Socrates is probably smirking.

When I had initially started out as a researcher, I was assigned a paper to review for one of my classes. And usually, to review a paper means you have to reconnoiter existing literature (literature is basically all/most of the papers in a particular field of interest) while simultaneously critique the author’s ideas throughout. Since I was a noob to academia then and still am, I had a very poor idea of what “reviewing” a research paper meant. I skimmed the article, made a PPT of copy-pasted points which I felt were important and just read the PPT verbatim in class. My professor was very kind enough not to give an earful that day but we had a long “discussion” later.

It took me a while, months really, to realize that critical thinking is pivotal in academia. And propelling it is not an easy thing. Every single sentence must be questioned 4-5 times, contemplated on and scouted like a hawk even for the tiniest digression or loophole the authors might have given away. Because it is only through these loopholes that another paper/research work is possible. Looking at it, academia is basically a profession where you get paid to exploit the missing links and build on it. An outsider might elicit this to be easy. I mean how hard is it to find gaps, right? That’s what I thought so too!

But.

As I read more and more papers, I only get more confused and my thoughts grow divisive each day forward. And critically evaluating each paper is mentally excruciating. At least in finance and economics, there’s a framework for reviewing – each line of a paper undergoes what/why/how and Libby boxes (I might start crying if I explain what and how agonizing this is). The worst part is, to start working on a project, one must “survey” the literature which means reading hundreds and hundreds of papers. And looking at the current rate at which academic papers are proliferating, it might soon be thousands and thousands of papers to be surveyed right at the genesis of an idea. This is one of the reasons why highly-cited, prolific authors stick to one particular area, I guess. They are aware of their literature so it’s easier to just work on the same idea, tweak one variable in an existing paper gives you – *drum rolls* a new paper!

But keeping aside this bleak aspect of academia, it is quite amazing how academia shapes proper thinkers. Sometimes, albeit very rare, I get to read a good paper which leaves me in utter awe of how a person could manifest such ideas and aptly tap the resources statistics and mathematics has to offer. At the same time write so convincingly, defend their ideas and market them to scientific journals. It’s inhuman!! And sometimes, it’s by solo authors!!! Jesus. And such papers are called “classics”. So, as a part of every “seminar” class – classes where you do nothing but discuss only research papers for a whole term, you have to critically tackle these “classics”. And, man, every time that happens do I wish I’d chosen science stream in 11th and at least I’d have been working at TCS or something and not bang my head against the table or write like this to vent.   

I wish I was Socrates.

Reply 1988

Reply 1988 is an absolute masterpiece.

IF YOU’RE READING THIS, THE NEXT TIME YOU’RE SURFING FOR A SHOW – pick Reply 1988.

brb, crying.

Writing this is like ripping my heart to shreds again but whatever.

So, it’s a wholesome story of five families who live in the same street. It takes place in Seoul, South Korea and the year is 1988. Korea is hosting the Olympics for that year and our female lead Sung Deok-sun is plaque holder for Madagascar. Deok-sun is cheery middle child of three kids, easy-go-lucky high schooler and is known for livening up any place.

I could relate to Deok-sun’s character so frickin much! She’s the kind of person who has “7 years of bad luck for anyone who touches this book” written on her books, always zoned out during classes, and but has a heart of pure gold. She tries to study hard but fails miserably and ranks very low for university admission, and is in the verge of not getting accepted to any university. So, her mother visits a fortune-teller asking for advice. The fortune-teller councils her mother to change Deok-sun’s name to Soo-yeon. It’s hilarious watching everyone get accustomed to Soo-yeon from Deok-sun but after a few months, Deok-sun Soo-yeon still fails her exams. Her mother learns about this from the class-teacher during a PTA meeting. Next-time, her mom sees Soo-yeon, she goes back to calling her Deok-sun. This scene was utterly heartbreaking because after that Deok-sun literally begs her mom to go back to calling her Soo-yeon and that she will study well from then now but her mom just walks away saying “it’s okay”.

Pins and needles in my already terrible heart. I have been a victim to so many such situations. Especially after maths answer sheets were distributed at school and we had to get them signed from our parents that day and submit it next day.

But Deok-sun’s life is better than mine. She has four close friends who live in the same street – Sung Sun-woo, Kim Jung-hwan, Dong-ryong, and Choi Taek. Sun-woo is the model child – hardworking, studious, kind-hearted and mother’s favorite. Jung-hwan is the exact opposite of Deok-sun. Like Sun-woo he’s studious, he loves his family a lot but never expresses it, and a AGMARK certified introvert. Coming to Dong-ryong, he’s neglected child of workaholic parents that he’s often seen dining and hanging out at either of one of the four other families, hates school, loves dancing and English songs. Finally Choi Taek – Taek is the neighborhood’s priced possession. He’s a world-class baduk player and is almost never home for anything and when he’s home, his friends make sure to pamper him with ramyeon, Hollywood movies, and Korean version of Monopoly.

This show vividly portrays everyday lives of these five families, how closely each family are knit to one another, and how the children of each family make it to adulthood through university entrance exams, teenage crushes, days of Walkman, trying out KFC for the first time and so on. Initially Reply 1988 may come off as a husband-search game for Deok-sun but the show is much more than that. Each of the 20 episodes span over 175 mins and they are all heavily packed with feelings, sharp dialogues and stellar acting. The actors have put out such a good show that it takes barely a couple of episodes to get emotionally and mentally invested in it. I found the daily struggles faced by each family very relatable albeit the show depicting a Korean lifestyle in the 1980s.

Personally, this is just the second Korean drama that I am watching so it also was a learning curve on Korean culture, cuisine, and their moral values for me. I was one of the few people who used to hold up their nose at Korean entertainment and man, do I deeply regret that! They have dead brilliant actors. And their story arcs are like no other. One of the things that stuck out in Reply 1988 was how subtly the director placed cliffhangers throughout and ever-so-smoothly reconnected to it later.

Reply 1988 is definitely of the shows that I’m going to be recommending for the next 5 years at the least! to anyone who asks me for recommendation. It’s physically painful to write about this show without spoiling anything (in case anyone decides to watch) but man, I laughed out loud, bawled my eyes out, so many scenes had such an emotional impact and made me think a lot! This writing does zero justice to the show but then again when I have the most to say, words fail me.

It Takes Three to Tango

In my tennis class, the practice was hierarchical. As you moved along rungs of the ladder, that is, as you get better in tennis – the drills got boring and boring. It was so repetitive, it made me want to just poke my eyeballs for some reason. For two whole years, I was not a part of this monotonous training. To put it simply: I was a beginner. And then one day, my coach texted dad that I had been “promoted” to Bimetal courts so my parents would have to drop me there for practice instead of the English Club, where I was previously playing. Before every practice session at the English Club, we were made to run four rounds around 3 adjacent courts, then the coach’s hitting partners would feed us tennis balls. When they fed balls, sometimes it’d be didactic like “back-hand down-the-line” or “convert your backhand to forehand” and you’d have to hit the ball as per the instructions. When you reach the pinnacle of following every instruction without a single error, you get promoted to Bimetal courts.

I was beyond excited that finally I got to play with the big kids. On my first day at Bimetal, after I finished warming-up, I was waiting for the hitting partner anna to feed me balls and counsel on the shots I’m supposed to go for but to my dashing hopes, all I did for the next 65 mins was hit only forehand cross-courts over and over with the same hitting partner at the same pace even with small breaks in between. At one point, my concentration started wavering, fatigue kicked in and I was hitting the balls wherever my arms took me. Later on, a seniors would advise me – “it’ll be forehand cross-courts only until you can return every single ball with the same force, same focus”.  This went for at least a three weeks and by then forehand cross-court had become a muscle memory for me. I could look somewhere else and hit the ball correctly to extreme right corner of the court. But this was at the cost of extreme of shoulder aches, especially the right shoulder from over-use. And eventually, I put the blame on 12th standard board exams and discontinued regular tennis altogether. I was a poor player as well, my presence of mind was very fickle. If I was leading, I’d start imagining winning the match altogether and I celebrated a lot. Even it was my opponent’s error, I would pump my fists and put an awful show. That’s outright poor mentality, if you ask me. Little things like this is what makes tennis the greatest sport ever. It’s necessary for the body and mind to be constantly synchronized and disciplined. And that takes a toll.

This is just my personal experience from about 4-5 years of regular tennis. And this smidgen of an experience gave me such respect for the current tennis players on the tour – especially Rafa, Federer and Djokovic. It means one thing to win, it means a whole another thing to keep winning. One evening, my coach made me play against this guy whom we called “Aishwarya anna”. We called him that because he was one of my friend Aishwarya’s brother. He had the best serve I have ever seen in real life, in 3-D. He’s elder to me by a couple of years. We played best of three sets and I lost 0-6, 0-6. He serves whipped past me like a torrent of electricity. It was not an elegant serve like Federer or stylish like Sharapova’s but he’d toss the ball so freaking high, arch his body almost to an inverted-C and send the tennis ball flying down. Even our coach couldn’t return his serves. After the match, I asked, “Aishwarya anna, how are you serving like that?” and he replied, “I practiced this serve for 2-months straight.” And I learnt that repetition is not bad if you know what you’re doing. This also got me thinking how long would’ve Rafa, Federer and Djokovic spent on every single shot to reach such perfection that now they’re capable of beyond conventional shots like Federer’s clean tweeners or Rafa’s spectacular banana-shot?

The average reaction time to an 130mph service is 0.41 seconds (which is less than the time it takes to blink twice, quickly). Tennis bypasses conscious thoughts, more likely it operates on a range of reflexes which comes through hours and hours of perfecting your reflexes in the first place. What we see on TV is nothing, it warps the most important aspects of the game. I have been to just one professional ITF match, and it blew my mind when I figured the speed at which the balls were hit, the little the reaction time players have and how fast the ball actually moves across the court. Again, it made me wonder, this is just an ITF match, how strenuous and dynamic would the actual ATP tour matches be? And it comes promptly the one of my biggest wishes is to sit at the outer courts of any grand slam venue and watch the pros play, the seats in outer courts are barely thirty feet from the play and it’s easier to relish the game, and sample the difference between TV-tennis and actual tennis. Moreover, it’s not just the physical prospects to this game but mentality as well.

I was watching this year’s Australian Open and until Rafa played Tsitsipas, I was damn sure Rafa would win the slam. And if you watch the match, the turning point for Tsitsipas and downfall of Rafa is conspicuous. You can see a tectonic shift in the match, the control went to Tsitsipas and he took it on from there. This is the part where Djokovic wins – I have never seen him let his opponent get the better of him, it’s like he’s in his own bubble of thought, oblivious to the charades of his opponent. Maybe it’s from all the yoga and tantric healing or whatever but he keeps his mental cool (though at the price of his racquets) at the most pivotal times in a match. And it is so bloody hard to do that. I ardently hated Djokovic mostly because he got the best of Rafa and my other favourite players. But disregarding that, his personal life or his views on how water molecules have life, I have a found a great respect for his game. Right now, he’s rock-solid and invincible. He could win the Wimbledon this year as well. For all I know, I don’t think there will be a trio so dominant in the field of tennis, at least in my lifetime. Rafa and Federer might hang their boots anytime in the next 2-3 years maybe and I am so glad and grateful to witness these players’ genius through all these years. Even though I’m impassioned about Rafa, I’ve realised that watching any of the trio is an equivalent of a religious experience.

One Part Woman

One Part Woman by Perumal Murugan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


One Part Woman (Maadhuorubagan in Tamil, also won the Sahitya Academy award) is a short, gripping tale of Kaliappa and Ponnayi, a “childless” married couple of 12 years. Through the years, Kali and Ponnu face severe verbal lashes from every single person they meet, sometimes straight to their face and sometimes cloaked in innuendos for their inability to spawn a child.

This novel unfolds the couple’s diurnal life, the community rituals and sacrifices they make, and so on. Although to a non-Tamil person reading this, it’s unlikely that the translated version will strike a chord. Nevertheless, this is a must-read to understand (from an insiders point of view) a typical problem faced by childless married couples in the Southern part of India, back in the days.



View all my reviews

Murakami’s Men

In vain efforts to amp my long-lost reading habit, I’d joined an online book-club three months ago. There aren’t any stringent rules to follow but there are themes for every month. You can choose any book you like to read (pertaining to that theme, of course) and it’s up to your wish to discuss it during the weekly meeting. For February, the theme is surrealism. And the only unread books I had under that genre were Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs and Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami.

It was not a quandary picking out one from the two. I loved every single Murakami novel I’ve ever read – started with Norwegian Woods, read Sputnik Sweetheart a month later, and finished Kafka on the Shore in 2018; it made sense to start Killing Commendatore.

Like every other Murakami novel, Killing Commendatore starts in a strikingly similar fashion – the protagonist is moving out of/running away from/leaving Tokyo. In Killing Commendatore the protagonist’s marriage ends in the first few pages of the book. As a panacea to heartbreak and to reconcile with the fact that his wife had been indulging in infidelity – he aimlessly drives around coastal Japan at the risk of looking like a desperado. For a whole month. He has just a couple of t-shirts, a few clean pants and a jumper in his duffel bag. And some savings left in the bank with which he moves in to numerous lodgings at some towns that smell of diesel and fresh fish, as he makes his pit-stops. Our protagonist is a portrait painter, not so famous but renowned enough to be commissioned by business moguls to paint their portrait.

After a month of continuous driving and dwindling savings, he takes his things and moves into his friend’s forsaken cottage on a hill, far from civilization. To make some money, he teaches painting classes once in every week at the local community school. One night, from nowhere, a bell starts ringing at 1:30 am right outside his house and continues every night but his meagre attempts to find out who that is goes to vain as he cannot gather anything. With the help of his neighbor Wataru Menshiki (also a recluse) for whom he also did a portrait, they find that the sound is coming from under the rocks of settlement, near his house. Immediately, they arrange to remove the stones and on digging deeper, they find something completely unexpected and shocking.

Murakami takes about 4-5 pages to pitch his protagonist’s character. And only while reading Killing Commendatore, it slowly it dawned on me – almost all his main characters have the same fundamental features. It’s a neatly packed trait-toolkit – like a minimal double-layered bento lunchbox of (i) introspection – all his characters (pertinent to the ones I’ve read) are always pensive and contemplative about something, (ii) financial acumen – money always flows in somehow, well-enough to support their sustenance, (iii) carnal activities – it’s surprising to me actually because they are put forth as mediocre, slightly-above average looking men but very good looking women with apparently even more amazing private parts throw themselves at the protagonists, (iv) weird fetishes – they, in one way or another, makes sexual references with respect to their family members. In Kafka on the Shore, Tamura refers to his sister and mother. In Killing Commendatore, it’s the painter’s dead sister, (v) western operas – I am so grateful for this. Thanks to winter Olympics, I was introduced to Mahler, Tchaikovsky and Bizet and now thanks to Murakami, I can’t stop listening to Verdi and Jonas Kaufmann. Finally, (vi) coffee and sandwiches. In a Murakami novel, you can always count on the leads to have a coffee and sandwiches at least once in every 15 pages.

But I think, this is where Murakami’s genius maneuvers into play. When I jot down these traits so seriously, it looks appalling and leads one to think “who would read a book with such repulsive characters?” but whilst reading the book, Murakami draws you into his head and weaves his world in such a way that everything sounds very normal. His books are mostly magical-surrealism – there are raining frogs, talking cats, mystical worlds underground, dead Buddhist monk augmenting into an “Idea” and so on. The characters are on about death, purgatory, coffee and sandwiches, books and Japanese art, Japanese history and their thought processes is so scintillating. I sometimes envy these characters and partly why I love Murakami’s books so much despite borderline persona repetition and disconcerting traits is because there is a kind of sadness, a lot of intellect, their replies are always laconic but copious with meaning, they have such discipline and routine towards life. I could sit for hours and hours and listen to a person like that. And personally, every time after I read a book, I’m affected (for lack of a better word) by “character-syndrome”; I start thinking like I’m the protagonist. I hope this is not just me! 0_o But my point here is, after every Murakami novel, it’s like looking at the world through a different lens. It almost feels like meditating. And I think this is one of the reasons why everyone should read Haruki Murakami’s works.

In the words of the man himself, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”

Film Lit

Tons of snapshots from Tv shows and movies with books in the frame were lying in my gallery and I’m just freeing up some gallery space by dumping them here ¯\_( ͡❛ ͜ʖ ͡❛)_/¯

I’ve listed the books as well, in case anyone wants to refer. Ciao.

Sherlock S01E02 (The Blind Banker)
Book titleFreakonomics (2005) by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt
Over Her Dead Body (2008) by Jeff Lowell
Book title
Infinite Jest (1996) by David Foster Wallace
Domicilium Decoratus (2006) by Kelly Wearstler
The House in Good Taste (1913) by Elsie de Wolfe
Rules Don’t Apply (2016) by Warren Beatty
Book title: Elements of Modern Economics (1946) by Albert Leonard Meyers
Rules Don’t Apply (2016) by Warren Beatty
Book titleElements of Modern Economics (1946) by Albert Leonard Meyers
Wheel of Ashes (1968) by Peter Emmanuel Goldman
Book titleLa vie de Ramakrishna (1929) by Romain Rolland
Notting Hill (1999) by Roger Michell
Book titleIstanbul: the Imperial City (1998) by John Freely
You S02E06 (Goodbye, My Bunny)
Book title
The Beauty of Tight Binding
GGG: Good, Giving and Game
Real World Krav Maga by Gloria Dyer
The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women (1997) by Tristan Taormino
Rope Bondage
As Kinky as You Wanna Be: Your Guide to Safe, Sane and Smart BDSM (2014) by Shanna Germain
Delavier’s Women’s Strength Training Anatomy Workouts (2014) by Michael Gundill and Frédéric Delavier
Encyclopedia of Exercise Anatomy (2013) by Hollis Lance Liebman
The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage (2001) by Midori
Vanilla: Girl’s Guide to Kink
The Ethical Slut (1997) by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy
You S02E04 (The Good, the Bad, & the Hendy)
Book title
Collected Works by Charles Dickens 
David Copperfield (1850) by Charles Dickens
Description de l’Égypte (1809) by Edme François Jomard
Poems by James Thomson
The English Essayists
The Art of Old English Pottery
Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides (1923) by Rudyard Kipling
The Fifth Form Detective (1938) by Rowland Walker
Froissart’s Chronicles (1369) by Jean Froissart
You S02E03 (What Are Friends For?)
Book titleThe Master and Margarita (Мастер и Маргарита in Russian; 1966-1967) by Michail Bulgakov
You S02E10 (Love, Actually)
Book title
Brave New World (1932) by Aldous Huxley
A Guide to Jane Austen (1973) by Michael Hardwick
Kafka’s Selected Stories (2007) by Franz Kafka
You S02E10 (Love, Actually)
Book title: Crime and Punishment (Преступление и наказание in Russian; 1866) by Fëdor Dostoevskij
You S02E01 (A Fresh Start)
Book title
A Fall in Denver (1995) by Sarah Andrews
Discovering the Power of Chakra
Mining the Akashic Records
Akashic Records: Accessing the Universal Journey by Guru Haroutunian
Whole Being Chakra Cleanse
Akashic Records: Demystifying the Archives of Your Soul
The Chakra Clearing Handbook
The Refuge (2000) by Jim Bakker and Ken Abraham
In the Kitchen with Rosie (1994) by Rosie Daley
You S02E01 (A Fresh Start)
Book titleA Month in the Country (Месяц в деревне in Russian; 1872) by Ivan Turgenev
You S02E01 (A Fresh Start)
Book title
The Power (2016) by Naomi Alderman
Gold Fame Citrus (2015) by Claire Vaye Watkins
Sum (2009) by David Eagleman
You S01E07 (Everythingship)
Book title
Black Swan Green (2006) by David Mitchell
On Beauty (2005) by Zadie Smith
You S01E01 (Pilot)
Book titleDon Quixote (1615) by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 
The Half of It (2020) by Alice Wu
Book titleThe Remains of the Day (1989) by Kazuo Ishiguro
Misbehaviour (2020) by Philippa Lowthorpe
Book titleLabouring Men: Studies in the History of Labour (1964) by Eric Hobsbawm
Deutschland 86 E04 (Green Book)
Book titleDie Nackte Wahrheit (The Naked Truth in English) by Thomas Posimski
The Bookshop (2017) by Isabel Coixet
Book titleSilas Marner (1861) by George Eliot
Sex Education S02E01 
Book titleSilas Marner (1861) by George Eliot; A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf; Unaccustomed Earth (2008) by Jhumpa Lahiri; A Passionate Apprentice (1990) by Virginia Woolf; Emma (1815) by Jane Austen; Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen
Sex Education S01E04
Book titleA Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf
Call Me by Your Name (2017) by Luca Guadagnino
Book titleHeart of Darkness (1899) by Joseph Conrad
Daniel Isn’t Real (2019) by Adam Egypt Mortimer
Book titleIn Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu in French; 1913) by Marcel Proust
Daniel Isn’t Real (2019) by Adam Egypt Mortimer
Book titleWays of Seeing (1972) by John Berger

A Little Life

I have never cried so much after finishing a book as this one. It’s been about 6 hours and an Accounting seminar later, since that happened. But now the book has got me thinking if the 700 odd pages were actually worth my sob-fest?

say a little, mean a lot.

A Little Life is very, very, utterly depressing book where if you’re penetrable enough – every other page can make you cry. It’s about the lives of 4 friends – Jude, Willhem, Malcolm and JB. The timeline is anachronistic, the narrators change now and then among 6-7 characters. At first, it was challenging to even have an idea of who’s narrating the chapter but once you got the hang of Hanya Yanagihara’s style of storytelling – it is manageable.

4-5 months ago, I joined an online book-club and made some amazing friends. About 90% of them recommended A Little Life to me. They said “brace yourself”, “get your box of Kleenex”, this and that. And honest to their word, the book really is beyond morose. It was not just the ending of the book that was depressing but also parts in between where I just had to close the book, sit in silence for a few minutes and tell myself, “I can come back to the book later to avoid the surging melancholy in me.” But it’s hard to put a book down when you’re invested by 400/720 pages into it. The book really forces sorrow on you and despite all the heads-up from my book-club, it got to me. Sometimes, it feels like the author just isn’t there. It’s just the characters swimming in your head doing things written on the page in front.

Moreover, when you read a book as dense as this in a couple of sittings, it takes a mental toll on you. Reality becomes purgatory, fluttering between actuality and the fictional life you’ve been in for the past 15-17 hours. Making a normal conversation feels like a task because the characters from the book are still in your head, having a conversation of their own. If a book can make you feel like that, it’s a 5/5. A Little Life did that to me.

It’s mainly the story of Jude St. Francis, his friendship with Willhem, Malcolm and JB. They all meet each other for the first time when they’re 17 years old while studying at a rich Massachusetts college (Harvard probably). These 4 are inseparable. They spend holidays at Malcolm and JB’s house alternatively during their college years. Sometimes they travel together to different parts of America, exploring. Jude and Willhem are orphans – Willhem loses his parents during his college second year and you never really know anything about Jude’s family because he was found near a dumpster as a newborn baby 17 years ago. Among secrets, sweatshirts, ramen noodles, weed, and money – they all share their common undying love and care for Jude. Jude has problems with his leg and sometimes the pain is so excruciating that he collapses instantly in the next available piece of furniture. And no matter what – Willhem, Malcolm and JB make sure they’re there for him. Their friendship is borderline enviable. This trio would later be joined by Andy, a doctor who also starts tending for Jude and his deteriorating health.

Their friendship blossoms slowly, Jude and Willhem – initially poor end up becoming a well-paid litigator and an actor, respectively. Whereas Malcolm, a black guy trying to come to terms with him growing up very rich in an affluent, white-race populated uptown society in New York City while people of his race still fought for equality, becomes a famous architect. That leaves JB. Jean-Baptiste (JB) is the son of an immigrant from Haiti, his family does well enough in America to put him in a private school for his education. Through the first few chapters of the book, you’re led into believing that JB (who becomes a mildly popular artist) would be the one to fare well in life. But he succumbs to cocaine and eventually ruins everything for himself. Slowly, these 4 drift into adulthood and also drift apart. But Jude and Willhem despite all odds only get closer.

The next 400 pages are about Jude. Jude is almost a troglodyte, he likes to keep to himself, minds his own business as a corporate litigator, always wears full-hand shirts, never wears shorts, very good at maths, decorously behaved and can do everything possible at a professional level: from cooking to plumbing to tutoring to stitching. Although he’s very close to his 3 friends, Andy and his professor Harold from law school, no one really knows about his past or why he wears full-handed shirt even on a 40 degree Celsius summer day. Due to a car accident, he loses his ability to walk normally so sometimes Jude uses a wheelchair or a cane. Slowly, via many incidents where Jude let’s his aloofness slip up: Willhem realizes many things about him. How Jude’s arms are full of self-harm through razors and blades, how he deliberately drove his car into a tree just so he could feel pain.

What Willhem doesn’t know is that Jude’s so overwrought with trauma from his childhood, he harms himself as a defense-mechanism against falling into a spiral of unbearably spine-chilling nostalgia. But despite all that and more, Willhem sticks with Jude. Through thick and thin. Some people say this book is about friendship, some say it’s about love. I really don’t know. But either friendship or love – Jude gets the extremes of both affections and sometimes I found myself yearning for something like that, not realizing that I’m just reading a book.

A Little Life deals with surreal graphic depictions of depravity, self-harm, child abuse and mental trauma and how hard it is to recover from it. Sometimes, it’s almost like Jude’s pain seeps through the pages. But at the same time, this does not come off as excessive or sensational – it just is. This novel drove me mad and I hated reading it, at times. I don’t think I will read it again, frankly. But giving credit where it’s due – reading A Little Life was the most immersive experience I have ever had while reading a book.

Trust Issues

I have come to terms with the fact that my incumbency at IIM Bangalore as a research fellow will reach its termination by the time the campus is fully restored to the pre-COVID 19 normalcy. Although working remotely and attending classes through Zoom has its perks, I kind of miss human interaction. Earlier, my dislike for social interactions and anthro-anything is what made me an introvert. Now, without such interactions and just staying in my room for hours and hours together staring at a computer screen seems pointless even though that was the image of the “perfect life” I had in my mind.

As a person in academia, there isn’t much difference between an “online” and “offline” life. The only significant distinction is the classes. With the 5 months and 18 days of IIM-B, I’ve realized that some professors are the paranoid types. They constantly need everyone to have their videos turned on and get a bit edgy if they discover someone has turned off their cameras. Ironically, they are the ones usually with 5000+ citations, stellar track record, expect absolute deference in class, and eschew questions or doubts during their classes with condescending (kind of), equivocal comments. They are also the ones who’ll pose a question to you at the exact same time you turn off the video on Zoom when you want to have a sip of water or take a break to the washroom. It usually goes “XYZ, what do you think would happen to the result if the authors had instead chose this variable instead of that?” So, with a full bladder or a desiccated throat – XYZ would have to answer the question. But thank god, I’ve had like just one or two sessions with such professors.

Anyway, this Friday evening, I was attending Prof. V’s Market Microstructure class. One of my classmates from the PhD cohort was presenting a research paper and as thumb-rule – you make notes, stare at the screen, nod a few times, scrunch your face like you smell a fart and nod at the same time (it supposedly makes you look intrigued, borrowing the sage words of Joe Tribbiani here), and belie to note down something now and then industriously. But Prof. V is one of the coolest professors I’ve come across. He’s nonchalant. Turn off your video for the whole lecture, put out a taciturn demeanor, shun from any sort of research paper discussion – Prof. V will still be nice to you. He’ll motivate you, ask what’s wrong and really try to understand you. So, as a homage to his niceness, I always turn on my video during his classes, genuinely put an effort to stay awake, and look discernibly curious.  

A minor digression here.

So what happened that particular day was that I had fried chicken that Friday unlike breakfasts on other days. Not one, not two – 6 pieces of fried chicken and a chicken popcorn burger. My grandmother won a quiz on a radio show and got a Rs. 500 coupon for some fried and grilled chicken shop in Kovaipudur. For some stupid reason as usual, my brother and I thought it’d be a good idea to use that coupon that Friday morning. The owner (I think due to lack of customers) compelled us to order every single piece of chicken he had in his freezer and towards 12pm we had ordered (or he conned us into ordering) every piece of frozen chicken in his restaurant.

Basically when my brother and I went to the shop, with the 500 rupees coupon we said, “Hi, we won this coupon. If this is valid, we would like to eat something.”

After inspecting the gift coupon, looking at his empty restaurant, arms akimbo, he replied, “Yes. Coupon is valid. The whole non-veg menu is available.”

Okay, fine.

My brother ordered a chicken schezwan shwarma and I wanted a BBQ spicy chicken. He said, “Sorry. No shwarma and no BBQ. But there is fried chicken. I can get you that.”

We had no choice but to agree.

He went off behind a wooden room-partition where I’m guessing the kitchen was and started cooking. I could hear some sizzling, some fire crackling, oven-timer beeping, and some chicken-chopping. After what seemed like ages, the owner came with two plates, 3 pieces of chicken wings on each plate. No sauce. No mayonnaise. Not even the plain vegetable salad that comes with every grilled chicken order. He stood with each of his palm enclosing the other palm, hunched a bit and said, “I’m really sorry but no sauce ma.”

Okay, fine.

After that he again went behind the wooden partition, then my brother and I thought that perhaps we should leave after finishing these 3 chicken pieces. But surprisingly, the chicken tasted good. Not lip-smacking, finger-licking good but good nevertheless. Eventually, we ordered a burger since we didn’t want look like some misers who came to spend just the Rs. 500 coupon. Eventually, when our burger was served – there was another surprise. With our burgers came another three pieces of chicken wings each! HE WAS CLEANING OUT HIS FREEZER OR WHAT?

And right then, my uncle forwarded a standard Tamil-family-group-WhatsApp-Message that spoke about the raging bird flu transmitted through broiler chickens in Kerala. And there were 4 pieces of chicken right in front of me (including the burger) and 3 other fried chicken wings in my stomach. It was safe to say that I was not having the best time of my life. Not to look bad and not to waste food, I stuffed in the burger and chicken, feeling queasy all the while thinking I’ve somehow caught the bird flu myself. And my brother had his chicken happily without a care in the world. If you write “chicken” on a piece of paper and hand it over to my brother, he’ll eat that as well.

Around 1:30pm that day, we got home. Both of us had online classes at starting at 4pm. And like I said, I had Prof. V’s class. I slept for a while, woke up right on time, had my survival-juice a.k.a coffee and proceeded with my class. About 10 minutes into the class, I could feel my bowel acting up. I could feel my stomach impregnated and thought maybe it’s one of those times when you just take a big fart, the stomach pain goes away eventually. So, I tried that. And halfway, I realized that it’s not just the damn fart. So, I turned off my video and sort of ran, sort of hopped to the bathroom and made a quite loud offering to the porcelain throne. The relief from that excruciating stomach pain felt so liberating that I said out loud “oh thank god.” After performing the later ritual of hygiene – washing hands, wiping hands, all that I got back to my table and turned on the video, which is when I realized that my class had gone silent.

Prof. V asked, “Are you okay, Janani? Is everything okay? Can we move on with the class?”. To answer him, I was about to unmute and realized I was unmuted the whole while. And my Bluetooth earphones had picked up every single thing that happened in the last few minutes!!! I was just sitting there, red-faced, not knowing what to say and like the eloquent orator I never was, I gathered some pluck and replied, “Professor, chicken.” I couldn’t bear the ignominy anymore that I deliberately switched off the WiFi in my room so I that get disconnected from my class automatically. But as fate would have it, my laptop got connected to my mobile hotspot automatically instead which I didn’t realize then. So, simultaneously while battling disgrace and utter humiliation, my bewildered brain was having trust issues, with Zoom. Thankfully, my class comprises of just three other people. But never have I ever missed having offline classes so much. I miss the time when I could’ve just walked out of a class to take a dump without having to worry if I have appropriately muted my call.

*insert sobbing emoji*

The Daily Degeneration Game: Trainspotting

Trainspotting Analysis: The Dilemma of Scottish National Identity -  Philosophy in Film

After reading this book, calling someone a c**t looks almost like a term of endearment.

Trainspotting is an absolutely brilliant, cerebral novel. It’s caustic in tone – severely reprimanding the bourgeoisie of Great Britain by a syndicate of young Scots in Leith, Edinburgh, promoted by their common love for injecting drugs up their veins. One of the guys, Mark Renton (played by Ewan McGregor in the movie adaption) goes as far as shooting junk through his genitals since all other options for an unharmed vein is used up. Who also gives this book the best, unanticipated ending possible.

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This cult-classic is a story of young, middle-class Scots in the age of Iggy Pop, unemployment, surging HIV and a crippling drug addiction. There are four main characters – Rents (Mark Renton), Sick Boy (Simon), Spud (Danny) and Begbie (the Beggar). Each has their own palate for what life has to offer. Rents is a vegetarian, smack-addict known to transmute into a swish, well-read Scot from the upper-society of Edinburgh just to break out of trouble and get back to his flat to cook up more meth. Sick Boy is a wee more affluent than his peers and known for his way around women. But as said, their common-ground of love for meth gets Sick Boy and Rents best buddies. I love Spud the most – always out of his mind, recrudesced thoughts and speech, and pure at heart. And coming to Begbie, I absolutely abhorred that character. He’s the sort of person who feeds of other people’s praise on him, expects his friends to deify him but in turn treats them like scums of the earth. But karma eventually gets to him and the ending was satisfying enough. Oddly, Trainspotting is actually written throughout in a Scottish dialect. It was extremely challenging to get the hang of it initially but once I did get the grip, it was harder to put the book down. My thoughts now are in Scottish vernacular. Sometimes it’s Ewan McGregor’s voice narrating, sometimes it’s Andy Robertson. A mighty fine way to narrate one’s life, I say.

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This is the first Irvine Welsh novel I’ve read. His writing is incredible. It jumps in electric spasms between lowly expletives-fueled diatribes coalescing to well-formed, articulate soliloquy spouted by each character, mostly Mark Renton’s. Typically the soliloquies are on their hatred for the high-class, the politicians, and their need for money to eventually buy drugs, and mostly their crushing, constant dependency on drugs to even get through a simple conversation. And yes, the lack of sexual action in their lives. The book is at times depressing – for instance, a wee baby dies cold on the cot from lack of attention as her parents are doped to their eyes in acid and forget that there’s a baby in their possession. And it’s the same meth again, measuring out their grief, trying to dissipate the raging hurricane of their misery. The rawness of this book hurts. It’s so real, and to realize that such lives did exist and does still in parts of the world is profoundly sad.

Unlike numerous books whose prose have been adapted to unjust films, Trainspotting’s movie adaption is equally sublime. Danny Boyle’s done justice to the novel.

Honoring the wise-words of Renton from one of his best monologues when he OD’d, I say:

Choose conventions. Choose algorithm-led, brain-corroding social media. Choose maida. Choose Vijay TV. Choose being an obsequious sycophant. Choose to be gloomy at the slightest inconvenience. Choose shitty sit-coms. Choose pop-music. Choose your ego. Choose the schisms your ego led to. Choose to stare at MS Excel’s pixelated cuboids as your hair grays and teeth rots. Choose fixed deposits. Choose to spawning children so they can go through this all over again. But they why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose conventions. I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got real books and long runs?

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Black Swan Green

“Good moods’re fragile as eggs.

    Bad moods’re fragile as bricks.”

“Black Swan Green” by David Mitchell is definitely one of the best second-hand books I own. I rarely buy new books. In fact, apart from the Game of Thrones box-set, Famous Five-Secret Seven-Nancy Drew-Twilight collection (got them at Oxford, Trichy Road when the bookstore still existed) and the books I bought for academics (Amazon 99% of the time.) – Most of my books are previously used. The thing with used books are that they’re damn cheap but they’ve got to be dealt with utmost care. In my inventory, the used-book in its worst condition is “Social Life in the Insect World” by J. H. Fabre. There’s just one edition of this book and was published in 1939. Every time I attempt to read this book – I end up with a fit of sneezes from the dust collected.

Social Life in the Insect World by J.H. Fabre

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (a used book from St. Francis’ College at London (apparently?))

And as you can see – “Black Swan Green” is miles better! Not only is the packaging of this book remarkable, the book is sensational as well. It’s about a 13 year old Jason Taylor (brownie points for him a Liverpool FC fan), living in Black Swan Green, Worcestershire in the 1980s ((ironically, a swan has never been spotted there). He stutters when he talks and calls his stutter Hangman. The books goes about his 13th year in life – his family (mom – Helena who’s a home make initially but goes on to work for a gallery, dad – Greenland stores manager, sister – Julia, 18 years old who moves out to college), his “friends”, coping with his stutter through a class full of bullies, peer-pressure to look cool and his poetry. Although the book is predominantly England-based and was challenging to relate to much of this book, there were bits that did hit close to home.

I loved the part of “Black Swan Green” where Jason has these weekend sessions with this bohemian lady Mrs. Crommelyncks. The thing is, Jason loves writing poetry but in Worcestershire, 13 year olds writing poetry was considered not-so-cool and gay. So, Jason writes under a pseudonym – Eliot Bolivar and the vicar’s magazine publishes it. Mrs. Crommelyncks, a really old French expat – invites Jason (Eliot Bolivar actually) to talk about everything wrong with his poetry.  David Mitchell weaves magic in these pages, the stuff of sublimity.

“The sequence of doors we passed made me think of all the rooms of my past and future. The hospital ward I was born in, classrooms, tents, churches, offices, hotels, museums, nursing homes, the room I’ll die in. Car’re rooms. So are woods. Skies’re ceilings. Wombs’re made of mothers. Graves’re rooms made of soil.

    That music was swelling.”

The scenes with schools were pretty much relatable. In my school, as a response to unruly behavior, my teachers would call the class a “fish market” and the “worst batch I’ve ever seen”. Worcestershire is posh. The teachers instead call it a “zoo of hooligans”. Jason pretty much spends his entire time by the lake, walking here and there, going to local fairs and so with his friend – Moran. The book is an assortment of genres. A dog steals his homework. Gypsies save him. He gets bet up in the woods at night and lands up in a strange house where an old demented lady treats his broken arm but locks him up in a room right after. Being 13 years old is hard but the author writes beautifully about this age where you tip from obliviousness to the cusp of actual “life”.