Storytelling 

It’s 8 degrees here in Sierra Nevada and I’m shivering in bed, unable to sleep. Perhaps it’s the cold; perhaps it’s the 4-hour long siesta I had in the afternoon. Either way, my brain is producing words faster than I can comprehend. So write, I shall.

But where do I start?

As I sift through the pictures on my phone to find a good story to narrate, I come across three interesting ones I took in the evening today.

Wondering why they’re interesting?

OK, let’s go back to my school days, especially the geography lessons I was taught. Hidden amongst the whole lot of text, I remember studying about how geography changes from place to place. The biggest notable factor for this is weather. And by just looking around, you can see the tell tale signs of the weather patterns expected in the area around you.

Notice the sloping roofs, the covered garbage can and the thick cone-shaped shrubs.

Can you guess what these point towards?

Here’s how the landscape looks like, if you want some more help:

Answer: Snow!

The sloping roof helps the snow to fall down to the ground and not accumulate much on the roof. The shrubs need to be thick to withstand the cold weather and be cone-shaped to shed snow. And well, the garbage can needs protection too. Else, it would be overflowing with snow and not garbage. Of course, there’s also the danger of the snow water and moisture degrading the garbage. Hence the cover, one that slopes too!

Had it been a rainy area, sloping roofs could have been replaced by efficient plumbing that gathers the water from the rooftop and takes it to the ground. But that can’t be the solution for snow. Hence the slope.

Even the vegetation in the area show all the signs of being in a snowy place.

And it’s amazing that my education enabled me to observe these facets of nature. To the curious, even a meagre education can work wonders.

So all those who crib about the uselessness of the subjects in school, reconsider. Our education, at best, imbibes in us the art of scientific thinking. Yes, I call it an art because science helps me look at how artful nature and life is.

It feels like everything around us is telling its story. Like this worm that ate the small leaf, but left the veins exposed.

Or these trees that announce the change in the sun’s direction of movement—the reds and yellows narrating the story of the change in seasons. 

Of course, it’s not yet autumn in Granada, where these flowers continue to bloom in full rigor. 

Or notice how this harmless snail wants to be left alone, contemplating it’s own existence. It’s shell, thus, a beautiful match with its surroundings. 

And then, you marvel at the beautiful creations around us; at nature’s perfection:

Just like the snail with its perfect Spiral, the goat manages to blend seamlessly in the background. 

I’m lucky. I’ve been blessed with teachers who helped me see that science is nothing but a language that equips you to see the stories being told around you, stories by every living organism or even a supposedly non-living object (like the flysch as below). 

And I’m lucky to appreciate at least some of the myriad stories around us. 

If you only open your eyes, ears, nose, and other senses!

Bonus pictures: This gorgeous sunset in Sierra Nevada, when the drowning sun played hide and seek with the clouds. 

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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)

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:

shitty-quote

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!

Vision

Source: http://cs.brown.edu/courses/csci1430/
Source: http://cs.brown.edu/courses/csci1430/

In the film ‘Matrix’, we were told our idea of reality is skewed; it is just an illusion. In a way, it hit the right chords if we take into account the different perspectives of a human mind. Some of these we brush away as figments of imagination; some we celebrate as creativity; some we meditate upon as the ‘inner-eye’ or ‘subconscious’, and some, we tolerate as reality – something we are part of, but is out of our control.

To those who are aware of these, it will feel like there is a constant buzz in your head. Like a desktop window with multiple operations under process.

In reality, at the click of a button, you push one up; prioritize one—albeit temporarily—over the others.

But, what if we did not have this option? What if the default setting was that all these perspectives were constantly at work in non-hibernation mode?

Imagine a world, where you wade through every moment of life across three-four layers. Imagine if your vision was divided into four sectors (vertical or horizontal as you please) – one, where your imagination unfolds, is portraying night time; the one, which deals with creativity, is a mosaic of bright, interchanging colours; the subconscious or inner-eye, a dull throbbing gold, and the reality reflects the normal landscapes that mark your life – like a local train, your workstation, television, etc.

The idea seems, at once, enthralling and perverse. Enthralling, for who would want to not live not one, but four vibrant lives at one, especially in a state of higher awareness and consciousness? But perverse all the same, because it will make you realise how hopeless and powerless reality is; also because, there will come a time when you would want to switch off, for it would simply feel overwhelming, like your brain is about to burst.

I am sure the creative sort of people would relate to this, those who have powerful urges to step out of reality and capture their imagination and thoughts by penning down (or painting). Those whose brains are bursting with too many thoughts and feelings.

Perhaps, this is what we already do unconsciously, though, on a smaller scale. This is why we box sections of our lives into categories, and make sure they are processed in hibernation mode.

Who knows!

Why I want to be like the ten-headed Ravana

The book, ‘Asura: The Tale of The Vanquished’, says that Ravana did not really have ten-heads. Instead, it was metaphorical. Each head represents one base emotion in man – Anger, pride, love, jealousy, ambition, intelligence, fear, selfishness, happiness and sadness. He was called Dasamukha or ‘Ten-headed’ for embracing all aspects of humanity and its emotions.

Source: ReviewLeaf.com

I love to know the other side of the coin. Whenever anyone narrates any story, whether real, reel or mythological, I itch to know the point of views of the other characters involved. Sometimes I ask point blank if the other point of view tallies; sometimes though I keep my trap shut and leave things to imagination. After all, there is not just one truth. There are many truths—depending on the perspectives. (Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon or Gillian Flyn’s Gone Girl, anyone?)

Anyway, the point is I love reading about alternative view-points – especially when it comes to mythology. Currently, I am reading this book called ‘Asura: The Tale of The Vanquished’ by Anand Neelakantan. It tells the tale of Ramayana through Ravana’s point of view. Essentially, it is ‘Ravanayana’.

Almost every child in India knows that Ravana is the ten-headed villain from the Epic. Why he is ten-headed is not a question many thought of asking. I didn’t either. Until, that is, I started reading this book, which has a wonderful explanation.

The book says that Ravana did not really have ten-heads. Instead, it was metaphorical. Each head represents one base emotion in man – Anger, pride, love, jealousy, ambition, intelligence, fear, selfishness, happiness and sadness.

Ravana’s gurus tried to teach him how to shun all these emotions except one – intelligence or logic. They said this will help him achieve greatness. The rest of the emotions, the Gurus said, will only serve to distract him in one way or the other. By suppressing all the other ‘heads’ or ‘emotions’, Ravana will be able to achieve balance in his mind and thus achieve greatness.

“The only thing worth preserving is your mind. Your mind absorbs the knowledge you gain from your Gurus, your books and your life, and refines it to great wisdom. It is what you have to develop. Every living minute, you have to strive to feed your mind with fresh and positive inputs. This will give clarity to your vision and immense power to your action. You will make fewer mistakes and also learn faster from them.”

This is what his Guru taught him.

Ravana, of course, refuses to do so. And then he proceeds to give a beautiful explanation for the need for each and every single emotion, even if it is negative like selfishness. Here’s an excerpt below:

“The amazing speed of progress man has achieved in the past few years would have not been achieved without that small flame of ambition in the minds of a few men, which was fanned to become a huge fire by the other emotions you have urged me to shun. Pride in one’s capability gave men the confidence and ambition to grow; jealousy that someone else would achieve more prodded him to work hard and more efficiently; the quest for happiness resulted in ever-expanding ambition; the fear of sadness kept him awake at night and pushed him further; the fear of failure made him more careful and God-fearing; selfishness glued his family, city, clan, tribe and country together and made him strive even harder. Love for life and the things which made life precious, made him protect his achievements. And I am sure an undying ambition for more will lead mankind to progress. Progress, which we cannot even imagine, can never understand in our short lifetime.”

In the end, he says that he wishes to neither be a God nor achieve Moksha. All he wants is to live a fulfilling life as a human, and exactly as his emotions tell him to do. Otherwise, he would be but an empty skeleton. This is why he is called ‘Ten-headed’ or ‘Dasamukha’, according to the book.

I could not agree more. For years I have contemplated about the need to sacrifice or supress some parts of our persona for the sake of betterment. As a Brahmin, I’ve often been told to not do many things, because it apparently takes me one step closer to the perfection that is God. But over the years I have realised that life is empty without these imperfections. There are so many aspects of life which are harmful. That said, they do add some colour to life. I would rather live a fulfilling life when I am alive than worry about life after death, or worse, how I would be reborn – as an animal or human or Brahmin (believe it or not, these are some legitimate threats I’ve heard)

Agreed it is important to constantly aim to improve over time; the goal should be to do away with your imperfections, but that doesn’t mean you supress it altogether. There will always be times when you will give into your natural instincts like anger or fear.

This brings me to the conclusion that it is moderation that is important, not complete suppression. Everything is better in the right quantities. Even complete suppression could backfire – like a volcano that bursts suddenly after gaining steam for hundreds of years.

At the end of the day, I appreciate and accept my humanity. More so, I want to embrace it whole-heartedly. There will be days when I get angry, afraid, jealous, over-ambitious, proud, happy or sad. Otherwise I would be like the stone which sits in silence and observes the world, wouldn’t I?

I think the key point here is ‘limit’ and ‘objectivity’. It is ‘not getting carried away’. Any of the base emotions, when in excess, can wreak havoc; even love or happiness. The question, then, is – where to draw the line? And most importantly, who decides whether the line is correct or wrong? And that is something I have always struggled with – limiting myself and walking on the thin line that separates the right from the wrong!

Too many cooks spoil the broth; too many words spoil the line

I love the sound of literature. I absolutely love how it feels when words roll off your tongue, the music it makes. I read for this sake. The stories only come second. I need my language to be mellifluous—as per my tastes. When too many big, hard-to-understand words are used in copious amounts, it sounds like a fish market in my head. Absolutely jarring!

Have you ever attended a music concert? Or even any band or musician playing, for that matter?

You may have noticed that of the multiple instruments playing, some have higher volumes while some have lower. In some cases it could be the guitar, while some other cases the base instrument. The vocals almost always have the highest volumes.

You see, every song needs the perfect symphony. It is not just about the lyrics and tune, but also how they are mixed—the proportions. It is like cooking too—you absolutely need to get the proportions right.

It is exactly the same with literature too, I believe.

There are many who advocate the use of simple language in literature. And then there are those who use copious amounts of ‘big’ words. They need these to enjoy literature. It is a personal choice, after all.

I belong to the former clan. There was a time when I loved the use of complex words. I still do, but I like them to be used minimally.

You see, I love the sound of literature. I absolutely love how it feels when words roll off your tongue, the music it makes. I read for this sake. The stories only come second. I need my language to be mellifluous—as per my tastes.

So using the analogy, I can say that literature is like music; the story or plot is akin to the song’s lyrics, while the writing is the tune. Every part of the sentence structures are equivalent to different aspects of the tune. The verbs could be the base; the subject could be the vocals; the prepositions or punctuation could be the drum beats, so on and so forth. The simplicity or complexity of the words could be equivalent to the emphasis given to the different parts of the song. Or maybe the pitch. Every time a complex word or clause is used, the pitch rises suddenly.

Now imagine if I use a complex word for all aspects of the sentence, then every instrument used would suddenly start playing at a higher pitch and volume. To me, it sounds jarring. To another, it may sound lovely. Like the distinction between classical and heavy metal music—music to one, noise to another.

At the end of the day, though, I only like to listen to the kind of music I want. Similarly, I only want to read the kind of literature I like. And that happens to be simple writing, its music quaint and lyrical.

Lost someone? Maybe this can help

Source: http://www.openlounge.org/settee/falling/
Source: http://www.openlounge.org/settee/falling/

Who has never lost a person in their whole life? Show me one such person and I will give you a million dollars (or any other currency, take your pick.)

At some point in time, we all have had to let go of someone, or have been let go by someone. It may have been a friend, partner, relative, sibling, or some other important person. At the end of it, though, we have that person-shaped hole in our life to fill; those memories to avoid—at least until it stops to draw blood, it stops stinging at least a little.

It is said that the process of getting over something or someone has multiple stages – denial, anger, bitterness, sorrow and finally acceptance. But what after that? You still have that hole. It never goes away, does it?

So what do you do? You learn to live with the hole. You try not to go near the edge, lest you fall over, open the wounds raw once again and then have to crawl back bleeding to reality. It is a constant effort, one that takes time to master.

Since these are times of listicles, let me jot down some other activities you can undertake to help yourself.

We all are trying to figure out what is best for us. I too am. These helped me at various times in life, and I hope they work for you. Or if you have a better alternative, you can share it in the comments.

1) Explore the regions… of your heart: Imagine a room, which suddenly developed a huge gaping hole in one corner. You will then look at the other parts of the room right (before calling someone to fix it, of course). Exactly the same way, there are other people in your life and heart—friends, family, co-workers, pets, your favourite Barista, take your pick. It always feels better when you know you have someone. So, concentrate on this part of your life—the good stuff. Meet that friend or person who realises that you are loved. Spend time with your co-workers who make you feel useful at work. Count your blessings today. It may not work right away. But slowly, over time, you will realise your own self-worth. And this, my dear, will be your first step.

2) Work: If you happen to be one of those lucky few who like their work, engross yourself in it. Work so hard that it pays. And this payoff will be sweeter. Not just monetarily, but also in terms of your self-esteem. Because not every boss is mean and not every co-worker is trying to put you down. Some are genuinely appreciative. It helps perk your spirits up further.

3) Go artsy: “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls,” said Pablo Picasso. I don’t know if he really did say that, but those words sure feel wonderful. And it is true, too! Have you ever gotten so caught up in a book, poetry, writing, painting, music or movie that you forgot time existed? This may sound clichéd, but it is true. I have first-hand experience. Time is not your friend when you are trying to forget someone. And it is this time that we are trying to spend by dipping into art. The best part is that your soul comes out refreshed after those timeless moments.

4) Learn something new: It is sad that we stop learning new things after getting out of school or college. And even then, we were trying to study only to make a career. How many of us really had the light of curiosity in our hearts that trudged even after the exams ended? Who says a Physics or Commerce student can never want to learn about Psychology or Literature, or an Arts student would not want to learn computing? Take up something new today. It may not exactly come handy in your life or career, but you are increasing your knowledge. Most importantly, it helps eat time.

5) Take up a hobby: Yes, it is fairly clichéd, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it does help. There is a reason why you like doing something—it gives you joy! At a time like this, joy is what we need the most! So go spread your wings and take up your hobby again.

6) Travel somewhere far: Life is a journey. You have to put things behind you and start walking. Moving on is the term. It may help to take this literally too. Put some real distance between you and the person. Travel to a new place. Get yourself lost in the wonders of a new place. It is always refreshing to face new experiences.

7) Play some mind-games: Your mind is in your control. ‘Mind over matter’ is my mantra. Here is an exercise for you: Close your eyes. Think of your kitchen. But don’t think about the vegetable cutter, the blender, the grinder. You imagine precisely the kitchen. In life, when we notice someone’s absence from our life, we tend to look at things that we miss. Those essentially make you think of things that probably make you feel whole. Now, how were you before you met the person? You were still happy. Your happiness was not dependent on them. You are the same now. Now, think of abundance. Count on things what you have and what makes you happy. Then, slowly, they will show up.

8) Live a lie until it turns into the truth: Do you know who is the best liar? A person who manages to believe the lie so much that it is the truth for him or her. If you start believing in it, your body will rarely give away your lies. Similarly, start telling yourself you are living a good life, a happy life; you have enough people in your life who care about you; you are happy. Keep chanting this mantra. Wear a wide grin in your face. Try to bring a skip in your step. Make people believe that you are happy and bubbly. Slowly, as time slips away, your lie will become your truth.

At the end of the day, it is easy to wallow in self-pity and live in distress. It is bitter-sweet, the feeling. You want to relive the moments again and again in your head, playing different scenarios. This is the part of you that doesn’t want to let go—of the beautiful thing you shared. But the truth is: you have to let go!