Life

Naturally good

Towards the end of The Way of Zen, Alan Watts has a line that creates a binary between natural and good. I must admit that I felt some validation there!

Over many years and experiences, the resident (and dominant) cynic in me has come to believe that “naturally good” in terms of a person’s character and behaviour can only be an act. This is also coming from the unoriginal observation that we have a “delusion of free will”. The choices we make are less based on a conscious free will, and controlled more by a combination of genes which have fought and survived over millennia and one’s own experiences and environment. While cooperation and goodness are indeed a part of the survival toolkit, they are not the dominant aspects. We’re selfish, the only difference is in the degree of the act, and how much we have trained ourselves.  More

Chianti (Whitefield)

There is something both disconcerting and comforting that happens when one visits a place after 5 years and discovers both the self and the place to have largely remained unchanged! Well, technically, it’s not the same place, since the Chianti we visited 5 years ago is in Koramangala, and the one I am writing of is in Whitefield.

We usually flip through the menu on Zomato before we visit, and this time after D had pronounced what she was going to be having, we decided to take a look at what we had eaten 5 years ago! And D’s choices were exactly the same – down to her deciding to ask for chicken to be added in the Cream of Mushroom soup!

We got there early on the last Saturday of 2017. Chianti has taken over the space in the Park Square mall that Habanero used to occupy – on the ground floor. The mall, whose food options are now fairly impressive, was relatively quiet, even at 7PM. Lots of wood, some interesting art, a mix of lounge and functional seating all manage to give Chianti a lively and classy ambiance.

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Mightier than the Sword

Jeffrey Archer
I must admit to a bit of a grumbling before I started the book, the reason being that Archer was supposed to finish the series in five books, but has now stretched it to seven! And since I have read the others, I would have to finish this. Add to this that it’s been a while since I read Book 4, I had to do a bit of online reading to catch up on the various plot lines. But all of that, I realised, is similar to a friend who irritates you by being habitually late, but once you start talking, all is forgiven.
The story of the Clifton extended family and enemies continues predictably with the existing narratives – Emma’s board room battles, Harry’s literary success, Giles’ politics, and Sebastian’s career progression. Arch enemies Virginia Fenwick and Alex Fisher also continue to be a thorns on collective sides. The narratives are furthered by the introduction of a new set of adversaries for Emma, Sebastian’s challenges on personal and professional fronts, and complications in Harry’s life largely owing to his support of a Russian author.

ELVNTHRTYONE

Indiranagar is getting so crowded now that they don’t even have space for vowels, at least if we go by the name of the new bar and kitchen that has opened at the 12th Main junction. Spread across three floors, each styled differently, it even has a simulated golf area. On a cloudy Sunday afternoon, we sat on the lowest floor, overlooking 100 ft Road.

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We began with cocktails – D chose a White Chocobar, and I wanted to try out the 1131 Old Fashion (sic). The first was vodka based with the unlikely combination of green melon, elderflower, and white chocolate. A bit sweet, but potent and refreshing. 1131’s version of Old Fashioned had a few extra ingredients – orange, cinnamon and cloves, but though they were generous with the alcohol, the mix was rather lacklustre.  More

The Monk and The Philosopher

Jean-François Revel, Matthieu Ricard

A biologist turned Buddhist in conversation with a philosopher about the meaning of life. If that isn’t interesting by itself, they happen to be son and father. (respectively) World views separated by time and distance. What really works is that Matthieu Ricard and Jean-François Revel have absolute clarity on the points of view they represent, and yet, are not in the discussion to force their perspectives on the other.

The scope of the discussion includes scientific research, metaphysics, politics, psychoanalysis, and obviously religion as both share their perspectives on these topics. In many cases, they seem to arrive at the same destination, but via different paths.  More

The Druid Garden

Sahakar Nagar’s role in our lives had been limited to being stared at for a few seconds while on our way to the Airport, but The Druid Garden made us stare longer, at least on Google Maps. Some might say that 25 km is a long way to travel for beer, but hey, when it comes to craft beer, we’re nothing if not committed! It did take a while for us to get around to making this trip though. But when the stars aligned – in terms of weather, traffic and Uber fare – we were ready!

Sitting atop a commercial building, the place is pretty huge, and the design highlights it even more with high ceilings and skylights, and multiple levels of seating. Different kinds of seating too – the typical brewery-style stark long benches, bar stools, lounge seating, and the regular functional kind. At 2PM on a Saturday afternoon, the place was crowded, but we got ourselves a nice corner.

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Sunset Club

Khushwant Singh

This was the first time I actually read a Khushwant Singh book. It was the blurb that got me. The idea of three octogenarians in Delhi discussing everything from the weather to sex to politics was intriguing. Not because of the topics themselves, but because I have wondered about the lives of old people, the daily rituals they hold dear, and their perspectives of a changing world. Khushwant Singh was 95 when he wrote this (!) and therefore this would be very close to the real thing. I wasn’t mistaken because I would be very surprised if the character of Boota Singh wasn’t at least semi autobiographical.

Pandit Preetam Sharma and Nawab Barkatullah Baig make up the remainder of the trio, called The Sunset Club, who meet at Lodhi gardens on the Boorha Binch. The book captures a year in the life of these gentlemen, with occasional rear view looks into their past. Through their discussions, the reader gets a sense of the pluralism and the contradictions that make up India. It finds a parallel in their own lives, which are themselves a showcase of many contradictions.  More

“Let them know you’re thinking about them”

You’re familiar with that – it’s one of Facebook’s birthday reminders. Until some time back, I used to religiously wish folks on their birthday. But I have stopped that, it felt like cheating. To me, this sort of wishing reduced the significance of the event and the wish, and almost brought it to the level of an already degraded currency on the network – the ubiquitous ‘Like’. I know, this can be argued quite a bit. At a very simplistic level, wishing someone on the birthday could be like a little shot of dopamine for them, and easy for you to provide too.

But I have at least two perspectives against this. Call it over-analysis if you will. The first is where I draw a parallel with travel. In the case of places, increased access and convenience tend to bring in people with motives different from an earlier set. From travelers to tourists. Right or wrong is subjective so let’s just say that the character of the places, and their residents change. Arguably, the first set of folks had a deeper bond with the place and more of an interest in its well being. And so too, with the wishes on Facebook. My birthday is off Facebook and I know that those who wish me now really have me in their thoughts.  More

612 East

Being in the vicinity of two favourites – The Fatty Bao and Bombay Brasserie – meant that 612 East, even weeks after it had opened, got a bit of a stepmotherly treatment from us whenever we visited Indiranagar. But one evening, we resolved to go. Since we planned to reach around 6 and leave before 8, we didn’t bother to reserve. Quite a mistake, especially if you want to sit in the terrace section. We were offered a regular table which we would have to vacate by 8, but chose to sit on stools closer to the edge, with our backs to the giant screen – for the view and the lovely evening breeze! This was easily the best part of the experience. In the cab, we had been discussing how in a few months, it would be 15 years since we first got off the bus from Kerala. The setting was perfect for rumination. :)

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The Moral Animal

Robert Wright

The last book I read in 2016 was “This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works” where leading thinkers share their favourite deep and elegant theory. An overwhelming number of them cited Darwin’s theory of natural selection, and though I have not been asked, I’d say rightly so. As someone rightly pointed out, the beauty and elegance is when one theory explains a lot of diverse phenomena, and is almost a gift that keeps on giving.

Robert Wright uses Darwin’s theory to explain exactly what the book’s title says – why we are the way we are, using Darwin’s own life to illustrate several facets of classic human behaviour. I have thus far viewed the brain as a product of evolution, and feelings and emotions as a vague result of biochemistry triggered by the environment and the brain. My views have been shaped by some excellent and diverse books – Sapiens, Scarcity, Finite and Infinite Games – to name a significant few. This book, in many ways, is an amalgamation of the best insights that those have to offer. But the brilliance of the book is in how it goes beyond, and draws the connection between mental organs and behaviour in the modern world.
The book throws light on the various behaviours we exhibit in our day to day life, many of which have their origins in the hunter-gatherer stage of our species and before. In fact, we even share some traits with our nearest relatives- chimpanzees and bonobos. Almost all facets of our life are addressed – relationship with parents, siblings, spouse, and society in general, politics, sex, friendship, religion etc.

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