But that is just the surface of it. And then, the story is also a dive into life, and with no escape. It dissects, explores and admits the ultimate truth of Dichotomy, Lies and make-beliefs that we live our lives on. The protagonist portrays, rather personifies, cynicism to an artistic level. And as the story unfolds, the author brings forth how layers of Lies and Truths interplay in life. As very rightly termed, it forms a state of "confused convictions".
The reading, or rather the ride, can be best described as a set of complex realisations. It strips your mind off the everyday hypocrisies, it pulls you by your inner conscience to face, finally, you own self. It asks you what you really wanted and tells what you denied yourself. But then, it trivializes; it relieves you of the weight. It says, perhaps, that nothing matters at the end. That - yes, we succumb, but that's acceptable. It threatens, and then it comforts. It exposes how shallow, meaningless it is to do what we all do all day every day, and how our lives are being wasted. But it then refrains from glorifying the other end. It warns of losing balance, a balance finely defined by the rules of lies that we live our lives with. Confused? Convincingly? Then, take this -
"Take my case. I make a very decent living selling processes to companies - a nauseating, dull way of making money full of loads and load of dhop one has to go through each day. But, why do I do it? Because I am not prepared to stand in a queue to get my single bucket of water for having a bath."
Scarily similar to you and me, no?
BUT. Then comes where I slightly disagree, as the protagonist goes on to say:
"And if I were born in this country, I would have loved to be a librarian... some job like that where you can literally spend your life among books. Because I know, even as a low wage earning professional, I would have a decent life. With my basic necessities satisfied."
Makes sense, and yet it doesn't. At least, not until we have defined these apparently juvenile terms like "decent life" and "basic necessities". Rather as we all know, the problem is not in defining them, but to remain content and constant at those definitions as you journey through your life. I know, I know, I sound like a cynic. Perhaps a little more than Sen himself. But then, for argument's sake, is everyone in the West content with their choices in life, huh? :)
Coming back to the novel.
I loved how the author has tried to ease up, if not simplify, our perspectives around the day-to-day complexities of work-life. I am happy that he did not resort to doing that also for our day-to-day non work-life. Of the matters of heart, and of friendships. Which, again that a cynic that I am, is perhaps meant only for a relief, not a reality, right?
I particularly liked the way 9/11 has been treated. Compassion, and at the same time, from a respectful distance. Something that as outsiders, we perhaps would never understand, even though we could be physically around the place incidentally around the same time. I did not understand much, but also liked, how Aikido has been explained and related back to nuances of life.
I loved how Hope has been weaved in, in this apparently cynic take on life. How, even as an escape, it helps to believe, that there is, indeed, another world, somewhere. There, things could be easier, truer. The quantum physics theory of multiple universes. Like Sen says in his letter to Allison,
"I will be glad just to fantasise that in some other parallel universe, chances were more in our favour."
And then signs off with -
"Yours in a parallel Universe,
Semi-finally, what I loved a lot in the style of writing is the second-person narration. Unique, enjoyable, and seemed to optimise the distance and familiarity between the author and his protagonist. It's like sort of knowing a person at arm's distance, reading all his thoughts and expressions and yet not getting into the skin. Perfect. It seemed to act as conscience at times, too.
Finally, the humour content. I think it won't be an exaggeration to say that if philosophy is one pillar in this, humour is the other, just as strong. And each, without being balanced out by the other would not cook up the recipe that it is. . The humour is subtle and apt. It does not distract. It only helps to put things in perspective. In fact, without the humour, the reality the author drags us to face could have been too stark to stand. It also helps us to think that many things can be stood, bore, self-admitted and lived with, if we present them to ourselves in the light of humour.
Life is too serious to be talked about seriously, no? :)
And then, I come to my takeaway.
At the cost of simplifications, let's give it a shot. Well, Dichotomy (or rather Confusion), in short, is the problem we have to live with. There is no one answer to anything. Dichotomy remains the only reality, and there is hardly a way we can flee. And hence, as I personally conclude, detachment, possibly, is then the only answer! Laugh it away, that is.
Oh, and the "Corporate-cosmic chi of dhop". Classic!
As I sign-off, here is another of the many quotable lines that stays with me as I close on the last page of this pleasurable journey.
"In all this falsehood, there are moments when you wonder whether there is anything that is true in this world, anything not shrouded by the cloak of counterfeit. And when you do experience something that's true, you are afraid of it... It's almost too pure to survive."