Has anyone I know played with Tim Berners-Lee’s Solid?

I was reading TBL’s profile in Vanity Fair and I learnt of this new idea he is working on – an idea of “Socially Linked Data” (SOLID) – which wants to decouple data and the apps that consume them, thus allowing more data portability and data ownership. The profile itself was more focused on the persona and his Oxonian wispy hair (I can’t blame Vanity Fair for focusing on that, but I can blame them for not linking to Solid’s homepage or github on their site) so the above description is from Solid’s sites.

Has anyone I know used it or played with it? How does it differ from or relate to IndieWeb?

Also, how does this truly help in making our data more free? The value that Facebook and Google derive from our data is not from the data itself, but the linking of that data with other data, or the relations that said data makes within itself. I do not know the extent of the data that Facebook creates on me. That data, wholly solely is owned by Facebook. Even if I export large parts of data about myself using their export, including the data they’ve collected (such as the WiFis I connect to, the times I browse my phone, all the items I’ve left in carts of shopping sites that connect with Facebook), I still cannot, afaik, get my hands on the data they create on me. How will a solution such as Solid make that data less harmful?

Anyone care to comment?

Photo by willowbl00

[Book Review][Book Notes] All Our Wrong Todays

I haven’t read a lot of time travel science fiction in my life. So I can’t judge this book in the context of other sci-fi stories. But if this is what time travel books are supposed to be like, well done Elan Mastai! You’ve blown me away and won me as a reader for all your future work!

This book starts out as a time travel science fiction novel, but so very quickly, this gorgeously funny story with a narrator who’s just as confused as we readers are, becomes a strange look at everything else time travel is about – people, their emotions, their lives and arcs and how time travel affects them. The author wraps all of the stories he writes in a wry humor that had me laughing like a maniac on the bus, with amazed people looking at this loony who still reads hardbound books and laughs at them!

There are many layers of philosophy, anti-war, pro-peace rhetoric all set within the dialogue of the story for you to discover, with absolutely zero (well, two pages total) theoretical discussion. Every thought you’ve had about time travel, every plot point you can imagine while reading the story, every joke the author could fit in well, everything is in there.

This is a great read. It took me about three weeks of on-and-off reading and the story moves at a great pace, though it does get a little convoluted in the final chapters. But there too, is a gem – the author takes the universal concepts of time travel – it happens instantly, it can be reversed if done carefully, a second version of you can observe a third version of you in the background to fulfill some convoluted narrative – and twists and turns them to suit his excellent ideas.

Best of all is that this is a story about people. The narrator is so scientifically dense that he doesn’t bother to explain much about the technology he encounters. It’s a blast to see him blunder through life not knowing how doors works! But when it comes to people, oh, this is a deep story. It shows how amazingly, brilliantly, wholly selfish people are. If you’ve ever worshiped a ‘hero’, seeing them as a singular dimension of “all that is good”, this is the read to dispel your doubts!

I cannot describe how beautiful this book is. To do that would be, to take a phrase from the book, sort of like cracking a creme brulee. Just go read it. Borrow it from me if you want!

Notes on All Our Wrong Todays

Page 60, God this is a funny book! Every few pages, I’m grabbing my sides rocking with laughter! The people on the bus look at me like I’m crazy for laughing at a paper book.

Page 62, all this guy talks about is women!!! It’s like his entire life story is about one woman to the next! Damn!

Page 62, I’ve noticed something about modern futuristic sci-fi novels – they all tend to assume that somehow Chinese folks will be marrying Mexican folk a lot and the offspring will inevitably have a Chinese first and Spanish second name, or vice versa. I suppose that flows from the two largest non-white minorities that white writers focus on.

Page 66, this and the first line of the second chapter are the only two places where the narrator’s name is used till now. In chapter 2, because there, the author tries to be cheeky and uses the third person from the narrator’s perspective and immediately hates it and reverts back to first person, which is funny! This is what is so interesting to me about first person novels. The narrator has to be extremely descriptive about things and emotions and feelings, without which the novel starts to feel dull. In third person, there’s the escape from emotions and mainly a flow based on actions is easier to create.

Page 67, the narrator talks about a global time synced system, an NTP server at scale, but talks about it being synced to the microsecond. Is this an oversight? What about the nanosecond?

Page 73, here is the typical line from a man in the wrong, “I don’t think that justifies my subsequent actions. But it explains them.”

Page 76, the book talks about pregnancy and avoiding it and once again, even though all this marvelous technological advancement surrounds the narrator, the onus of making sure pregnancy is avoided lies with the woman, with what the author calls a ‘gametic suppressant’. Brilliant oversight. Of course, it’s a plot point. It’s just part of the story and crafted in a way to put the blame squarely on the unwitting narrator, but still.

Page 82, “the liar, the genius, the ghost.” What a line! Whey a way to describe, to summarize almost all genius!

Page 151, the narrator’s description of books and reading here is repeated from before. The way the narrator describes that his mother is the only one who reads paper books is also repeated.

Page 175, oh boy. The exact words the narrator has been hoping to hear his entire life.

Page 182, this chapter feels like an ode to a bookstore owner

Page 186, what a pretty line – “This is the morning after the night before.”

Page 186, there is a certain awkwardness in Penny’s language and lines. Almost as if the author wrote the character as such and fought with the editors about it. Let’s see, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this aspect of the character is important in some way.

Page 200, excellent ending to the chapter! Wonderful last line!

Page 203, spelling mistake. Should be imminently instead of immanently. I think. What does immanent mean? The internet seems to think ‘inherent’ or ‘remaining within’. I suppose that’s right. So, not a spelling mistake. A new word for me!

Page 208, just one perfect line and I burst out laughing in a crowded bus stand on a rainy day.

Page 214, heh. “small-d depressed”

Page 215, dawn often tends to smear across the sky, doesn’t it?

Page 223, “events in…a family…Extinction-level events”
What a wonderful way of looking at ‘issues’. Indeed, some families and relationships have major events that cause deep scars. One other book I’ve read this year also had similar ‘events’ – Before the Wind by Jim Lynch.

Page 224, “I don’t believe in the truth. I’m a scientist. I believe in questions and the best answer we have right now.”
That’s great writing. Such diametrically opposite statements!

Page 249, “even the unlovable parts you hadn’t shown him yet”
This is a very strong page. Read it all, but also this part alone. It’s so poignant because everyone has this feeling that they have dark parts that no one can love and even the ones who love them may never accept them. Ever. That is true human frailty.

Page 295, “Your brain is very good at managing cognitive dissonance. Arguably, it’s your brain’s main purpose.” ?

Page 319, this is not a sci-fi story about time travel. This is a love and loss story which happens to be wrapped in some convoluted sci-fi chapters. That’s beautiful!

Page 324, “This is how you discover who someone is. Not success. Not the result. The struggle.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about people and blogging and the social aspect of the open web. This line here shows why it’s so interesting to follow people’s blogs more than anything else – their social media profiles, their newsletters, their podcasts. Blogs are where people try and fail. Blogs are where people record their silliest mistakes and worst ideas. That journey is much more worth it than the result – a working product, or a service, or a life well lived.

Page 325, “That’s all success feels like. It’s not triumphant. It’s not glorious. It’s just a relief. You finally stopped failing.”
Beautiful words!

Page 357, “Its tough to get worked up about what might have been when all you know is what already is.”

Page 367, “It was like our collective imagination stopped revising the idea of what civilization could be, fixed a definitive model in place, and set to work making it happen.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – why do we have corruption, why do people know morals but don’t follow morals. After all, stagnation in politics and ethics is another kind of immorality. I think the author sums it up very nicely – when there is a fixed idea of what the world is supposed to be like, there can only be a sort of catching up to it. People don’t work to improve what they have or what they’re aiming for. They just want to get there and then hold on, without wondering whether the goal post has or should be moved.
This paragraph and this chapter is about the ideology the book is based on, or at least, a part of it. And it works well – it points out an inherent flaw in our thinking – when we accuse ideologues of misdirection and corruption, we don’t understand that even those who believe they are on a progressive path are in fact ideologues who are leading the world to a fixed point. Perhaps we need to check all our thought leaders and make sure they are constantly revising the end goal they are striving towards instead of limiting their vision to something lesser.


One of the bloggers I follow on the net, Chris Lovie-Tyler, recently moved from WordPress on his personal blog to a TinyLetter based newsletter on a new domain. Most of what he posts are poems and perhaps these poems are better suited on this new domain. As much as I hate newsletters (and podcasts), I followed him.

But that got me thinking – why do we follow people around?

Well, not physically. That’d be creepy. We follow a lot of people around online. Whenever you join a new social network (Facebook, twitter, Instagram), you follow a bunch of people. Slowly, you realize who posts good content and who doesn’t and you tweak that list based on your interests (in the case of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg personally edits your news feed to make it more boring).

Ok snarky, let’s stick to non-Facebook more-public social networks.

When you’re on Instagram, you see an interesting post, you open the person’s profile, you like some of their photos and then you follow them.

When you’re on twitter, you see an interesting tweet and, though you may or may not go check out the person’s older tweets, you follow them around.

But there’s a very small disconnect between these two activities – liking someone’s current content, and expecting their future content to be the same, or better, or interesting enough. You take on a risk when you follow someone online. They could be no more funny/interesting than you are, and then you’re stuck following someone who doesn’t inspire or interest you. They could be posting pics of their recent vacation, after which they’ll get back to posting pics of their lunches and their not-so-cute dog. They could have made an epic joke tweet, and use that spurt of popularity to start pushing a different agenda which you wholly disagree with (as is usually the case for meme accounts)!

All of that is possible. After all, most people lead ordinary lives. They aren’t constantly discovering new places or going on impromptu adventures. They work, eat, sleep, pretty much at the same places.

So why do we follow these people around? What is our intent in hitting that follow button?

Mind you, I’m excluding Facebook (and WhatsApp and if we were ten years ago, Orkut) because there, you know most of the people you follow. Even if you know them as acquantances, it’s still you following someone who you already know something about.

But why do we follow absolutely random strangers on the Internet? That too, based on one tweet, one post, one photo they’ve posted? We’ve often joked about it, but these social networks have indeed turned us into stalkers of the highest order. We peek into the lives of absolute strangers with no easy way to communicate with them meaningfully (likes and hearts are not communication, they’re a distraction). So it’s comfortable, easy, accepted to see something interesting and just hit follow. We’ll worry about the content later. Not following someone is kind of like not bookmarking an interesting article to read later. We never read it later, but we do get FOMO if we don’t bookmark it.

Coming back to it, I read Chris’ blog post about his move from the personal blog to the new domain. An hour later, I saw an email from him, inviting me to follow his journey on to the newsletter. Now, as I said, I don’t like newsletters. Gmail is not an ideal space for reading. Email is not geared towards enjoying good writing. It’s work. I thank Google for creating the concept of Promotions, Social, Updates and Forums sections. It tells me the things I need to care for and the things I do not need to care for. But as has been pointed out before, Gmail is killing blogs. There are so many ways outside of Gmail where one can follow people, so why do it inside it?

Yet, newsletters remain popular and one of the popular services to send newsletters – TinyLetter – doesn’t have RSS feed support. So I can’t follow Chris’ new adventure through my beloved RSS feed reader. But I want to follow Chris. I discovered Chris’ writing pretty much the same way we discover people on twitter or Instagram – one interesting post.

But then I went ahead and did something which we do not do on other social networks (remember, the open web is also a massive social network) – I went back in time and read every single one of Chris’ posts. Wait, no no, I worded that wrong. I went back to the beginning of Chris’ blog and read every single one of his posts. Lucky for me, it extended only to February 2018.

That’s when I decided that this person was worth following around. There is a massive difference between me and him – I’m not a poet, not a Christian, never been to NZ. But his words are beautiful and always strike a note in my mind. Here’s one of my favorite poems –

Sunday birds
My ears ring with the silence
of Sunday morning

Only the birds are up,
gently stirring the neighbourhood
to consciousness

This is the reason why I followed Chris’ blog – I liked all or most of his previous posts. That volume of past work assured me that I will like what this person puts out in the future too. This sort of freedom – to explore a person’s past work in its entirety without being pushed to follow them and move on – can only come from the Internet at large. After all, if I forget or close the tab or move on and want to come back later, my browser remembers every page I’ve looked at forever. This is not true for any of the silos we use – twitter doesn’t remind us which tweets we’ve looked at, Instagram doesn’t tell us the name of that one person who had that one vacation photo in Barcelona which we liked but never double tapped on.

There’s one more thing. I instantly felt this when I saw the email and actually asked Chris about this – his push to ask people to move to his newsletter was not some templated email blast to 500 followers. He had about 50 followers on WordPress.com Reader (which, I’ve come to learn recently, is an excellent RSS reader on its own, so if you never wanted to pay for RSS reading, just create a free account on WordPress.com folks) but knew that most of them are following him the same way people follow others on silo medias. No, that email went to a fraction of those and that fraction did the smart thing and subscribed to the newsletter.

I’ve meandered enough through this post. I just wanted to say that when you’re in a silo network, the push, the intent of following people is two-fold – as a user, you don’t want to miss out on future posts, and as a company, they want to show growth. But when you’re out on the open web – the intent in following someone is better – it’s about your personal connection with the person and their work. If you like it, you’ll follow them to the ends of the Earth. Otherwise, there’s that unsubscribe button. That’s why the open web is better.

A Zombie Story

I was born in a scientifically minded family. We used to have discussions based on logic and decisions based on fact. “Look at the facts!” my Mom used to tell me whenever I was being a wayward teenager. So, when we first heard the news, I sought out the facts. When I didn’t find any, I dismissed the news as noise. “Must be another version of the swine flu,” I remember thinking. Humans had taken the animal kingdom for granted for too long, and Nature had repaid in kind. First, things like the plague attacked humanity. Then, virii like HIV had their day in the Sun. When we got those under control, swine flu and other such infections invaded our food supply. Not that it mattered to me and my family. We were all vegetarians by choice. The only way this mad march of science and industry affected us was by GM foods. Of course, we had the choice to ignore those, since we were well-off and could afford to buy organic.
The first time I noticed this news in seriousness, it was when England went offline. The entire country had locked its doors and stopped talking to outsiders. No mail, no tweets, no radio signals of any kind. It bewildered people outside. The news talked about the ‘virus’ that had been ravaging animal and human populations in varying areas of the world. Speculation was rife that either the UK had decided that the threat outside was too much and they needed to protect themselves, or their own population was too far gone and they had sacrificed the remaining Brits to save the rest of the world from this calamity.
It still didn’t seem real, till the attacks started. Massive populations of infected people started attacking the uninfected. Violence erupted around the world almost simultaneously. It was as though the virus was building up an army before mobilizing it altogether. Gory images of cannibalistic crowds, attacking, murdering, killing, and most shocking of all, eating their victims filled the news. Gun sales shot through the roof. Doomsday preppers became mainstream. News broadcasts suddenly became the most watched shows around the world.
We saw the population dwindle. We saw chaos erupt. We saw our family die, our friends get devoured, our governments fall. The Internet was the only refuge, and it too sometimes flickered, because the virus was smart enough to understand how to rip through our communications lines. I say all this casually, but there’s no reason to not gloss over all that. It happened. We lived through it. That’s all there is to say about it.
We built up resources and went into hiding. We used natural and human-made defenses to ward off the zombies. We saw the worst of humanity play games with the survivors and do ghastly experiments on the undead. They saw them as nothing more than animals of the most violent nature, and they treated them as such. I didn’t care either way. I survived because I saw them as nothing more than carriers of death. When I saw a fast-moving one, I killed it. When I saw a slow-moving one, I used to kill it if it got too close. Then I stopped killing the slow ones if I was going away from it, or if it was too slow to catch up to me. I had to preserve ammo after all. The last few years, we’d been making our own ammo and metal was difficult to come by. There was no one mining, smelting, refining or even recycling. Metal workers were well-protected, as much as farmers, and their ‘lords’ charged heavily for access. They all eyed a free-agent like me with suspicion and many often didn’t let me into their holds.
So I traveled from place to place and found work, refuge, metal, and food how ever I could. Between holds was the most dangerous areas, especially when I traveled alone. This was one such day. The Sun was bright overhead and made any open movement impossible, as it would attract too much attention from the zombies. I was passing through a city that was almost all dead. It had two zones of humans at its ends, and passing goods between them was risky work that gave good pay. I had a backpack full of wares which people had paid me in food and metal to transport, but there was never any assurance of delivery. I moved from building to building till I hit a cross-street that was too wide to cross in the light. I decided to settle in till nightfall. I checked the perimeter, secured doors and marked escape routes. I noticed two zombies in the vicinity. One was immobile and the other was inching around. The rigid one was redead, a gaping hole in its head marking the place where someone had shot it up to destroy its brain. Dark puss was oozing out of the wound. It was a recent kill. The other one was its mate. It lingered close to the body. Why someone would spare it, I didn’t know. I looked at it for a while from the shadows and it didn’t register my presence. It just kept trying to move its buddy, like a bunch of wounded soldiers. Its movements were too slow to reach me in the next few hours, I decided. Going back in, I settled into a dark corner in a room with two exits, gun in hand. A single bullet in the chamber was both my defense and my insurance. I didn’t want to be empty-handed if attacked, and I didn’t want to kill someone in a fit of anger or fear.
I must have dozed off for longer than I wanted to. There was no sunlight outside. I flicked on a solar-powered flashlight and yawned. I had perhaps lost an hour or two, but it didn’t matter. There were only a few dangerous areas in the city according to my maps, and I knew I could cross them all in a matter of hours. As I lay there, lazily stretching, I felt a presence. I swung the light around at the first entrance. There was nothing there. Dreading what I’d see there, I swung it to the other side. The slowbie I’d seen outside was almost at my feet. I scrambled up and aimed my gun at it in frustration. I was about to shoot it when it looked right in my eyes. We knew they couldn’t see very well in the night. Their bodies, having degenerated to an extent, had night blindness of varying degrees. I didn’t know what this one could see. I moved my flashlight from left to right. It’s eyes didn’t follow. Perhaps it was completely blind and was here only by instinct or following noise. Snorers died quickly in the open lands. I didn’t want to waste the bullet, or make too much noise killing this thing. I had so far avoided ever killing one of these things at close quarters, using a knife or such tools. I’m no sadist and I was not interested in risking my life over some hand-work.
It stared at me oddly without moving an inch for the five minutes I stood there. Finally, I had to move on. I could have just walked out the other door, but an instinct told me to rekill this thing. I approached it, gun trained on the head. My flashlight beamed on the grey skull. As I settled on a good place to shoot it, it looked up. Was it smiling? It seemed to be looking at something beyond and smiling. I knew I had been had. I swung around the entire half arc it took me to turn back and face upwards. But before I knew what I would find, a creature jumped down from the ceiling and landed on my torso. It pushed me down and scattered the gun to the corner. Blinded by its rapid movements and struggle to overpower me, I tried hard to push it away. The torch was still in my hands, but it wasn’t much of a weapon. I couldn’t use it anyways, because the creature had me pinned down. I could feel its rapid cold breath close to me. It didn’t need the extra oxygen it was breathing, but some anatomical features were difficult for the zombies to let go of. So it struggled to bite me and I struggled to get free. The moment I found its hand moving away from my arm, to press my head down, I swung the torch at its head. The blow was soft, but startled it enough for me to throw it to the other side of the room and get up.
But this was no ordinary zombie. Instead of needing a moment to recover, it was rushing at me again. I tried to move to the side, but all I was able to do is get my face in the way of its flailing arm, which knocked hard against my head and threw me off-balance. It found this new tool rather effective, and pushed me down, then pressed my mouth hard with its arm. I was gasping for breath and this told it that I was losing the battle.
Now, I’m a logical person. I know what is and isn’t and what can be and can’t be done. I had never faced a zombie this fast. I had never seen them coordinate. I had never seen one scale the smooth walls of a room and somehow attach itself to the roof to lie in wait for a distracted human. I had also never felt, through my teeth, the dirty cloth worn by a zombie and the sinewy arm it covered. I felt the bone pressing down on my teeth, perhaps trying to shatter them. I did the most illogical thing I could think of, the only way that seemed out of this absurd situation I had gotten myself into. I opened my mouth ever so slightly and let the arm lodge itself into it. Then I bit. I didn’t know what would happen. Zombies don’t exactly feel pain at the limb level. Their brains do not receive signals from their nervous systems. I had seen countless zombies trudging along without an arm or a leg, or sometimes pretty much any limb, just crawling like vile slugs.
Yet, I bit in. I had hoped for an element of surprise, and then freeing myself and running away. Perhaps I had not hoped for that either. Perhaps it was my last stand. Perhaps I did not open my mouth consciously, but the arm forced it open with sheer pressure. But I found its arm in my mouth, sticking to my tongue and soaking my saliva, and I bit hard.
It yelped in pain and fell backwards. As it did, it yanked its arm away, but my bite was too strong and I ripped off part of its dead skin as it pulled away. The cloth and skin still in my mouth, I got up to see the thing writhing in pain on the floor. Even fire did not produce this effect on zombies. It was in excruciating pain. My flashlight naturally fell on it and I saw what could only be the most absurd thing I’ve seen in my entire life. The zombie turned back. It slowly went from blue, dead, and decaying, to reddish, alive, though barely, and very much in pain. It was shrieking, till he was not. He was a boy, of barely 16, badly nourished, holding his arm, the one I’d bitten away at. He looked around, dazed. He sat up, and I jumped back. In response, he jumped back in his seat. He was as afraid of me, as I was of him. But he was human. I knew this, because suddenly, the zombie on the other side of the room was not looking at me with a greedy hunger, but at the boy. It smelled the younger flesh, it recognized the wound filling the room with the scent of sweet blood. It slowly turned away from me and started its slow ambling towards its new goal. I shot it. One ringing bullet reverberated through the room and one clean hole appeared in its skull. It fell, redead.
The boy jumped up when I shot the zombie and rushed to the corner of the room. I beamed a light at his face. It had genuine fear on it. He was on the verge of crying, but he recovered, only to look at me and my gun, now trained at him. “What is going on?” he asked. I almost laughed. The last thing I expected to see in this desolate inner city was a re-alive human. When I didn’t answer, he looked around and noticed his arm. He winced when he saw the bite mark. At some point, I had spit his skin away. I pulled my backpack and took out a bandage. I wavered about what to do with the gun, then pushed it back into its holster and shone a light on the bandage and then tossed it towards him. He caught it mid-air, but fumbled it a little. When he’d caught it and applied it, I took some food out of pack and threw it at him. He tore at it hungrily. Zombies never eat human food, no matter how artificial and how processed. The only thing they eat is flesh. For a long time, scientists tried to explain it as some extreme form of cannibalism. But the closer they came to explaining it, the more violent their test subjects became, eventually killing off every scientist who was willing to study zombies. It was as if the zombies knew their secrets were being unraveled and wanted to prevent it. When he had eaten, I asked him where he was from, what he remembered last, and what he thought was going on. But all he drew was a blank. There was very little the boy understood. His slate had been wiped almost clean.
I didn’t know where to go from here. Had I discovered some amazing secret of how to destroy zombies? Or was this the worst fluke in the history of the earth? Before I could ask myself these questions, a light flickered in front of my eyes. It was as if it was a part of my eyesight itself. Words started appearing in front of me, hung in the air somehow. They shone brightly in the darkness of the room.
“You have discovered the secret.”
“This is the only way to destroy the zombies.”
“Now you will die.”
As soon as the last words disappeared, I heard a rumbling sound from outside. I ran to the door of the building and peeked. I saw what seemed like a horde of zombies marching down the street. They were pouring out from every building, every gutter, and every hole. They shone like dull ants in the pale light of the moon. But they were not the regular undead. They had a purpose. They marched in lockstep. They seemed to be looking for something. They seemed to be looking straight at me. I rushed back inside, half expecting the boy to have turned back into a zombie. I was relieved that he had not. I took out a spare gun and shoved it into his hand.
“You know how to use this?”
I didn’t wait for an answer. I pulled him by his good arm and rushed out the back. I knew the city’s layout. I had memorized every block before this expedition. We had to rush to the nearer hold. It was a good half mile away. That was the longest half mile of my life.
This story was inspired by the following Writing Prompt as well as some of my favorite recent writing –

At some point in my life, I told myself that zombie stories are silly and not worth reading/watching/writing. But this prompt was just sublime. It spurred me towards creativity like none other has. So I wrote it up. I hope you enjoyed it.

Update – the writing prompts page I follow has deleted all their prompts so you can’t see the prompt. I’ve forgotten the exact words, but it was along the lines of “you’re about to die at the hands of a zombie and as a last-ditch effort, you bite into it and it turns into a human” 😀

[Book Notes][Book Review] The Devourers

I started this book about a month ago. I was skeptical. It’s a first book, it’s by some unknown author, it’s set in India but not quite. There were many other reasons too, all of which fell away, shattered, burnt, and then stomped upon by this glorious, marvelous, alien, absurd, beautiful novel.

If I wanted to sensationalize this novel, I would say four words to you – “Cannibalistic European Werewolves in Calcutta!”

But this novel doesn’t need that (besides, that statement above is completely wrong). This story is wild and beautiful and violent and gory. It deifies murder and condemns humans. It questions some social mores and reinforces others. This novel is a fictional history and a tight ropewalk across time. This story is not in control of the narrator and sometimes, not even in control of the author. It flows, like all the blood that it spills, sometimes visibly and sometimes invisibly.

This story needs no sensationalization because it is already, inherently sensational. It goes to those dark places you do not want to go and which the writer did not know his own mind went. And it. is. blashphemous. Oh, it is blasphemous. It is ugly in its blasphemy and yet somehow pure and organic. This book should be burned in squares and read in colleges. This book should be debated and revered. This book should be shredded and yet should survive generations, to show a future civilization, that this too, was something a contemporary thought of.

Or, perhaps, it should not. The violence is without obligation. The rating should be nothing less than “for people who will not puke at every page”. This book should be read by everyone yet no one. There are passages I could not go through with a sane mind, which begs the question – what of the author? Well, I can only say that the author is a genius of another level. He is so vivid in the descriptions yet somehow, there’s always a fog over the entire story, perhaps because that is how we read our history – with a dim view of what must have happened. It is almost unbelievable that this story exists, that too from an Indian mind.

When I was, over the last month, in thrall of the story, I met with a friend and went into a reverie about the book. At some point, she looked me straight in the eye and woke me up from my stupor by asking me that one dreaded question that has destroyed many a career before making them – “tell me how it ends”. The implication is clear. I’ve read way too many first-time novels which were wonderful pieces of literature till they were not. A weak ending, an odd plot point, a stubborn author not willing to let editors do their job. There are many examples of such books which sat in my memory as I pondered over this question. Every time I read the book since that day, I was ever afraid of her question and what the answer would be. Would it be as terrible as I’d come to think it could? There certainly was a strain on the story. It reached a climax too late. It piled on too much towards the end. It tried to tie up too many loose ends.

But my prayers were answered. The novel walks that middle path quite well. It is a wholly original story (the irony of using that phrase, which itself is not wholly original!) and it elevates folklore to a new level. This. This is what Indian authors are capable of, if only they return to their own roots and take ownership of their stories.

Do not ask me if you should read this story. Ask yourself – are you ready to be jolted out of your seat and into the ugliness of this world that the writer so casually flips through, as if it were part of our real history? Human history is not free of bloodshed and meaningless violence, but I’ve never come across an example where it is just laid out, so simply, so absurdly, so purely, while still making it clear – this is fiction. Then why, oh why, is it so bloodcurdling?

There is a phrase in the book that aptly describes the story – “in revulsion and glory”. The story is deeply homosexual. True to its form, both scenes of utmost violence and of deep passion are vivid and colorful and this may very well not be for everyone.


Page 8, last para, it should be “the moonlight diffuses”

Page 52, last line, “I relieved” seems oddly worded.

Page 57, this is such a beautifully written book. It elevated even the most gruesome, the most banal, the most ugly. There’s a line here that says “her faced gemmed with flies.” That is not a phrase that I believe I’ve read anywhere, ever.

Page 152,

A leash, I didn’t say. “Thank you,” I said.

By Jove this book has such colorful language! The way it starts and stops, the way it leads the reader through the thought processes of the characters. The way it surprises and shocks the reader at the same time as it does so to the characters. Indra Das is truly a magnificent writer who will come up with many great stories in his lifetime!

Page 155, oh beautiful blasphemy.

Page 165, what the heck do onions rotting in honey smell like? This book confuses my senses more than anything I’ve ever read!

Page 177, what is the River of Paradise, a canal that flowed through Chandni chowk?

Page 190,

“little more than monkeys that forgot how to swing from the trees.”

Seattle has a lot of Christian missionaries who stand on the streets, smiling, trying to convince you that their religion is the best. If these people irritate you, simply get a printout of the cover of this book, with this paragraph on the flip side and hand it to them whenever they disturb you.

Page 199, this is a great book to wake up to. It jolts you. It burns through whatever sleep you had and whips you into thinking, ‘this also exists in the world?!’

Page 201, one of the things that always amazes me about great writers is how they can describe, in apparent detail and vivid imagery, things that have not happened (at least to me). Things such as death, unconsciousness, and being in a stuffed stupor. How amazingly the author describes one such event, making it so amazingly clear how it would happen. The more I think about it, the more this is my favorite para in this entire amazing book.

Page 204, there’s a line on this page, “all else was fled”. When I googled that phrase, it showed up exactly 3 times in old books. That shows the level of original thought by this author!

Page 235, “a glittering human scab on the water”, ugh, so beautiful! So ghastly!

Page 250, should this be “infinite moment” or “infinitesimal moment”?

Page 283, comedy appears in the strangest of places in this book!

Page 287,

“Lightning cracks the edge of the world, rewriting the vanishing sunlight.”

Note to the author – I hate you, dear author, for you have ruined me for a great many books now. The deep color you have shown me, the way you have wrenched my eyes open to this absurd world of yours, how will I come out of it? How will I dive headfirst into lighter novels? How will I read funny stories without feeling that they are all monochrome?

Update – But I have already moved on! I have picked up All our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai and it is a riot of a book! I am cracking up in the bus like I’ve not in a while! A perfect follow up to this gruesome novel. The Devourers will visit me over time, but for now, I’m gladly sated at how it ended and what wonderful visions it showed to me.

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

Finding my space

A large portion of the Internet is just about discovering interesting things. A part of that is just generally interesting things. But the other part is things that interest us. These two are different.

For most of my lifetime on the Internet, I’ve sought, and found, interesting things. My media diet has varied a lot over the years, flicking from one service and form of information to another. I’ve frequented twitter, Facebook, reddit, news sites, Instagram, blogspot, imgur, tumblr, self hosted blogs, forums, and a whole lot of the Internet I’d rather not talk about. I’ve seen memes (I hate memes), I’ve been caustic (I’ve learnt that’s just not useful to anyone), I’ve read entire books on Gutenberg.

But of late, I’ve noticed that I’ve finally found my space. Some people find it on tumblr or twitter because that’s where the people are. I’ve found it on RSS. I follow, unfollow, cull, clean, unsubscribe and resubscribe to blogs a lot. Whenever I think about moving away from my current self-hosted RSS feed solution, I look at the 700 odd blogs I follow and think that I’ve got better things to do than to reduce this list to an acceptable-by-the-service-I-want-to-move-to number. I used to follow well over twelve hundred sites,  but I realized that I don’t follow the news the way I used to (now I seek it out myself, when I want to, via Reuters or Apple News), so I unsubscribed every single news-site RSS feed and this is where I am today.

For a short, shining time, I was a part of the App.net story. I wasn’t particularly involved, but I did pay for the API and I did learn a few things along the way. I also made some friends and found more people to follow (overwhelmingly, these are old white guys. Just the demographic frequenting that service, I guess). When ADN went away, I still followed these people’s stories, through other social networks that sprung up (pnut, 10C, micro.blog) but also partly, through their blogs. On these social networks, I found more people to follow their blogs of.

What prompted me to write all of the above? I saw the following post by Colin Walker on his ridiculously well-built blog today –

“It’s not about being perfect, just about being.”

He’d written it in his notebook at some point and took the time to remind readers like me of it.

This idea resounds with me. This is something I’ve struggled a lot with. I’ve tried daily blogging, daily journaling, daily private blogging, scribbling notes on a throwaway page on the net, all in an effort to just put words on the screen, to just ‘be’. It doesn’t matter that those words are perfect. Or, well, it shouldn’t. I still fret over it. I still write something, save the draft, and push it out of my memory, because I worry that it’s not up to the mark. I still feel that a lot of my writing is either too laborious, or too much of a rant, or that I drone on.

Meanwhile, there are people like Colin out there, reassuring us that no one is perfect, that there is nothing more important than putting those words, and oneself, out there. I’m glad I follow his blog, and so, follow him.

I’ve found my space in this one field of interest – writing. There are others I’d like to sate, but I believe I can find blogs for those too. If not, I’ll write about that too, right here, asking for your help, dear reader.

Photo by Blue Trail Photography

Sourcing information

We all do most of our browsing on our phones. When we come across something we don’t know about, we google it to find out more. More often than not, the link that gives us the most information is either Wikipedia or a news site.

If it’s current affairs, it’s a news site. If it’s general information, Wikipedia. Then why do we still google the thing? Why waste time on the middleman? Is it force of habit? Is it because we believe that google will give us the most comprehensive information and links? Is it just laziness?

Perhaps it’s all of the above. Google is our one stop shop for all information. Whether we’re looking to buy something, looking for a website which we don’t often go to, looking for some news, or solving some mystery on the web, google will give you the knowledge you’re looking for. That’s a great product, regardless of any other implications on privacy, advertising, politics etc.

So why should we opt to change this excellent workflow? (Need information, ask google, get information)

Because it’s worth it to go to the source.

  • Google often scrapes data from Wikipedia, but most of the time, it’s incomplete. It’ll be the first line or paragraph in a topic that’s complex and needs some more study to understand. Or, google will tell you a part of the information, expecting you to select a link to learn more from. So why not go to the source directly?
  • When the topic is a current affair, Google will show you links that it judges to be of your interest, or of value to them (advertising, collaborations with sites like twitter which will be surfaced above others). Instead, if you go to a solution such as Apple News (or Google News perhaps) and search for the topic you’re looking for, you’ll see a more balanced perspective because all Apple News is doing is collecting links from various news sources and presenting those to you. Notice that I didn’t say you should go to a particular news site for this, because if you want real news, you’d better be looking at more than one source.

Now, how do we make this easier? How do we give up our google habit and go to the source? On mobile, the simplest way to do this is to move your apps around. On my phone, the Wikipedia app sits on the main home screen and the Apple News app sits inside a folder on the dock (most of the time, I end up searching for the news app on spotlight search, but I’m trying to get rid that habit too).

This is not ideal. In an ideal world, I would not have to go to each app individually to search for the topic at hand. I would be able to select a word or phrase and use the share sheet in iOS to jump to Wikipedia or Apple News, neither of which seem to support this simple functionality.

But those are the technical details, which may change at any time. What matters is where we source our information from and why. I recommend that you start cutting out the middleman and go directly to the sources, sites, and services that you trust, because those are the same ones your middleman trusts too. As for the why, well, start doing this and you’ll see a change in how you receive information and perceive the news. Search is good, but search algorithms may very well not be.

Turning 30

As I write this, I’m turning thirty. People say this is a milestone. People write long, lighthearted (peppered with seriousness) posts about their sombre experiences of turning thirty. Movies have been made about it. Listicles of 30 things to do, to not do, to learn, to unlearn, when/before/after turning thirty are published every day. (this is not a listicle)

In fact, I’ve been turning thirty all of this past year, and by extension, all my life. That’s the thing that people (including me) forget. When they say that age is just a number, they also mean that age is a given. It will happen. As Mark Twain said, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” I don’t mind.

I’m often said to be the youngest but one in my cousins (and their spouses). The one who’s younger… Well, she’s more mature than me in many ways. So as I turn thirty, I see the entire extended family maturing. It’s an interesting thing to watch, from where I sit.

It is also very satisfying to know that I am as normal as others. As a kid, I’m sure everyone has spun stories about their lives. Grand tales of adventure or playing the most important character in other people’s lives. It’s turning out that we’re all important characters, but in our own lives. I see the arc that has brought me here and the arc going forward, and it is satisfying to see the same dips and rises as I’ve seen and read other people have. Knowing that one’s life in extraordinarily normal removes a lot of pressure.

I love learning things. It’s not always easy, but it’s important. From my parents, I learnt that there’s no age to stop learning. I believe that’s the most important lesson they’ve taught me.

When I was younger, I used to abhor exercising. I used to think that if I stress out my brain, I’ll somehow get dumber, or lose my creative streak. I lost it for a few years by not exercising it. From my wife, I’ve learnt that exercising is good. It helps blood flow to the brain and gives it new life. Ideas flow faster, they form more easily, and I am able to push myself more to write.

I’ve always peered in at the world of critical thinking. I believe I’m a foreigner to it. I’d love to be able to do it, but till I can wrap my head around the concepts of critical thinking, I enjoy seeing it happen whenever my brother goes about his work. This is perhaps something I’d like to pick up from him someday (this decade?) .

I love learning things from people, as you’ve seen above. There’s a dear friend from whom I’ve learnt some very important things. These are small things, such as the correct etiquette while climbing a mountain, and how to correctly crush plastic bottles before disposing them off. All learning, no matter how big or small, is important.

This is not an awards night. I’m not thanking everyone I know for all they’ve taught me. That would make this a listicle.

But I’ll say one last thing. A dear friend recently said that there’s no correct age for doing things you want to do. Society may say that one is too young or too old to do something. It is up to us to ignore it and go ahead and do it anyway. It is not a contract between you and society, but a decision between you and a choice few others whose voice matters in such decisions. Well, this is a decision between me and my fate, and I’ve decided that this is the right time for me to turn thirty.

Reverse Instant Gratification

More than a month ago, I subscribed my wife to some print magazines. We’ve never had those lying around at our home here (newspapers and magazines were common in India) and I just thought it might be a good addition to her media diet. Ever since, every few days, she asks me what the status of the magazines is. The problem is that print magazines have ridiculous starting dates for new subscriptions. The promised first set is not going to arrive till the end of April. This is just weird. I did some digging and found out that print magazines run on a thin budget for subscriptions and so the process to add someone to the list and publish specifically for them is a long-drawn out process. Or it’s just a scam so they can get you into the next year’s subscription for an exorbitant price. Whatever.

But a week ago, one of the magazines showed up. It was a special edition which was already in print. That was nice of them, I thought. Perhaps it was an additional copy and they decided to send it to people who’d recently signed up. It being a nice surprise, Jahanvi settled in to read it one evening. Within forty-five minutes, she was done. Most of the magazine was ads and the rest was fluff. Didn’t take her long to parse through.

The same evening, we were watching one of her favorite TV shows. It comes on Hulu and trickles down one episode at a time, on weeks they deign us viewers important enough to shower their little trinkets on us. After the episode finished and the end-advert rolled, what was left was a bad taste in the mouth, a hankering for more. In the world of Netflix, Plex Media Server, and Amazon Prime Video, we’re stuck with Hulu and real-time TV. Pathetic.

That’s when we started discussing this topic – reverse instant gratification. In an age of instant gratification, when we give our time and attention to something that doesn’t reciprocate in the same way, that thing is getting the gratification that we ought to be deriving from it. When the magazine came, it was read instantly and we have to now wait patiently for the next. When the episode aired, we devoured it, and were left smacking our lips at the aftertaste of that carefully crafted forty-one minute drama. We gave to those things, the Reverse Instant Gratification that we feel we deserve from them. The system is RIGged! 🙂

Such is the state of affairs. We, the consumers, the binge watchers, the devourers of CDNs, are sometimes left hat in hand, begging for morsels of things running too live for our taste. It’s unfair! It’s unjust! It’s a mockery of everything Netflix holds dear! Just putting that out there.