Brevity

This is an image of a train approaching; making its way through the mist. I've chosen it because it represents the brevity of all things, and the struggle that is life to me.

“This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.”

― T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

I pass a graveyard on my way to work each morning,
a desolate place filled with scraps of putrid litter,
devoid of any being but a mangy mongrel
with chipped-off statued cherubs and unclean engravings.
The place is an anathema, infected with jinn,
a place where bones still rattle in decaying coffins.
I think of souls that never leave to paradise; damned
to haunt and own us; souls forever wandering; lost
with no respite each time I see the place, but then a
dissimilar thought takes control and I think – looking
at starless skies – if we indeed have souls or if it’s fable
concocted by robed priests to keep the masses senseless,
I wonder if the past and future have no meaning,
if an opaque void circumscribes existence, birth, death,
if only brevity is the hand we fiercely claw at,
if time meets no continuance, and even the present
is just a ball suspended in vitality that
fades, lessens till millennia and cycles are lost
forever, and all you and I have known disperses,
and worlds end with soft whimpers and never thunderous bangs.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

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)

Home (Part 3)

We live in a time of a Pentecostal hysteria and showman pastors and faith-healers. And one common notion prevalent in these churches is that possession by an evil spirit creates the demoniac. And then you have the pastor yelling, ‘Get out, you dirty spirit!’ Literally pushing a man, as if a mere shove can cure him. Oh, how far they’re from the truth! But what creates the demoniac? The man who breaks shackles and rebels against humanity, nature and himself?

If you delved deep into the Kierkegaardian stages of despair, you’ll get the answer. You’ll first find the comical despair or instability. Here’s a man who despairs over something earthly or something transient. Jude despaired this way when he was in college and still does sometimes when deprived of some want. Each time he didn’t play football well, he’d spend the day in utter misery and seek validation. He’d burden his poor mother with his failures, going to extreme details to explain technical terms to her, and then deluded would ask her, ‘Will I make it ma?’ And the poor woman had no other choice but to share in his delusion because she loved him immensely, and would say, ‘Yes. I’m praying for you.’

He remained this way for a long time with a self made of plastic. Crushed, but his lack of insight gave him a modicum of hope, and he clung to it with all his might fueling his fancy, though the winds of reality howled and shrieked. He called himself a Christian then and even attended church, but his faith was insipid and tasteless, just like the faith of those who believe in the prosperity gospel. He tried using God to elevate himself. ‘Give me a beautiful girlfriend,’ he’d pray and then seek his mother’s validation again.

Traces of this despair remain in Jude, but over the years he gained insight. It tore him, and he stopped craving for the materialistic and looked for love. And then entered Samantha, whom he began idolizing. Youth looks to the imagined future and finds itself trapped there, while age looks back through recollection and finds its own trap. And this explains Jude’s relationship with his mother who was also a woman who’d seen much suffering. His masculine ambition sought hope from someone flawed and finite, while she like those rare women who lose themselves completely by loving someone; literally forsaking themselves wanted the best for him and went out-of-the-way to get him a better life. And yet both cases are tragically despair. The former a selfish one, while the latter a selfless one. Oh, what a burden God has placed on humanity that even being altruistic doesn’t qualify as goodness! And I can’t help but ask if this is fair? Is God just? Is being born into this world the biggest curse?

Jude’s insight into his deluded condition, helped him slowly find release, and though he remained in misery, he wasn’t given to wishful thinking anymore. He wanted now to forsake himself; rid himself of his sin and guilt. His abusive nature and idolization of Samantha was eating him alive. He wanted to break the horrible cycle. Samantha now became a mother figure to him and he poured his heart out to her, and she listened and loved him deeply. Despite her bitterness, she too had an altruistic aspect to her. A big one. And this made him love her deeply, but he couldn’t change. Love isn’t just action, and neither is it just emotion. It’s emotion that acts. Jude had the emotion, but couldn’t act, couldn’t prove his love. While Samantha had both and proved her love for Jude. But Samantha lost herself completely loving Jude and displaced her standing with God. Now no relationship is perfect but a healthy one has God at its core, because God is infinite love, and finitude is capable of only a fractured love, prone to mistakes and sorrow.

After Jude lost God, he became the demoniac, the poet or the tortured artist. He’d transcended earthly despair, and the despair of wanting to lose himself. He’d even transcended the despair of wanting a new better self. He now wished to remain in active rebellion against God and had attained the despair of wanting to become God. He wanted to replace God, and this is precisely Satan’s rebellion and Adam’s fall. But Adam reconciled with God and Jude couldn’t. He had a deep-seated hate for God and blamed him, and so found himself in perpetual turmoil. He’d have moments of peace before he’d lash out, and since it’s impossible to lash out against God, he’d hate Samantha and use her as an object of his rage. Perhaps this in a way echoes Cain and Abel.

Jude has now realized where he stands, and it’s a paradox isn’t it? You can never forsake yourself and yet you do precisely that when you change for the worse.

(Inspired by The Sickness unto Death by Søren Aabye Kierkegaard)

Part 1

Part 2

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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Home (Part 1)

Jude woke each morning resigned, having given up on faith and hope. He yearned to forsake himself completely, rid himself of his soul, but he knew that just like every other human being he existed in two realms: the finite and the infinite, and though the body dies and decays, the soul lives forever. It’s one of the beauties of creation, the ephemeral and the eternal existing parallelly in the same being birthed from dust and ashes. Jude knew this but wished for utter, complete mortality. He wanted erasure, to have his name wiped away from the eternal blackboard. But once born, you’re handed this twin truth, and death doesn’t resolve anything, because it’s only the physical body that dies, while the spirit lives on. And this the root of despair—the inability to both forsake or find yourself spiritually. And the only way out is faith in an eternal God, because then you both root yourself in the infinite and forsake yourself more and more. Otherwise it’s a sickness unto death.

Some people believe in the universe, but the cosmos is only finite and expanding, and there is a God who sustains it, and the old book that most of us shelve tells you who the creator and sustainer is. It’s only logical that finitude (sentient or not) cannot sustain itself. There is someone greater, someone infinite who gives it its grounding. Jude knew this but couldn’t reconcile with a faith he once possessed because he often peered too deep, especially when it came to the root of all evil. He questioned his faith and riddled it with unnecessary doubt.

Jude loved Samantha, but they grounded their relationship in fancies of who they were and ideas of who they thought they’d become. And since human love isn’t celestial, but Jude made Samantha his all and a replacement for his faith, he grew despondent and disgruntled. Despair is part of the eternal aspect of the human condition, and it’s often better to know you’re despairing than to live in contentment, completely oblivious to the fact that you’re fundamentally flawed. Happiness is transient; moments shared with a loved one fade, become memory and slowly find themselves replaced; peace drifts away, and ambition falls short.

So, what we need is someone fantastic who transforms our emotion into something brilliant, our understanding into strong wisdom, and strengthens will and inclines it to eternity. Losing ourselves to God and not conforming to the world is the only way, and yet Jude claimed he was a nihilist. But in truth, he was either a doubting saint, a backslider, an apostate, or someone who tasted God but fell away because he secretly loved his despair though it gnawed at him like a worm nibbling on the core of an apple. Or Jude’s love for Samantha was so strong that he practically venerated her, replacing true worship with an idol in the form of a lover.

Possibilities filled Jude’s mind. Dreams, both sorrowed and ambitious engulfed him. He sought answers somewhere within, but the temporal realm offered him a plethora of choices. You can call it just daydreaming, or like psychologists these days call it ‘maladaptive’ daydreaming where a person has unrealistic expectations or gives himself to hopeless reverie. Jude’s life was catching up to him, but he stayed trapped in a cellar of chimera. To root yourself, you must go further than getting a hold of your life, because changing and working hard is grounding yourself in routine and not reality. True reality is unseen, infinite, but was also seen and died at Calvary for the sickness that plagues our souls, tainting it with sin and creating despair. True reality is the eternal now, and despair creates thirst, which creates need, which only the cross satisfies. Jude knew he had to root himself by finding himself by grounding himself in God, but trials made him weary and he kept trying in vain to forsake himself.

(Inspired by The Sickness unto Death by Søren Aabye Kierkegaard)

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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In the end –

We talk so much about freedom
with an emphasis on the individual,
the modernist laments the loss
of the old values, and the postmodernist
says, reality is just an illusion,
and we’ll do anything to not
feel trapped, tortured, tormented
and people often lose sense of
direction while they’re on this
path – self-transcendence through
any means possible; others
stay stuck in four walls with
a stench of conservatism that
they fool themselves into believing
is the fragrance of all fragrances,
but when will finitude realize that
despite all these ideas thrown from
platforms and podiums, from prison cells
and poisonous ink, from poetry and
prose, from eloquence and elasticity,
the simple truth is basic, never over-reaching
or intricate? It’s innate and you’re born
with it, irrespective of where your position
lies at a later stage or phase, in this
movement of actors, emulators or
sincere men and women, it screams
aloud when you cheat on your wife,
it breaks your heart when you break
another, it stones you with rocks of
guilt when you break ‘boundaries’,
and it’s also a whisper in both
the light and the dark, simply
saying, “You’re not free to do
as you please,” and this is the crux of
Crime and Punishment, or positive
existentialism, or mysticism, or true religion, or
beauty, and so what? Do you castigate
yourself for your mistakes? Do you
seek some ethereal light? No, you love
a few ferociously and passionately
with all affection and action,
with all belief and brokenness,
because though you may not
find that unicorn and rainbow-hued
land, or those dark places that give you
a false thrill, one things remains and will
remain, and it’s just as innate—it’s love.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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Retreating into myself

I toy with the Aurelian notion of retreating into myself, and find it works. I’m by no means a master, and resolve is something that takes years to forge in the fires of an unbending aim with an unbreakable hammer, but I’ve found it changing the little things. And if I can bottle petty fireflies of distracting thought, until their false glow diminishes and then cleanse the jar, then who is to say that bigger emotion cannot be caught too? Anger throbs, irritability pulsates, guilt swirls, and sadness echoes, but it’s ephemeral, and impulse makes a man a beast, but transcending it by withdrawal into oneself despite the situation, scenario, place or time begets a joy or satisfaction which is more than mere catharsis or a transient solution. Going a bit off tangent here, I’ll say that existentialism stripped off its clothing regardless of the positive or negative spectrum that a person who believes in it adheres to, gives us two nude reflections: responsibility and meaning. And losing sight of the first is more catastrophic than the latter. I’m not responsible for the lives of others or the problems of this world, because I don’t adhere to a collective responsibility at an individual level like some nihilism suggests. But yes, I’m responsible for me, my faults, the hurt I’ve caused, the happiness I’ve given, the love I’ve shared, and the person I am: both good and bad. And for me the question of God is irrelevant. But that’s not saying that my life has no purpose. My meaning changes each day or each hour, and I can either lose it or accomplish it. And when I’m losing it, because of emotion or resignation or circumstance, I retreat into myself, and acknowledge my responsibility, and will my drive. And yes, fate exists, because sometimes unwarranted and unnecessary circumstances place obstacles, but I’ve realized that the key is the present, and looking at those obstacles as challenges I must savor and not burdens I carry, and here again retreating, irrespective of if I’m in a bar, or in my bedroom, or smoking on the balcony, or in a park, or somewhere idyllic helps. And trust me, it isn’t easy, because I often fail. But if I just lay there and didn’t ultimately gain the mastery I need, then I’ve lost both responsibility and meaning.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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The Pharisee and the attenuated Nihilist

Once, there lived two men. One, a conservative Indian moralist who loved his culture, had jingoistic views, and hated liberals who, in his opinion, spent their lives in lounge bars, smoking cigarettes and drinking, and did nothing better than having sex and were never committed to any cause, reason or a vantage point that gives a man enlightenment and a sense of self-worth. The moralist prided in his country’s slow progress towards Fascism, even though he detested the very term. He believed that the new communal regime gave the country a pride that the liberals had forgotten, or thrown into garbage bins along with their used condoms, and other hedonistic pleasures. The very sight of a liberal entering a bar with his girlfriend appalled him. He hated the minorities and people of other creeds and religions, and strongly endorsed the regime’s stand to put down any perceived or even imagined threats from them. He believed that eating meat was heretic, and firmly stood by any decision that imposed legalism, since he felt it gave the country a structure of values. He detested the opposition and their scam ridden, corrupt atmosphere, and even if newsmen exposed scams of the regime, he quickly labeled them as ‘charlatans’ or said, “These trite things are nothing compared to the last decade of sordid political debauchery.” He watched The Republic regularly, and the biased journalists who never bothered checking facts and pulled stories out of context, satisfied him as much as his enema. He loved Yoga, and quickly defended it as a ‘secular practice’ with a vehemence that even a rabbit in heat couldn’t fathom. His lust for his nationality stayed insatiable, and he didn’t mind resorting to any measure to protect his nation’s integrity. If they asked him to murder, he’d willingly do it, or arrange for it, because the state defined his individuality. He existed in a symbiotic relationship with his country, although it was parasitic to the minority. His very existence in this crisis of political upheaval rested in das Äußere (what is external) because he believed that what’s without will catapult India to vielleicht das außerordentliche (perhaps something extraordinary). And if it needed sacrifice or even a mini-holocaust of lynching, or forced conversations, he didn’t mind, because to him, that made him a hero, and not even a tragic one. So this man, despite his intelligence, couldn’t live as an independent entity: one with no relation to the state or to the absolute. Now regarding the absolute, his notion was of a plural truth, which the state upheld. Is this man justified? Is this man right? Or has education twisted this man’s thoughts, because of its baptism in culture? These are questions I’ll let the reader answer.

The second was libertarian in his views, although he wasn’t utopian or idealistic in any way. He was actually nihilistic, though not in an absolute sense. He believed that everything had an antithesis, and perhaps this is a structuralist mindset, but he saw things in terms of parallels: Good and evil, finite and infinite, life and death and other things as well. He, however, didn’t see everything in shades of black and white, and gave room to grey when needed. He believed in individuality, and though he went up to Kierkegaard’s concept of infinite resignation, he didn’t move further to grasp abstract faith. He did not think of himself as a hero or villain, and that was one of his grey areas. He believed in Kierkegaard’s concept of the particular, the universal and the absolute, but despised the tragic hero, and could not see himself as the Knight of Faith who stands in absolute relation to the absolute, and defines the universal more than it defines him. Perhaps he did have a little grandiose concept of the particular influencing the universal, by staying resigned: not in a despairing sense, but in a doubtful apathetic one. He was against the regime’s practice of subduing minorities and hated the regime imposing its culture on the individual. He believed that culture must never define an entity that’s capable of existing without it, and neither must literature or journalism have a cultural bend to it. He despised the moralist, but did not live like a hedonist, which was another of his grey areas. He did not worship art, but expressed himself through it, often tackling taboo themes like sex, alcohol and marijuana, despite his only vice being smoking. He did not have a problem with liberals who frequented lounge bars, or lived hedonistic lives, but he had his idea of existence, and stayed true to it, however much he could. He often broke his own rules, which was his third grey area, but always managed to pull himself back to his comfort spot which was probably neither here nor there. His art did not parallel his life or his views, although many people believed it did. He only gave his poetry a hue of reality, which many found shocking. He acknowledged his faults, which were many, and often judged people unnecessarily, but often did so correctly. He despised the lynching, ate whatever he pleased, and despised Yoga being imposed because he believed it offended the minority. He despised both theocracy and Fascism, and hated both his regime, and the butcher of Geneva who established a blood stained theocracy in which Servetus was the least of his crimes. Still, he didn’t find much support for his cause, because he hated any kind of preachy fundamentalism. If a liberal were to preach to him, he’d detest that vantage point and the man. So, in that sense, he did not support radical feminism, and believed that no man could call himself a feminist because at a cognitive level all men either objectify or stereotype women. He was no doubt a man of complications. He also struggled with mental illness, but fought through it all using prose, philosophy and poetry, but never made them his religion. He did have relationships with women, but nothing really lasted, and he always found his home, reading, studying and writing. He had a complicated relationship with his family, but made his closure with them. Is this man justified? Are his views flawed? Is he man of hate and not love? Has the writer given him more prominence than the former? I’ll let the reader answer.

(Inspired by Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard)

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2018)

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