How can I amuse you?

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The Lizard

“In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”~ Albert Camus

I woke up with the sound of the alarm ringing loudly in my ears. It was already nine in the morning but the bedroom was still unusually dark. I got up from the bed and pushed aside the curtains to let in the morning sunlight. No luck. The sun was obscured behind the grey clouds and the sky outside was grim and melancholic, flaunting a rather dusky look today. Perhaps it'll rain. I gazed outside the window for a few moments and then went in the kitchen to prepare my morning cup of coffee. The wall lizard upon seeing me quickly ran towards the container racks and hid behind them. I flicked on the light switch but no use. The electricity was out. Maybe yesterday night's rain had a role to play in this. Grabbing the milk carton from the fridge I poured it in the cup and then added sugar and coffee powder to it. Stirring it with a spoon I took the cup in the bedroom and placed it on the small table, adjacent to my bed.

I needed the newspaper now. Or at least something to read. So, I went to check on the newspaper. Upon opening the main door, I found that neither the newspaper nor the milk carton was delivered today. I glanced on both sides, across the hallway of the building. Eerily quiet for this morning hour. Even Mrs. Periera's door was shut. I slammed the door shut and then went back to my coffee. On the way, I picked up my earphones which were attached to the music player. Clapton, Porcupine Tree, Simon and Garfunkel, The Smiths, Joy Division, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Pink Floyd, Opeth. Okay. Opeth. I put on the Damnation album and the beautiful tunes of In My Time of Need started to flow through my earbuds as I slid the music player in my pocket and headed towards my coffee. I took a sip from the cup. Too bitter. More sugar. Just when I was about to get the sugar I heard a knock on the main door. I removed my left earphone to confirm. There was a knock again. Who could it be as this hour, I wondered. Even though I hate doing it, I paused the music and strolled towards the main door to check who it was. I slid down the latch and opened the door.

"Hi John! How are you?"
"Oh hi! What brings you here so early in the morning."
"Nothing my friend. I was just getting bored and also the weather outside isn't suitable for going on a walk, So I thought why not go & meet John!"
"Come in, have a seat. Water, coffee?"
"Coffee will do for now. Black. No sugar."
"Okay", I said and then went inside to get him the black coffee.

"It's too dark in here John, why don't you put on the lights?"
"The electricity's out since morning" 
"Oh. Last night's rain might have blown out the fuse I guess"

I came back with his black coffee and handed him the cup.

"Thank you!", he took the cup and started sipping it right away.

"So, what brings you here at this hour?"
"As I told earlier John, I was just getting bored. And it's almost been a week since we met. So I thought I should catch up with you. What's up with you these days?"
"Nothing much. Just the usual.", saying so I picked up my cup and started drinking. The coffee had gone cold now.

"Okay.", he leaned in closer "and what about the ghost?", he said in a low whisper.
I stopped sipping my coffee and just stared blankly at the cup.
"John, are you okay? I didn't mean to scare you."
"Yes. I'm fine."
"Thank god! So, did you get rid of him? The ghost?" 
"I haven't seen him in a while. It seems that he's probably gone now. I hope so."
"That's good. You don't need to be scared of things like ghosts or whatever. They can't do shit to us you know."
"Yeah.", I nodded hesitantly.

There was silence for few minutes and it was getting uncomfortably cold now since it had started raining heavily outside.

"I'll shut the window. The breeze is too cold.", I said and got up from my settee.
"Sure"

I went near the bedroom window and latched it shut.
"You need anything to eat? I have biscuits."
"Well, I'm a bit hungry too. Get me some."
"Sure"

I went inside the kitchen to get the biscuits. The lizard was peering intently at me from behind the container boxes. I picked up the box which contained the biscuits and the lizard panicked and ran over to the ceiling. It scared me a bit. Actually scared is not the right word. I felt nauseated. I put the packet of biscuits in my pocket and placed the container box back where it belonged. All this while the lizard was eyeing me. Its timid yet strong gaze made me feel sick. I had to get rid of this fucker. I couldn't stand this unwelcome guest anymore.

So, I took the broom and held it as a sword.

"John, did you find the biscuits?"
"Yes.", I shouted back.

I still had the broom in my hand and a drop of sweat trickled down over my nose and landed on my lower lip. Damp and salty. The kitchen was still cold as an ice room. I raised the broom and tried to scare the lizard away. It moved sideways. My aim now was to get it near the window so that I could successfully drive it out of the house and my life. I shoved the broom once again towards the lizard and this time it lightly shaved its tail. Plump. There was a sound and it fell down on the floor. My breath stopped at this and I was almost about to puke. I don't know who was scared more. Me or the lizard. Upon falling, the lizard haphazardly tried to find a place to hide. A place from where it could save itself from the broom and still be able to leer at me with its disgusting eyes.

"John, is everything okay?'
"Yes. I'm just washing the plate to put the biscuits in"
"Don't take much trouble John, it's fine if you just get the packet too. We'll eat the biscuits out of the packet."
"I'm almost done here", I replied in a shrilly voice.

Meanwhile, the lizard was on the floor looking at me and my broom. Oh the audacity of this creature. Trying to scare me in my home. Trying to make me uncomfortable in my home. I couldn't stand it anymore. I shooed at it one more time. This time I was more aggressive than before. But I had to be careful not to kill it. A dead lizard is far more terrible to look at than a live one. Fortunately, it ran towards the window this time and stopped near the edge of the window sill. Still reluctant to leave. Still staring at me. Enough. I raised the broom to hit it this time and the lizard knew it had to run for its life. And it vanished outside the kitchen window. Peace. At least for now.

"John?"
"Yes, coming with the biscuits", saying so I hurried back towards the bedroom with the packet of biscuits.

"Here's the biscu...", the words stopped in my throat. There was no one in the room. Terribly silent and cold. The empty coffee cups still lay there on the table. I just stood there with the packet of biscuits in my hand. Standstill. It was getting unbearably cold. Almost killing me. I had to put on the heater now.

I picked up both the coffee cups and shoved them in the wash-basin. I turned on the thermostat and dialed it way up. Sinking down in my bed I put my earphones back on. To Rid the Disease was playing. I lay there looking at the ceiling and pulled the blanket over my head for comfort. I had gotten rid of the lizard. At least for time being. And then sweet sleep came and devoured my troubled mind. Peace and harmony. The battle was over but the war is still on...

***

(It's been ages since I wrote a short story. Do let me know your views on this one and please share it, if you enjoyed reading it. Thank you! Until next time, adios!")

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Between News and Propaganda





EmilSincliar opinion tweet
No thanks.
Recently I had the opportunity to read and educate myself a bit about the cult hype surrounding the Cobrapost sting operations. Now many of you might be knowing about it and many of you might be wondering which is this new breed of snake. For those who haven't heard about Cobrapost or anything related to it, it's a news/investigative portal that did a series of sting operations on various television, news and digital media platforms. The sting operations revealed how big media houses and digital companies are willing to sell religious/political propaganda and agenda through their channels and platforms for money. There were many big names involved in this scandal and the outrage on the internet regarding this was tremendous. Especially on Twitter and Reddit. The two least toxic social media platforms out there as of now. (Can't say that about Twitter anymore though)

Now the outrage was justified. News and media channels are ideally supposed to be unbiased and maintain their integrity. Ideally they're also supposed to just report facts as is without having their own political or opinionated stand on the things they're reporting. But since we live in a practical world and idealism is often considered as artistic and romantic concept. In my opinion, news media was never unbiased, right since primordial times. It was always a tool. A tool to reach out to maximum number of people with your ideas and viewpoints. Jim Morrison was apparently speaking the truth when he said that whoever controls the media, controls the mind.

Since ages, revolutionaries and governments have relied on media to propagate information and agenda to the masses. And I think that there's no such thing as a unbiased news or a neutral journalist. Every journalist has a point of view. A certain perception and opinion on things. And that's the way they often report the news. If look at this Cobrapost incident, it showed us one story. A story of how we can propagate whatever we want if we're willing to shell out shitload of money and fill their pockets. I remember a time when I used to watch news and read newspapers daily like my life depended on it. Back when I was a bit naive and how my teachers used to say that watching news helps us stay updated about the world and eventually makes us smart. Oh how I believed in that horseshit as a kid.

Now let me put it a bluntly, it's all a make believe world out there. Everything is advertising and marketing. There's no such thing as news. Every news is just another subtle advertisement for some person or a certain ideology. Right from that boisterous guy who shouts everyday on our television screens about how the nation wants to know about something or the other, to the self righteous lady who thinks that the secularism is in danger from right wing extremism and the minorities are neglected. From the guy who criticizes the government to the guy who criticizes the opposition, every journalist has a point of view. Every journalist has his own personal opinion. And that's how they news is produced. The only real news  I care about is the news that talks about weather and even that ain't accurate. Or those ridiculously tragic headlines which upon reading you can't help but chuckle. Like this one headline I remember about how a certain guy who accidentally shot himself to death in Punjab while trying to click a selfie holding a pistol. Apart from these funny bits, the news these days is plain depressing and sad. Like every day, you read about people being murdered, crimes being committed against women and whatnot. It's like we love to read tragic stuff. Like Mynard Keenan says in Vicarious,

"Cause I need to watch things die, from a distance
Vicariously I live while the whole world dies
You all need it too, don't lie"

Just another normal front-page of a newspaper

Now, every news channel out there has a political opinion of their own. Most of the news channels out there are trying to sell you their ideas and their point of view. I might sound like I just jacked off to Aldous Huxley or read a bit too much of Orwell but this is what I believe. Some of them are even blatant enough to put in right their in their channel name!

Anyway, I wasn't surprised at all with all this ruckus on social media regarding the Cobrapost sting. This was happening since aeons, it still happens now and will continue to happen. Majority of the people out there have a sub conscious belief system. Their own morals, ideologies and principles that they believe in firmly or maybe have an affinity towards. How they formed these beliefs is not the matter of concern here. The matter of concern is some people are willing to change their beliefs with time while some won't. These stubborn folks will go to the extent of changing the time rather than their beliefs and their principles. It's very difficult to change people's perception about things in general. People go on wars just to defend their ideologies and beliefs. Don't believe me? Well, just try convincing a vegetarian that butter chicken tastes better than paneer masala. Or need a bigger challenge? Try convincing a believer that their god doesn't exist.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk has announced that he's undertaking a new project to tackle the spread of fake news, naming it Pravda. Now I have no doubt about this genius' abilities and intellect but I think this probably won't work. The concept of Pravda  is that it would take into consideration the opinions of readers and users, regarding a certain news story and then let them rate the story on its authenticity. Therein lies the flaw of this concept. People only accept things that resonate with their pre-formed notions and beliefs. It's a natural human tendency. A guy with conservative political beliefs always thinks that liberals are idiots and vice-versa. So, if that said person reads a news story expressing different perception than his own, he tries to find faults in it and is skeptical about it. His natural tendency is to think that the news story is fake and that it should be reported. For one man's terrorist is often another man's revolutionary. It all depends of whose side of the story you're listening to. Whose side of the story interests you and keeps you engaged. And whose side of the story entertains and amuses you the most.

So you may now ask me what should we do? Should we all just stop watching the news altogether? Maybe. That does sound like a great solution but then it also takes you far away from the society and makes you feel like a neanderthal being. So now what?

I think the best way to tackle this is to just read the news like we read the terms and conditions and the privacy policies of the websites that we use. Don't let it affect your peace of mind. I know reading terms & conditions is necessary and that everyone needs to go through the privacy policy before accepting it but the fact is no one really cares. Not unless you see your naked picture from the phone gallery, flashing on a banner ad of Xvideos and you wonder how did it reach there.

However, jokes apart, the best way to form an opinion about something is to first understand all possible sides of a story and then choose the one that you think is the right one. The one that suits you or floats your boat. So, if you ask me about my opinion on Cobrapost sting, I accept that it's unethical and it harms the integrity of the entire news and media industry and the other companies involved in it. But then it's not necessary that everyone has the same opinion as mine. The problem is people get influenced way too easily by whatever they see and hear on the television or whatever they read in the newspapers and are quick to react to it.

Consider this, tomorrow you're going to run for presidency. And your viewpoint is that you want to legalize marijuana. Your opposition thinks that marijuana should not be legalized and has some fair counter arguments regarding this. Now, it's not necessary that everyone out there needs to accept your views. But what's absolutely crucial is that you have the freedom and the liberty to express your views no matter what they are. And that's what the news media needs to do. To protect this freedom of speech. Yeah, go on take that money and propagate whatever you want but please, please, please ensure that when it matters the most, you don't shy away or compromise on the freedom and integrity of what journalism actually stands for.

The power these news and media houses have is tremendous. It could build or destroy nations. And they just need to ensure that when it's needed the most, they step up their standards and sincerely be the voice of the people. Just like they did during our struggle for freedom against the British. Journalism back then had a mission. A mission to educate and encourage the masses about uniting against the tyrannical British rule and to fight for freedom. It was inculcating the ideas of patriotism and freedom in the minds of the Indian people. Whether it was Tilak's Kesari and Maratha or Dadabhai Naorozi's Rast Goftar, the news media formed the spine of our freedom struggle and inspired the people to rebel against the Britishers. Had the media then not propagated nationalism, democracy and equality in the minds of the masses then perhaps our freedom would have been delayed by decades or centuries, who knows!

Right from the Russian Revolution to Donald Trump being elected as the US president, media has always played a pivotal role and it'll continue to do so in the future. It's not for me to decide and debate whether news media should propagate certain things or not. Maybe all news is propaganda but what really matters is they propagate the right things when the need desperately arises.

Okay now, I should sign off here. Thank you for taking out your time to read this arduously long article. Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below and share it you enjoyed it. Until next time, Adios!
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An Ode to a Deluded Generation

They're out there in the dark alleys, 
of shady bars and posh restaurants
Dancing and drinking away on a Friday night
losing themselves to the loud music.
They're out there in their trendy sneakers, striving.
The shoes for which they sold a chunk of their soul,
just to show the world that they're arriving, 
gradually moving towards their estranged goal.

***

He still remembers those days, 
how they used to tell him those tales
"Strive and struggle son, for just this one time.
Later on, life is as blissful as that delicious glass of sweet lime!" 
He still remembers those days, 
when he burnt the midnight oil to write his own story,
for he believed them all, he believed those tales.
He believed that slow and steady wins the race,
Like a mouse turning the wheels of time, 
running away to be in a better place,
to stay alive in the rat race.

***

They're out there sitting in fancy cafes,
sipping that cup of mocha latte
Their gaze is locked but the moments fly away, 
as they tap those fingers in that ashtray.
They walk out through the door,
One more night with a known stranger,
lost in the wilderness, making love on the floor.
One more night of nothing but empty promises,
Like the desolate words,
flowing out through a miserable poet's verses.

***

How they all smile, 
like broken mirrors on the wall.
How they all laugh, even when they fall.
Because they've learned to feel, but not to cry.
They've been taught to walk, but not to fly.

***

He goes home to his mother, 
and lays his head on her lap
"Why am I not yet happy, mother? Why do I still suffer?", he asks
Gently the mother caresses his forehead,
"Go to sleep my son, it'll be alright.
Don't you worry my son, just take a nap"

***

The sun is setting now,
the roads are wet with tears
They've lived far too long in delusion
They were promised a palace 
but thrown away to rot into a prison. 
Soon they'll breakout and gather in crowds
They will flock together to flood the town,
The light in their eyes will shine again 
that lost spark in their hearts will be found.
and the whole world will watch in awe,
 as these deluded souls burn everything to the ground.

***

Steinbeck had said, in the eyes of these people there is the failure; 
and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. 
In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling 
and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.
One day he'll stand up and the world will be a stage,
He'll look at those rejuvenated faces in the crowd, 
as his words written on a page will give rise to a revolution.
lead by a romantic and passionately deluded generation...

***
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We Don't Deserve Women


We are extremely sorry Asifa, we have despicably failed you.

As the horrific case of rape and brutal murder of 8 year old Asifa shook the nation, it seems like we still haven't learnt shit since the Nirbhaya incident. The situation is so miserable that if you read the newspaper there are incidents of rapes and sexual harassment against women, almost every other day. It's all so disgusting that it just breaks you down and makes one's blood friggin' curdle with anger. The worst thing is that politicians are trying to roast their political bread over this. Also, some are out there giving a religious twist to this whole thing. And it just goes on to show our stoic indifference towards an issue of such appalling nature. From being known as the land of snake-charmers to being known as the land of rapists, we have come a long way indeed!

Now, we've been plagued by this matter of violence and injustice against women since aeons. It's not a new thing. Right from the practice of Sati, it is quite evident how our society was biased against women. As Indians, we are always proudly talking about our culture and tradition. Of course we have an incredible culture but you got to admit that when it comes to empowering women and caring about their rights, we have always sort of shied away from that.

Why do crimes of such atrocious nature happen against women? You might wonder what goes on inside the minds of these demons under the garb of humans, who commit such horrible acts. And who's to blame for all of this?

You can blame our clumsy judicial system here but that's not the root cause of this issue. The question here is, why do rapes happen in the first place?

Now, I believe our so called 'culture and tradition' is at fault here. Yes. This may be an unpopular notion but just hear me out for once.

Growing up you might have heard the phrase, "Kya ladki ki tarah ro rha hai?", umpteen times.
Maybe as kids while you're crying because someone stole your candy, your elders might have tried to console you with it or perhaps after your break up, your friends might have thrown that phrase in your face to get you to stop whining. Now a generation that is taught that being vulnerable and weeping over it is an act of cowardice, we have just unknowingly imbibed a terribly wrong idea of masculinity in the minds of boys/men.

Right from the abolished practice of Sati to the practice of dowry. Be it the sickening cases of female foeticides or cases of rapes and murders of minors. We're just glorifying the idea that women are to be treated as the the inferior gender.
The other thing is our self-righteousness and a rather puritan notion about sex. For us, sex education is just two flowers intermingling with each other with some fuckall music in the background.

So if we think rationally and a bit logically, what we have got here is a generation whose flawed idea of masculinity is that you need to be strong and overpowering to justify your presence as the superior sex, the alpha male as we call it. A patriarchal nation that thinks women are just meant to get married and then look after the household and the children eventually. A conservative society that considers sex as a taboo and is also sexually repressed. And lastly, a lethargic judicial system when it comes to delivering timely justice. Now you don't need to be Nikola Tesla to deduce that it's a dangerous concoction.

Now as usual, we can all go about outraging over this on the internet and social media. We could go about participating in candle light marches and pray for the soul of unfortunate Asifa. But in my opinion, that won't solve shit. We'll eventually forget about it like we always do. The problem is deep rooted within our society and our mindset. It seems our perception of women is collaterally damaged beyond repair.

We need to god damn understand that it's not because of the way she dresses. It's not because she uses a mobile phone. It's not  because she drinks alcohol and parties. It's not because she's dented and painted. It's not because she wears jeans and make-up. It's also not because she interacts with men freely. And yes, it's not just another mistake committed by boys. It's NEVER a mistake.

I believe it's because we're prejudiced. It's because we'll pay dowry and slaughter fetuses in the womb just to satisfy the relentless machismo of our patriarchal and orthodox society. It's because we'll ask our daughters/sisters to dress appropriately rather than to teach our sons/brothers to behave appropriately. It's because we'll ask women not to venture outdoors at night instead of asking men not to harass women and teaching them the meaning of consent. It's because we'll go on teaching our women how to defend themselves rather than educating our men that women are not to be raped.

Believe it or not, we have fucked up big time here.  Maybe we need to start all over again. It's high time we alter our mindset towards women and learn to treat them with respect. Or perhaps we just don't deserve women.
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Between Artificial Intelligence and Humanity


Rest in peace, you genius. (Pic Source: http://www.risefeed.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/tumblr_n57nzzgZwf1tash9io1_500.jpg)

Just the other day I was having a conversation with my friend on the topic of artificial intelligence. He is of the opinion that AI will eventually take all our jobs and this will lead to a major revolution in 21st century. Now there's a lot going in the world of artificial intelligence and machine learning. The hype is just tremendous with everyone trying to get on the AI train to reap profits and benefits from it. From humanoids implementing concepts of neural networks and deep learning to interact with humans to nanobots that cure cancer to algorithms that analyze your online behavior and manipulate you into buying that limited edition,'just-one-left-in-stock' inflated Pikachu doll, the possibilities are just endless and crazy.

However, there are mixed opinions regarding the benefits or the dangers of this rapid technological advancements.

People are out there claiming AI will eventually take all our jobs and we will all be in terrible misery, starving for food and bursting bubble wraps till eternity. Some are event blatant enough to preach that AI will eventually be the end of humanity. Now this may seem a rather exaggerated opinion but we're still unsure as to what future has in store for us.

Well, I'm no expert in the field of AI but I do love technology and I'm fascinated by it. The world is currently dominated by rapidly evolving technology with artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data (data science), cloud computing, cyber-security and whatnot.

The thing about current innovation in the field of AI is that it is very focused and rather narrow minded. It fails to look at things from a broader perspective. We have pre-determined tasks that we need the bots to do for us. Be it AlphaGo or self-driving cars. We already know the end goal that needs to be achieved. AI treats everything like a game. Give it a dataset, explain the rules to it and Bam! It'll just solve your problem for you. But what about the cases where the end goal is pretty unpredictable and the rules are quite ambiguous. Like for instance understanding the complexity of human behavior (philosophical or psychological) and what drives them towards the things they do. Or perhaps solving major socio-economic, political and environmental problems and crises faced by many countries of the world. It's here that AI still hasn't made any significant progress and still has a lot to learn.

I believe that humans are made for something much more interesting than getting up everyday and showing up at work to do some mentally degrading job or tedious manual labour. Our supreme intellect combined with empathy and the power to communicate effectively has always been our strength and the driving force behind our progress as a civilization. The best thing about AI will be that it will eventually take care of the laborious work which we find dull and tiresome. Unpleasant work that depresses us and makes us feel like slaves. Work that makes us wonder, "Should I go to work or should I rather just kill myself?"

It may sound rather cynical but slavery isn't going away anywhere. It never has. It's the vital cog that has run our corporations, societies and governments since aeons. However, it's about time that we replace human beings with these smart and emotionally unfeeling robots to get all our dreadfully repetitive and monotonous shit done for us. I like to think of AI as our ultimate saviour. The picture that comes in my mind is of a computer dressed as Superman which feeds on extensive data and predicts solutions to solve our petty problems in minutes. It'll provide us with all the precious time in the world so that we could utilize it for research purposes and come up with innovative and exciting ideas for the betterment of our civilization as a whole. AI won't take our jobs. It might just enhance them! And for me, that's the greatest strength of AI. That being said, when it comes to thinking in a broader sense of things and to look at the bigger picture, there's no substitute for core human skills like creativity, curiosity, imagination and innovative thinking. Go ahead, you can call me old fashioned or just a romantically absurd idealist but I believe that there still isn't any algorithm that can perfectly emulate the basic yet necessary human values like compassion and love for fellow beings.

Welcome to the club, pal. (Source: https://media.giphy.com/media/DyO961yNvBz3i/200w_d.gif)
So, you may now ask, what will be the future of humanity in a world of AI and machine learning? Will robots and humans co-exist peacefully? For me, I'm a fan of the legendary Darwin and his theory of evolution. We've always learnt to adapt to changing times and evolve accordingly and perhaps we will learn this time too. We might just adapt ourselves or we might just perish away. Either way, it's surely going to be a helluva exciting time in near future. I would like to end this with the words of one of my favorite and probably the greatest science fiction writer of all time, Issac Asimov.

“Any technological advance can be dangerous. Fire was dangerous from the start, and so (even more so) was speech - and both are still dangerous to this day - but human beings would not be human without them.”

Let me know your opinions below and thank you for reading! Adios, until next time!
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