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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

maxresdefault

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.

What Remains of Edith Finch_20170428130402

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.

Let’s talk about Love

I am a hapless romantic. No matter how hard the outer cynical, nonchalant shell becomes, there are always some things that I cannot overlook. Even in the days when my mood is as inclement as a pre-norwester weather, simple things often coo their presence and put a smile on my face. Remembering a particular morning when I was en route to Ganesh Chandra Avenue, the mecca to all things eletronic in Kolkata, and was in a particularly foul mood. The hour-long journey from my place to the city in the local train was as exhaustive as travelling through a cattle van, not only because there were way too many people on board, but most of them moved and behaved like biped bovine.

On my way, I was walking through the bustling footpaths that were often home to all sorts of people – hawkers, homeless, the mischievous and the charlatan,  and the common beggars and loonies. On other days, this common fixture didn’t bother me, but on that day, I saw something amidst them that made me pause for a while.

A little baby was lying on his back a sheet of torn cloth, barely enough for his little toddling body. His eyes were beautifully rounded by gracious lines of kajal; and his toothless smile was a stark contrast to the paltry conditions where he was in. A few paces away, his mother, probably a sweeper, worked on making lunch from the spoils of a vegetable shop. He, unperturbed, smiled away at whomever looked at him.

No matter how much annoyed I was then, drenched in sweat and my despair, at that moment, I couldn’t keep myself away from smiling. The more I smiled, the more the kid smiled back. In the end, I walked away from that scene happy, content that the world still made sense. That pure love was still a thing.

Being the fat, shy guy I was (and still am), getting my courage up to actually propose a girl was completely out of the picture for me. That and my reluctance to discuss my personal life, coupled with the complete lack of any social media (Orkut was in rage those days, but I wasn’t that involved until later on) gave my friends plenty to speculate about my potential girlfriend. I remember walking into such a conversation during my second year in the college, only to be slightly amused.

Interestingly, in my entire life of about thirty summers, girls that I have proposed to always turned me down, whereas I always accepted any proposals that came my way. How much that speaks about the certain desperateness of mine, you’re only to judge. I am also very fortunate that both the women who proposed to me turned out to be amazing, and shaped my life in a major way. One, the latest (if you call nine years latest, that is), is going to be ma femme very soon.

But my love isn’t bound to flesh and blood entities. I am drawn to nature, I am drawn to books ; I am drawn to anime, cartoons, comicbooks, manga ; I am drawn to technology; I am drawn to video games. I am more at ease in a calm, natural habitat rather than in the hullabaloos of a city life, yet the duality in me craves presence of other souls. Souls that would listen and hear what I need to say. At times, my rants and ideas might last a few hours; at times they’re confined to one conversation. Over the years, I had plenty conversations about the not-so-normal things, and absolutely enjoyed the deviation. As intrigued I am as to the Basilica and the modern history and paleontology, I am equally drawn to long hours in Diablo 3 or League of Legends or reading through the lore in Age of Mythology or Dungeon Siege 2. Besides reading news, one of my daily routines is to check AnandTech or Tom’s Hardware to read the latest and greatest in technology. But that doesn’t mean I don’t read The New Yorker or The Paris Review for their excellent articles and literature published. Moreover, I am equally fond of both Bengali and World literature.

In essence, love doesn’t need to be in cards or paintings and pretty words. It needs to be more than that. With all of our feelings withering for each other and our blue planet, it is high time that we don’t get stuck to the confines of a single day to profess our love for something or someone. Get out, hold a hand, or hands, or paws, or hooves, or branches, or pages – and make it worthwhile.

Happy Valentine’s Day, folks!

Depression

Do we understand depression? In our mind we have a picture of a depressed person, and we stick to it – media plays a big role in keeping this idea alive. The idea of shallowness is bred inside us slowly from childhood, so we tend to believe if a guy or a girl ‘looks’ normal, he or she is normal. That’s a lie that people with depression have to endure.

There is no perfect life. We always tend to think somebody is living a better life than ours. More often than not, the measuring stick is money. A rich person is happier – that idea comes naturally. Then why does Japan, a country with far greater per capita income than India has more depressed people than anywhere in the world? The answer is simple – money can never buy complete happiness, neither can it give you perfection. Those terms are relative, that means they always change. Whatever you thought would make you happy when you are ten years old won’t make you happy anymore. Money can buy materialistic parts of happiness. Sure, shiny gadgets, a swanky house, a trophy partner, deformities fixed with generic doses of botox and silicone would make you covetable to a large part of the society, but in the end, it never takes you closer to the perfect life. It just creates a bigger bubble. When it bursts, you are left with your showpieces that laugh at you.

Depression comes in many forms, but expectations are by far the biggest cause. Our society has reached a point where the load of expectations that come with your status are manifold – some apparent, and some hidden. To keep up with those expectations push us to the brink of sadness, and depression, because those expectations do not honour a person’s existence. Regardless of what or who you want to be, you are burdened with things. A big list of things. And then one morning you wake up and you realize how stupid you have been following the norm, trying to be perfect in the eye of the society. Only the society doesn’t care. Like a well oiled machine, it continues rolling. Faces and identities and existences and souls are words that poets and writers write and singers sing about, but in reality, all that matters is your mask, and the list written inside it that you see every time you put it on.

A perfect guy or a perfect girl can be a victim of depression, because he or she never talks about it and people don’t come to know of it. Deepika Padukone, a celebrated Indian actress have been vocal about her depression. I had a chance to talk about this to a couple of my friends, and we all knew what she was referring to – to the masses, she had a perfect life : she was beautiful, successful, rich, had a great boyfriend (who’s also an actor). Why would she be depressed?

Why wouldn’t she be?

I have been battling my depression for quite some time. It has never reached its peak, but at times the pressure is overwhelming. I can understand it slowly eating me from inside, because depression gives rise to anxiety, and anxiety soon turns into panic. I first experienced my panic attack three years back. I thought it was another health issue altogether, but when it happened a few more times, I made a point to go and see the doctor to have my body scanned. Nothing was found, and the doctor gave me some anti-anxiety medicine. Dumbfound, I asked him what these were for, and he told me not to panic much and take the meds till the issue went away.

The issue really didn’t go away. It was subdued for a moment, and crept back in again next year, and then the same pattern continued. I had to convince myself that my life wasn’t in shambles; that I wasn’t falling apart or going insane. That the existential thoughts that popped up in my brain every now and then weren’t signs of my gradual rejection of society. The doctor also asked me if I had any suicidal tendencies off late. No, I answered. I never had the thought of ending my life. But the panic attack that started as a result of my overthinking about my life, and depression, made me reflect on my life a lot more. I saw people around me battling depression and PTSD as well, some winning, some losing, some stuck, and it gave me hope. There was a way to fight this. I understood Deepika’s condition perfectly because I heard the same phrase from many of my friends, that I had a ‘perfect life’. Because I had a good job, I could scribble, sketch and sing (?), looked decent enough (read moderately fat), and had a stable relationship. Why was I depressed, why was I talking about a disease that the World Health Organization said would be the biggest epidemic in the world in 2020? They didn’t understand. People still don’t understand depression very well.

Depression is not what TV shows and movies tell you. It has many roots, and can happen to anybody, regardless of their faith and origin. There are many ways to battle depression. Some go to the doctors for help, others turn to spirituality and religion for solace. But the best medicine always lies in you. My depression came into existence because of expectations as well : I wanted a happy medium between being an introvert and being an extrovert. Only there wasn’t any. I lost friends along the way, and gained no new ones. People were there around me, but they only befriended me for their own reasons. The lack of people with whom I could speak my heart to dwindled. Even when I had a bad day, I had to come and swallow my feelings. Writing helped for a while (and it still helps a lot!), but in the end the burden started to overpower me and things started to overflow.

I made new friends now. A couple of very good young kids have formed a group around me, and some old friends have reestablished connection with me. Pleasant surprises are always welcome, because it keeps the depression away for quite a while. Like meeting my ex. Though we never had the courage of discussing our past, the meeting was good enough to keep my mind away from the depths of darkness, because I talked and talked and let my heart out with her. It felt like a big rock had been taken off my chest.

One thing I’ve understood is that the power lies within us. Everybody doesn’t get to do everything. Where’s the fun in doing everything? But nobody’s live is worth giving up, no matter how bogged down he or she is. And nobody is perfect. The beauty of life lies in its imperfection. Everyone’s life should be different, and we should accept and manifest that difference in us. Therein lies our greatest asset – diversity. Depression is a disease that needs our attention, but the root causes of depression should go away first. We should stop worshipping the ideas of perfect lives, the notions that money can buy everything. Mass depression is very hard to control. Japan has a proof in Aokigohara. We surely don’t want jungles to be famous for suicides now, do we?

wall-FB5627e7613436a