Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Curious Case of Bhimsen Ballaru

Note: This is my attempt to write a small short-story and develop an interesting character, while providing an interesting subtext. I have tagged people because I would like to especially seek their opinions about this story. All feedback is welcome - positive and negative. Comments about the subtext (towards the end of the story) are even more welcome. :)


Bhimsen Ballaru wanted to be everything there is to be. Moreover, he wanted to be perfect in whatever he wished to be - he wished to be the picture of extreme perfection in whatever he wished to be. So if he wanted to be a good Samaritan, he wished to be the epitome, the paragon of a Samaritan. And if he wished to be a delusional psychopath, he wished to be the worst, the most twisted and blood-curdling psychopath on the planet.

And he WAS everything there was to be. He was a kid and an adult. Juvenile and matured. Tamed and Wild. Introvert & Extrovert. Gregarious & Laconic. Inarticulate & Articulate. Capitalist and Communist. Rightist, Leftist and Centrist. He subscribed to the writings of Ayn Rand and immensely liked the manifestos of Karl Marx. He was a stout follower of Arundhati Roy and Noam Chomsky, while being a firm proponent of George Bush and Milton Freidman. He aggressively supported free-market laissez faire capitalism and was an active member of the Communist Party's politburo. He bowed daily to Lord Ganesh and offered coganuts to Lord Shiva and simultaneously claimed to be a convinced non-believer. He was considered a pious individual among religious masses but consistently maintained his atheistic credentials. His musical tastes spanned every genre, his taste in movies was also broadly universal. He had an exceptional talent to grasp at intangible and abstract theoretical sciences, while also possessing the ability to master a variety of practical skills in lightening speed. He was like an unsatisfiable boolean formula or an unsolvable puzzle. To put it plainly, in set-theoretic terms, he was the cartesian product of his parents and then some more.

By the time little Ballaru Jr. was born, the Ballaru family could be considered to be posh upper middle-class and no effort was spared to herald the little kid's arrival into this world. Social acquaintances, business partners, relatives from near and far traveled to the increasingly affluent household to bear witness to the kicks and movements of a toddler Bhimsen. He therefore grew up with all the comforts of an affluent well-to-do upper middle class household. His parents spared no effort in educating him and enrolling him into classes of all kinds, because they wanted him to be the model educated youth with bright career prospects.

He matured into a young man who was socially indifferent, politically confused and philosophically lost. He had a profound sense of existential angst, which try as hard as he may, he found it difficult to shake off. This solidified eventually into an absolute nihilism which brought in its wake a cloak of absolute indifference, which again, he found difficult to shake off. He would show streaks of passion and brilliance, but it would inevitably ebb away into dull ennui and placid indifference. And then again, there would episodic moments of dazzling brilliance – moments, where his mind would get a profound sense of clarity and he would be able to picture for himself, a concrete future and a definitive strategy to attain that future. Being such a contradicted and conflicted individual, he would perennially struggle for social acceptance from his peers, his juniors and seniors – and throughout his life, it remained elusive.

The central theme in his life was chaos - utter and absolute chaos in his mind - evident from the vast range of opinions he expressed on a variety of issues, the large assortment of political, socio-economic and cultural beliefs that he held and by his desire to be everything there was to be. His mind was a jumbled ball of rubber-bands and the intricate inter-connected neural pathways were overloaded by a potent concoction of confusion, contradiction, indifference and chaos. The more he grew up, the more confused he became, the more contradicting was his behavior. With each increasing day, like the second law of thermodynamics, the entropy of his neural pathways was constantly increasing and his brain's machinery became more chaotic. This massively complicated and contradicting personality left him with periodic episodes of unbridled confusion, where he would feel as lost as a lamb without its shepherd, agreeing to everything and agreeing to nothing.

Bhimsen Ballaru often wished that he would be a caped crusader, a master crime-fighting super-hero, who would go around beating criminals to pulp. He felt this way on days when he would feel both an intolerable frustration with the status quo of the world, as well as an intrinsic optimism that he had the capacity to correct the ways of the world. Through his teenage years, this frustration was primarily targeted towards the usual targets - the bad men of the blue collar variety - criminals, gangsters and theives - whose obvious acts of vandalism, violence and subterfuge struck an emotionally frustrating chord with him. As he grew up, he became equally disillusioned by the less violent, far more subtle but equally diabolical and ruthlessly insidious nature of white collar crime - reckless bankers and powerful stock brokers were quickly bundled in the same category with robbers and murderers in his mind's moral hierarchical organization. He wished the world to be rid of these insidious agents of Satan, these reckless morons who, in his opinion, created the ills of the world and thrived on socio-political strife and economic anarchy.

Simultaneously, on dark days with a slightly unhinged disposition, he wished to be a murderous psychopath who prayed for exorcism of his inner demons via impulsive violent rampages. He wished to throw things into walls, into mirrors, into each other - to see those things splinter into a thousand fragments was a cathartic act which would expunge his inner emptiness and give him temporary relief from his mind's recurring schizophrenia. He hardly cared if the victims of his psychopathic rage were deserving of the violent punishment he meted out to them. He was apathetic to the concerned individual's guilt or complicity in violating a moral code simply because, in this state of mind, he didn't care about maintaining a moral code. He would rather allow his rage to manifest indiscriminately among his victims - young or old, rich or poor, guilty or innocent - morality & ethics be damned. Unlike life, where good fortune is the result of biased probabilistic exercises, his targets were the result of a perfect unbiased dice throw, which threw up perfectly random choices.

And then he sometimes wished the bliss of ignorance from the problems of the world, as also relief from his intrinsic self-destructiveness. He wished to have a functional identity independent of his worldly frustrations, and independent of his intrinsic demons. He wished to exist with a distinctive identity, with a concrete role in society, with a well-defined purpose, and an established routine. He wished to be the most quintessential stereotype of the middle-class regular working man. And like regular folks, he wished to be insular from the problems of the world, oblivious to the death, deceit and exploitation so overwrought in the world. He wished to be the aam aadmi, the commoner who has a family, a job and a quintessential cocooned life.

On days when he would feel particularly capitalist, he wished to be an ace software programmer for the likes of Microsoft and Apple. He wanted to write software apps for these giants that would take them to the cusp of a new technological and marketing breakthrough. He was conscious of how the stock markets would favorably respond, with bullish optimism and a maddening buying spree, to the news of a new cool I-phone app. In his yuppie, capitalistic avatar, he loved the stock market and loved the brokers even more. For he had a lot of stock in these companies and by the time he was done, the brokers would only be showering love on him.

Then again, on days he would feel militantly communist, he would nurse a strong desire to be a supreme hacker for the Free Software Foundation. He would passionately make a compelling case for open source procedures and would extol the virtues of collaborative development. He would berate those supporting proprietary software, sometimes to the extent of explicitly demonizing them, while belaboring upon the need for the world to openly adopt and embrace the free software paradigm. He idolized Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and the Google guys. At the same time, he offered atheistic paeans in the name of Richard Stallman and bowed daily to a life-size statue of Ernesto "Che" Guevera.

For every act of good that he did, he (consciously or subconsciously) did an act of evil too. He was, in a metaphorical sense, obeying Newton's third law of motion. Like death, he became the great leveler. He would go out of his way to help people and then plot insidiously to bring down other people. He would go onto heroically rescue people from disasters, and then coldly contemplate his next target on his murderous spree. He would save people from natural calamities and then enforce man-made disasters on an unsuspecting populace. He was both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Snake and serpent.

It is evident, from the trajectory of his mental and emotional evolution, that Bhimsen developed into a deeply confused and highly conflicted individual. His inner conflict was the inevitable result of a lifelong sense of ambiguity and ambivalence on every issue, on every matter in life. After all, he represented within himself, the entire sum total of all human thought, opinion, action and behavior.

If only Bhimsen wasn't God and God wasn't Bhimsen .... For through his morbidly complicated, utterly confused and perennially conflicted personality, he mimicked the creator's thought processes at the time of the world's creation/inception. The creator of the world, the Alpha & Omega, must have been as conflicted and as confused as Bhimsen while creating the world, and populating it with such astounding diversity of human thought and contemplation. Through Bhimsen's ambivalence and indecision, we can see how conflicted God must have been. Through his desire to be everything there is to be, we can see the diversity of human contemplation and action that God gave humanity. Bhimsen represents all that is good and all that is bad in God. He represents the common-folk, the caped crusader/vigilante and the murderous psychopath within God. Bhimsen was the Good, the Bad and the Ugly in God.

The astounding range and depth, versatility and diversity of human thought, opinion and behavior is a wonderful gift - one which adds color and depth to life, one which ensures an absence of monotony in life, one which encourages passionate debates and decision via consensus. But at the same time, the same fantastic diversity in human behavior becomes the source for much of the discord and dissonance in the world. Disagreement, discord and the resulting cacophony makes life exceedingly complicated and ensure a profound difficulty in forming consensus and establishing an idyllic and peaceful world. Differing opinions creates divisions in human society and polarizes society on the basis of political, social, religious and other differences. It creates violence and strife, bitterness and spite.

But if the remarkable diversity of thought & behavior is eliminated altogether, the world would no doubt be the perfect peaceful human abode, but wouldn’t it be that much duller and uninteresting? Life would be perfect, but insipid. It would be at once entirely peaceful but also somehow unsatisfying. Variety and diversity, which ultimately results in chaos and cacophony, is the underlying bedrock of human life and serves as the fabric on which human societies and civilizations thrive and survive.

This fabulous diversity in human culture, political and economic thought, societal customs and individual quirks could only have been the result of a conflicted and flawed maker. Bhimsen evidently represented that flawed creator. The confusion, contradictory ambivalence and the intrinsic conflict that Bhimsen experienced on a daily basis, is what the creator must have experienced regularly, while ruminating on his efforts to create the universe. The creator's intense internal conflict and his ambiguity of thought, served as a foundational basis for the versatility and variety in human cognition and behavior. The creator's ambivalence and ambiguity is directly and potently reflected in His creation.

Those of us who have learned to adapt ourselves to this contradictory and complicated world or those who wish such a world, would be thankful for Bhimsen's disposition being representative of the creator. Those of us who are bewildered by the inherent complexity of the world and who wish for simplicity in human life, would ruefully wish that Bhimsen didn't represent the creator's intentions. Whatever it may be, Bhimsen surely was a most interesting creation … It is an entirely ironic matter that, while “God” (his holiness/the creator) gained widespread acceptance via humanity’s collective prayers, Bhimsen wasn’t so fortunate and he continually fought to obtain acceptance, which sadly remained elusive …


karen said...

i'd rather comment here, it is less crowded..

@ Rajiv: Bhimsen is yr character, portray it the way you want. I expected it to be a funny story but you changed the theme entirely.
Funny that i agree with your character, i risk sounding overtly religious here by saying that in the bible it is said that man is made in the image and likeness of God. So, Bhimsen can truly be all there is to be, if not for real, at least in his mind.

Jayraj said...

So God has issues?

Directionless Wanderer said...

@Jayraj: the main point is yes God has issues - he is conflicted and contradictory and confused

And mebbe its good that God has issues coz he made such a diverse world and endowed humans with the capacity for such diverse thought, action and behavior

Then again, in a way, its bad that God had issues because he made such a diverse world and gave humans so much cause for disagreement and discord

Ananth Iyer said...

Dear Rajiv,
Read your blog, it is very interesting and good story.It has come after a long time, hope to see more in future.
That God has created us and made us all so different is an accepted fact.
Take for instance inanimate things like a Refrigerator, it is made in an assembly line and everything looks same,and they are not unique in any way.
The fact that human beings are different is what makes us a better being.If everybody is the same then there would not have been innovations, if we consider all human beings as robots and identical.
That every individual thinks different, behaves different, makes the world so very attractive.
There were great scientists like Einstein, Galileo etc who thought different and dared to bring new concepts of science to the world which only gave newer insights in our life.
So Bhimsen should accept the complexities of life and make a good living.

piscean_nirmal said...

for a moment i thought this post is about me! loved it!

Siddhartha Prakash said...

Nice article, you need to increase the width of the text pane of your blog as reading becoming a bit painful.

Pavitra said...

What I like:
You have given intricate details of the confusion that the character is going through...It’s thorough.

What I didn’t like:
You tend to summarize every time you have painstakingly described some aspect… didn’t like it, mainly because, I feel you should give the readers a chance to grasp the idea, or the essence of your character, on their own.

Do correct me, if I am wrong.