THE MORAL AMBIGUITY.

           In my previous blog, I had discussed my attempts to find a theme for my next novel. Having decided to write a novel in the third person narrative, I had suggested that I would like a narrative where the protagonist would be driven by two strong emotions of guilt and sacrifice. The core of this novel would be that the protagonist would never realise that he is driven by these two emotions and still he would find his redemption. In this blog, I would discuss what happens to us when we are not aware of our own subconscious emotions and how this ignorance leads us to moral ambiguity.

           As we grow up, we realise that our notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad ‘ are not clear cut. We normally define these notions in the context of what we are required to do. In other words, there are no perfect definitions of good and bad. We decide what is good and what is bad depending on the circumstances that we face. Every time, when we face such a dilemma, we make a choice of what is good and what is bad depending on our own understanding of life. More often than not, we arrive at our choice based on what our intuition tells us about the choice. Of course, once we have made the decision, we always conjure up very good arguments to justify our choice. Rarely, if ever, we realise that our arguments in support of our choices are justifications of our choice and not the reasons for our choices.

            The trouble with growing up is that, as we grow older,  we become  more and more aware of this gap between the arguments as a justification and arguments as a reason behind our choices. As a child, each one of us lives in a blithe ignorance and believe that our desires are synonymous with what is good and therefore we pursue our desires and wishes with an endearing naivete. However, as we grow old, our moral sense tells us that life is not as simple as that. There is something more to life than the endless pursuit of wish fulfillment. The real problem with growing up is not that our moral sense tells us about what not to do, but rather that it doesn’t tell us what to do. Our sense of morality is, in some sense, negative. It reduces the number of choices that we can think of  what we ought to do. However, it never suggests any choices, on its own,  of what we ought to do. Therefore, sometimes we never know the morally correct choice until it is too late. This is the origin of our moral ambiguity. More importantly, it defines the human angst of modern times.

           I am tempted to believe that this story of individual development from naivete to ambiguity is also reflected in our collective history of our culture. In the ancient times, the societies  (and even religions) were founded on the simplistic notions of good and bad. With the passage of time, due to social and cultural evolution, we have evolved very intricate rules of justice and equity. However, somewhere deep within, we know that our laws also tell us what not to do and rarely tell us what to do.

            My focus however, is not really on this moral sense per se. My interest, as a novelist, is in the consequences of such a muted moral sense. If human beings are driven by their subconscious emotions  ( of which they are not aware of ) and if they are handicapped by this muted moral sense, every human being would be facing angst that arises from this moral ambiguity. Most of us have experienced situations wherein we know that what we want to do is not exactly right thing to do and still we want to do it because that gives us an emotional satisfaction. The tragedy of human life is that vague awareness of having transgressed and yet experiencing emotional deliverance. I think human being are not good or bad. They are good and bad at the same time.

            I think that Nature, in her infinite wisdom, has deliberately endowed us with this muted moral sense. Had she given us a complete morality, we , human beings, would be reduced to machines following Nature’s instructions. The value of human life lies in the fact that she/he has a freedom to pursue what she/he thinks is good and make mistakes. This freedom to commit mistakes also gives human beings a chance to redeem themselves. Our subconscious need to experience catharsis is actually a substitute for our destiny to experience our redemption. The true moral ambiguity lies in our need to experience this catharsis and redemption. I think there is no way to explain why we need to experience the subconscious emotional drives, the subsequent sense of transgression, it’s catharsis and finally a sense of redemption. I believe we don’t need to undergo these emotional cycles. We would be happy to be always correct and always satisfied. . However, I am convinced that in that case , we would not be human beings,  but some automatons. To quote a famous saying, to err is human. I am tempted to modify that saying and assert that to err is human destiny.

            I am planning to write my next novel where the protagonist is acutely conscious of his own moral ambiguity but he is driven by his subconscious mind to transgress. Of course, in the light of what I have written, the protagonist would have to find his own redemption.

           In my next blog, I would discuss what kind of protagonist I would want. This is because his profile would decide what  form of transgression the protagonist would be forced to commit by his own subconscious mind and how he would find his redemption. 




          In my previous blog , I had discussed the  psychology of wishful thinking and the role of wish fulfillment in shaping our behavior. It was suggested that we are sometimes not aware of our own emotions because they remain embedded in our subconscious mind.  However, these emotions surface as wishful thinking in our conscious mind . Therefore , when we try to fulfill our wishes , we are actually trying to accommodate our subconscious emotions. Since this transformation of our subconscious emotions into our conscious wishes is not simple and  straightforward , we never realise what our actual emotions are. We simply indulge in wish fulfillment without knowing how our wishes are formed. However , it is possible to understand our own selves by analyzing this transformation but that would be possible only with the help of psychologists. Alternatively , we can understand human mind by reading some of the great novels. I had suggested that the novelist can explain human nature by personifying the emotions and building a novel out of it.

          In this blog , I would like to discuss how our emotions twist our ability to think to make us believe in things that we would not have believed otherwise. While the psychologists are familiar with this emotional distortion of logic , as a novelist , I am interested in the unfolding of tragedy because of this distortion. Psychologists study this subject of cognitive dissonance purely from the clinical perspective. However , I am not interested in clinical aspects of this emotional distortion. I am interested in the tragedy resulting from such emotional distortion. The academic scholarship has the luxury of being impersonal. A novelist does not have such a luxury.  A novelist is driven by empathy. This empathy arises from the fact that the characters of that novelist’s novel are personifications of human emotions and some of these emotions are the novelist’s own. Therefore a novelist has an insider’s perspective of this emotional distortion , whereas a psychologist has  an outsider’s perspective.

          I would like to clarify that I have referred to tragedy of human lives that arise from the emotional distortion in this blog so far. This is not to be confused with the melodrama that one witnesses in popular fiction and cinema. Sometimes  the human tragedy occurs even when the  individuals involved are not even aware of it. Strangely , this is one of the defining features of human tragedy wrecked by emotional distortion. The person concerned would defy the logic which shows that there is something tragic in that individual’s life. However , the emotional distortion would compel that individual to deny the tragedy. It is this persistent denial by that individual that is the real tragedy and not the misfortune that befalls on that individual. The misfortunes happen to all of us. However , our consistent denial would simply perpetuate the emotional distortion. This persistent denial postpones the acceptance of reality  , subsequent emotional closure and healing. Therefore the real tragedy of human beings is that our own , very natural , response to emotional trauma that misfortunes inflict on our mind , itself  closes our paths to recovery.  Our tragedy is not that misfortunes happen in our lives, but that we refuse to heal ourselves because our thinking is distorted by the strong emotions that these misfortunes generate in our mind.

            In some sense , this is like a Greek tragedy because we are born with the mind that is distorted by our emotions.  However , in some sense  , this is like a Shakespearian tragedy because we deny ourselves a chance to heal by perpetuating the emotional distortion of our thinking.  One final observation on this emotional distortion is that the resulting tragedy may sometimes appear in the form of delusional happiness. This is perhaps the most subtle form of tragedy.

          In the remaining part of this blog , I would describe how I came across this aspect of tragedy while writing my second novel. I have already mentioned that my second novel deals with the theme of reincarnation. I have also mentioned that the novel centres around a chartered accountant who finds that his girlfriend apparently experiences memories of her past births. As the novel  progresses , the protagonist changes his own opinion about the idea of reincarnation as his own emotional attachments to his girlfriend grows. I did not intend to write a tragic novel , at least not when I began this novel. However , I realized that it would end up as a tragic story whether I want it or not. When I thought about the reasons for this , I found the explanation that I have outlined above. Of course , given my sensibility, it would not be a melodrama.

         Since I did not want to write a tragic novel , I started introducing some  positive elements into the story.  I thought that I should dwell on the romantic undertones of the relationship between the protagonist and his girlfriend.  While making that choice , I was consciously  trying to eliminate one of the shortcomings of my first novel. In that novel , the women appear only in the context of the  protagonist’s emotional needs.  This , I thought , was definitely a shortcoming . A novelist , who wants to unravel the subconscious mind of a contemporary man , can not escape the romance and implicit sexuality from the narrative. However, in the surreal treatment of modern man, I could not have introduced that facet of the protagonist without compromising the thematic integrity. So , when I began my second novel , I was keen to explore that area of our subconscious mind. So, I made a conscious choice of enlivening the plot of my second novel and the relationship between the protagonist and his girlfriend was the most natural choice.

      However, even while doing this ,  I was clear that the romantic and sexual aspect of the  protagonist’s evolution should not end up being descriptive. Instead , I wanted it to emerge from the subconscious drive of the protagonist. In addition , I also wanted to explore the the possibility of these aspects of the protagonist spanning across the reincarnation. So  , I wanted the protagonist to get hint of his love being eternal to come from the the memories of his girlfriend about her past births. When I reached that point in the plot when the girlfriend recollects her past memories with the protagonist , I realized that there tragic fate of their romance was already scripted into those memories. In other words  , even the lighter and enlivening elements of the plot would reinforce the tragic undercurrents of man’s subconscious mind.

     Having failed to avoid the tragedy in my second novel , I thought of introducing some  some nobility of the soul in the protagonist’s mental make up.  I thought that this would enable me to imbue some positivity into the novel.  That is where I found the delusional aspect of man’s tragedy.  My protagonist tries to be noble in face of the adversities in life. However , at some point he realises that his own sense perceived nobility is nothing but the delusion created by his mind to compensate for the trauma that he had experienced in love. This is where my novel is at present.  I hope to depict his redemption once he realises that his delusion of nobility is far deeper tragedy than his unrequited love is.

        I  would describe in my next blog how difficult it is for male novelists to unravel a woman’s subconscious mind.




            IS IT GOOD OR BAD ?

       In my previous blogs , I have discussed the compulsions of the plot and its characters in shaping the novel. I had suggested that there are inherent demands of the plot that unfold as the novel progresses. Similarly , the characters, being personifications of human emotions , have  their own momentum. This results in commandeering of the plot to its emotional climax. The role of a novelist is that of a witness and an arbiter of these multiple and divergent pulls and pushes of these factors. Moreover , when the novel is about reincarnation , there is an emotional continuity of any given character to be maintained across different births. As I have discussed earlier , the destiny operates by ensuring that karmic interactions amongst various characters are settled by forcing these characters to think in the manner that would cause the destined events to unfold. The destiny can only achieve this by ensuring that the emotions of any individual are consistent with that individual’s past births. This is because these emotions would ensure that the individual concerned would act according to her/his  past life memories. Thus, for a reincarnation novel, the emotional continuity is essential.

         From a novelist’s point of view , I am concerned about this emotional continuity. While writing this novel , I realized that for a character to act according to its emotions , these emotions must appear in the form of wishes. It is the desire for wish fulfillment that shapes the actions of all of us. We are not able to express our emotions very clearly but when they appear in the form of wishes, we can clearly understand and fulfil these wishes. If this reasoning is correct , then our collective belief in reincarnation must also be reflected in our attitudes towards wishes and their fulfillment. In this blog , I would discuss how we treat our desires and wishes as Indians.

        There are two contradictory attitudes in our present day culture.  We, somehow, exhibit an ambivalence towards our desires and wishes.  On one hand , majority of our religions have instilled in our minds that desires are some kind of impurities that soil our souls. Thus there is an emphasis on asceticism in our upbringing. On the other hand , as we became more westernised, we have absorbed positive aspects of wish fulfillment.  The  present day aspirational paradigm of individual excellence is based on the importance of self belief and self fulfillment.  In reality , this paradigm endorses and sanctifies the individual desires. Thus we have accommodated two contradictory attitudes in our present day culture. This ambivalence characterizes our mind set. 

          However, there exists a third perspective which explains why we are ambivalent . This is the perspective of  psychology.  From psychological perspective , this ambivalence is reflects on the inherent contradictions of our contemporary society. In psychology , wishes and desires are embodiment of lacuna in our self image.  We normally desire something because we subconsciously feel that we lack that thing. Of course  , our subconscious perception of what we lack and its conscious embodiment in the form of desires are not identical.  Our mind plays tricks and what eventually surfaces as a wishful thinking is quite different. This difference between the lacuna in our subconscious self image and conscious wishes is diagnostic of our mental health. Therefore,  from a psychological perspective, this ambivalence is normal as well as educative.  This ambivalence tells us how,  as a society , we are changing.

          From literary perspective  , there is another aspect to our wishes and their fulfillment.  This aspect is that of tragedy. In the classical literature , the tragedy arises because the protagonist fails to achieve the wish fulfillment. In modern literature,  particularly after the literature of absurd , the tragedy is not a failure to achieve the wish fulfillment , but it is the futility of wish fulfillment. The  protagonist , during the process of wish fulfillment , realizes that his self image , and therefore the content of the wishes , have changed during the struggle. The tragedy in this case is that wish fulfillment , when achieved , appears hollow to the  protagonist. The final denouement in this case is the realization by the protagonist that wishes and their fulfillment are irrelevant.

          As a novelist , I am more interested in the ambivalence itself and its psychological origins. It is necessary for any novelist that she/he must describe this ambivalence without being  judgemental.

       In the novel that I am writing now, I am facing this dilemma of depicting this ambivalence without being judgemental.  As I mentioned above , the characters in a novel on reincarnation must have emotional continuity. This continuity would surface in the form of strong wishes. In this novel  , as I mentioned in my previous blogs  , one of the characters seems to have memories of past births. The  protagonist of the novel , a chartered accountant , tries to analyse these past memories of his girlfriend in the context of this emotional continuity. He begins with scepticism.  However, as the plot unfolds, his own emotional attachment to his girlfriend starts interfering in his analysis. His journey from being skeptical to a believer is one of the themes of my novel. As a novelist , I would not pass a judgement whether his transformation is right or wrong.  I think the key point is that individuals are neither right nor wrong, they simply are.  

       This brings me to the the question in the title of this blog. Is it good to seek our wish fulfillment ? or is it bad ? I think the correct answer is that it is neither good , nor bad. The key insight into our behavior is that we are bound to have wishes.  More importantly , we are bound to seek fulfillment of our wishes. Neither having wishes, nor seeking their fulfillment  is optional.  We are constituted in a such a manner that we compulsively wish and with equal compulsion , we seek its fulfillment. Therefore, if there is something like destiny , then it must be it must be in the form of this compulsion. To put it differently , the notion of destiny is a  personification of this compulsion.

         In my next blog  , I would discuss how an individual changes her/ his beliefs under the influence of strong emotions. 



       In my previous blog , I had discussed the creative process that shapes the plot of a novel. I had discussed how personification of various emotions can create various characters and drive the story forward.  In that blog , I had mentioned that real creativity of a novelist lies in her /his ability to blend different , and sometimes conflicting , emotions to create a more realistic character. Such a character appeals to us because we ourselves are made out of several complex emotions.  Thus any character that has emotional depth because of blending of different emotions , would be more like us and therefore would be more appealing.

       In this blog , I would discuss how this blending of different emotions in a single character makes such a character a flawed character. Let us say that a character created by blending several emotions has sufficient emotional depth and is more realistic. While , as a novelist , I can tell you  that it is more  satisfying to create such a character , but the problem is that such a character turns out to be a flawed character. How does one  predict behavior of such a flawed character ? For a novelist  , this is  very crucial because the details of the plot of a novel hinges on how that  character would behave in a given situation. This problem is also faced by all of us in real life.  There are always individuals in our lives who are emotionally very complex and it is difficult to predict how they would behave. Of course , in real life , one does not have to follow a plot , whereas in a novel, the novelist has to create an interesting plot.

          I think the real problem with such fictional characters  is that their  ability to reason is influenced by their emotional frame of mind.  This is  true in our case also. Our ability to reason is also  influenced by our emotional frame of mind. Unlike computers , we think differently under different emotional framework. In this blog , I want to discuss whether we , as a species , are rational animals or not. Of course  , there are large number of books on various aspects of human ability to think  but I would sidestep the theoretical perspective.  I would write about this as a novelist and as an average ordinary human being.

       This aspect came to my notice while writing my second novel. As I have been writing about this novel in my blogs, this novel is about the theme of reincarnation. The story is actually about an average person , who in this novel , is a chartered accountant. He comes across someone in his life who apparently has memories of past births. Now , the protagonist  , being an ordinary human being , has no way to confirm whether this reincarnation is true or not.  Being a  professional, he tries to use his analytical skills to confirm whether the reincarnation is true or not.  The trouble is that he is emotionally very close to the person experiencing these past life memories.  As the story  progresses,  the protagonist is increasingly influenced by his emotions and his reasoning starts getting accordingly  distorted.

        As a novelist , I found it disturbing to realise that what if such a distortion could be happening with all of us. Therefore, I decided to observe how this  protagonist changes his reasoning as his relationship with the person experiencing the reincarnation changes. To my  surprise ,  I realized that human  rationality is not uniform or standard.  It changes with our emotions. We sometimes change our opinions over a period of time. This is actually a result of change in our  emotions. While trying to develop the character of the protagonist , I realized that there is more serious problem of how the emotions of the protagonist forced him to start believing in mutually contradictory reasons at the same time.  In order to do that , the protagonist started developing ingenious arguments. While  psychologists are familiar with this distortion of reasoning because of emotional disturbance , we do not recognise such a distortion in persons around us in real life.

       As a novelist ,  this was a good opportunity for me to try to understand human mind ,but as a human being, I was disturbed.  I realized that this could be happening to me as well. What if my own beliefs were also distorted ?  More importantly  , I realized that situation in real life was far more difficult.  In a novel, there is always a novelist who could keep characters in some kind of thematic control.  In real life , there is  no one who could exercise such a control. Maybe that is why our culture has invented a deity like destiny. By placing our faith in destiny , we we feel comfortable that our distorted reasoning is not of our own making.

        I would like to clarify that this view of our reasoning being distorted by our emotions is not necessarily a depressing view of human existence. This is because this very distortion also  produces heroic human beings. The  point behind writing this novel on reincarnation is that no matter what our emotions are , they would shape our reasoning. It might make someone a hero and it might make another person a psychopath.  The process of making both types of individuals is same. Interestingly  , sometimes an individual may be both , a hero as well as a psychopath. 

          I have asked a question in the title of this blog.  The answer to this question is that yes , we are rational , but our rationality is fragmented.  Our tragedies arise when these fragments of rationality conflict with one another. Maybe the correct answer is that  we are rational in parts but not as a whole. I would end this blog a serious comment on the nature of human tragedy.  In literature , we are taught that there are two types of tragedies , Greek and Shakespearean.  In Greek tragedy , it is the destiny that wrecks the tragedies in human lives.  In Shakespearean tragedy  , it is the human nature that wrecks tragedies in human lives. While writing this novel on reincarnation , I realized that both the types of tragedies are same if the destiny were to dictate the distortion of human mind . Maybe, destiny makes us think in such a way that our actions , based on this distorted reasoning , bring about tragic consequences.This is the core of Indian tragedy. It transcends Greek and Shakespearean tragedies. You just have to read Ramayana and Mahabharata to see how destiny operates.

          In my next blog , I would discuss how our wishful thinking actually tells us what we are. More importantly  , I would discuss how even wish fulfillment can have tragic consequences.  


                            THE MYTH OF REINCARNATION.

           In my earlier blog , I had written about my intention of writing my second novel on the theme of reincarnation. I had mentioned that , in my forthcoming blogs , I would be discussing various aspects of the idea of reincarnation. In this blog , I would try to deconstruct reasons for the popularity of this idea. I think there are two different aspects to this popularity. First aspect is that there is something inherently appealing about this idea. This intuitive appeal needs to be looked into. The second aspect of this popularity is that this idea somehow  reinforces our religious beliefs. This compatibility between religions and reincarnation also needs to be looked into.

               In this blog , I would discuss the psychological implications of our  acceptance of idea of reincarnation. In my next blog , I would discuss religious implications of this idea of reincarnation. Ever since , I decided to write a novel on reincarnation , I have been thinking about it. As mentioned in my earlier blog , I was surprised to realize that , at some subconscious level , even I wanted to believe in this idea. Considering the fact that I profess to be a rationalist , I was rather taken aback by this realization. The only explanation that I can think of this internal contradiction in my thinking is that the idea of reincarnation appeals to me because it , in some sense , embodies in itself , some of my subconscious beliefs. I am going to take up these beliefs and try to understand , how they get transformed into this idea of reincarnation.

               First belief that  tempts me to believe in this idea , is that of notion of self. I am sure that readers would agree with my observation that each one us have this notion of permanent self. All our thinking revolves around the belief that self is permanent. We can not think about anything without any reference to our own selves. All our concepts and all our thoughts are defined in the context of our own selves. If we , each one of us , did not have this notion of self , we would not be able to formulate any thoughts. A thought exists because a  self exists. To our subconscious mind , self is always present. It is this permanence of psychological self  that is responsible for the appeal of the idea of reincarnation. To our subconscious mind , self is permanent and therefore eternal. It is this misguided notion of eternal nature of our psychological self that finds its expression in this idea of reincarnation. If self can not die then it must persist in some indestructible form. Therefore our subconscious mind weaves this narrative of soul and it’s reincarnation.

           The second reason , why the idea of reincarnation appeals to me , is that it offers some escape route to my unfulfilled wishes. A human mind can be rightly described as collection of all kinds of wishes. In terms of psychology , one can say that the self expresses itself in the form of wishes. A fulfillment of our wishes is the engine which drives our life. In view of this primacy of wishes in defining self , it is natural that unfulfilled wishes could play havoc with our mental health. Therefore a human mind has to create some explanation which can make its  unfulfilled wishes bearable. This , I think , is the reason why the idea of reincarnation appeals to all of us. Through the the belief in reincarnation , our subconscious mind finds solace that all our unfulfilled wishes may be fulfilled in some unspecified future of reincarnated self.

               The third reason ,why the idea of reincarnation appeals to me , is that it fulfills our sense of justice. All of us have an  inbuilt sense of justice. Though , it’s articulation and it’s practice varies from person to person and culture to culture, the fact is that we ,as a species , have an  inborn sense of justice. However , this instinct is in direct conflict with not only the way this  world runs ,  but it is also in direct conflict with our own wish fulfillment driven behavior. Each one of us comes across all kinds of inequities and inequalities. Of course , each one of us has a simple way of allowing our inborn sense of justice to find its expression. That way consists of fighting all these inequities and inequalities. However , our mind seeks an easier way to deal with this. It justifies its inaction and acceptance of these inequities and inequalities by invoking this comforting idea of reincarnation. This operates at two levels. Firstly ,it allows us to focus instead on our attempts to fulfill our wishes. Secondly , it absolves us from responsibility of letting justice prevail. If the reincarnation is really true then law of Karma would prevail eventually. Justice delayed , according to this philosophy , is not justice denied. Rather justice delayed , according to this philosophy , is a poetic justice.

        Thus there are three very deep rooted reasons why the idea of reincarnation finds itself so popular. I would like to clarify that I am not suggesting that the idea of reincarnation is wrong. Our scientific knowledge has not reached a level where it can either prove or disprove the notion of immortal soul and it’s reincarnation. All I am suggesting is that all of us , including myself , would want to believe in this idea and that too for wrong reasons. How do I reconcile my rational mind with my subconscious mind ? I think I will find the answer only after I finish this  novel.

        In my next blog , I would discuss how our religious beliefs have influenced this idea of reincarnation.