The Ash Flight

Steampunk

(Photo Credit: Susan Spaulding)

The balloon ride was metaphorical, melancholic and metaphysical. Irony would have died a thousand deaths. The Airbus A380 with its freshly painted red tail fins had been swallowed by the milky white clouds exactly 37 minutes ago. The humongous and unbiased mechanical bird was not only a conveyance of passengers but a merciless usurper of hope as well. The airline had ensured that the turbulence was not just restricted to a space 36,000 feet above sea level. The jolts, jerks and jarring were in fact being felt by Venky in the innermost recesses of his heart.

The impulsive balloon ride was just a vain attempt at trying to get up in the air – at least – if not attempting to get close to the aircraft. While the metallic bird was heading west, the clumsy hot air balloon was wobbling away painfully in no specific direction. The ropes attached to the balloon seemed to be strings tugging at his heart.

For one final time as a gust of hot and heavy wind buffeted the balloon and its excited passengers, Venky impassively glanced up and towards the direction in which the plane had taken away his Ash. She was gone. Physically and irretrievably.

(Word Count – 199)

Written as part of Sunday Photo Fiction. Write a story of around 200 words based on the photo prompt given (above). Hosted by Susan Spaulding. For more details visit HERE.

To read more of the stories based on this week’s prompt, visit HERE.

NO SPIN – SHANE WARNE (WITH MARK NICHOLAS)

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Shane Keith Warne’s only approach towards the game of cricket was one rooted in intensity. An approach that never took any prisoners and brooked no opposition. An aggressive in-your-face, no holds barred attitude, which more likely than not, won a multitude of games for Australia, some of which literally involved wresting victory from the gaping jaws of defeat! It is this same barn burning tactic which the ‘Sultan of Spin’ brings to the fore in his recent offering, an autobiography that is unsurprisingly titled, “No Spin”. Written along with the redoubtable Mark Nicholas, “No Spin” (“the book”) is explosive, energetic and in more passages than some, extraordinary.

Unashamed in content and unsparing in context, Shane Warne’s memoir is to put it mildly – an eclectic collection of exploits and eccentricities. Delectable on-field performances clash with deplorable off the field adventures, (misadventures rather), as Warne strives to lay bare the various nuances which both constitutes his persona and makes it tick. Whether it be the magic ‘ball of the century’ which heralded the entry into the cricketing world, of the greatest leg spinner (or arguably even bowler) in the history of the game – but not before leaving Mike Gatting in a shambolic state of befuddlement – or an immoral tryst that involved two women and an inflatable sex toy (yes you read that right), Shane Warne’s life has been a roller coaster saga whose sweep has been unbelievably broad to embrace within its ambit the admirable and the abominable. The awe-inspiring magician who could change the course of any form of the game with an unparalleled sleight of hand could also be a naive man who was forced to miss a World Cup for his country after swallowing a diuretic, courtesy the educated recommendation of his mother!

(Shane Warne, Mike Gatting an the Ball Of The Century)

Mark Nicholas and Shane Warne take on in an uninhibited manner the task of reconciling the very cleave which, while lending an aura of invincibility to Warne the cricketer, also births an attribute of vulnerability, in Warne, the human being. The Monarch of all he surveys within and around the twenty-two yards of many a hallowed cricketing turfs across the world is reduced to remaining a torn individual racked by a plethora of emotions outside of the playing arena.

The inimitable and abrasive personality of Shane Warne, inevitably results not just in differences of opinion but also in simmering feuds. Shane Warne, in his book reignites one such feud and reopens an old wound that has at its center piece the former Australian skipper, Steve Waugh. Slamming Waugh for an attitude that Warne perceives to be self-centered, Warne ensures that no punches are held back as he launches into a blistering tirade against his former team mate. “Steve Waugh was the most selfish player I ever played with and was only worried about averaging 50. It was about a lack of loyalty. Pretty childish, I know, but that’s the way it was.” Recalling an incident where Waugh dropped Shane Warne from the playing XI against the West Indies contrary to accepted wisdom, Warne holds forth, “Disappointed is not a strong enough word. When the crunch came Tugga didn’t support me, and I felt so totally let down by someone who I had supported big time and was also a good friend. I lost a bit of respect for him after that. I believe he should have backed me — as I always believe the art of captaincy is to support your players and back them every time. This gains the respect from the players and makes them play for you. He didn’t, it’s history, but I never found it easy with him after that.”

Former Australian Coach John Buchanan also comes in for some criticism, especially in relation to his unconventional methods of coaching that involved reading excerpts from Sun Tzu’s “Art Of War”going on remorseless boot camps and waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of simulated explosives to belt the “Underneath The Southern Cross” at full volume.

Warne also is refreshingly open about his obsession towards cigarettes and a predilection to alcohol. “Ten Vodka/Red Bulls and 50 darts” represent a night well spent. A few facts about Warne that has not made the rounds in the public domain in general, and outside Australia in particular, get deserving mention in the book. For example, many of Warne’s fan and followers would be pleasantly surprised to note that this legendary leg-spinner is the first man to have got a hole in one with the pin in the back right position at the Augusta Masters. Also the fact that Warne was a talented Australian Rules Football player having clocked in regular games for his beloved club St Kilda is a fact that has been obfuscated to a great extent by his overwhelming exploits with a cricket ball in hand. The book also has its share of wicked wit. A photograph that has Warne turning over his arm under the eagle eyed tutelage of Terry Jenner bears the caption, “with Terry Jenner, the teacher. John Buchanan is in the background, where he should have been more often.”Typical, indomitable Shane Warne!

The author Scott G. Fitzgerald once said, “personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures.” However, in the case of Shane Warne, one of the greatest ever sporting legends of any generation, personality has been an unbroken series of gestures, not necessarily successful. This man’s gestures have alternated between spontaneity and confidence, oscillated between gestures of conviction and indiscretion. Nevertheless, they have been gestures animated by freedom and exemplified by naturalness. The gestures fizz with the same verve which induced the fear of the devil in every batsmen as they watched with impending doom the breathtaking trajectory of the ball leaving the conjurer’s hand. In the same way as there was no knowing what would happen to either the delivery or the prospects of the batsman facing up to it, this remarkable human being’s gestures do not lend themselves to prediction.

That’s exactly how it ought to be! For Shane Keith Warne, both cricket and life are tenets of glorious uncertainties!

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

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Reading Haruki Murakami is like sampling the Durian. For the uninitiated, the Durian is an obnoxious smelling, even more obnoxious tasting, ravaged and ugly textured fruit which is glorified as the “King of Fruits” in South East Asia. There are only two categories of homo sapiens when it comes to the Durian. Those who are totally addicted by it and the rest preferring thorough abhorrence. Over the past many decades, Murakami has whipped up storms of deliberations that dissect his style of writing; whirlpools of opinions that are both reverential and damning; and a core universal contradiction that has a few sections of his die hard fans clamouring for the Nobel to be handed to their adored author, and a diametrical segment of the population aghast by the very notion of such a happening!

This extraordinary cleave notwithstanding, there is no shard of doubt that Murakami represents the very monument of human imagination. Every work of his is a venerable tribute that is reverentially laid at the altar of the swirling imagination. From perversity to piety; metaphysical to the mundane; infidelity to treachery, his stories are wefts that are drawn through, inserted over-and-under the pantheon of the tapestry that is the human mind. “Men Without Women” is no exception. This much awaited offering which had Murakami fanatics queuing at the book shops awaiting the break of dawn, so that they could lay their hands on the very first copies of their idol, does not disappoint one bit.

A collection of stories that has at its epicentre, men who are either estranged from the company of women, or who have never known the succour and strength that could be lent by a woman, takes the reader through a magical journey leading to amongst others, dully lit bars, lazily wandering cats, a sudden proliferation of snakes bearing ominous portents, a sophisticated cosmetic surgery unit that is manned by a perennially brooding surgeon of immense competence and roiling inner intensity and a theatre personality who has his soul seen inside out by his chain smoking, hardly speaking lady chauffeur.

Men without women

Infidelity colludes with impetuosity; virtues collide with vicissitudes; and revenge coalesces with remorse as the master breezes along his tried and tested path that cocks a snook at plots and leaves the conventionally accepted thematic style of prose in ruins. There are the usual metaphysical convolutions that makes interpretation an arduous exercise germinating feelings of both vexation and introspection. The title itself is a clever take from Ernest Hemingway’s collection of short stories in 1927. Murakami’s protagonists seek salvation in quietude as did Hemingway’s characters when their lives were characterized by a gaping absence of women. Both authors clothe their male characters in loneliness to fill a void which is totally incapable of being either filled or excised. Writing in a fashion that is ‘Kafkaesque’, Murakami leaves it to the reader to either redeem or damn the men who seek solace in a plaintive and unassuming fashion. This exercise of distillation takes the reader to the very end of her imagination, an end which for Murakami represents a mere beginning. Non-linear, chasing peripheries, couched in ambiguities, and blurring the contours of commencement and conclusion, “Men Without Women”, is Murakami at his inimitable and irascible best.

And as his with all his other books, “Men Without Women” is a paean to originality and a homage to thought!

(Written as part of the Blogchatter’s A2Z Challenge) – PART 13 ALPHABET M)

The Faustian Compact

Casting aside conscience and booting out morals for good measure

Engaging in debauchery, decadence and Bohemian pleasure

Living life to the “full” with nary a care for an ensuing sunrise

Paying scant regard to the threat of paying a Faustian price

Possessed by a Charlatan Spirit that to discretion cared two hoots

As the very Devil incarnate within began taking root.

Courtesy of Sammi Cox Weekend Writing Prompt#101

The Connection

dry wash lane

(Photo Credit: Crispina Kemp)

It was a path for both the intrepid and the ignorant. While the former walked with a clear knowledge, the latter had no knowledge about where walks led. While one was reckless in courage, the other couldn’t distinguish between the two. Yet they both traversed, traipsed, trod, and trampled gamely. Unknown destinations and unforeseen circumstances awaited them both. While one cared about where he was going the other just ended up being somewhere with nary a hint of care or concern.

The road looked as though it was punched by a giant hand of incomparable strength and brute power. The thick clumps of grass abutting the narrow road were lethargic in their looks and lackadaisical in their growth. Yet the road still connected two ends. Ends which could be either consequential or irrelevant. It was still a connector to a connection.

Connections are all that matter in our lives.

(Word Count: 150)

Written as part of the Crimson’s Creative Challenge #22 More details regarding this challenge may be found HERE.

The Bend

(PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot)

Faded booklets advertising the Castle visit lay strewn in a haphazard manner at both the entrance and the exits. A damp and musty smell permeated the length and breadth of the structure. Rotting beams reluctantly hosted a magnificent symmetry of cobwebs into whose maze unsuspecting insects were being entangled. The guided tours had stopped. The only guests were howling winds and lashing rains. The archway at the entrance was now called, “The Ghostly Bend.” It was 17 years to the day since two youths went inside the Castle only to be found later as bodies.

I was one of them.

(Word Count: 100)

This story was written as part of the FRIDAY FICTIONEERS challenge, more about which may be found HERE

 For the complete list of entries, please click HERE

Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How To Find Hope – Johann Hari

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Finding a typically ingenious yet deep way to describe her harrowing experience with bouts of manic depression, the indomitable late Carrie Fisher once said, “One is Roy, rollicking Roy, the wild ride of a mood. And Pam, sediment Pam, who stands on the shore and sobs … Sometimes the tide is in, sometimes it’s out.” According to the World Health Organisation(website accessed on 15th February 2019), depression is referred to as a ‘common illness worldwide’, that afflicted over 300 million people. After setting out these grave statistics, the WHO proceeds to expound further on this pernicious illness in a matter-of-fact way, “depression is different from usual mood fluctuations and short-lived emotional responses to challenges in everyday life. Especially when long-lasting and with moderate or severe intensity, depression may become a serious health condition. It can cause the affected person to suffer greatly and function poorly at work, at school and in the family. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide. Close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds.

Our stereotypical understanding – bolstered by the findings of research scientists, egged on by discourses on this topic by various medical practitioners constituting experts in this domain, and goaded on by the profit motives of Big Pharma – of depression has been that it is an insidious disease having its origin in an ‘imbalanced’ brain. Just a step removed from branding the unfortunate sufferer as one who is off kilter.

In a fundamentally path breaking and breathtaking book, the New York Times bestselling author Johann Hari upends the received wisdom regarding depression before proposing a radical set of principles that would combat this dangerous phenomenon with a bare minimum recourse to antidepressants. Hari must know being a sufferer himself. Recounting his painful experiences with candor and a dash of wit, Hari reminisces about the reasons proffered by his doctor for depression. Naturally depleted levels of a chemical termed serotonin in the brain is the direct, most proximate and ascertainable cause for depression. The solution – a new generation of drugs termed Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) or simply anti-depressants.

This spiel linking an innate deficiency in the brain with depression has ruled the roost thereby enhancing the coffers of the Big Pharma immensely. At the time of writing, the market for antidepressants is a whopping $100 billion plus. Hari debunks this obviously causal link by resorting to a degree of research that is frankly, astounding. Examining the social and psychological factors triggering depression, such as disconnection from the future, childhood trauma, disconnection from meaningful work and relationships, loneliness, lack of fulfilment, absence of status and disconnection from nature, Hari argues that these are some of the ‘lost connections’ that both accelerate and exacerbate the onset and course of depression.

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(Big Pharma illustrated. Image Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons)

Crisscrossing continents, clocking humongous air miles and poring over millions of academic papers in between, Hari has made research the cornerstone and crux of his book. The people whom he has interviewed for this work span a broad spectrum of professions and viewpoints. From a junkie-transformed-into-neuroscientist in Sydney to an avid mountaineer primatologist outside Banff in Canada, from interviewing isolated Amish community members to watching a spider weave its web outside a rehabilitation centre for gaming addicts, Hari leaves no stone unturned to strike at the core of the causes responsible for triggering depression.

Hari also interviews pioneers in path breaking methodologies such as Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University. Professor Griffiths amazingly secures the relevant approvals to bring back experimentation using psychedelic drugs to correlate the effects between the outcomes affected by an imbibing of psychedelic drugs and the results of deep meditation. The conclusion startlingly reveals identical patterns and experiences. Similarly, in the city of London he meets George Brown and Tirril Harris, authors of a groundbreaking study of the social causes of depression that had the duo venturing into the community and interviewing women about their lives. He makes clear the importance of their work and spends 10 pages telling their story, but quotes just a few sentences from each. However, most curiously – and this is a conundrum that manifests itself in almost every page – he devotes a surprisingly short amount of space for their narratives. While there has been no dearth of experts who have been interviewed both formally and informally for this book, the narrative does not find their voice. The results, opinions, methodologies and probabilities are all summarized by the author himself.

So how does one restore such lost connections? Hari’s solution is to “find practical ways to dismantle hierarchies and create a more equal place, where everybody feels they have a measure of respect and status”. This he argues may be done by simple actions such as bonding and banding together and finding meaningful work. Demonstrating fulfilling real life stories that include the now famous Kotti housing project protests in Berlin to a therapeutic horticulture group in east London; a bunch of bike mechanics in Baltimore responsible for setting up a workers’ cooperative to a short-lived albeit successful Canadian government tryst with universal basic income, Hari strings together a succession of ameliorating tales that warm the very cockles of the heart.

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(A therapeutic garden.  Image Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons)

Depression has for far too long remained undisturbed as the elephant in the room. A combination of forced as well as ingrained factors such as shame, stigma, societal isolation and reluctance have taken an unfortunate toll on the minds and bodies of the hapless sufferers. It is time that all the relevant stakeholders unite, cutting across personal motives and materialistic drivers, to obliterate this scourge. To accomplish this, as Hari illustrates, huge steps, both mental and physical would need to be taken, boldly and brazenly. “One of the most important slogans of the past few years has been ‘Take back control’,” hari notes.  “People are right to connect with this slogan – they have lost control, and they long to regain it – but that slogan has been used by political force . . . that will give them even less control.”

Indeed, the time has come for us to take control. A control that embraces an welcoming environment rather than an addictive cycle of antidepressants.

(Written as part of the Blogchatter’s A2Z Challenge) – PART 12 ALPHABET L)