Escape From Reality

Have you ever wanted to escape from reality? Leave everything behind and get transported to another world?

Maybe you’re bored to death with the mundane daily routine. Maybe your life’s troubles are weighing heavily on you. Your job, your career, your family, your friends, all of it becomes too much to handle at times. You want to get away, if only for a short while.

I bring good news for you. You can escape from your reality. Today, if you want to.

All you have to do is find a good work of fiction to immerse yourself into. A story that draws you in, and doesn’t let you go till the last page is turned.

When a good story gets a hold of you, something magical happens. From wherever you are, you can teleport yourself to different world. A world created by the author’s imagination, and completed by your own. There, you’ll meet interesting new people and go on adventures with them.

You’ll live vicariously through their trials and tribulations, struggles and rewards, pain and joy. They’ll become part of your life during the time you inhabit their world.

When you embark on this journey with your new friends, you’ll begin your escape.

You’ll forget about the problems of the real world, of the day-to-day struggle. For a brief period, you’ll be free. Free to be lost in the realm of your imagination. Free to be like a child again: enchanted and full of wonder.

Now, I know what you’re going to say.

Oh, I would love to read a good story, but I just don’t have the time. My work keeps me busy, and then I have so many things to do at home…where’s the time?

What about all the time you spend on your phone, that addictive device that never leaves your side? How often do you find yourself scrolling through some newsfeed, watching random videos, distracted by sporadic tidbits and forwarded messages, rapidly switching between apps?

If you spend a little less time on that small screen that saps your attention with the frivolous and the random, you can instead redirect your attention towards something more compelling.

Consider this: you found time to read this, didn’t you?

Surely then, you can read a story for half an hour a day. Maybe, before going to sleep at night, maybe during your commute (or maybe even in the bathroom). When you find a story that captivates you, the time for it will materialize in your day.

What should I read, you might ask?

Read anything you want. Be it romance or murder mysteries, courtroom dramas or young adult stories, fantasy or horror….what­ever floats your boat. Follow your curiosity. Find a story that makes you forget your surroundings, and takes you away to another place, where you can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Maybe you’ll enjoy dark fantasy horror stories with zombies chasing vampires. Maybe you’ll like a plain old love triangle, boy-meets-girl, girl-meets-another-boy, etc. Your family, friends and colleagues might look upon your choices with condescension and disdain. But who cares with other people think? Remember, you only have to please yourself. This is your escape. Yours and yours alone.

The human experience is a difficult one. Our lives are chaotic and full of uncertainty. We’re constantly inundated with challenges and decisions. We have so many expectations to meet, and so much is out of our control. We’re often blindsided by things that hurt us. We have a wardrobe full of unfulfilled desires and forgotten dreams.

It’s only natural that we need to escape every now and again. Some people turn to meditation or spirituality or religion. Some turn to alcohol and drugs and other medicinal substances. Some travel to exotic destinations. Some get lost in the world of sports, living every game with their favorite team. Some are swept away by music and dance, art and craft.

In the end, we all need an escape. Something to dispel the dark fog that descends on our minds. A respite from the painful, suffocating, and at times unbearable experiences that life puts us through.

So, have you found yours?

The Terminal Condition

Imagine you have a terminal illness, and have limited time left to live. Would you waste previous moments feeling unhappy about your life situation, angry with other people, upset about little things? Or would you let it all go, and make the most of what time you have left?

I have news for you. You do have a terminal condition. It’s called life. And there is no known cure. You will die someday. You have limited time left.

Years ago, I read a novel called Train to Pakistan by Khuswant Singh. In it was a character named Hukum Chand, a government magistrate, whose backstory created a strong impression on me.

Death had been an obsession for Hukum Chand. As a child, he saw his aunt die after prolonged suffering. For weeks, she had hallucinations, and would wave her arms frantically at imaginary spirits. Eventually she died, shrieking with terror, her tongue sticking out, staring and pointing at the ceiling.

This scene never left Hukum Chand’s mind. Later, he tried to overcome his fear of death by spending countless hours at cremation grounds. He watched bodies, young and old, being brought there, lamented for, and then burned.

Through this, he developed a sense of tranquility. He got over his anxiety about death, but the idea of ultimate dissolution was always present in the background of his mind. It made him kind, charitable, and tolerant. It made him cheerful in adversity. He took the loss of his children with a calm acceptance. He lived through a bad marriage with a spiteful wife, without complaint.

It all came from his belief that the only absolute truth was death. Everything else – pride, ambition, wealth, success, love – was to be taken with a pinch of salt. Nothing really mattered in the end. This was the core of Hukum Chand’s philosophy, and he lived well.

The awareness of the transient nature of all things can be liberating. If nothing lasts, then why worry about what will happen tomorrow, or dwell about what happened yesterday? None of it will matter.

To internalize this awareness, start with something small. Look at any object around you: your phone, a table, a glass, anything. At some point, this thing did not exist. Someone made it, and now you’re seeing it and using it. With time, it will start to decay, and then be discarded and destroyed.

Look at any building, like your home or office. In the past, this structure was not there. Today, it stands before you. It will gradually experience wear and tear. Maybe fifty or a hundred years from now, it will be taken down, and replaced by something new.

Think of the people in your life. Before they were born, they were not in this world. Now, they’re here. As the years roll by, they will inevitably age, and the condition of their body and mind will deteriorate. Until one day, they will no longer be in this world.

Think about the city you live in. Ages ago, this city didn’t exist. The land was very different, and maybe even uninhabited. Then, at one point in history, the city was built. And who knows how long it will last? There’ll come a time when no such city exists anymore. It could get submerged under water, destroyed by earthquakes, or by man-made catastrophes like war.

The same goes for the country, even the planet. Earth was not here from the beginning. It took a while to come into being in the universe. Like any planet, it has a finite lifetime. One day, it too will cease to exist.

Everything is temporary. Nothing lasts. So, don’t take life so seriously. Don’t take yourself so seriously.

Understand this: everything you do, become, achieve or create will fade away in time, and eventually be lost in the annals of history.

Don’t hold on to your life’s problems, big or small. Don’t hold on to your attachments to possessions, and to people. Don’t hold on to your expectations of who you are, what you must achieve, and how your life must turn out. Don’t hold on to anything.

Let it all go. 

You’ll feel so much lighter. You’ll be free at last. Free to enjoy each moment, whatever it may bring.

Breathe. Relax. Have fun. Enjoy the moment. Let it go.

Life has two simple rules:
Rule No 1) Don’t worry about the small stuff.
Rule No 2) It’s all small stuff.

The Dish Verifier

            A cloudy formation appeared in front of Naveen’s eyes. He blinked twice. For some reason, the clouds had a yellowish tinge. And there were lines in between them, and patches of brown.

            His eyes slowly opened. The yellowish blur came into focus. It was the wall of his room, with its beige paint peeling off.

            He yawned and reached for his phone on the bedside table. It was half past noon.

            Standing up felt like a herculean effort. A sharp pain pierced through his head. His legs wobbled. He put a hand on the mattress to steady his lanky frame.

His roommate Sumeet sat at the dining table, hunched over his laptop. Patches of unshaven beard stubble decorated his face.

They were childhood friends who grew up in Mumbai, and now rented this studio apartment in Jersey City during their summer internships.

Naveen staggered into the kitchen.

Sumeet glanced at him. “You look like a zombie from The Walking Dead.”

Naveen massaged his temple. It felt like his skull was being pounded by a hammer, from the inside.

He picked up a plastic glass from the counter, and gazed into it.

Seriously dude,” Sumeet said. “How much did you drink last night?”

Naveen lifted a hollow five-gallon plastic water jug over his glass. He barely got a drop.

“There’s no water.”

“As always, you have an outstanding grasp of the obvious,” Sumeet said.

The kitchen sink was overflowing with plates, glasses, utensils, spoons, forks, etc. Naveen put his glass below the faucet.

“Tap water here is not drinkable,” Sumeet said. “You know that, right?”

Naveen scowled, and threw the water into the sink. He put his palms on the counter and closed his eyes.

The click-click-click of Sumeet’s laptop keyboard sounded shrill to his ears.

“Stop making that sound,” Naveen demanded.

“What sound?”

“Your stupid keyboard...”

“What?” Sumeet paused. “Are you still high?”

Naveen saw a white bottle on top of the refrigerator. It had an image of two coconut trees, and the word ‘MALIBU’ above it. He lifted it by the neck, filled his glass, and took a gulp.

Sumeet raised an eyebrow. “You drinking in the morning now?”

“It’s afternoon.”

“Good to know that you can at least tell the time …”

“And I’m not drinking. It’s just Malibu.”

“Malibu is rum,” Sumeet said. “You know that, right?”

Naveen plonked himself down on a chair. “It’s practically water.”

“Practically water,” Sumeet repeated. He scratched his beard stubble, and went back to his laptop.

Naveen sipped the practically-water in silence. Every few minutes, he rubbed his forehead.

He went to the garbage can, but before he could toss his glass, a crushed-up paper plate and a plastic bag spilled out.

“This apartment is a mess,” Naveen said. “The trash is full, the sink is full, there’s no water.” He looked at Sumeet. “And you just sit on your laptop all day.”

“Dude, I have a big presentation on Monday.”

Naveen just glared.

“What?” Sumeet said. “You worried that the Israeli babe you rented this place from will come to check on us?”

“She’s an Aunty, not a babe.”

Sumeet shrugged. “Aunties can also be babes.”

Naveen opened the fridge and stuck his head inside. There were eggs and bread. He looked back at the sink. The frying pan was buried under mounds of utensils.

He rummaged through the kitchen drawers and cupboards. “Why is there nothing to eat here??”

He opened and shut a cupboard, again and again, staring inside it.

“Yea, if you open and close it a few more times, food will definitely appear,” Sumeet said, with a nod. He pointed to his laptop. “It works just like Windows.”

Once again, something from the top of the refrigerator caught Naveen’s attention. It was a transparent plastic box, which appeared to hold biscuits.

Naveen wolfed down a biscuit. He had barely swallowed the first one, when he crunched into another.

Suddenly, his face contorted into a grimace.

It tasted like rotten meat mixed with sawdust. It was by far the most horrific thing he had put into his mouth. Ever.

Sumeet came over and examined the box. A wide grin spread over his face. “You know what you just ate??”

Naveen opened the faucet and gargled in the sink. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, still cringing.

“Dog biscuits!” Sumeet turned the box around, pointing to a small sticker on the lower corner.

Naveen squinted his eyes. “What???”

“Your Israeli Aunty has a dog.”

Naveen spat out again. He remained hunched over, dazed.

“You must have seen the dog hairs on the sofa and carpet,” Sumeet seemed unable to wipe the grin off his face. He gave a slow shake of his head. “I was also hungry, but man, you’ve sunk to another level of desperation.”

Naveen’s eyes bore into the plastic box. “Why is the label so small??”

“My friend, you’ve just crossed the line between man and…”

            Naveen shoved him backwards. “I didn’t know what it was!”

“…canine.” Sumeet doubled over laughing. He touched Naveen’s forehead. “How do you feel?”

Naveen pushed him off. He turned his attention back to the cupboards. He ransacked every part of the kitchen. “I’m still hungry.”

“There are some bones in the trash, from the chicken we ate last week.…”

“Oh get over it dude,” Naveen snapped.

Sumeet beamed at him.

“I’m going to make eggs,” Naveen said. “But first, you’re going to help me wash theses dishes.”

Sumeet took one look at the colossal pile in the sink, and shook his head. “I have a presentation…”

“We can use this dishwasher thing,” Naveen pointed to an appliance with a stainless steel surface.

“We don’t know how to use that,” Sumeet said. “We haven’t been in the US long enough.”

Naveen shot him a look of contempt. “We’re both graduating with Masters degrees, and you’re saying we can’t figure out how to use a dishwasher??”

“Fine,” Sumeet said. He opened the door to the dishwasher, and crouched down. “Pass the dishes.”

One by one, Naveen handed him the items from the sink.

“Try to rinse them a bit,” Sumeet said.

“Why should I do the work? That’s what the thing is for…”

“Dude, it’s already full...”

Naveen handed off another plate. “Just shove it in somewhere.”

“Shove it in somewhere,” Sumeet rolled his eyes. “”That attitude is not going to help you later on in life…”

“Alright, that’s it,” Naveen said. He looked at the empty sink, feeling physically lighter.

Sumeet stood up. “We probably need to put soap.”

“Yea,” Naveen walked across the room.

“Where you going?”

“To the bathroom. You said we needed soap.”

“Dude,” Sumeet said, “Not that soap.”

Naveen half-turned.

“There’s a different soap for having a bath, a different soap for washing clothes, and a different soap for this….”

“What difference does it make?” Naveen spread his arms out. “Soap is soap.”

Sumeet looked through the drawers, shaking his head. “I don’t know how you’re going to survive in the US.”

“Why do they have 20 different types of soap, and 100 different types of cereal, and…” Naveen searched the lower cupboards. He picked up a green, rectangular box. “Here, this says dishwashing detergent.”

He opened it. “It’s some powder.”

“Just don’t eat it dude,” Sumeet grabbed the box. “Yea this is it.”

He saw a small square compartment on the inside of the dishwasher door. He flicked a lever to open it. He put powder inside, and shut it.

He examined the row of buttons on the front. “What setting do we want? There’s mini, light, normal, heavy duty…”

“As usual, 100 options,” Naveen said. “Just go for normal.”

“What water level? Low, medium, high? Also, do we want Rinse Dry or Heat Dry…”

“Normal, dude. Just put normal for everything.”

Sumeet gave him a sideways glance. “Yea, that’s brilliant. How do you come up with such intelligent answers?”

“I’m a genius,” Naveen said.

“Okay, I’m starting it,” Sumeet pushed a button, and stepped back.

“I’m going to bed,” Naveen said. “Wake me when it’s done.”

He collapsed onto the mattress, and fell into an instant slumber.

An hour later, he heard a voice that sounded like a distant echo. “Dude…”

Naveen stirred and turned on his side.

“Dude,” The voice called out. “I think it’s done.”

Naveen half-opened his eyes. Sumeet was sitting at the exact same spot, in front of his laptop.

Moving at a snail’s pace, Naveen crawled out of bed. He opened the dishwasher, took out a plate, and put it on the counter. “Dude, help me unload.”

“Fine,” Sumeet stood up. He picked up a plate. “Does this look clean to you?”

Naveen blinked, and looked at it. There were yellow stains on the edges. He glowered at the dishwasher. “Stupid machine didn’t work.”

“Maybe we have to rinse the dishes before putting them in,” Sumeet said.

“If we wash the dishes, then what’s the point of the dishwasher?”

“Maybe, it’s not a dishwasher,” Sumeet said. “Maybe, it’s a dish verifier.”

“What does that mean??”

“You wash the dishes, put them in, and it verifies that they are properly clean,” Sumeet pointed to the row of buttons. “When the light turns green, the dishes have passed the test, and are certified clean.”

Naveen looked his roommate up and down. His expression was a mixture of bemusement and disdain. “How high are you? How many dog biscuits have you had, ha?”

“Nah man, those are reserved for you.”

Naveen tapped the steel surface of the dishwasher. “We got to make this work. Masters students can’t be so stupid…”

“My masters is in finance, yours is in computers,” Sumeet said. “We don’t have a masters in dishwashing.”

Naveen craned his neck inside the dishwasher. He opened the small compartment. “You think we should put water with the powder?”

“Sure, why not?” Sumeet shrugged.

“Yea,” Naveen nodded to himself. “It can’t just be dry powder. It needs to be a little wet, like a paste.”

He poured water into the compartment, and stirred it with the back of a spoon. He stood up and examined his handiwork. Satisfied, he closed the compartment, and pushed the dishwasher door shut till he heard a click.

“Trying it again,” He announced, and pressed the button.

A few seconds later, a whirring sound started up. The two roommates exchanged a look.

“Good, it’s doing something,” Naveen said. He lay down stomach-first on his bed.

Sumeet spread himself across the couch. “I’m also taking a nap.”

The rhythmic whirring sound got louder and softer at a regular cadence. It was a background track to Naveen’s dreams.

Smack in the middle of a dream, he felt a pair of arms shaking him roughly.

“What? What?” Naveen woke with a start. “Get off me.”

“Dude,” Sumeet hovered over him. “What the hell did you do to the dishwasher?? It’s unleashed a tsunami in here.”

Naveen stepped into the kitchen. His bare feet dipped into the cold water spraying indiscriminately from the steel appliance, and sliding along the floors.

Sumeet said. “I tried to shut it off…”

Naveen moved his hand towards the dishwasher.

“Don’t do that,” Sumeet shouted.

But Naveen yanked the door open.

A deluge of water tumbled out, splashing onto the floor. Both the boys jumped backwards.

“Why the fuck did you do that?” Sumeet yelled. He picked up his laptop and cradled it in his arms.

Naveen stared at the outpouring flood. Water dripped down from his knees to his ankles.

“What are we going to do?” He looked around, flabbergasted. The water flowed from the kitchen to the carpets, and traveled onwards towards the bathroom.

“Start mopping, what else?” Sumeet said. From the side of the refrigerator, he fetched a tall mop with a bundle of strings at its end, which he gave to Naveen. In the cupboard, he found a shorter stick with a sponge at its base, and a bucket.

He looked at Naveen. “Don’t stand there looking clueless. Get mopping.”

Naveen rolled up his pajamas, and ran the mop over the floor.

“I knew we shouldn’t have used the frickin dishwasher,” Sumeet shook his head.

Naveen looked dolefully towards the fridge. “I’m still hungry.”

“So eat,” Sumeet gestured towards the plastic biscuit box.

“Shut up and mop,” Naveen barked.

It was going to be a long, long day.