Saturday, November 25, 2017

1Q84 - A book review

There are times when you suddenly wake up in middle of a night with a feeling of being gripped in a sort of dream that you find almost impossible to recall with any exactness. There is a rush of lot of thoughts, feelings, images and emotions but anything hardly concrete enough to survive complete consciousness.

Reading 1Q84, Haruki Murakami’s 1157-page book, is like experiencing such a dream. There are multiple strands of story in the book involving its lead characters – Aomame and Tengo. Aomame is a professional killer of men who abuse women while Tengo is a math teacher and an aspiring author who unwillingly becomes a part of literary scam by ghost writing a book called “Air-Chrysalis”.

Tengo and Aomame have a romantic connection and the undercurrent of their desire to meet each other fuels the story forward for large part of the book. However, it will be unfairly simple to see this book as only a story of long lost lovers finding each other in midst of a chaotic and complex world.

Book delves very deep into each of its characters and runs through their routine with meticulous, at times boring, details. Through this thorough examination and detailing of each of the characters it successfully brings out many marvellously multi-layered themes. A few of these themes are noted below with its brief description of how they pan out in the book.

Mysterious cult life : Known as Sakigake in the book - the cult represents classic characteristics of all cults like secrecy, power play and engaging in activities that are shady if not totally illegal. Sakigake is also shown as the cause a character known as FukaEri  lost contact with her parents. Its leader is also accused by another character of a heinous crime like child molestation. Aomame is tasked to kill the leader of Sakigake for this very reason.

Little People : A fantasy like beings who come out into the world from a dead goat’s mouth and are powerful enough to slightly shift the yarns of the world in order to cause much havoc in the life of book’s characters. They are probably a rival to “Big Brother” in the classic 1984 novel, or may be just a reflection of our collective consciousness. Author leaves the final interpretation to readers. 

NHK fee collector : Through this character we learn a lot about a life of common man in Japan, his frustrations, fears, challenges and reactions. His troubled relationship with his son, Tengo , is poignant reminder of how people of one considers closest drift so far apart in the usual turns of life. His conversations with Tengo towards the end of his life reveal the core vulnerability of all humans, inability to understand one’s own complex and often conflicting self. 

1Q84 Parallel universe : Title of the book is a wordplay on title of another very solid novel 1984 by George Orwell. It would be unfair to see this book in shadow of 1984. Title 1Q84 merely suggests questioning (Q) the sense of  characters for their reality. Story is set up in the year 1984 but the characters slip through a passage which basically turns their worldview upside down. Readers get an indication of parallel world by existence of two moons! It serves as a spooky yet very vivid and concrete indication of something totally fictitious. The fact that it is in “Other world” is the ultimate and overarching explanation to all things non real in the book. 

Justice or Revenge : Through character of an old lady who runs a safe-house for women who are abused by men book highlights themes of justice and revenge. We learn that dowager had lost her daughter in domestic violence and then taken up the cause to champion for other women in similar situation. Aomame is also driven to collaborate with her by similar experiences of one of her good friends. Their work invoke crucial questions whether ends justify means in today’s world? What are differences between revenge and justice?

The weird thing about half remembered and half forgotten dreams is that though you think you remember them well enough to be able to recount them over a cup of tea in morning, it is only after a blank stare from your family members that you realise that it wasn’t probably a great idea to try explaining it in first place. The best you could do is to merely suggest them reading 1Q84 when time allows. :) 

PS - In times like right now, it is an amazing feat to write a book so long, and only for so successfully achieving that feat, I am a fan of Murakami!

Monday, November 13, 2017


In a world swarmed with fake news, claims of advertising used to mislead huge mass of people, leaders leaning towards pugnacious use of political power, omniscience of machines and increasing unrest of the common man – George Orwell’s classic novel serves as an effective mirror – even after 6 decades of its first publication.
Book is centered around story of Winston Smith who is a member in a government’s department called “Ministry of Truth” – their work is to carefully twist facts and purge anything that contradicts government’s current propaganda. Winston is a hard-working member of his team; however, he does have a small defect; he is prone to have secret thoughts – and is even courageous enough to record them in a small diary! This defect of his is considered a serious crime in his nation and is frowned upon with utmost disgust. Term for this defect is – thought crime.
In Oceania, Government controls every aspect of life of all its citizens. Where even thoughts are scanned and assessed for their loyalty to the ruling party, any kind of deviation is strictly dealt with. Perpetual presence of Big Brother – and his watch over its people - make it very difficult for Winston to continue his journey of thoughts. In a world where none of his friends see or even feel the oppression that Winston is fighting, makes his battle for freedom rather poignant.
Julia – Winston’s love is also a partner in crime with him against Big Brother’s tyranny. She initially sends him a note expressing her love and it is indeed her candid expressions that validate Winston’s own desires against the indoctrination of the party.
Their love affair is a passionate one, and indicates how even the strongest means of propaganda fail to reach most intimate areas of human minds. They continue to breach the Big Brother’s regulations and meet each other stealthily. As their love for each other grows, they try to increase the reach of their rebellion and explore if there are other people in Oceania feeling the kind of discontent they have felt.
In this attempt they run into O’Brien, a member who calls himself to be aligned to brotherhood – an alternative ideology to that of Big Brother. O’Brien’s character is marvelously multi-layered, and it is only in the end that readers come to know him as an ally of Big brother who had been spying on Winston and Julia since long time.
When   they get caught – Winston and Julia are taken to the Ministry of Love – what ensues thereafter is a gut-wrenching torture and indoctrination of both the lovers. They are tortured with their worst fears, and that too continuously – it reaches to such an extreme where Winston – with his face covered with hungry rats - confesses to torture Julia instead of himself.  “Under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you and you sold me.”
After the torture – Winston and Julia are back to being loyal members of the party, they have forgotten about their emotions and ideas – even ones that they thought were outside the reach of the government. Their love and freedom, shine only briefly during the book and overall backdrop remains despotic, dark and dubious.

As a romantic supporter of democracy, I fancy a different end to this story. I imagine, somewhere even after the atrocities of Big Brother, there would be always more Winstons and Julias rooting to taste the freedom from ever expanding propaganda – and more and more of those would find ways to successfully come out of Big brother’s shackles. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Dear Denver

Dear Denver,

It has been long time since we parted ways, but it took time for that feeling to sink in, and hence the delay in writing this. 

Your mention has a power to light up the beginnings of any conversation however I have been observing that the account I have to offer is weak and lacks the strength to live up to the image that you have created for yourself.

Soon after your mention people expect stories of great adventures, heavenly natural beauty of Boulder and victorious accounts of climbing the fourteeners that you are so famous for. Unfortunately I have few of the above experiences to offer - hence my account of Denver seems at best - boring  to people I encounter. 

While one cannot do much to correct fleeting impressions one creates during formal exchanges over a cup of coffee or at cafeteria , I could certainly set the record straight for both of us at least, just so you know that without experiencing any of your widely celebrated and popular aspects too - you are still the best place to live in the open wide world for me. 

I haven't been on top of the mountain - but I have been fortunate to witness the closeness you have shared with people around you, have seen a mountain from a porch of a friend’s home and have heard stories where people mark a specific spot on your wide bare back to tag it to one of their own personal memories!

I haven't seen the most beautiful of your gardens, flowerbeds or places - but I have seen the beauty created by two individuals who come together to start a new life under your ever generous, serene and caring sky. Evening walks under your sky are memories that will be forever fresh in my mind. Conversations that took place on your roadside benches or at a neighbourhood park are so close to heart - and I have no doubt that after long enough time elapses, those conversations will still be vivid in my memory. 

I haven't tried my hand at any adventure sport but I have been fortunate to witness courage to grind out routine life as well as the courage to take tough calls when time demands. I have witnessed, during my stay there, friends and colleagues who stand by your side even when going is especially difficult and challenging.

Through friends and colleagues, I have witnessed big events such as childbirth, purchase of house, marriage and relocation. I have also seen routine things like change of seasons, pleasure of discovering a new flavour of ice-cream that one falls in love with, colour of the evening sky and beauty of a full moon. And both types of experiences have been amazing in different ways!

You may say that all of them would have still happened, and yes that’s true - but believe me it would have never been the same without you! 

May be you would say that, by not doing certain things, I have not made the most of my time with you - but then that was never the point in first place!

If it’s not too much inconvenience, I would continue to recount you through these things rather than more popular ones - as these are closer to heart and hopefully more enduring! :)

As Ever,

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Who was at fault? Part-1

The humiliation of defeat had really been hurting the rabbit, why it fell asleep at crunch time in the race? Why did it let the tortoise move ahead of itself when it was clearly the more efficient of the two competitors?  Why did it not realize that the race was only for half a day and once won, it could have easily slept as much as one likes? Was it plain hubris or there was something more to it?

Forgotten to all of us at large, to rabbit – these questions were still fresh. It was a wound that is kept close to heart. Though passage of time could not completely heal it, it certainly gave a little distance, in memory –to allow a new perspective to seep in.

In telling and re-telling of the story through ages, the focus of narrative kept tightening around laziness, hubris and recklessness of rabbit. Occasionally some story-tellers also tried to build a fabled re-match which the rabbit won triumphantly! However, that fabled version could not erase the marks of an actual defeat.

A rabbit entered a competition once again after centuries – and the night before the match it sat down taking stock of its thoughts! Then came a eureka moment for that rabbit and all of a sudden it realized how every time a story of that match was told, it conveniently ignored all that had happened before the match!

It went to sleep – as the next day it had some competition. Days passed, however, the complete absence of any details prior to the match day kept bothering this rabbit! It questioned elders, read all various accounts but nowhere found anything that would satisfy its curiosity.

Having exhausted all available resources with rabbits – it started asking other animals and birds and soon the word had started spreading about this rabbit’s incessant inquiries into a long gone historical event!

All the hoo-ha eventually faded – rabbit was getting frustrated. It started thinking that this whole quest to check what had happened a day before that much talked about match was an exercise in futility! May be, it was just the recklessness and laziness of rabbits that resulted in a shameful defeat! 
There seemed no sense to spend any more energy in unearthing evidence to counter the long-held opinion. Just when it was about to draw a curtain, it got a phone call from a sparrow!

Sparrow, in a very hushed voice told rabbit, “There is something that I need to tell you. I think it may offer some relief and a sense of closure to your ongoing quest of more information into what had really happened during the run up to that match.”

Rabbit told that it would be better if they could speak in person, it took sparrow’s address and went there to talk.

Sparrow drew a long breath and started,

“The rabbit playing that match had a sparrow friend, since they did not speak the same language – there was a little bit of miscommunication between the two friends on the night before the game. I have a doubt that this miscommunication may have something to do with the way rabbit slept during the match!!”

To be continued.... :)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The last man standing

“You are an ideal mother,” I told him more than once, in a gratification of his efforts to keep us all on track!

Cook of our first meal in the US, first one to own a car that all others used to learn driving, first shout from everyone in case of any issue, first one to know when tea is light on sugar and vegetable dish is a bit too heavy on oil, first name on all our apartment leases, first one to know if any one of us was unwell in any way! And the first person I had consulted about my –then unexpressed to its recipient– love to my wife.

Four of us were sharing an apartment during our on-site stint at Denver, and Satish was from the very beginning – the provider of the house.  It was his caring attitude, culinary-skills and friendships with all the rest of us that proved to be a glue that held us all together.

Especially in the beginning of our stay in Denver, when the time was quite eventful. Starting from the struggle to know routes to matching the grocery requirements according to different colleagues who would be helping us for lifts to and fro the grocery stores. Meticulousness in payment of rent, insurance, utilities on time – and to divide all those expenses among the flatmates judiciously required close monitoring and careful execution. He did that all in starting, and then once he had known end to end – started delegating tasks to others, even after delegating – he would still keep a watchful eye over the task and ensured that everything goes smooth.

These were the tasks that could have been neglected as routine at worst - or done with a machine-like regularity at best! But Satish not only did them better than the best possible way, he did them with an emotion that was unmatched, unique and sublime. He did them in a way that our apartment started feeling like a home!! It has been over 8-12 months now, from the time we started separating from that apartment, one after the other however we carry with ourselves that feeling of home and it has never left the dynamics of our friendship ever since!

Satish was also our go-to man for any issue – be it at a household level or at a personal level. He was a sole broker of peace deals when any one of us was cross with another! Nudging someone, coaxing the other or sometimes just ordering a decision with a firm conviction – he led us through many of those complicating issues that are part of any group’s existence!

Even after we separated from single apartment to different places, as most of us moved with their families, Satish stayed a constant common factor. Be it an important event in anyone’s life, or a trouble that needs help at the stroke of a midnight – Satish was sure to be there!

As being the last one today, living in the same colony and seeing Satish move to a different apartment – I reflected on the time spent together. It feels like a beginning of a different era – one in which all of the former flat mates are now located at different places – separated by long distances.

It is an amazing joy to find unadulterated connections in one’s adult life. Satish’s friendship and the bond we built as flat-mates are constant reminders of such unadulterated connection! It has rubbed off on many other aspects of all of our lives and it would continue to serve as a wonderful reminder and inspiration of such friendships in future too!

Monday, September 5, 2016

What's in the name?

“You have got a perfect name, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” Said her father reassuringly. For Aomame her name had been a constant point of botheration of her school life. Not only it always came first – as it started from A – but it also made her classmates as well as teachers burst into a fit of laughter as they tried to pronounce it.
Clearly, a name lifted from a towering Japanese author’s intriguing work of fiction 1Q84 – did not go that well for a small town girl in India. However, her father had been an iconoclast – and followed his rebel heart while naming his daughter. The fact that she lost her mother, right at her birth, also might have been one of the reasons his father could have his own way and gave her a name that she would grow to resent.
As years passed she grew more and more uncomfortable with her name. Ideas to change it several times crossed her mind but every time the effort of changing all the documents that are attached to oneself seemed too much.
“What were you thinking when you finalized my name?”  “Had you seen the movie namesake a night before I was born?”  “If mom were there, she would have never approved of such an out of place name.” Thus ran her frequent angry arguments with her dad. Her dad used to calmly reply, every time that her name was kept after the name of a heroine of a wonderful novel and that the character was very powerful. He even suggested she reads the book, however, the size of the book daunted her and she never picked it up.
Years passed, not easily for Aomame- at every juncture, every new meeting, she would feel shortchanged when introducing herself. It was as if, she was pulled back at the start of a sprint by a good few yards! Her frustration only grew with her age.
She eventually married a guy her father had chosen for her. Once during their conversation, he innocuously asked, “what does you name mean, by the way?” – She retorted harshly asking him not to repeat this question ever again. “My name is a part of my life that I don’t want to share with anyone, so please don’t ever ask my anything about it again.”
Her husband was taken aback by this vehement response, he realized that this was perhaps a result of anger accumulated over the years and needed a different treatment. He resolved that he will do something that will make her love and remember her name fondly.
Over the next few days, however, he observed she was keeping very occupied. When asked what she was busy with, she replied, “there is a lot of work at the office, and I am running on a tight deadline, so just busy with it.” He left it at that and started thinking what he can do in order to appease his wife’s long-standing grievance.
After a few days, an idea struck him – he got her name tattooed on his arm. When he came home, he told, slowly rolling up his sleeve, “I have something to show you, it has been on my mind for very long – and I wasn’t quite sure what I could do…. but here it is now. I want you to know that names in themselves have no meaning unless we give them any. And this is a small step to represent the multitudes of meaning your name carries for me.”
She looked at him in disbelief, and handed a new copy of the government issued identity card - showing her new name!

     >Concept borrowed from “Gift of Magi” by O’Henry

Book Review The course of Love – Alain De Botton

The course of Love – Alain De Botton
“Our understanding of love has been hijacked and beguiled by its first distractingly moving moments. We have allowed our love stories to end way too early. We seem to know far too much about how love starts and recklessly little about how it might continue.” That we concentrate far too much on beginning and far too little about the continuance of love is reflected in a question
the couple is bound to be asked, “How did you two meet?”
In this book, Alain De Botton takes us through the progress of love through a story of a couple.
Rabih and Kirsten are young professionals when they first met. Enamored by each other, after a brief courtship they decided to explore the meaning of a vague phrase, “happily ever after”. That’s where this story begins. The story revolves around touchstones of a marriage from infatuation, irreconcilable desires, challenges of raising kids etc. They understand the harrowing amounts of energy it takes to sustain and blossom a household through routine life. Lead characters of this story serve as extended case study for the author – who keeps up with his style of extended commentary on what is going on with his characters.
For example difference of opinion, between the two over which set of tumblers to buy for kitchen, ideal room temperature at night, how early should one leave for a party, positioning of blinds on window, etc. provide us a useful insight that these seemingly silly things are actually just the loose threads that tie back to the fundamental contrasts of their persona which requires better recognition and reconciliation.
It also brings out how crucial it is to be able to communicate better, author hints that were Rabih or Kirsten better communicators – one of them might have told the other in response to insistence for over punctuality that “Leaving early, is ,in the end, a symptom of fear. In a world of randomness and surprises, it is a technique I have developed to ward off anxiety and an unholy unnamable sense of dread. I want to be on time (in fact a little ahead of it) same way others lust for power and form a similar drive for security.”
The story moves on and we see other sides of their marital bliss, the sulks resulting out of their differences or their conjoined exploration of each other’s bodies. Here too, through an intricate example where Rabih mentioned that a particular young waitress crossed his mind while having intercourse with Kirsten, the author helps us tease out something very important about marriage. Rabih acts defensive and ashamed at a weirdness of his thoughts whereas Kirsten, furious at first and judgmental later- frowns at the presence of someone else even in Rabih’s fantasies.
In an alternative, better communicating versions of lead characters this scenario might have played out differently per author. Rabih might have been able to square up to Kirsten with his desires like a natural scientist holding up for colleague’s inspection some newly discovered, peculiar looking species which both of them might strive to understand and accommodate themselves to.  And Kirsten in response might have told “the nature of this particular daydream is foreign, unfamiliar and frankly not a little disgusting to me; but I am interested in hearing about it nonetheless because more important than my relative comfort is my ability to cope with who you are. I will never be able to do or be all that you want –and vice-versa but I would like to think we can be the sort of people who will dare to tell each other who we really are. The alternative is silence and lies – which are real enemies of love.
Sadly in the novel, Rabih and Kirsten just move on to things that give instant gratification – by going to a movie and then a dinner, rather than engaging with each other and thereby quelling any chance of understanding weird byways of their psyches.  
As we go further this book it turns to parenthood and children. What children have to offer us about understanding love is amazing. William, their son, for example- is pleased by rudimentary things that as grown-ups we have forgotten to enjoy. Author’s excellent description makes for a heartwarming reading, he writes, “William is an enthusiast of a class of uncomplicated things which have, unfairly, become boring to adults; like a great artist; he is a master at renewing his audience’s appreciation of the so-called minor sides of life.” Further, he adds for parenting that, “The role of being a good parent brings with it one large and very tricky requirement: to be the constant bearer of deeply unfortunate news. The good parent must be the defender of a range of child’s long-term interests, which are by nature entirely impossible for the child to envisage, let alone assent cheerfully. Out of love, parents must gird themselves to speak of clean teeth, tidy rooms, bedtimes, generosity and limits to computer usage. Out of love, they must adopt the guise of bores with a hateful and maddening habit of bringing up unwelcome facts about existence just when the fun is really starting. And as a result of these subterranean loving acts, good parents must, if things have gone well, end up as the special targets of intense resentment and indignation.”

De Botton excels in Montaigne-like close observations of the routine and banal aspects of life, such as lost car keys, professional anxieties, burdens and boredoms of child rearing etc. While he may not be the kind of great novelists one knows like Flaubert Gustav, Rabindranath Tagore or Tolstoy – in an age troubled with shortage of time, lack of patience and ever increasing need for speed he is surely one of the most useful ones!!   
The present book provides a useful perspective on how love is not just an emotion but also a skill that needs to be developed over one’s lifetime.

รจ Italicized portions are from the book