Friday, January 31, 2014

Dear Life

St- Anna pedestrian tunnel, Antwerp 2013
These days, the web world is moving at a fast pace. Except for the activities that need our physical participation and presence, we can virtually do anything and obtain all kinds of information and data on line via the internet connection. Our lives get busier as we juggle our time between our responsibilities, commitments and web activities.

Prague August '09
When we send a text or an email, we expect instantaneous response. I feel antsy when there is no connectivity and wherever I go, availability of internet access is a prime consideration when I make a hotel booking for the family. As a result of modern amenities, I become intolerant of inconveniences and discomfort. One Sunday morning, when I wanted to shower after pottering around , I discovered that there would not be any water supply for another two hours in my area due to some maintenance work. I felt irritated as I really wanted to have my bath and get going with my day.

 Perhaps it is due to  these inventions and technology, I find that we are increasingly self-centred and often uncompromising. There is such a fine line between self promoting and egotism. In many ways, individualism is strived at and the self must be strengthened and defined  because your aptitude and abilities must be promoted in order to get noticed and hired for that post or the dream job you pine for. The web world holds the allure that  it presents immense possibilities; what is real and what is not is blurred. I believe that individuality is very much an illusion whether in the physical world or the cyberspace. Whether you are a conformist or a radical, we are all trapped in the world we think it is. As we are social beings, we  learn, we reinvent ourselves and are quick to adapt to our surroundings and the constant changes around us .

In  his  memoir  Nothing to be Frightened of , Julian Barnes talks about death and mortality after having witnessed his parents’ decline as they advanced to their old age  and eventually passing. Here are some of the excerpts that strike a chord with me.

A question, and a paradox. Our history has seen the gradual if bumpy rise of individualism: from the animal herd, from the slave society, from the mass of uneducated units bossed by priest and king, to looser groups in which the individual has greater rights and freedoms-the right to pursue happiness, private thought, self- fulfillment, self- indulgence. At the same time, as we throw off the rules of priest and king, as science helps us understand the truer terms and conditions on which we live, as our individualism expresses itself in grosser and more selfish ways ( what is freedom for if not for that?) , we also discover that this individuality, or illusion of individuality, is less than we imagined. We discover, to our surprise, that as Dawkins memorably puts it, we are “ survival machines-robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.” The paradox is that individualism-the triumph of free- thinking artists and scientists-has led us to a state of self-awareness in which we can now view ourselves as units of genetic obedience. My  adolescent notion of self-construction-that vaguely,Englishly,existentialist ego-hope of autonomy-could not have been further from the truth....'
Chez Nous, a cafe in Penang

'That is the paradox; here is the question.We grow up; we trade in our old sense of wonder for a new one- wonder at the blind and fortuitous process which has blindly and fortuitously produced us; we don’t feel depressed by this, as some might, but “elated” as Dawkins himself is; we enjoy the things which Dawkins lists as making life worth living- music, poetry, sex, love(science)–while perhaps practicing the humorous resignation advocated by Somerset Maugham. We do all this, and do we get any better at dying? …’

Nothing To Be Frightened of is peppered with humour even on  serious subjects such as  faith, religious beliefs and death as Julian Barnes takes us masterfully through the  insights of various writers  and his musings. Julian Barnes writes,

If I called myself an atheist at twenty, and an agnostic at fifty and sixty, it isn’t because I have acquired more knowledge in the meantime; just more awareness of ignorance. How can we be sure that we know enough to know? As twenty-first century neo-Darwinian materialists, convinced that the meaning and mechanism of life have only been fully clear since the year 1859, we hold ourselves categorically wiser than those credulous knee-benders who, a speck of time away, believe in divine purpose, an ordered world, resurrection and a Last Judgement. But although we are more informed, we are no more evolved, and certainly no more intelligent than them. What convinces us that our knowledge is so final?

Prague astronomical clock (orloj)


  1. I love memoirs and this one sounds very good. Thank you. And yes, aren't we silly with all that we think we "should" have? I notice that too sometimes and don't like it.

    1. Hi Julie Thank you for reading. Time seems to be accelerating and it can be overwhelming when I find I have not done much about my writing. I try not to think about what I could have done or what I should have done.