One of my many love affairs…

Have you ever fallen in love with a book? I know, some of you might have, but I don’t mean falling in love with the author or what he said, falling in love with the actual book, that inanimate object. It pains me to say that its ‘inanimate’ but for the sake of explaining myself, I have to.

'The Screwtape Letters' by C.S. Lewis, Illustrated by William Papas

‘The Screwtape Letters’ by C.S. Lewis, Illustrated by William Papas

This is the story of how I fell in love with the book ‘The Screwtape Letters‘ by C. S. Lewis. The concept of the book intrigued me, it is the correspondence between Screwtape, an experienced devil and his nephew Wormwood, a young tempter at the beginning of his demonic career. So, I ordered the book online, when I opened that package and saw the embossed letters on the cover of the book; I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight but it flicked a switch inside me. They say you should not judge a book by its cover but it was the cover that started the spiral into my obsession with the book.

When I say obsession, I’m not exaggerating. I go to sleep with it beside my pillow, it has to be at the top of the book pile on my table, I’ve started using it as a wallet, I take it to my driving classes, it is appearing in my dreams! I was actually reading another book when this book arrived but sweet lord! The illustrations, they just won’t let me get on with the other book! Did I tell you about the illustrations? Beautiful! Just beautiful! This edition of the book was illustrated by William Papas and dear god, he has done a stunning job!

This is not my first obsession, before this I was obsessed with another book, ‘Fight Club’ by Chuck Palahnuik. I would read that book every other time I finish some other book, I started remembering the lines before I read them. I had to give it away to a friend as a gift to get over it. But this time I think it is much worse. The smell of the paper, the crisp sound when you turn the pages and the illustrations, they don’t let me sleep at night.

A couple of days ago I saw a TED talk by Chip Kidd, in which he talks about the level of insight and creativity which he puts into designing the covers of books, but you have to be attentive to detail in order to notice any of it. This set off my detail-preceptor and the devil is in the details, literally! This book is actually a collection of letters from a senior demon as I mentioned earlier, the level of detail in the book is just amazing. We can see in the illustration that the devil is writing with a quill and a ink bottle so whenever he is signing his name or addressing his nephew, there is a ink blot here and there, spill a couple of times. This is just one of the many seductive capabilities of the book that enticed me.

I also have a kindle which I very much like but whatever technology brings to us the physical feel of a book is impossible to emulate if you ask me, hardcover paper books will always rule the hearts and minds of the reader. Still, this worries me sometimes, the trees you know…

Existentialism is a Humanism – Jean-Paul Sarte 1946

 Ernesto Che Guevara reunited with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, in Cuba. 1960

Ernesto Che Guevara reunited with Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, in Cuba. 1960

The main reproach that religious people or theists make against atheism is that without religion or god the world would tear itself apart! That is one of the central support structures that still holds religion together, the concept that religion enforces or brings about morality in people. Also they say that religion or god gives people a purpose in life, something to strive towards. Various people have been wrestling with this concept of how to refute this argument for quite some while now, on how to show people that religion in itself does not hold you to be moral but it is you who decides to be moral or not. To show that it is by your actions and only by your actions that you define yourself and find a purpose.

Jean-Paul Sarte makes an excellent argument for the cause of Atheism and Existentialism in his ‘Existentialism is a Humanism’.  This is his famous lecture and it is widely considered one of the defining texts of the Existentialist movement. He makes an wonderful argument that human beings exist before there ever was an essence or a purpose to our life. Put simply, this means that there is nothing to dictate that person’s character, goals in life, and so on; that only the individual can define his or her essence. And by his or her choice they not only define themselves but affect all of humanity.

Click here for the original essay: Existentialism is a Humanism – Jean-Paul Sarte 1946

The material in the pdf was obtained from marxists.org, originally reproduced under the “Fair Use” provisions; I’ve formatted it into a pdf file, compatible with various e-readers such as kindle for ease of reading and access.

Answer in a Time Capsule

There are certain questions that I have been fighting an unending war with. They might sound ambiguous but they are very real and keep me up at nights. One of these questions is the question of indecisiveness or the inability to reconcile between two opposing ideas. If you stare long and hard into a certain problem, you will always find that there isn’t a simple truth that lies beneath all the turmoil. Truth resists simplicity. Now, when it is time to chose a side, I find myself straddling the fence. Whatever the case may be, Should I be amazed by the feats of  the human race or Should I grasp the feeling of insignificance on the cosmic scale? Should I embrace my human emotional self or Should I strive and achieve equanimity giving room only to reason?

While discussing this with my friend the other day I found out that she had a similar problem, but she seemed to have a bit of a solution for this conundrum. Like my great county India, with its non-alignment policy, she told me that may be, hearing both sides and not talking any side, in itself is a side, the third answer for a question that I believed had only two answers. Like Amartya Sen says in his book ‘The Argumentative Indian‘, we Indians are one of the bests at arguing. Still, I was not satisfied with this and for a long time I was completely obsessed with the concept of neutrality. But it offered me little comfort, It was not long before I found myself with the same question.

Whenever we talk of Scott Fitzgerald, the first thing that comes to our mind is his magnum opus ‘The Great Gatsby‘. I read it, not just went through the words, I actually READ it, thanks to John Green and his Crashcourse videos. It is indeed a phenomenal piece of work, but the answer to my question did not come to me from that, it came to me from his lesser known work, ‘The Crack Up‘, In which he writes,

F. Scott Fitzgerald, photographed by Carl van Vechten in 1937Courtesy: Wikipedia

F. Scott Fitzgerald, photographed by Carl van Vechten in 1937
Courtesy: WikipediaFinally, to put me out of my misery, the answer came to me in a time capsule from F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise…I must hold in balance the sense of the futility of effort and the sense of the necessity to struggle; the conviction of the inevitability of failure and still the determination to ‘succeed’-and, more than these, the contradiction between the dead hand of the past and the high intentions of the future. If I could do this through the common ills-domestic, professional and personal-then the ego would continue as an arrow shot from nothingness to nothingness with such force that only gravity would bring it to earth at last.

Wow! I can only marvel at words like these. The man left a trace in time that, after all these years gives me goosebumps.

George Orwell had been hinting me the same with his ‘doublethink’, but it took Fitzgerald to get it through to my thick skull.

It is indeed by sheer serendipity that I met these great men but I suggest you make time to get to know them, you will not regret it. May be they will answer a question or two that has been plaguing you for a long time. Issac newton once said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.  There are countless giants who are ready to lend their shoulders to humanity across time and space, it is up to us to choose to do so and it is absolutely essential for us to do so if we wish to push humanity forward.

Yours Hopefully,

Manoj BS

Why books?

Well, this is not one of those articles that give you scientific “facts” about how reading benefits your bowel movements, nor am I going to say that it psychologically affects your mental prowess and gives you awesome powers of telekenesis. I was one of those people  who really hated reading books. Whenever my friends yapped  for hours about how super awesome the book that they just read was, instead of spending days devouring page after page, day and night like they did, I would just wait for the movie to come so that it will all be over in a matter of hours. I considered myself efficient and enlightened. But I noticed one peculiar thing that happened with all these readers, they would never be satisfied with the movie that was made from the book that they read and I allways wondered why?

So I decided to tread into the unknown abyss of ‘books’!

And right through the rabbit hole I fell; Rode the blue dragon; Swallowed the snich; Found the Alchemist; Spotted the Rose line; Pulled snow sleds; Played with anti-matter; Spoke with Mr.Ghandhi and ‘che’ Guevara.

Have you ever thought may be, Instead of  Timothy Olyphant, Jason statham would’ve been a better agent-47 ? Or may be Robin hood should’ve been a little less muscular? Or Voldemort  should’ve had a more callous voice? Or the details like this sword should’ve been a katana and not a bulky claymore, he should’ve worn blue shirt and not red, not just Mr.Bond but all the heroes should’ve had cooler cars? Well, I’ve thought of all this and now this was all suddenly possible. It was like a movie made just for me and me only. I didnt see what the director wanted me to see but i saw what I wanted to see, with the people whom I thouht were perfect to play the roles, spoke and did things how I wanted them to do, with the best possible special effects and with uncomparable detail which was beyond any animator and HD, and if I am not satisfied with it, i could revert back, change what I wanted to change and play it again. This was all happening inside my head! Each book gets an oscar for everything, from acting to art direction.

In addition to this you get some extra perks too, Your reading speed becomes insanely good. In the process, You can actually understand some hi-fi words spoken by eminent people. Now when your friend yaps about that new awesome book he read, you can join him and yap about how super duper awesome the book was. You can stop lying in your resume that your hobby is reading. And the best of all, your mom stops scolding you for sitting infront of the computer for so long and instead she thinks that you are doing something productive<Ha! Ha! Ha!>

And there are the side effects too, your mom keeps scolding you not to bring the book to the dining table and yes, Now you will also feel that they really screwd up that movie!

But if you think that you are too old for Dragons, Elves and Spells, believe me, you are not and you never will be!