A hard knock life

This is a picture of wood burning. It represents a difficult life, trial and agony.

Whoever said, ‘Life is beautiful,’ was either caught up in grandiose delusions like green sunsets or sought solace in excruciating pain and became a tragic optimist of sorts.

Life isn’t beautiful, and it’s not fair. It’s bleak like an arid landscape devoid of any vegetation and tortured by the spiteful sun. It roars with pain like the waves that thrash madly and then sweep away the shore in their angst. It agonizes you like a throbbing hangover after a night spent drinking a bottle of rum. It tortures you emotionally and physically like a man with cancer who also happens to be on death row.

Life can ebb away before you know it, and all you’ll become is a redundant machine like an outdated computer with dust and grime coating its screen. Life can break you like a wrestler puts his opponent in a hold and crushes his arm. Life can gut you like a thief sneaking up on you and pushing that blade into your belly for just a little cash. Life makes its demands and when you don’t heed; you may not suffer the consequences now, but there will come a time when it’ll take every drop of blood from you.

Philosophers have sought explanations as to why there is sorrow, and as to why we live in a fractured world. Some have made that bold nihilistic statement – ‘God is dead,’ and have envisioned a world in which humanity has absolute freedom without consequences. Some have gone further and added that every human is responsible for every cataclysmic event that happens even though there is no purpose. These days we argue about the very nature of reality. ‘Are we living in a simulation?’ Some ask.

But theories meet theories and anti-theories, and ultimately the search for purpose becomes what it truly is – a never-ending struggle with time, space and our place in reality. ‘Everything is meaningless and just a chase after the breeze,’ said Solomon who was probably the first real nihilist.

The truth is that all his metaphors and exploits and wisdom gained him nothing. Then defeated, he wrote Ecclesiastes and projected his grimness while he did. I’ll end with a story of a prodigal son. Except in this one, there’s no closure, no catharsis, and no epiphany.

Once there lived a man who demanded his father’s inheritance and spent it quickly on buying himself an apartment. He believed he was absolutely free and spent more money on women, cigarettes, and alcohol. The money flowed because his father was rich, and he set up bank accounts and tried using it responsibly while maintaining his bohemian lifestyle. But pleasure always catches up and overthrows direction, and he fell into drugs and horrible company. Towards the end, battered and bruised, he said, ‘I’ll get my shit together,’ and tried, but he found his pattern of recklessness inescapable. He found himself becoming the man in the iron cage, the reprobate; abandoned by God and forsaken by men. His father passed away, and he went back to live with his mother. She showed him love, but he never reciprocated it. He’d become so used to getting what he wanted that now he projected his failures on her and verbally and physically started abusing the poor old woman. One day, he struck her too hard, and she collapsed and lay there, breathless. ‘Oh, mother! Oh, sweet mother! My angel! What have I done? What have I done?’ He sobbed bitterly. Then too cowardly to face the law and shame, he resorted to taking his own life.

Life isn’t beautiful because it always leaves you wanting more.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

On the nature of depravity

To examine depravity using a lens of reasoning, we must ironically first examine its origins using a lens of faith. What is depravity and how did it originate? Science has a plenitude of answers for all aspects of the human condition except the soul. When it comes to matters concerning the spirit, the scientist, being the rationally minded fellow he is, rests on a pillow of logic, and covers himself with a blanket of atheism or agnosticism. There are exceptions, but this is the normal trend.

The scientist comes close to being a Kierkegaardian Knight of Faith but stops right where he’s supposed to make that leap and grasp the abstract. ‘The abstract? That’s philosophy’s realm!’ He exclaims and strives and strives some more using his utilitarian approach to examine the mysteries of the universe. He gains knowledge, and his mind expands, but the sheer ‘absurdity’ that there is a God threatens his very schema of reasoning. He knows that all he knows will indeed seem like trash if he believed. So, he inches and inches; never making progress while paradoxically making progress. It’s a strange dilemma.

Now, before you think my reasoning is flawed, please note that I’m only analyzing the scientist of today. The scientist of tomorrow might just live in a five-dimensional world, and fully evolved and fully equipped may be able to peer beyond space and time into matters of the soul and picture things non-linearly.

So, what is depravity? Some say it’s ignorance; others say it’s active rebellion against what’s right. Now, let’s go further and ask ourselves how we distinguish right from wrong. This falls into the realm of morality. Now, none of these things are proven, but they do exist. It’s sadly ‘common sense,’ and there isn’t any research on the subject. It falls into the realm of theology, theodicy, and philosophy.

My view is that depravity originated from a passive act and then took an active form, which brings me to the story of Lucifer. How did he fall? His fall (if you believe in the Christian viewpoint) was the original act of depravity. After much introspection, I’ve concluded that God caused it in a way that didn’t make him evil. Harsh, but not evil. Now, before I continue with this train of thought, I want to define evil by saying that there are two kinds: a metaphysical evil and an innate evil which originated after the fall of Lucifer. God is infinite, omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent and hence the gap between an infinitely good God and finitely good creation itself is evil. It’s metaphysical evil. So, the only way to bridge that gap is through grace. The grace of God holds a being in place and prevents him from wishing to become his own God. In Lucifer’s case, God for mysterious reasons withdrew that grace and hid his glory from Lucifer, which in turn, made the cherub want to be God. And that was the first sin or the first act of depravity.

Then came Adam’s fall where something similar happened, and then depravity completely overwhelmed man’s very essence. He became corrupt, selfish and innately evil. Sadly, this is the only way I can explain depravity. But what about morality? What about the conscience? If man is totally depraved, why does he feel guilt or often make the right moral choices? I can only explain this using religion again. Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Hence there is a hardwired knowledge of good (the conscience) in every person. But every person is also naturally predisposed to evil.

I’ll end this essay by saying that I’m willing to be proven wrong by counter-arguments and I’m willing to listen (even if I don’t agree) to other viewpoints. Perspectives are fascinating and beautiful and have this raw quintessence. And as far as evolution is concerned, I’m no Darwinian, but I do believe that the earth is millions of years old and there is so much more we as a species haven’t discovered yet. Finally, some of you might ask the all-important question: Why did God passively orchestrate Lucifer and Adam’s fall? The answer is that God is using the worst possible of all universes (the one we live in) to bring in a new heaven and earth, which is the best possible of all universes, where his name will be glorified, and all his attributes praised. God needs evil to proclaim his righteousness. His notion of good and evil works both collectively and individually. God will judge each person individually, but he uses evil to collectively bring about a greater good.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

For The Literati Mafia 

When the mountains whisper

I’m in the mountains where the air is cold and crisp and the fog enshrouds this little town like an enigmatic esoteric doctrine obscures a portion of scripture. The layered tea plantations look like layers of a green pyramidal cake; rich in taste and a delight to the senses. I amble down hairpin bends and breathe for a change, and I’m mystified by the power of nature. It has this innate ability to calm and refresh me. I’m no longer surrounded by brutal machinery and vapid super malls. I have no need for cheap wine and even that insatiable urge to write something that reeks of self-loathing is gone. Smoking is no longer something that temporarily releases me from angst but is a pleasure I savor while I fix my gaze on the blue peaks that encircle me like fortress walls. I say fortress but I’m not trapped here. It’s a far cry from some devilish force holding me against my will in a sequestered apartment complex where rage erupts from some wound within causing a catastrophic explosion that leads to an implosion of reason and perception and an animalistic thirst to wreak havoc taking over. Here, freedom beckons with the scent of the Eucalyptus; vivacity beckons with the freshness of the animated sparrows; serenity beckons with the aura that each blade of grass possesses – engulfing me and lifting spells of depression. I like this cottage I’m living in. It’s quaint and archaic and my internet’s limited and I need a fireplace at night; the door is made of teak and doesn’t open easily, but I’m not complaining. The more I look at creation in the eye, the more I want to leave my neon hued, gaudy city behind. I’ve never been one for boisterous laughter and parties and making an utter fool out of myself. Sure, I’ve lived that life but each day felt like giving a piece of me away. Some deep inner piece that cheap hedonistic thrills will never replace. Now, in this place I’m taking those pieces back from the earth, the petrichor, the breeze and the mist and putting them together in those vacant spaces in my heart. There’s something within every person that no amount of materialism will suppress – a deep despair that’s rooted in a need for a higher, more transcendental connection. No amount of wine or people or cigarettes or even art takes that away. Most people don’t project this despair and try their best to deviate other people from getting a glimpse of their inner self with their ostentatious Facebook feeds and Instagram pictures. The few who do are sadly shunned by a society that stereotypes. Then there are a popular few who know how to create drama out of it and thrive on the attention that they get on social media. These cunning few suddenly write about their ‘problems’ and then move back to the mainstream pretentious nonsense. They know how to manipulate the sheep on social media with their sorrowed narcissism. But this post isn’t about them. It’s about confronting the despair within. It’s that very despair that leads to addiction, to incessant posting on social media, to hate, to rage and to a crippled existence. It eats at a person and that person finds temporary respite in temporal things and idolizes them. We forget that things fade away and people can never be our everything, just like we can’t be our everything because we’re finite with limited minds and limited lifespans and limited abilities that wither slowly and just like books collect dust or iron rusts, we deteriorate with age or illness. So, there isn’t any point in finding solace in what’s innately fractured; severed both existentially and eventually literally. So, it ultimately comes down to finding an infinite God. That’s the essence of Christianity. But what happens when we can’t find God or when God is silent or if you’re an apostate who feels cut away from him? There has to be something more than banal materialism or reckless hedonism. I think that’s where the beauty of solitude comes in. I feel lonely in the city, but alone and at peace with myself in the mountains. The neo-cosmopolitan city I live in is a modernist’s lament. It’s a harsh reminder of the things I don’t have. Having said that, there’s also a constant discomfort that nags. It tears my contentment asunder and I’m always looking for answers using technology when technology is the very thing that’s killing me. Now, I’m not saying technology is bad, but I do have a little Luddite in me that screams when there’s too much of it, which is why, I race to the hills when I get a chance. Where will I finally end up? I don’t know. I have an idyllic dream of settling down in the hills and taking long walks and perhaps teaching; shunning my old life and avoiding self-loathing and angst, and mooching off them to write completely; basically killing the narcissist in me using nature. But life with all its practicalities and pragmatism always stands in the way like a huge unclimbable gate with spikes on top. But I’m feeling vaguely optimistic today and hence these lines.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

What I’d give for absolute freedom

My father, mother and I live in a multifaceted three-bedroom apartment. It doesn’t just have many literal aspects but figurative ingredients too which spice things up or sour things down. I didn’t grow up in this prison maze, but like a rat, I scuttle here and there now, hoping on a morsel of hope. Sometimes after the rains, when the open windows caress me with petrichor, and I’m invigorated, I lie down and listen to Hammock or some other post-rock band with a surreal tang to it, and I’m just present. The shadow of a once abusive father doesn’t trail with a scythe like a reaper, and I close my eyes and envision crotchets and minims floating by and carrying me along; carrying me to nuanced places and distant snow flaked horizons where the sound of a political engine doesn’t churn out the grating discordance of Fascism and I can lie looking at Creation’s wonders. But sometimes there’s an anti-aura of malice that separates the family, giving us each anti-halos or devil’s horns and even our shadows become nightmarish apparitions fighting each other. I guess each of us is a snail ensconced, struggling to break out of a shell. There’s a spirit of anarchism that possesses all of us, and we don’t want to gyrate to the tune of another’s voice as sweet or bittersweet as it sounds. We want to rush freely on our own paths, divided, and embracing a nightmarish Sartrean freedom, but something unlike and like a Lutheran bondage of the will ties us together. And when it does, mother hurts son, father threatens son and son lashes out at father using kicks and punches. ‘You deserve this! You old bastard for all those years of fucking with my life!’ I say, shrieking and projecting my insecurities over whether I’ll finally be free. Freedom. The word itself implies a concept with infinite plausibilities, but then the cycle of life and death, of youth and age reminds you of its antithesis – finitude. You’re only as free as you’re allowed to be is a daunting truth that makes you question if you’re ever free at all. The arguments in this household often transcend the dynamics of an individual in a multifaceted household and drift towards our condition in a multifaceted country. Will we escape the bondage that awaits us when the jarring buzz of Fascism is a roar? Will we be ultimately free in a fashion we’d like however idealistic that sounds?

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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On Chimeras and a constant need for validation in our postmodern age

You sometimes encounter people in life who want you to love them intimately. They’re literally obsessed with you and try forcing their perceptions of intimacy on you. They’re not exactly stalkers but aren’t a far cry from that breed. Now, I understand unrequited love and the need for someone to reciprocate your feelings, but if you truly love someone, you’ll let them go. You’ll never force your delusions on them because no two people think alike.

Yes, there may be a collective consciousness, but I don’t believe in the concept of soul mates or two people sharing one soul. A collective consciousness is something more genetic and has to do with traits acquired and personality, but ultimately you are your being.

People fail to recognize this aspect of liberating individuality and seem to constantly seek the approval of the ‘other’. They have ideas of the other which are often so different from who the other really is. They have dreams and misconceptions that often lead to such acts of foolishness. We live in a cyber, postmodern reality where a few messages sent, or a few Tinder dates make ‘together forever.’

Love requires commitment. Love isn’t judgment. Love isn’t falling for fancies. Love has a deep emotional aspect to it but that’s something that one acquires after years of actual togetherness and it’s not the puppy emotional, fake, cyber simulacrum.

I have found strange people entering and exiting my life. They come in like hurricanes of trust and promises and exit like whirlwinds of bitterness all because they expected something that I didn’t want to give them. I can offer friendship, loyalty, and trust if people give me the same, but I cannot offer love that satiates your chimeras. People don’t understand that I’m not hardwired to love them like their mind tells them. Your mind tells you many things and you feel myriad things but most of what you’re going through is self-indulgence. Pure selfish, hedonistic anti-altruism and when I don’t give you what you seek, your bitterness erupts like a pustule and those warm eyes turn into icy glares meant to pierce or wound.

People go to insane heights when their delusion meets the hard ground. You’ll find them unfriending people on Social Media, engaging in gossip and projecting their anger and insecurities onto the person they perceive insulted them. They dig into their pasts and scrape old wounds until they’re bleeding again and play the blame game. The person of adoration becomes an object that needs destruction.

Sometimes the madness descends to utter incoherence. ‘How could you have done that?’ You’ll find them screaming when you did nothing wrong. I don’t love you and neither did you. You worshipped me, and I’m not flattered. I need you to move on. So, please get over it. That’s the only response you can give people like that and if you don’t want a direct confrontation, just cut ties. Trust me, any vicious cycle, even if a person has faced similar circumstances in their life but deludes themselves into thinking that creates a special unity, needs a severing.

What is with this age and the need for constant reinforcement? I guess social media has played a destructive role in fueling our narcissistic egos. It’s all about the likes, comments, and shares and it doesn’t matter if you’re happy or depressed. If you’re happy, you’ll resort to posting picture perfect selfies and gloat as the likes and comments flow. And then there’s the sorrowed narcissist. The person who uses depression, prior abuse, and the ostracism or bullying they’ve faced to get the same likes. This person doesn’t usually use Facebook but uses blogging platforms to achieve the same goal – an ephemeral reinforcement.

I think we’ve forgotten how to have a good time. We don’t even read paperbacks anymore. We prefer shortening our attention spans by spending time reading blog after blog, hoping someone will find our blogs and like or comment. And a comment; something said by a stranger we know nothing about makes our day. And if it isn’t repeated the next day, we feel insecure and lost.

My friends, this is shallow living. But getting out of this needs suffering. You need to suffer pangs of loneliness to know solitude. You need to suffer failure to know that victory isn’t everything and this is a gradual change or an unraveling of sorts.

Having said this, I’m guilty of so many things I’ve pointed out and criticized, but I’m slowly realizing that this cyber existence isn’t worth it. Now I’m not advocating a Luddite puritanism but a balance or a middle road like the Buddha put it – neither giving in to too much or too little.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

The underground

I find the road ahead stained with crimson, tattered parkas, blurry and Kafkaesque. Maybe it’s the blood of martyrs – brothers and sisters who lived for art alone; smashing the mirror though the shards stung and the ooze throbbed – who wandered like vagabonds and died having taken up the pen, or maybe it’s the false inner opulence of alcohol or antihistamines – a carpeted antechamber with a plastic chandelier and a stony candelabrum with ugly, blotched masses of wax and polaroids instead of Gogh and Rembrandt; basically a burlesque scene where a thrift store stands in for Gucci, and gives you raw, ribald low-brow that is only lacquered – making me glorify the obscure and venerate the underground. It’s like making love to a woman you don’t love anymore, without passion, the rough arpeggio relieving stress. In the end a few questions stem from the heart of all frustration, giving the reader(s) withered parchments of poetry – unlike the parrot green published work – and prose that doesn’t bloom because it’s not nurtured by engagement: Do I still do this though I rely on someone else’s monetary support? Do I still love this? Do I need to create? And despite the mass production of tomes, teaching you how to ‘write,’ asking Kafka to move over to a surreal corner with hazy light – where an apple lies crushed – in the corner of the bookstore, despite the post-novel filled with multimedia and embracing fanatical postmodernism, like Night Film by Marisha Pessl (which I’m not saying isn’t good, so don’t get me wrong), give me my books, a dictionary, a thesaurus and a pen and paper, and I will create, or at least I think so.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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The key to the subconscious mind

I think any contemplative reader will wonder if stream of consciousness writing is pure and unadulterated, or if there are gaps and minuscule writer’s blocks during the process, or if it really exists? My answer from personal experience is that it only partially exists. At the end of the day, you’re human and though I’ve reiterated this point so many times, I’ll say it again: You can strive for perfection, but you’re bound to fall short, and even if you end up becoming a visionary or revolutionary, you’ve still only come close to perfection. When Barcelona thrashed Madrid 5-0, a few years ago, José Mourinho called them, ‘the finished article,’ but he was wrong. Yes, back then, they played football which was an absolute treat for the viewer, and it was like a spiritual experience of sorts, but they still weren’t perfect. To call anything man-made or shaped by clay – if you prefer the use of the figurative – perfect is foolish. We’re in a state of continual cognitive and collective evolution as individuals and as a species, and even millennia from now, if we still exist, and have made conditions better, the world will still be an almost utopia. So, coming back, what then is stream of consciousness writing? The answer is simple: It’s tapping into the subconscious and writing without inhibition to the best possible extent. Sometimes the writer can tap and mask what he finds with imagery, which takes effort and causes strain in a few cases, but the very fact that the writer taps makes them distinct and gives their word a unique pitch and tone. Now my theory is Lacanian only in the sense that the subconscious is structured like a language, because the writer is engaging in a simultaneous thought-write and not thinking first and then writing. So, how to you gain access to the subconscious mind? Now, this is a valid question because you’ll find writers who deploy this technique very different from the folk you meet every day. I’m talking from personal observation and introspection. As a matter of fact, you’ll find many gifted writers, possessing idiosyncrasies and oddities and being distinct from the pack. So, not everyone taps into the subconscious and whether we like to admit it or not, innate talent exists. And hence the question. Well, there are five ways, I can see this happening from observation and personal experience. The first is insanity. Insanity comes with a blessing and a curse, and people who are mentally ill exist in a different realm from people who are just like everyone else, or want to become everyone else, or someone else. The second, is prescription medication to treat insanity. It alters a person’s personality completely and gives them access to an otherwise restricted inner Area 51. How they use it depends on their insight. The third is mind altering substances – most of which governments ban, and hence, unless you’re willing to take the risk with the possibility of it going wrong, like Huxley did, your door of perception will sadly remain closed. You could try marijuana though, and it’s legal in many places. The fourth is an intense religious experience which usually culminates in a vision or a set of visions. These experiences are extremely emotional and involve terror, peace, joy, sorrow, repentance, awe or love in intense forms, and eventually the person may get a vision, but regardless of if they do or not, they’ll have a better perception, and a deeper insight into the world and metaphysical questions. The last is a dangerous road. It’s occultism, and here’s the biggest problem it poses – now you want access to your subconscious for liberation and loss of inhibition when you write but seeking the dark will only give you a façade of it, because you’re basically a puppet in the hands of some supernatural horror, and all your writing will have that strain running through it. You won’t be able to achieve self-transcendence or be able to write about a hundred different things. You’ll have some esoteric knowledge, but you’ll never be eclectic. And so, I’ll end with this – What about me? Well, I am Bipolar, I am on prescription for it, I have tried mind altering substances and I have had intense religious experiences with every emotion I’ve mentioned, culminating in a terrifying vision, and yes, they all shaped my writing. The occult part I don’t want. I’d rather pop a downer! And I don’t know why they even call it that. I guess it depends on the music you’re listening to once you’re ‘in the zone’. If it’s Alice in Chains, well, it’s Hell inside and Heaven outside alright, but if it’s jazz, you’ll have a maelström of ideas flooding your mind, and you’ll find yourself in this hypnotic, hypomanic, pro-improvisation state, and it’s fucking amazing!

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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