Religion as Science Fiction

I’ve always grappled with religion and its role in my life and others around me. I’ve gone from somewhat religious to being Agnostic to Agnostic-Atheist. As far as I am concerned, my own relationship with religion is bitter. I can never have a problem with someone being religious though, that is their prerogative and if they derive some benefits from it then good for them. What is a problem though is when they try to impose and defend this imposition for purely emotional reasons and sometimes financial. But that’s not what i want to write about right now.

I was browsing a bookstore and while browsing through the Fiction and Science Fiction shelves i almost didn’t realize that religious books for some reason intentionally or unintentionally were placed in the Science Fiction section and I found it quite hilarious. Whether purposeful or just some mistake, its a nice subtle jab.

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When you see it…

It also got me thinking again about the topic I’ve pondered over many times in life and have seen it explored many times in various media as well : Religion as Science Fiction. What if religion was just a bunch of made up stories from those eras and somehow over the years it morphed into some sort of global fandom which follows different versions of the same story and tries to defend their version as the true one. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Most religious texts and stories are similar if not same. They all say pretty much the same thing with the only difference being that they’re coming from different texts from different eras and different people. Some religions are extinct but their texts and stories survive. The few things that separate religion from any other form of media is that it plays an active role in daily life and many millions of people derive some form of spiritual fulfillment and often believe their gods to exist in some form. Many even consider their religious texts as ┬ásome sort of a guide to life and consider as their philosophy.

So I guess it won’t be entirely wrong to consider followers of any religion as a fandom of that particular religion. And as is the case with many fandoms of various kind of media, they can get highly destructive and toxic because they consider the media property they follow to be something sacred and not to be messed with because it will ruin the essence of it even though its not their own property. They’re just emotionally and sometimes financially invested in it but are not its owners or creators. Rick & Morty, Jainism, Sherlock, Islam, Game of Thrones, Hinduism. All of them are prime examples of this destructive, toxic behavior by fans and followers. There are many more but these are what I have personally experienced. I guess this is a large topic – Similarities between fandoms and followers of religions. The gist being that its the same type of behavior more or less.

Religion isn’t a problem, its the followers and their own interpretations of everything surrounding it. And often different parts of the world interpret the same texts differently too. This is because there is no consensus on any kind on what text or what interpretation is “right” or even standard. Maybe that’s why it has such a universal appeal, anyone can interpret it as they want. This is a double-edged sword and history has shown how it can hurt too.

 

Shopping for Electronics

I recently went shopping for a washing machine. Our decades old legendary Hitachi finally breaking down often, we decided this was the best time to get one. In any other household, this would have been easier because of past experiences of brands, shops and after sales services. In our case, we were buying a washing machine after almost half a century. Yeah. All hail the Hitachi PAF-820.

How this thing came into being is forgotten now but as per my dad, he bought this beast when he was traveling through Singapore and Malaysia sometime in the 70s. This thing has NEVER broken down in all these years. Not once. We’ve never had to call for repairs all these years. It kept doing its job everyday without fail and without breakdown. Such things are unheard of in today’s day when home electronics don’t last beyond 5-10 years depending on what it is. Anecdotes from relatives and friends heard over the years is that Air conditioners and fridges typically last a decade or less, Televisions get problematic withing 5 years, washing machines between 5-7 years, irons last anywhere between 2-5 years. Our washing machine has broken all sorts of estimates.

When you want to buy something like this for the first time, you tend to ask a few people so you get a general idea of what to expect and its generally a good thing to do in a country like India because not only do you get a general review of the product but also the manufacturer, the after sales, the shop you buy it from, offers, discounts, etc etc. All this information would be fantastic if it wasn’t full of biases, outright lies, misinformation, lack of technical knowledge, buyers remorse and what not.

Its often tiring to weed through all this and find some grain of truth because once you ask someone they inundate you with all this and more. And it doesn’t stop. These things are often a topic of general talk and debate in family gatherings. My mom must have casually mentioned that we might need a new machine soon and pretty much all the people in that room had their washing machine bible ready and started suggesting the instant she finished that sentence. I get that they’re trying to help. But most of them don’t understand what they’re talking about. I have seen a pattern to these discussions where various biases for various things often get mixed up and shared. Some examples –

  1. The Retailer – The retailer is the first target of any kind of bias because you have to first go visit a few retailers to get a general idea for the various models, prices, offers, discounts, after sales (from the retailers side) and everything else. As per many people I know, if a retailer fails to provide – a good discount, a good price, a good offer, freebies, extra after sales, timely delivery (in any order) they’re bad forever. FOREVER. Its a forbidden place now. Apparently you won’t get ANY good deals on ANYTHING henceforth and you should stay away from this place FOREVER as if it has the plague. Hyperbole, I know. But this is what some genuinely believe. Reliance, Croma, Next, Vijay Sales or the local shop all suck because THEY could not get the required deal and the other place, which is either Croma, Next, Vijay Sales or some other local shop, is good because they gave you what you wanted. Basically all retailers suck and all retailers are amazing at the same time.
  2. The Manufacturer – After seeing the choices you ask which brand is best and everyone will again give different answers. Some of the answers are downright weird like my all time favorite shit argument “the products of X brand suck now because its made in China now instead of Japan/Korea/Taiwan/Germany/USA” and my next favorite shit argument “It sucks because I had a bad experience X number of years ago and therefore you should stay away from them too”. Apparently Samsung is good now because everyone knows and buys Samsung phones. LG is always something you buy after you don’t get your primary choice. Whirlpool and Voltas are something you don’t even consider till you see the price differences because their branding is such. Siemens, Bosch are something you don’t even remember exists because zilch marketing and are good because German. Then there are those forgettable in-store brands which are just branded Chinese imports. People often forget that just because their Samsung phone is top notch doesn’t mean their ACs, fridges and washing machines would be the same. These shit tier per-concieved notions often make it difficult to purchase anything.
  3. Idiotic Beliefs & Practices – If all of the above was not enough, there are ignorant, baseless and downright stupid arguments that get thrown around as a counter argument to buying certain kinds of electronic items. The most popular target is the microwave. Retarded arguments like Microwaves cause cancer and what not are always discussed by misinformed and ignorant people who parrot whatever they heard by other such people without questioning it. Another popular target is the cell phone. Televisions were a prime target back in the CRT days. WhatsApp copy pastas are often shared about these things. When these types of points are discussed, you know its time to keep quiet and move on to a different topic altogether because the original point has been lost.

I just keep quiet for most of such discussions because it is futile to correct people’s misconceptions if they are not willing to be open minded. Yes, I do speak when there is a chance that someone will appreciate what I have to share. After much thought, we bought a Siemens front load washing machine after ignoring much of what people said.

To keep it simple, keep quiet and enjoy the popcorn. Do your own research and buy what is best for you. It’s your money after all!

Lonavala died a long time ago.

A couple of weeks ago, me and my entire family decided to go to Lonavala for the long weekend. Anyone living in Mumbai has gone to Lonavala atleast once in their lifetime because of its location. Easily accessible by road, colder weather compared to Mumbai, scenic views, general greenery and next to another hill station Khandala. Lonavala – Khandala were places where you could catch a break from city life, breathe in fresh mountain air and go back home relaxed. However in the last one and a half decades these two places, especially Lonavala have undergone massive changes which have ruined everything that made Lonavala famous in the first place. There are several reasons why this place which was blessed with lush green spaces and lakes has become just another city like Mumbai and Pune.

Ease of access – One can reach Lonavala in under 3 hours thanks to freeways. This is why this place is very popular among tourists on weekends. Lonavala is so popular during weekends and long weekends that it causes massive jams. Such is the traffic that it makes it to the local papers almost every month. Ease of access is a good thing. It keeps the economy of Lonavala – Khandala alive and flourishing. But it has lead to a huge number of tourists coming in, trashing and leaving the place. Too much of anything is bad and this is true for tourists as well. This phenomena is not new and unique. Dubrovnik in Croatia, National Parks in the US, Amsterdam and many more cities around the world, all suffering from “too many tourists”. This affects not just local residents but also impacts local economy too.

Trash and Garbage everywhere – This is a problem almost everywhere in India. But Lonavala is a prime contender for one of the most unclean tourist destinations in India. The city itself is clean though, but the trash I saw at the tourist points was unbelievable. Especially at Karla Caves, Tiger Point. It was filthy and these places have made it to my blacklist of never visit again. There is tourst trash everywhere on the roads – Disposed packets of water, food and plastic cutlery and tableware thrown out all around.

Unregulated attractions – Lonavala’s attractions were mostly natural. Places like Tiger Point, Lion Point, Duke’s Nose, Rajmachi, etc. Tiger Point was extremely saddening because it is infested with food stalls which serve you instant noodles, pakodas and what not and each stall makes their own sitting arrangements within the point itself. The moment you get out of your car you will be hounded by tens of waiters hounding you to with their menus which are all the same. If you agree to any one of them, they immediately shout to their chair and table guy to set up a table right next to the view point! The things you order are then served in disposable tableware which are dumped, you guessed it, over the cliff. On one hand, you have a breathtaking view of the ghats and the moment you look down, all you see is piles of trash. Did i mention there are free roaming cows too? This has to be one of the most abused tourist attractions i have ever seen in my life. This is true for pretty much all the other places too.

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Tiger Point – A natural view point destroyed by tourists and unregulated vendors.
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Trash discarded on the cliff. Bonus – Tourists jumping protective fences and risking their life for a selfie. Now you know why India leads in Selfie deaths.

The same was true for Kalra Caves. The caves themselves are fantastic. But years of neglect and abusive tourism has eroded much of the history and turned it into a picnic spot. There is a temple there right in front of the caves now built in the last few years which was never there and blocks the entire view of the main caves. I asked a few locals and they said it was sanctioned by the local government. Applause for that.

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Graffiti and trash (not visible in the picture)
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The temple built in the last few years blocks the entire view and entrance to the main caves. (lower right)

The climb to the Kalra Caves deserves another mention. The entire climb is extremely unsafe. The steps are dangerous, railings have been removed either by the hundreds of shops that have come up on the stairs to fit their shops or have been destroyed by neglect. There are so many shops on both sides that you cannot get a view of the vista surrounding these caves at all for major parts of the climb. You get a few glimpses here and there when for some reason there is no shop! These shops sell food packets, bottled water and cooked food. All of which is fine except there is no place to dump these once done so its either dumped by tourists right there or over the cliff. Or right near the caves. Caves carved out between 2nd and 5th Century BC are being abused by tourists who don’t give a fuck about anything beyond ticking off places on their list, taking pictures and going back home and unregulated shops who don’t give a fuck about anything other than wanting to sell their wares.

Catering to demanding tourists – The typical Indian tourist wants food they eat everyday with a little bit of variety here and there (because they’re out on holiday), wants to shop for whatever is famous locally (even though its not made locally and its on their list of things to buy because someone told them its good) and doesn’t want to get out of their bubble and explore the place for what it is, understand the culture. Rather they want to make it a home for the time they are there. This is how demanding tourists force local hotels, restaurants and shops to stock things they normally would not or make things they never did. Hotels and Restaurants bend over backwards to cater to these tourists just because its their bread and butter. Fast food joints are everywhere. There is a sea of sameness everywhere. The only difference that exists now is that the typical tourist is in Lonavala and not Mumbai or Pune. That’s it. They’re eating the same things, they’re paying for the same things. They just paid for these things in a different city.

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Yep.
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Typical street in Lonavala. Traffic jams, honking, trash and restaurants everywhere.

I could go on and on about all this but there are many articles on this already. This was a personal experience i decided to share. Never go to Lonavala during public holidays. Take some time out on a working weekday if you need to go there for a short vacation. Or better yet, find somewhere else to go because there is nothing to see here.

Bookstores

I love bookstores and books. They’re a great place to spend some time browsing books and sometimes even picking up a few books to read every now and then. But bookstores have changed in the last decade. As a kid I would never miss an opportunity to go to a bookstore – be it at Railway Stations, Malls or even the neighborhood store where you got mostly textbooks and stationary apart which also kept generic motivational books. The visit almost always ended with me buying a book even though most of the times I bought a comic book which my mom thought was a waste of money because “it barely had anything to read!” as she always said.

The bookshops like Crossword, Landmark and countless other stores which stacked novels and all kinds of books have undergone a massive change in not only the type of books they keep but also the type of consumers they serve. As a kid, visiting Crosswords at Ghatkopar was something i looked forward to every month or so. It had shelves full of books of all types. It even had a small shelf dedicated to comics. I have many fond memories of browsing and buying books there. It had only books and magazines. You could find obscure titles among the popular ones too. As the years passed, the books were still there but the shelves reduced, merchandise, toys and premium stationary also found its way here. All of the above was similar for Landmark as well.

Landmark is dead. If you visit a crossword bookstore now it has changed itself from a bookstore to a merchandise store which also sells best sellers. They changed with the times to stay relevant and I guess they are doing well? I don’t know. But I don’t see them going away anytime soon. Small independent bookstores never adapted to the modern times and find themselves struggling against a generation that has all sorts of entertainment in their pockets. Many blame e-commerce for their downfall but the truth is that these stores never innovated. They never became anything more than store. The arrival of e-commerce killed the need to go to a store so why would one go to a bookstore in the first place if the point was to just go and buy a book!

We still go to stores for clothes, groceries and medicines. The reasons vary but the primary reasons are for look and feel, personal service and trust. Books were always behind the counters at local stores so you had to deal with either the owner or the sales guy looking at you all the time you were there. If you did go to a store that allowed browsing, the books would either be packed in plastic so one couldn’t read a few pages before buying, had to deal with overly sticky sales people, rude owners and old, often damaged stock. Ofcourse there are exceptions to all these things.

Strand, a popular bookstore in Mumbai recently shut down. It created a sort of sadness among folks online and offline that a Bombay icon had died. Anyone who had ever been there would tell you why it was a good shop. The owner and his behavior with his customers. I never visited this shop because it was too far from where i live. What got to me was how everyone was blaming everything from the internet to ecommerce to today’s generation in the demise of Strand. Strand shut down not because of these things but the reasons i listed above. Failing to keep up with the times. As usual Hemant Morparia says it like it is.

Dealing with driver pee breaks

I think I have the worst luck when I book a ride through Ola or Uber. I somehow always end up with a driver who needs to take a pee break DURING the ride. I think I got 4 rides on my last 10 where the driver asks me if he can stop for a minute so he can empty his bladder. What can you even do in such a situation? I can’t deny because that would be inhuman and at the same time I am still being billed. And if this awkward situation wasn’t enough, this always happens when you need to be somewhere urgently or whenever you are in a hurry.

Today I was headed to Mulund in the morning and the ride was fantastic till I was about 2 lanes away from my destination. The driver pulls over near a public toilet and asks me if he can be excused. As if I have a choice. In my head I was telling him we are TWO LANES away, just drop me and empty your bowels while in reality I just said “oh ok”.

I get it. You gotta go when you gotta go. Its an unstoppable force. You’d drop everything and go too. Holding it in can cause a lot of problems and its never a good thing to hold it in for too long and too frequently. I think drivers of all kinds have trained themselves to have a holding tank instead of bladders. When your job is to drive all day, you’d maximise your time too. Pee breaks during a cab ride make more sense as a driver than while waiting to accept a ride because what if a ride pops up on your console and you are busy in the bathroom? That’s money down the drain!

But as a consumer its also fair to expect your driver to be fully prepared for a trip which includes emptying your bowels before a ride. Its only fair. You can’t blame nature for this all the time. Pee breaks during a ride should be an exception not the norm. And if you have repeated experiences like me you would eventually end up denying a driver a break during a ride because you are in a hurry and because you’ve had similar stoppages for no fault of yours too often in the past and have had enough of this. It starts to feel like a Modus Operandi of the drivers to bill you for their problem.

This isn’t an Indian problem. This is something that happens everywhere. I came across this article on drivers and bathroom breaks in the US on The Ringer. Its pretty startling as a non-American to read about pee-bottles and such other techniques drivers resort to to not waste time. As a passenger it grosses me out even more. This thread on uberpeople.net which is a forum for all sorts of drivers highlights the driver side of the problems and hacks some drivers use in such situations. Both highlight the human side of this problem which makes you wonder what would YOU do if you were in their place?

Whatever way you look at it, I think the best possible way is to just let them go. It is inhuman and impossible to judge a person who needs to go in such a situation. You have to give them the benefit of the doubt. At the same time, be wary of where they are stopping, especially at night time. If you are alone, you can always deny or tell them to stop over at the nearest fuel station or a restaurant where you would not be alone and maybe take a break yourself too.

 

Thoughts on “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck”

After my father passed away all of a sudden I felt like I had found myself in an alternative timeline by running too fast like the Flash. The world felt completely different and surreal. It was all too much for me and my family. I experienced all kinds of things in the last 4 months. I do not want to go through something like this again unprepared and neither do I want someone else to go through something like this unprepared.

I have always avoided the Self-Help genre and been skeptical of these books. It just never worked for me because I was never in need of any such advice and I was never the right audience for these kind of books. I have found new appreciation for this genre after all that I had been through and a new kind of respect for these books. I still think most are garbage and generic. But there are a few that stand out as being very practical and ones that make you go “huh, that’s pretty doable, why didn’t I think of that”. I think that if a book makes you think that way, it’s pretty solid in its content. This is what Mark Manson’s “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” did to me. It broke many of my notions and made me rethink my approaches. Of course, its easier said than done. It doesn’t change life overnight the moment you finish the last chapter. You will have to work on it and let it simmer till its a habit.

This book has so many quotable paragraphs that I just stopped bothering about marking important ones. There are a few that really stand out but the entire book is worth reading once. Some of the advice might seem really harsh but truth is harsh and so is life. I think this book is for everyone, age, gender, race doesn’t matte because Disappointment Panda affects everyone anyway.

My favorite chapters would be the last 3. Especially the last one on Death. It was very relatable to me in light of whatever happened to us. I think i will read this book every year just to remind myself over and over again that these are the things I need to focus on continuously. It is not a feel good self help book. Its a practical, rude awakening for everyone who reads it. I highly recommend this book, especially the last 3-4 chapters.

 

 

Television experiments

In February of this year, i went to Dubai and decided to buy a Chromecast there since it wasn’t available in India at that point and the ones available were pretty expensive. Many factors went into this decision. I had resisted buying any kind of streaming devices and subscribing to streaming services for as long as i could. They were too expensive, too few and apart from Netflix and Youtube, nothing really existed that was worth the time and money. Another reason for my resistance to stream was lack of an internet connection fast enough to support not just my streaming but the 7 or so phones in my home used by everyone since everyone latches onto the wifi.

Another huge reason i decided to try streaming was that Indian English movie channels were starting to mess with the aspect ratio of English movies, even in the HD feed! That was grating for me. Surprisingly, the Hindi movie channels keep the original aspect ratios intact! This did not compute in my head and i tried a lot to understand why this was so but found no rhyme or reason behind this.

After a few months of Chromecast, i switched to a firestick simply because Amazon Prime doesn’t work on Chromecast and the firestick, with its own remote and software inside the device, doesn’t require my phone at all. Its infinitely better.

Netflix came, Amazon Prime came, Youtube was always there and Hotstar was becoming better but it was my least favorite of the lot. I got the chromecast and started streaming as much as possible. Eventually i realised i was not even using my Tatasky DTH. I had completely moved to streaming all my television content. I was only paying for Netflix in the beginning though. Youtube was anyway free. A couple of movies from Google Play Movies here and there but that’s about it. The only reason i kept Tatasky was live sports. I hate streaming that and i prefer watching that on Tatasky in HD.

Now after 6 months of this, i am watching more independently created content and less of conventional TV Shows that used to be my staple earlier. I am addicted to good Youtube content. I fire up Youtube on my firestick more than any other app. I have discovered so many channels and vloggers in this period than the last decade of Youtube. I used to passively watch stuff on Youtube, now i do it actively.

Apart from this, Amazon Prime is a steal. Its so cheap i find it hilarious. Same goes for Hotstar. I subscribed to their yearly pack. I thought Hotstar would be a major disappointment but it’s turning out to be really really good! Netflix is the odd one out here. Hotstar, Prime and Youtube have so much Indian and regional content apart from Hollywood and Western content that you don’t really need Netflix anymore. It is already expensive when compared to Hotstar and Prime. I paid Rs. 500 for Prime for the WHOLE YEAR, Rs. 700 for Hotstar for a subscription for the whole YEAR. In comparison, Netflix costs me Rs. 650 PER MONTH for Netflix. This is supremely expensive.

Regardless of all this, this is a great time for anyone who does not want to get DTH, and still wants to watch all the TV Shows and movies. DTH can be expensive and despite paying a lot for HD Channels you still get cropped movies. The Firestick and the 3 main streaming services in India – Amazon Prime, Netflix & Hotstar should serve your needs. Get a decent internet connection and you won’t feel the absence of traditional Cable/DTH. Worth every penny.