Girish Joshi


Popcorn Coffee

On a Sunday afternoon in a downtown café in Mumbai, while having a slow meandering conversation with Kajal, who had been his friend from high school, Girish had a moment of awakening. All the stories that he had ever loved were written in the third person. Like a cameraman zooming in and out of the scene of a movie, as a third person he could reach places which were unfathomable otherwise. For Girish, it was like finding a way out from a cul-de-sac without needing to reverse his car. When Girish first found out that he could write, he wanted to write even better. So, he did what anyone in his place would do: he began taking writing lessons. His shelf was soon filled with all the books on writing one could find on the market, and his computer was filled with all the popular writing courses one could find on the internet. The more time Girish spent learning how to write, the more it dawned on him that there was so much he didn’t know. The more he looked at the road, the longer it began to look. And now, years had passed without Girish being able to furnish a readable short story. He might have given up on writing had it not been for what Kajal said that Sunday afternoon in the café.

            “I stopped using Grammarly for writing,” Kajal told him while sipping her popcorn caramel coffee. They are adding popcorn to the coffee, Girish murmured to himself, where is the world going while looking at his normal ginger-lemon tea. When he had told the waiter that he wanted a regular ginger-lemon tea, the waiter gave him a perplexed stare. “Sir, that’s a black tea,” he told Girish as politely as he could. One could not possibly add lemon to the milk without metamorphosizing the milk into the cheese, which Girish had known, but now he wasn’t so sure since he had seen a coffee with popcorn on the menu. So he told him what he loves telling everyone, “I’m lactose intolerant.” There was a certain pleasure he derived from the look on people’s faces when he told them as if they all were wanting him to tell the story of being lactose intolerant. There was nothing more satisfying than having eyes upon you who wants a good story, and so terrifying either.

            “Even before I finish my sentence, Grammarly be like—you know it’s good but it can be better, let me show you how you dumbass. Also, will you give me the number of the teacher who taught you English in high school, because here are seven mistakes you have made in the eight lines you have written in the last hour? God! For once I wanted to write without being told that I am not good enough, I have enough people in life to tell me that already,” Kajal ranted with her eyes so big Girish thought they might just pop out of the socket and fall into her popcorn coffee. Perfectionism was not letting them write, Girish told her. He thought about the times he had spent optimizing the structure of one sentence that he totally forgot what he was going to say in the next one. Words are like the river; how would the words flow if you’d keep placing check dams in between?

            “I rewrote the first two chapters of the novel that I had told you about last year in the third person, plainly on a Microsoft Word file without Grammarly poking its nose in my business. I’ll save it for the editing,” Kajal said gleefully. “On MS Word? You know there’s a software for novelists called Scrivener…,” Girish paused midway realizing better now that he had been going circles, that it was just another Grammarly, another way to be told that he wasn’t ready yet to write the story that resided somewhere within and around him. The curse of knowing so much is that you end up knowing that you can never know enough. And that is indeed a disturbing thought to live the rest of your life with. Is that the reason why they say ignorance is bliss and fools are always happy?

“There are two types of writers in this world: gardeners and plotters. I had been a gardener earlier, planting the seed of my story and seeing how it grows, but it didn’t work for me. I guess some people are not cut out to be a gardener. I wrote the plot this time before writing my novel, this helps me channel my imagination and acts as a guiding light — telling me where to go,” Kajal blurted as she finished her popcorn coffee. Girish didn’t know whether it was the lemon tea or the charm of the evening but he felt the heat from the gears of his brain fuming. In that moment, Girish just knew what had to be done. He asked Kajal, “Do you want to play a game of chess?” Amazed, Kajal replied, “But I just know the basics, I’m no good at it.” With his grin reaching his ears, Girish told her, “We don’t have to play a perfect game to call it an evening”. Perhaps he was right when he said that, all they had to do was play. Maps were slowing them down, and if all roads were going to be their home, they could safely throw the maps away.

the one in which Abu says “just write”

“I feel like the words are betraying me.”

“Or do you feel like you are betraying your words?”

I gasped.

“These eyes, these eyes, when they look at me, I feel as if they are taking away something I love. These eyes of expectations. They are like slithering blades over my throat. I lose my breathing, and I lose my words.”

“What are they expecting of you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. Sometimes I feel that want my everything. As if nothing I’ll do will ever be enough. How long can a man live knowing that he’ll never be enough?”

He sighed.

“Do you feel like running away?”

“All the time.”

“Then why don’t you run away?”

I paused.



“But what if I start missing these eyes?”

“What do you mean?”

“As long as I don’t write, I’ll never find out how bad I am. What if maybe I’m afraid of finding out how bad I am? I’m afraid of finding out that I cannot run faster or longer.”

“Then these eyes will keep watching you.”

“Why do we fall in love with the cage?”

“We don’t love the cage. We love the captor.”


“Because we believe that someday, the captor will see our love, and set us free. It’s our defence mechanism, it’s our survival instinct.”

“I just want this feeling to go away. This heaviness. It makes breathing impossible for me.”



“Just write.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to. Just write.”

“Write what? Anything?”

“No. Write the story you want to tell.”

“Sometimes I feel as if I’m losing my voice. I wake up every morning and don’t know how it is night again. I don’t even know who I am anymore. How do I tell the story? One must know who they are before they tell the story.”

“One often finds out who they are when they tell the story. The kind of stories we tell define the kind of man we become. Some men live their whole life without telling stories. But we don’t talk much about those men once they are gone.”

“I want to be the kind of man people talk about when I’m gone.”

“What do you want them to talk about you?”

“The good things. I want them to remember me for my goodness, not greatness.”

“Then you have to tell good stories.”

“But what if I don’t have any good story to tell?”

“All stories are just, well how do I say it? Just stories. It’s the storyteller who makes them good.”

“And what if I’m not able to make them good?”

He paused.

“Then you’ll make them bad. But so what, a bad story is still better than no story.”

“Which story should I tell then?”

“The one that’s closest to your heart.”

“I feel like closing my eyes and drifting to sleep.”

“Dreams are where the best stories reside. Goodnight, Ali.”

“Goodnight, Abu.”

“Morning rosebud.”


“What did you dream last night?”

“Why do we start forgetting our dreams the moment we wake up?”

“So that every night when dreams visit us, we watch them fondly, as if we are watching them for the first time.”

“Are you telling me that I have been watching the same dream for years?”


“And you have been watching the same dream for years?”


“Is your dream the same as mine?”

“No. We all dream different dreams. They come to visit us at night when we sleep, and we spend morning to evening forgetting the dream. When the night finally comes and we drift to sleep, the dream can sweep inside our heads again just as virtuously as it came on our first night on this planet.”

“Is that why we think of the dream so fondly?”

“Yes. That’s what being a dream watcher means. People have spent their whole lives trying to catch their dreams in the middle of the day, madness I say. It doesn’t do good to dwell on the dreams, dreams which would eventually come back to you every night.”

“But what if my dream doesn’t come back?”

He laughed.

“They always do.”

“No. There have been nights when I don’t remember having a dream at all.”

“Remembering is a funny thing. Sometimes we forget about the dream even before we wake up. This dream that I’m talking about, lives within us, so in reality it never leaves us, just that we forget about under the sun.”

“Then how does this dream gets her Vitamin D?”


“I’m joking.”

We chuckled.

“The purpose of our lives is to realize that dream. The dream we see under the starry sky. Some people say that these dreams that we see are about death. And we forget about them in the day so that we can carry on living. But I disagree. I think these dreams are about life. When our first woman and man must have gained consciousness, these dreams would have given them a purpose to wake up in the morning.”

“Abu, but I wake up in the morning for the breakfast. What’s in the breakfast?”

“But you did not tell me about your dream?”

“I forgot.”

He kept his hand on my head.

“Come, I’ve made waffles.”

“You know what I am going to write about?”


“The Dream.”

“Do you have a story in mind?”

“Listen to me: once upon a time, in a place far away from the city lived Ali and his Abu. Ali wanted to become the greatest storyteller but the stories just wouldn’t come to him. One moonless night, when everything seemed to have failed Ali, he turned to his Abu. And Abu being his sweet Abu, heard his little Ali’s worries. The words seemed to have failed him, Ali had thought. But Abu had just two words for Ali, and those were ‘just write’. That night Ali fell asleep belonging to his Abu’s arms, that’s where he always belonged. When the morning shone, Abu told Ali about the dream we carry within us but forget under the sunshine. Abu told Ali that ‘the dream’ is the purpose of our lives. This dream that pays us a visit every night when we sleep is the reason why we wake up in the morning. And Ali had spent his entire life waking up for his Abu’s waffles. Maybe this was it, maybe Ali needn’t be the greatest storyteller when he could just be the greatest dream watcher. And since then, in a place away from the city lived a boy who spent his night dream watching, and his days writing about them.”

“And that is how he became the greatest storyteller that ever lived?”

“Stop teasing me, Abu.”

Abu hugged his little Ali, and then he whispered to his ears.

“It’s time for you to go to school.”

The Wise Man’s Fear

The Kingkiller Chronicle:

IT WAS NIGHT AGAIN. My desk lay in silence, and it was a silence of three months. A while had passed since I inked. A while had passed since I had written anything. Maybe like Kvothe, even I had forgotten the name of the words that when strung together sang for the book. When you don’t exercise a muscle it loses strength. It is the same with writing.

I remember. I remember, almost as if it was yesterday, even though it has been a long time. I remember asking Dewarshi, “What should I read? Everywhere I put my nose, it hurts.” I remember him smiling at me in the sunshine that only spreads in the middle of the sea. On his face, it fell, and on mine, illuminating all the wrinkles time had left on our faces. “You should read fantasy. You need to escape from reality until you are yourself again.”, he told me under the sunshine.

“Until I’m myself again,” I murmured.

The horses of my mind ran towards The Kingkiller Chronicles, the fantasy trilogy by Patrick Rothfuss. I had read and loved The Name of the Wind many moonless nights ago. And I had read a couple of chapters of the second book of the series, The Wise Man’s Fear. “There are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind,” I remember remembering things about the book which drew me in. “I know what I’m going to read,” I told him.

We kept walking on the steel grating upon the open sea until it was time for him to go to work and time for me to go to bed. He served for the day, and I served for the night.

Whenever they saw me walking around the deck with my kindle, they asked, “So what are you reading these days boy?” And I said, “The Wise Man’s Fear”. And then they asked, “What is it about?” And I did not know how to explain. Should I tell them that it’s the second book of the trilogy? Should I speak of Kvothe: unparalleled sword fighter, skilful magician, talented musician, innocent kingkiller? Or should I speak of Kote: the disguised innkeeper of The Waystone Inn, the man who is “waiting to die”? What was the wise man afraid of? And the name of the wind is supposed to be wind, right? The problem was simple: from where do I begin? And that was the same problem that sat with me in silence as I sat to write. Where should I begin? Should I tell them what happened to me before I started reading this book? Or should I speak of what happened when I read this book? It was a decision waiting to be made. The silence that longed for a song. As I began, the wind began to blow and my fears washed away.

It is the story of the storytellers. It is the story of Kvothe. He runs an Inn in a town where people know him by the name Kote. Names are powerful to the point where they become dangerous. You have to know the name of the man, to know the man, and nobody knows Kote here. Nobody knows that he’s Kvothe. The Kingkiller Kvothe. Nobody knows his name, nobody knows his story. Until one day, he saves the life of a chronicler who recognises him and knows his name. Names are powerful.

Kvothe was an Edma Ruh. They say the Ruh know all the stories in the world. They are the performers, singers, dancers, actors, troupers, and above all, storytellers. They travel to places in their wagons and perform for towns and villages to put butter over their bread. For the Ruh, home isn’t a place. It is people and wagons. One day Kvothe’s entire troupe, except Kvothe of course, is murdered by the mythical figure known in the folklore by the name Chandrian. Why? Because Chandrian, this group of seven beings, has set out to destroy knowledge about themselves. Everybody knows something about them. But nobody knows anything. And why Kvothe’s troupe? Because Kvothe’s parents were singing entirely the wrong sorts of songs. The songs that told the story of Chandrians. All the truth in the world is held in stories, and perhaps Chandrians want to keep the truth to themselves. Isn’t it why Voldemort killed Lilly and James Potter? Perhaps not, but that is how it all began.

This may not seem odd to you, but it was strange to me. Growing up among the Edema Ruh, home was never a place for me. Home was a group of wagons and songs around a campfire. When my troupe was killed, it was more than the loss of my family and childhood friends. It was like my entire world had been burned down to the waterline.

“My parents danced together, her head on his chest. Both had their eyes closed. They seemed so perfectly content. If you can find someone like that, someone who you can hold and close your eyes to the world with, then you’re lucky. Even if it only lasts for a minute or a day. The image of them gently swaying to the music is how I picture love in my mind even after all these years.”

And thus begins the journey of the Kvothe. The killing of his parents leaves him in trauma and Tarbean at the same time. When he gathers himself together and protects himself from being shredded into thousand pieces, he finds himself at the University. All these years, his music, his lute had kept him alive, and held him from the door of madness. Now at the University, he has a home. The first book, The Name of the Wind chronicles his early adventures at the University. Kvothe is barred from the Archives, the university’s library from where he could learn about Chandrians, thanks to Ambrose Jakis—his archnemesis. By the end of the book, he eventually learns to call the Name of the Wind.

“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts. There are seven words that will make a person love you. There are ten words that will break a strong man’s will. But a word is nothing but a painting of a fire. A name is the fire itself.”

In the second book, The Wise Man’s Fear, Kvothe leaves the University for a term to travel to a kingdom far away called Vintas. He’s set to meet the king of the Vintas and offer him his services in return for his patronage. And thus begins another adventure in which Kvothe saves the life of the king from his healer, helps him get his ladylove, and gets rid of the bandits for the king. He sleeps with a Felurian, talks to the Cthaeh, and trains with the legendary Adem Mercenaries. He learns Ketan, the sword fighting technique and Lethani, the Adem philosophy. And his love for Denna grows and so does his understanding of the Chandrians.

Bast is Kvothe’s assistant. At the end of the first day, also the first book, he grabs hold of the Chronicler and tells him to make Kote remember that he isn’t some Innkeeper baking pies, he’s Kvothe. At the end of the second day, also the second book, Bast sends two soldiers to rob the Waystone Inn, so that Kvothe can fight with them and remember who he once was.

Now that I think of it all, I remember that these books are about remembering. Kvothe remembering who he was, who he is.

I have heard what poets write about women. They rhyme and rhapsodize and lie. I have watched sailors on the shore stare mutely at the slow-rolling swell of the sea. I have watched old soldiers with hearts like leather grow teary-eyed at their king’s colors stretched against the wind. Listen to me: these men know nothing of love.

So yes. It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because that’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.

One of my favourite parts of the book is the Adem philosophy of Lethani.

“What is the heart of the Lethani?” I asked Vashet.
“Success and right action.”
“Which is the more important, success or rightness?”
“They are the same. If you act rightly success follows.”
“But others may succeed by doing wrong things,” I pointed out.
“Wrong things never lead to success,” Vashet said firmly.
“If a man acts wrongly and succeeds, that is not the way. Without the Lethani there is no true success.”.

“Love is the willingness to do anything for someone,” I said. “Even at detriment to yourself.”
“In that case,” she said. “How is love different from duty or loyalty?”
“It is also combined with a physical attraction,” I said.
“Even a mother’s love?” Vashet asked.
“Combined with an extreme fondness then,” I amended.
“And what exactly do you mean by ‘fondness’?” she asked with a maddening calm.
“It is . . .” I trailed off, racking my brain to think how I could describe love without resorting to other, equally abstract terms.
“This is the nature of love.” Vashet said.
“To attempt to describe it will drive a woman mad. That is what keeps poets scribbling endlessly away. If one could pin it to the paper all complete, the others would lay down their pens. But it cannot be done.” She held up a finger. “But only a fool claims there is no such thing as love. When you see two young ones staring at each other with dewy eyes, there it is. So thick you can spread it on your bread and eat it. When you see a mother with her child, you see love. When you feel it roil in your belly, you know what it is. Even if you cannot give voice to it in words.”.
“You obviously understand the Lethani,” she said. “It is rooted deep inside you. Too deep for you to see. Sometimes it is the same with love.”.

There are many reasons to love this story, and I have only attempted to enumerate a few. In case you are looking to escape reality for a while, and are ready to go on a journey, read the first two books of The Kingkiller Chronicles, and like the rest of us, start weeping and praying for the release of the final book.

“A story is like a nut,” Vashet said.
“A fool will swallow it whole and choke. A fool will throw it away, thinking it of little worth.”
She smiled. “But a wise woman finds a way to crack the shell and eat the meat inside.”.

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment

Relationships are one of the most gratifying aspects of human existence. They are our safe harbour in the stormy seas. Our guiding stars in the moonless nights. The bringer of immense satisfaction and joy. We, humans, are capable of giving up on everything that we hold dear for the sake of our relationships. And yet, these relationships can also be the cause of immense misery and sorrow. They can torment and ruin us. The irony is such that what may burn us, can also cause light. That is why we cannot leave our relationships on chance. My father always tells me that a good marriage is like winning the lottery. And if you are someone like me who can’t sit on his bum after buying a lottery ticket, then this book is for you. Since this is not a work of magic but only a book. It will not guarantee that you win the lottery but it will demystify the process for you. It would never be a boy meets girl form now. Rather it would be an anxious boy meeting an avoidant girl. You’ll being to understand the shape of all romantic stories, that I can say with confidence.

I first heard of attachment theory while reading How to Not Die Alone. A whacky title isn’t it? It was a book on relationships that I had read at the beginning of the year. The idea that we have different attachment styles stung me. I found myself gravitating to know more, and maybe to know all about it. Soon I found myself in possession of the Attached by Amir Levine. It was one of the popular books on attachment theory. It promised to help me understand the nature of adult love.

The basic assertion of the theory is that our need to be in a close relationship is encoded in our genes. We single out a few specific individuals in our lives and make them precious to us. Evolution plays its course such that in our dependence our true independence lies. We need to depend to be free. A paradoxical idea indeed. But what about my independence and her clinginess? Why would you want to cage me? he’ll say. Why can’t you spend more time with me? she’ll say. People, it turned out, are only as needy as their unmet needs. When their emotional needs meet they usually turn their attention outward. And that’s the dependency paradox in attachment lingo. The more effectively we are dependent on one another, the more independent and daring we become. Humans are heterogeneous. We are the same but not alike. Our needs are different, even emotional ones. And that’s where attachment theory marks its dent on me. By defuncting these three misconceptions which I’ll enumerate below from the book:

1. The first misconception is that everyone has the same capacity for intimacy. We have been raised to believe that every person can deeply love. It’s tempting to forget that people have very different capacities for intimacy. And when one person’s need for closeness is met with another person’s need for independence and distance, a lot of unhappiness ensues.

2. The second misconception we fell victim to is that marriage is the be-all and end-all. We don’t like to admit that people might enter marriage without the goals of true closeness and emotional partnership in mind, let alone the ability to achieve them. Mismatched attachment styles can lead to a great deal of unhappiness in marriage, even for people who love each other greatly.

3. The third hard-to-shed misconception we fell for is that we alone are responsible for our emotional needs; they are not our partner’s responsibility. Again, we must constantly remind ourselves: In a true partnership, both partners view it as their responsibility to ensure the other’s emotional well-being.

We have different capacities for intimacy. Most of us are not even aware of it. We enter social contracts like marriage without knowing what are we getting ourselves into. We carry this load on our shoulders that we and only we are responsible for our emotional needs. An infant is not told: “Stop crying over her. There are plenty of parents in the world. Like there are plenty of fishes in the sea. When you’ll be ready, you can always find a better parent”. We have a responsibility towards the emotional needs of our loved ones. And so do our loved ones have a responsibility towards our emotional needs. The question reduces to how much we need, and how much can we stretch to give. All good relationships are about finding the common ground. A place where both partners can meet each other. This is explained through how we get attached to other human beings to form a relationship. The attachment style is formed in our childhood, it’s a mix of our nurture and nature. The good news is that it’s possible to change the attachment style. On average, one in four people does so over a four-year period. It’s doable but it’s hard work. Good things in life rarely come easy anyway.

According to the theory, there are three types (well actually four types) of attachment styles: anxious, secure, and avoidant. The avoidant attachment style is further divided into dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant. So, that makes a total of four kinds of attachment styles.

These styles differentiated on the axis of anxiety and avoidance (opposite of intimacy).

Those who exhibit low avoidance and low anxiety are secure. Those who exhibit low avoidance but high anxiety are anxious or anxious-preoccupied. Those who exhibit high avoidance and low anxiety are dismissive-avoidant. Those who exhibit high avoidance but low anxiety are fearful-avoidant.

The word avoidance denotes avoidance towards intimacy. Thus someone having low avoidance means that they seek intimacy. I have already written a blog post (What kind of baby are you?) to understand attachment styles better. This is the best quiz to assess your attachment style.

These described attachment styles differ in:
• their view of intimacy and togetherness
• the way they deal with conflict
• their attitude toward sex
• their ability to communicate their wishes and needs
• their expectations from their partner and the relationship

Secure Attachment

People who are secure in their relationships are comfortable depending on others and having the other person depend on them. Moreover, they are relatively unconcerned about whether the other person truly cares about them.

• Secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving.
• Parents of secure people were sensitive, available, and responsive.
• Know how to communicate their own expectations and respond to their partner’s needs effectively without having to resort to protest behaviour.
• They find it relatively easy to get close to others and are comfortable depending on others and having others depend on them. They don’t often worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to them.

Anxious Attachment

People who are preoccupied with their relationships are worried that the other person is not or will not be available when needed. They would like to depend on the other person and have that person depend on them, but feel that such dependence is not reciprocal.

• Anxious people crave intimacy, are often preoccupied with their relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back.
• Parents of anxious people were inconsistently responsive.
• They find that others are reluctant to get as close as they would like. They often worry that their partner doesn’t really love them or won’t want to stay with them. They want to merge completely with another person and this desire sometimes scares people away.

Identification Metrics:
1. Wants a lot of closeness in the relationship
2. Expresses insecurities—worries about rejection
3. Unhappy when not in a relationship
4. Plays games to keep your attention/interest
5. Has difficulty explaining what’s bothering him/her. Expects you to guess.
6. Acts out—instead of trying to resolve the problem between you
7. Has a hard time not making things about themselves in the relationship
8. Let you set the tone of the relationship so as not to get hurt.
9. Is preoccupied with the relationship
10. Fears that small acts will ruin the relationship, believes s/he must work hard to keep your interest.
11. Suspicious that you may be unfaithful

Avoidant Attachment

People who are fearfully avoidant in their relationships are uncomfortable depending on others and serving as an ‘attachment figure.’ Moreover, they worry that others may not be there emotionally when they are most needed (high anxiety, high avoidance).

People who are dismissing in their relationships are also not comfortable opening up to others and depending on or having others depend on them. In addition, they are not concerned with the question of whether the other person truly cares about them (low anxiety, high avoidance).

• Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.
• Parents of avoidant people were distant, rigid, and unresponsive.
• They are somewhat uncomfortable being close to others; They find it difficult to trust others completely, difficult to allow themselves to depend on them. They are nervous when anyone gets too close.

Identification Metrics:
1. Sends mixed signals
2. Values his/her independence greatly
3. Devalues you
4. Use distancing strategies—emotional or physical
5. Emphasizes boundaries in the relationship
6. Mistrustful—fears being taken advantage of by a partner
7. Has rigid views of relationships and uncompromising rules
8. During a disagreement needs to get away or “explode”
9. Leaves you guessing their feelings
10. Has difficulty talking about what’s going on between you

There are two goals of this information dump. The first goal is to realize your own attachment style. And the second goal is to realize the attachment style of the partner you have or seek. It’s a no-brainer that a secure attachment style is an ideal that we are after—that’s where we head. But until then, we must recognize the blind spots of where we are.

As anxiously attached people we have to come up with ways to cope with our anxieties. We have to learn to identify the times when our attachment system gets activated. One idea to keep in mind is to let the steam settle before you respond. Try to be with those secure folks who can take care of our emotional needs. As an anxiously attached person, you should stay away from avoidantly attached people. Else, you may fall spiralling into the anxious-avoidant trap.

As avoidantly attached people we have to learn about our deactivating strategies. The stories we tell ourselves to keep people at bay are at best just stories. We need to find those strategies and become conscious of their application. We have to learn to trust and be comfortable with being vulnerable. Again as an avoidantly attached person, look for someone securely attached.

Although the majority of people are securely attached (50%). But they seldom appear in the dating pool. Secure people can look boring because they never activate your attachment system. If there is one thing that you can take home from this book, then it’s that an activated attachment system is not love. Anxiety is not love. Butterflies in the stomach is not love. Love is peaceful. If you are out of love right now, I hope that you find love that is peaceful soon. I hope you hold onto it, not uncaringly, nor too tightly, but gently enough so that love stays. And in turn, love will take care of you.

Things you see on the beach

Beach sand.

The Juhu Beach, Mumbai

A little girl in a withered floral dress is selling balloons. She’s got five of them—all of them are so different. A teenage love, the boy in black and the girl in green. Probably carrying some books in their bag as they walk on the sand. A family of three—wife with her husband holding the baby in his arms. People are playing volleyball on my left. And on my right, where the sea meets the sand for a moment soaking the beach with its presence but not completely engulfing, people are playing cricket. The little girl with balloons passes me again but at a distance this time. Barefoot. She rubs a balloon against the palm of her hand to make a screeching sound only a little girl with balloons can make. I lift my eyes from the notebook to the sea. She’s staring at me intensely as she walks. Maybe she’s trying to understand what I am doing on the beach with a pen and a notebook. I hope she has them too—a pen and a notebook.

A boy writes his name on the sand with a stick longer than him. Maybe tomorrow, waves will fade his name leaving behind an illegible blemish on the sand. But he doesn’t care—he’s happy now—unconcerned about what the time will do to his name. An old lady is sitting in a wheelchair. Another old lady sits beside her on the sand. They are looking at the sea, not speaking to each other. There’s silence between them, the kind of silence which speaks louder than the sound. Maybe they have known each other all their life. Are they family, friends, or strangers? I will never know. Two brothers are trying to build a sand castle as their dad sits on the sand looking at his phone next to them. He’s carrying a water bottle that reminds me that I need some water too.

Lamps on the beach have started to glow as the last rays of the sun remain in the sky. The orange hue at the horizon is disappearing. Soon it will be dark, but this city will not sleep—it never does. A little boy in my front is hopping like a frog, and every time he lands, he draws a heart on the sand with his little fingers. Happiness can manifest in peculiar ways when you are little. Some people are far away at the point where the waves are crashing, getting their feet wet in the salty waters. The sea begins where the beach ends. And the sky begins where the sea ends. And as I look up to see where the sky ends, an aeroplane passes over my head, and towards the sea it flies, and my gaze follows it till the end of the sky.

A couple in their fifties or sixties is looking towards the sea. The husband has kept his hand on the shoulders of the woman of his dreams. Whether they are good dreams or bad dreams, only they know. The wife rests her hand around his hip, claiming to the world that he’s mine. After all these years, she’s still possessive about him. They look at the phone the husband holds as they talk, laugh, and breathe in those moments. I look at my phone—two text messages and a missed call. I smile a little. The sand castle those brothers were making is beginning to look more like a volcano, or maybe just a giant heap of sand. But my eyes are searching for that little girl in her withered floral dress with balloons. How many balloons has she sold? I think she’s gone, hopefully to her home, where there’s a notebook and a pen.

There’s still some orange hue in the sky. I can see that, but it’s dark now, and night has fallen. I hear the sound of the bell, and there I see a man selling cotton candy on the beach. And before I know it, I’ve travelled two decades past. I see little me and my young father, with my hand in his hand, he’s buying me cotton candy on the beach. A raindrop falls on me, a tiny little raindrop, and I’m back to the present. An old man is walking with his young son. I wonder what they are talking about: father to son. Is he telling him the stories of the war? Are they talking about love? He is using the umbrella as a cane. You can never be sure when it will rain in Mumbai. This city has survived too many storms to be bothered by raindrops. A raindrop fell on my arm, I ignored it, and then another raindrop fell on my notebook, and I ignored both of them. I just sat there looking at the sea from that sandy beach as the warm winds flew over my face, listening to the sound of the waves. Raindrops began to fall on the beach, forming tiny craters on the sand, and I knew it was time to go to the hotel.

Get Some Headspace

People ask each other difficult questions like: “But, what is meditation?”. It’s a difficult question because of the reasons of two kinds. The first kind of reason has to do with the meaning of the name meditation. Everyone has their own definition, and even though from afar every definition looks different, yet when we observe closely, we realize that all roads are leading to the same place. The second kind of reason has to do with the ineffability of the name meditation. It is something that you have to experience to really know. And therefore, every attempt to explain “But, what is meditation?” is congruent to asking a young fish “How’s the water?”.

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

— David Foster Wallace

Behind all the facades and forms, meditation simply means to be aware in the present moment. The kind of meditation Andy Puddicombe talks about in his book Get Some Headspace is called mindfulness meditation. In mindfulness, the anchor for awareness is the breath. Because every moment is just as long as our breath, and there is no way to hold onto moments and breath. Andy uses metaphors to explain what he means when he attempts to answer “But, what is meditation?” I found these metaphors particularly helpful, and I hope you (yes future Girish, you) find them helpful too.

You are not your thoughts and emotions.

Imagine yourself sitting on a chair at the side of the road watching the busy traffic.

This road is your mind.

The traffic on the road is your thoughts and feelings.

And being aware means being on the chair watching the traffic from a distance, realizing that you are not your thoughts and feelings.

You are neither the traffic nor the road upon which the traffic flows. You are only the observer of the traffic. There is no way for you to control this traffic, you can only observe these cars of different colours, shapes, and sizes passing by. And you can breathe.

Sometimes you’ll see a flashy car and you’ll be tempted to chase after it on the road, like how we get caught up in our thoughts or lost in our feelings. Other times, you’ll see a scary car coming toward you and you’ll run away from it, like how we resist uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. The moment you realize that you have been distracted, that you have been on the road running behind that flashy car or running away from that scary car, you take a deep breath and gently bring yourself to the side of the road on the chair.

This process of bringing yourself back to awareness by bringing yourself back to that chair at the side of the road is meditation. Meditation trains us to notice the traffic without chasing or fighting it — just to let the thought come. Then gently shift our focus away from it and back onto our breath — to let the thought go.

You are not your thoughts and emotions. You are only an observer of these thoughts and emotions. Sit back, relax, and watch how they come and go.

Meditation does not make you think.

Practising not-doing is scary. Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, wrote ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. And he’s right because when we sit quietly in a room alone, to meditate, a lot of thoughts and emotions arise on the surface—as if someone forgot to turn off the faucet. People exclaim, ‘Meditation is making me think’. But meditation does not make you think! All it does is shine a big bright light on your mind so that you can see clearly what’s already there. This bright light is awareness. Awareness is the present of meditation. You may not like what you see when you switch the light on, but it’s a clear and accurate reflection of how your mind behaves on a daily basis.

Give some time to the wild stallion to calm down.

What’s the hurry?

Your mind is like a wild horse when you sit to meditate. You cannot expect it to stay still in one place all of a sudden just because you’re sitting there like a statue doing something called meditation! You need to give this wild mind lots of room. Rather than trying to immediately focus on the object of meditation (breath), give your mind time to settle, to relax a little. What’s the hurry? Take it slowly, be gentle and give it all the space that it needs. Allow the horse to come to a natural place of rest, where it feels happy, confident and relaxed staying in one place.

There is always a blue sky.

Imagine a clear blue sky.

Imagine that your mind is like this blue sky.

I’m not talking about all the thoughts, confusion and craziness. I’m talking about the underlying essence of the mind, the natural state. Think back to the last time you felt very happy and relaxed.

Now, imagine a cloudy day, no blue sky at all, just big, dark, heavy clouds.

Imagine those clouds are the thoughts in your mind, how sometimes they’re fluffy and white and appear quite friendly, whereas at other times they appear dark and heavy. The colour of the clouds simply reflects your feeling or mood at the time. Even when it appears as though there’s nothing but big, dark, heavy clouds, there’s always a blue sky there. So, the sky is always blue. You don’t have to create the blue sky, it’s always there — or, rather, here. Meditation is not about trying to create an artificial state of mind. Neither is it about trying to keep all the clouds at bay. It is more a case of setting up a deckchair in the garden and watching as the clouds rolled by. Sometimes the blue sky would peek through the clouds. And, if you sit there patiently and do not get too engrossed in the clouds, then even more of the blue sky would start to appear. So, remember the idea of the blue sky, the possibility that perhaps underneath all those thoughts and feelings there might exist a place that is still, spacious and clear.

Happiness is just happiness. Sadness is just sadness.

Happiness is just happiness, no big deal. It comes and it goes. Sadness is just sadness, no big deal. It comes and it goes. If you can give up your desire to always experience pleasant things, at the same time as giving up your fear of experiencing unpleasant things, then you’ll have a quiet mind.

Resistance is futile. Peace is acceptance.

Resistance is futile. As long as there’s resistance, there’s no room for acceptance. And as long as we don’t have acceptance, there’s no way of having a peaceful mind.

We are not trying to create a dam upon the river of thoughts. That’s a futile exercise. No one can control or stop the flow of thoughts. It is the nature of thoughts to come and go. Nobody knows from where these thoughts originate, and nobody knows where these thoughts go. But we know scientifically that the quality of life depends on the quality of thoughts. So thoughts are something we must pay attention to, instead of getting intervened in our thoughts, we should take a step back and let our thoughts come, and let them go.

Happiness is yours when you give it away.

We’re attracted to the things we like and we become attached to these things. We don’t want to give them up for anything. The only problem is, the more we chase after them the further away they appear. And the more we try to hold on to these pleasant feelings, the more fearful we become of losing them.

When you experience pleasant sensations in your practice, I want you to imagine sharing those feelings with other people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the pleasant sensation of a quiet mind, of a relaxed body or a comforting emotion; simply imagine you are giving it away, sharing it with your friends and family, the people you care about. It doesn’t require lots of thought and I still want you to focus on the breath, just counting the breaths as they pass. But, if you find yourself sitting there and you feel very good, then maintain this attitude of wanting to share it with others.

When you experience discomfort in your meditation, whether it’s the restlessness of a busy mind, physical tension in the body, or a challenging emotion, I want you to imagine it’s the discomfort of the people you care about. It’s as if in an act of extraordinary generosity, you are sitting with their discomfort so they don’t have to.

When we try hard to hold on to pleasant states of mind that create tension. By imagining that you are giving away those feelings, and sharing them, you lose that tension and become less judgmental. When it comes to unpleasant feelings we’re always trying to get rid of them, right? This also creates tension.

True kind of happiness is the ability to feel comfortable no matter what emotion arises.

Show me where is your sadness.

So where is it? Where’s the sadness? Is it in your mind or is it in your body? Can you go and locate this feeling of sadness for me?

Meditation is supposed to teach you to be more aware, it would not get rid of unpleasant emotions. It just so happens that when you’re aware there is very little room for these unpleasant emotions to operate. When you’re thinking about them all the time, then, of course, you give them lots of room, you keep them active. But if you don’t think about them, then they tend to lose their momentum. When you study the emotion very closely, it’s actually very hard to find.

Often our “idea” of a feeling is just that, an idea. When we look a little more closely, we see that the idea is actually not what we thought it was. This makes it very difficult to resist. And with no resistance, there is simply acceptance of the emotion.

Meditation is like going to the theatre.

When you sit to meditate it’s a little like watching this play. The images and voices are not you, in the same way, that the play or the film is not you. It’s an unfolding story that you’re watching, observing and witnessing. This is what it means to be aware. Your own story, as in your own life, will still require direction and a sense of engagement, but when sitting to observe the mind during your meditation, taking a seat in the audience is by far the best way of watching. And it’s through developing that ability of passive observation that you get to experience the clarity and confidence to make decisions, make changes and live life more fully. Think back to the blue sky, this space that has always been there. Awareness is not something you need to create, as it’s always present. We just need to remember not to forget.

We are so used to doing something, being involved in something, that it can feel a bit boring to just sit and watch the mind, especially if the thoughts are mundane. We create stories in an attempt to make things interesting, to get away from boredom. But have you ever stayed with boredom long enough to look at what it is? Is it simply a thought or feeling of wanting to be somewhere else. of doing something different?

This underlying sense of expectation, of wanting for something to happen, is a mind that is looking for the future, as opposed to a mind resting in the present.

The Almanack of Naval Ravikant

Naval Ravikant is an American entrepreneur and investor. He is the co-founder, chairman and former CEO of AngelList. He is also a podcaster who shares advice on pursuing health, wealth and happiness. I was first introduced to him by my friend Vijay who shared Naval’s podcast and tweetstorm on the topic — “How to Get Rich (without getting lucky)”. When I heard him, it felt as if he was speaking directly to me, and in a lot of ways, it was like he was speaking everything I needed to hear. Two years passed, and I almost forgot about it. Until I stumbled upon this book. Naval himself hasn’t written any book yet, so there wasn’t any other option. This book was a collection of all the knowledge Naval had dissipated on the internet in different forms in a systematic manner. Here’s an attempt of summarizing what I have learnt from him:

Life is a game. We all are playing different games. The satisfaction in life depends upon what kind of game you are playing and with whom. These games can essentially be divided into three categories: wealth creation games, money-making games, and status games. Wealth is having assets that earn while you sleep. Money is how we transfer wealth and time. And status is your rank in the social hierarchy. If you are playing status games then you are going to slander those who play wealth creation games because that adds to your status. If you are playing money-making games, then you are essentially just renting your time to make money, while this can make you money but this will not make you rich. It’s when you give to society what it cannot get on its own right now, and when you give that thing on a scale you begin to play the wealth creation game.

Naval recommends that if you are going to play then you might want to play the wealth creation games. And if you are going to play, then you might just want to play it right. That means playing the long-term game with long-term people. Also, play iterated games, because all returns in life whether in wealth, relationships, or knowledge, come from compound interest. Making money is not a thing you do—it’s a skill you learn. It’s about knowing what to do, who to do it with, and when to do it. It’s about understanding than purely hard work.

Wealth can be broken down into Accountability, Leverage, and Specific Knowledge. Accountability means getting your skin into the game. It means to risk failure under your own name. It means to risk humiliation. Without accountability, you don’t have the incentive. So embrace accountability. Leverage basically means an advantage, a fulcrum to say. It comes in form of labour (people working for you), money (capital builds more capital), or products with no marginal cost of replication (books, media, movies, and code). The third form of leverage is permissionless, you don’t need anyone’s permission to have them, they are very egalitarian. Specific knowledge is knowing how to do something society cannot yet easily train other people to do. It is something you were doing as a kid or teenager almost effortlessly. It is found by pursuing your innate talents, your genuine curiosity, and your passion. Hustle, and you might find. Hard work is overrated. Judgement is underrated. Wisdom is knowing the long-term consequences of your actions, and wisdom applied to external problems is judgement. Work hard to develop judgement and leverage. Learn to think clearly. Build knowledge from the first principles. Understand the basics at the very, very fundamental level. On any subject, prefer to read fundamental books.

Suffering is the moment when you can no longer deny reality. This is the moment when you see things exactly the way they are. You cannot see the correct answer even though it might be right under your nose as long as you are in the moment of suffering and pain, as long as you are wishing that reality was different. Your problem is that your desire is colliding with reality and preventing you from seeing the truth. The more desire you have for something to work out a certain way, the less likely you will see the truth. This is applicable to business as well as relationships. What you feel tells you nothing about the facts—it merely tells you something about your estimate of the facts. There is a Buddhist saying, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” To be able to think, you need to have empty space. It’s only after you are bored you have great ideas, allow yourself to get bored. Make the time.

A game involves making decisions at every point, so if we really want to get good at the game that we are playing, we will have to get good at decision-making. The classical heuristic is to optimize for the long term. Remember to be honest, but use honesty with caution. Apply Buffett’s old rule, ‘praise specifically, criticize generally’. If you can be more right and more rational, you’re going to get nonlinear returns in your life.

Don’t take yourself so seriously. You’re just a monkey with a plan. Happiness is a highly personal skill that can be learned. For some people, it’s a flow state. For some people, it’s satisfaction. For some people, it’s a feeling of contentment. Happiness is really a default state. Happiness is there when you remove the sense of something missing in your life. Happiness is not about positive thoughts, because every positive thought holds within it a negative thought (Tao Te Ching). Happiness, to Naval, is about the absence of desire for external things. Happiness is mainly not suffering, not desiring, not thinking too much about the future or the past, and really embracing the present moment and the reality of what is, and the way it is. Richard Feynman said, “I never ask if I like it or I don’t like it. I think this is what it is or this is what it isn’t.” The world just reflects your own feelings back at you. Reality is neutral. Reality has no judgements.

You can practice believing in the utter insignificance of the self. If you thought you were the most important thing in the universe (which by the way most people think), then you would have to bend the entire universe to your will. This is to think that you are fixed and the world is malleable, but the reality is that the world is largely fixed and you are malleable.

Happiness is basically staying in present. You can destroy your happiness if you spend all your time living in delusions of the future. A lot of unhappiness also comes from comparing things from the past to the present. Happiness is more about peace than it is about joy. And the sad part is that peace and purpose don’t go together so well. The purpose would bring into your life some sort of desire. And desire is a chosen unhappiness. Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want. Happiness is being satisfied with what you have. And success comes from dissatisfaction. Choose. “All of man’s troubles arise because he cannot sit in a room quietly by himself.”

Peace is not a guarantee. Peace is not a certainty. It’s always flowing. It’s always changing. You want to learn the core skill set of flowing with life and accepting it in most cases. You can get almost anything you want out of life, as long as it’s one thing and you want it far more than anything else. Peace is happiness at rest, and happiness is peace in motion. You can convert peace into happiness anytime you want. But peace is what you want most of the time. Happiness is built by habits. To be happy and stable: don’t drink alcohol, don’t intake sugar, don’t engage in social media mindlessly, and “Stop asking why and start saying wow.” Build habits that make you happy—meditate, exercise, stay aware of the moment, get more sunlight on your skin, drop caffeine intake, be nonjudgemental (that might make you feel good in the short term, but in the long term it would make you feel lonely), and tell your friends that you are a happy person.

Take deep breaths, and muster the courage to “accept”. There is happiness in acceptance. Remember that the present is all we have.

Practicing Acceptance and Letting Go

There comes a time in everyone’s life when logic fails us. How we try to explain everything to ourselves. How we try to understand everything that is happening to us. We struggle to change and control what we cannot change and what is not in our control. How we love and how we cry. How eventually our feelings overwhelm us so much that we feel crippled inside.

It’s one thing to understand something, but it’s an entirely different ball game to accept something. It’s not easy, in fact, it’s one of the hardest things to do—something for which I was not prepared. You see, I had always been a rebel. I’ve always been someone who believed that human free will was supreme. We always get what we want, the only question is do we really want it that bad enough? And somehow that had worked for me in this life, I always got what I wanted. What I couldn’t get, I could explain myself. Until I fell in love and got my heart wrenched again, and again, and again.

“Have you ever been in love? Horrible, isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses. You build up this whole armor, for years, so nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life… You give them a piece of you. They don’t ask for it. They do something dumb one day like kiss you, or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so a simple phrase like “maybe we should just be friends” or “how very perceptive” turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It’s a soul-hurt, a body-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. Nothing should be able to do that. Especially not love. I hate love.”

― Neil Gaiman, The Kindly Ones

I don’t have love.

I just hate the fact that acceptance is so hard and letting go is so hard.

But then again I am not someone who’d just keep whining that it’s hard and not do anything about it. I talked with my friends, teachers, family, and communities on the internet. Here are a few things we can do to learn to accept the things we cannot change:

1. Gently take note of our feelings. Acknowledge that there is something beyond our control, and we are still trying (hoping) to change it. Are we denying something that can’t be changed? Sit with it, and let the feeling engulf us.

2. Check in with ourselves as many times a day as we have to, reminding ourselves: it is what it is, there is nothing we can do about it anymore, we did our best, and now it’s time to let it go. I know it’s hard right now, but have faith, beyond the chaos there’s a blue sky.

3. Give ourselves permission to fall apart. We have been strong, now it’s time to let go. We grieve, but we don’t have to grieve all day. We can fix ourselves an hour of grief. We sit with our sadness. It’s a healthy feeling, we don’t have to fear it. Eventually, it goes away.

4. You know, how sometimes it’s only when we close the book we were reading, that we really begin to understand. Some problems in the life get solved when we distance ourselves from them. Distancing is not a coward’s way out. It’s an act of bravery.

5. So, if this book of life is not making sense to us right now then how about we stop resisting the waves and let ourselves drown in the sea of uncertainty. We might realize that we can still breathe under it. After all, letting go feels a little heavy in the lungs right?

6. Throw away this book, and pick another one. Watch a movie. Listen to a friend, hear their aches. Help someone. Weep in the pillow. Go for a walk or a run down the hill. Dance to your music. Remember who we once were, and remember that we’ll be that again.

7. Freud said, “Love and work. Work and love. “That’s all there is.” The most important relationship in this life is the relationship we have with ourselves. We are kind to those we love, will we be kind to ourselves?

Over to You: Ten Stories of Flyers and Flying

This book is a collection of 10 short stories by Roald Dahl written during his days of being a fighter pilot. I loved Katina, Someone Like You, Death of an Old Man, Madame Rossetta, and Yesterday Was Beautiful.

Death of an Old Man

Oh God, how I am frightened.
Now that I am alone I don’t have to hide it; I don’t have to hide anything any longer.

What if you die just before the war gets over? There is so much you’ll have to lose. It’s not the same as dying just after the war starts.

Oh God, I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die today anyway. And it isn’t the pain. I don’t mind having my leg mashed or my arm burnt off; I swear to you that I don’t mind that. But I don’t want to die. Four years ago I didn’t mind. I remember distinctly not minding about it four years ago. I didn’t mind about it three years ago either. It was all fine and exciting; it always is when it looks as though you may be going to lose, as it did them. It is always fine to fight when you are going to lose everything anyway, and that was how it was four years ago. But now we’re going to win. It is so different when you are going to win. If I die now I lose fifty years of life, and I don’t want to lose that. I’ll lose anything except that because that would be all the things I want to do and all the things I want to see; all the things like going to sleeping with Joey. Like going home sometimes. Like walking through a wood. Like pouring out a drink from a bottle. Like looking forward to week ends and like being alive every hour every day every year for fifty years. If I die now I will miss all that, and I will miss everything else. I will miss the things that I don’t know about. I think those are really the things I am frightened of missing. I think the reason I do not want to die is because of the things I hope will happen. Yes, that’s right. I’m sure that’s right.

This story captures the agony of a fighter pilot who is one the side that’s going to win the war, and he’s afraid of dying just before the war is over. He doesn’t want to lose the life that’s ahead of him. On his last flight, he combats a German pilot. Both of them fight beautifully, he struggles until he learns that there is no point of struggling at all.

I won’t struggle, he thought. There is no point in struggling, for when there is a black cloud in the sky, it is bound to rain.

An African Story

It’s a weird story that involves a crazy pilot who flies low to observe a stable antelope from the right side of the cockpit and gets his plane nearly crashed by hitting a giraffe from the left wing. He crashes in the middle of nowhere and meets an equally eccentric old man who lives with a black cow. This man tells him the craziest story he has ever heard. The story is very simple. The old man finds out that his farm help Judson has killed his dog since he was annoyed by the noise the dog was making. Judson is a serial dog killer, he has killed a lot of dogs in his life, and the old man detests Judson. One morning, when Judson goes to milk the old man’s black cow, he finds that there is no milk. In the evening there’s milk, but there’s no milk in the morning. The old man decided to stay awake all night, to catch the milk thief. At night, he sees that it’s a black mamba who’s stealing his milk. The next night, the old man asks Judson to help him catch the thief. He tells Judson to stay near the cow in a trench with a stick and wait for the time when the thief comes. Unaware of his faith, Judson waits. When the black mamba encounters Judson, mamba bites him, and he falls to the ground. The old man decides to let mamba have his share of the milk forever. It’s really a weird story of an old man’s revenge for his dog.

A Piece of Cake

Hallucinations and trepidations of a pilot who finds himself crashing from a flight he thought would be just a piece of cake.

Madame Rosette

Two pilots looking to meet girls for an evening at Cairo ring famed brothel-keeper Madame Rosetta but later change their mind to raid the brothel and save all the girls from Madame Rosetta.


A 9-year-old Greek girl is saved by a squadron, she has lost her parents in a bombing by Germans. She can’t speak English, but the squadron inducts Katina as a new member. Katina then becomes a silent spectator for the story, and the story unfolds with war anecdotes of squadron members. They move to different locations, some of them get killed, and eventually, the squadron loses Katina too.

Yesterday was Beautiful

An aviator whose plane has crashed in a Greek village is looking for a boat to go back to the mainland. He meets an old man who is wandering about the German bombers who keep coming to kill and destroy. He tells the aviator that he knows who has a boat in the village, and then he points him towards his house, telling him that at present, only his wife is at home, someone else’s home, because the home of the boatman was destroyed by the German bomber. His daughter was in the home when the Germans came. He tells him. The aviator goes to the wife of the boatman for help, and she asks him how many people has he killed in his life? The aviator says he cannot keep a count. The wife tells that her husband isn’t here, he’s out, and then she points at the old man sitting outside.

They Shall Not Grow Old

A pilot takes off for a reconnaissance flight, but doesn’t return back on time, he’s assumed to be dead. He then reappears a few days later.

Beware of the Dog

A pilot loses his leg while flying and crashes in the woods.

Only This

The pain of a mother whose son is fighting in the war. This story captures her restlessness and anxiety beautifully.

Someone Like You

This story is about the feeling of never knowing what would have happened with a subtle change of direction—a jink. This story is about jinking. If you have the joystick to kill in your hands while flying a bomber, and if you jink a little, what happens, who do you kill and who do you save? You never really know what would have happened. If you count to twenty before driving off, do you avoid accidents and save lives? Because you won’t hit the one who was supposed to step in front of your car twenty counts ago. It’s about two pilots sitting in a pub and drinking beer wondering that they have destroyed so many pubs like that, and so many people like the men and women and the waiters, all drinking in a pub. It’s a self-reflection of the choices they have made and their impacts.

‘Oh God, I wish I was a waiter or a whore or something.’

The Great Mental Models: General Thinking Concepts


“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ― Viktor E. Frankl

(This quotation is instinctively attributed to the famous Viktor Frankl of Man’s Search for Meaning, however on further inspection, one realises that the actual author of this quotation is unknown. However, this quotation aptly describes the spirit of this book.)

This is Volume 1 of The Great Mental Models series by Farnam Street. Farnam Street is a blog by Shane Parrish primarily featuring writing on mental models, decision-making, learning, reading, and the art of living. In one line the blog is described as “helping you master the best of what other people have already figured out”.

A mental model is how we simplify our world to understand it better. It is the reality in abstraction. A good life corresponds to good quality of thinking. And mental models enhance our quality of thinking by helping us in navigating through complexities by making better decisions with high confidence. However, there is not one metal model that fits all situations, like there is never one outfit for all occasions. It’s like having a set of lenses to see the world around us from a different perspective. And when we learn to see the world as it is, and not as how we want it to be, something begins to change, and then slowly, almost creepily, everything changes.

This book series is going to help you build a latticework of mental models. Below is a summary of all the mental models described in this volume.

The Map is Not the Territory

If I hand you a map, you may soon start believing that the map is more real than the thing it is depicting, forgetting that the map is a scaled-down version of reality.

“The map appears to us more real than the land.” — D.H. Lawrence.

To all those who believe in astrology; without commenting on the authenticity of the claims we can say that those who choose to believe it often forget that it is only a map and not the territory. And therefore, to the believers, it might appear to be more real than reality.

The map of reality is not reality. Even the best maps are imperfect. They are supposed to be imperfect. The perfect map of territory would be just as big as the territory itself, rendering the map functionless. We are bound to forget that there exists a territory separately from the map. This territory contains details the map doesn’t describe. If our aim becomes simplification rather than understanding, then we start to make bad decisions. We can use maps to guide us, but we must not let them prevent us from discovering new territory or updating our existing maps.

Let the maps guide you, but don’t get guided by the map.

“Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.” — George Box.

Circle of Competence

There are things that you are good at. There are things that you are not good at. And then there is the wisdom of recognising the difference. It’s like Serenity Prayer but with a twist. Instead of “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”, it goes like “God grant me the serenity to accept the that there are things I’m not competent of doing, courage to do the things I’m competent of doing, and wisdom to know the difference.”.

We all have a circle of competence, it’s important to know the boundaries of that circle, and to stay inside it while operating. If you don’t have at least a few years and a few failures under your belt, you cannot consider yourself competent in a circle.

“A little learning is a dangerous thing;

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring;

There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,

And drinking largely sobers us again.”

Key practices for building a circle of competence: curiosity, desire to learn, monitoring, and feedback.

First Principle Thinking

I think of Elon Musk or Richard Feynman when I think of First Principle Thinking.

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” ― Richard P. Feynman

It is a fact that if you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough. And that’s where this mental model comes in. Partly the reason why I do this exercise of writing after finishing the book is to ensure that I’m not sleeping or fooling myself.

Knowledge should be built upon the foundational principles. If we don’t learn to take something apart, test our assumptions about it, and reconstruct it, we end up bound by what other people tell us—trapped in the way things have always been done.

Socratic Questioning

  1. Why do I think this? What exactly do I think? (explain the origin of your ideas)
  2. How do I know this is true? What if I thought the opposite? (challenge assumptions)
  3. How can I back this up? What are the sources? (look for evidence)
  4. What might others think? How do I know I am correct? (alternative perspectives)
  5. What if I am wrong? What are the consequences if I am? (consequences and implications)
  6. Why did I think that? Was I correct? What conclusions can I draw from the reasoning process? (questioning the original question)

Thought Experiment

Its analogues to running in a simulation in your head. Take the example of the trolley problem — the classic. A trolley is running on a track which splits in two, on one end (not used regularly) there is one kid, and on the other, there are five. Which end do you turn to? Do you kill the one and save the five? You obviously wouldn’t want to do this experiment in real life, that’s where thought experiments come into the picture. You can run the trolley on the tracks as many times as you want, you can kill children in your thoughts as many times as you want until you come up with a response with a reason. Would you say that five lives mean more than one, even if the one life that was taken was unjust since the kid was playing on a track that was not used, knowing very well the consequences of being on the other track?

Second Order Thinking

Every action has a reaction, we all know, but every reaction has its own reaction. When you throw a pebble in a pond there is never just one ripple. When we make decisions, we forget to think about the indirect repercussions of that decision. If you make abortion illegal, do you know that you’d end up raising the crime rates of the state in a couple of decades? There are always effects of effects.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” — John Muir

You may be focused in one direction, not recognising that the consequences are rippling out all around you. Include second and subsequent effects, if you want to understand the world.

“Once a few people decide to stand on their tip-toes, everyone has to stand on their tip-toes. No one can see any better, but they’re all worse off.” — Warren Buffett

A little time spent thinking ahead can save us massive amounts of time later.

Probabilistic Thinking

They say control the controllable. But when you go out living your life like the bloke you are, you realize that so much in life is uncontrollable, uncertain, and risky. Then how do you live such a life? Probability. Probability is why you don’t think twice before sitting in an aircraft or driving a car. It’s also why you take a lot of your big decisions in life, a lot of times you don’t even know how amazing our brains have evolved themselves to do probability calculations. It’s our only tool to map the unknown and uncontrollable. Yes, there are some pseudo maps available too, but they work on the placebo effect.

The more extreme events that are possible, the higher the probability that one of them will occur. Crazy things are definitely going to happen, and we have no way of identifying when.

Think in terms of probability/chances, and keep updating those probabilities as needed information keeps flowing in.


When you cannot solve the problems moving forward, try solving them by moving backwards. If you cannot decide what you want to do, you can start by deciding what you don’t want to do.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still remain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

Avoiding stupidity is easier than seeking brilliance.

Simply invert, always invert, when you are stuck. If you take the results of your inversion seriously, you might make a great deal of progress in solving your problems.

Occum’s Razor

Simpler explanations are more likely to be true than complicated ones. You can more confidently base your decisions on the explanations that have the fewest moving parts. Complexity serves us more when it comes to creating art than when it comes to real life.

It’s not an iron law but a tendency and a mind-frame you can choose to use: If all else is equal, that is if two competing models both have equal explanatory power, it’s more likely that the simple solution suffices.

“When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebra.”

It states that the probability of simplicity is higher than complexity. The scenario with fewer moving parts is more likely to happen than the scenario with more moving parts.

Hanlon’s Razor

It’s not personal, it’s just stupidity (business).

Never attribute to malice that which is more easily explained by stupidity. The universe is not conspiring against you, what you may think of as malice may just be sheer stupidity, laziness, or inattentiveness. It will help you avoid paranoia or ideology. It is a reminder that people do make mistakes, and it demands that we ask if there is another reasonable explanation for the events that have occurred. The explanation with the least amount of intent is likely to be right.

When we see something we don’t like happen and which seems wrong, we assume it’s intentional. But it’s more likely that it’s completely unintentional. Most people doing wrong are not bad people trying to be malicious. Failing to prioritize stupidity over malice causes things like paranoia.

“I need to listen well so that I hear what is not said.” — Thuli Madonsela

I’m currently reading Volume 2 of The Great Mental Models, the review of that book would follow up shortly.