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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

Hellboy Volume 1: Seeds of Destruction

I was introduced to Hellboy by the movies way back in 2004. At the time, I saw only the trailers and never caught the movie until a decade later on TV. At the time I never knew it was based on a comic book since back then, the comic book culture in India was barely alive in comparison to today. I saw both the movies and over the years completely forgot about it. I don’t even remember anything from the movie except for the title character. I forgot everything about Hellboy till I went to Comic Con Mumbai in 2015 and saw a sketch made by Saumin Patel and his take on Hellboy titled “Hellboy Moksha” which is a Hellboy inspired by Indian Mythology and folklore. It was so good I bought the print and framed it. I wanted to delve into Hellboy now. I found Hellboy on Comixology and started reading.

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The first thing that strikes you even before you read Hellboy is how intricate the artwork is. The reds and blacks are used widely to set the tone of a universe troubled by unknown Supernatural things. It’s a somber colour pallete and it shows in the art work. It’s very different from regular superhero books in its tone. The dark, grim world of Hellboy is haunting and mysterious. In that world, Hellboy has a sense of humor and it comes up every now and then if things get too intense.

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Why is a creature from Hell, the good guy? That’s the question I asked before reading and it somewhat gets answered in the first volume. Is he an Anti-Hero like the Punisher or Deadpool? Not really. Is he the Anti-Christ? Nope. Hellboy, as far as I could make out from Volume 1, is somewhere in between a Superhero and an Anti-Hero. He has no secret identity. He works as a Paranormal Investigator and works for the BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) which is a secret organization. Despite his appearance, he is comes across as more human than a devil from hell. He is sensitive, thinks before doing anything and gets really angry from time to time.

Volume 1 is a good introduction to the world of Hellboy and the character itself. The artwork is fantastic and it lends itself to the story. You can finish it in a day because it’s just around 130 pages. If you need something macabre, supernatural and haunting, Hellboy has all of it along with mystery and some humor.

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.

Thoughts on The Hobbit (Book)

I finally finished reading a two part boxed edition of The Hobbit and it is an enduring tale, one every child should read or hear from their parents. Its a book i wish i had read when i was 10-14 but i was busy with Hardy Boys and Harry Potter. But its never too late and i am glad i finally got to read it. 

Its quite a simple tale about a the heroics of Bilbo Baggins (A Hobbit), his Dwarf friends and his friendship with Gandalf the Wizard. Its an Adventure set in Middle Earth, a time of magic and wonder. Tolkien created Middle Earth & the way he portrays it, makes me want to settle there permanently, leaving behind this current earth we live in. It is a beautiful place where nature takes prominence over everything and people seem to enjoy its wonders. 

Bilbo’s adventure with the Dwarves and Gandalf highlights the importance of Friendship, Honesty, Risk taking and believing in yourself. It is very inspirational for kids and adults alike. This is the first book i read after my Grandfather’s death and it has helped me immensely to de – stress and not take life too seriously. It was such a relaxing book, it made me happy and it made me sing out loud the songs and poems in the book. 

My two absolute favorite poems are the first and the last ones. The first one being ‘Misty Mountains Cold’.  This is the original version from the book, the song in Peter Jackson’s movie is also quite wonderfully sung by Neil Finn. 

The second poem is at the end of the book in the final chapter and summarizes Bilbo’s thoughts on his journey precisely – 

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known

I am sure i will read this as a bed time story for my kid(s) in the future. This was a very special book and got me through a rough time. Its full of positivity, humor and adventures. It reminds me of my friends and reminds me to follow me heart and to not worry as there is always light at the end of the tunnel. I was 10 years late to read it but better late than never.