A dog is a dog is a dog

What is the point, eh? How can a dog be anything but a dog? I read this story in one of my school books where a dog is not a dog but a robot - owned by a boy who lives on the moon. The boy’s parents feel the boy’s dog is just a machine and the boy needs to experience the love of real live animal. So they want to give away the robot and get him a real dog. But for the boy, the robot dog and its feelings are reality. He does not want a real dog. He wants his dog.

Ok, good story, you may say. But what does that have to do with us? Well, everything. Dog is after all a man’s best friend. Before the feminists protest, woman’s too. Once I was talking to this European girl who loved dogs. We were in Japan at that time and I mentioned Sony’s robotic dog Aibo to her. She flared up at the very idea. How you can even imagine a robot taking the place of a real dog, she said. Next you will suggest one can even date and marry a robot, will you?

These whole set of memories were triggered in my mind when I read an article that said virtual friends are not real and that one should spend more time with real people. Why are our online friends not real, I wondered. They are not even robots but flesh and blood people who are just situated physically remote from us. Is physical closeness what makes a person real? I come across so many people walking around in my apartment complex. But I know nothing about them. They are just faces and bodies. Why are these people more real than people whose thoughts pour out to me through their blog posts, Facebook updates and tweets?  

Moving on from dog to girl, I used to spend entire nights talking to this girl I mentioned earlier. Virtually! She was in the room right next to mine. Still we were comfortable chatting to each other on Skype. When we were together in person we exchanged shallow niceties whilst we exchanged deepest of thoughts virtually. How about that! Our interactions continued even after we moved back to our respective countries. But somehow we eventually drifted away from each other. All our best interactions had been online. So I would have expected spatial distances to make no difference. But that had not been the case. I have somehow never been able to maintain a regular virtual connect with any of my friends from old schools, colleges and workplaces either.

That leads me to believe that it may be possible to maintain virtually only those friendships that were developed virtually in the first place. But then again my closest friends in virtual world happen to be people living in my own city, who I have met on occasion. So again geography comes into play. 

It is all complicated as people mention in their relationship statuses on Facebook. Unless of course you take a dog’s view of the world, stop analyzing and just love unconditionally. Guess that is why a dog is a dog is a dog. 

Welcome to the Circus

Today while I was travelling to office, someone was mentioning there was a circus in town. Incidentally at the time I was reading the book ‘Five go off in a Caravan’, a Famous Five book where the protagonists interact with circus folks. That got me thinking about the fascination the idea of Circus has held for me since childhood. So I thought I will jog through various associations circus holds in my mind and also why a circus seems to be a fascinating setting for fiction writers to set their stories in.

For all my fascination with circuses, I have actually been to a circus just twice in my life time – once in Trichy at the age of six and once again in Bangalore at the age of twelve. And actually hardly any memory survives of either occasion. But what remains strong in my memory is the Hindi serial ‘Circus’ and various Enid Blyton series involving circuses. Of course the other association circus brings to my mind are school essays we had to write about visit to the exhibition, the circus, the fair etc. Most of them were torturous and involved learning standard essays on the topics and regurgitating the same on the exam paper. 

To me all the stuff that happens behind the scenes is more fascinating than the show itself. The show itself must be alluring for if that were not so, the rest would be meaningless. Maybe it is just that my fantasy was so over hyped that reality could not measure up or it could be that the ones I had been to may not have been the best in business. Coming back to the point, the idea of people with so many different exotic skills living and travelling together along with animals is indeed quite exciting.  

I always feel we live dual lives – one personal and profession. Some may even have a third one – social. This starts right as children – there is one world out there at school and altogether a different one back at home. I always liked the idea of all worlds merging and people leading just one continuous life. I really loved it when I was in a software company’s onsite team in Germany. We were a small group of Indians at office and the same group used to share apartments, hang out together in evenings and travel around Europe in weekends and holidays. So it gave a kind of cozy feeling. I did not feel that Monday blues so much. The work has to be done – but the same people with who you had fun in the weekend would be there at work also. I see circus life as something like that – a heterogeneous group of people who live and work together as one big family.

And not last but not the least, circus environment provides rich scope for fiction writers in terms of various kinds of people as well as physical settings. No other group can provide such a heterogeneous setting with people of various age groups, gender and regions living together. Not just people but animals as well. And as far as physical settings go, wouldn’t the possibility of fights at the top of a trapeze, within tiger cages and horse stables make an action writer drool?

The Man in the Fool's Mask

Here I was sitting at the dinner table at the client guest house. A senior executive is seated in front of me.  A deathly silence prevails as he methodically dispatches food off his plate oblivious to my presence. I am stuck in a Shakespearean dilemma – to talk or not to talk.  If I am to talk, where do I begin? I do not feel very enthusiastic about stating some mundane known fact about the weather, the recent cricket match or the country’s politics. And when I finally manage to muster spirits and say something, it is closed with a simple “Yes”. What next?

I don’t know if many people are faced with such situations. But I often land up in such situations. Sometimes things get even worse. The other person is talking to me but I go cold turkey. This happens when he starts with some question like “why are you looking lost?” or “why that gloomy look on your face?” I have no clue how to answer such questions and from there on I go defensive and words begin to fail me.
This used to happen to me all the time in the presence of non-family adults when I was a child. On more than one occasion teachers have asked my mother why I never smile. I don’t know – I was not really an unhappy child or anything. On the contrary I have always been known for my sense of humor among my closer friends. I wonder where from the other kids developed this habit of smiling which I did not. Recently my wife made a passing mention that my father never smiles. Strangely I had not even noticed that in all these years. Now come to think of it, my grandfather was not much into smiles either. I wonder if this is one of those heriditary things.
To some extend I did manage to develop the habit of smiling at familiar people at least over the years without making any conscious attempts as such. After all, making any conscious attempts in matters like these only tends to make things worse. However in the presence of some people, I still tend to go stiff and uncomfortable. More often than not the person tends to be in a professionally or socially higher position than me. So at times I wonder if it is a result of a hierarchical mindset.

Alcohol was one thing that helped me ease out of my inhibitions. During the days when I was at the peak of my drinking, people would find me to be altogether a different person after a couple of pegs go down.  While normally girls would not even give me a second glance, I have had girls giving me conspirational winks in class on mornings following nights of binge drinking. But then one can’t be high on spirits all the time, can one?

I found social media to be the ultimate antidote for my social awkwardness. The fact that I can even choose not to be myself makes things even better. I feel so comfortable behind the fool’s mask. I am no longer bound by the constraints of age, gender, nationality, profession and social hierarchy. No one can see my face and ask why I am looking so serious.  However some things carry over to the virtual world as well – people who have interacted with me for long on social media would know I never use smileys. It is so much easier than managing facial gestures and body language but then I just don’t feel like. Well, that’s me!

Paved with Good Intentions

The road to hell is paved with good intentions it is said. The implication is of course that intentions are meaningless unless backed by action. But I was thinking of it in a different light – what if well intended actions turn out worse than inaction from the recipient’s point of view? I was at the receiving end of one such gesture yesterday which got me thinking. The incident in itself was minor and the details probably do not merit as much interest as the thoughts it triggered.

Various shades of these well intended gestures presented themselves to my mind. At one extreme, we have ideas like the white man’s burden wherein Europeans arrogate to themselves the noble responsibility of civilizing ignorant barbarians. There were probably some English men who even genuinely believed they were helping these ‘backward’ races. Somehow I perceive quite a bit of the so called social work to be manifestations of this tendency to different degrees. A group of people assume their way of living is better than that of another set of people and go about trying to ‘improve’ the lives of these others? 

A more benign version we experience from our parents, children, spouses and other near and dear. I remember one day, during my childhood my mother thought I would enjoy a Hindi movie. But instead of watching the movie, I was busy reading my favorite Enid Blyton book. She got into a fit of rage that I was not doing that which she though should make me happy. So she came up to me and ripped apart my Enid Blyton book. Now tell me. Did she make me happy or unhappy?

Then there is yet another version where the gift in itself is harmless like those oversize sweaters in weird colors knit by one’s dear aunts and great aunts. But then there is a catch there also. You are thinking you are being nice in accepting the unwanted gift graciously. And the other person thinks you should be eternally indebted to them for this great gift they have given you. Every time they meet you, they ask if you are still using the item that they have given you as if you would have never been able to remain alive without the sweater or whatever ugly thing they gifted you.

I for one believe each and every person knows best what or she wants and one should not do something for someone unless one is really sure that the person wants it. After all everyone’s life is their own and it is up to live as they think best. Now that is a great attitude to have and everyone would be appreciating me for my open minded liberal attitude, right? Wrong! I am often accused of being indifferent and lethargic at best and selfish and callous at worst.  

I am left wondering possibly the trick is in the paving after all, irrespective of whether it is the way to heaven or hell. After all paving is hard work and anything that is time consuming and laborious must be good irrespective of the results.

Zen and the Art of Diary Maintenance

Many people who eventually became writers have started out by keeping diaries. Though I have never given a serious thought about writing anything other than what the basic academic curriculum required during most of my school and college days, I have often tried to maintain diaries. It is fascinating to see in movies or read in stories how people have captured every little incident in their lives in their diaries. But actually once you get down to it, maintaining a diary is no easy task. If you set out to faithfully record the happenings of the day, it is not long before the tedium of the task completely overwhelms you. If one were to think about it, diaries in stories usually tend to capture all the interesting incidents of the protagonists lives, leaving out all the dreary details, the monotony and the drudgery of day to day life. But how is possible selectively record only the interesting incidents unless one has a talent for storytelling?

The other approach to diary keeping is to focus on one’s thoughts and musings rather than incidents. But this again comes with its own set of challenges. Recording of thoughts has an element of grandeur to it that makes one draw parallels with great minds and want to believe one thinks profound thoughts. But unfortunately when you observe your thoughts, more often than not they tend to be mundane and you wonder if the thoughts are even worth the paper and ink they are going to consume. And at times, when the thoughts do appear profound, you wonder if they are occurring naturally or it is just you being pretentious in an effort to write something cool in your diary. Then there are truths hidden in the recesses of the mind that you want no one to ever know. Would one really dare to put one’s darkest thoughts down on paper and risk discovery?  

So why suddenly all this fuss about writing diaries you may ask. I think you might have guessed the answer- I am going to try keeping a diary all over again. Where? Right here! After all isn’t that what the original purpose of blogs was – Web Logs. Even my idea when I started my blog seven years back was to share my musings. From there I took lot of detours and got into the realms of fiction, reviews, poetry, satire, analysis etc. In an effort to find a sense of structure and a sense of direction, I started my second blog. With that in place, this blog’s identify crisis deepened. Then suddenly one fine day, it all came to me. The two blogs are like Yin and Yan. If Three Realms represents order, Lucifer House represents chaos. While Three Realms is about the past, the future and one’s imagination, Lucifer House is about the present. While Three Realms center of gravity lies outside, that of Lucifer House shall reside within.

So from now on, I shall be sharing my musings here on a frequent but irregular basis with no form or structure, with no rhyme or reason.

Tublu by Jahid Akthar - Book Review

In every sphere of human activity, be it arts, science, politics or business there comes a time when it is freed from the shackles of the elite and made commonly available to the masses. As far as English literature for the Indian masses is concerned, Chetan Bhagat may be considered the great emancipator. The popularity of his works has spawned a whole generation of Indian writers who write on simple day to day themes that everyone can relate to in a kind of language that is commonly used by majority of Indians. The books have broken the myth that in order to write books, one has to be very proficient in a language, do lot of research on various topics, be highly imaginative, have a deeper understanding of human behavior and other similar things. These books have increased the general readership for English books in India as well as encouraged hordes of people to take up writing.  

Tublu by Jahid Akthar is one of the latest in the above genre of books.. The book tells the tale of a simple village boy who comes to the city with his father and his experiences in various aspects of life as he grows into full manhood. The story takes us across various places in India and abroad and spans over three decades, giving us a glimpse into the life, attitudes and aspirations of a typical Indian twenty first century middle class male. Being a first time author, I must credit Jahid for putting together a coherent set of events that stay together over two hundred pages.

One of the good things the author tries to do with this story is to reinforce some of the modern day ethos – freeing oneself from social conventions, breaking through various economic and social barriers to connect with people, a more liberal attitude towards sex and love to name a few. The book also gives us some insights into the typical life style and interactions amongst the current day urban middle class youth in India, especially those in IT and IT enabled services industry. 

One passing mention I must make before I close is the foreword section. I usually tend to skip this section and do not even remember if the books I read have it or not. But here somehow it caught my eye and what impressed me was the candor. It is written by a professor and gives a balanced view of the book, giving the reader an inkling of what to expect in the book. However like some of the other forewords I have read, it doesn’t take us through the genesis of the book , talk much about the author or go into his overall thought process behind the book.

The book is quite small and is a light breezy read. I would definitely recommend this book to all fans of Indian campus romances. People who generally feel intimidated by books due to heavy language, ideas or content should give this book a try – it is one of the simplest books they can pick up. 

Thoughts on Parenting

While this blog has been running close for close to 7 years and I have made acquiantance with numerous bloggers, I have never been requested for guest posts as such. I myself volunteered on 3 ocassions. But that changed towards end of last year with requests coming from 2 bloggers I have known for a very long time - Nethra and Saravana. This has been followed by a request from yet another person who I have known for really long - Rachna Parmar- who hosts a very popular blog on parenting, relationships and social issues. She writes in a simple, sensible, no nonsense style that appeals to a lot of people. Her blog has won acclaim on numerous Indian and International forums - Indiblogger, Blogadda and Huffington Post to name a few. It is indeed a honor to write a guest post on her blog. The post is on a topic that is very popular on blog-o-sphere but absolutely new to me.

'I never imagined I would ever write a post on parenting – I am just not parenting material. But then here I am, invited by one of India’s foremost bloggers on the topic of parenting to write a guest post on her blog on this very topic. Let me see where do I get started – this is one topic where I have the luxury to start like Oliver Twist – where it all began. It all happened one fine September morning on the eve of Ganesh Chaturthi. Wife complained of pains and we rushed to the hospital. Nowadays in modern hospitals however fathers do not wait anxiously outside for nurses to come out and announce whether it is a boy or girl. They take you right in where you can watch the doctor pulling out a lizard like creature from your wife’s womb like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, chatting away casually all the time. I was so stupefied by the enormity of the moment that I did not even use basic common sense to figure the gender of the child and had to be told the same. '

Click here to read the rest of the post on Rachna's blog.

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces