Monday, December 19, 2011

How To Live

Lately I've been wondering a lot about, well, how to live. In the quest to understand life, I‘ve read a lot: philosophy, evolutionary-biology, neuroscience, history, social-sciences, astrophysics, quantum mechanics, gossip columns and porn. So far, I must admit, not much progress has been made.

Cicero said “To philosophize is to learn how to die”. I have a few suggestions for Mr. Cicero, but let's get to the point.

So, how to live? Simply stated, we don’t know, we don’t even know whether it is knowable, and more importantly, whether the question is valid. It is definitely not like “How to whistle” (which is a fairly complex activity I assure you; the Youtube videos aren't much help).

Chances are little that you’ll find an answer in a blog-post. Analytical answers might never come. Just look at us, spending billions and still struggling to spot the tiniest particle. So I turn to readily available wisdom in self-help books:

Live as if today were your last day:
If I were to live as if today were my last day, it most definitely will become one (unless they put me in jail before I am done with my exploits). Let’s, for the sake of argument, assume that my morality stays intact and the expectation of a sure,timed death doesn’t trigger a violent reaction. In short, let's assume that I will be a good person overall.

Let’s take it slowly. Here’s the deal: You got just today. Will you bathe? Think it over. Remember, you got just 24 hours to live.

I won’t.

(Tragically, in the only case when you know for sure that today is your last day, they not only make you have a bath, they shave your head as well.)

However, since I am being a good person on the last day, I would call up Ma and Pa and tell them how much I love them. I finish the rest of day being extra nice and I go to bed expecting not to wake up again. I might call Ma again.

With 99.999% probability, I will wake up the next day. Since the deal remains the same, I won’t bathe and I will call Momma. If this continues for a week, my Mom will understandably take the next flight to Bangalore. Then she’ll find that I haven’t had a bath for seven days!! Like SEVEN whole days !! Need I say more?

So, you see, this philosophy won’t work. One can try and modify the theory to say that “live as if this is your tenth last day”. Most of us will bathe with respectable frequencies after this modification. However, will you pay the month electricity bill? I won’t. I suppose you get the drift.

Pacuvius, a wealthy man who lived a couple of thousand years ago, used to hold a regular burial sacrifice in his own honor, with wine and the usual funeral feasting, and then would have himself carried from the dining-room to his chamber, while eunuchs applauded and sang in Greek to a musical accompaniment: "He has lived his life, he has lived his life".

What is the best use of my time right now?:
A little reflection on this and one realizes that this is like an infinite loop with nothing at all happening inside the loop. One needs to fix sensible intervals between the “right now”s. It can’t be too long either, else significance of “right now” is lost. Let’s say an hour. Now what? This maxim has nothing to say for what is the best possible use. It’s more of a technique rather than a solution.

Also, this technique shares the flaw (although not as acutely) of the previous saying. Who, in his right mind, will say “Right now, the best use of my time is to have a bath”? Answer lies in the question. Someone who is too itchy and stinking, even for himself, will eventually find that a hot bath is the best use of the next few minutes.

Another limitation is that one might get occupied with local maximas and lose sight of the long run fulfillment. The best possible use of the next ball is to hit it for a six, but attempting so every ball won’t win you the match.

Took the road less traveled by and that has made all the difference:
Robert Frost wrote the poem in jest. To Frost’s dismay, the irony was lost on almost everyone and the lines ended up being used in motivational ways. Even his closest friend Edward Thomas, an accomplished poet in his own right, and for whom Frost wrote the poem, didn’t, so to speak, get it. Instead, he got inspired and joined the English army in the First World War. Frost wrote this poem in 1915, Thomas got killed in 1916.

More often than not, it’s the traveler that matters. “Taking the road less travelled” can’t be a universal rule anyway as one would expect a uniform distribution of people on all roads if it was as simple as that, unless of course the road is less travelled for a sensible reason. E.g. You won’t make it big just because you choose never to have a bath.

Live life to the fullest:
Like what? Should I install a bath-tub instead of using a shower? This maxim makes me feel like blowing up a big balloon.

In short, I am not impressed. You know how the whole thing is:

(A very very complex and huge expression) = ?

You ponder a while and then tell yourself “This shit is taking long; let me grab a cup of tea and two cookies”. By the time you are back with your tea, already sore at yourself for having finished the cookies last night, the left hand side of the equation has become furthermore complex.

With life, the rules are not only complex, but fuzzy and evolutionary. As it is, even the strictest of formal systems are doomed to be incomplete. I guess there isn’t much else to do, but to live life to the fullest on this last day of my life and squeeze in a leisurely bath somewhere along the road less travelled.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Demon : Short Story Contest Entry

Yesterday as the room service lady delivered the laundry to my room, I hesitated, “This bra is not mine”.

“Of course not, sir.” She slammed the door on her way back.

It’s a regular bra; black, 32B. Clara is bigger.

A copy of the laundry receipt has already gone to the company accountant; and she will talk. Clara will throw me out.

Sales Manager, 45, on a business trip, is getting lingerie washed at company’s expense while his faithful wife tends to the household chores and their 15 year old son.

That 15 year old was recently caught watching porn by his mother.

“You must talk to Harry.” Clara repeats.

Yeah right. Harry, read your books and please don’t jerk off!

And who am I to preach? The man who sleeps with a bra by his side. And how many times have my hands caressed the sin? A million.

Such fine shit. Who’s to blame? I didn’t put the fucking thing in my bag. Stupid laundry guys must have messed up.

Well, I better call Clara before the word reaches her. But she won’t believe me.

Maybe I should call Cynthia. Bless her for staying over with us for the month. She will explain it real nice to Clara, face to face.

My phone is ringing. Oh dear! It’s Clara.

“Clara, my angel, I miss you.”

“That’s alright honey, but you must talk to Harry first thing you are back.”

“What did he do now?”

“Cynthia’s bra is missing.”


It's a 250 word limit contest hosted by Jason Evans. The link to the story is here:

Saturday, June 4, 2011

It Really Doesn’t Matter

If you are the kind who admires confidence and decisiveness, I am afraid I won’t be leaving a great impression on you if you happen to be seating opposite to me after the waiter has handed the menu cards.

It would have been easy if we were seated in a French or an Italian restaurant and I were too shy to mispronounce a dish; I would have chosen the one which is easy to roll off the tongue regardless of how it might taste. Instead, I am shameless enough to say the number against the dish or point finger at it on the card and then nod when the waiter pronounces it properly (I am sure they are trained with only those French /Italian words). Or I can always show it to you and you can order it with grace. So my unwillingness to choose from the menu card is cuisine-agnostic. (I might be flattering myself by calling it unwillingness, as it is most probably perceived as an inability.)

It’s not that I lack the discerning taste altogether. Capsicum is chilly and banana is sweet. Chilly is better than sweet. And I do derive pleasure from the food, especially if it tastes like chocolate (chocolate is not counted in sweet). But I find it hard to calculate which item on the menu will bring me more joy. Sometimes I have a vague idea, but I believe it will be too arrogant on my part to announce based on that, because you will take it as a well thought decision based on clear preferences. It will be an implicit lie. I can’t be cheating someone who is dining with me unless I am bound to benefit a lot from it. I would rather let you choose and go with it, feeling safe in the knowledge that overall there is more satisfaction in the world.

Admittedly, there is a catch here. It might be too taxing on you to pick for two. It’s unfair to assume that it’s easy for you to choose. I don’t want to be a freeloader. As a means to avoid implicitly lying and freeloading, I have decided to take the following route the next time I find myself with a menu card in my hands:

“Honestly, it doesn’t really matter, but I’ll go with X, with toppings of Y, although Z seems to be equally fine. However, if you have a better idea, feel free to pitch in.”

This should not imply I am open to eat a half cooked cat. The variance and quality is bounded by the cuisine and the place of which I am aware by virtue of holding the corresponding menu card.

Ideally (subjective), the menu card should simply have a scale which asks “How hungry are you?” (In future, they can have scanners at the door that judge the hunger-level without relying on perceptions.) They can make the card fancy by starting the levels from “As hungry as a rat” and ending at “So hungry that I can even eat a rat right now”.

There is little confusion in the case of drinks though. It all depends on whether I will be driving afterwards. If no, I go for whisky, else beer it is. If you are a guy and you order vodka or a cocktail, I won’t trust you with my car. So you better not be a guy.

Too many ‘if’s and ‘I’s in this post: another not so impressive trait in a man. But I am relieved to have made my stand crystal clear.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

I Still Don't Know

When I died, I wasn’t surprised to be escorted in to the gate that read:

Welcome To

where else


Death leaves one with the bitterness that can't be cured. No one recovers from the humiliation. Building heaven for the dead is like building a machine that snatches the eye balls out of a man and gives him tickets to a silent movie in return. The “Where Else” made a lot of sense. Everyone goes to hell; because wherever one goes, there is hell.

But there is order in hell. Hell is divided into many large halls. (You don’t see any fire or demons; the memories of your death are torture enough.) Which hall you go to, depends on the way you died.

A hellboy appeared.

“This way, Sir.”

He looked exactly like me.

“We’ll have to pass through a few of the halls before we reach your deathbed.”

“So, I get a bed, eh?” I was lame when it came to small-talk, even in death.

In the first hall, some beings were standing, some were sitting and some were lying on their beds. Those who were lying on beds cried the loudest.

“Sir, if you sit on your bed, you can never stand again, but you may lie down. And once you lie down, you can neither stand nor sit.”

They all kept repeating how they died in between their sobs. This hall belonged to those who died a natural death of old age.

We entered the next hall. This hall had lesser lethargy but more gloom than the previous one. It belonged to those who fell victims to fatal diseases before they could grow old. I looked for my dog.

“Sir, the animals are immediately recycled back to earth.” Hellboy knew it all.

The third hall belonged to those who were quashed in accidents and natural disasters. The tone of weeping had stronger sense of wrongdoing and uneasiness about it.

“Sir, please brace yourself. We are about to enter the most hostile hall in hell.”

We stepped in to the next hall. Men were bawling violently. They were trying to talk, but midway through the sentences they would turn away and begun wailing and stomping their limbs.

“What kind of deaths did they suffer?” I asked apprehensively.

“Sir, they all died in ridiculous fashions, and for little fault of anyone.”

Shouldn’t they be in the Accident Hall then?”

“Sir, there is a difference between being run over by a car and being asphyxiated to death beneath a fat whore.”

“You see that man, sir? He died of shock because he mistook his kid’s belt lying on the floor for a snake. And that man died of a bullet fired up in the sky by one of his wedding party reveler. These men are so embarrassed of their ways of death that they can’t speak about it and so the sorrow lingers on and becomes more and more severe.”

In one corner of the hall, I saw a room with its door locked. Hellboy was leading me to it. I could hear horror filled yells from within the room.

“Sir, the man in this room had his balls eaten of by his lover’s dog. The dog had never seen a naked man before. This man has been the most severe case of embarrassment we have had in recent times.”

Hellboy proceeded to open the door of the room. The man inside ran to me and held me tight and opened his mouth to say something, but voice escaped him. He was asked to go to a nearby bed.

“Sir, may I request you to please proceed into this room.”

“What! Did I die such a sorry death?”

Hellboy stayed mum.

“Am I the dog that choked on his balls? But I would have been recycled then!”

Hellboy continued staring at the floor.

“Won’t you please tell me how I died? I don’t seem to remember it.”

“Sir, we don’t tell anyone how they died. They all know it on their own.”

Saying so, he shut the door on me.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Tailor's Box

When Abdul took measurements of his customers, he secretly measured their age too. Decades of sewing clothes had taught him how the human body decays with time.

Years ago when the rich landlord had brought red silk for making curtains for his house, Abdul saved enough material to tailor his daughter Abeeda’s wedding dress . He hid the dress in a box which he opened on the day she got married twelve years later. Abdul invited everyone to the wedding, but the rich landlord.

Kasim, the butcher was invited too. Kasim’s daughter Sakina was Abeeda’s friend. Sakeena eloped with Kasim’s assistant and came back home five days later at midnight, bruised and beaten. Kasim took her to his slaughterhouse and lynched her. Her body was never found.

The whole village had eaten Sakina bit by bit the next day, at the price of a cow’s meat. Abdul knew this because he got the bone which matched the size of her hand. He puked, but he kept quiet.

A few months before the whole village ate Sakina, Kasim had come to Abdul to get his trousers loosened. Abdul found a lottery ticket in his pocket and hid it in the same box in which he hid Abeeda’s wedding dress.

After a week when the lottery winners were announced, Kasim’s ticket won a petty sum that wouldn’t buy anything more than a good meal for two. So Abdul took the ticket to Kasim, expecting a good meal as an appreciation for his honesty. Kasim shut the door on him and swore that he will tell the entire village that he is a thief. But Kasim didn’t do that; he just stopped going to Abdul to get his trousers loosened.

Abdul was happy that Abeeda didn’t elope. If she had, he would have given the red silk dress to the rich landlord and hid Abeeda in the same box in which he hid the dress.

But she didn’t elope and she got married and nine month later she gave birth to Suleman.

One day when little Suleman was sitting in the mud, Abeeda asked Abdul, “Papa, will you make a dress for my Suleman’s funeral. And keep it in the box in which you hid my wedding dress”.

“Yes, I will.”

Abeeda looked longingly at her Suleman and asked Abdul in a trembling voice, “Papa, how tall will my son grow?”

“Taller than me.”

Abdul was right. Suleman grew up to three and a half feet, a good two inch taller than his grandfather. And when Suleman died an old man, shrunken by an inch, they took the dress, which Abdul made seventy years ago, out of the box. It fit the dead body perfectly.

The box remains empty since then.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tooth-Fairies And Soap

Yesterday I helped the cause of a budding barber. Although my right ear still hurts, I am satisfied with my readiness for an impromptu “Who has the shortest hair?” contest.
It’s been a long break and I am pleasantly surprised at the number and identities of the people who noticed the absence. I have come to realize that this blog is seen more as a tool for self-exhibition than as a place where I write stuff.
But this self-exhibition is still a fiction (albeit of little commercial value). What I exhibit is of course chosen and/or manipulated. (E.g. More than half of the apologetic scenarios mentioned here never happened. Apologies for that.) Nearly all of us do this selection with a varying degree of awareness and intent.
Does that make me liar? Well, I do lie sometimes in real life, but the lies on this blog are of different nature. I add ornamentation purposely to entertain, and not to cheat. Things that I have on mind while writing are on the lines of “Does this sound funny or intelligent?”, “What if?”, “Is this getting too inconsistent?” etc. I don’t see this blog as a place where I express my innermost thoughts (blah) or try to connect with people.
However, I maintain that I did have that haircut from a novice barber yesterday.
Meanwhile, my new neighborhood is living up to the expectations mentioned in the previous post. Also, there ain’t gonna be no Deember for me. Fish are too selfish to bother about their owners. I now have a small garden instead, with over a dozen plants bought from a nearby nursery. Tender little weeds have begun sprouting in most of the pots. I don’t have the heart to snatch them out of the soil. They look like a bunch of street puppies wagging their tails amidst the foreign bred dogs.
I watched television for a few weeks (mostly trash). In every episode of “Emotional Atyachar”, after the initial preaching about the vices of infidelity, whenever the cheating partner smooches the enchantress, they blur the area of action and pop comes the advertising banner below: “Spraymint . Be kiss-ready”. I love capitalism.
I must clarify though that despite the last example, I am all for capitalism. More things get created, both good and bad. Creation is, well, interesting. If you mock at it, you better be good. Saying “Tooth-fairies are bullshit” isn’t enough, true though it might be. Saying “The only Tooth-fairy I have known is that beautiful dentist” is better, but still lame. It’s hard to match the idea of “Tooth-fairy”, however ridiculous it may seem.
Things need not be fantastic in a general sense to be marveled at. Take Soap. Soap, like every one of us, is made up of many-many subatomic particles. It can be traced back to Big-Bang. And soaps, as we know them, will cease to exist in not so distant future. The soap I bought after the hair-cut, had it been luckier, could have rubbed the dirty body of a beautiful Tooth-fairy. It still could, if I get luckier. A soap can be eaten too (it’s delicious).
I must stop here. I am hungry. There are too many loose and philosophically contestable statements in this post already.