The beautiful game

This is a picture of a skull face smoking. I've used it because to me represents the human condition. Are we good or evil? That's the question the picture asks

Do you remember when we played football on that turbid field? You’d pass the ball to me, and I, lacking acumen would race past defender after defender, before being tackled. You’d laugh sometimes and sometimes – irritated – yell at me, urging me to play better.

After the match, you’d resort to your post-match ritual of stretching and warming down, while I’d puff on a cigarette analyzing my game. Looking back, I think we’ll both admit that football fuels some degree of narcissism, even though it is the beautiful game – celebrated by the rich, the poor, the loner and the winner. But then again, I often wonder if you even have traces of nostalgia drifting through your consciousness today.

How did you get radicalized? Was there always some aspect of your being that thrived on serving a wrathful deity using a sword? Sure, you loved discipline on the football field but championed liberty and freedom in life. You believed all men were created equal, and your identity lay more on the hedonistic side of the spectrum than the conservative one. You disdained acts of terror in the name of religion, cause or philosophy. You believed in empathy, forgiveness, and peace.

And then, you disappeared and came back aloof and troubled. But you were unwilling to share your problems. I tried, like any best friend would do. I firstly gently coaxed you before directly confronting you.

“Is it a woman?” I asked.

“You wouldn’t understand,” you dismissed me.

“You were never like this; never indifferent or callous. So, tell me, what happened? You know I’ll never judge you.”

“There are some things in life that we mustn’t speak off,” you answered cryptically.

Soon, you cut all ties with me. And then I heard about the beheading; about the gruesome, despicable way in which you’d robbed two children of their father. You said you did it in the name of God because the man was a blasphemer and an infidel. You said that you’d do it again.

At first, I was shocked, but after accepting that you’d become an animal, I wondered if I was asking the right questions. Is there a caged beast in all of us that we’re only unaware of because society’s norms keep him trapped? Can even the most educated men fall prey to the simplest deceptions, thereby throwing away their moral convictions? Are we prone more to violence, greed and a lust for power than kindness, beauty, and truth? Do we even know the truth or are we all living out internal postmodern realities where everything’s distorted, without insight?

They say education saves but does it? You find cruel men using inherently good technology to carry out ingenious but vile schemes. From gas chambers to the nuclear bomb to cyber-terrorism to identity thefts to Ponzi schemes to fake news to Facebook pages spewing propaganda; I can’t help but think if there’s something sinister creeping in our veins, threatening to break out and metamorphose us into terrifying, feral primitive beings, consumed by the wrong passions and pride.

I remember when you passed the football. You had such vision! You’d know the direction of the run, the striker’s speed and the defender’s positioning before your feet touched the ball. You played chess on the football field, calculating moves in advance, and knocking off pieces. If only you’d had that same insight in life. I wish you did and pray that I get it because that may be the only way to keep the beast caged.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Innocence within the femme fatale

This is an image of a femme fatale. I've used it because my post is about finding beauty in raw writing. Writing that has a tough exterior is often full of heart and honesty.

There’s something about her writing that brings me back. It isn’t a Fitzgerladean crescendo, slowly building up in the tender night, tugging at your heartstrings eloquently and ethereally. No, it’s sprinkled with sawdust, and rusty nails, but once you dig deeper – at the risk of getting injured – you’ll find a hidden gem with so much depth and candor: multifaceted and transparent. But I’m sure a lot of people don’t dig enough, either from the fear of reciprocation, or because their superficiality and walking canes make them tragically stereotype themselves.

We’re quick to label writing as coarse, or cantankerous, when we have our own periods of vulgarity during the day, which the Sauvignon never solves. An artificial faux-elitist conservativeness is what I call it. An indelible keloid or a permanent tattoo both cut through skin, and just because the latter seems attractive, it doesn’t mean the former doesn’t bring with it the pain of experience.

But I go back to her, and I like the diamond in the rough – if you’ll permit me to use a cliché – or the esoteric sound like Miles Davis’ Paraphernalia submerged beneath layers of Grindcore. I find Meshuggah bringing individual units together to form a polyrhythmic machine, before finding another swirl of life in Chet Baker and Paul Desmond playing a standard like Autumn leaves when I read her: The latter’s unique alto tone evoking more than feelings; almost literally placing me in another space and time.

There’s so much beauty in unique art, but it lies in perception, and never in battles for superiority, or petty feud – counter feud poetry. We’re just individuals, and from a bird’s eye view, we’re one with the earth we walk on, shaped and molded by it, and what we create should facilitate growth, and nurture a collective artistic consciousness. Irrespective of the approach: confessional, descriptive, satirical, or a separation between the writer and his work, or pure stream of thought, this journey is beautiful.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

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

This is a picture of a man silhouetted against a matrix. It represents our digital, postmodern age which revolves around technology.

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 love me. You worshiped 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 (2019)

A portrait

This is a portrait of a man in black and white. I've used it to depict tortured personality that yearns for freedom.

Well, I’ve known him from school and I’ll admit that he was natural. He did win a writing competition besting me with the sharpest prose. But later, he quit writing altogether and took to another field that never suited him. A field filled with authoritarian therapists and pseudo-scientists trying to decipher maladjusted minds with cryptic jargon, and abstract sentences: Wrestling with creativity and trying to stuff it into a box, before crumpling it and tossing it into a wastebasket of indifference. I guess that got to him, because he couldn’t fit into one particular genre of ‘thought’ and he eventually quit, picked up a pen and started writing again. But doggerels of years, forced him to re-learn all that he’d forgotten, and I guess in that sense he taught himself how to write. The irony was that he did this while he sat in the patient’s chair, listening to those very therapists prescribing him with machine gun doses of antidepressants, anxiolytics, mood stabilizers and antipsychotics. He initially speckled his poetry with the softest tears of naïvety, but I’ve learned now that he is his biggest critic, his biggest judge and that might be both an axe and a box of treasures. He eliminated his writings once he got popular, tried getting off the medication, and tried religion, but a certain doctrine from Geneva haunted more than it ever saved. And then began a period in his life which no hermeneutic will ever explain. The last we met, I was balding, struggling with similar side-effects (albeit to a lesser degree) and I tried setting him up with a girl who was seven years older. He said, “I’ll think about it,” and that right there is the problem. He did date her eventually, but he probably thought twice before making love to her, and wondered if passion will lead to something that lasts or if it will fizzle out. And so, he gave up on her, and thought about everything, except when he wrote, because then something strikes like lightning, and it just spills on a page – verbal vomit that strangely has structure, but I guess it’s better if he thinks and pours out syllables on a page, stringing together alliteration, drawing from every other eclectic source, and the suicidal aspects of his own life, because when he ghosts away, that’s when he suffers the most. I mean that’s when he gives into utter madness. He once walked on the street at two in the night, tried gouging out his eyes, stepped on thorns, and came back home completely befuddled and disoriented. He thought it was penance. Fortunately, some slight wand of fate always prevents him from going the distance. And then he’s back to writing, stitching together pieces, and it seems like each time he disappears and comes back, he gets better at what he does. I always thought sorrow is the muse that makes a few, but I guess I’m wrong; it’s inner torture. And from what I’ve read, I thought his writing parallels Perrin Aybara’s life: very moralistic and willing to go the distance for art, but it doesn’t. It’s definitely not Matrim Cauthon because you won’t find him frequenting bars and writing bard poetry, even though he says that’s his favorite character from the series. No it’s Rand, starting naïve, and then judging himself and letting his anger flare though each line, before finally struggling to break free, and then walking into a new age. But then that’s a series. I think by now everybody knows that art and life are not completely connected. Anyhow, he’s back on his medication, and writing to survive, and I read from a distant land with a wife that I often hate, and a son that I love, and I’m glad as long as he thinks and reads and thinks, and then writes, because if he vanishes, I’ll have to call immediately and find out that he’s done something terrible to himself again, and I don’t want that.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)

Love and Reprobation

This is an image of ash and lava. The ash represents destruction while the lava represents love in a terrible place. My piece is about finding love in unfortunate circumstances.

Meet me where the earth cracks and a dying stream breathes its last, where the ashen peaks lose their charm and look tobacco stained, where the asphyxiated grass choked by some sadistic otherworldly force gasps and wheezes, where love meets reprobation and we’re broken, neglected sinners in the hands of a silent sovereign, because when fate fades and we’re watching our lives unfold in hazy sepia, when wheels of fortune lie splintered and there’s nothing left but to weep without tears, and look but not see anything, I’d rather love you in a fucked up way than write or read or fake laughter and merriment. No, I’d rather love you with all the force of my core, breaking out of my rib-cage, splintering skin, and giving you the raw, red blood of affection. No, I’d rather hold you in this oubliette, ignoring the trapdoor and igniting the cell with seething emotion. And I don’t give a damn if they call this hyperbole, it’s all I offer, and even then, it doesn’t compare to what you’ve given me. You gave me your all, accepted me despite my demonic idiosyncrasies: my angst, my raging paranoia, won me over and if I didn’t act, reciprocate, feel and hold, it’ll be cruel. So know that I love your shadow and bliss, your shifting avatars and your true quintessential self, your skin, lips, breath, taste, flavor, balance and imbalance, and I guess we’ll just stay twisted this way.

© Nitin Lalit Murali (2019)