Monday, September 05, 2011

The Lotophagus and Bibliobibuli

"Woke up and wished that I was dead
With an aching in my head
I lay motionless in bed
The night is here and the day is gone
And the world spins madly on"

World Spins Madly On (2006) by The Weepies

I finished reading A Dance with Dragons on the last day of August, and it was a killer of a book (as in, it will kill a full grown man if you swing it at his head). When I stepped into med school, an old friend and a fellow geek told me that I would no longer have the luxury of leisure reading. In response, I made a vow to read at least one novel a month no matter how busy I get - and I kept that vow even through my final exams. When I entered into the workforce, yet another geek friend warned me that I may soon have to abandon my modest little hobby. That galvanised my resolve because that's just the sort of person I am, and I just started on my meal of China Miéville's The City & the City for September. I will make short work of it and then belch loudly in satisfaction.

I daydream longingly and often of my time in the Indian Himalayas, where the days are in slow motion and the nights are not the beginning of tomorrows. What Thomas Wilson - Maugham's Lotus Eater - chose to do seems less and less like folly to me and more and more like a perfectly sensible plan. As a high school senior, it was a moral story about a good-for-nothing layabout meeting an unpleasant end he deserved (or at least, that's how we were suppose to interpret it in our literature studies in order to pass). These days, it makes me question the worth of a long life in service to others versus a shorter one in service to my own happiness.

I read a respectable number of books during my April in the Mountains including Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger, Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Dan Simmon's Olympos, Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear and Dan Brown's delighfully execrable The Lost Symbol. I also managed to rent a perfectly serviceable copy of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World for a steal of 3 rupees from a cosy little café in the Dalai Lama's temple complex. The place serves a mean Roquefort cheese and walnut pizza, by the way - so you know where to look now.

In Huxley's bold neoteric world, people indulge in a state-endorsed, side-effects-free hallucinatory drug called soma - going on what they term "soma holidays" - and enjoy rampant, guiltless, recreational sex. He wrote of a world devoid of angst, strife and individuality, and thus devoid of true art and creation. He wrote it as if it's a detestable dystopia. All along I was thinking: "Look how fucking happy everyone is!"

One character went on a permanent soma holiday and died in imbecilic bliss. Is that such a bad thing? If we measure the worth of our lives in the amount of pleasure it contains, then no - no, it's not. I sought refuge in literature, in art, only to stimulate the dopamine reward system in my brain. It's Pavlovian. I'm a dog slobbering at the ring of fiction's bell; a complex organic robot responding to the ebbs and flows of my chemical circuitry. If I am indefinitely happy and contented, then I would have no need of the books I covet and love.

But we have no soma in our boring old world. The closest thing I will ever come to a permanent soma holiday of my own is to spend the rest of my years reading by the hillside and basking in the orange glow of a McLeod Ganj sunset. Now, isn't that a life to die for?

McLeod Ganj Sunset
Don't you just love how the sky is red and blue at the same time?

k0k s3n w4i


McGarmott said...

Barney Stinson: "Challenge accepted!"

tendol said...

yay, i look forward to your post on Mcleod, make it come soon! monsoon sunsets in mcleod are always colourful and dramatic. i have tried to catch a couple on my camera the last time i was there. amazing, how fast the vibrancy of the hue changes in a short period of time. sigh...

nicoletta said...

My mother tells me constantly that as a mother I shouldn't have the time to read anything at all, apart from parenting magazines and newspapers (preferably the jobs section). I make sure I go against that, though it does take me quite some time to finish a book. Brave New World is on my reading list.

Raviteja said...

I often wonder about the choice of parameters to find the worthiness of our lives. . .
What is it that exactly gives us pleasure? Is it the fulfillment of basic crude instinctive needs or what we have chosen all along to stimulate our dopamine reward systems?! Like you said, it's all about 'CONDITIONING'. It's Pavlovian!

Cheers :)

shanaz@RS said...

I do love that the sky is red and blue at the same time. Reading this splendid post induced a state of daydreamy-ness in me. I too love reading books, diving into literature is like having a secret holiday to me, and non-readers often find that strange. Ah, the joy.

k0k s3n w4i said...

McGarmott: pretty much.

tendol: you'll have to wait awhile then. it's one of those posts that i expect to sit on for a long time before i think i'm ready to put the words down. i'll probably return to mcleod ganj in the future, but i'm not sure if i want to do it during the monsoon season :/

nicoletta: i imagined that mothers would still have time to read - try reading brave new world to julian. bring him up right.

Raviteja: i'm a follower of epicurus. enough said.

shanaz@RS: i suppose that non-readers would find our obsession as strange as i find say, the attraction of a football game for example.