Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Thought

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is the King. 

It's laughable that we each assume ourselves to be Kings and Queens while living in a small island of the "blind". We may be extremely specialized in one area, but within a team of people that is ignorant of our focus of specialization (while being experts in their niche/area of specialty), it is amusing how each member blithely presumes to be the "King", the final authority in their land. 

Always remember - you are just the one-eyed member in your ignorant group.

Let it be your pursuit to locate the two-eyed person with brilliant 20/20 vision, in both your niche and those of others. And first listen and learn, before defending and challenging.

Monday, June 20, 2011

About Me

As most people probably are, I am bad at defining myself in the "About me" sections. I can rattle on endlessly and think-aloud on various aspects of myself and bore people to death, but I appear as if I accidentally swallowed my tongue if I am asked to deliver an elevator pitch about myself. This post motivated me, challenged me to come up with a sentence that truly describes who I am at most points in time.

I am innately a person of extremes, who mostly strives to reach a state of equilibrium in all things concerning the mind and the body. 

Who cares about this definition of you, you wonder. Nobody really. It's just a reference for myself. Maybe this definition will evolve every time I delve into an uncomfortable, probing introspection of what the hell I am. And probably, over the years, I will have arrived at a suitable understanding and will heave a sigh of peace.

P.S: Just realized, I had to come up with a phrase, not a sentence... oh my, I give up for now!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Touch of Color

IndiBlogger has another writing contest sponsored by Hewlett Packard! 

Why must somethings always be Black & White?
Tell us what you would like to see in glorious color - be it an old movie, famous portrait, family photograph or anything that you can imagine. You can also tell us why you chose those colors for your blog's template, and how it represents you as a brand. It's time to think in color!

Ho, Ho, Ho!! (rubbing my hands with glee!). Isn’t this the perfect contest for me!!!

Of the several silly arguments that bounce back and forth between me and my husband, the most common is on colors - yeah, that’s how “profound” we are. His favorite colors are black, white, and occasionally, gray. And mine is the entire rainbow! From home “decoration”/accessorizing to apparel shopping to the kinds of flowers to plant in the garden, it’s an eternal debate. I can’t wrap my head around his aversion to colors!

I love colors, and am grateful every single day for the blessing of vision to be able to appreciate and adore them. I love the creamy, syrupy, cute little bottles and capsules of paint, get mesmerized by their sparkle, their luscious aura, the million different ways in which their molecules reflect light; I admire their gooey loveliness, the thrill of mixing, swirling, and gliding one hue over another to create a different shade, and reach a high on splashing them across paper, canvas, metal, wood, cement, concrete, glass, mirror, ceramic, fabric... pretty much anything. I can confidently say that I have dabbled in all sorts of painting - though I am not good at any! I have ardently wanted to take up formal painting lessons, but have managed to never get around to it.

My childhood home is littered with my limitless experiments with “colors” and “deft” strokes. I haven’t spared cupboards, walls, doors, the fridge, the few spaces around the TV screen, and even the back of the bed frame. They may just be covered with trite replicas of flowers, birds, vines, and symmetric patterns (all in multicolored versions), but the point is, I don’t let anything remain plain and bare. Everything needs to contain vibrant (or even muted) colors. Every time I glance upon our milky-white mantle, I envision painting a looping grapevine hugging around it, masking the white with greens and violets. BUT, I am forbidden. I look at a plain wall and rush to put something on it to give it a splurge of color. I see another bare wall, and crave to do a mural, except I don’t know how to. I stare at the plain white T-shirt I was gifted by you-know-who, and have to fight the urge to hunt for fabric colors. I fill out forms and feel saddened to write down boring “black” to both my eye and hair color. If only I could color my own eyes, my hair, the walls, the various other artifacts I come across in my life, with just a touch, or a thought!

So my wish is this - I want to have the ability to have the “touch of color”, like Midas did with his “golden touch”. Midas’s story was both fascinating and morbid to me. I loved the power he held - to touch things and change them to his liking, but the whole episode with his daughter was unpleasant. My wish is hopefully not out of greed - it is out of the lust for visual stimulation (through colors), and to add merriment all around me. I wish I could touch things and change their color/s, any number of times I want.

I want to touch my eyes and alternate between the umpteen subtle shades of blue, green, brown, and violet eyes (no matter how scary and vampire-y I look). I want to touch walls and change their colors every few weeks, touch fabrics and infuse the most lovely colors into them, occasionally grace daisies and change their whites to peppy shades, wave at the sky and sprinkle yellows into the clouds... almost like living within my own version of Photoshop! The world will literally be my canvas! How exciting is that?!

Now, here is my spiel that acknowledges the ethical concerns. I realize that colors are subjective and personal - so let my “power” not extend to changing people’s body colors (I won’t make people look like they landed from Pandora), let my changes and experiments not be visible to others (so they can’t complain if I touch their sofa and change it to a garish pink). So by restricting my changes to be visible just to my eyes, I conform to the whole issue of respecting others’ choices, and not forcing my whimsies onto them. I will also not confuse the bees and insects, and mess up the ecosystem by covering flowers, leaves, and fruits in strange tints.

So that is my silly wish. Regarding the colors on my blog template, I chose them because they looked appealing! Nothing deeply intellectual. I realize that I mostly gravitate towards images with trees or falling leaves - not sure why, but I can come up with something interesting... like, trees represent robustness, the falling leaves represent the constant change of seasons, thoughts, feelings, etc. I like to think of myself as a tree that constantly weathers the various changes that take place around it, and grow and mature in the process. The pastel shades convey soothing, mellow feelings... they also tend to get dull, pale and uninteresting. The dim colors also represent the many abstract and feeble thoughts floating in my mind. Unless I give vent to them to take on full blown livid colors, they keep losing their pallor and eventually just dissolve into a corner. I like blues for their serenity and tranquility - I would like to always reach this state of calmness even after experiencing turbulence of the mind. I love soft, pale greens for the warmth and cheer they exude. They also remind me of the fresh new start of spring. Again, my aim to is to get back to a state of warmth, cheer, and begin afresh after bursts of dreary, frigid winters.

So there, a whole post dedicated to colors! Despite having come across as a raging color maniac, I do appreciate the simplicity of whites, the boldness of black, and the neutrality of grays. Every color appeals to a specific aesthetic sense, and that is the reason for their absolute beauty.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mrs. Clean

I wake up and turn on my nearest smart-electronic gadget, and the first thing that beeps at me is the day’s reminder list - “sweep and mop kitchen floor”, “clean bathroom sink”. I end the day by crawling into bed as another set of similar reminders for the next day flash and beep at me. My mom taught me to welcome the morning by opening my eyes to my palms, and then to the Sun. I was trained to retire to bed after thinking good thoughts and praying. Now I wake up to thoughts of cleaning, and drift off to sleep dreaming of washing liquids. Something is amiss.

There was a time when I was blissfully nonchalant of the rigors of house maintenance. I worried only about my room - my responsibility was narrow and manageable. It was even better when I was at home, with my mom reigning over the place with her sharp eyes and meticulous system of cleaning. Being an ace perfectionist (ah, yes, of course), she was ruthlessly particular about every single thing in the house. She would redo dishes washed by the maid, spend hours scrubbing the few odd stubborn scales and grime sticking to the bathroom floor due to the bad, murky water, will postpone or cancel engagements and weddings to stay at home and complete her cleaning assignments or laundry (cyclone or thunderstorm, the laundry shall be done), and will spend a restless, agonized, sleepless night if she is forced to abandon a lone, unwashed tumbler in the kitchen sink. I used to often tell her that she should receive an honorary doctorate in home-keeping. She is the best I know.

But, it did come with a huge cost. She never seemed satisfied, was always on the edge, fatigued herself to the bone, and would suffer panic attacks if she returned home after a break. Most of all, I felt sorry that she was missing out on lots of other meaningful things and activities in life due to constantly prioritizing on cleaning. Growing up, I never understood her obsession. I used to spend hours talking to her about the futility of investing so much time and effort on material objects. I very knowingly and sagely pleaded with her to not take cleaning to an extreme, etc.

And now, I am plumb in the middle of the same square. I guess I have subconsciously taken after my mom’s procedures. When I earlier laughed, now I find myself having serious discussions on hard-wood floor cleaners and stain removers when I visit friends. I exchange fervent notes with them, spend inordinate amounts of time in the cleaning aisle poring over the gazillion different brands, getting excited over the new eco-friendly and toxic-free brands, designing experiments to test cleaner A versus cleaner B, and fill my calendars with cleaning schedules. My eyes even light up every time there is a cleaning commercial on TV (“ooh-Kaboom!”).

I also came up with this “ingenious” idea of dividing all the cleaning tasks and tackling a few every day, so that hypothetically speaking, the house will remain reasonably sparkly, neat, and clean all the time, and I get to be super-efficient (divide and conquer!). The hypothesis was proved wrong within the third week, but I still practice it out of habit and compulsion. It has only increased my frustration - that the house will still not be “perfectly clean” even after daily slogging and scrubbing. The inevitably mysterious crumbs and the two spilled grains of rice glare accusingly at me from the just-mopped-floor. And dust balls seem to roll all over the place even when the vacuum cleaner remains warm from recent use.

So why the obsession - I had an epiphany as I was furiously scrubbing the kitchen sink. It’s all about wanting control. The more older I get, the more I realize that my control over things doesn't extend far. I have very limited control over people, environment, random twists in fate, and hence, my own life. So, when I encounter those few things that fall under my purview of control, I want to wield complete control; such as controlling this minuscule sphere of existence that surrounds me - my home. I want it to totally obey my expectations, to let me breathe in some satisfaction of being in charge. But even wood and ceramic have a mind of their own.

Secondly, it’s about the popular theory that cleaning is a “de-stresser”. It’s sort of a corollary to the first point. You realize that although you can’t de-clutter, reorganize, or clean up the various kinds of mess in your life and that of others (and of the world), you can clean up physical things - that’s tangible, very much doable. At least your home can remain clutter-free, dust free, stain free, dirt free, and grime free. And the process gives you the illusion of clearing up your mind, and a teeny bit of your life.

Thirdly, for people like my mom, the state of the house is viewed as a direct reflection of them - of their worth, skills, competence etc. Ridiculous. But, the first impression that guests have of you, is through your home. The walls, the floor, and the sinks tell stories. And they quiver of what the judgment would be. I remember scorning and censuring detergent ads in India (a decade back), that portrayed a man’s success and approval at work to be dependent on the “brightness” of his shirt, which in turn was dependent on the kind of detergent choices the wife made. The wife who picked the better detergent was deemed more caring, wiser, smarter, and better in all regards. The woman who knew her cleaning and washing seemed to have a direct impact on her man’s career and success in life. That’s huge - it links cleanliness and home-keeping skills to a woman’s competence as a wife. I don’t believe in this social image, but not sure if I am carrying some bits of it in my subconscious, and acting it out without realizing it (I do belong to the generation that grew up hearing their mom’s daily litany on the importance of cultivating “domestic” skills). Like the other day, I was folding clothes and noticed a reprehensible patch of grime on one of my husband’s shirt collars. As I experienced shivers of shame, and irritatedly wondered how to remove it, I was reminded of the ad, and had to laugh out loud. And then think about what I had become - a wannabe domestic goddess ;). And then write about it. (I also have to clarify and stress that my husband does help around with a lot of things, except I am mean enough to sometimes redo his work and hence not assign much work ;)).

I think this is just yet another department that requires a balanced frame of mind. Maintaining a home and keeping it clean and hygienic is important for the family’s (and the home’s) welfare. And that should be the only reason, focus, and objective. The practical need for organizing things speaks for itself. A home is not a home if it is made to look pristine and sterile all the time, and if people are made to worry about the crumbs they accidentally shed while relishing a fine meal. It’s actually an unrealistic goal - don’t let the catalogs on home interiors beguile you ;). Or let other immaculately kept homes intimidate you!

I am aware that all this obsession will fade when bigger and more important things take over my life. Right now, I can afford to manage my time by squeezing in regular cleaning into the daily/weekly routine. But I know one day down the road, I won’t be able to. Priorities will change then, and I hope I will retain the sanity to not push home maintenance above the rest! No matter what changes rule the place, no matter what extents of neglect the home goes through to carry dust, dirt, and clutter, all that should matter is the plentiful amounts of warmth, love, and security the home emanates...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Perfectly Imperfect

It’s been 60 days, or more. And I sit, distracting myself with other work, strategy games, non-strategy games, books, papers, posts, cooking, cleaning, weeding, and such, except getting to what I have been procrastinating. My fear keeps rising, self-doubts mount, guilt flares, and resolution sparks, but it dies the next moment I intend to confront the task.  

It’s too precious. Too important. And needs to be perfect. And there, I shrivel right there, hearing that word. My anxiety to be perfect is so overwhelming, it consumes my energy to work on things. I dread even starting it, even attempting it, as my inner voice locks into the phrase - “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all”. And the more I sit, hearing my heart thump and my mind race with fear, the more time I waste, and the more farther I slip away from getting this work done perfectly. Vicious cycle. All I want to do is curl up into a ball and sleep into oblivion. I seem to have imbued my grandfather’s infamous philosophy - If you ignore the problem/task/illness well enough, pretend it doesn’t exist, it will just go away. People go away, but the rest don’t.

This is what the pursuit of perfection does to one. It cripples one from even attempting anything for fear of not living up to the standard of perfection one sets for themselves. I have tried all my life not to succumb to this paralysis, yet, the more I run away from it, the faster it chases me.

This is surely not healthy. I look back and wonder how I even managed to get this far in life. I think most of my turning-point moments were out of desperation, necessity, limited choices, and the absence of an escape route in sight. It’s not heartening to know that my “secret” to being where I am now, is not really the idealism of passion, hard-work etc., but because of fear of not wanting to fail or lose face. Well, there was hard-work involved, but it didn’t stem out of idealistic reasons. Perhaps it is reasonable enough, for life is not entirely made of idealism anyway. But I am not sure I can carry through the rest of life’s journey with this constant anxiety-driven work principle. My passion is rewarding till it meets its matron - perfectionism.

Kind people have offered me words of wisdom and insight. I see the light in their words and thoughts, but still can’t pull out the root of this nagging ailment. But I will have to break out of this. One step at a time. Today is the day. Now is the hour. And I have started...almost started. I will do my best without killing myself. I will not beat myself over not being able to touch the highest peaks of my “best” attempts. For anyway, I never have touched or even graced my version of the “highest” peak - it is infinitely tall and never ending. They say - reach for the stars and you'll at least end up at the tree-top. For people like me, I say - just reach for the tree-top and get there. That's enough.

I begin my task of not being a perfectionist. Of allowing myself imperfection, and shutting my ears to voices real, and imagined. I repeat - Doing “something” is indeed better than doing “nothing”. After all, this blog is a good example - I've continued writing imperfect posts with imperfect language and half-baked, amateurish thoughts, but despite all the imperfection I remind myself of, despite cringing at every previous post, I can't deny that it has been extremely rewarding.

I represent many lessons to be learned - on how not to live life :).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Just Me

I have this perplexing, odd, childish feeling of possessiveness towards those which are obviously not my property (well nothing really is, except for me, however....). For instance, I am possessive about certain places that are dear to me, books that have special meaning to me, authors that I adore, movies that I connect with, sentiments that I strongly believe in, thoughts and ideas that I naively assume to have originated only from me, fields of study I am passionate about, and even some of my “signature” dishes. It’s nice to bond with someone when they share a huge subset of the above, but sometimes, I feel a twang of possessiveness as if someone is encroaching into my identity, and this feels completely immature, irrational, and silly. But this is only with selective people, though. I have dear friends that I am so grateful and thrilled to have around, purely because our interests and wavelengths resonate so harmoniously. But with some others, I am not too excited to squeal, “Me too!”.

Not sure I’m making sense here. But I will plod along and write a little more and see if some clarity appears. I think I have a very personal connection, bond, relationship with thoughts and sentiments that are dear to me. If I love a city, I connect with it so well, it almost becomes who I am. My appreciation for it and interactions with it are deeply personal. But when I come out of this reverie and notice thousands of others who share an identical rapport with the place, my feeling just becomes yet another, and that bothers me. I believe it to be special, and want it to be meaningful, unique, and rising above the rest - and something that only I experience. I understand this sense of possessiveness with objects and people, but with a place, a discipline of study, and an author?! Seems extreme! And the funny thing is, I am not as possessive of people or material objects. Or so I think.

True, a bond or a strong feeling towards something is not devalued in its meaning or significance if it is not unique to me. But it strips something off me by its statement - “it’s not just you”. Shouldn’t it create kinship, camaraderie, knowing I’m not alone? Yes, yes, it mostly does, but for sentiments that are very closely associated with who I am, it doesn’t. Again, it’s only with selective people - I guess those that I don’t expect to have anything in common with me, and those I don’t hold in high regards. It’s jarring to realize - “They are like me?!”, “Then, who am I?!”

But I’ve gotten better at it...at handling this weird form of egoism. It shows up very rarely - these days the sting strikes me when I find that my bonding with my research or particular field of study isn’t unique. And I have to calm myself, before I lose fire and enter into an existential whirlpool.

I don’t think I am being threatened by competition, I am just sorry my relationships aren't totally unique and irreplaceable, and there are a million others just like me. I guess I can understand and empathize with all the cry surrounding intellectual property rights.

My mantra everyday is - You are not unique. You are part of a species. For every thought, idea, sentiment, belief, and feeling, there’s someone in the vast universe who matches yours. Revel in the understanding of this astounding magnitude, for you are just a speck. A speck who will still leave a tiny imprint. Work on creating that imprint. That imprint may not be unique, but it will still be yours.

P.S. - By "imprint", I don't mean genetic imprint :). I am against leaving such imprints to assuage the ego and its sense of immortality, uniqueness, etc.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Reflections: Room

Jack is a five-year-old who has lived all his life with his young mom in Room - a single 11 by 11 feet room that has a bed, a TV, a wardrobe, a table, a lamp, a bath tub, and sink. To him, anything outside Room is Outerspace, filled with unreal objects and people, like the ones he sees through TV. Room is his sole reality. But when his mom tells him there is more to the world than Room, and that they should try to go out, his precocious little brain turns topsy-turvy. He no longer knows what is real and what is not, what is right and what is wrong, what has rules and what are free, who he is and who he is not. He can’t even comprehend that there are plenty of other humans who share his name in Outerspace. This riveting novel documents Jack’s experiences.

I don’t want to share too much about this book, for part of what makes it special and gripping is its ambiguity and novel (albeit disturbing) plot-line. So, if you would like to read the book (and I highly recommend it), it’s wise to skip the rest of the post, for I may inadvertently spill a few spoilers.

The whole book is narrated by Jack. Emma Donoghue perfectly takes the voice of a confused and innocent five-year-old, who is markedly different from kids his age. Jack is surely developmentally challenged in some ways, and advanced in some other aspects due to the circumstances of his bizarre upbringing. Donoghue beautifully incorporates his unique personality into the narration. I never believed I would read and appreciate an entire novel narrated by a child who is still learning his rules of grammar; even the grammatical errors have been researched to match a five-year-old’s linguistic development (and of course, Jack’s special case). There is so much attention to detail, yet the sentences flow naturally, totally masking the careful effort and research.

You might wonder how a five-year-old’s stilted narration would have captured the dense themes on identity, and existential crisis. Well, that’s the reason why this book is brilliant! I don’t know how, but through Jack’s endearingly simple and honest questions and thoughts, Donoghue has covered a whole gamut of interesting phenomena that isolation causes. Everything about the book is simple, but very deep. I am also amazed that through a few vague, yet vivid descriptions of Jack’s, all the other characters are given their distinct personalities. It’s a feat! Jack’s psyche is completely and realistically fleshed out.

The book is all about how much we take our minds for granted. It’s a reminder that the minds of children are especially sensitive, malleable, and impressionable that even the most subtlest of things alter their ways of thinking. Even our identity as human beings is intrinsically tied to the ways in which our mind shapes, learns, and grows. Although most of our instincts are ingrained, they fizzle out, or are grossly misplaced if they are not cultivated through structured rules that the mind learns and revises through every interaction in the world. Any hitch to such learning and natural interaction, and it’s nearly impossible to re-learn the fundamentals of life and existence. Nearly impossible, not entirely. The mind is so fascinatingly flexible, elastic, and adaptable, that the process by which it reformulates itself to survive and make sense of the world is simply incredible.

Metaphorically, many of us live inside our own version of Room. We each suffer from different forms of the-frog-in-the-well syndrome. Our reality is tightly constrained by what we believed in at one point in life, and what we choose to selectively believe in. It’s not healthy for us to limit our thinking and understanding of the world to a very small fraction of one side of reality.

The book is a moving and fascinating read. It’s a very interesting psychological study. I am so impressed that the book packs so much emotion and thought through a child’s voice. It's one of my most unique and impressive reads.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Reflections: Anthill

Dr. Edward Wilson is a professor of Entomology at Harvard University, and the co-author of the Pulitzer prize winning book, The Ants. Dr. Wilson is regarded as one of the foremost authorities on everything related to Ants. I have been wanting to read his award winning book for a long long time. My interest in the intelligent and altruistic little insects resurfaced while watching an episode of the award winning documentary, Life, that featured the intelligent ways in which ants built their colonies. That was when I also heard that Dr. Wilson had recently published a book of fiction that incorporates the details of ant colonies, and emphasizes the importance of conserving Nature and its varied little seemingly insignificant creatures to maintain the delicate ecosystem and biosphere. So there I was, checking out this book.

You may wonder why I chose to dedicate a whole paragraph for the prologue. Well, the prologue says it all. The book is by an accomplished academician and expert naturalist. In an interview with NPR, Dr. Wilson stated that he wanted to write a book of fiction in order to spread awareness on the importance and magnificence of every single minuscule creature on this planet, and the ways in which they affect us, if their habitats are senselessly destroyed. He hoped more people - adults and kids would pick a novel that has facts diluted in a story, than read his papers or other non-fiction books. A noble intention, for sure. But an academic can only “dilute” so much :). I really liked the book, and was fascinated by the facts, but I don’t think it would appeal to the “lay” reader who wants more story. It is only for (crazy) people like me, who are interested about Ants and the ecosystem. It is unfortunately not an easy read for young adults, as Dr. Wilson hoped.

This is the synopsis - Raff is a young boy who grows up being highly curious and fascinated by insects, animals, and Nature. Lucky for him, he lives in a small town in Alabama that adjoins dense forests that abound with several different species of reptiles, birds, and insects. He spends most of his time in the Nokobee tract, home to a unique species of Ants that builds remarkably huge and complex colonies. When it’s time to head to college, Raff realizes that the Nokobee tract is under a threat to be destroyed. He vows to save it, and dedicates his life’s mission to preserve it.

Dr. Wilson’s prose is sharp and intelligent. He takes his time to provide a background and story to all his characters. The book addresses the vociferous debate between the Naturalists and the religiously conservative groups, on whether the environment, the birds and the animals are meant to be conserved, or whether God intended us humans to use them to suit our needs till He arrived on Judgement Day.

Although the story is predictable, the whole section on Ants was the highlight for me. Dr. Wilson shows how similar Ant colonies are to human civilization - there are the same territorial wars, similar defenses, and the familiar pressure to survive and procreate. However, we differ on one crucial aspect - ants are far more altruistic than human societies have ever been and will probably ever be! He shows us the glorious strategies of Natural selection.

It was also interesting and informative to learn about the various laws and morally dubious loopholes that lawyers and agencies use to fight over a piece of land.

In all, it was an interesting read that has only increased my awe and interest in Ants. I hope to read his award winning book soon. 

Thursday, June 02, 2011


I have far too many thoughts jostling inside my head, my fingers itch to type out plenty of words, but I don't have enough time to give vent to those thoughts and words. Well, I shouldn't be complaining. Anyway, I couldn't contain myself from sharing this (and I will try to keep it as brief as possible). 

I happened to watch a new program that premiered on Discovery channel last night, called Deception. And I was bursting with excitement and mini "revelations" all through the show. Those of you who are fans of the movie, Inception, should definitely try to watch this show (it airs at 10:00 PM on Wednesdays). It is mentally exhilarating!

Ok, so what is so fascinating about this show that I am jumping about like an energizer bunny? The show is hosted by the mentalist and illusionist, Keith Barry, who claims he can "hack" into people's minds, "read" their thoughts, and implant thoughts! No, no, he is not someone like David Copperfield, or other such illusionist/magicians. There is no "magic" to his approach, merely science - the science of the human mind! In his first show, he visits a car dealership, and demonstrates how salesmen persuade people into buying cars, how they read body language and other behavioral cues to understand the customer and use the knowledge against them, etc. In parallel, he shows how he can read the salesmen's "thoughts", how he can "implant" numbers, ideas, colors, brands, and words into their subconscious and make them think of the resultant thoughts as their own, etc. 

Again, why does this excite me?! Because, Keith Barry offers logical, scientific reasons behind his mind-reading abilities! I am thrilled because, I can finally, FINALLY, come close to understanding so called psychics and religious men who predict our thoughts, who can guess numbers, dates, and names from our past, who can even retell our past, predict our future etc! It was flabbergasting to me that these men could mention things from our past even without us giving them any clues, but now I realize (as I have intuitively felt), we do give plenty of clues! In terms of body language, subtle manner of speech, and our physiological responses (subtle muscle movement, eye movements, heart-rate, sometimes lines that appear on our palm etc.). Besides, plenty of scholarly articles have demonstrated how irrational the human mind really is! For example, we suffer from confirmation bias - we set out to collect evidences to prove what we believe in, comfortably neglecting evidences that threaten to disprove our belief. Slight changes in the environment influence our thoughts, seemingly casual words thrown out by clever salesmen and psychics settle into our subconscious, and even without us realizing it, it gives rise to thoughts and ideas that corroborate with the "predictions", and we believe them to have solely originated from us, out of our free-will. But not so! Not all the time, at least. Again, those who have watched Inception will hopefully see where I am going with all this. 

Anyway, there's more to come from the shows, and I can't wait to watch them all! I am sure to chime in when one of these shows sparks another wave of excitement in me!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Reflections: In The Convent of Little Flowers

Indu Sundaresan’s book of short-stories is markedly different from her other books. She shows a whole new side to her ability and talent as a writer. Through nine short stories surrounding India and its varied forms of customs and traditions, she makes the reader confront some of the most difficult and controversial topics; topics we prefer to brush under the rug, fervently hoping they will dwindle with the following generations that promise to nurture progressive attitudes. In the author’s words, “they all deal with that intense moment in which people confront disturbing events in their lives...”

True to her style, Indu Sundaresan relates these stories with sensitivity, grace, and insight. But her writing style in this book took me by surprise for it was quite different from her other books (the ones on historical fiction). Her prose is clear and sharp, and has a quiet, mystical element to it. All her stories are crafted with an element of impending tragedy, and her writing style works really well with the themes.

Regarding the stories themselves, she discusses the pangs of adoption, the bottomless pit of poverty and struggle for survival, the rigidity and horror of ancient practices such as Sati, caste-system, and dowry, the clash of western ideals with the norm of tradition, the almost imperceptible (but very much existent) notions on the superiority of males, and the complex relationships and expectations between Indian parents and their children. The stories come at you strong, and almost cut your soul. Each one leaves you with an uneasy recollection of a similar story and of real-life characters. Your mind sighs and gasps, wondering and retreating in denial at the incredulity of it all. One story in particular is quite hard to believe and digest - it seemed one-dimensional and a little stretched. But the rest of them, sadly, are not as hard to believe.

The characters are beautifully and meticulously defined. Every character in each story has a personality of their own. The stories yet again demonstrate that people’s intentions are often good, but the numerous constraints and complexities put forth by rituals and customs, shackle their minds from discerning right from wrong. People are lost in their own bubble of self-imposed rules on right and wrong that their judgments are clouded, and their attitudes seem primitive, even barbaric sometimes. But despite so many rules and customs (which are practised in the name of maintaining a morally smooth-functioning society), basic morality and humanity seem to be lacking in many aspects of our social functioning. An irony indeed.

Digested Thoughts: I quite liked the book. I was pleasantly surprised by the writing and characterization. Hope the author explores her talents with more such books!