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  some 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!

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.

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.

 

Exploring HP Lovecraft

I knew HP Lovecraft was a (not so) well known and influential horror writer and his short stories have influenced horror and myths in fiction. But i had never read any of his stories, had just heard about them. One of my earliest memories of learning about the existence of Lovecraft was when i discovered comics based on the Cthulhu Mythos. I grew up watching those mysterious shows about Aliens and strange creatures and one of them was Animal X on Animal Planet. Cthulu appealed to me and i wanted to read about it but never found the starting point that i always look for when it comes to a series in any media. So i let it go but the name and the creature stuck with me.

Over the years i finally realised where and what this series of stories originated from. I was finally convinced that i should definitely read Lovecraft. Now the hunt began for searching the right book that would serve my purpose. I wanted one single book that had all his fiction and after a lot of searching, i finally bought this Hardcover from Knickerbocker Classics which has all his fictional works.

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The Complete Fiction of HP Lovecraft (Knickerbocker Classics)

I cannot emphasize enough about how beautiful this book is. The box on the outside has a very detailed illustration of Cthulu which wraps around the whole box and in the center is the name of the book. The Book itself is a nice hardcover with readable large fonts and white pages neatly divided into different chapters. Its one of my favorite books to hold and read and its PERFECT to display on a bookshelf.

I’m hoping i like his work because it sounds very appealing to me. I’ve sort of neglected horror as far as books are concerned not because i am scared to read anything but because i’ve never been gripped by it. Perhaps that’s because the last time I read horror was when i used to read Goosebumps.

One Year Later

I completed one year at my gym this month and it is an overwhelming feeling to be honest. I had no hope that i would make it this far, let alone anybody else. It has been one excruciatingly painful and happy journey. Painful & Happy? Yes. Its that pain that you endure to overcome something troubling you. That pain feels good. It’s the same happy pain you feel when you beat the odds and the doubters. It feels good. 

Summer 2012 was a turning point for me. I kept falling sick, i kept having mood swings and temper problems and frequent stomach upsets and backaches. I have had sinusitis since i was a kid and it is always a bitch when it acts up. I don’t know how being overweight affects sinusitis but it acted up a lot that summer resulting in frequent fevers, ear pain and blocked nostrils. All this, all summer. I had had enough of this. It was time for change. And don’t even get me started on the sweating. I was a heavy sweater. Was.

A family physician is your best friend during such times. Two are even better. I consulted them on putting an end to this unfit lifestyle and getting healthy. It was the starting point of this transformation. Along with their help, i read and searched articles and inspiring ‘fat to fit’ stories of real people. Arm yourself with knowledge about weight loss and do not believe anything that sounds too good to be true. Explore all sides of anything you read. There is no magic pill, so don’t bother looking for one. Instead, learn about your own body, its likes, dislikes and also learn about your food. What works for you and what doesn’t. Set realistic goals instead of stupid ones. Real ones were 3 kilos a month. Stupid ones were 10 kilos in 2 months. I learnt my lessons. 

Then i joined the nearest gym. This is important. If you have a gym near you, go there. A gym near to where i live was the biggest motivation for me to go EVERYDAY. There are at least 5-6 gyms in and around the place i live. They are absolute best, top of the line gyms. But i decided to go to the nearest one. Its nothing compared to the biggies but you get what you pay for. It would have been no use to me to come home from work in the evening, get ready, travel/walk far to the best gym, workout, then travel/walk back home. That did not look good at all. Especially when the nearest gym was 5 steps away. I cannot emphasize this more: GO TO THE NEAREST GYM POSSIBLE.  

The first 2-3 months were nothing but experiments on my body conducted by me.  At the gym i did what my trainer told me to do and nothing else. At home i ate only and only healthy food. Salads, no ghee/oil, no fried foods, no sugary drinks, no white bread, no overeating, no heavy foods, no eating when not hungry, more water, more greens, more fresh and raw food, more fruit. Oatmeal became my best friend. Whenever i was hungry, a bowl of flavored oatmeal was enough. An Apple instead of biscuits, Water or lemonade instead of soda or other other sugary drinks,  I walked more. I would walk wherever possible instead of taking the taxi or bus. I discovered i can walk atleast 2 – 3 kilometers without breaking a sweat and quickly too. This was such a money saver too! 

I stopped having unhealthy fast food. Everytime i found myself in a situation where i was in a restaurant or coffee shop with friends or colleagues or at family functions, etc. I would fill myself up with a lot of Water first. Then would proceed to order to eat the healthiest looking options. Not eating what makes you happy or what you like, just because you are trying to get fit is a BAD IDEA in my opinion. It does not hurt to eat what you like every once in a while. For me every 7 to 10 days i’d eat what i like. Although in a limited quantity. But i did. I never restricted my diet to such an extent that it would begin to feel like a punishment. Its important to do this to keep yourself motivated. Food is the biggest change you will make when wanting to get fit and healthy. It is the BIGGEST deciding factor whether you succeed or not. Do not give up on anything, instead be smart and eat smart and do not suppress temptation.  

Meanwhile, at the gym, i pushed myself to breaking points in the first month. Anyone new to gyming will probably go through this. You give it all instead of pacing yourself. I gave it all everyday and it hurt like hell the next day. Sometimes it hurt so much that i could not go to work. My legs, stomach, abdomen, hips, back, arms, hands, shoulders, biceps, everything hurt. Sometimes everything hurt together and sometimes in pairs. If it hurts, you are doing fine and it will stop hurting later. Do not give up because of pain. Your body is undergoing changes and hence it takes time to adjust. I’d take a day or two off in a month but not more than that. Because in the beginning each day you miss, it hurts more the next.

I measured my weight (113 Kgs.) at the beginning. I was so grossed out i wanted to break the machine. Just to be accurate, i measured it on 2 machines, one at the gym and one at home. Do not rely on one machine alone as these things can be wonky especially if they are old. After the first 2 weeks, i measured again and had lost a kilo. Somehow i found this very humorous. That’s it? That’s all it took? 2 weeks to lose a kilo? WTF!  This was what drove me more and more. After 3 months, Slowly, i was reducing. I saw the change in front of the mirror. Then come your first compliments from friends and family. Then the jeans and pants and shorts were starting to get loose. Yeah. I was getting there. 

Transformation of the self is not easy. It cannot be done overnight. I knew i had to change my mental self along with my physical self too. I needed some mental peace which i had very less of in the past. I was always worried about something or the other. It was easy to piss me off. I needed to change all of this along with my physical self. I know it sounds easy and unbelievable but i did this by changing small things about my daily life. First, i stopped reading and watching the news. I read only 2 tabloids instead of 6 (4+2 tabloids) newspapers. I stopped watching ALL Indian News Channels. These things are a cancer to the mind. I knew if the news was important, it would reach me somehow and that i need not know everything. I need not keep watching this shit-fest everyday on TV. The result was immediate. A week later i was already less stressed. Secondly, i accepted myself, who i was, how i was and made peace with that. I am what i am and i can only change the bad things about me and replace them with something good (for egs the physical change i was undertaking). This reduced my anger quite a bit. I did not get angry on anyone and instead thought from their perspective and that helped not only me but the person i was angry on too. Peace became my mantra. I stopped arguing with cab and rickshaw drivers and paid them extra if they agreed on the first go. If i could not pay extra i knew i could atleast thank them. Small gestures. Small changes. Big difference. But sometimes i still tend to stress alot, worry alot and have a temper. But its lesser than ever before. Anger is rare now. No one is more glad about it than me. Mental transformation was faster and it boosted my morale. 

I had a few hiccups and hurdles along the way. But after a year and losing 15 kilos, i am hovering in the late 90s. According to my BMI i should be around late 80s. Which is roughly 10 kilos more. As of today, i want to reach that target before the end of the year. It will take time. But i will get there. I know what works and what doesn’t now. So this next phase will be more easier and less painful. My trainer is smart and knows when to push me and when not to.

 I celebrated the occasion with 2 bowls of Masala Oatmeal Khichdi for dinner and a small square of dairy milk chocolate. It was all what i needed to celebrate the occasion. 

A Few Things

Staring at a blank page on notepad and the cursor keeps blinking. Each time it becomes visible, it reminds me to start typing. Each time it disappears, i go into my thoughts for that second and come back.

 

I like this space where i can talk about anything and everything i want. Its a small space and it is available for anyone and everyone to read from anywhere in the world. I like the thought of that. It is somewhat of a privilege that out of all the millions of pages and pages of the internet, i can have one little insignificant space to write and share what i want and what i feel like. I do not need much more than that. I can be myself and i do not need to pretend. 

I like writing for myself. It helps me get clarity in my thoughts. I love how i can unwind with a pen or a keyboard and write for hours on end. I’d read for a few minutes to break the monotony of writing but that would also be a distraction sometimes. It’s time i started writing for myself more . Every time i have written for myself in the past has bore fruits of appreciation. Eventually somewhere down the line i gave up on writing things because of a lack of interest and other distractions. But now i find myself doing it again…this time, its for myself.