • Empathetic
  • Realistic
  • Whacky
  • Feminist
  • Flawed characters but perfect in a sense
  • Real India
  • Diverse—you had people from different backgrounds, upbringing, castes, and religions
  • Rich in culture
  • Observant
  • Wise
  • Ordinary yet extraordinary
  • Heartening
  • Heartfelt

Some of my favourite sentences and paragraphs:

(Note: Potential spoilers ahead if you haven’t read this book yet)

  • Till the day it wasn’t and a sunken-eyed Sukriti, her skin stretched like paper over each protruding rib, returned home, holding the gifts her in-laws had given her in return – burns on her back, from boiling water and hot pans.
  • The thoughts that had been locked inside her, and had probably been rattling in her subconscious mind for years, had finally been set free. Words falling, tripping, stumbling over each, till she finally ran out of air.
  • It is an old song, passed down through generations and the women singing are unaware that the song is not about Goddess Lakshmi who resides in the heaves above, but alludes to a gangly girl who once walked among the mango groves. (Can even be considered to the other gods and myths we worship. Especially if you connect it to another character in another story who speaks about how the lemon and chilly is a superstition based in science)
  • By the time the W had been reported missing by Mrs Mastan, who had been sitting right next to Binni, she had lost all interest in embroidery and was looking at Noni Appa across the table, signaling her that it was time to leave.
  • ‘I feel good, Binni, my muscles feel all pulled and stretched, like a ball of dough smoothened out into a nice flat chapatti’.
  • Hai Allah, the mind is also a strange thing, the minute someone asks you to keep the slate clean, squiggly lines of white chalk begin to appear, one line running into another in chaotic whirls.
  • For Anand ji, sitting by himself in the bedroom with a game of solitaire spread over the printed bed sheet, headphones plugged into his Walkman that invariably played Indian classical music as he hummed along, seemed the only way he could find refuge in his own home.
  • Why do people have to define relationships, underline each word till the paper gives way beneath, she wondered.
  • Elisa decided to leave yesterday where she felt it belonged, a hundred kilometres behind her.

Story 1: The Legend of Lakshmi Prasad

At once realistic, believable but with a tint of fable, the story revolves around Lakshmi Prasad (duh, as the name duly suggests). What’s remarkable about the story is the writing—the mini observations about day-to-day lives, human behavior (a sister’s jealousy about friends and how she tries to prove that she is the ‘closest’), how thoughts germinate, and how strength of character is often in subtle and small actions. More importantly, the writing is so rich that it paints the backdrop of the story easily. Reading it is like starting an old-school projector in your mind and resting back to watch the story unfold.

Story 2: Salaam, Noni Appa

This was by far my favourite in the whole lot.

Two widowed sisters, well in their sixties, and yet living a life full of unique idiosyncrasies and whacky behavior. Some of my key learnings from the story are this:

  • Life does not end in your 60s.
  • There have been ‘modern, broad-minded’ people well before the current generation—way back when Fiats, Walkmans and Cassettes were in fashion. And this includes women who chose not to marry, even in their 40s.
  • Just because two people are a study in contrast does not mean they can’t live together with love filling their hearts and understanding ruling their daily activities.
  • You come across all kinds of love—even the common ground variety of love in the form of a romantic relationship can be unique and different.
  • Just because you love someone does not mean you need to tolerate all their behavior. It’s ok to switch off your hearing aid once in a while.
  • Just because you love someone today does not mean you stopped loving the person you were with yesterday. And it’s ok. You can love more than one person at the same time.

Story 3: If the Weather permits

An eccentric character, whose whole life is one continuous search—one for a life partner, and the other, an escape from her parents’ pressures. And the search continues until death gives her the much-needed opportunity to escape. Who says life has to be perfect or make sense. And more importantly, who says parents do everything right? They are flawed humans too who bow to societal pressure and their own idiosyncrasies.

My favourite line? So so so many, but I will take with me the epitaph my entire life. “Here lies Elisa, she briefly belonged to many, but truly to herself.”

Story 4: The Sanitary Man from a Sacred Land

Wow. While story spoke about ‘what happened’, I could not often go beyond what the characters ‘thought’ or ‘felt’. It’s a story that completely does justice to the real-life character that Twinkle Khanna borrowed from. In fact, it is a dutiful homage to that courageous individual full of his quirks and innocence, and at the end of the day—a flawed imperfect human! Wow.

(To be updated pretty soon)

Loneliness lies between your fingers

The loneliness lies in the invisible nooks and crevices of your life. An inevitable stamp that coats every fibre of your being, separating you from the world.

Loneliness lies in the crevices between your fingers that were once filled. It’s like the skin there is marked with the knowledge and remembrance. And it now calls to relive the experience of another skin. Of your friend, your child or your parent. Or maybe even the distant lover who refuses to leave that deep set corner of your mind.

Loneliness, it sometimes is in the invisible outline of a hand at the small of your back. It’s in the memory of a time in another lifetime of being held and maybe even loved. And sometimes, it’s in the caresses showered on your body, when your thighs rested against his. When your chest lined her back as support. Or in the nape where their shoulder met their neck, the place where your cheeks and nose rested in love. And in the laugh-lined crinkle of your eyes that were once alive with joy. Or in the fullness of your lips that their tongue once explored.

Loneliness lies in the warmth that once coated your body, and has now seeped into your soul. A warmth that oddly now leaves you cold and shivering on a balmy night.

And sometimes, loneliness stares back at you from the dark ceiling of your room, on a starry sleepless night. And if you decide to go for a stroll, it reflects in the night’s moon and the stars, which once held all the hopes and dreams of a happy future, but now seem distant and lifeless. And when the day’s tiredness slowly pulls your lids shut, the loneliness falls from the ceiling to softly drape over you and the empty space next to you. It’s the thick warm quilt you snuggle under.

Loneliness, my friend, is not in the solitude. It’s in the company, or lack thereof. It’s in the outside world. And in the memories that line the inside of your mind, like a million movies playing continuously non-stop. Or in the gaps and spaces in your heart.

Loneliness lies in the very nerve endings of your skin, that’s now exposed to their absence, perhaps for ever.

The Business of Editing: The Decline & Fall of Editing

An American Editor

For quite some time, I have been concerned about the decline of editing. Increasingly, few books are receiving anything more than cursory editing. Increasingly, the focus is on preparing a document for publication, for example, by applying styles to designate something as a head of second-level bulleted list, than on sentence structure, word choice, grammar, and other language (as opposed to structural) needs.

This is particularly evident in ebooks, especially self-published ebooks.

I have pondered this situation for months without coming up with a satisfactory explanation as to why the original, traditional goals of editing have been stealthily replaced and the lack of “uproar” from readers. Then came the 2016 U.S. elections and it dawned on me that authors and publishers are making this transition because the average reader either can’t separate fact from fiction or doesn’t care whether something is fact or fiction.

I have no plans to dwell…

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The Walking Irony

Images with a quote are all the rage these days. Every single person active on social media (guilty as charged) has liked, posted or shared at least one such image.

What started as a beautiful thing earlier, has now, according to me, gone out of control. As with everything else, a mass democratisation (as our media studies professor called it) brings down quality. In English, this means, when something becomes too popular; when you have to cater to the masses, the quality often drops.

Take this image quote for example:

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I call this the Walking Irony. Here’s why:

Let’s start with the meaning of the quote. The connotation is quite clearly negative. People are usually thankless and not sensitive about the effort someone puts in for them. It is only when that ‘help’ stops that people stand up and notice.

Agreed. So far, at least.

But the second connotation of this quote is that people ‘never’ notice; people ‘never’ notice. But that isn’t true, is it? Everyone, at some point in time or the other, has appreciated or noticed timely help and effort.

So, the quote essentially ignores all these times.

This means you can apply the rule of the quote to the quote itself. Hello, Irony!

The physics of modern life: 5 things I learnt last week

  1. There are thinkers and there are doers. Just like you can’t observe both the momentum as well as the position of quantum particles—the focus is too narrow—similarly, you can either think or do.
  2. Drama in itself is fake. But there is a certain kind of drama that we call ‘animation’. An animated body is like an excited atom or electron. The body makes large movements that are otherwise absent in normal life. This drama is true. Fake drama just seems to be Force that aims to move something or achieve something.
  3. Noble elements are stable. They neither give off or accept electrons. Instability causes change. This often leads to growth. A single atom grows into a molecule. There has to be an exodus or influx of new electrons. Similar, we as people need change to grow. Same applies for cities—and by that virtue, a country—needs immigrants to grow. In fact, research suggests that the moment a city’s native population exceeds 55%, it ceases to grow. Immigrants bring along with them the winds of change through new ideas and perspectives.
  4. Our brain breaks down stimuli like we break down chemicals to an atomic level. It stores memories in units. Meaning, a memory of say a lovely evening with friends at 6pm at Mumbai’s latest pub (& other details) is first broken into units and then stored. While recalling a memory, the brain then puts these units together into a sequence and then relays it in a picture/thought/word/emotion format. This could be why we often get certain details, and not whole memories, wrong. You are most likely to miss a few details (or units) of the memory because the brain may have confused similar sequences.
  5. A relationship is akin to the formation of a molecule. You give and take a few electrons to form a bond. Some bonds are very stable, some require minimal catalysts to break. Then there’s the matter of too little or too much space. In the case of limited space, the positive charges in the nuclei repel, pushing the atoms away. In the case of too much space, the attractive forces holding the bond together can weaken, eventually causing the molecule to break.

What do you think?