Homo Deus- A brief history of tomorrow

My first read of the year – Homo Deus, A brief history of tomorrow, took a total of 20 days or approx 3 weeks to finish. Not because, its a difficult read, thought-provoking yes, but not difficult, and we can thank Dr.Yuval Noah Harari for that. I have read Sapiens and was spell-bound by that book especially with the soothing, inquisitive voice of Dr.Harari guiding me through each page. Homo Deus had the same communicative voice and a rich narrative laced with some dry humor but somehow couldn’t captivate me as much as Sapiens did. One major put off was that Dr.Harari kept reiterating many of the statements and points he had already made in his first book. Homo Deus begins with an introductory chapter that sets the tone for the entire book, which is further divided into three parts. The introductory chapter is titled ‘The new human agenda’ and Dr.Harari states, that the future of humanity could be summed in attainment or pursuit of three categorically important virtues- Immortality, Bliss, and Divinity. Harari argues that by seeking immortality and perpetual bliss, humans or homo sapiens are trying to upgrade themselves in homo Deus, superhumans, gods or achieve divinity. It’s a huge claim to make and Harari goes on to chart the part of history once again and talks about how homo sapiens were able to climb the ladder of natural selection and conquered the world, slowly Harari moves on to the present and underlines the progress in different realms of the academic world- microbiology, history, computer science. He talks about the advances in the fields of nanotechnology, gene methodology, microbiology and artificial intelligence. Harari even argues that in this so-called post-liberal world, individuality or individuals won’t matter anymore, and the collective would regain its power. During his erudition of the present, Harari asks many questions and make some bold statements, some of which struck a chord with me such as,

“In the twenty-first century our personal data is probably the most valuable resource most humans still have to offer, and we are giving it to the tech giants in exchange for email services and funny cat videos.”

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Slowly he builds up a future of humanity that is bleak, data-driven and looks a lot like the world of the matrix, without, a cute Keanu Reevs possibly saving the world. Harari also warns and states multiple times that these claims are not prophecies but possibilities of how the world might look like. Many a time, I was taken by Harari’s argument and was forced to acknowledge the reality I could see around myself, but I wasn’t entirely convinced either. At the end of the book, Harari leaves the reader with three questions:

 

 

 

  1. Are organisms really just algorithms and is life really just data processing?
  2. What’s more valuable- intelligence or consciousness?
  3. What will happen to society, politics daily life when non-conscious (aka artificial intelligence) but highly intelligent algorithm know us better than we know ourselves?

Should you read this book? Yes, I would recommend it, but read it to understand one person’s perception of how the world might look like based on some facts and the current reality, read it so you are intellectually stimulated, and start asking more questions about the world and reality which we live in today, and your current choices are better informed, read it but do not make it a bible, do not start arguing with the world that artificial intelligence will take over the world.

If you wish to buy the book, click here.

The next book on my list is Alien Hearts by Guy de Maupassant. My first brush with French literature and I am quite excited.

Did you like Homo Deus? Have you read it? Leave a comment and let me know.

Coos

The dawn breaks
With your sound.
Ruffling of feathers.
You have made a home
Inside mine.
Invisible. I only hear
Your presence.
My house rings with
Your coos. A background score.
Outside, I witness your dance.
On the railing.
You read me. We are not friends.
You stay in your territory.
I stay in mine.
Your eyes follow my move.
I type away, hum in silence.
You pick up the twigs and gather bits.
I hear a call, sometimes,
I respond.
I know it’s not meant for me
But I talk to you now.
My house has become your refuge.
Your coos have become mine.
new doc 2018-01-16 15.58.05_2– Avni Vij

 

A packet of chips.

When I had started writing this post, I had named it- ‘Shit, jobless people do.’ But it soon transformed into something else and I had to rename it. What led me to rename a blog titled ‘Shit jobless people do’ to ‘A packet of chips’? Read on.

If the title didn’t give away, I would spell it out for all of you, a total of 4 followers and my stalkers on Facebook, I am currently jobless. Since I graduated long back in 2014, I have been working, with the exception of few months here and there, where I was pushed in an existential crisis and searching for the meaning of life. My first stint was in the glitzy world of corporate, doing the most boring god-forsaken work ever, though I learned a lot  (read exceptional MS-excel formatting skills), my soul had died, and I realized, doesn’t matter if I didn’t finish a year, an accepted minimum for a good CV, I am going to leave and so I did. I believe my second job was till now my most treasured two years ever spent, I worked with a reputed NGO as a fellow and taught for 2 years in a low-income community in Ahmedabad. Spending all my time either with kids or thinking about them or working for them, I enjoyed every single minute of it. I also hadn’t received so much of love until this, but alas, that came to an end, but it reaffirmed my belief in innocence, kindness, love and the world could be a better place, with stronger, beautiful, kind-hearted, smart children, and that income, skin color, religion has nothing to do with it. I soon transitioned to my latest job, where I wrote stories for kids- dream come true- but dreams don’t last forever, and neither did my job, but I did manage to travel a lot of Bihar, eat the best litti chokha in the world and meet some really beautiful people. Last 3 years have taught me a lot about myself. Reflection entered my dictionary, though I had always maintained a journal since I was 8, I was now consciously thinking about what I am doing, what I want to do, where am I going, what is right, what is not, the kind of life I want to live. Needless to say, I don’t know yet. I only know of things I don’t want to do. Probably elimination is my way of getting the right answer. The day before yesterday I was talking to a cousin, who said,

“Choosing a career or what do you want to do after 12th grade is a lot like choosing a packet of chips, without knowing how it would taste like.”

I couldn’t have agreed more. I have until now, eaten quite a lot of packet of chips, and I still haven’t found my flavor, some flavors have come quite near to being ‘the flavor’ but none have won. Yet. I also believe doing things that you would not rather do will take you closer to things that you’d rather. I have met people, intelligent, funny, working their ass off in a job they hate, I have met people intelligent, funny, working their ass off in their dream job, I have met people, talented, creative individuals, and seen talent paying off. I have also met people, talented, creative individuals, who are trying their hardest to make a name for themselves, to get recognized, to be known for their work, I have seen people with no talent living a life with all one could dream of.

I have met, seen, heard of all sorts of people and I have been a kind of person who’s lost, always on a threshold wondering if to step forward, to turn right or go back, a pendulum of sorts, moving from one puzzle piece to another, solving neither. To people like me, I’d say, take a deep breath, do all that you want to do, don’t let the world stop you-you were not born to sit comfortably in a plush chair in an air-conditioned room, or to travel the world, barefoot. You were born somewhere in between, wanting all- you are that thin visible line that separates the oil from the water.

You are neither oil nor water, you are somewhere in between, and be okay with that because you are the reason the oil and water don’t become one.

-Avni Vij

A little person in search of something

A reflection on gender identity and life in the 21st century…

A little person was born in a small family, living in the suburbs of a major city. The little person was dressed in yellow on the name ceremony. The little person still didn’t know the color spoke volumes in this world, more than words did. That there was meaning attached to each and every single color that existed. But these were bigger matters, and the little person didn’t concern with such. The big people could take care of these. The little person cared about where the food came from, and if the little person was feeling warm enough and sleep.

Years passed and the little person acquired language, a funny tool. You learned it and in the initial stages, the big people would clap and congratulate you for doing a wonderful job. Words could mean so much. More than what they intended too. Sometimes, words could even define, faith- a complex phenomenon created by an intelligent lot of the big people- mostly of one kind. Words could also box you into a certain archetype. But these were bigger matters, and the little person didn’t pay heed to them. The little person learnt how to read, spell and write and do numbers. The little person grew up playing house, dressing up dolls, kicking footballs, going to summer camps, on family vacations to mountains. The little person was unaware, that what you do, reflected more on who you are than how you felt. The little person had beautiful hair- brown, average length, not straight, not curly. The little person often drew it behind with a help of a hair band, sometimes tied up in a black hair tie. The little person was growing up and was not so little anymore.

The little person was transitioning from one phase of life to another. A phase, as confusing and daunting, as exhilarating- the little person was experiencing things that the little person thought nobody could experience. The little person didn’t know, that’s how every big person felt, at every stage of life, that is how human beings are- willing to be understood, but desiring to stand out. The little person played rock music in the bedroom and experimented with alcohol and other illicit drugs. The little person could feel the change, could see it happening. Some days, the little person locked the door and stood naked in front of the mirror- touching, feeling, exploring. The little person fought with the parents- the designated adults responsible for a smooth transition from being a little person to a full grown adult- a big person. The not-so little person anymore felt that these designated adults were unfit for their role. They didn’t understand the little person. They didn’t know who the little person truly was. But did the little person possess this knowledge? The answer to the question of the human age, ‘who am I?’ The little person had now started associating things to identity- what I eat, what I like, what I don’t like, what I do, the way I dress, the music I listen to, the way I like my eggs, my role models- all this obsession with, me, I, made the little person question everything around. The biggest philosophical questions haunted the little person- what is the purpose of life? What made the little person unique? What was the little person’s identity? What if there was no light at the end of the tunnel? – The usual kind, the mini-existential crisis-every not so little person had in their life. Where nothing makes sense and yet you feel you could conquer the world, you are invincible- and to escape all of this, like any other not-so- little person, this one also made meaningless connections that somehow seemed to define the little person’s life for those years of life.

But alas, immortality, however short-lived, dies when reality strikes. The little person had entered adulthood, stepped into the shoes of a big person- shoes too big to fill and often too uncomfortable. The ‘real’ world was knocking at the now big person’s doorstep with job interviews, long hours, deadlines, bills, insurance, loans and the questions had metamorphosed from who am I to what the fuck am I doing with my life. Years after year, it was the same thing, work long hours, get promoted or don’t get promoted, yearly bonus, Friday night parties, road-trips once in a while, to feel alive-even if for a week. The little person big person, quit some of the early jobs, frustrated with how things were, unable to grasp the unfairness and pointlessness of it all- but eventually the once-deemed unfit for their role-the parents’ finally had their way. Too tired of not knowing where the next paycheck came from, and too much dirty laundry, the big person now entered into his 5th or 6th relationship, hoping, wishing, that this one would be it. That this person was going to be the answer. For a while, it seemed that was really the case. So another big event of the life on planet Earth, the big person got married. Life had taken a backseat; it was no longer a roller-coaster ride but a drive in an old beaten once-loved car on a sometimes bumpy and sometimes smooth road. Days were clockwork- same routine day in day out- get up, a kiss, take the dog out for a walk, sometimes the big person’s companion made breakfast, sometimes the big person did, sometimes they skipped it, go to work, come back, sex twice or thrice a week. Such was life. Simple, uncomplicated, laced with monotony and comfort, till one day- another little person entered the world.

The big person looked down at the crib at what they had created- a living breathing creature. She was beautiful.

-Avni Vij

Disclaimer: I wrote this as an Entry to Jaipur Literature Festival Blogging Contest. Since, I wasn’t shortlisted, thought of sharing it. Let me know what you think of it.

New Delhi World Book Fair

Like any loyal reader, even in the times of Amazon and Flipkart and convenience of getting a book delivered at your doorstep, I took a metro accompanied by a friend and reached Pragati Maidan, to attend the first day of the New Delhi World Book Fair (6-14.January.2018). I could only cover one entire hall, by the end of which I was hungry, my feet were hurting, and my back was aching, and I had 3 bags of books. The Penguin Random House stall received more footfall than any other major publishing houses. I ended up with 6 new books, not much if you don’t consider another 15 books lying unread at my place. Check the list out here.

All was well, till I exited the halls, and bought a cup of coffee from a stall and noticed the littering, and as I began ranting to my friend how irresponsible we are as citizens and how even if we have a dustbin nearby, literally five steps away, we would still throw it on the ground. I have always held the view, that people who read, are just the better lot of people. More humble, more empathetic, more aware. But, guess not. We resumed our long walk to the metro station, and at every step you could see plates, wrappers, tetra packs, just lying around. What would it take for a country of a billion to understand, that littering is not only an eyesore, but harmful to the environment, to the animals who munch up the polybag that you so effortlessly threw on the ground, to the person who would be responsible to clean all that shit up, and to frankly, you. It completely baffles me. All you have to do is to finish eating whatever the fuck you are eating and throw the wrapper in the dustbin. How difficult can that be? We would rather step on the trash than dispose it off. What does it say about us?

Another view greeted us, as we exited the gate. Hawkers, street carts, sellers with everything you could possibly imagine- cheela, shakarkandi, chana chaat, footwear and pirated books (the irony of it is not missed on me). I stopped to eat a plate of sweet potatoes, served on a leaf bowl, and soon threw it in the dustbin- a reused basket underneath the thela. I could see many other disposed leaf bowls there. Maybe all isn’t lost. The other thing that stood out to me was how there was a live, bubbling economy around me. How quickly these small entrepreneurs had capitalized on the opportunity. There were even some women selling bags. I took all of it in and then walked past them. Still noticing the trash.

The day had ended. The trash was still there. I went back home. Giddy with the happiness of buying new books, disappointed in Indians, as citizens and warmed by the zeal of the local entrepreneurs.

So if you are planning to check the Book Fair out, please do, and remember:

  1. You are going to buy more books you can read.
  2. Please throw the trash in the dustbin.
  3. Grab a chaat outside.
  4. Enjoy the bitter cold, once you leave the halls.

 

Off-limits

Jars, Boxes, Tins, Shelves, Drawers.
The meticulous placement served a purpose.
No nook or corner was left unused.
Nothing could be disturbed.

Laced with mixed smells.
Cinnamon, cardamom, clove
Frying onions. Batter rising. Ghee.
Familiar smells of childhood.

Once inside, the moves were choreographed.
A dance of knives, spatulas, spoons.
Cut, peel, chop, wash, drain.
Always ending with a pinch of salt.

Blend. Sizzle. Temper.
Crackling curry leaves.
Utensils clinking, rattling.
Never silent.

At the odd hours of the night.
Unguarded, you crept in like a cat
And cringed when the faithful shelves
Made noise.

Nothing was wasted.
Plastic, glass, bottles, tin foil.
Saved, used, reused and used again.
Keepsakes of the things once bought.

You didn’t just wander in
Without a permit.
You were a guest here. A visitor.
It only answered to ‘One’

-Avni Vij

 

Parents- Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.

In my view, homo sapiens, as a species, just doesn’t cover being a parent. One needs to upgrade and formulate a new species altogether with a sub-species of Indian parents. As soon as you make another human being- booyah, you are upgraded! The new species come with a packet of almonds and a handbook to parenting and how to fuck up your kid, and admission forms of the best primary schools in India, because who are we kidding, one needs to get a head start on that. But as an adult, who still gets 3 calls a day from her parents, there are few things I would like to say to them, provided they listen and don’t talk over or dismiss me with an odd task that really needs to be done right at the moment when I am sharing my views. But if, the world is one day taken over by technology and my parents’ figure out how internet works, get online, search my blog, the name of which they remember and get on it, here is what I would say to them,

  1. Not everything on Whatsapp is true. No, the XYZ cold-drink is not laced with a deadly virus.
  2. There is a thing called Fake News.
  3. When I say I have eaten, it means I had a packet of chips, a bowl of Maggie, and spoonful of peanut butter.
  4. I don’t do laundry every week.
  5. Delhi Belly wasn’t a bad film.
  6. The political party you support are a group of sexist, racist goons.
  7. Not everyone goes to Goa to smoke, drink and take drugs.
  8. Religion is not my priority. Being a good person is.
  9. Yes, I stay up late. I don’t know how I go to work in the morning.
  10. Marriage is not for everyone. And that’s okay.
  11. I know about sex. I have had sex. Sex is natural. Pre-marital sex is not a sin.
  12. I will not marry every guy I date. Yes, I will have multiple relationships.
  13. Homosexuality is okay. Just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn’t make it wrong.
  14. No, I don’t want to take this back home. I will never eat it and throw it out, the day before your visit.
  15. The full form of GPS is global positioning system.
  16. Yes, I switched off the geyser.
  17. Go get a hobby. I worry about you. Do something more.
  18. I am an independent person. I like my space. I am not lonely. My priorities are different than yours, I want a different life.
  19. I do miss you. I love you. But my love doesn’t guarantee obedience. And my disagreement is not a sign of disrespect.
  20. Thank you for everything you have done for me.
  21. Yes! I really want gajar ka halwa.