On Cockroaches

I suck at poems but I try

– Abhiram

We are resilient.

We were here long before you were born, and we will be here, long after you’re gone.

We are intransigent.

We wander into your house like we own it. And in many ways we do.

We are stealthy.

We creep along the sides, on the walls, on the blinds. We whisper to the inner walls of vessels.

We are cautious.

You may catch us unawares, with your stares and your scares. You may scream at the gleam of our hide — you desire it. (Or not.)

We are evasive.

Your presence is not lost on me, but you don’t matter. You may stamp me, you may hurl me, you may wrap me up in that encasing you call a cover. You may squash me , smash me, destroy my shell and my dreams of meeting a lover.

I might die. And that’s alright.

For we were here long before you were born, and we will be here, long after you’re gone.

Thank you MCU :) Endgame.

There are no spoilers here but I have thoughts about the journey I’ve been a part of as a viewer aboard this Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) rollercoaster and I’m going to share a little bit of that here.

Movies are churned out by the hundreds every year. So what makes superhero movies so special? What makes Superheroes special? There is definitely a faction out there that will say “Nothing”, but the vast majority of us, superheroes are a symbol of hope and wonder, the fact that acts are being done by individuals that the rest of us can only…marvel..over. For all the hypocritical beings that we are, we still yearn for personal justice and superheroes seem to provide us that.

For the past 11 years, over 22 movies, the MCU has been giving us just that, perhaps not meeting expectations every time but always leaving us with something to talk about and the characters themselves to visualise as perfect images in our own minds, either in agreement or in criticism of their works.

This movie, Avengers : End Game, is special in that sense, if not for anything else (even though it IS for more reasons) . It marks the end of an era and in an extremely satisfying way. Iron Man both, as a character and as the first movie that started this train off in 2008, has been one of my absolute favourites partly because of our shared affinity to everything tech. Add to that Robert Downey Jr’s charisma and his chemistry with the (again) perfectly-cast Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and you get one brilliant character. Every scene that they’ve been in since then has been my favourite throughout the years and this movie is no exception.

The mind works in mysterious ways and we as humans have evolved over time to embrace cliffhangers very well – Chris Nolan has left no dearth of training us to accept those as brilliant ends for movies. But what the mind also desires, and subjectively, is happier obtaining, on a parallel vein, is Closure. And Endgame gives us that. When the movie ended after 3 hours, a duration that is long on its face but seemed to fly away in this context, I remember feeling exactly how I’d felt when Logan ended. Like there was a knot in my chest that didn’t seem to want to untie itself.

I’m not going to tell you anything specific about the movie. If you’ve been a fan of the franchise, you’ll watch it and you’ll form opinions about it. But I really hope you love it 🙂

And I guess it’s okay that it’s over. You know? Part of the journey Is the end, after all.

And if nothing else, we will always have Blu-Ray discs to watch and relive it all again.

Writer’s Fatigue

We are all writers in a sense – coders write code, digital marketers write Facebook and E-Mail posts and an advocate writes legal proposals or notices. But this article aims to address those who write long form text in order to inform or educate or entertain – either by way of journalistic reports, enthusiastic essays or even casual book or movie reviews.

Both the segments have something to sell – some form of an idea, translated into its end forms. But the latter segment, I’ve found, needs more persistence if they are to be successful in their endeavor. We’ve all heard of “Writer’s block”, that excuse most authors offer up as an excuse to explain their laziness and/or procrastination. And there are a lot of articles on how to overcome this (imaginary) affliction. But relatively less is spoken about how writers end their works. There are some, of course, but the phenomenon is experienced more than it is spoken about. Let’s assume therefore that the writer; a writer, is all gung-ho about what he’s writing and has a solid start and an idea in place; a solid premise with which to begin his work. And he continues putting on paper, so to speak, the words that are taking shape in his mind as he takes context into account of what he has already written. And at some point, when the facts have been laid out and he has said what he has had to say, the crux of the idea, atleast, he pauses. He hasn’t really thought this through. He scratches his head and looks around for inspiration. Maybe some object in his surrounding can be incorporated in his work that will bring him closer to a conclusion. He retraces his steps and reads what he’s already written. Did he miss some logical threads? Did he jump the gun at some point to an unobvious inference? He hasn’t. In the meantime he’s received a ping on his cellphone that prompts him to check on a tweet he’s posted earlier in the day. It’s a response cheering him on. He’s boasted promisingly about how he means to write something concrete by the end of the day. He guiltily slinks back to the minimized document and rests his hand on the keyboard, by now having forgotten where his thoughts wandered off and he rereads the last line. He tries thinking about the original premise again. Should he add an alternate angle to the pot? Will this help him round off the whole thing nicely by stating that all perspectives having been looked at, this is the logical end of the topic in question? Perhaps. He thinks about all the authors he’s read. How did they conclude their works? The last arrow in his quiver – imitation. But even drawing inspiration from that seems laborious. His eyes droop. He yawns. He’s exhausted..his brain cells are slowly shutting down, having thought so much about something that should, ideally, not be so tough to do now that he’s managed to convey his original idea pretty cogently. But, as easy as it should be, the end is, in fact, a very important part of the article. But the writer is tired and he makes up a lazy half-assed conclusion and hits “Publish”. He’s victorious. He has completed his work, hasn’t he? He’s too tired to feel guilty, to acknowledge the gnawing voice in his head that’s telling him he hasn’t done complete justice to what he set out to do.

Another important parameter in this discussion and one that’s even more relevant today than it has ever been is distraction. Humans today have shockingly low attention spans, fueled by smartphones and the Internet and false measures of satisfaction received from hits of dopamine from social networking sites that they think they’ve made contributions to by way of one-line statuses and “microblog” entries. Likes and Reactions and Hearts do nothing to disabuse us of our misguided notions. These excuse for ideas are fleeting and are wasted on the transient content hoarders. Their only purpose is to give us those bursts of “happiness” and are not of any value when ideas have to germinate and grow in our minds. And while there are many thinkers and doers on these websites that do offer up tons of free advice and thoughts that poke and tickle our minds, these effects are again, impermanent and do not leave any lasting traces to better us as individuals. Let’s say you do draw some value. It’s still minuscule compared to what you’re losing out on in the process. This is a massive reason for Writer’s Fatigue.

Paraphrasing a quote that has dated well from when it was originally made, I believe in 1867, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”,most people are told. Maybe they’re friends of this writer. Maybe the journal that’s published his work has some faith in his past works and this article has therefore passed muster. And so, the first network that this writer can reach reads the article. The fact that it starts off strong dripping and showcasing the pinnacle of his enthusiasm is very good. But if, by the time, the reader reaches the end of the article and is not offered the requisite satisfaction, or if his interest has somehow dwindled by the 60 or 70% mark, the writer has quite unambiguously failed in his efforts. He has transferred the idea he wished to convey to the reader, sure. But the idea will not linger. Because it is now clouded with this air of dissatisfaction. If, even by chance, conversations are struck up about this piece of work, it will always have words synonymous with “okay” or “alright” attached to it. And the secondhand narrative will not come off as persuasive as it could have been. A whole second network of readers deprived of an idea all because of the writer’s fatigue; his failure to end his article with the same interest he had started his article with. And this is the damage that “writer’s fatigue” can do.

Is there a solution to this? Is there a way a writer can power ahead and give an article the kind of conclusion it deserves? Will a reader be rewarded for the time he has invested in the article all the way to the bottom of the page?

One of the most obvious solutions is to take a page out of Stephen Covey’s book. He famously remarked – “Begin with the End in Mind“. Easier said than done, yes. But it always helps if you sit and think about the entire draft and not just the meat of the matter, before putting pen to paper.

Another step in the right direction would be to deprive one’s self of all distractions while writing so as to not interrupt the flow of thoughts. In the dozen short stories I’ve written so far, only a couple of them have had satisfying endings, if I say so myself, because they’ve been written with some amount of intense focus, and it shows. The irony that this very post will be shared on the vile aforementioned social networking websites is not lost on me. But I have tried to prevent myself in their usage while working on this post. Attempting to walk the talk, as it were.

If the subject has a conclusion of its own – like the end of a movie or the last page of a book, that’s easier to see as a logical end, but even that shouldn’t be jumped to just because you’re tired of writing. Because, as I’ve already said, a skydiving experience is only blissful, if your parachute opens up and you land safely, gracefully. The alternative is a plunge that no one recovers from. Abstract subjects are less easy to end, but for these, a scope of discussion must be established.

Of course, these aren’t silver bullets and you are ultimately at the mercy of the subject of what you’re writing about, the amount of practice you’ve had and your own mind. I’m learning how to overcome it consistently myself. But I hope this atleast helps address the issue if not resolve it.

Maybe this isn’t a satisfying end to this article either.

Maybe it is.


What do you think? Have you faced Writer’s Fatigue? If yes, what’s your way of tackling it?

Red Seas under Red Skies

Author : Scott Lynch

Disclaimer 1SPOILER ALERT
Disclaimer 2 – I had no frame of reference for comparison in the previous book. This time I do. And I intend to make full use of the privilege. There will be multiple references to “The Lies of Locke Lamora”, hereby abbreviated TLoLL.


I started this as soon as I was done with book #1 in the Gentleman Bastard series and that’s saying something about how captivated the first book’s world building left me that I didn’t want to get out of it. This, the 2nd book in the series was very good as well. Did I like it as Much as I did Book 1? No. But it still stood well on its own. Feels familiar to how Well of Ascension was in comparison to The Final Empire (Mistborn #2 and #1 respectively.)
If TLoLL had us following Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen solely on land, this time their time was distributed between both land and sea. The book opens to a present-scene of confrontation and double-crossing (Scott Lynch wastes no time) and then we’re taken to a time when their previous story ended and this one began – aboard a ship sailing for Tal Verrar from Camorr. As in TLoLL, here as well, we have multiple timelines being narrated – a timeline of preparation for their activities and setting the stage for the “play” they mean to enact around unsuspecting characters and another timeline 2 years hence where the trickery is afoot. The main antagonists, so to speak, are Requin & Selendri and Maxilan Stragos and Merrain.
Initially all Locke and Jean wanted to do was hoodwink Requin at the Sinspire and escape, but they find themselves unwillingly at the mercy of Stragos after the latter poisons them and enlists them as his contractors, giving them the task of stirring up trouble from the seas and bringing back piracy to Tal Verrar, so that he, Stragos could defeat them using his navy and seem victorious in the eyes of the city, so as to seem in control as opposed to his current shunted standing. This puts quite the dent in Locke and Jean’s plans, so they have to improvise their plans to factor this new development and Locke decides to do what he does best – pretend to be a double agent, trying to gain the favors of Requin to beat Stragos, who the Master of the Sinspire does not like either. 
Following this brief bit of initial setup on land, the duo are sent to sea to pretend Captain and First Mate of a ship called The Red Messenger, assisted and directed behind the scenes by an actual seamaster, Caldris. Unfortunately Caldris dies while they are at sea and they are found out by the crew and mutinied. 
This is the first of admittedly very few hints of convenience I felt Scott Lynch exploited as he introduced Captain Drakasha and her ship, the very people who the Archon needed as pawns for his plan, into the mix, with no real struggle on Locke and Jean’s part except a few hours of sailing on a boat.
Aside from that and a couple other mild issues, I felt the overall plot was well done and tied together. The finesse of TLoLL was missing as was a lot of the banter and Father Chains, Calo, Galdo and Bug were missed. There was also a gaping hole in the non-usage of an “ally” they picked up as they were training for their tower-jumping escapade at The Sinspire. But I’m sure that was a calculated move.

Locke had set himself up to be the primary antihero in TLoLL. Here we see Locke a lot in the background as compared to Jean. Then again, this can be argued to be a plot feature illustrating Locke’s mood and possible post-trauma effects inflicted upon him because of his losses and his wounds. To that end, the romance between Jean and Ezri Delmastro and the focus on their relationship was a pleasant introduction and read; not at all overly mushy as these scenes tend to be. What I also liked was how Scott gave the series a strong female character in Drakasha. I loved the chapters where was in focus and her way of balancing a ship as well as her role as a mother. The touch of insistence that a cat and a woman were necessary for a smooth sailing and several minute details were also very welcome.


One thing I noticed particularly was how we see Stragos’ mind at work in one of the chapters – his perspective was given importance. We’ve been used to seeing only the protagonists’ perspectives thus far. This also set the tone for Merrain as a far more important player than she portrayed herself to be, which was evident when she escaped despite Jean and Locke’s efforts and plans. 
Another thing that I loved was the consistency in the relationship between Jean and Locke; they remained thick as …well..thieves throughout, even with that one minor argument they had that they bounced back from relatively quickly, ego suppressed and all that. Well done. And Locke’s act in the final scene was lovely. Sealed the deal and all that.

I won’t tell you how the book ends for two reasons – If you’ve read it, you already know. And if you haven’t, I’d rather you discover this bit for yourself. I can’t rob you of that pleasure even if you did sign up for the spoilers.

I’m definitely looking forward to reading The Republic of Thieves for 3 reasons – The Bondsmagi of Karthain, Sabetha’s arc and to see if Locke escapes the clutches of death again.

PS – Learnt a lot about ships and nautical terms in this book. Good, that.

Subjective Rating: 4.0/5.0.

J is for Jealousy [#AtoZChallenge]

Subbu’s jaw dropped.

“And I got this for my last birthday”, Mani said as he produced a white, shiny Hot Wheels car. “And this one was for my previous 95 out of 100 in Social Studies”. Another item emerged from the bag that seemed to hold an infinite supply of toys – this time a GiJoe. It was the short break hour and Mani had decided to exhibit his collection atop Prema ma’am’s table that day to his huddled group of gawking, incredulous classmates. “Mani”, Subbu asked when he finally found his voice, “What does your father do?”. This endowment of seemingly hundreds of toys could only be justified if Mani’s father owned a toy shop. “Don’t you know da?”, Mani asked with a mixture of condescension and genuine puzzlement, “Your father and my father are colleagues at the same company.”. The knot in Subbu’s chest tightened and he found himself looking at the bench lost in thought about the unfairness being meted out to him by life, his parents and everyone. He had scored a lot of 95s as well. Mostly in English, but it counted, didn’t it? He was shaken from his reverie by Murugan who was by now staring daggers at Mani. “He thinks he’s some sort of big shot just because he has more toys than us. We’ll see who’s smiling when something goes missing.”. Subbu didn’t like the glint in Murugan’s eyes but he didn’t want to antagonise his friend, so he meekly nodded hoping his face didn’t betray his conscience.  Mani had just finished displaying a tiny He-Man eraser (that held in an outstretched plastic hand a small, but sharp plastic sword of sorts, sharp enough to prick any of Subbu’s mental balloons of happiness, if any were left), when Prema ma’am walked into the classroom and Mani hastily replaced all the objects back into his “akshayapatra” of a bag and the rest of them hurriedly took their places in their seats.

Later during lunch, Subbu spotted Mani frantically looking for something. He had an inkling as to what might have happened but he innocently went and asked the worried boy, “Mani, are you searching for something?”. Mani looked up ashen-faced at Subbu and said, “My brand new kaleidoscope, Subbu. Have you seen it?”. Subbu thought Murugan might have something to do with this missing tube of mirrors but he shook his head vigorously…perhaps a little too vigorously, for Mani surveyed him for a few seconds as though the location of the missing cylinder was marked with an “X” on Subbu’s forehead, before resuming his search under the desks. The latter stayed there a few more minutes watching the former struggle before sympathetically patting him on his back and walking away. 

As he moved away from the seeker he saw Murugan, standing a few benches away, looking at Mani with a satisfied expression on his face. “See how he pitifully searches for his Parker Pen”, he smirked with a whisper once Subbu was within earshot. Subbu furrowed his eyebrows – “Parker ..Pen?” he thought, but not aloud. “Now Mani has lost two items, only one of which he has noticed missing”, he brooded. “Subbu?”, Murugan enquired, “Do you think we should keep it for ourselves or break it?”. Subbu frowned. Of course, he had been jealous of how many more things Mani had and maybe a tiny part of him had revelled at the thought of Mani grappling with the loss of one of his prized possessions that he had “shown off”, but was he, Subbu, an evil person? What would Harry Potter do? He pondered the paths his heroes from fiction and mythology might take if faced with such moral questions and decided with a resolve as a wave of shame washed over him – “No”, and prepared himself to patronise Murugan for his action; but the thief had vanished out of sight and Subbu’s eyes wandered back to a still worried-looking Mani. He walked back to the bemoaner and said with the tone of a savior, “Don’t worry Mani, I’ll help you find your pen…err..telescope.”, he corrected himself as Mani looked at him quizzically. “Kaleidoscope”, he was corrected. Subbu adopted a loftier expression all the while muttering to himself about having overcome jealousy and being the bigger man and yet being corrected by ungrateful monsters. As he bent under the desk himself, he wondered if he should bring up the topic of adequate compensation with his parents and ran a possible scenario over in his head about how that conversation with his father might go –

He would gingerly broach the topic – “Appa, Mani had brought 4 HotWheels cars today.”
Appa would remark only partially listening – “Mm Hmm.”
He would repeat the premise for father’s benefit.
Appa would feign interest this time and look at him as if to wonder why this sentence was being posed to him.
Then he would ask for an increase in number of cars for himself and let the chips fall where they may. He had no idea how Appa would react to this new man with a spine, but he was prepared to try, for justice’s sake.

For the second time that day, he jerked back to reality only to notice that he had wandered off to the opposite row of benches on his knees, all the while, trying to look for Mani’s kaleidoscope, obviously unsuccessfully. As he prepared to abandon the search, he spotted a glint of something shiny by the trash can situated at the left end of Prema ma’am’s table. He rushed to it and picked it up even as it came undone in his hand, the glass pieces smashed to smithereens. It would seem that in Mani’s haste to pick up his things, this tube had fallen to the ground and scattered. He brought the remnants of the tube and the bad news back to Mani. The boy took one look at the glass pieces and started weeping profusely, spluttering pieces of speech from which Subbu gathered that Mani had had to sweep the entire house to get his Appa to buy him this what-was-once-a-fine-bangle-piece-displayer. Subbu felt even more sympathetic towards this boy and thought he should probably, at this point, not add insult to injury by enquiring if Mani had noticed anything else missing from his Bag of Wonders. By this time, two more of their classmates had arrived by Mani’s side and had begun consoling him. Subbu felt confident about the moral support Mani was receiving and decided to confront Murugan immediately, chide him, maybe teach him a lesson or two about the virtues of honesty and the horridness of jealousy and get the pen back to Mani before the latter even discovered its loss – surely the poor boy had suffered enough already.

His thoughts and actions were interrupted by Prema ma’am walking in again with an expression of what he could only surmise was absolute rage. She slammed the notebooks she was holding onto her table and dust from 1947 rose up to fill the air in the classroom, it seemed.

“Everyone take your bags and keep them on your desks”, she said, in an icy tone. Subbu blinked and looked around at his classmates who looked equally clueless.

“One of you has stolen my Parker Pen and I’m going to find out who.”

The Lies of Locke Lamora

Author : Scott Lynch

I find myself shaking my head in amazement, shuddering as I write this. This was one hell of a journey. I started this having finished a few Sanderson books and my head was full of magic systems and I somehow led myself to believe that this book was along those same lines. But as I started reading and finding no hints of any visible sorcery (atleast in the first half), I thought I would be disappointed, but the disappointment never came. I just felt more and more sucked in with each passing page.
Right from the get-go in fact, when “Father” Chains is introduced to the would-be Thorn of Camorr, the grasp of a promised-roller coaster held on tight and never let go. Locke’s weaving in and out of disguises as Lucas Fehrwright, a Midnighter and everything in between, and his camaraderie with the Gentleman Bastards – Calo, Galdo, Bug and Jean was everything I could have wanted in a book if not more. All the minor and “boss” antagonists (Conte, the Capas )are given a believable amount of power and matched well against the protagonists which is more than I can say for many other books which leave you feeling a sense of disbelief at the protagonist’s sudden victory or his/her unfair ease.
Scott Lynch’s writing style of alternating between the present-day-plot and the trainings-in-the-past make for an interesting experience as well. Over the chapters you come to recognise that what he talks about as an episode or a learning in the past will be relevant almost immediately in the chapters to come as an instrument in the present. The language is very rich as well. At many times I found myself marvelling over the exquisite (yet not overly grandiose) construction of sentences.
The story is compelling on its own merit as well, even without the rich characters and detailed world building (Shades Hill, Perelando etc) . We start off with the fleshing of characters, followed by a well crafted masterplan of theft, all of which pale smoothly when you realise what the story is really about – Revenge

I loved it.

Favorite quotes –

(Reveal)
Such was the custom with every note that was sealed in blue with nothing but the stylized sigin of a spider for its credentials. : Chapter 9

(Revenge)
“When you see the Crooked Warden,” said Locke, twisting something in his hands, “tell him that Locke Lamora learns slowly, but he learns well. And when you see my friends, you tell them that there are more of you on the way.” : Chapter 10

(Healing)
“You are learning that what you require and what your frame may endure can be two very different things.” : Chapter 12

Subjective rating: 5.0/5.0

Warbreaker

Author : Brandon Sanderson

“My life to yours, my Breath become yours.”
Breath and colors. That’s what this book uses as tools in an articulate game of War. The central characters are Siri, Vivenna, Susebron, Vasher, Nightblood, LightSong and Denth. None of these names mean anything to you if you haven’t read the book yet. Anyway, the book starts off with the attempt of a treaty fulfilment between Idris and Hallandren, the two cities at the center of this story, the former a minor kingdom desiring to appease the latter. To this end, a princess is to be sent from Idris to Hallandren so a royal heir can be obtained to take over and continue the current God King’s rule. But the king of Idris sends the youngest of his daughters Siri as opposed to the eldest, Vivenna who should have rightfully been sent. This in itself wouldn’t have been a problem, but the political unrest that is already present in Hallandren as a result of resident Idrian rebels is what kickstarts the rest of the drama that unfolds. 
And that’s what this really is at the end of the day – a political drama with a magic system that has two feet to stand on its own but when I compare it to Mistborn, the system that revolves around Breath and “Awakening” really didn’t appeal to me all that much. It was a good story, with its highs and lows and suspense-points, but I didn’t have the same kind of high at the end as I did when I finished The Hero of Ages.
What I did enjoy however was the plentiful banter between sets of characters – Lightsong and Blushweaver, Denth and Tonk Fah, Nightsong and Vasher (such as it was). I loved the way he grew the relationship between Siri and Susebron from one of one-sided fear to the stable relationship it culminated in (not a spoiler). And I will say this for Sanderson – he does not leave many loose ends. I’d have liked to know if Fafen ever did anything of consequence , for example. But that is still an itch that is solely in my mind and has no bearing as far as the story is concerned which tied together well enough. 
All in all, a good read. 

Subjective Rating : 4.0 / 5.0