Life

Life has no meaning. The universe owes you nothing. We come. We go. That’s it. We simply can’t deal with it and keep running endlessly.

Unfortunately or fortunately, we’ve been blessed with a “thinking” brain. One that adds meaning to where none need exist.

We have to explain things or else our brains will go mad. So, we explain! We create meaning to living, we create a god, we explain why we are here and why we should have a purpose. We create goals and once we reach there, we create some more.

We are not going to arrive at answers by questioning more. Live in the moment, let life embrace you – and perhaps allow the questions to self-destruct.

18avadhu atchakodu

18avadhu atchakodu (18th latitude) is an interesting book by Ashokamitran. There’s hardly any ‘story’ and it feels like you’re simply observing the life of a young man over a few months. Those few months, it turns out, are historically important in the formation of a new nation – India. 

Does he belong to India? Or to the Nizam state of Hyderabad, and in some way, Pakistan? This dilemma of the diaspora is accentuated further by lack of proper information – would the Indian army march to Hyderabad and subdue the Nizam? Or would the Razakkars sway it in favour of Pakistan?

Ashokamitran is unique. I can’t think of any other author who has this style of writing. Written in a very casual and underplayed tone, often laced with wry humour, the book seems like a light read to breeze through. At some point, you suddenly realise it is anything but that. In the background, slowly things unfold. Diaspora lifestyles, the Indian freedom, Razakkars uprising, Nizam’s flip-flops from Pakistan to sovereignty to India, Gandhi’s death, the annexations protests and riots – and finally, the plight of those who pay the price for these political games. 

Ashokamitran’s handling of the tension between the Hindu-Muslim neighbours is unique. There’s no sloganeering or chauvinistic nationalism – just a play of emotions between people who belong to different religions at a time of conflict. What he leaves unsaid is what makes you think.

Another special mention is his ability to bring the landmarks, streets and lanes of Hyderabad / Secunderabad of 1947/48 to life as if it’s unfolding in front of your eyes. This adds a certain sense of nostalgic value to the days of yore.

I enjoyed reading the book. The English translation by Gomathi is supposed to be good too, and is available on Kindle.

Kidai by Ki.Rajanarayan

Kidai – what a lovely little book!

In just 60 pages, Ki. Rajanarayanan has spun a simple tale that not only is narrated beautifully, but is also a commentary on the lifestyle and culture of herdsmen in rural Tamilnadu, their beliefs, prejudices, superstitions and importantly, how the same incident impacts a man and a woman differently, just because the society treats them differently based on their gender, caste and financial position.

I’m in awe of the quality of writing here and want to read more of Ki.Ra. 

Another note about the publisher – Kalachuvadu publications. The book is beautifully done – lovely cover, good quality bright paper and good fonts. That makes the reading experience pleasurable. All for 75 rupees. Something I’ve not been happy about with many English books – even popular publishers like Penguin sometimes outsource printing to 3rd parties like Repro India and the quality is sub-par, spoiling the reading experience. Poor font sizes, thin paper, higher lignin content, etc can spoil a great book. So far, simply holding all these Kalachuvadu books (bought quite a few) in hand has made me happy! Thumbs up to Kalachuvadu.

Conflict!

Piqued by Perarivalan’s news during lockdown, a casual google search on Srilankan civil war snowballed into a month long affair, watching / reading multiple books and documentaries. Read these 4 books in that period. 

‘This divided island’ offers a macro perspective of the war and is well researched, offering perspectives of people from both sides. ‘Seasons of trouble’ offers a micro view, telling the story of the war through the experiences of 2 families. ‘Koorvaalin nizhalil (In the shadow of a sword is the English version) is Tamizhini’s (she was a top political leader inside LTTE) personal view of the activities of the Tigers – largely laced with criticisms and despair that such a costly battle brought their people nothing in the end. She admires Prabhakaran, but makes it clear that he was not capable of a complete solution for her people. There is a chapter on peace talks and that alone is worth reading the book for – and you can see how Tigers messed things up for themselves post 2000. All these 3 are well written books, and Tamizhini’s book is my favourite in this lot, though it could’ve done with better editing. English translation is good too, I believe. The last book is the story of a refugee who escaped to India in 1990 and had no less of a struggle in the politicised refugee camps. Written like a self-pitying sob story, I didn’t like it much, but nevertheless appreciate the author’s honesty and is useful in understanding life in those camps. 

I was less interested in politics (who was right, did one party commit more atrocities than other, etc) of the struggle, but more on the human side. What makes an individual cling to an assumed identity (esp religion, language or region based)? What drives one to claim his identity is superior/original to that of others? What pushes the other to fight back? Are we innately insecure beings, with an innate inability to appreciate differences in people who assume a different identity, the ones who we see as “others”? Is this a nature-equipped mechanism in all of us? Why do so many people struggle with conflict resolution? Did evolution miss a trick by not naturally equipping us with such a skill? Are humans not really designed to live in peaceful societies for too long? Will there always be groups, and with groups, an “us vs them” narrative? These are questions that come to mind.

With an “us vs them” narrative, it becomes all too easy to shrink the humanity of “them” and turn them into enemies – and hence, making punishing such groups a justifiable act. This I suppose is ingrained in societies collectively and will probably never end. Genocides, civil wars, capitalism driven economic sanctions… it goes on. Saying this matter of factly. It is hard to judge this with black and white viewpoints – world is grey!

My go-to black tea: Winter frost

Couple of years ago, I cut down my coffee and tea consumption. I didn’t want to quit. I simply wanted to control how many cups I had – largely that meant 2 cups a day.

Since I cut down on quantity, I started focusing on quality. That opened up a world of coffees and teas I would otherwise not have experimented with. One such being the winter frost teas from Nilgiris.

These winter frost teas are plucked in the dew laden early mornings of December, January and February in Nilgiris. The leaves take longer to grow in winter and that allows it more opportunity to absorb the ambient flavours – thereby making it very aromatic and flavourful. Several estates like Chamraj and Havukal make these winter frost teas.

My go-to black these days is the Winter frost from Chamraj estate. Has a floral aroma that is reminiscent of being in the proximity of a jasmine, and an after-taste that is very peach-fruity in a clean manner. Mildly astringent when steeped right (my preference is about 175-190F water for 3-3.5 mins). A good technique to identify right temperature for this is to take water off boil when you notice several small bubbles at the bottom (don’t let the water boil, it will make this tea bitter – it’s better to let it cool off for a minute or so in such cases before pouring it on tea leaves).

This tea is also great for cold brewing. Just add to water and leave it in fridge for 8 hours or so. That’s it.

Best served plain. No sugar, no milk, not even lemon. Doesn’t have the body to accommodate those.

Self-confidence vs self-esteem

As a parent, I feel this is not given enough attention to. Self-esteem. And how it is different from self-confidence.

A lot of people can rank high on self-confidence, yet be deeply insecure inside. They may feel worthy and driven when they achieve. The minute they step out of the treadmill of achieving, they suddenly feel inadequate. 

This behaviour is highest in my entrepreneurs circle, but other performance oriented circles are no less different. Driven, highly ambitious and insecure – that’s the concoction. The insecurity is often seen as a motivator.

Yet, it is that very group of motivated, driven folk that succumbs to depression, suicide (V G Siddhartha of CCD is one example) and self-ruin.

They are all products of an environment blissfully unaware of healthy self-esteem. An environment that is obsessed in measuring in comparison to others, immersed in winning and seeped in the “opinion of others”. 

As a parent, my job is to ditch all that and to accept my kid as she is, with all her imperfections intact. And to teach her to accept herself as she is – without judgments or comparisons.

Parenting and education

I wonder if parents give a thought to what a school is, what education should be like? What our own role as parents should be?

As a parent, my role (and the school’s) is:
– to help the child learn acceptance of who he/she really is and get comfortable with himself/herself
– to help the child be independent
– to encourage the child to pursue her/his own enthusiasm without corrupting it with our prejudiced ideas
– to encourage effort, not push for results. Work is the reward, result is a by-product.
– to help the child build a sense of inner-worthiness that is not tied to social status, job, money, rank, etc

PS: We are merely facilitators, not enforcers. At the end, much is not in our hands. Learn to let go.