Friday, October 31, 2014

Beginning of the End...

Beginning of the End...

In the flickering light,
Viewing flashes of truth,
Touching undulating desires,
With feverish tenderness.

Free-flowing dust,
Sand between your fingers,
As time slips away,
Getting closer to the dawning awareness.

Meeting inevitable cross-roads,
Struggling with togetherness and separateness,
Joy for the future,
And nostalgia for the past.

Like waves, let's crash on 
The other's shore.
Time and again.
Come back and go again.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Home of the Mind

Cinematic Orchestra - To Build a Home

We make a home wherever we go. We make them with our memories. Our happy zones, our comfort spots, our favourite people, our soothing music – stuff that spells nostalgia in bright neon lights or with the smell of a warm kitchen smelling of freshly baked bread. In my case, it can mean being able to hear Indian accented English or even smell sambar (a South Indian staple).
These are smells, sounds and sights that we unconsciously register. That we often take for granted. But the very same things that trigger the rush of memories, and eventually…nostalgia.
To be clear, I knew that I wanted this change. This change will do me good and I knew that it won’t be easy, it would take a while before I make my own friends and even find my own emotional moorings here. I knew it all intellectually and the emotional understanding…I waited for it to come assail me.
Two weeks in a new country. In a country which I have visited fleetingly once before. A country, the ways of which are alien to me in a lot of ways. A country where I might be for the next few years. Or more. This is called the land of opportunities. Things are easier here in a lot of ways compared to my emotional home – India. A place where I have been for most part of my conscious memory making years. But, I can’t help but feel a pang of loss and sadness over the fact that when I go back, things would never be as I left it.
People are going to change – they grow older, busier, with more responsibilities. They start to have families. In case of parents, they grow older, slower, more feeble. My friends are going to change. People are going to change. My life is changing. I can’t imagine being able to experience what I have in the past 3 years.
With so many memories swirling in my head, I know that I couldn’t have been where I was all along. I needed to move on. Grow up. Change. Shoulder more responsibilities. Experience more of life, perhaps. But…the home that I had created in my mind, that I can never go back to in reality. And that is a sadness that makes me want to weep over.
Now this is what change would feel like. Emotionally. In psychology, there is a requirement for a mourning period for every big change that you face in your life. The loss of what was. And it may, oftentimes, never be possible to retrieve or get back to. Like a loss of someone close to you, a change in residence, a big change in life circumstances.
This mourning period is the phase of emotional understanding. A time to reminisce over the past and remember every snapshot memory that stayed stuck in your head over all these years.
But, this too shall pass. And I know that as I had made a home there, I will make a home elsewhere. Create new memories, new friendships, families away from the family. Home away from home.
This is when you realise that home is just a state of mind. But a state of mind that makes a huge difference!
So here’s to creating a new home. One that you always carry with you, wherever you go. To live through the joys and sadness, ups and downs and of discovering new comfort zones.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Isaac Asimov - Robots of Dawn

  1. Humaniform robot - a robot that is as close to human as possible;
  2. Solaria, Aurora – Worlds besides Earth, inhabited by human beings, with far superior genetic structures and raised in more sanitised environments that Earth.
*           *           *
Daneel (a humaniform robot) led Baley (Earthman) into the room where breakfast was being served - it seemed more intimate than an ordinary dining room. It was small and plain, with no more in the way of furnishings than a table and two chairs and when Daneel retired, he did not move into a niche. In fact, there were no niches and, for a moment, Baley found himself alone – entirely alone – in the room.
That he was not really alone, he was certain. There would be robots on instant call. Still, it was a room for two – a no-robots room – a room (Baley hesitated at the thought) for lovers.
On the table there were two stacks of pancake-like objects that did not smell like pancakes but smelled good. Two containers of what looked like melted butter (but might not be) flanked them. There was a pot of the hot drink (which Baley had tried and had not liked very much) that substitute for coffee.
Gladia (Solarian woman) walked in, dressed in rather prim fashion and with her hair glistening, as though freshly conditioned. She paused a moment, her face wearing a half-smile. ‘Elijah?’
Baley, caught a little by surprise at the sudden appearance, jumped to his feet. ‘How are you, Gladia?’ He stuttered a bit.
She ignored that. She seemed cheerful, carefree. She said, ‘If you’re worried about Daneel not being in sight, don’t be. He’s completely safe and he’ll stay so. As for us - ’ She came to him, standing close, and put a hand slowly to his cheek, as once, long ago, she had done on Solaria.
She laughed lightly. ‘That was all I did then, Elijah. Do you remember?’
Elijah nodded silently.
‘Did you sleep well, Elijah? – Sit down, dear.’
He sat down. ‘Very well. – Thank you, Gladia.’ He hesitated before deciding not to return the endearment in kind.
She said, ‘Don’t thank me. I’ve had my best night’s sleep in weeks and I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t got out of bed after I was sure you were sleeping soundly. If I had stayed – as I wanted to – I would have been annoying you before the night was over and you would not have got your rest.’
He recognised the need for gallantry. ‘There are some things more important than r-rest, Gladia,’ he said, but with such formality that she laughed again.
‘Poor Elijah,’ she said, ‘You’re embarrassed.’
The fact that she recognised that, embarrassed him even more. Baley had been prepared for contrition, disgust, shame, affected indifference, tears – everything but the frankly erotic attitude she had assumed.
She said, ‘Well don’t suffer so. You’re hungry. You hardly ate last night. Get some calories inside you and you’ll feel more carnal.’
Baley looked doubtfully at the pancakes that weren’t.
Gladia said, ‘Oh! You’ve probably never seen these. They’re Solarian delicacies. Pachinkas! I had to reprogramme my chef before he could make them properly. In the first place, you have to use imported Solarian grain. It won’t work with the Auroran varieties. And they’re stuffed. Actually, there are a thousand stuffings you can use, but this is my favourite and I know you’ll like it, too. I won’t tell you what’s in it, except for chestnut purée and a touch of honey, but try it and tell me what you think. You can eat it with your fingers, but be careful how you bite into it.’
She picked one up, holding it daintily between the thumb and middle finger of each hand, then took a small bite, slowly, and licked at the golden semiliquid filling that flowed out.
Baley imitated her action. The pachinka was hard to touch and not too hot to hold. He put one end cautiously in his mouth and found it resisted biting. He put more muscle into it and the pachinka cracked and he found the contents flowing over his hands.
‘The bite was too large and too forceful,’ said Gladia, rushing to him with a napkin. ‘Now lick at it. No one eats a pachinka neatly. There’s no such’re supposed to wallow in it. Ideally, you’re supposed to eat it in the nude, then take a shower.’
Baley tried a hesitant lick and his expression was clear enough.
‘You like it, don’t you?’ said Gladia.
‘It’s delicious,’ said Baley and he bit away at it slowly and gently. It wasn’t too sweet and it seemed to soften and melt in the mouth. It scarcely required swallowing.
He ate three pachinkas and it was only shame that kept him from asking for more. He licked at his fingers without urging and eschewed the use of napkins, for he wanted none of it to be wasted on an inanimate object.
‘Dip your fingers and hands in the cleanser, Elijah,’ and she showed him. The ‘melted butter’ was a finger bowl, obviously.
Baley did as he was shown and then dried his hands. He sniffed at them and there was no odour whatever.
She said, ‘Are you embarrassed about last night, Elijah? Is that all you feel?’
What did one say? Baley wondered.
Finally, he nodded. ‘I’m afraid I am, Gladia. It’s not all I feel, by twenty kilometres or more, but I am embarrassed. Stop and think. I’m an Earthman and you know that, but for the time being you’re repressing it and “Earthman” is only a meaningless disyllabic sound to you. Last night you were sorry for me, concerned over my problem with the storm, feeling towards me as you would towards a child, and – sympathising with me, perhaps, out of vulnerability produced in you by your own loss – you came to me. But that feeling will pass – I’m surprised it hasn’t passed already – and then you will remember that I am an Earthman and you will feel ashamed, demeaned and dirtied. You will hate me for what I have done for you and I don’t want to be hated. – I don’t want to be hated, Gladia.’ (If he looked as unhappy as he felt, he looked unhappy indeed.)
She must have thought so, for she reached out to him and stroked his hand. ‘I won’t hate you, Elijah. Why should I? You did nothing to me I can object to. I did it to you and I’ll be glad for the rest of my life that I did. You freed me by a touch two years ago, Elijah, and last night you freed me again. I needed to know, two years ago, that I could feel desire – and last night I needed to know that I can feel desire again after Jander (another humaniform robot). Elijah – stay with me. It would be –‘
He cut her off earnestly. ‘How can that be, Gladia? I must go back to my own world. I have duties and goals there and you cannot come with me. You could not live the kind of life that is lived on Earth. You would die of Earthly diseases – if the crowds and enclosure did not kill you first. Surely you understand.’
‘Please, Elijah, I must explain something to you. I don’t think you understand what happened last night. Will you be all the more embarrassed if I do?’
Baley wondered how Jessie would feel and what she would do if she could hear this conversation. […] He should be thinking of Earth’s danger and not of his wife’s, but in actual fact, he was thinking of Jessie.
He said, ‘I’ll probably be embarrassed, but explain it anyway.’
Gladia moved her chair, refraining from calling one of her robotic staff to do it for her. He waited for her nervously, not offering to move it himself.
She put her chair immediately next to his, facing it in the other direction, so that she was looking at him directly when she sat down. And as she did so, she put out her small hand and placed it in his and he felt his own hand press it.
‘You see,’ she said, ‘I no longer fear contact. I’m no longer at the stage where all I can do is brush your cheek for an instant.’
‘That may be, but this does not affect you, Gladia, does it, as that bare touch did then?’
She nodded. ‘No, it doesn’t affect me that way, but I like it anyway. I think that’s an advance, actually. To be turned inside out just by a single moment of touch shows how abnormally I had lived and for how long. Now it is better. May I tell you how? What I have just said is actually prologue.’
‘Tell me.’
‘I wish we were in bed and it was dark. I could talk more freely.’
‘We are sitting up and it is light, Gladia, but I am listening.’
‘Yes. – On Solaria, Elijah, there was no sex to speak of. You know that.’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘[…] On a few occasions – only a few – my husband approached me out of duty. I won’t even describe how that was, but you will believe me when I tell you that, looking back on it, it was worse than none.’
‘I believe you.’
‘But I knew about sex. I read about it. I discussed it with other women sometimes, all of whom pretended it was a hateful duty that Solarians must undergo. […]’
‘Did you believe them?’
‘Of course I did. I had never heard anything else and the few non-Solarian accounts I read were denounced as false distortions. I believe that, too. […] I think Solarian women believed what they said and really did despise sex. They certainly sounded sincere enough and it made me feel there was something terribly wrong with me because I had a kind of curiosity about it – and odd feelings I could not understand.’
‘You did not, at that time, use robots for relief in any way?’
‘No, it didn’t occur to me. Or any inanimate object. There were occasional whispers of such things, but with such horror – or pretended horror – that I would never dream of doing anything like that.’
‘You told me of that. Sex with Aurorans was unsatisfactory.’
‘Yes. It made me think that Solarians were right after all. […] It was not until Jander that I understood. It is not sex that they have on Aurora; it is, it is – choreography. […] There is nothing unexpected, nothing spontaneous. On Solaria, since there was so little sex, nothing was given or taken. And on Aurora, sex was so stylised that, in the end, nothing was given or taken either. Do you understand?’
But then I met Jander and learned to use him. He was not an Auroran man. His only aim, his only possible aim, was to please me. He gave and I took and, for the first time, I experienced sex as it should be experienced. Do you understand that? Can you imagine what it must be like suddenly to know that you are not mad, or distorted, or perverted, or even simply wrong – but to know that you are a woman and have a satisfying sex partner?’
‘I think I can imagine that.’
‘But why me, Gladia? Why not someone else?’
‘No, Elijah, it had to be you. We came and found you, and you were helpless. Truly helpless. You were not unconscious, but you did not rule your body. […] I was there when you were warmed and treated, bathed and dried, helpless throughout. The robots did it all with marvellous efficiency, intent on caring for you and preventing harm from coming to you but totally without actual feeling. I, on the other hand, watched and I felt.’
Baley bent his head, gritting his teeth at the thought of his public helplessness. He had luxuriated in it when it had happened, but now he could only feel the disgrace of being observed under such conditions.
She went on. ‘I wanted to do it all for you. I resented the robots for reserving for themselves the right to be kind to you – and to give. And as I thought of myself doing it, I felt a growing sexual excitement, something I hadn’t felt since Jander’s death. – And it occurred to me then that, in my only successful sex, what I had done was to take. Jander gave whatever I wished, but he never took. He was incapable of taking, since his only pleasure lay in pleasing me. And it never occurred to me to give because I was brought up with robots and knew they couldn’t take.’
‘And as I watched, it came to me that I knew only half of sex and I desperately wanted to experience the other half.
‘And you said to me, “Gladia, please, I must sit down.” Oh, Elijah, it was the most wonderful thing you could have said to me.’
Baley felt himself flush. ‘It embarrassed me hideously at the time. Such a confession of weakness.’
‘It was just what I wanted. It drove me wild with desire. I forced you to bed and came to you and, for the first time in my life, I gave. I took nothing. And the spell of Jander passed, for I knew that he had not been enough, either. It must be possible to take and give, both. – Elijah, stay with me.’

Rambling About Time...I Think.

There are so many times when we’re swamped with work or responsibilities and we don’t have time to do the things that we really want to do to unwind, relax, connect with ourselves and just really commune. At those times, we make these lists – “I will do this when I have some time to myself”, I will do that when I have all the time in the world”. But in reality, when you actually have all the time in the world, you really just land up wasting that precious time without really indulging in all the things that you wanted to do all along. Suddenly, your to-do list becomes insignificant and you start to sleep more, probably watch all those television series with which you wanted to catch up. You do that for a while and then some more and then you get bored. And you start worrying. Just worrying. About unnecessary things, imaginary things, non-existent things, things that don’t affect you now or even in the near future.
That got me thinking. I keep having these moments of “realisations” from time to time, when I’m suddenly awash with an epiphanous knowledge about some aspect of the world, life, living, existence and things. At one such moment, I just realised that life is nothing but the minutes that you utilise or waste away and being painfully aware of every moment of that passage of time and other moments that just slip by you, when you’re so blithely unaware of it slowly ticking by, being as absorbed as you are in that moment, in something else to notice the time. All these clocked and unclocked hours add up to provide you with life experiences that challenge you, soothe you, teach you tough valuable lessons, break you and make you in so many ways. They are the experiences that make you aware of the person that you are (should you have the inclination to) and forcibly, automatically or wilfully mould you into a person that you will be. It sounds quite intense, doesn’t it? When you contemplate the effect that time has on you and how you become a different person over a period of time. Even day-to-day routine has an essential role to play in making you the person that you are today. Conscious decisions and unconscious actions. All this, facilitated by time. The medium in which change can be brought about. When you reduce all of those life experiences in terms of minutes, hours, days and years, doesn’t your life seem so tedious and even boring? Life seems to lose the meaning that it inherently has and was always meant to hold. It seems nothing greater than some sequential numbers and patterns. Many people also live their lives in those patterns. By the time I am so-and-so years old, I have to be married.” “I need to finish having children by this-and-this age, because my biological clock is ticking away!”  You really don’t live that way, do you? You just keep calculating about life instead of actually living it.
As I’m writing this, I just had another realisation (I guess writing does that to people). There is a lot of, perhaps misplaced, focus on time. Even when people talk about “time-management”, the crux of the problem is not about “managing” the time that seems to be slipping away. It always does that (Time and tide wait for no man). That is time’s job – to keep ticking away. But, what matters more is what you do with that time. The things that you do in that given time, the people you meet, the experiences that you solicit, gather  and/or indulge in – they make the difference in your life. Not time as such. Though people just give so much undeserving importance to that time and not what they do!
I’m at this phase in life where I have a lot of time on my hands. Meaning, I have a choice of deciding what I want to do at any part of the day or night. I can do as I please and pretty much what I want (within reasonable and permissible limits and boundaries) with all thattime I have. Once I got all that time, out went my to-do list of things that I’ve always wanted to do. Somehow it didn’t seem as appealing anymore. Either the items on the list weren’t engaging enough or they were not significant enough or they were just plain not-doable. So, long story short, the to-do list became redundant. Suddenly, I’m confronted with all that time in the world. That monstrous, never-ending void that I can’t seem to fill up with any imaginative and fulfilling idea that could come to my brain. I have been a victim of that devil’s workshop business and I’ve made a conscious decision of avoiding possible trouble-loving ideas and made a concerted effort to be as useful, gainful and worthwhile as possible. I’m also chased around by thoughts of inadequacy, uselessness, diffidence, fears and so many misgivings and most of all, that constant and nagging guilty feeling that I’m perhaps wasting my time.
After quelling all those negative thoughts and properly looking back, I realise that it has been a good six months since I’ve had all this unstructured time. And just because someone isn’t productive in the sense of making a dent on their country’s GDP doesn’t mean that they’re wasting away their time. Another popular misperception is about the idea of being gainful and productive. Which is very closely related to time. And at some level it is connected even with your identity. For example, you meet some new people at some social gathering and one of the first questions you’re likely to be asked is, “What do you do?”And if you’re like me with a lot of time to spare, you’re suddenly caught in a position where your mind goes blank and you’re not quite sure of the most socially appropriate thing to say. If you’re conversing with a person that subscribes to the old-school thought, it is going to be difficult to come out of that conversation with much self-confidence and dignity in tact. Just a casual, “Oh” is likely to make your carefully erected walls of self-esteem and confidence come crumbling down.
I must finally admit, even in all these six months, I can’t say that I have wasted my time. I have learnt a lot – about myself, others and just things – which I wouldn’t have been able to do without “wasting” my time. I’ve had some significant realisations like the realisation that this time is mine to do with it as I please, as long as I want to. I am its master and not the other way around. And somehow, that realisation gives me this very visceral sense of strength and control that slowly seems to grow with every passing moment in which I roll that thought around in my head. It empowers me and makes me feel like I’m in control again. Most of all, capable of being useful, productive, significant and capable of making a real difference in people’s lives. If I just keep at it.
So, cheers to new ideas, venturing towards these ideas and just keeping the faith and ruminating/introspecting/soul-searching in all that unstructured time that you can manage to gather for yourself. I hope you find your window of unstructured time – either in chunk or in bits and pieces – and figure what you want to do with it and actually do it too and grow as the person that you’ve always imagined or couldn’t dare to even start imagining and be the life experience that your time could be. Here’s to making life - and your time - meaningful. Cheers!  
P.S. At this juncture, I can’t help but share one of Kipling’s poetry, ‘If’. It seems so apt!
IF you can keep your head when all about you 
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools: 
If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!