Conversations with Pluto - Free Will

Pluto is my neighbor's cat. Though he categorically belongs to my neighbor, he spends most of his time at my place, like many of us spend the entire day at office. He sleeps on an extra mattress in the room, topples the dustbin and eat all that's inside and torture the unfortunate cockroaches who come out for a walk in the sun. Generally he keeps quiet as he goes on with the above mentioned acts, but there are times when he decide to have a conversation. I get worried whenever he puts on that serious face, scratch his head, jump on to the table and take seat atop the pile of books. This is his favorite attacking position, having gained the 'higher-ground' advantage over me slouching on the bean bag.

So after watching 'Bedazzled' for the Nth time, when he quickly jumped on the table I knew he is on to something. I had noticed him scratching his ears vigorously during that scene where Lucifer plays dice with God on the sidewalk. So I picked up a cup of coffee and sat down, ready to face the assault. Finally after a long wait the Oracle spoke..

"How did you, me and the circus came about?", Pluto asked. 'Circus' is how he generally refers to the 'rest of the world', where according to him, his master is one of the Head-Clowns.

I gasped at the profoundness of the question and answered, "Many say that a God created all this out of love. Some say it happened when electric charge acted upon a primordial soup of atoms. There are a few who think aliens did it. And then there are the real intellectuals who say all this is a simulation"

Giving me one of those you-are-hopeless looks he said, "Ok, for the time being let us assume that God did it. Can we?"

"But how can you base a discussion on an assumption? We shouldn't have ambiguity in rational dialogs", I tried to act intelligent and interested.

"If you use the assumption only as a premise and later prove it a fact by virtue of the outcome, for which the assumption was not directly utilized, then there is no problem", he said effortlessly like a primary school kid reciting Jack & Jill, as I desperately tried to wrap my head around the statement.

Sensing the confusion he soon added "Anyway, it doesn't matter in our case as we are not trying to prove anything", nudging me back on track.

As I nodded my head in the affirmative he continued, "So if indeed God created us, then why are our actions at times judged as evil? How can his creations be or do evil?"

"Heard of 'Free Will' moron?", I tried to be my assertive best.

"Ok Theophiles, what IS Free Will?", he retorted, with a twinkle in the eyes. I noticed it was the same delight with which he corners cockroaches in the room, before pouncing on them.

"HE did not want us to act like zombies or just enact a script, and hence gave us the free will to 'choose'. So while he fixed the start and end points for our journey, birth & death, he lets us decide the path we take from A to B. Our destiny is a function of the choices we make and destiny of the world is crowd-sourced from people like us, much like a web 2.0 content aggregator. And since we make our own decisions, we are judged on our actions", I concluded.

"Amen", said Pluto. "So HE shifted the responsibility of decision making to us, so that he can sit and judge us for everything we do. Is this what you are implying?"

"No, No.. he just wanted to give us more freedom to shape our lives the way we want. Its like writing the preface and introduction of a book and letting you write the rest of the chapters", I was beaming with pride on my excellent choice of example to make the point.

"mmmm.. impressive. So, let me ask you this. What would we have done if there was no free will?", he asked scratching his balls. (Cats can do it no matter where, and no one frets about it!)

"We would have followed HIS will I guess", I replied.

Without blinking an eye he asked again, "And do you think HIS will means no evil and only good?"

"Of course, that is why we do not call him Idi Amin"

"OK, so without free will we all would have done just good and the introduction of the so called free will now lets us do bad things as well? All that HE really gave us through free will is the knowledge of evil and the temptation to falter? What kind of a 'free' will is that mate?"

"Without both good and evil, how can you implement free will?" I tried to reason with Pluto.

"Choice need not always be about right and wrong, it can as well happen between multiple good options; like you choose the color of some shirt you buy. HE never thought of that possibility?" he asked as the wicked smile returned to his face.

I was quiet.

"Checkmate", said Pluto, as he jumped off the table after another roach.

Careful what you wish for..

Last night I told a stranger all about you...
He smiled patiently with disbelief
- Morphine : 'In spite of me'

I never thought of writing this story in the first person. I would rather have preferred to hide behind a character and let everyone laugh at the hapless protagonist. But then I thought 'what the heck, I am gonna write it anyway'.

So, is this such a bad story to tell? How do you decide whether something is good or bad? Do you look at its status as on today, and see how the scales are tipped? Or do you take a weighted average of all the ups and downs, all the twists and turns that brought it to this point, and then decide? You can argue both ways... for each his own. After all good and bad are different shadows of the same reality, created by perception and purpose.

I saw this new butterfly in town, as I walked into office that day. She was a chubby, beautiful girl, wearing a sleeveless green salwar kameez, with brown eyes hiding behind thick rimmed glasses, and a generous coat of red lipstick on her full lips. What really captured my attention that day was not her beauty, but her laugh, which started like the engine of a rickshaw, blossoming into something like a lightning. That was it for the first meeting, as she was just a new face who worked with another team on the floor. Months later she told me she too had noticed this arrogant chap who sat there with a 'don't care the world' attitude written all over his face. As I walk to the pantry to pick up coffee every few hours, I used to give a side-wise glance at this new beauty on the floor, nevertheless maintaining the 'don't care' attitude. Frankly, I never cared for any woman in office those days, as music, travel, books and alcohol fascinated me more than anything in the whole wide world then. Looking back, I probably would have never written this, if I had stood ground and not switched tracks, enchanted by the greenery on the other side of the fence!

Women are these amazing creations who are the biggest catalysts of change in a man’s life. Every man is helplessly hooked to the spell of one or another woman all through his life – be it mother, girlfriend, wife, mistress or daughter. One of the stories that always fascinated me as a kid, was that of Helen of Troy, whose beauty could summon a thousand ships and assemble the greatest Greek army the world has ever seen. Stories like these start looking silly, once you let the biggest enigma of all time get a grip on your life.

Days passed and both of us worked hard for the company that paid our salaries, ignorant of each others' existence. But life had other plans. My manager was an expert in spotting talent and accumulating all of it in his own team. So he made sure in due course of time, that all good looking women in the company reported to him. Eventually one day she too joined my team and was allotted the seat next to mine - one of the perks you get for being in the good books of your manager, how much ever an asshole he is. So that’s how 'our story' kind of started! Being in the same team, we started with the Hi, Hello pleasantries and graduated into conversations on more interesting topics over a period of time. I liked this new girl, not sure what exactly made me reach such a decision.

I wrote in my diary one of those days - 'Am I in love? I am not sure because I have never been in love before. But there is definitely something strange going on out there. Be careful what you wish for, you might actually get it and regret it for the rest of your life.'

I used to work in the night shift and had developed the habit of having a tea and a long walk in the middle of the night. One fine day, she offered to accompany me on my midnight outing. So we walked out of the office and had tea by the makeshift tea shop outside the campus. Luke, the dog who used to meet me every day on these outings for a share of my tea, liked her instantly and extended the same reverence and respect to her as well. Luke and I had become close friends over time. He used to accompany me on my walks and see me off at the elevator. Once Luke also approved her, I had no doubt that she is indeed someone special.

'We became fast friends', if I want to concise all that happened over the next few months into a single phrase. We also changed our views on each other. My image of her as another girl who cared more about her looks than anything else, was replaced by the picture of an intelligent girl who was in charge of her own life. Her idea of me as an egoistic bloke-head also mellowed down to something like a harmless, average guy. Though both of us did not immediately acknowledge the change in perceptions, the interactions had grown to a level where we trusted each other.

Then came Friendship day, and I had nothing spectacular to do. So I messaged her asking whether she would care to join me for a Friendship day outing. I was surprised in fact when she replied saying she will meet me at 3 in the evening. For the first time in my life I set out to have an outing with a girl, all alone. We never talked about life or love or friendship that day, instead we were just a couple of kids who were let loose from the confines of their homes for a few hours of fun, away from the watchful eyes of the elders. Needless to say, I had one of the most memorable days of my life.

I was totally in love with her by then. Just that, I never dared to let her know my feelings. I did not want- as the song goes- 'spoil it all by saying something stupid like I love you’. She enjoyed and shared most of my craziness, though she maintained a healthy level of sanity at all times, keeping her dreams closer to reality. While I had uncontrolled fantasy flights in my dreams, she mostly remained grounded, matured by the harshness and practicality of life. She was always more level headed than people of her age and was uncommonly endowed with commonsense. I still remember how she freaked out when I scooped up a bunch of tiny frogs in my hand, during one of our walks. It was her controlled freakishness and eccentricity that probably attracted me to her, a rare thing I found among members of the opposite gender; at least the ones I had the misfortune to interact with before.

So finally one day, I amassed the guts to ask her out over the weekend. Rejection was too much for my egoistic mind to handle, and I did think it over many a times, before explaining to her how much I would love to watch a movie with her. She was cool with it and we agreed to spend a day together. After the movie I walked with her along the lake, to the eatery nearby. We sat there for hours and talked about all things under the sun. I always used to wonder what is there to talk so much, when I see all the love-birds in the park or a restaurant. But it was no more a mystery as I sat across the table with the most beautiful woman in my life.

And beautiful she was! I almost thought that Guns 'n' Roses wrote ‘Sweet Child of mine’ keeping her in mind.

She’s got a smile that seems to me, reminds me of childhood memories, when everything was as fresh as the clear blue sky. Now and then when I see her face, it takes me away to that special place, and if I stare too long I’d probably break down and cry ...
She’s got eyes of the bluest skies, as if they thought of rain. I hate to look into those eyes and see an ounce of pain. Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place, where as a child I’d hide, and pray for the thunder and the rain to quietly pass me by

Being in love is not just pain, it is an ordeal. It suddenly brings to life a bunch of emotions and sensations which you otherwise never acknowledged or never knew existed within. Two of the most prominent feelings in my case were possessiveness and jealousy. Not that I wasn’t jealous or possessive about things before, but it was the intensity and individual focus that was different this time. When I used to miss her even when she was walking beside me, you can imagine how I felt whenever I saw someone else spending time with her. All those people around me, even my friends, suddenly started looking like competitors or unwanted elements or complete nuisance. She being an innocent, straight forward person, believed in keeping in touch with everyone and never hesitated in sharing a good laugh. My sense of possessiveness at times used to take the steering wheel, driving me mad and there were moments when the thought crossed my mind that I am nothing more than just another good friend for her.

July 4th. It was a Saturday and the morning sun gave me no clue of the things that were supposed to happen later that day. Then I got a message from her.

It said “Don’t be so good, people are blindly falling in love with you”.

It took a while for the feeling to sink into my consciousness, beyond layers of reasoning. And when it did, I was aghast. I decided to play around a little and asked her who these ‘people’ are.

Zoom came the reply, “Don’t act smart now as if you don’t know them.. you know her very well”.

I decided to play the guessing game a little longer and she asked me to ‘use my little brain and big heart’ to identify the person. I asked her whether she is talking about herself, and she replied ‘Relax, just wanted to tell that you are a very good person and everyone loves you for that’.

I commented on her bad taste and I got the reply I always wanted to hear.

It said “It is not bad taste. You don’t know anything about it... it just happens and we don’t even know whether it is good or bad”.

We long for things to happen in life and when they really happen, we feel ‘so-so’ about it; this is what I have heard generally from people. But ‘excitement’ is too incomplete a word to describe what I felt after this conversation. The first time a girl proclaims her love towards you is indeed a special moment in the life of every man. So much that has been written about ‘first love’ was done for a reason. I was feeling like a teenager let loose into an adult video store with an all access pass! It was one moment when I could confidently sing the good old 'Albert Hammond song..

If I could make a wish, I think I'd pass
Can't think of anything I need
All I need is the air that I breathe and to love you..

Fast forward a few years, one Thursday morning she called to tell that she is getting married. As she took those seven steps into somebody else's life, I was literally on cloud number nine... 14,000 feet above sea level in the Gharwal ranges of the Himalayas. The irony of being at the most beautiful place on the worst day of your life!

And we danced all night !

If I were in ancient Greece, I would have bought a cow today, and offered it to the mighty Hermes, the guardian of travelers. Looks like I am in his bad books, as for some time now, luck's been playing a villain in my lone journeys. When I travel in a group the good fortunes of the others seem to have a dominating effect over my misfortunes. But every time I travel alone, I end up having these funny encounters fit enough to share with friends as Irish Jokes. The episodes with the Dragon lady and this twenty-something-cute girl are good examples. My last weekend's trip to my home town in Kerala, wasn't any different.

She was sitting on my seat when I boarded the bus at Bangalore. I asked her the seat number and she said she's been allocated the corner seat in the last row with a bunch of guys. Then with this unmistakable 'damsel in distress' look on her face she said, "I am a girl.. have to sit all alone with these guys in the back... would you mind exchanging the seats?". She had a husky voice... too masculine for the beauty that she was. Anyway, being the embodiment of chivalry itself, like a knight in shining armor who just returned from dragon hunting, I replied "Ya, I can do that". Some girls have this uncanny ability to make guys do things they never want to, with their sheer presence. So I moved to the corner seat and soon engaged in the 'squeeze your legs under the seat' game, one leg at a time. Little did I know then that I will end up doing Salsa all night. But signs of the night's entertainment started manifesting in no time.

As we were climbing this fly-over a few kilometers from the city, the bus suddenly stopped. The driver rushed out, and after fiddling a while with the engine declared -to everyone's delight- that the bus cannot move any further. So we had to wait for the next 2 hours for the replacement bus to arrive. The only building nearby was a petrol bunk and hence we all stood outside on the road, killing mosquitoes. I got about seven of those blood suckers. The new bus had a lot more leg room for the back seat and I was about to feel happy, when the driver announced that we will not stop for dinner to make up the lost time. As there were a few passengers who had to reach their destinations early morning, we all agreed to travel hungry.

Just when everyone thought the ordeal is finally over, they put on a movie. I don't know, in a single life, how many times do we have to watch this honest, angry police officer beating up a bunch of villains to porridge! Come on, give him a break.. there are a lot of other people in this world who are jobless and haven't been used so far to beat up goons - Catholic bishops, Communist party leaders and Swami Nithyananda for example. But who am I to poke my nose into somebody's creative freedom! So it was a welcome change when it started raining. It was nice watching the torrential rain through the windows.. the experience was so real that I almost felt like being out there in the rain. I could feel the raindrops falling on me. Soon I realized they were indeed falling on me!

The new bus had a few cracks on its AC duct, through which water was seeping in. Soon rivulets started taking shape, bringing water to the dry terrains of my head, lap and shoulder! With two hands and three waterfalls to take care of, I soon started wriggling like a dog hit by a stone. The entire back row passengers were fighting similar waterfalls, and together we looked like some dance troupe practicing synchronized Salsa. The show continued till about 3 in the morning and we had practiced quite a few moves to perfection by then - the praise-the-lord stance, the traffic-police pose and the like. By then my heart was overflowing with gratitude towards this girl who was snoring peacefully in the front seat.

I reached home, and the next day morning when I woke up I heard her voice again. Initially I thought it was another nightmare, but then it wasn't... the sound was coming from outside the house, and it was unmistakable. I looked through the window and saw Bruno, the dog, walking restlessly on the lawn. Then suddenly I realized that she had this throaty, deep voice.... like the sound a dog makes just before it throws up!

The Flying Monster controversy..

I am being prayed for... Hallelujah!

No, I am not talking about my mom praying for an 'early' marriage of her son. Neither am I am talking about being included in the phrase 'pray for us sinners' by the multitude of believers. I am talking about a good friend of mine, who recently decided that I have traveled far and long in the path of damnation and hence has agreed to pray my way back to paradise. Soon the interstellar space is going to be polluted with another set of 'Hail Marys' and 'Our father in Hawaii' ...all in my name!

Now, how did all this happen? What provoked an otherwise passive and tolerant young man to swing into action and declare war on the dark forces of the world? That is quite a story.It was from a common friend that he got wind of my association with the 'Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster'. The fact that I had a picture of his holiness the FSM as the desktop background in my laptop, irked him more. For the followers of FSM, the Pastafarians, the fish bone is a symbol of his omnipresence, as much as it is a pun on another religion. But for my friend, this was outright blasphemy. While searching the web for more information on this new found fancy of mine, he chanced upon an image of the last supper where the FSM adorns the center spot, which is traditionally reserved for another bearded deity (don't want to offend him more by calling names, but definitely not Karl Marx). For a staunch follower of this bearded deity, this was the last nail on the coffin.

I tried putting on my passifier costume and put out the fire in him. He was not ready to buy my argument that this is a pseudo religion created to show people the hollow claims of other so called 'established' religions. The creation of a god out of two meatballs and spaghetti was nothing funny according to him, but some vicious agenda of Satan himself. The smooth and saucy noodly appendages of his noodlyness, which created this very universe some 300 years ago, were misconstrued for weapons of mass destruction. My attempts to explain the creation vs. evolution argument, which brought his noodlyness into the mainstream (though HE existed before the beginning of all times) only ended in threats of 'body damage' if I continue with my evangelical efforts. There is an alternate, less plausible school of thought as well, that his reactions are outcome of pure jealousy, on finding out that our god has larger balls than his!

I have been accused on multiple counts of blasphemy, irreverence and dissent by correlating with my following actions:

- Wearing only black shirts/T-shirts with satanic images (Read 'Iron Maiden, Slayer')
- Spreading blasphemous info among friends (Read 'an occasional email on the Secret diary of Jesus or so')
- Utter disrespect towards the first commandment "You shall have no other gods but me".(his noodlyness)
- Staying bachelor on the wrong side of thirty (so as to conduct my satanic business without disturbance.)
- Listening to satanic music (Read 'Enigma, Judas Priest')

Surprisingly, his correlations actually sounded like one of the propositions of his noodlyness - "there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature". In fact, such profound assessments are only possible from someone who has already been touched by the all-healing noodly arms of his noodlyness!

The good side of the prayers is that irrespective of the fact that I am saved or not, he will definitely be added into one Mr. Peter's good books, for trying to save an estranged sheep. Who knows, even his eternal accommodation in paradise might get upgraded from 'cattle class' to the Papal suite or something.

Probably these are the days his noodlyness warned about, through his prophets, the 'Guns n Roses'.

"It's hard to keep an open heart, When even friends seem out to harm you
But if you could heal a broken heart, Wouldn't time be out to charm you....
So never mind the darkness, we still can find a way
'Cause nothin' lasts forever, even cold November rain"

I have to be strong.. and I will.
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