Monday, June 23, 2014

Proof of Heaven: A Book Review

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife is about the experience commonly known as NDE or Near Death Experience. Recently, there have been a number of books that narrate this phenomenon, in which individuals experience the state of consciousness and meet or are greeted by beings including the ones that passed away during their earthly life. Here is a website dedicated to NDE sharing experiences. http://www.nderf.org/ If you are interested in knowing the concept, this webpage will greatly help.

What makes the experience narrated in Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife special is the analytical nature of Eben Alexander MD, a neurosurgeon with which he narrates his direct encounter with a realm much higher in its advancement of consciousness than the earth’s. Proof of Heaven isn’t just narration of the bizarre, yet extraordinary experiences he endures. It’s also a study and sharing of the “earth-based” analytical model of understanding of NDE phenomenon.

Death is, in the most common use of the term, just an adjective for “end” or “the stopping of something.” Especially, in rather secular cultures like mine, consciousness beyond death is equally jeered at as the theory of ancient aliens visiting planet earth. Even to my own surprise, when I read the book, I felt a bit cagey over the legitimacy of the content in relation to the worldview I was forced to accept. The ideas in the books were tangy enough. However, the concern for the guarding of the walls of cultural curation began to gnaw at my mind. Is it possible to know even after you leave your body? I asked myself.
 
Image Courtesy: Google
Although, I had an indelible experience related to how Proof of Heaven and the possibility that consciousness can exist without the body can change many things around an individual, I still held steadfast in questioning the rationality of the experiences narrated in the book. It’s sad, I know. But that is what science teaches us. It teaches us to question everything, even our own long held beliefs. The fact that I am holding Science as the responsible element in justifying my indifference towards the remarkable personal experience I had, proves in full extent, my dedication to rationality and reason. However, as I moved further into the book, I realized that many of my experiences in this lifetime have reasonable relation with what Dr. Alexander was trying to communicate through the book.    

The awareness that there is a possible after-life changed my thinking towards my fellow beings. Although “everlasting life” is a constantly recurring philosophical concept in religious terminology, I never gave it much thought in terms of its realness. My secular culture had infused in me a limited logic that many of the concepts seen in religion were either metaphors regarding some puzzling moral question in life, and should not be taken literally or an old superstition.  

I had a direct experience of a close-to-a-miracle recovery of my Great Aunt from a severe heart and kidney malfunctioning. What played behind this experience was my awareness about this possibility that life continues and even after the death of the body and that the person could witness everything around one even after one’s physical eyes are closed. The news of her serious illness came to us on a weekday. By the weekend of that same week, a phone call from one of my uncles came. He said that my Great Aunt’s situation was serious, close to imminent demise. Every one of the relatives was informed. Many were ‘discussing’ a visit to the hospital. They were in South Kerala. We were in Malabar, the north of the state. For us, it was almost a 9-12 hours train and bus ride.

Immediately, my mother was considering a visit to the hospital, which, she quickly realized, was not easy as it was a Sunday. With the summer vacation at its closure, the trains and buses would be full of people going back their homes and schools. It’s a great yearly-ritual. Therefore, to expect any possible ease through the journey was not in consideration.

It was during this week I first came across one of the Youtube videos by Dr. Alexander. It was his show with Oprah Winfrey. The analytical nature in which he was able to pitch the knowledge of the NDE was very impressive. It was different from many other NDE cases I have read and analyzed, in the sense that it is a neurosurgeon that underwent this phenomenon here. He was a man of science, and not just any other scientist, but one who made a living by studying and operating at human brain, the very biological supercomputer that is suspected of being the hidden manufacturer of out of body experiences and also NDE.

Denying this hypothesis, Dr. Alexander says, “We can only see what our brain’s filter allows through. The brain—in particular its left-side linguistic/logical part, that which generates our sense of rationality and the feeling of being a sharply defined ego or self—is a barrier to our higher knowledge and experience.” (72) He considers that his purpose of writing Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife is to bring this “ancient but ultimately basic fact” known to the present world.

I asked myself this question; “What if my Great Aunt is closing to the end of her physical life? What if in a higher dimension she was able to see all the others and me gathering around her? Wouldn’t it be a good idea to show her that she was loved? Just in case, if the consciousness did not end there, wouldn’t it be good to let it know that we cared for her?

So I said, “I will come with you.” My mother got my message immediately. And we started by the 2.30 pm train to Ernakulam. It was a metal box stuffed with living humans. I had to stand for almost half way through in the train. No seats were available. I sighed at Indian Railway, as I usually do whenever I had the opportunity to travel by train, which I detest, by the way. What pained me more during this journey was the fact that my mother had to stand too, for some time, until she got a vacant seat. A young man, with whom she implored to give her an inch of space so that she could support herself against the seat in the throbbing crowd, refused it disdainfully. He was lean and had a headset blaring music into his ears, but I doubt if any of the harmony of those songs ever reached his stony heart.

When we reached the hospital, close to midnight, Great Aunt was still in Intensive care Unit. Her son and daughters were staying at the hospital, though only one of them was let inside the ICU during the ten minutes visiting time in the morning, starting at 7am. Surprisingly, all of them mentioned that Great Aunt seemed very energetic and was being “bored at the hospital.” They said that she wished to go back home as soon as possible. The way she was motivated to be cured and go home even at a stage that threatened her life was surprising for me and promising even for the doctors. I learnt, later, that she wasn’t informed about the gloomy state of affairs at all. Therefore, even though Great Aunt was jubilant to see some of her family around, the others felt her excitement just a show of her ignorance. (You see, the situation was serious!)  

That night I stayed at the hospital with others. We had a small room, in which seven of us crammed ourselves. I got a bed to lie down, fortunately. There was a wooden cross with a crucified Christ looking over the bed, on the wall. I prayed with all my focus, if my Great Aunt deserves to live more, let her be.

Perhaps, her enthusiasm to live held her strong. She survived.

“I saw abundance of life throughout the countless universes…,” (48) writes Dr. Eben Alexander. Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife shares this sense of hope with us. Anyone studying the NDE and the presence of consciousness in higher dimensions will find this book a turning point. Indeed, this is one among the so-called must-reads. I found the further reading list at the end of the book very useful.

This book is the answer to questions; Is an apocalypse near? Or are we going to be devoured by zombies any time soon? Our future and the future of literature, the vast body of it ever written, seem full of hope. The tragedy of zombiesque downfall of our YA genre has found its way back to a state of grace.

Sure, Eben Alexander’s book Proof of Heaven is not a Young Adult book. It isn’t age-bound either. In fact, I would recommend this book for a younger generation, who stand stunned at the magnificence of life and the darkness some of its moments hold. Let them know there is hope. Let them realize that it is possible to exist even after we leave our bodies behind.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

FIFA OFFICIAL ANTHEM: AN INDIAN VIEW

I came across a report, the other day morning, that said that the Brazilians do not consider this year’s Official Anthem for the FIFA 2014 par expectations. It's been accused of being dominated by an American singer. The only Brazilian voice, a female singer has not given due importance. She appears only towards the second half of the song. You know which song I am talking about here? Yes, the Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez World Cup anthem, We Are One.    

Image Courtesy: nydailynews.com
The report goes on saying that Brazilians petition the Soccar authorities for making a change in the selection of the official anthem. What I found curious was that the report also suggests exceeding consensus towards the Colombian singer Shakira's new world cup song, Dare (La La La).

I second the Brazilians in their lack of interest towards the We Are One. However, on closer self-inspection I realize that I did not much prefer Shakira's La La La either. The music enthusiast in me had suggested that the beats were good in Dare (La La La). However, the lines carried clichés and duplicate phrases from Shakira’s own previous year's success number, Waka-Waka. In fact, in some places I almost felt I was listening to Waka-Waka. Why was there this cross-reference happening in my mind?

Image Courtesy: Google
The German magazine, where the above mentioned report was published had included a very interesting quote. The magazine quoted music journalist and DJ Gaia Passarelli saying that the Pitbull song was "bad, boring, replaceable pop song". DJ Leka Peres is also quoted saying that it as bundle of clichés.

In my opinion, both these songs prove to be a solid case for clichés and both of them lack originality. Soccer fans this year have to contend themselves with some unoriginal tracks to go with the games. What takes this issue to a unique level of intercultural unity is how a person from Chalode, India might feel awesomely unified in interests with the Brazilian feeling on the dulness of Official FIFA 2014 anthem. Although critics point out issues like "half-dressed women" against the song, as a critic from India, the relative dulness of the songs shatter my expectations. Melody and rhythm face a catastrophic disaster in a song that should be representing the passion and fight of one of the greatest sporting events in the world.
Image Courtesy: instyle.com

The reason I love Ricky Martin's "La Copa De la Vida" is not that I was a great fan of football in 1998. I haven't been a great fan of football ever. The game never interested me much.

Mia culpa.

The reason I love the song "La Copa" is the passion and energy it supplies each time I listen to it.

Here is the most interesting aspect of soccer games. It may not be the games that you are particularly interested in (you may not be watching the game with the full awareness of its technical details) but the spirit of the game takes hold of you. There are people who watch football for the genuine interest in the game. Others are excited about the sight of the huge crowds and exuberant colors that fill the stadium. People and colors are two most important aspects of football games, from my point of view. This in no way is meant to be understood as an expert view on football, due to the peculiar lack of interest formation I am endowed with regarding the game.
Image Courtesy: Google

It's obvious that an anthem means a lot to the fans. Even to the "non-fan" types as I am, these songs are a major way to find exalted joy and the spirit of celebration. Anyway, it seems this year, we have to content ourselves with Dare and All are One, two dull and lackluster numbers.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

PRABUDDHA: THE CLEAR-SIGHTED

After long waiting, my third book is released, Prabuddha: The Clear-sighted. I have attempted something alongside the Jathaka tales and Panchatantra stories, and tried to bring in the flavor of contemporary Indian English fiction in Prabuddha. Now, it is up to the reader to consider their experiences of reading Prabuddha and comment on the worth of this book.

Prabuddha: The Clear-sighted is planned as an Indian edition. However, as per the request of a reader of mine, I would like to go for a kindle edition as well. The Kindle edition will be available internationally. The paperback copy of Prabuddha can be purchased on this website. For those who had already spotted the small thumbnail on to your right-hand side top of the blog, I would to hit the image and get a copy from the bookstore.   

I hope you are familiar with the technique of following a virtual link to its home. Many ask me lately, how can they get my book. I tell them, visit Amazon or Flipkart or Barnes and Noble. They look at me blankly and I move on. Clearly, in India, online shopping hasn’t gained grass root popularity yet. When I say grass root, I mean the rural demographic. I belong to one, and so do many others who surround me professionally and academically. Kerala is still a village in its heart of hearts. This is just an author’s version of what ‘is’. I may be wrong. And maybe not. However, the most important aspect of the book business is finding readers, rural or urban.

You Should Know How I Feel…, the book I coauthored with Dhanya Krishna has fared quite well. However, I am still unable to locate the class of the readership that went for the contemporary romance and made it one of the bestselling Indian English books of 2014. Perhaps, if my books had been sold in bookstores (currently they are in Print-On-Demand), I could have gained a perspective into what class of people are interested in my works. I am sure the class distinction or for that matter, any argument of discriminatory nature has nothing to do with the art of writing. Maybe I could cater the needs of my readers if I could get a grasp on what they “want”. This is a tough stand. Many of my fellow authors might have gone through this phase or are sloughing through such a dilemma at present.

Courtesy: Mr. Deaver
Writing only for the reader’s tastes, can easily put reigns upon the quality of a literary work apparently, according the consensus. Writing for readers’ entertainment and needs or acknowledging such an act being done, could raise a serious controversy, at least in cultures like Kerala, where money making is still politically incorrect.

One such author who declares his agenda as nothing short of meeting the readers’ expectations is Jeffery Deaver, the bestselling American Mystery/crime writer. He openly confesses that he writes for his readers. Considering the readers’ significance in plotting a work and giving shape to it through words, I am reminded of Jeffery Deaver’s confidence in addressing the question: For whom does a writer work?

In Stephen King’s novel Misery, Paul Sheldon makes an interesting observation on writers. In his observation, he points out that writing could be a selfish activity and most of the writers are selfish in the process of their work. They finish a story in order to enjoy it themselves first. It rang true to me, almost. Paul Sheldon, Mr. King’s imaginary bestselling author also remarks that the dedications in the beginning of each book shows how much regret the writer bears in his mind for being selfishly drawn into the crest of their work, without considering the world outside.

Courtesy: Mr. King
Why did I publish 18 important stories as Prabuddha? Is it a selfish act to see how it would look like? Or is it a selfless act of opening up the revelations I received throughout the years of investigation about human consciousness to the whole world? Did I publish Prabuddha for myself? Or did I publish Prabuddha for my readers?

In Kerala, writing to satiate readers is not considered suited for serious writers. It’s a bit closer to being a hack writer, a writer who pushes pen only for money. Generally, in Kerala culture, the ethical connotations of “opening up the revelations …to the whole world” are (were) not much discussed. Here, writers have to be either Nietzscheans and break their own convictions of sanity or Wordsworthians and romanticize about their creative process. However, we can see that this does not harm our purpose of writing for readers.

Writing books, (now I have three of them to cherish) has made me a practical person. Therefore, I follow an ideal that I termed “Prabuddha”. Let me explain that to you. But please ask me, whom do I write for?

Notion Press is a relatively new platform for me. I considered it a possible Indian alternative for Amazon’s Createspace, who published my previous two books. The advantage I found with Notion Press was the relatively low price for individual copy of books. But I did not know if Notion Press would be as efficient and trustworthy as Createspace. Prabuddha was already there, as a new project. Therefore, I decided for a trial-publishing attempt through Notion Press. To my relief and to my Indian readers’ joy, it came out well, with a price tag comfortable in the Indian book market. In fact, publishing Prabuddha at this time was part of my experiment with Notion Press. If it weren’t successful, I would have gone back to Createspace and had done an international edition. Meanwhile, let me ask you this; are you still with the question I asked earlier? If yes, you might have already understood the answer. Whom do I write for?

Well, in the case of Prabuddha, throughout out the publishing process, I was only thinking about myself. There was a selfish interest involved with the quality of the book and the performance of the new publisher. Both paid off, thanks to the Invisible Hand that directs all our missions. But the question does not stop here. There is another answer that follows.  

What is Prabuddha? And why did I ultimately choose to bring the book out in material form?

Prabuddha: The Clear-sighted is the result of years of contemplation and study. It contains some of the most important ideas regarding Consciousness and human existence. Prabuddha: The Clear-sighted offers the clear-sighted perspective to the reader, helping one in achieving “prabuddhatha”, ultimate clarity, or Awareness of the meaning of existence. I wished to share these magnificent ideas with the world. I wanted to open myself up for others to see and understand.

As a concluding remark, I can say that Prabuddha: The Clear-sighted was the result of both my human selfishness and divine selflessness. Prabuddha: The Clear-sighted made me realize that the purpose of every moment in life is to pull us a little closer to the ultimate meaning of life. Yes, there is a meaning to our existence on this planet. You can see it if you want to see. You can listen to it if you want to listen. You can feel it if you want to feel. Life is always there, by your side, keeping you safe in its heart. Out of these two stands, I consider the latter, the one I mentioned in the concluding part more significant. The truth is, I would have published Prabuddha: The Clear-sighted anyway because I wanted you to read it, to know it and to be it. My answer is clear and simple. I did Prabuddha: The Clear-sighted, for my readers.

Who is Prabuddha? You can read, you can see.  
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