Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Now

Isn't it the infinite unknown that scares us? that indeterminate stretch of time yawning ahead that fills us with dread and a vague sense of foreboding?
What is it that awaits us in the near or distant future? Years full of tinkling laughter and warm memories of moments spent with loved ones? Or innumerable indignities inflicted by the caprices of fate?
Will the future bring us numerous joyous days? will it be better than what we have now or will it worsen our present state of living?
It is the not knowing that hurts the most and fills us with an irrational longing to time-travel to the future.
And caught between this bittersweet push and pull of wanting to live in the present and being a part of the future we arrive at the very end, unaware.
Then, everything comes to a grinding halt. Right when we are on the verge of comprehending the great conundrum that life presents before us, time runs out.
How, then, should we live every day, every hour, every second that passes us by so unceremoniously? Do we spare a thought for them or day-dream about the time that will never come into being?

I find my answer in Kenzaburo Ōe's words - "I am writing about the dignity of human beings."  
Image courtesy:- nobelprize.org


This Nobel prize winning writer from Japan amazes me with his quiet strength and his infinite wisdom. He seeks out dignity in the most undignified people and events and refuses to believe that suffering can rob us of it. And he puts his thoughts into words that will remain forever immortal. 
This is how he reconciles himself with the crests and troughs, the lows and highs, the warps and wefts of our everyday existence. 
Because he knows, the chilling finality of death will erase away all our sufferings and the feelings of discontent and incompleteness. Everything will cease to matter - all the successes and disappointments, happiness and sadness, laughter and tears will melt away into oblivion.

Thus, should we feel pity for all the rape victims and acid attack victims of the world? or the ones languishing under the curse of incurable diseases and having the essence of life drained out of them every passing moment? or the ones earning a living by treating their own bodies as commodities in a market? or the ones we label 'illiterate' only because they are unfamiliar with the power of the written word?
Should we only shake our heads and utter a patronizing 'tch tch', our voices dripping with a vicious condescension, for the ones living in obscurity on the fringes of our much vaunted society?
No we should not. For that will be mere folly. An act of immeasurable foolishness.

Life is neither fair nor unfair. It is, but, simply as it is. It is an allotted stretch of time in which we are given the gift of sensation and the capacity for exertion - physical or mental or both.
Tragedies may befall us. Or they won't. We do not possess the power to prevent them from happening to us. But what we do possess, is the strength for calm acceptance..
It is like the all-knowing Murakami says - "Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional."

People will arrive at our doorstep in the form of inseparable companions who offer us the beautiful illusion of perpetual togetherness. Then they will bid adieu, move on, along their own journeys after the time period, stipulated by destiny, has expired.
Some will desert us. Some we will desert.
Some will cause us unbearable pain. Some will provide unbound joy.
Some meetings will be serendipitous. Some petty misfortunes.
Some utterly painful incidents will lead us down the path of devastation. Or fortuitous events will help us scale greater heights of glory and prosperity.
But everything will cease to create a lasting impact in posterity. Every event and action and emotion will be absorbed by the eddying currents of time and disappear forever.
Thus there is no future rife with the promise of limitless happiness or dolour. The future does not define our existence and nor will it ever.
It is the all-powerful, ubiquitous here and now that matters. The now in which we smile and cry. The now which we often ignore while contemplating the shapeless tomorrow.
Life is lived in the present - with all its share of heartaches and shame and sorrow and moments of perfect clarity.

I guess I will stop craving for a time machine, after all.

On dignity and what Kenzaburo Oe taught me

It has been nearly 6 months since the Delhi gangrape incident. After that horrifying news made headlines, I have often spent agonizing moments in solitude, pondering over the meaning of Jyoti's life or the ignominious way in which it had to end. I wondered what will remain after the endless shouting matches on live television have died down and the world has moved on. How should I reconcile myself with the barbarity humans are capable of and the fact that millions of lives are being systematically destroyed every minute around the globe? How?
I have been pained to find no answer.
So I choose to honor her existence, in my own way. I choose to remember her by not letting the 23 years she lived and breathed on this planet be forgotten. Her life mattered. Immensely.
She had a 'now' too just like all of us and by remembering that I wish to keep it alive for as long as I can.
I will not be bothered by the random, umpteenth newspaper article mentioning the epithet conferred on her by her countrymen or somebody wanting to discuss the plight of women in this country by bringing up the subject of most brutal rapes. She will not be associated with only an act of brutality or end up becoming a mere statistic. Not in my eyes.
I will remember her ever so often, just because I want to - as a girl I may have known, as a friend I may have had, as a girl who still may have been alive if the world around her had not been so cold and unfeeling. I cannot for the world deny the unbreakable relationship I share with her just by virtue of being another human of flesh and blood.
I will probably start to forget her soon. I will probably remember her less and less frequently with the progression of time, as my personal troubles start to overshadow my pompous philosophies. But I will remember her, nonetheless. And this is how I choose to reclaim the dignity in her existence. And mine.


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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Notes on a Murder

The task of reviewing a novel of the mystery-detective genre usually presents itself as a challenge to me. Not because it is hard to put into words what the story holds without giving away spoilers. But because a detective novel usually doesn't give a reviewer much to go on, aside from a convoluted mystery and the solution.
But despite being a book of the same genre, Salvation of a Saint, provides ample food for thought on the complexities of the human mind and offers the reader some philosophical meanderings to go with a regular offering of a mind-boggling mystery.

Without delay let me get to the summary now:-

Yoshitaka and Ayane Mashiba have been married for one year and yet their marriage is already falling apart. Why? Because turns out, both of them had agreed to treat marriage like a contractual agreement in which if Ayane fails to conceive a child within a year they will part ways. And, of course, Ayane has failed to conceive at the end of the stipulated time period.
So what happens next?  Yoshitaka declares he is leaving her because he has already found prospective new wife to replace Ayane. And it turns out the prospective new wife is none other than Ayane's protege, Hiromi Wakayama, whose talent Ayane has helped hone herself.
And to put the cap on this madness, Yoshitaka gets killed in his apartment while Ayane is away in Sapporo on a visit to her parents and the detective in charge of the investigation falls for Ayane at first sight even though she becomes the chief suspect.
But then of course, she has a rock solid alibi. She was away from Tokyo when Yoshitaka was murdered. How do you kill when you are physically hundreds of miles away from the victim?

Here in lies the novelty of Salvation of a Saint. It's not a whodunit as much as it is a howdunit.

To me the real villain of the story remains the victim and not the murderer. Because men who treat women like baby-producing machines and switch to one from another as easily as changing clothes, deserve to be at least squarely kicked in their family jewels, if not murdered outright. And I'm pleased to find out there are no misogynistic undertones in this narrative since Higashino doesn't gloss over this fact.
Now for my verdict on Higashino as a writer:-
If you are acquainted with anime such as Death Note, Monster or Detective School Q (Tantei Gakuen Kyu), you are bound to know the Japanese have a penchant for logical reasoning and the science of deduction. And Keigo Higashino upholds that cherished tradition with this well-plotted novel. 
He excels at creating a mystery which appears complex and unsolvable at the outset, but when it unravels slowly and all the pieces of the puzzle start falling into their place, the solution doesn't baffle one as much as the killer's dedication towards the act of the murder does.

But I have a bone to pick with the translation - it doesn't always do a good job of capturing the true cadences of Japanese speech and the awkward sentence construction often feels jarring.

A significant thing about this book is instead of one detective giving it his all to solve a murder - it gives you 3. Chief detective Kusanagi finds his judgement dangerously clouded by his growing fascination for Ayane. While his assistant Kaoru Utsumi, stubbornly convinced of the fact that Ayane is the killer, seeks out physics professor cum detective extraordinaire, Manabu Yukawa to help her out.
But even while pursuing separate leads, all 3 of them arrive at the same answer.

The characters are not badly sketched caricatures but appear as people who could actually exist. The calmness of Ayane's demeanour even under suspicion, Utsumi's doggedness, Yukawa's brilliance and Kusanagi's quiet dignity shine through.

Kusanagi and Yukawa's friendship, rivalry and the grudging respect they have for each other add another dimension to the story. And it reminds one of the Lestrade and Holmes equation because like Lestrade, Kusanagi is the one getting the credit even though most of the work is done by Yukawa. Although a comparison between Lestrade and Kusanagi won't be fair since the former was essentially a pompous idiot while Kusanagi is balanced and reasonable.
It is also interesting to take note of Kusanagi's growing concern for his own evaluation of the murder and the subsequent investigation - is he being objective or is he being too judgemental? and how does one stop his personal feelings from getting in the way of his professional assessment of a scenario?
Kusanagi's inner turmoil leads him to ponder over what makes a person commit a murder and the effect it has on their personality -

"Kusanagi had met plenty of good, admirable people who'd been turned into murderers quite by circumstance. There was something about them he always seemed to sense, an aura that they shared. Somehow, their trangression freed them from the confines of mortal existence, allowing them to perceive the great truths of the universe. At the same time, it meant they had one foot in forbidden territory. They straddled the line between sanity and madness."

Lastly, this novel also dares to analyze the not-so-flattering shades of a woman's personality and how one woman is sometimes another woman's worst enemy - how an act of betrayal may cause a woman to seek out vengeance with a resolute, perverse passion.

Hence an impressed, 3.5 stars rounded off to 4 stars. I will definitely watch out for Higashino's other works.

P.S:- I apologize for not throwing any light on how the title of the book relates to the murder or the core of the story. But to do that would be to reveal the crux of the story itself, which would be doing the reader a grave injustice.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Letter to a stranger

It came to me yesterday, in a flash.
As the miserable, lonely night ticked away into oblivion,
As the morning mist fogged up my windows,
As the merciless sun rose higher up in the sky,
It came to me slowly like that-
Over the years, over all of eternity.
This bizarre, unacceptable truth.
But then it can't possibly be.
You and me.
We are only figments of each other's imagination.
We are not real, never meant to be.
And I knew I didn't wanna pine for you,
But then I already was.

The day begins and ends on the same note.
People stand still, while life passes them by.
If someone asks me how I fare,
I smile and reply that I do well.
But you never come back, nor turn around.
You are gone a long, long way from home.
On a never-ending quest, headed for the unknown.
While I sit by the window, reading a book.
Listening to the music of the raindrops outside.
I know I am, but, a forgotten memory.
But my silly little heart, it won't understand.
And I realize, I didn't wanna pine for you.
But then I already was.

You were but a beautiful stranger I met.
On a dismal, wintry day a long time back.
Along the desolate highway, we walked-
And talked about the forever kind of love.
And then you waved goodbye with a smile that took my breath away.
But I didn't let it show and waved right back, 
Hiding away the tears I couldn't possibly shed.
You became a distant dot in the western horizon
While I stood there watching you shrink even smaller.
And I knew I wouldn't pine for you.
Not at all. Not then. Not ever.
But then I already was.
And It was too late to stop.


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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Us and Them

There comes a time in the course of events that define and often shape the character of a nation, when a collective gasp escapes from the lips of society. A helpless, strangulated sound of pure anguish that jolts everyone back to reality. The existential stupor, we choose to call life, is broken and we find ourselves irrevocably incapable of living in denial. We realize the world is a lot bigger than the imaginary, selfish, private planet that all of us have chosen to sequester ourselves in. And we are forced to come crashing back to the cold, hard reality of the actual world, evaluate our true standing.
Where are we headed as a civilization? What is the landscape like through which we're travelling? Where are we going anyway?
We stop in our tracks and look around only to find vicious demons lusting for our blood - abominations of our very own creation. Flesh eating, venom spitting monsters of the deepest pits of the purgatory or its equivalent, which have assumed such gargantuan proportions when we were looking the other way, that we do not know how to tame them or make them disappear anymore.
The woman on that bus was me. It was you. It was somebody else we knew.
Or maybe it was all of us.
A part of us suffered with her, a part of all of us was brutalized the way she was. And a part of us will never be the same again.
Since childhood, we have been taught by our anxious mothers and over-anxious fathers to tolerate 'insults' that come our way, handle 'situations' 'diplomatically' and to protect ourselves as best as we could. And to always, always expect the worst.
We are in tacit agreement over the assumption that between our legs lies the treasure chest of the family's honour and dignity and that we have to guard it with our lives even if it means never living them at all.
The world for 'us' is different from the world 'they' live in. They can tear us apart, rip our souls to shreds and still go unpunished. While the blame of losing the 'treasure' will be apportioned to us and stigma will follow. We'll be labelled 'victims'.
But there's only so much that a woman can take.
Just a spark. A flame of discontent here. A flash of resentment there. And BAM!

There it is. A tremendous explosion. An eruption of outrage, grief, shock and other raw emotions which have accumulated slowly over the years, over the decades, perhaps even over the centuries. A boiling point had already been reached long ago, but it had merely evaded our notice, only to be identified so late.
Dear unnamed woman on the bus, you are me. I am you. You are her. She is you.
You are all of us.
And we are all around you. Beside you, behind you, inside you. We have been there all along.

We were all raped, beaten, ravaged, cut open, preyed upon and thrown aside like a used rag doll, left to bleed out on the roads.
And so you are not alone. You are not alone.
We are all trapped inside this storm together. We will weather this storm together. And we will live to see better days when the sun shines pleasantly and all monsters have been slain, never to raise their heads again.

P.S.:- This post has not been composed for the sake of resuscitating a dead blog. I had to express what I'm feeling, somewhere. And this is dedicated not only to that girl on the bus but the millions in our country who have faced sexual violence at some point of time in their lives.

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