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.

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.

Nothing really matters

Ultimately, nothing matters.

All these efforts you put in to make your life happy, your loved ones content – just burns down one day, in one moment’s brisk wind, and then the ashes pile up on you and you choke. Mercy, never comes. What comes is a fourth degree burn, looking at the watery eyes and a face in so much pain that your soul writhes. Yet you are a creature of habit, a slave of conscience that is bound to make mistakes. And ultimately those mistakes form your hell, your doom, whatever you call it.

Better snuff the lights, man, it’s getting too bright in here – said nobody, yet at times the scorching rays of the sun char your skin and you can’t protest. Not because you’re mute – you’ve given it all and you’ve come short. The end result is that you’ve become such an asshole that now the world you built around you has thrown you out to the dogs. You, you alone has to fend of the harshities of life now, all alone, watching your loved ones in pain because of you and then not because of you. Both of them hurt equally, and make you bleed.

Ultimately though, nothing matters. You’re but a cosmic mistake, a blatant blasphemy on this speck of a planet, a vile scoop of soul sundae. Your arguments are invalid and out of date and shape. The long walks through the shopping malls through jungles of amused people makes you realize that they don’t matter either, that they just exist as background noise, to give your story of imperfection some color and a palette, as do you for their novels. Friends are just as convoluted messes as you are, some fake, hiding under a facade, and then some that are truly lost, believing they can save a drowning existence.

But you’ve already drowned. The tar is in your lung, the rotten carcass is already showing. You’ve just put on a new coat. You’re already dead, you just don’t know it yet.

My head becomes lighter, my visions dizzy. The water drops, warm and still poisoned with feelings – from the eyes I am watching. Those eyes mean everything to me, but I know in the end everything is going to consume me, like love does, and leave nothing but dust.

I’m slowly walking towards nothingness, and she is too.

Rust

Lacquered in a comatose white and gray, the auburn thatched mud houses look like the ruins of a terracotta army, battered by time. But they stand hollow, their windows stolen, their doors eaten by nature.
When the vicious jungle wind blows from the dry riverbed and passes through this necropolis, a howl ensues that tears open the naked breast of the rainforest.

Guineafowls peck little mites from the bones scattered across the plateau. Skeletal hands holding rifles, books, bags.

Or other hands.

A century ago, this patch of dense green had leopards, lions, tigers, elephants, wild buffaloes. Trapped between the bullets of sixty years of ferocious monarchy and the peculiarity of human masculine pride, the animals have traveled to become busts, adorned in the living rooms of the richest.

Time has crushed the biggest of kingdoms. The Kings and Queens have died. Revolution had taken place.

Then the rebels became rulers, and the first thing they did was to put every opposing butterfly to the waiting guillotine. Carnivals were named on dead men and women, their blood gushing through the river. That river has dried up into a valley of rust, where souls without salvation wander.

This used to be a good world. But then good worlds barely lasted.


He loved light. Like the flicker of sunlight that fell on his eyes, making their way between her flowy hair and salwar-clad shoulders, while he fiddled with poetry, lying on her lap.

This city of broken bridges ate small-time love like theirs, people said. They didn’t pay heed. Reckless as the monsoon, their love was devoid of any measured steps.

Five years later, the light had returned in his life. As he was slowly watching her body being engulfed in the pyre, he thought why he loved light so much, only to realize that it wasn’t light that he loved.

On that cold November night, two souls had melted into the darkness.

Only the city remained, ravenously waiting for its next victim, throwing poetry in the air as lures.

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Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman – a fresh coat of paint

For People who love mythological stories, the Norse stories are surely a draw. I had an odd thing introduce me to this grandeur – a video game, Ensemble Studios’ Age of Mythology. Later I figured out that much of Tolkien’a lore was actually influenced by the Norse Gods and creatures, and that fact intrigued me even more.
Gaiman’s retelling of the stories – from beginning to the end don’t give you anything new if you are aware of the central themes. It however gives you a fresh coat, a different literary perspective, something which Gaiman has plenty of experience dishing out. With his sharp, measured approach, the stories are cut lean, stripped from all the usual chatter that most writers tend to introduce. Gaiman also lends his lucid way of storytelling, far cry from the campy or dark, Brother Grimm like ways.

I thoroughly loved it, and this book will appeal to even the staunchiest of myth disapprovers. You don’t have to believe in divinities – just enjoy the larger than life stories.

The Wendigo – Algernon Blackwood : visiting one of the sources of Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary is one of those books that has many uncommon tropes of the horror genre, penned effortlessly by Stephen King in his drunken rage, only to loosen up the dreary influences he received from multiple source materials. Blackwood’s The Wendigo served as one of the biggest catalysts in the early 1900s to have writers incline towards Native American folklore – and before you knew it, a sub genre was born that dealt with only these legends. In Pet Sematary, arguably King’s finest telling of the Wendigo lore of the Algonquinian tribe, the literature peaked at its best, yet to get to the root of where it all started, we will definitely have to give due credit to Blackwood. Derelith, who wrote the marvelous Ithaqua, drew heavily from this psychological thriller of a short story, and in turn ended up influencing the monster that dwelt in the marshes beyond the Creed’s, one who was barely seen but was often heard, one who walked with the wind.

The premise in itself is pretty barebones : but that gives the narrator plenty of time to spin his web and create an atmosphere that is as vicious as it is visceral. Five people break into groups of two and three in some remote American wilderness, hunting big moose. The obscurity of the forest ensures that the stories inside it also stays intact, and something primal lurks in it that the forest protects fervently. It is no accident that this creature, the Wendigo, masks its presence so well amidst the dense foliage, icy terrain and a placid lake that splits the forest into two. You have a hard time for the most part deciding who is the villain here : is it the monster that feeds on fear, or is it the forest that creates that fear?

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There’s a third perpetrator in this tale : the human yearning to jump into things that they don’t comprehend, a sort of answering the call of the wild, feral, the uncharted – that inevitably brings about their doom. Blackwood is quick to point that out in The Wendigo, that even though the monster of the folklore maybe out there, it is the curiousity of the hunters and trackers that ends up being one of the deciding factors in their encounter with the elusive beast, and as much ferocity nature can conjure, it is also the fate of a few inconsiderate people who run chasing every rare chance an obscure wilderness may present : in their callousness they give life to folklore and legends that are best left unseen.

Unsurprisingly enough, it’s the Indian tracker Dévago who bears the brunt of the abuse of senses – in his change of form from a jocund moose-tracker to something else that is most profound here. Blackwood also throws in the possibility of a possession and its fatal aftermath, but the conversation between a newbie Scot and a veteran Dévago constitute the better part of the story. Punk and others chip in and fill the holes in the plot.

In the end, the sparsely heard song is what remains as a crushing reminder :

“Oh! oh! My feet of fire! My burning feet of fire! Oh! oh! This height and fiery speed!”

There is an undeniable Lovecraftian quality in this story that I absolutely adore. The thrusting into the atmosphere horror, the unseen protagonist, the psychological turmoil, the relentless questioning of human psyche elevates this story into a work of art from a simple narration. No wonder it inspired a generation of writers to spin their own twist on this genre.

Chatwin’s Patagonia, or why I couldn’t finish the book

There are five or six different types of places in this world in my opinion. Most of them are synonymous with one of your own emotions – remember that I said yours and not the generalized human emotion, because emotions are purely subjective, a customized version atop a common platform. So what Kolkata might evoke in you may not elicit the same emotional response in me. But then there are places that come very close to defying that rule. Places that are either too crowded, overbuilt and infested with civilization to the bones – your days are too sped up there for you to conjure up things in your mind. It’s like a whole array of art installations on a conveyor belt. The moment you blink, the visceral statue of a muscular, dead horse is replaced by a rather jaunty, psychedelic picture of a man screaming his head off.

Then there are places that are so derelict, so devoid, so empty, so abyssal that the small bubble of human emotion just fizzles out in front of it. The absorbing power of such place is unheard of, not only because human beings have not yet stepped on it, but also because of the core ingredients that constitute such an ocean of emptiness has yet to come into contact with enough of our species to form a bond. Hence the stories that are found there are conserved ferociously, almost like the treasures of Nassau, and are being passed from generation to generation with occult like precision.

Patagonia – or where the memories evolve.

Bruce Chatwin, born and brewed in the society that rejected the tribalness in human nature, took it upon himself to fancy a chance in exploring the extreme nomadism that existed in the loneliest parts of our planet. It all started with his childhood fascination for a Brontosaurus bone (in actuality, a giant sloth’s called the Mylodon) that he saw in his grandparent’s home. The bone was found in Patagonia, a large, mostly uninhabited land on the southernmost part of Argentina and Chile that stretches from the prairie like grasslands of the Pampas to green and yellowish lakes to the remote snowladen peaks of the mighty Andes that stretches to Antarctica. To the child, it was a land of never before seen stories, of giant animals and long lost worlds, but he never thought about it before his monotonous work took him to Eileen Gray, the then 93 year old architect who had a map of Patagonia printed on her salon wall. There, revitalized by the nonagenarian’s inspirational words, he flew to Lima two years later on a whim, to find out what that world had to offer.

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In Patagonia is a two-hundred page book filled with Chatwin’s recollection of the stories that he collected in his multiple travels. The stories, often criticized as more a figment of his own mind mixed with some truth, are disjointed, experimental, and divided into nearly a hundred chapters that range from a paragraph to two pages. The biggest flaw of the book turns out to be this: the nomadism that Chatwin so wishes to experience ends up being so evident in his writing that he ends up not building any sort of flow whatsoever. You can safely skip pages without any consequences here.

While that is my biggest gripe, there are some more glaring omissions as well. Reading through the chapters felt like Chatwin was aiming for a cheap recipe of storytelling : not investing in any characters that he met, rather swiftly browsing through their daily lives, trying to cover as much as possible. Hence we never get any ramblings of his mind, just a clean, journalism-esque reporting of incidents. This puts him in accordance to his then livelihood and hammers any prospect of getting a Borges out of his diaries.

So after trudging through halfway of this book, I am heavily inclined to abandon my journey through Bruce Chatwin’s eyes. Not like I don’t like Patagonia – I want to go there, I want to experience the lack of emotions myself, I want to feel the vastness of absolutely nothing, the fiendish preservation of culture of the people surviving there, albeit I want to take time to assimilate them all. A fast one won’t do.

Brontosaurus bones or not, the Chatwin Patagonia continues to be one of the best travelogues, popular amongst many book lovers. I agree to this: read this book as a simple travel diary – just don’t expect anything better.