The Dream – A Short Story

TheDream

After a long dry spell of almost a year, I have published my third short story The Dream.

The Dream is the short story of a girl who wakes up every morning to realize she still hasn’t forgotten the devastating memory of seeing off the love of her life for the last time ever. Here is an excerpt:

She woke up to find herself crying hard. Tears filled her eyes and everything looked blurred. She tried to take a deep breath but choked on her sobs. Still lying down, she rubbed her hands over her eyes and large drops of tears fell onto the pillow, which she discovered was already very wet. She wondered how long she had been crying in her sleep.

You can download it for free in various ebook formats from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/508280.

If you would like to check out any of my other short stories, please have a look at my author’s page on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/shitijbagga

The Reading List

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As a book lover, one of the things I have most longed for is a week long holiday from work and a list of excellent books to read without any interruptions and distractions. I had been craving for such a break for a long time and it only came about this week.

So, Christmas holidays are here and at the end of my last day at work, I dropped in to Stockholm’s biggest library, Stadsbibliotek, and spent about an hour searching for the list of books I was going to devour over the next couple of weeks. Or at least, I thought I would. But here was the problem: none of the books that I had on my Reading List A was to be found in the library. OK, so I had two reading lists prepared for this occasion – List A: books that I’ve been longing to read and now was the best time; and List B: books that can be listed as backup if List A was not possible. Here is a sample of what I was looking for:

List A:

  • The Idiot OR The Karamazov Brother – by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Honorable Schoolboy OR Smiley’s People – both by John Le Carre (Remember Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy?)
  • War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

List B:

  • Missing – Karin Alvtegen
  • In Cold Blood – by Truman Capote
  • Any books by PG Wodehouse.

There was also a Plan C, of course. Plan C was that in case I found nothing from my first two lists at the library, I would pick 3-4 fiction novels that appealed to me the most from what was available. It was unlikely, but not impossible, that I might have to fall back on Plan C – after all it was Stockholm’s biggest library – but I was nevertheless going to be mentally prepared.

‘Mentally prepared for not being able to find a good book to read from a big library?’ you might ask and it may sound a bit weird to the unfamiliar, but imagine a guy (that’s me) who stands for hours in front of his personal library back home in India, stocked with 300 books (about 15 of them are yet to be read), and is still unable to decide what to read. Yes, some of us bookworms get weird in this aspect of our lives.

So, back to picking the books. I immediately move to Section D to look for Dostoyesvsky’s books and there are none of them available. Damn! Now to Section L for Le Carre and the two books on my list are also not there. I do see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but I’ve already read that and, to my shame, not understood what happened in the story at all.

Nevermind! I move to T and even Tolstoy is out of stock. There goes List A into the dustbin. Out with List B. I move to Section A and look for Alvtegen and it is also missing. And there is nothing by Wodehouse that I haven’t already read so I am so frustrated now that I don’t even attempt to look for Capote.

It has been 15 minutes since I entered the library and I am already panicking. I can see my holidays going for a toss because now I don’t have any books to read. But I must persist and pick up something before I leave – that was plan C. I run over the list of authors I can think of. Jeffry Deaver – already read all of his books. I’ve heard of Tess Gerritsen, Michael Connelly, Patricia Cornwell.. oh Damn! Not those regular thriller fictions again.

It was a long battle in my mind but another 40 minutes have passed by and I have finally made up my decision. I have picked up The Nightmare by Lars Kepler, another thriller but at least the story is based in Stockholm so it will give me a peek into the city that I have recently moved to. And because my mind has stopped working completely, I also picked by The Sixth Man by David Baldacci and I have no idea why. Somewhere, at the back of my mind, I am already thinking about the unread books I already have back at my apartment which I know I probably can fall back upon now: A couple of them by Wodehouse and one by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Fast forward by a couple of hours and I am back at my apartment, holidays have started and I am already lying on my couch with a cup of hot tea and about to finish the 20th page of The Nightmare. It is a good thriller, but I feel more and more disappointed. The problem is, I’ve read so many thrillers in my lifetime that they all seem to be the same to me. Something to start with, a lot of twists and turns and I already know how stories unfold. Depending on how much you have progressed in the book, you can figure out whether the events that are unfolding right now are leading to the unraveling of the suspense or only thickening of the cloud around it. It gives me no high.

That is when I start thinking about the books that have ever given me a high. When I had read my first book, A Matter of Honor by Jeffrey Archer, it gave me a high because that was the first time I realized how books can engage you. But over the last few years only a very few books have really shaken me from inside and I start remembering them. I thought about Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky and how deep the flaws of the protagonist ran. I was amazed by how sick he felt after committing a murder and how it changed him and everything around him. There was no mystery in that novel in the conventional way. The real mystery was in guess how much sicker he can get and how his life was going to deteriorate because of what he has done. It touched you like nothing else ever did before.

Then I think about Love in the Time of Cholera. I don’t know how others feel about it because I never look up the reviews of a book I’ve read because my opinion and my feelings for it are enough and do not need to be spoilt. But was this book something special! The protagonist Florentino Ariza is a young man madly in love with Fermina Daza who has turned him down but he waits for over half a century to win her over again. The feelings depicted in the book are unmatched and I cannot think of any other romantic novel – though I hate to call it just a novel – that has even come anywhere close to it. This stuff is special. If you haven’t read it yet, read it today.

Anyway, as I reach page 40 or so in the novel that I was currently reading, my mind wanders to Sherlock Holmes. Ah, unarguably the best I have ever read and reread and then again some more. I don’t think I will ever tire of reading Holmes and will even be reading it when I turn 50 or 60.

And so is the case with the Jeeves and Wooster series of books (again I refrain from calling them novels in the traditional sense) by P.G. Wodehouse. Have I ever cherished a fictional character more than I’ve cherished Bertie Wooster? No, and I probably never will. Someone had sometime quoted that Wodehouse is ‘..the ultimate in comfort reading because nothing bad ever happens in P.G. Wodehouse land… For as long as I am immersed in a P.G. Wodehouse  book, it’s possible to keep the real world at bay and live in a far, far nicer, funnier one where happy endings are the order of the day.’ I possibly cannot say anything that explains it better that this quote.

And so, the list is long but there was one book that still has me stumped. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre is the book that I took a really long time to read and is perhaps the only book at the end of which I confessed to myself that I did not understand what the hell had happened and where the story had been going. Immediately after finishing the book, I could not even explain to my wife what I had read. What was so wrong about it? Or was it me who, despite all my experience in reading for the last 15 years, is still not good enough? The problem, as I can only remember it, was that the story kept swinging wildly from present to past and the author did not make it very obvious which scene was played when and how one got there. I think the ambiguity made me lose track of what I was reading but I kept going on and on, hoping that sometime later in the book it will become clearer. But that was a mistake on my part. It never did and the story ended with me hanging clueless about what happened.

I started surfing the internet in a bid to find a post that would finally explain to me, in detail, what happened in the story and if there was anyone else who did not get it when they read it. And I was pleasantly surprised to find that many other readers of this book admitted the same disappointment as me and so did even people who had watched the movie. And it always came down to the same reason: the story kept swinging from present to past without warning.

But this book taught me a very valuable lesson. Not all books will be run-of-the-mill thrillers-or-suspense where the author does the bulk of the work in making things clear for the reader. No, By Gosh! as Bertie Wooster would have exclaimed. I realize that what I really wanted to read was something where the author doesn’t spoon feed me but challenges me to understand what he is saying. A book doesn’t have to reach out to you, sometimes, you need to reach inside it and find things out. That is what happened when I read the likes of Holmes, Wodehouse, Dostoevsky, Orwell, Albert Camus and others. What they write is only a part of it. What you get out of understanding them is the real joy of reading.

I hope you have found your favorite books to read this winter. Happy Holidays!

Started writing for OpinionCircuit.com

 

 

OC

For a long while now, I’ve been quite inactive with my present blog. But, that was for various reasons with the most important one being that I was busy getting married and very shortly after that, even my sister got married. So, it was a few months where I had no idle time to sit down and write blogs.

Now, I’ve recently joined one more blog site founded by a few friends and I found it quite exciting. OpinionCircuit.com

This is bascially a place where the founders as well as the resident editors (all of us love to write) blog their fair, frank and fearless views on various topics that are important to them. These include politics, society, etc. and are mostly India-centric. There are also a few articles that attemp Satire on various fields such as politics, bollywood, etc.

I have joined their team as a resident editor and have been writing a few posts. Do visit our website and support us by liking our Facebook page, follow our twitter handle (@OpinionCircuit) and help spread the word.

Happy New Year!!!

 

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Here’s me wishing everyone a great and happy new year 2014. Yes, finally, after a long wait of 365 days, the calendar has finally exhausted itself and the Earth has tirelessly completed yet another revolution around the Sun – though the point in the orbit where it started from and where it finished really has no bearing on us. It might as well have been any other point or any other date, we would still have enjoyed the feeling of the New Year just as well.

Not so overjoyed today are the outer planets, such as Jupitor, Saturn, etc. because they are not seeing the new year anytime soon. It takes both Jupitor and Saturn nearly 12-earth-years to complete their single year, so basically, you need to wait for a really really long time.

Uranus, with its 84-earth-year cycle lags a long long way behind as well. Can you imagine celebrating new year on Uranus?

And the worst of the lot – the saddest of them – I can certainly say are Neptune and Pluto with their own yearly cycle corresponding to 165 and 248 earth-years.

But that does not mean we got the best deal. Mercury celebrates its new year every 88 days, so all the party people…. Next year, forget Ibiza and head to Mercury!!!!

Countdown to my 30th Birthday

For the last many years, I’ve dreaded my 30th birthday. I always knew that the 30th would be my most undesirable one simply because I thought I would cease to be the guy-in-his-20s anymore. 30th birthdays do not have the same charm as 20th or 24th or 27th. Makes me feel older, entering the 4th decade of my lifetime. They just sound too morbid to me.

So, taking cue from the fact that each my birthdays over the last decade has turned out to be a fiasco in some way, I have been expecting my 30th to be no different and have been preparing for the stupid day with no excitement at all.

MagicWandThough my birthday is only in the end of august, yet last night something magical took place that has turned things around when I got a magic make-a-wish wand. All I need to do is wave the wand and utter a wish and it will be fulfilled. Sounds childish, right? But it made a difference to me. It made me feel as if it is not my 30th birthday that I am approaching but my 3rd.

I am super excited now that I have been told this month is a special month and that I can expect lots of surprises. I feel that age again when I would stay sleepless the night before my birthday because I would be so looking forward to the excitement of the day and the gifts that would come rolling in.

Obviously, at 30, you don’t care much about the gifts money can buy anymore. What you do care about is the fact that you have people to make you feel on top of the world.

So, the gong has been sounded and the countdown to my birthday has begun.

29th August, 2013, I am looking forward to you.

A Year of Blogging

one-year-oldI just realized that I have completed 1 yr of blogging yesterday, the 4th of August. It just seemed like yesterday that I started to write my first blog post where I wondered what one should write about. That was a question that I pondered over for the last few years before I finally made the final push and started to write.

I am a slow beginner, I take it. I always aspired to write my own blog because reading was such a great passion and writing cannot be left much behind. And there have been weeks and weeks of inactivity during the last year during which I couldn’t come up with a single idea for a post. Not even one line.

So, at the end of my first year, I went back and looked at my Blog stats and I find that I have:

97 Blog Posts (this is my 98th), 5,320 Views on my entire blog and 161 Followers

My most viewed post has been: Banning and Burning Books, which I wrote exactly a year ago on 5th August 2012.

Another spinoff from my blog was that I started writing some short stories, which I have self-published in the form of e-books through Smashwords.com. I know it is not a big deal and almost anyone could do it but I learnt a lot from even this small experience. I still have ideas in my head for further writing but either I do not have sufficient time or maybe I am not bright enough but that is for my readers to decide.

I can just say this. Whenever I feel like writing something that is important to me, I do and will continue to write it. At times, I will go missing – suffering from writer’s block – and I imagine I can live with that also.

As long as the spirit of being a writer – even though I might be awful at it – keeps burning inside me, I feel a sense of happiness.

What if you’re wrong?

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I am often asked this question by believers when talking about belief in God, “what if you’re wrong?” I do admit that it is definitely a fair question and so it deserves a fair and honest answer.

My answer is:
I believe in humanity, happiness, fairness, justice, equality, honesty and humility. I would like to see everyone to be happy and treated fairly, irrespective of their gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, caste and color amongst other things. And more importantly, I believe that everybody should be allowed their fundamental rights to say what they want, live the way they want and whoever they want to live with. All these are important and real issues and principals of humanism. These matter. Not having a blind belief in a God allows me to hold these very real principles as sacred and in a way devoid of any prejudices against any groups of people who might be different from me and hold principles different from mine.
If I am wrong about the God question, then it doesn’t really matter because I have still lived for real causes, real people, real happiness, real fundamental rights, real freedom from oppression. And these would have still remained equally important whether god existed or not because if he did, and he is half as good as you claim him to be, then I can be sure that I would be okay in his eyes because I still advocated for very real issues which were of a more pressing concern in my world than taking time out to worship an omnipotent and omniscient ultimate entity – something that simple logic definition becomes needless – or spending my energy on persecuting people who held different beliefs from me or had a sexual inclination that I did not approve of.
So, if I were wrong, I wouldn’t have lost out much in life anyway because I would still have been the same person as I am today. And if there turned out to be a god who’d still punish me for not worshipping him, then I submit that we would already be living under a supernatural dictatorship – an anarchy if you will – the nature of which would in itself indicate doom for humanity and the universe.
But you, a believer, have lived and dedicated your entire life to an assumed entity that you had no way of knowing for sure. And you don’t possess any special mental and physical faculties that I don’t so you cannot claim to have a way to know that I cannot. And because of your belief in that assumed supernatural entity, you have decided to live by a code which is based on compulsory love and extreme fear of the same entity and which makes some of you do really really horrible things to really really sweet and innocent people -things which someone with secular mindset could never even dream of. What about the sufferings you could cause in the world by following religious dogmas that persecuted people because of their beliefs, sexual inclinations and who they loved.
So, now i ask you the believer, what if you’re wrong? Haven’t you missed out on the most important things in life itself while thinking only for something that didn’t even exist?

Ridicule of religion

religion vs scienceWhy is it that when Charles Darwin, the genius who changed the world with his discovery of the concept of evolution, is made into a cartoon by attaching his head to the body of a monkey and when jokes are made and repeated by people in religious authority, nobody from the scientific community or science “followers” gets angry or violent or even remotely offended? But at the same time, utter anything against a religious figure, such as even a self-proclaimed godman, and you can be sure that people are going to get deeply offended, become violent, damage public property and even kill other people.

I think the difference here is what your belief system teaches you. Publicly, religion says it teaches tolerance and that without this tolerance the world wouldn’t survive. But privately, what it really teaches is to tolerate people only as long as they do exactly what you would like them doing and stray no further. Since birth, people are taught to revere their religious beliefs, which they don’t even understand properly, and blindly follow everything that is told to them.

For instance, if any other person proclaims himself to be highly religious or a godman, then everything he says must be taken as words of perfect wisdom. It doesn’t matter who these godmen are, how many times their acts of con are exposed (as in the case of Sathya Sai Baba), how low their educational and intellectual levels are (such as ISKCON’s Srila Prabhupad). The moment you mention examples of their ignorance, religious people get deeply offended and shut their ears but their dedication to such ungodly people continues despite what you say.

But have you ever heard a scientist or an atheist pelting a single stone towards any of these con-men despite their horrendous world-views?

You know why?

Because education gives you the maturity to ignore when people deserve your ignorance and pit evidence of all sides against each other and dismiss that which cannot hold its ground. No need to get angry if the same godman as above is making a fool out of themselves by saying that the “…moon is above, 200,000 yojanas above the sun… Above the sun. How they’ll go? [laughter] They are going to the wrong… bluffing only. I am repeatedly saying, they have never gone, simply bluff.”

Well, I only take offense to one thing in the above dialog. And that is that the laughter belongs to the listener and not the speaker.

And I challenge any religious followers to tell me I am wrong in laughing at the ignorance of such statements and the people who make them.

The Fake Wellwisher

Often, when you are not too happy, you might find a lot of people empathising with you. And, that is a good thing because you feel you are not alone.
However, when things turn around and you are happy again, most of those people would continue to be happy for you but there would be a few who would suddenly vanish. All your deep ties appear broken.
I wonder why that happens. Maybe it is human nature that brings out the good in people when they see others unhappy and that somehow makes them feel their lives are so much better.
But it is much more difficult for them to see the same people become happy, maybe because it rubs away the special feeling that they have enjoyed till then.
Truth be told, once you identify this behaviour, you should be even happier than before because now you know that someone is jealous.

Love and Loss

Sometimes, when you love someone, then the most difficult thing that you can endure isn’t losing them but having to watch them lose you.

You cry not because of your own loss, but because you know someone else is crying too.

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