What’s your Life word? 

It all started when I read a book review. Or rather, it reached a culmination. 

The review talked about this new book called ‘Grief is a Thing with Feathers’ by Max Porter. A description in it set off my musings. Or more specifically, a word did. 

Distill. 

I learnt this word in school in Science class. Distillation, the teacher and textbooks explained, was a process of letting water evaporate so that it leaves behind its impurities. Back then, the impurity in question was Salt. 

Funny how I did not know back then that it would become a dominating theme of my life. My life with Words. Yes, with the capital W. A proper noun. 

The review spoke about how the book “distilled a grieving family’s expression of loss”. Immediately, it painted a picture of a white bowl full of non-abstract grief (gaseous liquid. Something like JK Rowling’s Pensieve). Slowly over time, the bowl gets distilled to leave behind a few words in the bowl (think cereal or Kelloggs). 

It sounds stupid when you describe the imagination, but I realized this: Quite well, the brain does this every waking moment of the day. Of course, it does this in reverse order. The brain takes words, actions and other stimuli, and distills the meaning to leave behind feelings and emotions. 

Think about your favorite song or book or movie—it must evoke some feeling in you, touch some raw nerve. So much that the first thing your brain recollects is the emotion being evoked. Then and only then does the brain put together other information—like a Lego tower slowly being built with detail pieces. 

This also sounds similar to that Masterchef episode I watched a long time back. The three four contestants had to create this intricate dish (as always!), the centrepiece of which was a clear broth. 

It fascinated me to no end. The ability to take in all the flavors of the ingredients and distill it into water, whose quantity was probably just 10% of the quantity of all the raw ingredients put together. Like this:

I find this incredible! 

This reminds me of the part in Eat. Pray. Love. Julia Roberts’ character (I watched  the movie, didn’t read the book) came across this concept in Italy about ‘A Single Word or Phrase’ that describes the person’s life. It essentially ‘distills’ the whole life story. 

As a writer, especially one taught to appreciate and follow Brevity, this caught my attention. Immediately, I started thinking: what would my Word be? 

Many fiction stories too deal with this concept. They call it the ‘True Name’, which can give a person power over that individual. It sounds different, and yet (to me) quite similar too. 

Anyway, I wrecked my mind. I thought and thought and thought. What would my Word or Phrase be? 

The saga continued until two conversations with my colleagues. (Side note : these are people I look up to, who I’ve identified as teachers and mentors). 

The conversations were about Ambition. My whole life, I’ve been conscious about ‘not getting stagnant’. (Not always consciously, though). So it scared me when I was faced with the possibility that between ‘ambition’ and ‘comfortable work-life balance’, I’d choose the latter. The implication was that I wouldn’t grow; that I’d become stagnant. 

Long story short, my colleague made me realise that ambition can be many things. It’s not one-dimensional about being the first in your career or field of work. 

The more interesting part about this conversation, my key takeaway from it was this: I love dance. I love studying. I love food. I love traveling. I love math and science. But the one thing that trumps it all—the live wire of my existence—is writing. It’s Words.  

That moment, I realized, if my perspective were to be reconstructed on a Matrix screen, everything would be built by words. The foundation of the entire world in my head is a combination of Words. 

That was just the first step of my self-realisation. The last leg of the journey happened yesterday. 

I was retelling my travel experience in Turkey. At the end, moved by my description, my colleague commented: “What are you doing with your life?! You should be in Travel. You should be a Travel writer. You have a way of painting pictures with your words.”

Initially, I felt flattered and genuinely considered the possibility. 

Later, though, I realized that I can do the same, that I light up and become animated about other subjects too. Things that I love or that which fascinate me. 
No, the thing drawing the connections is different. 

That’s when my brain finally connected the dots. 

If I had to distill myself, ‘Words’ would be my choice of description. 

Yep. I search for Words everywhere. I breathe Words. I write and speak Words. More importantly, I attach Words to abstract things in life. Body language, experiences, meaning, emotions—anything and everything. 

My favorite pass-time is to take synonyms; play and feel the texture of the Words; dissect them, and find the difference between the Words. 

Words even leave a taste and feel in my mouth, as if they are a morsel of food I’m tasting. They’re that real for me. 

I’m pretty sure that when I die,  you’d see invisible words evaporating from my body and soul. Much like the Kingfisher bird in the movie, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’. 

What about you? 

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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.

A storm is brewing

Source: http://steppenwolff.deviantart.com/art/Stormy-Mind-154484618
Source: http://steppenwolff.deviantart.com/art/Stormy-Mind-154484618

A storm is brewing;
Run, escape, you all should.
Who knows the consequences;
The storm is beyond all control.
A vortex of thoughts, feelings and musings,
It is gaining force and strength.
Stuck in a jail of its own making,
The storm is craving freedom,
And freedom it shall have; walls could be broken;
But peaceful—no, it shan’t be.
Churning, churlish, it ebbs and flows;
Its intricate web of pain and pleasure.
Peace may well turn violent,
And violence and madness could bring harmony.
The waves are lashing; in it lies beauty.
O spectator, beware of this art;
You could easily be at the bottom after the crash.
These words can hit you hard;
Restless thoughts it can cause.
They say after the storm comes a new beginning,
This one may be never-ending.
So run; run amok, please;
And let me curb this storm;
This storm that is my chaotic mind.