Whose book do you want to be in?

Note: The last post was more a rant in its original form, is still quite horrid, but I have made some changes to make it a little more, well, acceptable.

I am sure many of us have wondered at times, during a crisis especially, if there was somebody who was writing their life’s story, that they could lay blame on for coming up with this, this new way of physical/emotional/ metaphysical torture. Most people just blame God, or their parents. Some may even blame the whole wide world.

However, in case we were given a choice to determine whose book we could be characters of and thereby live the life they write for us, I wonder who I would pick.

Depending on what type of a life I want to live, I have a few options and maybe by the end of this I will have a clear winner… or maybe not. We will see.

If I wanted to live in a thriller, not a supernatural thriller, but just a crime thriller. After having lived in Baltimore, I am amazed I was not a part of one already, but there it is. I would probably debate a little between P.D. James and Reginald Hill. Definitely not intending to be in S for stupid or B for banal: Sue Grafton, or slightly less dross Mary Higgins Clark ( what was that I feel for American writers ?). I will probably swing to Reginald Hill, unless I want an action packed one instead of a poetic, literary, smart in some places, profound in others. Then I would go to Lee Child and meet Jack Reacher once ūüôā The thing that particularly attracts me towards Jack is his reluctance to ‘own’ anything that binds him.A permanent life partner, A car, a house, even a license. While I may be irreversibly bound by family, I really covet a recluse life, free of all liabilties. However, in the end, Andy Dalziel and Peter Pascoe are a tide more interesting to meet in person, even if Jack promises to be very thrilling indeed.

In case I wanted to be in an African country, instead of England, I would go with Wilbur Smith. I am not sure if Wilbur Smith is an adventure writer or a thriller writer, what I imagine as he describes Africa so beautifully is a mysterious landscape with immutable deserts and unforgiving rain-forests, full of warriors, of one kind or another. I can almost tough them..

Now, if I wanted to be in a supernatural fantasy.. the choices are mind boggling- not because of the numerous writers- I only like a few and have probably not read many outside of them- but because the competition would be very very hard. There is J.K. Rowling, I could invent a new category for her, but as I mention her first, it is unlikely that I would choose her. Please don’t hate me. I beg thee. But if she had written only the first three novels or even up till the fourth one, I would have thought about it a lot longer than this. However she wrote seven and from the fourth onwards I lost track of characters and spells, and Harry Potter became another one of those ‘unlikely’ heroes, albeit very likable and powerful, that I never quite got to adoring. I am really the ‘underdog’ kind of girl..

So, next up- J.R.R. Tolkein. He is the winner. I am afraid of not even getting to Stephen King. Tolkein was the first real teller of an entirely different world close to ours in a long long tale. As far as I know that is. A world that still controls ours. I am not a ‘western’ or cowboy type of girl anyway. Other than Clint Eastwood, I wouldn’t look at another cowboy. Unless it was with respect, at Jeff Bridges. Tolkein’s middle earth, is much more to my liking, with rolling fields, mountains and hills and valleys of danger. Plus other than the underdog, I am a proclivity for the original. King would be the second choice. ( even I am surprised).

Moving on.. a classic. I don’t read very many of those and I am not at all sure that I will make a respectable choice here. Charles Dickens? Probably not, firstly because I thought of him first and thats usually a negative thought in my case ( ha ha ha). Secondly, no humor in his tragic tales. Shakespeare? Sure.. Emily Bronte? No, too much passion and usually a very very sad end. No, I think it will be Lewis Carroll. I know, maybe he is not the classic classic. Jane Austen is funny too. I don’t particularly like her stories, I already understand women’s minds so its not eye opening for me, in the same way it may be for other people. Yes, Lewis Carroll it is. If anyone can take you to a dark wonderland through a looking glass and make even a dangerous place full of the most intriguing tales, characters and other critters, it would be him. I am all but ready for it!

Science fiction. Definitely not Robin Cook, he has gone so repetitive ( I know, I defend King and accuse Cook, but King I can’t do and Cook can’t do science and I see it too clearly). Isaac Asimov, he was the original, true. However he sounds a little dated these days, I still like him a lot and am in awe of his clairvoyance. Michael Crichton, I think it would have to be. I have not read a book by him in a while, but he creates grandiose landscapes and mysterious creatures, and interesting people. I would like to be any one of them and see the others.

Moving on to spy thrillers, I think this time the first choice is the correct one: John Le Carre. So what if my husband fell asleep in the movie adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Le Carre is one of the reasons ( and all the above are the others) that one should write what one knows well and perhaps does well. He worked for British Intelligence, i believe. If he/she doesn’t do it well himself- at least knows people who do it well. I abhor David Baldacci and Robert Ludlum. The latter fills the books with such jargon that I am pretty sure he doesn’t even know what he really means. Le Carre also uses jargon, but that is when he writes a detailed, intricate series, with essentially intertwined characters and globally connected events to give it a realistic touch, with George Smiley. His non- George Smiley books have little to no jargon and thats when you know that he knows his business. And knows it well.

I am a girl and it would not be fair to leave out romance. I already know the answer but let me put it in a convoluted, torturous way that most romantic authors like to build into their story. Barbara Cartland comes to mind and quickly vanishes, even though she writes period romances and thats the only genre I like, in this category ( is genre bigger than category?, I will have to look up). Judith McNaught also comes to mind and lingers a little, she does write a plausible plot with an inherent twist or more than one twist that are quite or almost believable as the story unfolds. Mainly because of the background she tries to build. However, I have noticed some obvious examples of her trying to have characters reminiscent of famous characters by, say, Ishiguro. Give me some credit here, it cannot be a Mills and Boon or Silhouette story that I want to live in. I am not 12. The answer is Stephen King. His characters get the best ( or maybe the worst) of the fantastical and the romantic world. The best chemistry, the deepest bond that lasts even after a beloved dies. The real thing. No compromises will be accepted.

Let us not forget a philosophical story, that tells a tale with mind bending insight into others’ minds, societal structure and even the most probable future of mankind. I have not read a whole of writers in this genre ( maybe it is bigger!), so I am positive I will miss a few or a lot. From Dostoevsky to Aldous Huxley, Ishiguro to Steinbeck, even Ayn Rand ( but no, she won’t be the choice), Jostein Gaarder, Sun Tzu, Guevera’s Motorcycle Diaries, NOT Paul Coelho ( i hate him), Bertrand Russell. This is a very very hard choice for me. Perhaps because, I really want to be living in this genre, because life is the real thing and these people sure knew it and know it and write it. Give me a few more years, guv’nor.. I will know it then. Maybe.

Acceptable life

Why is it that people want different things and yet follow a typical pattern? Why is it more accepted to want what everyone wants? We are likely to have a genetic composition that predisposes us towards wanting social approval, or society can’t have evolved to the extent it has. Altruism is only seen in genetically linked social creatures, like bees and ants. Even so, our superior intellect should have evolved to want something more – a ‘deeper meaning’ at much larger a scale than what I see around me.. ¬†All we seem to be capable of doing with the intellect is devising new ways of making money or rather abetting fraud or just follow a herd mentality. The mentality that is being perpetrated generation after generation. So that the what we call life, is just an ‘acceptable’ form of living. With very few who wander to places undefined, territories uncharted in the handbook of ‘How to live a Perfect, (acceptable )life‘.

We are even now constantly selecting for such combination of genes that would enhance and perpetuate just this. As getting married and having kids is high in priority for people who decide early that they want what their parents had, nothing more, nothing less and nothing different (other than technology).
Working as a volunteer for the rights of adivasis or minorities, discovering a drug, appear far, far down in the list of approved activities, if they appear at all, leaves little time to procreate and perhaps doesn’t go very well with good parenting- and therefore if there are ‘altruistic’ genes that make a heart break looking at someone else’s plight- they are going to be lost to the population in general. Acceptable life demands being selfish, as your family, your kids and your life must come first as duty. ¬†In this life, there is no room for ‘bad’ things that hurt you and yours and that includes any repercussions of your actions that may have made thousands homeless and some more victimized.
What about dealing with the certainty of death? In the US, death is considered to be bad, in fact any american reading this, will probably exclaim, who doesn’t think death is bad? And how could it not be bad? In giving the ‘acceptable’ life to those who can afford it, we nonchalantly, or unknowingly or regretfully and even perhaps reluctantly deal a unpalatable life to the others,¬†who are rarely seen and never heard.
For them, death could be preferable. Abject poverty amidst a state of complete chaos and no respect for life or the living, for honor ¬†is not acceptable, but millions of people globally continue to live it. Where one is realistic and still ‘human’ enough to know that there is no way out. No light at the end of the tunnel. Or when life has taken every glimmer of hope or happiness. When you have no home, no family and the option is to kill others and join the army of a tyrant to survive or perish at the hand of another 9 yr old – 19 yr old- if the nine year old has ever known real love, he/ she would probably prefer to die than live such a jaded life. The operative phrase being ‘known real love’. Clearly, if you have not, then you can be taught to believe anything, fly any flag, kill any one, and hate everything. This is why the terrorist camps work. I don’t think there is any coming back to a normal life for the kids who have lived there since they were toddlers or younger. Hatred fills voids like nothing else can.
If by some form of miraculous therapy they do realize that all they ever thought and felt was simply the extension of a deranged, fanatic, no matter how much that person appeared to be close to godliness.. They would be more dead than alive. And what would we have saved, then? I am all for life, never anyone doubt that. But it has to be one that I could live, or anyone could live with a modicum of self-respect and honor and most importantly hope.
Then again death is important for the obvious matter of matter- maintaining the cycle of nutrients and life.
In fact, the charm of life is that it won’t last forever. Otherwise, what little motivation people have, to be a better person, learn a little more, see or think or do more, would be successfully procrastinated to never getting done. All these are options for people who have started the normal ‘acceptable’ life of course.
I do believe that most cultures, living close to nature have a much higher acceptance of death. It doesn’t make them uncivilized. According to me, that is something to emulate.
Many religions also view death as bad, apocalypse promises to kill all the non- believers while a special chariot lifts the believers to the heavens above, to be one with God. Others escalate death in the name of a religious empowerment as a sure shot way to eternal happiness. But then, I don’t believe God made religion anyway.
The other most socially approved act is to have children, the opposite or the beginning leading to death, depending on who is thinking about it. Someone once said that having a child is an act of very high optimism. One must be optimistic enough to believe in the best possible future for their children, obscuring all mishaps and unpleasantness that must have befallen them, while growing up. Perhaps magnifying the happiness children bring, to overshadow the essential sacrifices for bringing up children. We must be evolutionarily wired to achieve that level of obscuring as well. Or perhaps the need to be needed is powerful enough to overcome everything else.
So what is an individual’s contribution to society while living this acceptable life, children? some skilled labor? Is it overreaching to want to do something meaningful that outlasts your generation and want a family? Or is it even possible to do many things well? Bringing up children well, is no small task, somehow our parents managed it well enough, but as technologies bring in more negative forces to take away the innocence from our children, it is getting harder and harder. Maybe only in my imagination. But game-boy, definitely doesn’t make friends, or improve imagination, when a short answer to everything is easily available on the internet, why read a book? That has become acceptable, living a life where the only contribution to the world is the next generation of mostly similar in nature, but different in habit, people going through the daily grind.. Well, in some cases children do grow up to be great thinkers, who change what should be ‘acceptable’ and what not. I find it hard to accept that what we are participating in, is a kind of lucky draw, where everybody gets a consolation prize of having had children (if they participate), but there is very little¬† likelihood of a real prize worthy of its name. No,no, I do not mean that children are not¬† a prize, of course they are to us. What I mean is, objectively, they will grow up to replace us in a banal cyclical setting, that does not lead to any lasting meaning or substance.
Is that where, some socially incompetent geniuses come in, who are responsible for the few breakthroughs that can occupy whole generations in their repercussions? Who may never have had the acceptable form of life themselves..
The other, more sinister side of the consolation prize is, if you haven’t had time or the thought to read about everything that can affect your child, not limited to good parenting books ( and honestly, even if you thought you did the best), there are things that are beyond your control that make up a human life. Every time something bad happens to your child, you will blame yourself and not without reason. You may also have achieved the level of meaningful success in your field of choice, enough to be an expert who is valued, skilled and can keep up with all the new stuff with¬† little effort and still bring up a well rounded human being ( or 3 well rounded human beings, and we are not talking about their weight here). To win some , you lose some, maybe you are not an expert for long- you are just a mediocre wage earning person, who values family. That is acceptable.
You could even be fictitious. And still not be able to change the course your children’s lives take, even when some great writer is actually writing about you. Even the writer needs turns and twists in the story, otherwise it is not a story. Perhaps that is why, it is acceptable to have a life that is outwardly straight forward, with average to mediocre levels of happiness, success and pitfalls, agony, heartbreak and disease. Some one is writing a story with all of us as characters, and it has got to have twists and turns..
So, here is hoping for an acceptable life to all of us who hold mediocrity in disdain and are trying to find out why  they fall into that murky, black ocean-like body that has all the other mediocre people swimming in it.

Coming of age at different st-ages

Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one who is annoyed by the commercials for movies that are ‘ a true, coming of age story’ or a ‘moving coming of age tale’ of a girl growing up in an unpleasant atmosphere. Or a boy becoming a soldier not just by profession but by nature.. I sure hope it sounds at least familiar, because otherwise I have just been getting annoyed over imaginary iterations of something quite innocent, in concept, at least.

Also, quite poignant. I am sure that is what was originally meant when the phrase began to be used to describe a story of coming to terms with yourself and life. Now, it is just a phrase like ‘going with the flow’ that may mean anything, or nothing.

While being annoyed with the phrase I suddenly realized that I had had a few coming of age-s myself. After all, every age should have the feeling of realization or enlightenment that rightly means that you have actually lived that age and not just ‘gone with the flow’. Age not in years of course. So much enlightenment is not for human kind! Perhaps only for dolphins..

Like when you (or I, in this instance) was a teenager and hoped that I was pretty, while knowing somewhere deep down that in reality I was not. I had definitely wanted to be taller, that apparently is still a very important teenage longing in India ( that I have come across). I definitely am not tall. Thankfully at this memory of me coming of age, I remember being fine with it, as long as I could enjoy biology, have good friends and make my dad proud (there it is again), I was satisfied with what I looked like and how far the ants were from me. I never wore makeup till I was 28. Okay, I wore make up on two occasions before that.¬† So it truly did not bother me to a level that I thought it would need proactive correction. I still don’t wear heeled pumps ( I do like to buy them because they look great on shelves). They are ¬†not worth the trouble of wearing though!

At 28 I got married and prior to the wedding in the salon, as the make-up artist was working on me, I realized that make up is a form of art. Now I like experimenting and I also like the process allows my usually overworked to the point of smoking brain, to get some respite.

I suppose coming of age and coming off that age and being ready for the next level is very important. Any one who did not make it, has a scary hope of continuing to be in stasis at whatever mental age they didn’t arrive at, to grow out of it. That should be familiar at least? How many people do we know who still seem to be stuck at whatever point of time they decided to stop thinking about life. I don’t blame them, there are so many things to think about ( the real reason I didn’t want to grow up)¬† goals, money, and family and being productive, that whether you are ‘growing’ as a person or not, sometimes takes a back seat.

Many times it is the need to get people to like you or need you that the real you remains hidden in layers of perfectly woven, impressive and fake personalities. I suppose society needs this, after all if everyone showed their true selves at all times, it would be hard for community feelings to develop and endure. It is the decision that makes you stop at some point and draw the line that is ‘coming of age’.

Toddlers and kids up to about 7-8 yrs of age, have no option but to grow up. But after the early- late teens, there is an option to stop. Some of us do. There is an option to stop at any point after that. It sucks so much, so much of the time that as soon as no one inside me is looking, I have tended to postpone it for years myself. But the people inside me, they have not let up yet, so here I am writing.. ( they think that is the correct next level for me).

Believe me when I say this- I did not want to grow up even when I realized there was no option. Highlighted by the fact that of all my friends in our ‘convent’ school, I was the only one who didn’t want college and the associated freedom to come any time soon.

Most people I know who think ( and tell me repeatedly) that they are mature, are so far from it that I think they were mature for a moment at an age, a long time ago, and¬† someone told them they were being very mature in their attitude and that line got¬† stuck somewhere. They¬† don’t realize¬† they are no longer 10 and maturity means different things for different ages. I think it is just as well no one told me that. It could also mean that I have not come of age yet. I doubt it though. As soon as I decided to give up pursuing with every breath and waking moment of my life( like I did for almost a decade) , a profession that is not solving anyone’s problems, even if I don’t have other plans to fall back on to and remain ‘productive’, it was my most recent coming of age.. It is bittersweet as usual.

I have not given up science, it will be like giving up my hair, it will grow right back on! It just means that I am free from the pressure of getting publications, an award, a fellowship to show people I am a scientist. I no longer care about that. I only care about not doing things that are not only boring and tedious, they just seem to be following the ‘trend’ of the moment. Like obesity is now, and cancer was and continues to be to some extent. I am free to like science because it is wonderful and it should have a point and part in everyone’s life. Maybe I can sort out some conflicting reports while I am at this stage of clear, or at least somewhat unbiased thinking. Who knows..

Peddling from a briefcase

Peddling from a briefcase

A form of peddling disappearing from Indian streets. Hadn’t seen one in a decade, until this guy in Kolkata, India. He sells rat poisons

The Stephens I admire, adore and would like to be..

Yes, unlike the false promise on Che Guevara ( still have to work on it..) my favorite Stephens are easier for me to write about, I already know them quite well.

Stephen Jay Gould was a paleontologist, who broke away from the tenet in evolutionary theory ( if you care, the tenet is gradual accumulation of genetic variation that led to formation of new species), sort of challenging the Father of Modern Biology- Charles Darwin, but according to me, had Darwin been alive he would have approved, and came up with his own postulate, with Niles Eldredge, they called it ‘punctuated equilibrium’. (This won’t be in parenthesis, because the post is about Gould, no?) That postulate is that there were certain shorter ‘periods’, in geological eras or eons where mutations accumulated at a faster rate than normal and led to an ‘explosion’ in the number of new species formed. What led to these periods? Pretty much the same things that were thought to cause speciation in ‘gradualism’. However, the details are for another time and perhaps another audience (but hopefully the very same writer).

Unfortunately for me, and other wide eyed innocents in countries where evolution is not questioned at any level of school and is taught as a fact ( for¬† a most charming essay on the oft-quoted-yet-misunderstood difference between ‘theory’ and ‘fact’ that has burdened the ‘Theory of Evolution’, albeit only in America, please read (http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/gould_fact-and-theory.html), Gould’s novel theory by which evolution ( the fact) might have occurred (along with in other ways that have been stated and are yet to be discovered),¬† was not in our out-dated text books. So, I heard of him much later, by which time the more popular Richard Dawkins had already brain washed me. Additionally, I still find most Indian book stores don’t have any of Gould’s books, which is quite strange and atypical. We are proud to be tolerant to everyone and have subsidized versions of every popular science book, albeit maybe a couple generations older editions.

Stephen Jay Gould should never be compared to Dawkins, ever. But if one does deign to do that, then the only comparison is that one is a true blue scientist with an inherent knack in writing and an acumen in both science and popular science writing, that has gone missing in this generation of biologists, and a goat. A smart, good looking one, who speaks better that the others. But a goat nonetheless, being led by the much beloved ( yet thoroughly dead, in person to yell at his goats) Charles Darwin. As an example for why I love his writing is the excerpt from the above mentioned essay:

‘Well, evolution is a theory. It is also a fact. And facts and theories are different things, not rungs in a hierarchy of increasing certainty. Facts are the world’s data. Theories are structures of ideas that explain and interpret facts. Facts do not go away when scientists debate rival theories to explain them. Einstein’s theory of gravitation replaced Newton’s, but apples did not suspend themselves in mid-air, pending the outcome.’

If there is one other person I can think of, who would write something as dry, tolerating no foolish attempts to prevaricate and make me turn militant with indignation at whoever chose to disagree- it would have to be Stephen King.

And what do you know, they even knew each other. I won’t call them best buddies, mainly because they didn’t call each other that, but they did apparently communicate with each other often and exchanged notes on what one thought of the others latest work. In fact, in the foreword to ‘The TommyKnockers’ King mentions that he asked Gould if he thought that tommy knockers could actually exist, following natural evolution and Gould replied that it was certainly possible (may not be the actual words, had to donate a lot of my King collection while moving). The thing is, I would agree too, creatures that can only solve problems based on what they have around them, without innovation or looking for better solution, yet with a tendency to make everything as perfect as possible ( in their own minds) can and do exist. They are often called scientists. King called them TKs, and were they mean or what! King write an obituary for Gould when he passed away in 2004 (a year before I even came to this country, sob!) in the Boston Globe.

They both are clearly influenced and inspired by Orwell. Have won awards and accolades by peers and adoration by amateurs interested in their respective professions. They were also both criticized sometimes. Unfortunately, in the case of Gould, by fellow scientists who should have understood, or at least respected his insight as well as the creationists who had their own agenda- to call evolution a theory that the dithering scientists don’t have any proof of ( a line on creationists is a waste of time, energy, quarks and even gravity). Meanwhile, ¬†King is called a ‘horror’ writer ( I was told by a bookstore owner that he didn’t have a horror section at all, so didn’t have any books by King). I am sorry, I call ‘ Eat, Pray, Love’¬†a horror story. Its not that he is not scary, its just that he is scary, while what he proposes seems to be entirely plausible to me and any one with a healthy respect for the unknown and yet to be discovered wonders of our wonderful world. Sure, he doesn’t write for kids, but neither did the Grimm brothers or Lewis Carroll if you are a stickler ( he wrote for his own kids, to tell them, nicely, about the dark, real world).

So, all right, Stephen King does tend to get repetitive or has turned that after some think he wrote ‘IT’ and Stephen Jay Gould wrote tomes (another thing in common between the two), that only real enthusiasts can finish reading, and even I have to confess I have not been able to. Picasso was also repetitive, and I can’t confess to like all his work, but was he not a genius, prolific artist with a unique perspective of the world that he articulately, and accurately ( depending on who is looking at them) depicted? I can’t hear any complains about him! If you or I find King repetitive, it is because we read too much of him, so give him a break and after a couple of months ( and five new books by him), you can feel truly happy reading something again.

Gould will never write again, but what he has given the world ( not literally), will, I am afraid, last longer than Roland’s tales. Because presumably the next few species over the next few geological eons won’t still prefer to read English or the >15 languages King’s work has been translated into. Hopefully, they will be smart enough to know that punctuated equilibrium is a theory based on fact. We are not preparing the world for TommyKnockers here!

Disclaimer: I am not too fond of TommyKnockers, the book, much. It is just appropriate here. My favorites are Hearts in Atlantis and the Dark Tower series.