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.

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!

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?

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? 

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!

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!