Up in smoke

The first lesson environmental sciences gives us is the fact that the earth is lent to us by the future generations. An alternate angle could be the fact that the earth we leave for them is our ultimate gift to them, and it certainly does not look good. The world we live in is so filled with stress that it has become a suffering to live a long life.

Stress leads to a plethora of mental and physical disorders, which eventually leads to shortened life-spans, loss of happiness, a decrease in productivity and many more problems. It only increases as people grow older. To rid themselves of this stress, people use a variety of methods which include but are not limited to alcohol, nicotine, and psycho-stimulants like sleeping pills, cocaine etc. All these ostensibly help reduce stress but in fact, give rise to an addiction. People end up using these as an excuse for not trying to find happiness in their lives. There are a variety of ways people use to blow off steam, but doing it literally is more common these days.

 

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Very common addiction to nicotine comes from cigarettes. It has been a part of our society since ancient history, with various forms of opioids and other psychoactive materials, being converted to vapors and smoked. From hookah in the middle east and India to the pipes used by aboriginals in the west, smoking up has evolved with the society.

There exist multiple types of normal cigarettes for example menthol, which people generally use to start smoking, light, advanced, for loosening up the mind, and light, for chain-smokers who do not really need it but can not deal with nicotine withdrawal symptoms.We now have e-cigarettes as well which make vapors out of anything using combustible substances and electricity. It is not yet a common sight in our country, but hookah sure is. People, young and old alike, can be seen swarming the hookah bars where they are served smoke through a water-pipe along with  food and sometimes drinks. They have become a great spot for socializing.

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However, unlike the common understanding, hookahs and e-cigarettes are equally harmful. An hour of hookah can fill your lungs with more tar than a complete pack of cigarettes.Nicotine is a great way to reduce pressure in your head, but the withdrawals leave your body craving for more. This is the logic of marketing of cigarettes, but not a good logic to follow up on.

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Another trend that is hitting the world by a storm is the recreational use of cannabis/marijuana, commonly referred to as ‘weed’. It does have significant medical benefits, which are still under research. It helps patients suffering from glaucoma, reduces nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, improves appetite in people with HIV/AIDS, and treats chronic pain and muscle spasms. It is also under preliminary research for their potential to affect stroke or children’s epilepsy. Smoking it up is still not good for health.

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It can still be consumed orally through muffins, biscuits etc. If the governments globally legalize marijuana, it would definitely make the world a happier place. Imagine a pizza delivered at your doorstep with chilli flakes, oregano and marijuana sachets. Making chapatis with weed in it. Restaurants serving ‘Chhole’ and ‘Weed Bhature’. Although strict policies like that with liquor will be needed to keep it in check, however, people will have less harmful methods to de-stress themselves.

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The best stress-busting mechanism, for me, is looking at and playing with pets, be it dogs, cats or even cows. Playing a sport is equally helpful. If for some reason though, you are hooked on to nicotine, a suggestion would be to use safer alternatives like nicotine gums or patches to slowly help yourself rid of the addiction. Dogs still remain my prime suggestion for all stress related problems.

 

Don’t let this article ruin your mood, pulling a cigarette once or twice a month won’t kill you unless you have Bronchitis, like a certain friend of mine. Always try finding healthier ways to kill stress and increase productivity. Smoke is bad for you, in any form. As the reggae king, Bob Marley used to say, “Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief, and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!”.

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A DIFFERENT WAY

Storytelling is an art, a talent of its own.  The earliest forms of storytelling must have been verbal aided by drawings. Nevertheless, It has evolved. Our first meeting with stories are usually through our parents, telling us a story to help us sleep. But the paths fork as we continue through our lives. Comics and short stories come first, followed by light novels, complete novels and then audio books for those, who are too busy to read or have weak eyesight.

We look for stories due to a lot of reasons. We learn from true stories. We find an escape from the real world. If you talk to a bookworm about their books, they get so passionate that you want to grab the first book you see and dive right into them. You are compelled to see what they see and feel what they feel.

Storytelling has evolved drastically over the years. We now have movies, TV soaps, anime and what not.  The method of storytelling that is being advocated here is RPGs which is acronym for Role Playing Games. People seem to unable to wrap their heads around the fact that stories can be told in such dynamic ways.

Novels were plain text, so they added illustrations, which according to many are obnoxious and disgraceful. However, a major school of people believe video games are too violent to be considered to be even remotely related to educated adults. There exist competitive games where the sole purpose is to win over other people, just like any other mental sport. The skills required are not just faster reflexes and better hand eye coordination but also the ability to foresee enemy strategies and counter acting them. Nevertheless, there are games that are meant for people to enjoy the story from all genres including horror, action, adventure, sorrow, fantasy, romance etc.

It never ceases to amaze me how one game can make people feel so many emotions in just one story.  

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I can never forget how scared I was when I first saw Dahaka, the keeper of timelines. He looked like a minotaur with horns shaped like infinity. He was all black ,surrounded by black mist, with white eyes. Oh the nightmares.

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I was really happy, when the assassin pirate, Edward   Kenway, returned home from his adventures after   saving  the world. He then took his young daughter on   the seas with her as she was the only family he had left.

 When you develop the powers of your character in the   story, adding strengths that suit your playing style,   unlike   how the author wanted him to be, gives a feeling   of fulfillment.

 

If you are a ‘Lord Of The Rings’ fan, you can see the graugs and the castles, climb on them, build your army. All these can’t be done in the book.

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Just like novels, these games come in series. Many popular novels take to games to tell the story of the prequel or aftermath of the printed text. These games give the user a sense of achievement, very similar to finishing a page or chapter in the book. However, words can never signify the difficulty of 35 retries just to get through that one villain and the satisfaction of continuing the story after his death. A novel only gives credits to 10 people, but a game owes its creation to many times that number.  The story of a haunted house becomes way more enthralling when you see the witch cut your arm and hear the chainsaw of the man following you rather than when you read of these things happening.

Novels and games have similar cons as well. They come at the cost of time, attention and money. There is piracy and duplication. They can leave you with nightmares or daydreams. Although, you will never end up strategizing your next moves and plan on exploiting your enemy’s weaknesses when you are reading a novel.

Albeit every person is made different. Some of us like apples, some oranges while some of us like both. You can like one and not hate the other. It all comes down to what your poison is.

PLACEBO EFFECT

 

Annika is an independent woman. She often runs late from work these days because the project is about to reach closure and these extra hours she puts in could give her the appreciation, increment, and promotion she has long deserved. It is really late now and unfortunately, the last bus that dropped her off directly in front of her apartment complex has left. She starts searching for cabs online. A micro would do, but since it was so late, she was ready to pay more to take the prime cabs as well. However, adding to her bad luck, there were no cabs available. Anxiety levels increased. She was a little tense too. She has a healthy and active lifestyle, walking a click and a half should not be a problem, she thought to herself as she started heading down the centrally lit road, with some shops occasionally in between.

She paced as fast yet looking as normal as she could. The family getting worried was all she could think of at that moment. She heard horns behind her. Must be some uncultured brat, she thought. A biker brushed her at high speed. After hitting her elbow, he turned back and it seemed as if he nodded at her. She felt bad. She wanted to teach him a lesson but was completely helpless. Her helplessness made her feel even worse.

A few hundred meters down and an old man walking the opposite way, but on the same side of the road, stared at her. He was looking at her, under her neck, all the while. This got her very frustrated. Such old yet ill-mannered men. What was he even doing outside at such an odd hour? Thinking this, she headed forward. Hoping to get home safe.

She could see her apartment complex now. Just three more blocks of apartments to go. This fact got her incredibly happy. There was a small shack that sold tobacco on the road, in front of the apartment complex she was currently walking past. She saw a man smoking, about her age, probably older. He looked at her with a disgusted frown. She knew very well what he was thinking. A girl of marriageable age, walking on the road in such late hours. He was judging her character. Presuming her job, the worst assumption he could make. She started detesting him immediately.

She could see the last intersection after which was her apartment complex. She could already imagine the worried look of her parents. All the things they would say about the fact that she, working was a bad idea, to begin with. She heard a car screeching, parking lights turned on. It stopped right ahead of her, on the side of the road. Its cabin lights turned on. Her worst possible fear had just turned to reality. Abduction. She froze where she stood, started getting numb. With all the courage she could muster up, she ran. She cried and she ran, as she entered her apartment complex. She ran right to the lift, went to her house and told her parents the entire saga. They were scared and content with the fact that she came home. As a remedy, she learned to drive and loaned a car.

Sometimes things are not how we see them to be.

Karthik loved to ride bikes. He worked hard to buy the bike he loved. He had gone to get the medicines for his mother, who had just recovered from a stroke. He had no option but to leave her alone and go get more medicines. On his way back, he brushed his left handle in a lady’s elbow, turned to apologize and rushed. He could not waste a moment.

Jaynath is a retired railway officer. He likes to go on walks after dinner. Tonight he saw a girl, nearly as old as her daughter whose birthday was next week. He really liked that girl’s attire and could imagine how pretty his daughter would look in that dress. He made sure to buy a similar dress for his daughter as a surprise gift. The thought made him smile as he walked past her.

Amit loves his wife and son. His wife is about to give birth in a couple of months. Everyone at home hates his habit of smoking. So every night after dinner, when his wife is washing dishes and son is studying, he slips down to smoke. Every night he smokes with regret. Tonight was worse; he was smoking after a week and hated himself for breaking his cigarette hiatus. The regret and rage were visible on his face as the mean and vicious look. At the same time, he noticed a young girl, on road, late at night. He looked at her with concern as she frowned and kept walking.

Harsh was driving home from work. He helped tow a heavy vehicle for some distance in the morning, which probably burnt his clutch plate. His gear was stuck and so he had to make a hurried stop. He saw a lady on the road and ineptly avoided hitting her. As he rubbed the sweat off his face, he got out to apologize and call a mechanic. However, the girl was probably so scared that she ran away. At least he saved two lives today.

Circumstances can make the same event appear different, perhaps worse. We must never let our prejudices control our minds. We must not give in to placebo and try to be braver and confident of ourselves.

 

Check Your Emotions Before They Checkmate.

It is that time of the year again when almost everyone under 20 is free. Free to walk under the sun, swim in the ocean, sleep under a roof, under a tree, work for some more pocket-money, explore hobbies and interests, to make the most of all the time they have. It is the time to meet your parents, your family, go to your grandparents’ home and enjoy with your cousins, for this is among the last few opportunities to do so. Everyone is going to grow and leave the nest someday.

For me, it is the time just as any other that I spend thinking of a better world. I keep wondering what the human mind can accomplish, given its creative capabilities and destructive tendencies.

Humans are social creatures. We have evolved to create communities. An urge to be in the good books of people around us is instinctive. Such behaviour is a result of the idea that weaklings can be victors as well, using the strength of unity. Unfortunately, this urge has taken away the angelic side from most of the people. We lie, cheat, and betray to be on the side preferred by the stronger person. This led me to think, what if we lost all our emotions altogether. This mental experiment can take many forms. There are plethora of films and other forms of art that have experimented with the concept.

PK, the Bollywood film, where we see a humanoid alien coming from a similar type of planet. He is naïve, always misunderstood, and pays a hefty price learning our twisted methods of living. We can also think of “The Purge” concept, where humans live peacefully except one night a year, when they murder and rape each other. The “Saw” series takes its audience through a journey that teaches how life can be lived with our moral values intact but with big stakes.

There are many ways to tell a story, and not all of them have to imply to the lesson directly. In “A town without me”, popularly known as “Erased”, we learn directly that fighting alone might not solve your problems. However, if you muster up enough courage, it resonates with others. Another lesson I saw in it, is speaking up can solve problems right in their roots. “Your Lie in April” and “Anohana” explore these concepts as well, where just speaking or accepting the truth, when and where it mattered, could have solved everything. Obviously, truth is the bitter pill to swallow most of the times but is always better than living diseased with a pretentious personality, separately for each individual you encounter in your life.

In a world where humans are always honest, we would still encounter the seven sins. In that world, even petty criminals would need severe punishments to keep the latent criminals in check. This somehow paints a picture of a communist dictatorship, where everyone is equal, and crime is crime. Honesty is honesty and not hate speech.

A robotic society, where there is no leader, no religion and people follow their will based on logic alone for instance, a society where you pull the lever and let one die to save five. Heaven in its true senses. There is no bond or relationship and we go by our lives in an orderly fashion, doing what we must do to survive. When trivial situations, mishaps and accidents happen, only logic solves them finding optimal solution for the future. This would deny human rights and would be highly apathetic. On the contrary, it compels me all the way more to make and live in a world like that.

Our world is plagued with problems; women do not get equal treatment. It will be different in my world; a human would be a human. Pay grades would exist; however, there would be no discrimination based on gender, race, cast or other reasons. There will be no poor because job requirements will control population, using brutal ways if need be. Road rage in that world would be consigned to oblivion; people will follow rules, understanding the gravity of the consequences of breaking them and not in their fear.

A world of that type would take away the humane part of us. It only seems fair to run it as an experiment and apply partial results to our real lives. This makes us realise that honesty and a life of high morale comes with a cost. You have to like others less to have a favourite. Equality is a tool mostly used by people for their own comfort just like concepts of feminism and right to live. Hope is just a boost of adrenaline that makes us jump into fire.  Nevertheless, these parts of us make us human. Life finds its meaning in between survival and ensuring longevity of its species, but is definitely not constricted merely by these concepts. We are the masters of our own life. Masquerading as the good guy would definitely be tough, consequently, you will get angry, feel hurt, and get envious. However, you must bear it alone and be the stronger person. Fight for all you deserve but not get greedy or proud of it. You define your life. Will you make it a good one?

Not Being A Prodigy

Being in the presence of a prodigy is amazing. They leave people around them often spellbound, mesmerised and awestruck with their works. Their light works as the torch that brightens the paths of many after them. Every field of human interest or disinterest as well, has those names that become metaphors for novitiates in their fields. Prodigies occur once in generations and they redefine the field they enter.  They make things seem so effortless that everyone around wants to imitate them. They set new standards, new bars to cross for people around them.  They shatter old records, styles, make new ones and repeat this all over again. It takes great effort to come to top and it takes even more to stay there. And a prodigy is one who keeps bettering himself before someone else does.

Sergey Bubka, a legend in the sport of Pole Vaulting, broke the record not once or twice but 35 times. Kenny Schrub, better known as KennyS, redefined how the AWP sniper rifle was used in the game of Counter Strike. Unconventionally, he played aggressively with it,  instead of hiding in corners and waiting for players. The list of names is limitless, but my ability to remember is. When we are capable of fully admiring a prodigy, we get unknowingly attracted to their fields.

There are two ways to become a prodigy. Imagine the making of the best wooden chest. To do so, you can either use the best wood or you can use an ordinary type of wood but craft and polish the chest in a way that it becomes unparalleled. We will talk about the first method later. To use an ordinary wood to craft the best chest, the maker needs to put in the extra effort in polishing the wood, multiple times. The wood too needs to be able to withstand that kind of polishing and stay in its shape. It goes the same for becoming a prodigy. The person needs to work themselves out, exerting, enduring harder than normal to take the top spot. One can easily tell a legend in the making when they see them pushing beyond limits.

The other way to make that chest would be selecting the best wood. This wood could’ve been lost in the forest forever, but it discovered its best use in the chest. This wood would need much less effort and would outweigh the best of the contenders and set a new standard once it is finished. This is probably the best way to make a prodigy, to be born one. To be natural at your talent will help you master the basics quicker and in a much better way. Then you can do what the best people do easily and become better than them in no time.

That might seem complete, but there is a third way to make a better chest than the two above. This can be done by using the best wood and polishing it extensively, to make it the best of the best. This chest would make the best of items put in it look inferior. This method makes a prodigy, unparalleled.  The ones above this are remembered for long. But prodigies who got up there by this way become legends. They become the origins to folklores and are cited way beyond their time. This gives us the epitome of perfection, the Sirius of a sky full of stars.

On close evaluation, we observe that all the methods discussed above are flawed. Not all of us are born with a special skill. The world is a cruel place and getting noticed itself is tough, let alone becoming the best. Not everyone is able to make the cut and thus they become a part of the general crowd. You must beat the one at top to get to the top, which leaves the veteran lost in history books. There are so many trying to get up there that it takes impenetrable will power to get there which not everyone is capable of. Every spot has numerous contenders, and there is but one winner which leaves the rest lost in the crowd. And the third method thus gets out of calculations, lost in the rare probability of finding the talented and making it the best.

Is living worthless then?

If you are not special, then why are you alive? This question that ignites the fire of existential dread among many, can be very easily answered. The first argument is, you might have still not found your talent yet so keep trying until you find what you were made for. It is never too late. The second and most pointless argument would be, you need the dark to see the stars i.e. you need ordinary people to admire the extraordinary. The third argument is what I live for:

Freedom.

When you are not a prodigy, you are not bound to something specific. You can be a guitarist for a year and an athlete in the next. You can try out everything while not being the best at any. And that is what makes your life worth living. You are not bound by the limits of perfection, but only by boredom. If one thing gets you bored, try the next because the complete saying goes, “Jack of all trades, master of none, though often times better than master of one”. So, keep doing what you were and keep admiring the prodigies, for they need it and deserve it. Remember this in your heart that you are only bound by your motivation to do something. You might not be the best but hey, you never planned to come this far either.