The vanity of human wishes

Monday Musing

[ Asok Pillai ]

A brotherly elbow

The need to be alone and content in one’s own company is much undervalued, and often misunderstood.

People generally require a social life, which is natural and perfectly understandable. I, on the other hand, lack the taste and desire for society. I have very few friends in Itanagar. Nobody invites me and I invite nobody. Looked at from a certain point of view, it’s a win-win situation for all concerned.

I like these empty rooms, with only the TV for company. Now and then I check out the comedy channel Republic TV, just to see how brother Arnab is faring these days. With the Russian aggression on Ukraine continuing, Republic TV has gone international. Two of its overacting reporters were seen reporting live ‘from ground zero’ (or something to that effect) somewhere in Ukraine the last time I saw the channel with a friend of mine.

My friend K (alas, he denied me permission to use his name) and I had a good chuckle before switching back to ‘Forged in Fire’ on History TV18.

K, a native of Coorg, Karnataka, is one of the most intelligent men I’ve known. We first met at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling in 2003, doing our basic mountaineering course, and became instant friends. We’ve been like brothers in arms ever since. He was here in Itanagar recently.

We disagree on a lot of things, K and I. When I railed against the Russian invasion of Ukraine, K lay back on the little canvas travelling chair he carries around, with a can of beer in one hand, and said: “Which country in innocent? Look at India. It bombed its own state, Mizoram.”

Case closed.

K, who is a full-time traveller, has literally travelled more than half of the world, working with communities. He can see right through this world’s bs. Having an argument with him feels like climbing a very steep peak, piggybacking K. All the same, he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother, as the song goes. He’s one guy I feel more than happy to welcome to my humble abode – not that K cares about comfort. He is an international mountaineer and has travelled in unbearable conditions – literally slept on roadsides in his sleeping bag – and can live under any circumstances. These days he is overseeing an environmentally friendly project in some village in Nagaland. I gather it teaches communities how to live in perfect harmony with nature, within their own ecosystems and resources.

When we first met, K’s goal was to climb Mount Everest. Today, he looks back on that part of his life with disdain, in view of what Everest has become, as he found out during a trip to Everest Base Camp. He was so disgusted to see the sheer crowd, the mess all over the place, that he said goodbye to his Everest dreams. These days he is working to make this world a better place in his own small way, as he travels around the globe (more or less) putting his pet project into action.

I tell K that I’ll write his biography someday. He looks at me honestly. “Forget writing my biography. First get one book published. Ha-ha-ha-ha…!”

Case closed.

K is a self-made man. He comes from an affluent family, but he signed off his share of the family properties to his brother a long time ago and, having earned an MCA degree, set out to explore the world and succeed on his own terms. The pilgrim’s journey continues.

K appears to be rich. He has never spoken about his source of income, and I’ve never asked. Why would I? Who cares how anyone makes their money? But I’m pretty sure K earns his keep the right straight way – the way I do, myself.

He likes to mock me about the Booker Prize thing. One evening, as we were watching TV and chatting, the matter came up somehow, and he decided to have another go at me.

“After you win the Booker Prize, you’ll need a secretary, an assistant…” he began counting on his fingers, sarcastically.

“That’s where you come in,” I said. “Why do you think I’m cultivating your friendship?”

It hit him immediately. He flew into a rage.

“I wish I could show you the middle finger of my foot,” he said as I roared with laughter.

Yes, I enjoy my moments of victory over my buddy, even if it means blindsiding him.

Escaping gravity

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is my hero.

Many perceive him as a lightweight and say that Ukraine has been played by the West. This is partly due to the fact that Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin has quite a following, owing to his judo and KGB background and his so-called manliness and political wit, and partly due to the fact that, prior to becoming the president of Ukraine after his party’s landslide victory in 2019, Zelenskyy, now 44, was a TV comedian with a law degree. So there is this perception that he has been used by the USA and others because he is gullible.

As I write, Zelenskyy is still in Kyiv, amid the bombings and the air strikes, and Ukraine stands beside him tall and strong. This is because we don’t know what the Ukrainians know. After all he is their leader. They voted him to power, and Ukrainians are not stupid. I suspect they know their president better than do the pro-Putin analysts in India.

I completely empathise with my country’s uncomfortable situation because of geopolitical, diplomatic and all those reasons. Russia and India have been special friends since before the Cold War days. You don’t turn your back on a friendship that old.

So, let me say my piece, for I speak as a man in search of reasons: Vladimir Putin is an absolutely rotten man. Even Russians are booing him because they don’t want a meaningless war to feed a self-righteous lunatic’s bloated self-esteem. Meanwhile, Volodymyr Zelenskyy is going down in modern history as the century’s greatest leader.

I used to admire Putin once, but I don’t like his leadership style anymore. He calls Ukrainians Nazis, but look who is behaving like a Nazi.

Come on, judo boy, let’s give peace a chance. You realise of course that the fate of humanity depends on your actions. And you are trying to start a world war here. What’s the matter with you?

I strongly suggest that you submit yourself to a thorough and honest-to-god mental assessment, now. Not tomorrow, not today. Now. Before it’s too late.

Make no mistake, I love my Russian brothers and sisters. Too bad they have a madman at the top.


Things sort themselves out in the end, one way or another, as I’ve learnt from experience. I’ve learnt also that a lot of things happen for a reason.

I care that if World War III starts, it starts for a damned good reason, for it will be the war to end all wars, and Elon Musk can kiss his Mars mission goodbye.