Colin Singleton and musings on mattering

It is a curious thing how the character we dislike usually represents an aspect of ourselves that we have not looked into or not yet integrated into ourselves. Take for example Colin Singleton, the main protagonist of An Abundance of Katherines. It is the story of a boy named Colin who gets dumped nineteen times by various Katherines. John Green, that wizard with words takes this relatively unremarkable plot and weaves his magic around it, as only he can. Colin, former child prodigy faces tremendous pressure to stay matchless in every pursuit that his parents have him undertake. We have all been there, right? The entire character of Colin Singleton can be pretty much summed up in one excerpt of the book which starts off with a bit of a walk back into the lanes of his childhood, where his genius first begins to show. As he reads a book called The Missing Piece, he does not realise that he too is like the circle with the missing slice. This very habit of knowing but not being able to see is what causes the love of his life, Katherine XIX to part ways with him. This book follows him and his friend Hassan on a sojourn for that missing piece that will make Colin’s broken heart whole again. In other words, heartbreak followed by a road trip and then he hooks up with a girl (whose name is not Katherine, so there is that I suppose). What’s so special about this premise anyway right? It sounds so been there, done that. Indeed, John succeeds so beautifully in creating a character who constantly undermines himself and thinks he has nothing to offer to the world (and the Katherines dwelling in it) except his genius. The only problem, he is a former genius. Even as he goes on this journey to move on or perhaps due to his friend’s coercion, he doesn’t realise that he still sees himself as a former something or someone. Like, the former boyfriend of Katherine XIX, or former child prodigy. It is almost tragicomic, this narration and quite honestly, the first John Green book I was easily able to put down. Owing to its slow pace and the perceptible dry-ness of the plot, it felt like biting into an old, cold multi-grain sandwich. With the crusts not cut off. Out of sheer determination and a completely undeserved sense of optimism towards the book, I decided to trudge on and see where and how the “hero’s” healing arc would manifest within the writing. Predictably it takes a hot girl, an outlier (is it just me or are there way too many of those nowadays in YA literature?) to bring Colin to his senses, change his perception and in a way, complete his Dumper – Dumpee Theorem as well. For she may not have his prodigious skill of knowing things which most people would find utterly random (like Nikola Tesla’s romantic fascination with a white pigeon), but her gift is in seeing people. She therefore adds to his theorem, and his life the missing variables required to deem it whole again. An amusing section of the book that I liked was the numerous footnotes, which tell their own story and provide a glimpse not only into the inner workings of Colin’s mind, but also of John Green, the one who gave form and voice to Colin Singleton.

Colin reminded me of an aspect of myself that I would like to happily put behind me, one that makes me blush with mortification now. The part of me that thought I could understand love and be successful in a romantic relationship by conducting a research on successful couples and their secrets. I kid you not, I did carry out surreptitious research (using dubious techniques)  and even had a first draft of my “research paper” containing 3700+ words. It was desperate and slightly funny in a sad, oddball kind of way. Now that I think about it, I didn’t even know the first thing about love. I was going at it from an almost entirely detached angle, discounting emotional variables and how they can constantly be in flux, and therefore not predictable. I did not of course share my insights with my peers (and rightly so) because I did not want to be mocked by them. However, had they been privy to my research, I would have gotten a wealth of data from them as they frequently experienced romantic relationships of varying lengths and intensities, while I… only had my books and a theoretical glimpse, apart from the people I spoke to who were not from my generation. I often looked at my crush and wondered if there was a socially appropriate way that I could ask him what sort of biochemical reactions (if any) he had in my presence, or (like a normal person) I could simply have said “Hey, I like you. Do you like me back?” But of course, that requires guts and I…generally became a strangely unrecognisable version of myself around my crush. The version of me that shook my wrist in his face, and asked him if I had nice wrists. *cringe* You see, I was not entirely comfortable in my skin yet to be able to be myself and know that I’d be liked anyway. I remember a lengthy conversation with him when we spoke about the hormones and chemical reactions responsible for falling in love, the signs of it, while subsequently my mind raced ahead to determine if he had shown any of these signs that he was talking about, either in my presence or that of any other female. He pontificated, as only a *science student* could, and years later… I wonder now if he knew the intent of that conversation. So finally, once my own perspective on myself and certain other things changed, did things start turning around. Much like they did, for Colin in the book. After which, may be it was just me or perhaps the writing did pick up pace and start moving rapidly, that simmering bond between the two teenage protagonists coming to a boil, culminating in a night of confessions and passions in not-Katherine’s favourite hidey hole, an incredibly dark cave. As a metaphor, it makes perfect sense for how they find each other. Their series of outings and “adventures” can be likened to bumping knees turning into grazing noses as the two kiss.

I am not here to talk about this kiss, but rather for the theme this book addresses in an over arching sort of way. The importance of mattering, of our being here, of wanting to amount to something. Making an impact on the world, or at least our own society/community. These are thoughts that I have been frequently plagued by, of late. The book does not provide the answer to this all important question of course. This fear of fading into oblivion is… I think, something that all of us can relate to whether we think about it constantly and consciously, or fleetingly in moments of despair. But I think we will have had it pretty good if we choose to whom and how we will have mattered.

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Musings on Morning Prayers

There are two ways to go about the morning for someone who is not burdened by the bottleneck throttling pace of being in the rat race each day. Fall immediately into the looping vortex of YouTube and Facebook, or do something else. I am choosing the second option‌, I wish to stay clear headed throughout the day and writing… I find, helps with that. First things first, what is the one thing most of us raised a certain way do when we get out of bed? Pray. As a child, I always used to recite the bedtime prayer, and morning prayers dutifully. I used to sit up and raise my hands towards eye level, close my eyes and recite as was  taught to me:

“Karaagre vasathe Lakshmi,
Kara madhye Saraswathi,
Kara moole sthithe Gowri,
Mangalam Kara Darshanam”.

Meaning – At the top of my hands resides Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth and prosperity), In the middle of my hands resides Saraswathi (Goddess of Knowledge, Purity, and Learning), At the base of my hands resides Gowri (As I am not aware of a specific domain allocation, I will simply say She is pure Energy, She is Shakti.) I contemplate upon them (at which point the eyes are slowly opened) because it is auspicious to do so.”

It was not because I understood any better, or attached any particular significance. It was something my mum and dad did. And, so did I. Being the ever curious one, I did recite them only after I got to know their meaning. However the actual meaning and significance of these verses, and this ritual would take some years to be fully absorbed. At this point, I like to think that it has been so deeply internalized that it (remembering God in some form or the other) is part of my thought ritual as I rise up every morning to welcome a new day. That habit (of reciting prayers) was disrupted ever since I joined the workforce. What used to be a good five or so minutes of closing my eyes and praying was first reduced to two, and then… It stopped. For a long while. I fell into the mindless pattern of waking up, checking my phone for notifications about emails from work, creating a to-do list and setting about the day. Even if I have stepped away from that cycle, I have to make a conscious effort if I am to do it. Partly out of habit, but also because I have been experiencing a shift in how I view my religious beliefs. I am examining them, and re-shaping them not for convenience but to have an applied understanding and a more rational, pragmatic approach to it. And that is when the true meaning and significance dawned on me. That this prayer to Lakshmi was not to ask for more wealth, but rather about creating a mindset of awareness and gratitude about one’s abundance, and that wealth could be symbolic too. Or that we prayed to  Saraswathi to awaken the logical and reasoning faculties to  approach the day with a clear mind, and Shakti… I guess is the acknowledgement of our very existence, giving thanks to the Praanic energy in flow, in our bodies.

With this new frame of understanding, I don’t find it mandatory to pray using words but rather play with the sensations in free flow. The warm prickly feeling of sunlight on my bare arms and feet, the cool breeze coming in through the windows … Every sign of life out on the streets, isn’t that a nod to the Divine too? To some beautiful force, some unassailable truth that connects the whole Universe?

Enneagram Woes

Hey there denizens of the internet who happen to have stumbled on to my blog, or have subscribed to it! Phew! Lengthy greeting out of the way, I can now concentrate on what I want to talk about. My inherent mistrust of people who are alive. Wait, let me clarify. I mean theories put forth by people who are alive. Death probably lends them a certain glamour and gravitas that life sorely lacks. For context, I am talking about the Enneagram Tritype theory. While I am happy that the people who put it forth are alive… I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. You might think it is great that they are, and accessible to me with the power of social media. But I happen to think a little differently. I will tell you why. Too much accessibility kills the star quality. It kills the aura of mystery and allure, laying bare before us, the man or woman. Case in point? Like when I finished American on Purpose by Craig Ferguson. Now any time I watch his show re-runs, my way of viewing them has been forever altered. I will always have context now as to what happened behind the scenes on a particular day, and sometimes… Only sometimes… Maybe things work better interpreted subjectively. Without a whole lot of backstory. Jokes for instance. The glimmer of his humour has dimmed a little, but my admiration for him has definitely gone up.

The other reason being, social media allows us to engage in (pseudo) intellectual discourse with these experts, and most of the times the conversations had via this medium lack the depth of research that goes into a painstakingly written book or article. Before you know, a certain kinship owing to the frequency of interaction has developed creating a soft bias in the mind, making one more susceptible to  buying into their theory propaganda. Despite being a person with a general proclivity towards skepticism, even I have fallen into this trap; I have been enchanted by “experts” only to realise with some gap of time and reduction in frequency, the loopholes in their explanations and understanding. That led to the inevitable disenchantment with discourse over social media about these kind of topics and more, which require much forethought and careful research before shooting off replies. After all, my generation did project work in school going through dusty tomes and spent long hours in libraries not because of some romanticism they carry, but out of necessity.

Going back to my mistrust of alive theorists, when I was taking apart the Enneagram system to try and understand it; I came upon the tritype theory which posits that each person has a head, heart and gut approach to solving problems; and how they deal with fear, shame and anger either by denying it, expressing it or repressing it. That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but Google it if you want to know more. To be honest‌, I am not sure I understood it fully myself. With every system of typology there is always the chance of fitting the fact to suit the theory and I think that might be one of my prime pet peeves about theorists alive when they apply their theories to explaining pop culture events and people. Then again, my other issue is that it wouldn’t have been in practice for long enough to have earned some modicum of respect as an established system. I am not talking about just peer approval here, but the fact that it lends the system an air of solid comfort. Like that old jumper from ten years which is soft and downy. What it might amount to is just the knee jerk response of skepticism to new theories which I must test for loopholes myself and ensure that they are fool proof. There are so many aspects added to the Tritype theory alone, that it fails to stand as an independently reliable and efficient system with practical application. A theory IMO has to be designed in an elegant and unambiguous manner that makes it easy for the motivated seeker to understand.

The Enneagram (tritype) theory suffers from a lack of consistency in that every test or  quiz online yields different results each time. These are not even results close to one another, they are wildly off and different. Given that this tests for behavioral motivation, there is no way to assess that the subject answered with a neutral frame of mind, despite their very best efforts to stay objective. Adding to this colossal pile of confusion is the fact that the Enneagram in some ways is like an invincible many headed sea serpent.  There are conflicting views, types applied with instinctual variants, phobic and counter phobic manifestations of a particular type, type fixes, and lots more… There have been times when I had to put the book away or shut my laptop down because my head actually hurt from trying to fit the pieces together in a coherent structure. Since it speaks of behavioural motivations, I think it hardly fair to limit the motivation behind the behaviour of a human being to just three aspects. This theory tries to etch out a person, creating freeze frame allowances only for the past and the present but without laying out a map for the future development of the individual. Besides, any time a supposedly scientific or even psychological theory mentions the word Holy, my skepticism just increases. Holy things have their place, and this might not be it. I may be speaking from a point of limited understanding here but if so, feel free to correct me on it.

Another explanation for why I grapple with this might be that I have a blind spot in how I perceive my Self. For unless I know myself, how can I see myself? But who am I? I am who I was, who I am and who I will be. I am also who I am not. Our cells are regenerating rapidly every single day, that we can roughly say that you are an entirely new you, every seven years. When such is the case, I think Oscar Wilde was right in saying “To define is to limit”.

Living and Existing: Morning Musings

The phrase “mere existence, or merely existing” makes me wonder if we are actually putting more pressure on ourselves when we say want to live? What does living even mean? What does Life mean, anyway? I happen to think that Life only carries the meaning that we ascribe to it, so the notion of living is subjective and indescribable. And if someone has ascribed to their life, the meaning that it is a preset existence; does that invalidate the person’s existence as having not lived? Is the pursuit of happiness detrimental, in that doing so is stressful because we have not the foggiest clue about what happiness really means? Have you thought about these things?

The pursuit of happiness, much like the pursuit of passion is like single handedly hefting a monolithic rock uphill. This is an idea that sends perfectly sensible people teetering over the edge and they view the process as the end result. This concept has even famously spawned several coming of age movies, especially of the kind directed by Imtiaz Ali and featuring Ranbir Kapoor as the solipsistic protagonist who goes away to purse his passions, only to come back and trace a redemption arc of his own. Where the moral of the story is that all things good come to the protagonist when you are willing to be impractical and take risks. But what these movies fail to focus on when they are stripped of their songs, glamour and the convenient triumphant ending for the hero, is the reality of the collapsing collateral.

Has this just become the fashionable thing to do? Are we turning into the Sids and Bunnys played by Ranbir Kapoor? Self – absorbed, entitled individuals who believe they are endlessly awesome and talented, that the world is theirs for the taking? Without making a sincere attempt to understand the foundation of the core principles and values that the world is built on, the efforts of those before them? This brings to mind a certain card from the Rider Waite deck, the Four of Cups. It depicts a man surrounded by three golden cups on the ground. Yet, his eyes are transfixed upon a fourth illusory cup that only he sees. He yearns for the cup that he does not have, instead of appreciating the cups he does have. This card best addresses the sense of ennui that plagues most of our generation. That niggling feeling of seeking something Higher and greater, to fill the void often created by a disparity (and lack of understanding of the inter-dynamics) between material and spiritual fulfilment which sends confused young ‘uns in droves to various Ashrams and “gurus”.

Every generation has their own fad. For example, there has been the famous Goa trip with friends, and posting pics on social media fad. What is our generation’s fad then? Is it white noise activism and internet activism?  Protest marches tend to attract attention but they are a distraction from the core focus of resolving issues while rarely generating any traction so far as concrete problem solving goes. Internet activism offers an inflated sense of feeling good about oneself. Of having done something, to ease their conscience as they further succumb or willingly enjoy the comforts offered by a system fuelled by a mix of capitalism and consumerism. Sign a petition on Change.org to save a local bookstore, then order a book with one click via the Amazon app. So cool and easy, right?

Even as the mind floats about in these musings detached from reality, my present reality dictates that I must go about the day, making the best of my life and existence. So off I go! The cup has been drained. Have a nice Sunday, everyone.

Disclaimer: These musings are simply that, and do not necessarily reflect my personal thoughts/opinions. 

Time Capsule – Part 1

Happiness is the ability to constantly re-invent oneself. I have been thinking about the flexibility of mindsets for a multitude of reasons including creating an environment where a dialogue on #metoo can be open, constructive and not have that unfortunate and idiotic side effect where people denounce the campaign as something that goes against sexual freedoms or being used as a power play gambit by man bashing feminists. However, I am not going into that right now. The idea here is to create a sort of map of the self and see where I was, to how far I have come, reconciling the knowledge of the two to understand the factors that have and will continue to shape who I will be in the future. This is applicable not only on a micro scale, but a macro level as well. A friend and I were talking about the possibility of creating a timeline to track our past selves and the growth we have undergone to become the present selves including the impact of the good times and the crappy moments as well. And, in the hopes of not repeating one’s mistakes. So here is me doing that.

My earliest memories of childhood are less of being a human toddler and more like a werewolf cub :)) I say this with good reason. People who used to come home to see me used to bring offerings of cream biscuits and chocolates to appease so as to make sure they didn’t get bitten. I remember childhood being an energetic, frenetic blur of outings, friendships, “investigative work”, pressure to achieve academic excellence. I recollect summers spent at my grandfather’s, a person I was close to and tried to emulate for well over a decade after his passing in 2002. I remember the sticky sweet juices of the jackfruits and watermelons we used to eat together, while watching TV. The jackfruits used to grow in a neighbour’s orchard behind our house, it became a symbol of a close knit community mindedness and kindness. An era in which neighbours knew each other by name and stood by them in times of difficulty. Today’s reality though is we don’t even know who our neighbours are. The fact that I live in an old but developing part of the city resolves some part of the issue because the residents have known each other for more than three decades but the newer crop of neighbours who have moved in, we don’t know them at all. Not really. Moving on to the years spent in school, the things I remember the most are the classrooms, the dusty corridors with the narrow benches outside the Principal’s office where we used to wait, to be congratulated by her for winning some music and creative writing competitions, Olympiads etc. I remember the dark blue blouse and white pleated skirt that always remained nearly immaculate because I was never too much into sports in any case except for shotput and running. I used to prefer board games with friends so we could utilise the opportunity to continue our talks, while not being chastised for not participating in the “P.T.” period. School was a whirlwind of conversations. As thrilling as it was, neither school nor college left me with that aching sense of nostalgia on those last days. I shed no tears at the idea of not being able to meet my classmates again, I was ready to move on. I was excited even. Throughout, the years saw me transform from a bubbly, outgoing achiever to a deeply insecure, reserved, young woman who shut herself off from much of the world for reasons of her own. Part of it, and this is so important to state…is the mentality of society that tends to stigmatize people with speech impediments or other kind of issues. The other thing of course is how your primary caregiver or doctor treats you. It is not enough to be merely competent. It is equally imperative to be compassionate else you are just an asshole. An asshole who leaves the patients shaking with fright, self – doubt and has the power to rewrite the trajectory of some of the most dynamic years of their lives. In any case, my memory palace is composed of tiles stacked up with their impressionist art style of events running from side to side. Often overlapping and colliding to create a larger picture of a certain haze of colour for a particular time period.

Happy 2018!

Do you ever have one of those moments where… You are in that moment but also, you are observing yourself and the people in the moment like someone peering in through a frost caked window pane? When you are experiencing the moment, but also watching it play out before you like a movie? I have often felt that way. Like I am in two places at once. Belonging someplace, and being an outsider. Actor, and Director of the moments in my life. Much of my life has been an inner strife between wanting to spread my wings, soar and never look back but also about chasing the concept of home, a place where I won’t peer in and for once, I can be at peace. Just belong. Just enjoy. But with advancing years, something I am coming to terms with is that home isn’t something to be chased. It is something you find. You can only be a Seeker. Home is something that’s made. Home is like Asgard. And life? May be it is about evolving from Midgard to Asgard. A spiritual journey of integrating the duality represented by the qualities of both, Loki and Thor. Becoming worthy of the metaphoric Mjolnir. What is the Mjolnir that you are striving to become worthy of, this year?

As a new year comes around the corner, I want to write a little about it. Not your perfunctory New Year’s post. This is part of my morning musings today, when I was thinking about resolutions. Whether to set any. The theme I have set for 2018 for myself is progress. Push out that which does not belong, change only if present behaviour is detrimental to my own welfare, or that of the people I care for. Or, humanity at large in terms of shaping the bigger picture. Friendships are growing more fragile than ever, people are drifting apart. It is an ophidian line of people. Too many people packed in a rat race. In an age where the social Internet fosters an unreal, unnatural sense of intimacy and belonging while in reality creating an environment of codependency. How different are they from those we form in our real lives? And sometimes, it is those friendships that are staying while the old ones, the offline ones are paying the price. Did real get mundane? Is it reeling under the burden of catching up with the exciting possibilities offered by the social Internet? Yes, it is exciting to have these mental sparks go off in what I imagine is a nonstop, psychedelic sequence of neurons firing off, bouncing off the stimuli offered by a faceless entity on the social Internet. But behind those faces run strands that are dripping, masked by explosions of colour. The social Internet feeds into this frenzy of being satiated instantly, you don’t mind who is dealing you the good stuff as long as you are getting some. The real deal though, it is like a plant. It needs to be watered and cared for, after some point it becomes self – sustaining but are we in too much of a hurry to develop these new bonds, put the effort into them? And somewhere between who you want to be seen as, who you want to be and who you are, is where you are at. The greater the distortion in your multiple frames of perception from your reality, you start to feel like an outsider. Like looking in on someone’s life. Except that someone is you. So this new year, (I am going to) stop looking in and go out. Engage! Live your best life! Happy 2018, everyone. May this be one of your best years yet.

A cuppa tea: Morning Musings

There was a challenge online a while ago which asked for intimate details of one’s morning rituals. Kind of like a sharply zoomed in snapshot of that one moment without which the day isn’t complete. Sitting on the porch with my mug in hand, I tried hard to come up with something. I wanted them to publish my piece, so I did my best to come up with a morning ritual. One that I don’t have. While looking for it though, I have realised that I do have one morning tradition. Daily musings. And no, it is not just musings on gratitude or motivating myself for the day ahead. Each new day brings with it a different set of thoughts. Today I hold in my hand, a mug that’s got cat ears, if you will. Filled to the brim with peppermint tea. I close my eyes and enjoy the sweet, fresh flavour that wakes me up with a gentle jolt.  I think of all the hands that have worked together to bring that small smile on my lips, and the contented sigh. Right from the tea plantation workers to the packaging good folk, to the suppliers, to the wholesalers and then the ultimate consumer. Then, the loving pair of hands that prepares or oversees the preparation of the said beverage. Which brings me to think of why we fight about all the ways in which we are different when we should be exploring how we can get together and make progress with the combined potential of our intellect working in tandem, providing multiple diverse perspectives. Making diversity the strength that it should be, instead of dividing a world that’s already fraught with tension, violence and intolerance. Now, I am not saying that such is the case everywhere. A couple of the people who read this, and myself could well be living in progressive, tolerant environments but that’s not enough. The voices that drown out our own are getting louder. Fingering the rim of the cat-eared mug, I think to myself “If we don’t unite now, who is going to save us when the cat overlords invade us?” Whoa, I went a little too deep there for a bit. Too deep for early morning musings anyway. So, I will go back to imagining what might happen once the cats take over. Would the dogs be their bitches? (in a sense, literally) Would the crazy cat folk be honoured for their devotion to their pets? Or in a sadistic streak, would the cats ensure that they are the first ones to go?? Their screams of anguish drowning out their feelings of betrayal? Would Grumpy Cat lead the revolution? It is far more satisfying to think of a cat overlord hostile takeover of the planet. For it is something that may or may not happen :)) Unlike the inevitable wrecking of our home, which is already happening. We have to fix this mess we have created, as an unwise man once said “We inherited a mess”… No, we didn’t. We took a beautiful plot and wrecked it in the name of flipping it. Instead we have just flipped off the next generation for no fault of theirs. Except that their predecessors happened to be careless, complacent folk who screwed them over. It is time we change that; so our next generation won’t be forced to look beyond to fend for themselves. Let them focus on fighting whatever it is they will fight. Be it cats, rogue Replicants or the first of the lab – bred monsters that someone might end up creating “accidentally”.