The Dichotomy of a Culture

In Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.

“…the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories, you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.

That is their mystery and their magic.”

This was an excerpt from one of my favorite reads…. A book that is the measure of loving and the subtraction of it. It carries the weight of a heavy soul… kept in a jar… tightly sealed… full of anguish, regrets, misplaced memories, and shattered kinship. You see glimpses of it through cracks in the surface left behind by the piercing eyes of one’s political, cultural, and historical predispositions.

The book is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

The book reads like a melancholic and secretive diary. A diary that you never bring out into the world; keeping it safely tucked away under a mattress or behind a mountain of personal belongings. A diary that is cradled too close to the heart, brutally and yet fervently expressive; the honesty of which even frightens you. It’s the flesh of the wound that runs the deepest and that bleeds on those blank pieces of paper; but in the end, it is bandaged by only you. This is it. The enormity of Arundhati Roy’s compass pointing us in so many glued-together directions. Having read this book three times, tucked between periods of days, weeks, months of staying away from a book that I, who am inclined to always pick up a new book because there’s always so much to read, go back to it every time for some sentimental and perceptive consolation. 

The thing about reading tragedy is that it becomes your own. Or that you claim that it is your own. How else would you feel it? The triumphs of loneliness, isolation, despair, and anger run deep into the well of your emotional tendencies. The characters are waiting for you to peel back their layers, upon a surface that makes up a story’s setting. The inadequacy of such a task is ironically what brings you closer to Arundhati Roy’s fiction. You read the words, maybe in whisper-quiet echoes. But you feel it pulsating in every muscle and their hollow spaces as if those very echoes mimic the speed and the color and the density of blood.

The book is set in Kerala, ingrained in its language; the dichotomy of a culture, of lives that were born too soon (or that shouldn’t have been born at all). The narration is restless with religious and political descriptions. Arundhati Roy has a unique way of defining these descriptions through her characters. The role of a mother, of a child, of a brother, a cousin, a lover, it’s in their history that one remembers the history of Kerala. If you’ve read the back cover of the book; the description hits the nail on the head. Amid the ruined, the forgotten, the misplaced – you won’t find a book this expansive in its depth and yet the characters live lives that feel quite the opposite.

It goes on for 340 pages; enough to contain decades and decades of survival. As a reader, you will diligently surrender to the writing style and tone of the book. It’s fast in its narration and yet you feel like it holds back time. Dropping an anchor in anyone who evaluates a book not only by its unpredictable structure but by its understanding of emotions – and their lyrical reminiscence. 

The ‘Somebody’ That Is You

In Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter.

My first reading of this book was last year. My second reading was around the mid of this year. And my third reading was a few weeks back. From what I gather, reading a book as intense, mesmerizing, and inspiring as this one, – it isn’t fulfilling to have just read it once. The book carries such intimate confessions and it’s such a stimulating read, I fell in love with it. And not just that, it’s an experience to read about a woman’s conscious and self-awakening life. Her childhood, education, friendships, the temptation of ideals, the rejection of them.

We’re told ambition is a destination, a solid rock upon which we scratch our names forever. But it’s really not. I see it as a passage to infinity. We can drop our bags, give up, resist, doubt, analyze, and hit the road again. The journey stretches itself out in myriad directions. Only that being on one of the routes gives us no choice but to assume that there aren’t others.

There’s so much that resonates with me. Despite the fact that Simone’s life in no way stacks up against mine. But underneath the exterior, what roused in me, while reading the book, was Simone’s sharp incision into the becoming an individual person. It’s one thing to see in front of you the difference between a self and reality. It’s a whole other thing to feel it and have that drive you and make you ambitious… even emotionally and intellectually abundant. And that’s the exact presence of this book. It doesn’t have boundaries the way many books do. You feel infinite while reading it. And it sort of coincides with you realizing the scope of the ‘somebody’ that is you.

If you’ve read my reviews, you know that I never give away the plot of the book; the events that transpire as you read it. I mean, you could just as easily search for the book on Google and get that for yourself. But what I love to focus on is the experience of reading a book, the numerous nuances, the telling revelations, it sort of threads a book together. Nor do I criticize or explicitly rate any book as if I’m supposed to as someone who writes and talks about books.

Now, if you’ve never read any feminist literature or a memoir about a French philosopher, especially of such a distinguished school of thought, I highly recommend this book. It’s candid, thought-provoking, and definitely grounded. There are so many passages that I’ve highlighted. Generally, we have more takeaway in non-fiction than a fiction read. But reading this book feels so rare and rewarding that it’s hard to resist not re-reading those passages every now and then. It reveals philosophy, literature, existentialism, individualism, and such grave necessities of life, it’s hard not to think about it.

One of the things that really stood out, for me, was her admiration for other people’s intelligence. The books they read, the conversations they had, the opinions they kept, basically the fidelity to have a choice and exercise that choice. It’s not enough to have a thought in your mind. But to sharpen it as unerringly as if it’s a muscle in your body. Well, our mind is a muscle but somewhere we lose the existence of it. Its physicality as much as its abstractness. So, in a way, to see it reflected in somebody else, you do feel the pulse-quickening within you to be able to do the same. Perhaps the whole point of human interaction is this. You justify your own self as having a solitary existence. And yet there’s nothing heavier that pushes us against the many selves we inhabit.

I Was Wrong About The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

A truth that has now become an illusion.

Lots of truths aren’t exactly truths on an external scale. We can’t quantify or validate them in reality. They’re mere reflections of who we are; intimate and unique in each individual and volatile as time itself — amplifying our feelings from speck to stone.

Out of such truths, I’ve had to let go of the truth of the tunnel. You know the saying “look for the light at the end of the tunnel,” where the goal is worth the effort. The plan is worth the pain. The dreams are worth the nightmares.

The awareness of this truth and its contradiction was placed well in my mind. And out of it came the realization of why it no longer fits with my discovering self. The capacity to see the good in bad defeats the manifestation of bad into something (anything) that is certainly good.

Because I know that one’s becoming and discovering in and of life isn’t simple. Nor is it short-lived and certain. It’s the ability to look at things objectively, even more so after reading Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (for the second time), that I chose to dissolve this truth.

(You can read my thoughts on the book here)

It isn’t enough to expect a reaction out of an action. Not negating the fact that every movement, in reality, is an echo or a whisper through time and space. While this may be true, I have lost my expectations for a subjective reality in which only “I” exist. Hence, I choose to re-consider my defense for and against my objective reality.

Imagine a moment where you see the light at the end of the tunnel but you no longer where you were, in the tunnel. You’re everywhere — at the beginning and at the end. So what you’re seeing is not light, but only a part of you; a flicker of you.

The negative (darkness of the tunnel) holds the key to perspective. To broad-mindedness that only a bad outcome carries. And if we were to acknowledge it as “a part of the process” or as something that has a “higher cause,” we’re wrecking its ability to help us grow.

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
— Anais Nin

Pain is a negative ability externalized as being the antidote to maturity. None of us were wiser before than when we stood the storm. We fought our battles; we broke the ice. In that course, the parable is not which is the least painful to endure. It is whether something is painful, if at all.

There are many things, like this, that brings us to the beginning of pain. Things that are very likely to frighten us; that we go ahead and do anyway. Is the denial of the pain (or the endurance of it) for a higher cause — a moment of satisfaction greater than a lifetime of melancholy? I beg to differ.

My pain — which is, after all, what I feel and internalize — isn’t a validation of my joy. They’re two separate qualities (beings perhaps) co-existing inside me. And I choose to externalize them the way I want to.

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
– Seneca

Keeping an eye on how pain needs to be felt to be let go. This refined truth of anticipating the good and (not versus) the bad; and our habit of reimagining our pain as an experience meaningful in itself, without having any effect, is the way of embracing our true selves. And it’s the way I separate my imagination from my reality.

On Understanding Our Subjective And Objective Reality

In Arthur Schopenhauer’s The Wisdom of Life. The sense of self as the most distinctive and defining aspect of human life.

Do you believe that we are always constant with a specific pattern in life? We change rhythmically but our roots cling to the same soil? The same source of life — water?

To meditate on such an existential and personal thought forms the basis of one of the most influential and philosophical essays of Arthur Schopenhauer. Today, I contemplate on The Wisdom of Life’s subject of a person’s objective and subjective reality.

The following passages, which can be found at the beginning of The Wisdom of Life, are confounding and comforting to the mind. It brings to light the fact that no changes in any circumstances can align one’s internal perception, emotions, and thoughts to another. And no change in one’s internal world can influence that of another. Assuming that we are fellow passengers on the same train.

…all of which rests upon the fact that every event, in order to be realized and appreciated, requires the co-operation of two factors, namely, a subject and an object, although these are as closely and necessarily connected as oxygen and hydrogen in water. When therefore the objective or external factor in an experience is actually the same, but the subjective or personal appreciation of it varies, the event is just as much a different one in the eyes of different persons as if the objective factors had not been alike.”

We revise our internal world to fit the scale of the external. And in doing so, or trying to, we irrevocably develop our individual and original identities. This is what makes any two persons different in their own ways.

Can you imagine two people, cooped up in the same room from childhood to maturity, being unanimously at odds with each other?

Arthur Schopenhauer has. He has, so eloquently, explained this fact in what constitutes to the ultimate distinction of human life. And this exactly what he wishes to enlighten us with. Consider the following passage:

In plain language, every man is pent up within the limits of his own consciousness, and cannot directly get beyond those limits any more than he can get beyond his own skin; so external aid is not of much use to him.”

We hope to transcend major life lessons such as pain, heartbreak, guilt, and loss. We hope to understand them, mold them, and nurture them. Not for the world that constitutes them. But in order to understand ourselves.

To solidify our nature as the only way to react to what happens outside of us. Throughout this journey, we cling to what guides us forward and we cut loose those strings that hold us back.

Is this, Schopenhauer suggests, the basis of our imagination? Or does this have an actual and objective groundwork in reality? Something that everybody can see and feel together?

The answer to this empirical question lies below:

“Since everything which exists or happens for a man exists only in his consciousness and happens for it alone, the most essential thing for a man is the constitution of this consciousness, which is in most cases far more important than the circumstances which go to form its contents.”

This concludes that self-expression makes the self the deepest layer of our reality. And what happens outside of it forms our circumstances; merely cards that in a game are meant to be dealt with.

The thing that makes life rich to one and dull to another is the realization of the identity surpassing the contents of the world. And to win against this fight we have to learn to connect our mind of today to our mind of yesterday and of tomorrow.

6 Thoughts For The Day

Every act of expression is an act worth sharing.


Rising from the ashes of courage, the mind seeks resolution. In hope, it seeks wisdom. In wisdom, it seeks patience. But what is broke is the singularity of the objective state of mind. And its many patterns and shapes. So if and when one finds conviction and embraces it. It becomes the only understanding of survival.


There’s stillness where there’s chaos. There’s noise where there’s silence. For without the duality of nature — the battle between life and death — there would be no seeking pleasure in existence. As everything would run its inevitable course. And mortality would lose all that is mortal.


We hope, as flawed human beings, to resurrect the feeling of feeling important. Or having a purpose or meaning. But what we’re unaware of is its vague yet conspicuous labyrinth. With only a thousand doors in and a solitary door out.


The mistrust of obedience doesn’t provoke me. Neither does the temptations of pleasure. It’s the way we exist in the world, depending on its unwavering expectations, that I find destructive.


People are not unkind because they’re happy. People are not happy because they are kind. Lurching within is Unforeseen Pain. Untouched yet deeply felt. This pain grows inside until its roots transform the workings of the mind. Like a tree, each movement demands to be seen and felt. And its hardy branches pierce each nerve until the leaves the grow from it are sick with thorns and stench.


You see someone getting injured. I see pain. You see someone shed a tear. I see cruel aloneness. You see someone smile. I see unshakeable strength.


 

We Don’t Belong Anywhere. But We Are Alive

Everything that is alive is a part of nature.

There’s a purpose to your sloth. It may be lack of interest, tiredness, or a brain fog. While inactivity stems from within a person’s body and mind, we can determine if it’s good or bad for us. But what about nature’s purposes? Are we here to interpret nature’s way of thinking?

It’s only understandable to think that we are. Happiness is not enough. Love is not enough. Sadness is not enough. Even though we’re creatures of habit, the scope of what’s out there in the mountains, how trees communicate, how a female penguin competes for the males during the mating season, and the size of the universe blows our minds.

Without such discovery, self-awareness is a far more difficult pursuit than knowing we’re not the only ones that are alive on this planet.

The fact is that majority of what we do stems from the assumption that we’re a part of nature’s BIG PLAN. That we contribute to nature’s purpose and we’re a natural fact for our own existence.

But where do we find conclusive proof, that is not manifested by humankind, for the same? There is none. That’s because there is no natural fact for human existence. There is no nature’s purpose for interpreting what’s good and bad for us. But there is natural fact and there is nature’s purpose. Now whether it’s meant for the good or bad for us, to a certain degree, we can assume but never completely comprehend.

Schools of thought such as philosophy, science, or psychology enrich what it’s like to be human. It gives us the ability to transcend the physical self and experience greater intuition and oneness with nature.

And nature’s way of communicating with us is through the habits and characteristics of other breathing and non-breathing creatures. Switch to an educative channel like National Geographic or Animal Planet and you’ll learn how a shrimp defends its territory and fights an octopus. Its sheer strength and daring are traits that not engineered by humans. That creature of the sea hasn’t been told what to do or how to react. Nor is it imitating an experimenter’s patterns of behavior. Such skill is congenital. It’s extravagant. It’s a natural fact. So how are we compete with that?

Most of what we learn and act on is fabricated. Our ability to tell from right to wrong is no more accurate than taking a chance. It’s a possibility we’re gambling with. Not a fact. Our intentions, desires, and beliefs are not natural as much as they’re schooled from the time of our births. If we were to pack up all our belongings and travel halfway across the world, we remain capable to survive and live a healthy and fulfilling life. The barriers for us, in a foreign country, would be language and financial stability.

Whether we’re meant to stay in one place or not — that is not for society to decide but the individual himself/herself.

A shrimp, however, is most likely to lose its survival instinct and intestinal fortitude to threaten an octopus if it enters new territory. So nature demands singularity as much as it mocks our thirst for knowledge.

Humans are Absurd

We keep thinking about subject ‘A’ until subject ‘B’ comes along. When that’s not over, subject ‘C’ comes along. Then subject ‘D’. Then for some reason we’re back to thinking about subject ‘A’ while thinking about subject ‘E’. Then comes along subject ‘J78#V’ because life is unpredictable enough to not follow a set pattern. It goes on and on. Basically, we think too much about every possible thing to think about. Hence, humans are absurd.

In hindsight, what I thought about 360 days ago isn’t what I’m thinking about right now. So what’s the point? Did I materialize what I was thinking about 360 days ago? Did I write about that particular thought in a journal for future use? I didn’t do any of those. Hence, humans are absurd.

It’s not like I don’t love thinking about thinking about random shit. My mind and body thrive on it. But it’s not just about thinking about thinking about thinking, is it? It’s almost always what I’m thinking about when I’m thinking about what I’m thinking.

I’m drawing a line between positive thinking and negative thinking, here. If you didn’t catch that already.

I’m analyzing the dimensions of positive thinking against the dimensions of negative thinking. I can just as easily switch gears and think about the lack of sleep I might probably experience after drinking 3 cups of coffee today from thinking about how I couldn’t have finished my work, even after hours, without it.

The point is we think. More than “we think” we’re capable of thinking. Hence, humans are absurd.

At the very bottom of our existence, when the time comes, we find the right words to keep our thoughts alive. We find the right words to keep our thoughts understood. And that’s how we connect with the outside world.

Here’s the thing: it will take you a long time to figure this out. And it’s surprising too. The realization of it makes you absurd. In comparison, the absurdity of this is much more powerful than the absurdity of just thinking. The absurdity of failing at understanding thoughts is much more meaningful at getting it right the first time. But we’re never going to get it right anyway. What’s the point?

Hence, humans are absurd.

I had this thought when I was thinking about how I’m going to make time to write this article. Then I stopped, “Is there nothing else for me to think about?” I was surprised at how effortlessly my mind switched gears from thinking about writing to thinking about why I’m thinking about writing and questioning myself for it.

Our attention not only emanates from our need to listen and observe. The simple ability to focus on something is attention. Be it on our thoughts or the person we’re talking to. And when our thoughts fade away — letting them go on the basis of whether they do something for us is a good thing. Rather than having to process thoughts and not being aware of them.

I could go even further by saying that not every thought makes sense. And so not every thought needs to be thought about in terms of how positive or negative it is. But the mere awareness of the thought itself is possible only after the question, “Why am I giving this thought so much important? And why is it bothering me still?”

Only then do we come to the conclusion that thoughts are never avoidable. They’re always inevitable. But the ability to focus and drive our attention on them is in our hands. This builds a whole new core concept of positive and negative thinking. And its dimensions. And its lessons.

From where I was once overwhelmed by a thought, I’m now harnessing abundant thoughts. Even after doing that, I’m still not getting sucked down the rabbit hole of overthinking at its worst. That’s the whole point of processing information, of any kind, anyway.

To not get sucked down the rabbit hole of life.

Into darkness.

Into the moment when you feel you’re about to burst out laughing and simultaneously crying at any second.

Our Love For Coffee Is Proof We Exist

A body that understands and responds to caffeine is what being awake is. Don’t get it? Read the following statistics.

  1. Caffeine is unquestionably associated with lower risk of mortality. And an even greater reduction in the risk of death with higher coffee consumption. In short, you can live longer if you consume more coffee (total, caffeinated, and decaffeinated). (study)
  2. Caffeine’s biological effect is antagonism of the adenosine receptor. This means that caffeine speeds up nerve cells by tricking certain adenosine receptors. (study)
  3. Contrary to its positive side, there is a potential discussion that coffee consumption is directly linked to health problems such as cancer, heart disease, and anxiety. This is when you take coffee consumption to an extreme level; that is, more than 5-7 cups a day. (study)

Of all the times I’ve come across such statistics, I’m convinced of the psychological effects of coffee. The secret to “waking up” even after waking up consciously is coffee; in its smell, aroma, and flavor.

So, do you wake up and smell the coffee for staying awake? Or do you wake up and smell the coffee because you absolutely love to?

I tried to draw a line between these two questions. The answer comes out groggy and confusing. Groggy because that’s how most of you feel before drinking a cup of coffee. And confusing because that’s how I feel about coffee after researching on something popularly known as “coffee psychology.” Coffee psychology is deciphering what coffee does to the human body. How it makes you focus on the positive and how it makes you see things more clearly. But what I didn’t find, at least not in the initial stages of my research is this: the deliciousness of coffee as a hot or cold drink. Yeah right. What was I hoping to find?

The first few words we think of when we talk about coffee is alert, energy, clarity, and active. It’s hard, but not impossible, to find the words: delicious, delicious, and delicious. No more or no less. Maybe this article will belong to the “delicious, delicious, and delicious” family. But wait a second. Is my love of coffee a trickery? Is caffeine tricking my taste buds, just as it tricks the adenosine receptors, into loving its taste even when it’s the most bitter thing one could taste?!

The more I drink coffee, the faster the caffeine continues to conspire and blur my sensitivity toward what tastes good and what tastes bad. To someone who’s never had a sip of coffee, coffee tastes bad, right? Wait until the caffeine kicks in. We can avoid it… we can but then we go ahead and dilute it with milk and sugar and the caffeine’s conniving booby trap begins. From very sweet to mildly sweet to not-so-sweet to slightly bitter and finally, to boldly bitter.

If someone were to ask me why I love drinking coffee, I would say, “Because I love the taste so much. And it’s not about the fact that it keeps you alert, thinking quick, and energetic. I just love the taste. And yeah, I only drink it without sugar. I mean, who drinks coffee with sugar anymore?!”

People do not talk about this. But it is a good conversation starter. Look at this for example.

Cornell University (study) suggests that caffeine alters the perception of taste. Just the act of drinking coffee every morning made participants feel more awake. Also, when you taste food right after drinking coffee, the flavor of the food is noticeably altered. This happens because caffeine tricks certain receptors in the brain into reducing our sensitivity toward sweetness as a flavor. That’s precisely why we crave the bitterness of coffee.

So, are you telling me that the day I stop desiring coffee in the midst of my coffee drinking habits, I stop existing?

When Time Isn’t Enough

We consider the flow of time to be infinite – filling a void that runs its course with every generation, every birth, and every death. The physical aspect of time is body seen through the years, growing in size, dexterity, speed, and strength. The readiness of time is anything but ambiguous. However, the flow of time is what humans have harnessed and tried to manipulate, through any medium, to remain obtainable in a sense that answers to our questions. Or in a sense, the way time flows forward is the only answer to our only question: How well do we live?

After watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button – a film which represents an unusually obvious paradigm of aging and time – a movie which creates a spectrum of the world’s most dreadful trio that is loving an age that exists as a defense against time – forced me to think about perspective.

Perspective as we need it. Perspective as it actually is. Imagine a bird flapping its wings over and over again, wafting in mid-air; not moving in any direction; still yet so topsy-turvy are its movements as if it’s invisibly glued to its place with nowhere to go. A perspective that defies the movement of time in space, but adopts the space as its movement until time catches up with it. Isn’t time but a glass through which we glorify our perspective until it builds itself into an entire millennium? Narrow intervals that mark our thoughts, actions, and beliefs until we move on to another entirely different or inconsequential interval.

If you were to pin down these intervals of time, it would be a room full of stacked boxes; some too big in size, while some too small and almost invisible among the crowd. Some unemptied while some that look like they’ve been destroyed and yet its charred remains still remain scattered on the floor. Or they’re drawers like the ones we have in offices to store documents. Small drawers, rusted with age, stacked on top and next to each other. Our time determines how deep and long each drawer is; each drawer manifests a different scent of a different time.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
At the end of it all, you glimpse into a few boxes or pull out drawers, but the rest remain dormant, almost futile to time. Is that how you perceive time? What happens when you reverse it from finish to start? Then, what will the room in which time marks everything down, so perfectly and so vehemently, look like?

Perspective holds time in its palms. Or is it the other way around? I guess the answer exists beyond what words can explain. Just one of those things we can experience, if in tiny fragments in movies like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

When Does Wisdom End?

Self-awareness is life-changing. It’s when something translates into everything. But what most people don’t tell us is that it demands a lot of our brain power. Self-awareness is not just about crossing legs on freshly-cut grass and meditating in a park during sunset. What it does come close to is waking up for sunrise and walking that extra mile to locate a better spot for the perfect adventure.

It’s all about putting in the effort with no ifs or ands or buts. Now you might say that this is the wisest, yet commonest thing you’ve repeatedly heard or read about. So, what’s the big deal about this article?

This, perhaps, is me breaking down the lesson in fragments and inspecting each fragment under a metaphorical microscope to see what intersects between wisdom and ambiguity. Wisdom and ambiguity are abstract concepts derived for the clarity and obscurity of life. Both are essential when nothing else is. Sometimes, we are not the outcome of our own wisdom. And in those times, we are the outcome of what we don’t know. That’s where everything lies. And that’s when we are able to gain control over some aspects of our own lives.

Now you might think that absolutely nothing is in our control. But conviction isn’t the tool of uncertainties. Imagine all your life’s uncertainties as your playground and conviction is what gets your hands and feet dirty. Such a courageous act exists beyond what’s out there already. And the hardest thing about this playground is that it needs to be constructed by you, from dust and rock. This is the only place where wisdom doesn’t break the silence.

What is said and done within those boundaries is simply causation within itself. It’s expressing and reflecting the workings of the mind as well as its unfathomable limitations. It’s where you push ahead – past the good and bad – and respond to deeper instincts. Wisdom ends when you draw a blank right up to the point of indulgence and obsession.

I strongly believe that self-awareness is not complete without stimulating the mind and body in myriad ways. But I also believe that with letting go one can possess a better and clearer understanding of life and throw light on the kind of choices one makes.