Type F for Faith

During Thanksgiving, the glaring headline of papers worldwide was of yet another fate-fueled attack on the general populi, killing more than three hundred people in the process. Two sides of faith, with two different outcomes in mind; one celebrates homecoming; the other: ruin.

There was a story that I grew up reading. A Hindu scholar, having read in the ancient texts that God is both with a form and without, decided to test the theory by himself. Upon visiting the famous Jagannath Temple in Puri, he asked this question to the grand priest – who answered in the same way as the texts prescribed. Annoyed, the academic took a stick and decided to walk by the idol – declaring that if the stick touches the wooden idol it would prove that the omnipresent has a form; if not, then the opposite will be proven.

To his surprise, the stick touched the idol in one of his two passes; while he was coming back, the stick remained as is. Baffled, he stood there, until the grand priest, who was watching it all from a distance, decided to come in. He smiled, and said that the one you and I – all of us seek, is formative and formless. Was he talking about God? I think now that he was talking about faith as well. For us, faith can be a book, or a man’s quotes, even a worn-out dozen shoeboxes where we preserve our memories. Or it can be promises of freedom, of the grandiose life in heaven.

Or at times, it can simply manifest itself to be something simple. Like a shoulder to cry upon, a body to blame, an abyss for all of our tears to go. For centuries, widows have been shunned in the Hindu culture and banished to the corners, be it in one’s house or in ravenous sanctuaries like Kashi, Vrindavan and the ilks. There were rules made, terrible and inhuman rules, to break their minds and their bodies. It is not one of the greatest mysteries of the world why a chauvinistic society took whatever means necessary to drown the women in misery – both married and unmarried, and post-married in particular. To these widowed souls, the only way to live the rest of their lives was to cling to the only thing they had left, willingly or unwillingly : faith. Thus generations after generations, we saw grandmothers who spent their time in the deity-room, being particularly excessive when it came to spirituality. It was often not their choice, but they accepted it and made it their own. Faith works in mysterious ways.

Yesterday, my wife and I were to attend a market that happened to be inside a Cathedral, and we ended up reaching the place two hours late; the empty parking lot should’ve been the spoiler alert, but we carried on, only to be informed by the last car that was loading up that it was over. Bummed out, we decided to go inside anyway, just to see the main hall and offer our prayers, only to offer them standing on the other side of a closed door (The cathedral was closed). While we were on our way out, my wife suggested to go inside the bookstore, and we went in.

The Christmas decorations were in full swing, spearheaded by three women, all past their prime, one a little older than the other two, but the most energetic and talkative. She took a particular liking to my wife, telling her stories about her visits to Jerusalem, driving in the highways around Atlanta, and about her husband who had passed away. I was following them, listening to her cheerful banter, and picking up and looking at trinkets, photo frames, music CDs  – as the wintry afternoon was slowly coming down with a chill, painting the sky a melange of orange, ochre yellow and crimson, tugging at the handful of leaves that remained, brightly colored – before they fell too, making me wonder at the simplicity of it all. There was something remarkably simple in this design, yet so marvelously complex. To a naked eye, it was overwhelming. But you needed to sit down and let your mind do the math; then it wasn’t as boggling at all.

“Isn’t this the cutest thing?” The old lady asked, pulling out a wooden replica of a mouse, complete with beady eyes and all, a Christmas decor obviously. My wife nodded, and expressed her chirpy mirth, to which the lady continued while putting it back on the Christmas Tree that it came from, “I don’t have trees in my house anymore. Not after he’s gone. But I keep these things with me. Like the mouse, I’ve hung it in my kitchen cupboard. Every time I see it, I laugh.”

There was something on both me and my wife’s faces at that moment, a similarity in emotion that pulsated in both our hearts. Faith, in its simplest manifestation, was a powerful tool. Even thousands of miles apart, I saw a woman who was like my grandmother, displaying the same emotions, resting her head on the same shoulders of faith. “It’s a way of touching God with your own hands, when your hands are empty,” she said while showing my wife the intricate rosaries, “people buy these things as jewelry these days. But these are not just things to wear. These are tools of faith. These are what keeps faith to yourself, personal.” This wasn’t simply a perceived way to offer prayers to a being of higher conscience, but it was a mean to cling on to something that offered a sentience of a greater acceptance, something that our society had so miserably failed to provide.

While we were on our way out, she asked us to come back again, like any loving grandmother would do (though she thought we were Spanish, judging by our dialogues in Bengali), and we came back with smiles on our faces.

My faith has its days. At times it is strong; and at times my existential crisis makes it harder to cling on to any hope, any faith at all. There are gaps, and the woes of the world and the surrounding make it that much worse to rest my thoughts on any shoulders, let alone be it on faith. I grew up amidst spirituality and faith, but my conscience had pulled me away at times from it. I discern faith for what it is; an instrument of creation and destruction; of putting one’s life through it in expectation of something grandiose and then something simple; more often than not, faith is the belief that there is something inside us that may someday take the shape of something good. Be it a windfall or a phone call from a grandson that lives seven oceans away (A common proverb : seven oceans and thirteen rivers, quoted to denote great lengths), or a yearly Thanksgiving, playing the strings of the heart, cherishing the living, remembering the dead and the gone.

As I was writing this, soundtracks from Miyazaki’s movies were playing. Piano for me is faith too, in its simplest form, yet again, since it evokes tendencies in me that I keep on reserve for special occasions. Anime and its wonderful music are part of a feel-good society, a utopia that we have forgotten, especially the great animes that graced the world during the 80’s and early 90’s. The piano playing classical tunes is bound to make a believer out of a skeptic.

What is faith but the simplest form of belief. At times, it takes the form of something monstrous if you let it grow uncontrolled. At times, it grows into a beautiful garden of memories.

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What’s in your mind, #1

We live in a world that is devoid of privacy. You don't need to be an expert to tell you that nothing you do is hidden anymore. The adrenaline rushes now for things that were once considered laissez faire, like the sparkling stream of water in a little brook that dreams of tasting brine of a vast ocean, only to find out once it leaves the blessing of the mountain that there's a steel and concrete dam waiting for it to lash onto and fade. But we are not as vibrant as a river. Or we are, maybe, maybe I'm too cynical to see the warmth. But there has been a fundamental shift to the way we operate, if I'm allowed to say the word operate at all. Human beings in general love to gloat in the pointlessness of superiority, and hence the fancy terms are reserved for only them – thus behaviour becomes religion, operation becomes characteristics, and lust becomes

Love.

The sneaky ways of love; the pleasure of holding hands during a public ceremony; the quick sweep of eyes with a single second or two of overlap between all four; riding the same bus, amidst a sea of people, standing or sitting a few paces apart – nervous smiles if a parent is nearby, telling all sorts of creative excuses to bunk school or college (one of my excuse-friends would have built at least ten computers with the parts he supposedly bought during those two college years that he, again, supposedly, had to be accompanied to buy them from Chandni Chawk- the sprawling electronics ghetto of Kolkata. What I would invariably end up doing is to swap trains at a junction, wrestle in the queue to get a subway ticket, ride the metro and then arrive at another Mecca of getting spotted by our relatives – Exide More), these things are rarities these days. People thrive on revealing their personal lives- vlogging is in rage, you Snapchat every moment of your existence, and in an especially morbid example a woman videoed an accident and her sister dying, without any remorse whatsoever. There is an almost alien nonchalance rampant in us these days. Like we don’t care. People are happy to let go of life’s tiny surprises, just to check another box that doesn’t mean anything in the long run. Dumb nostalgia it may sound like, but during my initial struggling days in office, my respite used to be the faint tolling of wind chimes from a dark,obscure, sleeping balcony – in a sweep it used to take my mind off the grueling day. I used to write a lot of poetry back then, a lot of nonsensical hapless romantic stuff : stuff I realized came from my innate longing for love.

The 'Knight in Shining armour' syndrome in me had made me a magnet of sorrows, I told to a dear friend of mine, and she shuddered with the thought that her plight would make me slip a few more steps in that endless spiral that I've been climbing all my life. I saw a warmth that was unmistakable, since during my life of continuous good-boy struggles I had received quite a few jar-fulls of them. These are those little wind chimes now that I seek after every crushing blow to the gut, after the panic attack I thought I had conquered decides to come back one day unannounced, wrecking an otherwise perfect afternoon. Movement has been limited for me; I can’t go to a movie theatre, I can’t go on long drives – the list is endless. The fear in the unconscious is relentless. As much as my distractions work, there’s a feeling inside me that this comes from a very different, primal place, that somehow saps the juice from my little stash of happiness. It’s a different beast.

A monster that I need to subjugate.

Welched in a bog, our feelings of togetherness is a rotten memory. The civilization is too fragmented to stand together, and the only bond is nature. Not just any nature, our nature. We seek comfort in each other. We seek validation from others. This inner feelings need to come forward to sew this planet together. Before it all falls apart. Before everybody goes to the rapture.

We must try.

Wendigo

Boasting in your light, you

have forgotten the strands of flesh that

once made you human.

I had to be conjured

from broken

Memories.

 

I’ll feed on your stories of thunder.

Your charlatan tales

of valor, creating you

but not you.

 

Read me in your legends.

I am the one who roams in fear,

creating grandeur out of

carcasses.

 

Bone and ashes under

a licorice sky;

Lust stamped with a smell of

Wilderness. My screams

unrelinquished, yet

familiar.

 

How many bullets have you left,

Traveler?

Let me show you the way.

Men without Women – Haruki Murakami : Book Review

It must’ve been ten years back. Looking into my jar of memories, I cannot find the exact calendar. Amidst the blurry mess that my subjective hearing and sort of cognizant, destructive amnesia made of my past, I somehow find a few solid, well formed artifacts, like one finds a ring from a papier-mâché of rose petals, water and milk during some Indian marriage ceremonies. Those memories are especially vivid- like me attending an awkward Physics Lab exam in my college years, or getting engrossed in the pond-fishing in our school complex when I was ten, or my first actual date with a representative of the opposite sex. I don’t then remember other stories; of me almost drowning when I was a toddler, of countless Durga Pujos I’ve spent, of some long dead relatives who are just a face in yellowed out album pages now. My existential crisis is only worsened by authors like Haruki Murakami, who continues to write stories of unknown sadnesses, and introduces me to another ocean that I need to conquer, only this one more grayer than the last, more hands to drag me down under, to choke my last bits of sanity.

I’ve been remarkably slow in reading books this year. I started well, however, finishing 4-5 books under the first one and a half months. That’s almost blazing speed for someone who reads and re-reads, and is painstakingly slow in the process. Then I was hit by a barrage of personal events: I got married, moved to a bigger apartment, and have been trying to settle down in the quagmire that is married, docile life. So when I began reading Murakami’s latest and greatest, I wanted to get back to the habit, and to keep my promise of finishing twenty five books in 2017, not realizing what I was getting into.

Men without Women is a concept. A man meets multiple women in his life; some he becomes friends with; some he makes love with; and then there are some that just exist, right on the border of his attention span, waiting, faceless existences that at times get slight warmth of notice. The man may have similar situations where he’s the mannequin, just another voice in the ether, but that often doesn’t bother him until he becomes a ‘Man without Woman’. A man who has no woman in his life – no Scheherazade to tell eccentric stories of lampreys and breaking into others houses. No once known, now a blur woman that had a thing for wonderful sex and elevator music. Not even a woman with burn scars and a woman with her breasts undulating while she rode another man in front of her husband. This profound state of systemic decay, a rather dystopian conclusion of human sentiments is ‘Men without Women’. There’s not only tragicomic sadness at play here, but Murakami plays from strength to strength narrating stories that has a familiarity, a loneliness that is often found in his works. Dr. Tokai finds love all of a sudden in a sea of nonchalance. Kafuku wants to know the lovers of his late wife to make a complete picture of a woman he never really knew fully. Kitaru, one day, vanishes, leaving his friend and his girlfriend in complete darkness – these stories are intertwined in curious cases of emotions. Men with Women, fascinated by Men without Women.

The stories, except the last one, circle around in a narrow boundary. Murakami keeps a strong bind here – a mixture of solitude and vivid abstraction with his undenying love for old music and movies. This book is so much more than a collection of stories – it’s a homage to Ernest Hemingway, a direct tribute to Franz Kafka and ‘Metamorphosis’ (one of my favorite stories in the book), and also a nod to a lot of forgotten people, standing in the queue, waiting for their turn to tell stories. I as a writer find this amazing, but I may be biased, so leaving this to personal interpretations is the best choice.

Are all men to become ‘Men without Women’ eventually? Is there an indication here, a forecasting of our lives? Yes, and no. Like a lamprey hunting for its halibut to cling on, our relationships are also clingy. Subconsciously we wait for the right moment to jump and press our jaws into one another’s body, and suck emotions from each other – that’s how we survive. The book tells you the exact thing. Don’t believe for a moment that you can swim through this madness of becoming Men without Women.

You can’t.

The hope of a city amidst pop art, cubism and neverending psychedelia

Drip. Drop. The darkness takes shape

like a building, or the sky – shifting

in between often. Lights and lives

twinkle into existence at their whim,

and then flee into ether.

Somewhere, a camera whirs

and grainy diaries are made

from whoosh-hushes at the Phoochkawallah,

dreams by a gray river, rickety trams

with nostlagia ; failed poets and cathedral bells

collide. A chime of untold stories

on an Empire State, a state of Empire~

Once, centuries ago, now

buried under slogans, curry draped

melancholy, mom’s food – vapid 

relationships of body and a maggoty 

mind, screaming for air,

breathing high, sniffing low, stifled

by undercurrents.

Distant Memories

There was a time when we sang lullabies.

Artificial – be it, yet magically believable emotions

ran wild on our skins, in our

hearts. Those

were eons ago. Now you and I

are just a mix of yellow wallpapers

and history books; the purpose lost, the intent

buried, the spark dead.

We are just timid memories, not asinine, not pungent

not the least repulsive. We are bubbles that forgot

to breathe unto air.

We are just a notion of us, of what was, and

what could never be.

What remains of Edith Finch : What really remains

Indie games are winning.

In an era where major AAA gaming franchises are either strained cash cows or a mass-marketing grand fiasco, indie games are continuing to hold the benchmark flags high. Video games to me are story driven pieces of art, an amalgamation of smart level design, breathtaking atmosphere and intuitive combat. At its core is story and gameplay mechanics. Somehow this notion seems to be unknown to even accomplished studios and people helming them (Peter Mollyneaux comes to mind). As a result we end up getting a lot of games that are unfinished. Either great story, or great combat, or a memorable soundtrack, but very few times coming together to create an unforgettable experience.

Last year, Firewatch became the raging point of discussion amongst the gaming community. A walking simulator as critics labeled games like these, Firewatch told a story that was emotional and lacked any fluff whatsoever. It was blunt and extended the right amount. Conservative in its frame narration and removing any sort of superhuman notion (which games like CoD and Battlefield have been famously known for), the game provided a riveting insight into the human psyche, painting a picture that was to last quite a while. Firewatch to me was the best game of the year, followed closely by another gem, Inside.

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What remains of Edith Finch is a different take on the Firewatch genre, but it keeps the core ideas same and evolves on the concept. Telling the story of a decaying family from the perspective of its youngest member is quite a task to take on, and this game hits it out of the park. This is not so much a game as it is an experience, a soul wrenching at that. There is an unbridled joy in freedom of expression, in freedom to choose life and death and the realities that surround us, and visiting every Finch, knowing their fate through their own words is both harrowing and spectacular. The monsters that consume them eventually are their own creations : fame, desperation, despair, fear, delusion, craving — and most of all, a relentless pursuit of their realities.

What Remains of Edith Finch_20170428125922

The ending to it all was not as sad as I thought it would be, but the individual stories left a deep mark on me. After I finished this short game, the haunting, minimal soundtrack kept on harping on familiarities that I didn’t want to dig up. Somewhere I longed for my family, my own bunch of loonies with their own fallacies and their own perceptions.

This is where Edith Finch succeeds in telling a story, and being an art. It makes you think : of all possibilities that could have been, and whether we maketh our destinies or our destinies maketh us. At one point I contemplated on whether I should write it all down and get it off my chest, but this in its current state is absolutely worth experiencing.

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What remains of Edith Finch ends up telling us whatever remains of us and people we care for, in a way I have never seen told before through the world of gamepads and keystrokes.

Best Game of 2017, yet.