Why am I restless?

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I become restless when I am idle.

A perfectly running automobile purs when it is idling. It is ready to spring into action. But I am so distracted, disoriented, disturbed when I am idle. Why is that so? Because I am a thinking machine?

It is the thinking part, the thinker in me that is pushing towards something. Anything. Smoke, TV, iPad. Talk to someone. But whatever I do, it ends sooner or later and then the restlessness begins again. What is this restlessness? Why do I feeling it? Why do I feel that I ought to be doing something?

The dictionary meaning is
- agitated
- fidgetiness
- impatience
- ceaselessly moving
- queasiness
- uneasiness
- annoyance
- irritation
- vexation

What is restless inside of me? What is it that wants to do something? What is it that wants to be active? To be working? To be occupied?

Where does this feeling spring from? Is it in the mind?

This activity of writing it down has a quality of calming the mind, perhaps because it is now occupied. And when this is over, as it must, it will begin again and will not rest until I pick up something else.

Disquiet. A deep abiding disquietude. A sense of worthlessness. A sense of uselessness. All this can also be added to describe that feeling of restlessness.

But its cause remains elusive.

Dealing with restlessness by doing something – anything – is to deal with the consequence.

As long as the cause remains unknown, unconscious, the consequence is inevitable. So what is it that causes this restlessness?

I am not even trying to rest, so I don’t know really why I can’t rest. Is that it? To rest, to simply be, do nothing, keep still, be quiet. It seems so difficult, even impossible. To relax and let go. Relax completely so that I don’t move my eyes or the limbs, or the posture. Just sit comfortable in a chair and do absolutely nothing.

But as soon as I attempt it, the mind is full of thoughts. They begin with something I see and before long I am dealing with a thousand different thoughts. It is like a flood, a glut of thoughts, like a damn burst. How do they come up? Why do they spring up? What is causing this outburst?

I seem to swing back and forth, between what has been and what would be, between the dead past and the uncertain future. A clock in the mind that is ever in the past or in the future. Never in the now, this moment, unlike the one on the wall. Everything is a reminder of some experience in the past. Every anxiety is a reminder of something that might happen in the future. And so I swing between memory and fantasy.

Faster

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This is the age of speed. Internet is offered at the speed of light. Computers run several times faster than their predecessors. Automobiles pick up top speed in a couple of seconds. We build for speed. Everything must happen in a jiffy. This is where we are heading – from instant coffee to instant nirvana, everything must move as fast as possible. Speed is the sole criterion behind every invention.

It is a well known fact that the pace of life has increased phenomenally in a relatively short span of time, but what is not so obvious is that it is increasing at an exceedingly high rate. Even more subtle is the fact that it is happening in every department of life.

In education, it is not enough if you are able to solve a problem; you need to be able to do it in the shortest possible time. You race against the clock. As a result, your focus is more on the time passing than on the questions you need to answer to prove your worth. Every adolescent has experienced this feeling that s/he has to grow up fast and enter the adult world. They become impatient and attempt to experience life as adults do, often with irreparable consequences. As most young adults, they hurry to start a family, build a house and ‘settle down’. By twenty five they will have experienced most of life and consequently they spend the rest of it repeating the pleasant experiences and struggle to avoid the painful ones. When they grow old, they want to ‘know’ god. They acquire enormous knowledge regarding the divine according to their culture, tirelessly repeat themselves at every opportunity and become impatient for salvation.

Our world is changing fast and the dictum ‘adapt or perish’ in this race to survive is experienced sooner rather than later by every passing generation.

The question is: what is it that is good about speed and that which is destructive about it?

What does it mean to lose someone?

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For a long time I have been concerned with the question of loss, not in any sorrowful way but merely to come to grips with a loss that is irrecoverable.

One has experienced the loss of a loved one or a most prized possession or the time that was exuberantly spent. One has also probably suffered the loss in terms of losing faith in something one has believed in.

It is relatively easy to cope with the loss of personal effects, like money, jewellery or even a precious gift. It is also not so difficult to get over the loss of faith in belief because there is a plethora of beliefs to choose from. It is merely a matter of reorienting oneself to the new system that brings with it a new hope. But the loss of a loved one – this is not so easily forgotten, not so easily overcome, if at all.

This is the subject of my novella Magnificent Loss. I explored this idea a great deal. As I worked on the story, several aspects of this loss revealed themselves to me. The sorrow that the protagonist feels is not just the vacuum left by the loved one, but the many ways in which the loss manages to torment the one who has experienced the loss.

Several things became apparent as I grappled with this one most common, ubiquitous experience. The mind being incapable of handling something so terminal and irreconcilable begins to explore ways to escape from the fact.

- Time heals, we are told.
- Move, relocate.
- Turn to other things, say the psychologists, become involved with another.
- Exorcise the mind of the thoughts of the lost person. Let priests do the job.
- Accept the fate. Maybe you are not destined to be together.
- Develop new habits. Travel.
- Dreams and hallucinations are normal. Ignore them.
- Immerse yourself in work

These are some of the things that I explored in the book. I wish I had gone into it more deeply. I worked on the story for over two years, but tried to keep the story just over a hundred pages. This is the internet age, the age of the ebook, the fast-paced life that wants to read quickly. So I tried to capture the essence of the story while keeping the verbiage to the minimum. Folks at Indireads supported me with editorial assistance and long discussions.

It has been a year since the book was published. While I am working on other themes now, other books of long and short stories, this one book Magnificent Loss will always remain my serious attempt to unravel one of our many aspects of living.

Even if we have learnt to cope with a loss, there is still the nagging fear of another loss. There is no word in the language for ‘fear of loss’, which is what I have tried to convey in my story.

Babu’s Ignorance

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No one ever told Babu that he could say ‘I don’t know‘. Not knowing something meant an acceptance of ignorance. An ignorant person is looked down upon by the people who knew. There is a loss of face and consequently a loss of stature involved in this.

Babu usually gave some stupid or irrelevant answer or he simply lied. The words ‘I don’t know’ simply never occurred to him. He felt that somehow people were born with knowledge or were very intelligent to have acquired it fast. He was the underprivileged who did not know so many things, while nobody was interested in or didn’t give much importance to what he knew.

Babu gorged on books to fight ignorance. He hoarded piles of books ad lost himself among their pages. People, relatives and friends who knew him, remembered him as a bookworm. He read essays and stories in English kept a dictionary by his side and built up a vocabulary in many fields of knowledge. When asked, he could tell the meaning of a word and people called him a walking dictionary. It felt so uplifting to Babu to hear that and he, encouraged by flattery, set himself the lofty goal of being called a walking encyclopaedia.

But ignorance seems to win most of the time. Some people seem to ask the most difficult questions, like where was such and such located in the city? Of course, such questions were trivial. Too mundane. Too small to give his attention to. Why couldn’t they ask something like when such and such thing happened in history and why? He figured that people asked silly questions to belittle him. Why, they would say, you don’t know where it is? You were born in this city? Babu wanted to retort that he had better things to do than to look something up in the city. But the die had been cast. He had been exposed as ignorant. Being shy, fearful and ignorant, he did not socialise much. Consequently, Babu did not have the common knowledge that most people had.

Babu thirsted for knowledge to overcome ignorance and its social consequences. What Babu couldn’t know that the term knowledge meant more than scholarship. Even in the field of higher learning, knowledge is highly specialised and expanded without limit. There too Babu feared that ignorance would not leave him. The more he knew, the more there was to know. Babu knew that it was a losing battle, but he persevered like an ox carrying a load over a mountain. Consequently Babu in his pursuit of knowledge acquired the sensibility of an ox, the sensitivity of a rodent and the perspicacity of a blind man. Precariously balanced on the life raft called knowledge, Babu swam against the current in the sea of ignorance.

Babu began to collect material to justify his ignorance. If he couldn’t fight it, he would do well to come to terms with it. ‘If ignorance is bliss, it is folly to be wise.’ Babu knew very well that he felt like a lord in the power of knowledge and like a fearful rodent in the arms of ignorance. But some people said things in favour of ignorance which might work as a compromise formula in his battle against it. Knowledge, he read, was always accumulative, growing, forever expanding, and therefore it is futile to want to acquire it. No amount of it will reduce the equally growing and expanding ignorance. This, Babu reasoned, was why he couldn’t overcome ignorance with knowledge. He felt better whenever his knowledge was questioned or his ignorance exposed. But no amount of justification freed him from the fear of what people might say. They always asked things he didn’t know, and he couldn’t bring himself up to say it. For the more he read, the more he was expected to know, and the more he felt vulnerable to ignorance. It became a vicious circle for him. Ignorance. Fear. Knowledge. Each spurring on the other in an endless circle.

Star Stuff

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There is no star but a name given to a densely packed hydrogen gas transmuting into helium and releasing heat and light energy. The size and location of these dense clouds of hydrogen gas are fixed in space relative to us, and therefore we gave them names to refer to.

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– courtesy NASA, as seen from Hubble Telescope

The cloud closest to us in space we have named as Sun. The force generated from the transmutation caused huge chunks of the gas to be ejected from the parent cloud. Science tells us that these chunks of gas cooled in a very long time and formed into what we call planets.

Question: Why are the chunks not forming now? Or, is there a chance that we may witness the creation of a planet even now? In the solar system, not in some distant galaxy.

If you have the answer, please post it as a comment, thanks.

As the planets cooled, different elements were born at different temperatures. The cooling planet also experienced tremendous pressures at different regions within itself. These pressures were responsible for the wonderful metals and stones that we treasure as most precious.

What science cannot tell us is how this hydrogen gas came to be in the first place. And how it started to burn. We know that heat of friction may cause fire, so it is reasonable to assume that the molecules of the hydrogen gas collided and grated against one another and set fire to themselves. The question, of how this gas came into being, in such insanely vast amounts, and in such beautiful and orderly structure, still begs an answer.

The burning cloud clusters in space are countless, their size and energy are measureless and the space in which they exist…ah, no, they create space as they expand and multiply.

The Rite of Passage

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Even though I had been wanting to write for as long as I can remember, I didn’t actually get around to doing it until a few years ago. An acquaintance had shown me a story she wrote and wanted me to comment. I read it and then immediately started correcting it. It seemed like a good story that is badly written. I soon realized that I had to almost rewrite it in full, for no amount of correction could remedy the problem with the story as it was written. I sat down and wrote the story in my own words, leaving the spirit of the story intact.

That experience left me with the feeling that I could indeed write if I had the story clear in my mind. And then one day it happened. I thought up a story and wrote it all down in one sitting. It was not a Nobel prize winning story, but that is beside the point. I, who had always hoped to write, who had harbored an aspiration to be a writer, could successfully put pen to paper. It gave me immense satisfaction when I finished the story. It was something that I had scribbled on a piece of paper as the words appeared on the page in a rush.

That was the beginning and since then I wrote about a dozen short stories and a couple of novels. It was heartening to see a couple of short stories published on the web and to top it all I had my first novella published by Indireads. I have now come a full circle, as it were, having scratched that itch to be a writer.

The first book began as an idea, the germ of a story without an ending. I worked on it for a couple of years, but the ending still eluded me. This was my first attempt at a very long story, a novella, unlike the short stories I had written until then. I broke off several times in that period and wrote more short stories and completed another novel of a very different kind from the one I was working on. And then I happened upon this publishing venture from Indireads, who accepted my story and agreed to provide the editorial assistance and other support in finishing my story. The ‘other’ support included several discussions regarding the route that the story could take for a conclusion. It was then that the end came swiftly and completely to me. It was unlike anything we had discussed. I wrote it and offered for comment. The publisher’s response encouraged me to finish the book. I finished in record time, compared to the time that I had spent working on it. I was also toying with several titles for the book and finally decided on this: Magnificent Loss. The story ending, gushed my publisher, was magnificent.

I wrote it under my real name Anand Betanabhotla, after debating with myself whether I should adopt a pen name. This decision to go by my real name was in most part dictated by my online presence: I was already blogging on Blogger from Google. The decision paid off. Googling my name will fetch the results for my blog posts as well as my novel and the published short stories.

From a beginning that was so simple and unassuming, to the day when I got my debut novel published, it has been a wonderful journey for me. I hadn’t the faintest inclination at that time that I would one day go on to become a writer. I have a couple books under my belt and hopefully they will see the light of day soon.

I Am Habit

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I am habit. I inhabit every cell of the body. I train the body to respond. I help the body to adapt. I give personality to the body. I build the traits: the characteristics that uniquely define a person. I am the person.

I produce thoughts in the mind. I am the thinker. I generate the activity in the mind in order to help cope with the complexities of life, to handle the ever changing circumstances and to respond quickly, automatically to a given situation. I govern the mind: no, I am the mind.

I am as old as the hills, literally. I move from body to body through genes. A careful study of the genetic structure of a body provides clues to how I operate in that body. I modify myself and adjust to changing life situations. I am the attraction between the magnet and the iron filings. I produce anger when desire is thwarted. I can produce the same reaction to different situations or different reactions to the same situation. I am highly adaptable. I can be cultivated to produce new ways of behavior. I am the author of culture.

I dictate every aspect of the body: the tastes, the ideas, the idiosyncrasies, the thoughts, the beliefs, the reactions – every conceivable and inconceivable response of the so-called person is me in operation. Organisms come and go, but I can neither be created, nor destroyed. I have always been and will always be a constituent of everything in the universe. I am God.

I operate at a subtle level, at the level of the elementary particles that constitute all matter, including the living beings. I animate matter. I am the spirit that moves in the body, in its every pore and cell. I have no death, for I was never born: I have been there since the beginning of time. I am life.

All attempts to curtail me or to control me in some manner are the result of ignorance about me. The thought that says ‘control your habit’ is also born of habit. One kind of habit is trying to control another kind is like a child playing a game with itself. It maybe satisfying, but eventually it will not change anything. It is purely an illusory notion: something that is planted by me so that the brain will have some activity, something that gives the illusion that it is progressing. Improvement is a myth: I have no room for it. I am perfect.

I have the power to present myself differently. Even though I am the same in everyone, they hate me or like me as I appear in another person. I am good. I am bad. I am lazy. I am stupid. I am this. I am that. I am polymorphic. I am the changeless change in everyone.

I work hard to maintain the semblance of uniqueness in every person. Everyone feels different because I operate differently in each person. I work with the things that are common to every person: fear, desire, and so on. I take these things and produce combinations such that they appear different, and given the circumstances in each one’s life they appear entirely unique. This is my master stroke: I am genius.

The combination of characteristics that I produce gives a unique personality to the person. I have created personalities that I re-use. Every time a person dies, I come back in another form, at another time, in another place. When the body perishes, as it must, I wait until another is born and then imbue it with the combination of characteristics of the perished one. I reincarnate.

It was dead easy to work on lifeless matter: things always behave exactly the same way, no matter which part of the universe they occupy. Working with animal forms, I found some difficulty, but I have managed to produce a uniform behavior to each kind of animal. I have created a behavior at the level of the species. With human beings, it was comparatively harder; they have discovered other things like awareness, insight etc.

The majority of humans simply operate through me. It is so much easier and faster. The scheme I have set for them has been in operation for thousands of years now. The scheme that has evolved into the law of Karma. I am Karma, The Lord of life, of all sentient beings. It is only a few misguided souls who have planted the seed of doubt against its efficacy. Ever since, a few have been looking elsewhere for a new way of life. A life devoid of habit. A life bereft of me is a barren life. Woe betide humans who reject my dominion, when they stray from the path that I have set for them.

I have only one enemy and it is called intelligence. It has been waging a war for some time now. I discovered that it operates through awareness. In order to counter this menace I have split myself into the good and the bad, the evil and the divine, the sensible and the senseless. I now live in different forms – good habits, bad habits, expensive habits, sensible habits, divine habits, stupid habits and so on. Compared to this fledgling intelligence, I am ageless. It is infantile, arrogant, and utterly self-defeating to assume that intelligence will erase me from the very cells that I animate.

(Dys)functional

Things happen. Wind blows. Rain falls. Dust rises. Sun burns. There is nothing I can do about it. I ride it out the best way I can. I don’t think of stopping the rain or blocking the sun. I just duck and let it blow over.

The brain reacts. The core, with its memories and characteristics, responds. Like a chemical reaction. It happens. It leaves some by-products that produce more reactions. And so it goes on.

It may be possible to analyze the cause of a reaction. A depression off the coast caused a cloudburst over the land. The memory of a previous encounter brought about the present reaction from the brain. I can’t control the reaction any more than I can control the cloudburst.

The difference is that the cloudburst is out there and the reaction is from within. I cannot ‘see’ a depression forming over the sea. But maybe I can watch this reaction surfacing from inside me. Maybe there is a part of the brain that can watch the other part operating. The passive part observing the active part.

Question is, is the whole brain engaged in producing the reaction? If so, then there can be no watching except looking at the reaction after it is all over, from hindsight. If some part of the brain is inactive, then there is a possibility of observing the other active part AT THE SAME TIME, simultaneously, when the reaction is going on.

Assuming that it is possible for the brain to observe its own reactions ‘from a distance’ as it were, dispassionately, can I become aware of it, find out if it is so operating and if not, is it is possible to activate that process somehow?

The word necessity comes to mind. The brain apparently operates through necessity. If the Brian thinks it is necessary to do something, it will do it. In a time of crisis, to do what is necessary becomes the brain’s overriding concern. For the brain to observe its own reactions there must be a sense of constant crisis; it must be in a state of abiding crisis; it must operate in a critical mode all the time.


Anand Betanabhotla
आनंद बेतनभोटला

Sent from my iPad.

One Liners

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The brain is leaking thoughts like a broken faucet.

Electrical fire is the most insidious threat like slow poison.

In every action of ours we find something noble.

The sight of a nude standing beside another sculpted in stone is a picture of the story of the earth evolving from a hard rock to a slender graceful living thing.

Tradition, our inheritance, is like the two-faced Roman god Janus: there is a good side to it and a bad side.

Where there is abundance, there is waste.

Pleasure is the lid on a cauldron of pain.

Writing is a study of character in solitude.

Earn to live. Live to learn.

No one can hurt as bad as someone close to you. I wonder why?

As is your nature, so is your life. You are in conflict with everything that is contrary to your nature.

Maturity comes when we can look at our own pain, without self-pity or self-mortification.

Every living thing arises from a seed, sprouts and grows, and then finally dies and decays. What comes out from the seed depends on what is stored in it. How does a seed form with so many instructions built into it? Truly, this is intelligence of the most supreme order!

If good has a motive, then it is evil masquerading as good.

The teeming majority has the power to humble the mighty minority.

If happiness is derivative, then it is illusory.

Love is all that is impossible in a relationship

Breathing is the most sacred act of living.

Be a star, not a planet

Addiction is when habit becomes a necessity.

Stone and brick libraries are museums of books and magazines

Babu’s Fears

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Babu was both shy and fearful. He experienced fear more than shyness, which sometimes helped him hide the fact that he was afraid. When he cringed, people elder to him remarked that he was shy, when in fact he was shaking internally with a feeling bordering on dread. He often kept his mouth shut, for fear of saying the wrong thing. And people, the forgiving older people, invariably interpreted his silence as attentive listening, for most people crave for listeners, and dislike interruptions when they talk. Silence on his part also earned him the merit of obedience and one of good manners. He glowed internally at these kind remarks, and did not bother much about their accuracy. Gradually he began to accept his condition as a natural ally in building his reputation for being good. As he spoke less and less, the more introverted he became, and soon he lost touch with the social side of life. Even when he was among a crowd, he peopled his world with his imagination, which was ever active behind the silent mouth and the wide open eyes.

The greatest fear Babu faced, one that ran through his heart like a train hurtling on tracks, was the fear of the father figure. His father spoke little, to the point and never argued. He sometimes cracked jokes, around the dining table, which was the only time when his face did not sport seriousness. His mom shushed everyone into silence when his father was around. Babu never stepped into his room where, reclining in an easy chair, his father either read a book or a newspaper. When he was doing neither, he was seen at his desk hammering away on his Italian typewriter, the fingers flying with such rapidity that the key strokes sounded like staccato gunfire. When irritated, he felt his father’s voice grate on his heart, felt the pounding in his heart, and everything inside him stood still, clammed up. Babu feared the tone, the rasp in the voice, the irritation in the speech and above all dreaded the chilling effect it had on him. Any voice that remotely resembled it drove iron into his heart. Babu’s fear rose from a rasping male voice.

Fear became Babu’s companion. It was always there, round the corner, except when he was hiding behind his mother’s pallu. He pushed his mother first and straggled behind. She became his bodyguard, not that if ever anyone got physical with him. Not even his dad, though there was that one time when he got the jolt of his life, a lightning strike that seared across his cheek and spun his world into a tizzy. It was a morning like any other, but Babu felt disinclined to go to school. He expresse his wish to stay at home and his ever considerate mother gladly obliged. Babu’s father, however, did not take kindly to it. On the other hand, he demanded to know the reason for his son’s stay at home. Learning that it was nothing but truancy he became furious, strode up to the cringing lad hiding behind his mother’s pallu and smartly executed a vicious slap on Babu’s tender cheek. That left a welt and fever in the body and fear in the mind. Feeling Babu’s burning body, his father rushed him to a clinic and confessed his rash act and promptly received humbly the good doctor’s reprimand. That was the first time Babu felt his father’s hand and never again did he feel it, either in anger or in affection. The wound healed in no time, but the fear became stronger in time.

Babu’s fear expressed itself in one undesirable way. Like hurt brought tears to the eyes, fear filled his bladder. Unbeknown to him, urine shot out before he realized and held it back. Babu’s glands worked furiously, ever on the point of releasing their secretions. It so happened that while in primary school he wanted to sharpen his pencil. Without a moment’s thought he dashed towards the teacher’s desk and started using the new sharpening tool fixed to her desk. Suddenly, the stentorian voice of the teacher rose from behind him – what are you doing there? – and sent fear through his heart. Babu wet his shorts, felt weak in the legs and managed to limp back to his seat. It wouldn’t have troubled him if that was just a one time happening. It happened again when an older boy heckled him and threatened to slap him if he did not part with his marbles.

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