Wednesday, 30 November 2016

On internet conversations, echo chambers and the complexity of human life


There’s been a lot of talk going on about how 2016 has been a terrible year for the human race, in general. Between the disgusting, monstrous atrocities being committed in Syria and the hateful rhetoric being spread and consumed by people worldwide, I guess we’ve got the basics of a truly rotten year covered. Everyone is scared and annoyed and frustrated. Everyone feels powerless against a world that keeps on screwing them over. So when I open my social media accounts and see people projecting this desperation in forms as wide ranging as thought-provoking videos, to deftly worded 140 character opinion pieces, to even long, angry rants, I’m not surprised. I understand the need for sharing our experiences, for telling other people that we exist and we matter, and for having the decisions we make be valued by the society that we live in. I understand it and I support it. At the same time, however, I think that although the internet has made communication easier and faster and more inclusive, it hasn’t necessarily made it more efficient.

Let me explain.  

We like to put people in little boxes so that it’s easier for us to comprehend their actions and engender a response which stems from our own preconceived biases. It’s the easy thing to do. You think Modi’s demonetization scheme is a sham? You’re anti-national. You voted for Trump? You’re a racist. You think UK made the right choice to leave the EU? You’re clearly an idiot. I know these are not trivial issues. What they are, however, are extremely polarizing. You either belong to one group or the other and you have to pick a side. What gets lost in all the conversations – and I use that word grudgingly – on the internet is the nuance that is associated with each of these issues. I look at my social media (my own private echo chamber) and I see people validating my beliefs but I also see people rejecting, and outright insulting the people outside of my echo chamber. Notice how I say people and not beliefs. Because, although there are articles that criticize the belief itself without being condescending, there is an abundance of content which equates having said belief with lack of intellect, morality, humanness, etc. And so, I’m lead to believe that everyone outside of my echo chamber is a caricature. In my mind, they’ve already been dehumanized to an extent that I don’t find them capable of cogent thought. And here lies the problem. Because now, I refuse to associate any merit to their arguments. I can’t agree partly with them because that would mean I’m somewhat like them and my echo chamber has already convinced me that they are not “good” people. I can’t say, “That makes sense,” to anything that they put forward because I consciously or subconsciously believe that they are idiots. So instead of having an intelligent conversation that leads to an exchange of ideas, we’re stuck with two groups equally disillusioned by their own moral high grounds, spitting out argument after argument, completely oblivious to the perspective of the other side. This is counter-productive since not only is there no positive outcome of such shouting matches, as arguments turn to insults, we are also closing the door on any future conversations.

I’m not saying that we justify everything even if it doesn’t fit with our definition of ethics or morality. I’m saying that we change the present narrative from “I’m right and you’re a complete idiot” to “I believe that I’m right but I’m willing to listen to you and even if we don’t end up agreeing a hundred percent we’ll at least leave this conversation with a more nuanced worldview than before”. I’m saying that we try to understand where the other “group” is coming from. You don’t have to agree with them. But you have to acknowledge that differences exist and that there is a divide that we need to bridge over together. It’s probably utopian to think of a world where both sides would acknowledge this divide and have a respectful conversation about it or reach the elusive ‘middle ground’. But one can try. I know the very thought of having a conversation with “those” people can sound revolting but we need these conversations to happen. We need to get out of our echo chambers and engage. In the end, we need to realize that we’re all people: beautiful, complex beings with the capability of intricate, intelligent thought, with lives that cannot be reduced to a label.

So talk. Because honestly speaking, the only thing that I’ve learned from 2016 is that we’ve forgotten how to do that.

  

Friday, 7 October 2016

One hundred million eyes


My childhood was wax crayons and mint chocolates
And cool summer evenings spiced with lemonade
Bedrooms littered with infinite toys
And a promise
Of endless tomorrows.
All because I happened to drop into a perfect family
in a sheltered town of a peaceful country.
I did not know not everyone is that lucky.

I did not know my parents could be ripped apart
From my life in a heartbeat.
I did not know I could return one day
To a house abandoned, its walls pockmarked
With shrapnel.
I did not know the torment of waiting for word
Telling me I could still curl up in my dad’s arms.
I did not know warm bodies turn cold
And the way to stop oozing blood is tying
A tourniquet.
I did not know brick walls could crumble
(I only ever saw dominos toppling)
I did not know the tenor of an adult’s cry 
Or the sound a bomb makes as it
Drops.
I did not know that oceans could be braved
On stormy nights in rubber boats that reek of woe
I did not know clear skies could be foreboding  
Or that a thousand feet up, airplanes lug
death .

I did not know fifty million children endure my nightmares.
One hundred million eyes subdued by shadows of a past that burns
and a future that suffocates.
One hundred million eyes, watching and waiting and wishing.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Color.

forest, meadow, leaves


I first noticed my inability to see color on the 21st of June: five months after losing my job, two after losing my flat. I was walking down an abandoned trail in the Nature Reserve, counting to myself when I suddenly remembered that it was autumn. Autumns were supposed to be crisp. Autumns were supposed to be yellow. I found myself puzzled by this strange discovery. I picked up a dried leaf and tried to remember how it was supposed to look. Brown morphing to orange morphing to yellow. It was a futile exercise. I let the leaf slip through my fingers and heard the soft crackle as I trampled it without further thought.
Five hundred five. Five hundred six. Five hundred seven.
The best thing about not having a job is you have a lot of time; to think, to walk. The best thing about not having a home is you can keep walking. I stopped thinking and started walking after being pushed out of my cramped half-bedroom flat.
“Your kind is not welcome here.” The landlady had said viciously. Usually, I would have put up a fight. That day, I just nodded and walked. I haven’t stopped walking. Every day I start from zero. I count as I walk, stopping only at restaurants asking if I could work in exchange for food. Sometimes they let me eat. Sometimes I count till thirty thousand and then some until I fall asleep.
Most people who see me, see a rather peculiar twenty-something year old man with disheveled hair and a strange far-away look. Or so I have been told. They sometimes ask questions.
“What do you do?”
“I walk.”
“No, I meant… are you working or studying?”
“I’m walking.”
“You must be one of those artsy people. You look that way. Lost in your thoughts. Tell me what do you think about so and so happening at such and such place?”
“I don’t think.”
A forced laugh now. This is about the time they realize they’re talking to someone a bit loose in his head.
“Oh come on. You have to think about something.”
“I count.”
“All the time?”
“All the time.”
“Why?”
“I lost my job.”
“Why?”
“Because I used to think.”
“How so?” They lean in now, hands folded on the table. Curious.
I smile and leave.
That is the routine. You see, once you have stopped thinking life is so much easier. There is no anxiety gripping your chest. There is no fear of the shadows lurking in the dark. There is no worry of tomorrow or the next hour or the next second. There is no good, bad, different, strange, mysterious, new…And apparently, there is no color either.
In my old life, I used think. I used to write. Sometimes, I would sing but my friends would immediately tell me to shut up. So when a major controversy broke out in the news about Very Important People doing Very Despicable Things to a Very Insignificant, Much Oppressed Fraction of the country, I thought. I spoke. I wrote. I marched the streets. I shouted. I whispered.
Slowly my friends distanced themselves.
“Oh sorry, That Really Important Thing came up.”
“Would love to go with you but I need to show That One Cousin around town.”
“Pizza would be great but I’m on The Diet.”
I could see what was happening. Because I could still think. And when I wasn’t writing The Opinion Piece or The Highly Passionate Argument, I would catch myself thinking about People Who Didn’t Care. The Passive Observers. The Shoulder-Shruggers. And so it happened that one day the HR lady called me to her office, a pleasant smile on her face, a lethal document in her hand.
“I’m sorry but The Company has hit a rough patch. We would have to let you go.”
“But I’m more qualified than Janice from Accounting.”
But Janice doesn’t criticize the society. Janice doesn’t care.  I’m sorry, but it has to be done.”
Your kind is a tumor in this society. Your kind is ungrateful. Your kind is unwanted. Leave.
And so I started walking. And stopped thinking.
Six hundred and fifty two. Six hundred and fifty three. Six hundred and fifty four.
I’m used to not seeing color now. I’m sitting on the edge of a pavement outside a hair salon. A young boy walks up to me.
“Your hair is long, like a girl.” He says. I look at him and then go back to looking at the gray road with the gray cars.
“My mom’s getting her hair cut. It’s so boring inside.” He plops down beside me. “What are you doing?”
“Counting.”
“What? The number of cars?”
“No just numbers.”
“Why?”
“Because I don’t think.”
He chuckles. “What does it feel like? To not think?”
I pause. “…Empty.”
“You paused! That means you thought. I made you think!”
I smile at him.
“Why don’t you think?”
“Thinking is useless. Thinking gets you nowhere. Or worse, in a lot of trouble.”
“I get into a lot of trouble at school—Hey look! It’s starting to rain!” He holds out his hand to catch the rain drops. “My mom says, the first few drops of rain, they bring good luck.”
“I don’t believe in luck.”
He’s standing up now. “Of course, my favorite part is when the storm hits. I love it!”
The rain picks up and soon it’s a merciless downpour. The little boy has his face turned skyward. He is laughing.
All night the sound had
come back again,
and again falls
this quite, persistent rain.
Robert Creeley. A small voice in my head whispers. And suddenly, just like that there are more of the voices. Verses upon verses of forgotten poetry. There is a storm outside. But it can’t even begin to compare to the blizzard of thoughts in my brain.
The door of the saloon opens and a woman walks out shouting. Within moments, she has the young boy by his collar.
“What were you thinking? You’ll catch a cold! You’re grounded for two days!”
Epiphanies are strange. I look at the mother and son. He’s grinning at me as she tries to dry his hair with a handkerchief. From the gleam in his eyes, this wasn’t the first or the last storm he would dance in. He tries to pull away and the handkerchief traces a graceful arc as it falls.
It is Red.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Sing Me A Lullaby: #Pray4World

I can't even begin to describe the torment and anger and grief I felt on hearing about Paris. But more than anything else, it left me scared. Scared that we have come so far but not far enough.

I can't imagine what the people affected are going through. My prayers are with you.


Sing me a lullaby, mother,
loud enough to drown out these screams,
these petrifying vocalizations of hate,
of anger, of despair.
These voices, mother,
frightening, scary voices
in my head and outside
Please make them stop.

Sing me a lullaby, mother,
softly, like you do.
Because it feels like your whispers
are the only pleasant sounds left
in this poison
this vicious, toxic poison.
and I’m afraid.
I’m afraid.

Kiss me goodnight, mother,
and cover me with a sheet,
for this world is cold and harsh,
and the fabric of humanity
is ripping at the seams. 

Sunday, 9 August 2015

VisDare107: Listen


I've been attempting to write a VisDare for near about a month now. Let's hope I can get back in the groove. 

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Listen. The intimidating figure had whispered in his ear. His tattered black cloak flapped – no, glided – in the wind. Mithrin had never imagined that a piece of cloth could be so graceful, but this cloak was. The figure placed a bony finger under Mithrin’s chin and tilted his face, so their eyes met. Listen. He whispered again. There was a crack in his voice. The kind you hear when you step on yellowed leaves during fall. A weariness that seeped through. Behind the strange contraption was an old face. Mithrin decided. But was it a wise one?
Lost in his own thoughts and the void that were the figure’s eyes, Mithrin didn’t notice when reality began to fade and when that raspy voice trickled through his subconscious.
 …the signs are everywhere. In the chipper of a bird that comes a second too late. In the nervous croaking of frogs. The pauses in conversations in hallways and bars and alleys. Listen. You will know when you hear it. A giggle, that is not. The cackle of darkness. Listen and run.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Excerpt: A World That Was


An excerpt from a (possibly) longer tale.

 
“Once upon a time, a world ended. And that is all there is to it and all that will ever be there to it. There was a world and now there is not. And that is how it goes. In the giant network of the cosmos, the absence of this world will be as unremarkable as was its presence. But I have been appointed to tell the story of this world (for everything that ever was and everything that ever is and everything that ever will be, has a tale). And I intend to do that: tell the story of a world that was; for no other reason than because I am bound by oath and blood and servitude and my masters will have it no other way.
This world, like so many others, bathed in a pool of its own arrogance and conceit. I have been asked – by my masters – to elaborate on the peoples of this world. Did they have two eyes? Or four? Or one hundred and forty two? Did they walk upright or flew or crawled or dug? What did they sound like? I have been asked to describe these people and yet I see no reason to comply. They were, in the end – stripped of all adjectives – a pompous people, a greedy people, a selfish people. The number of their limbs, their physique, their voice is immaterial. They were a people the universe was happy to lose and that is all there is.
And yet, I will tell you a tale. And I will try to make it as interesting as any a tale of an uninteresting world can be.
We will start our journey at the birth of Akara Min, mostly because that is when this world started to end and partly because Akara was the only interesting person on this world. Akara was born to the state of Osha on a Friday afternoon at exactly 3:15, along with the other three hundred of her siblings. The time was forever remembered by the peoples of her world because 3:15 was when the first asteroid fell. Of course, the world didn’t end at 3:15 on a Friday afternoon. It didn’t even end at 3:15 the next day. Au contraire to popular thought, the world does not end in a day, or a month, or even a year. There is, obviously, a last second of a world, like there is a last hour, a last day and a last year. But the end of the world is a sequence of events spread out over decades. For Akara Min and her people, this sequence started at her birth with the fall of an asteroid.”

Monday, 8 June 2015

Contest Entry: Dreams That Don't Let Go

This was written for Sharath Komarajju's monthly writing contests on the prompt: 'Dreams that don't let go.'

*

dream-or-reality-FB-1200x627 
 
They say, in the olden days, when the sky still changed colours with the dark never being truly dark, people used to see even when they were sleeping. ‘A load of crap.’ My grandfather used to say. ‘When ye sleep, ye sleep. I’ll have none o’ this old nut-job nonsense in my house. Ye hear?’ But he’s gone now. Cryo-freezed. So it doesn’t make a difference.
I knock on the door, barely registering it’s peeling paint and rust-eaten hinges. A woman clad in red opens it. A long hood droops over her eyes but I have a feeling they are red too.
“Ah. A kid at the door of a soothsayer. Why is he here she wonders?” She says and her lips curl up in a smile.
“I’m not a kid. I’m here because of the visions.” I reply crossing my arms across my chest, defiantly.
“The kid says he has visions. Maybe he should see the men in white cloaks. Maybe he should drink the juice of veera. The kid has no business here.”
She steps back.
“No, wait! It’s not those visions. It’s the…other visions.”
The soothsayer opens the door wider.
“The kid talks in riddles. The kid shall speak freely.”
She leaves the door open and strides inside. I follow her meekly, all my gathered strength disintegrating as I cross the threshold.
The room she leads me into is bare. A wooden table stands in the middle, along with two chairs. There are no windows, no paint on the walls, no magical glowing balls, no fluff. I can’t help but wonder if I am at the right place.
“The kid shall speak.” She says, sitting on one of the chairs.
“It’s when I…when I sleep.” There. I said it. Ordinarily even the mention of this would send me straight to a mental asylum. Normal people don’t see with their eyes closed. But the soothsayer fixes me with a piercing stare. She folds her hands in front of her. I spy the edge of a tattoo that disappears up her sleeve. A dragon maybe.
“The kid must not lie. The kid is not aware of the severity of his words.” She says.
“I am! And I’m not a kid! I read the lore okay. People in the ancient days had these visions and then and after the war, the survivors, all of them stopped having them. But I know what I am saying. I dream.” I shout. She rises suddenly and her hand flies across the table to cover my mouth.
“The walls have ears. The kid must know that. The regime has eyes everywhere. The kid says he sees with his eyes closed. Yet the regime makes sure that no one is able to do that. The kid claims something that the regime has made impossible. The kid is in danger.”
I look at her wide-eyed. Everyone knew the regime was a bit too strict. But they wouldn’t harm anyone surely.
“The kid must leave.” She slips a piece of paper in my hand and pushes me out of the room.
Back outside, I open it. It’s an ancient scroll and I can’t understand most of it. But at the bottom, I see a scribble in New English.
“When the people see again, the darkness will turn to light and the light to darkness. The strong will fall and the weak will rise. The new will fall apart and the old will reign supreme.”
I shudder as I walk back. Whatever shall I do?
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