From dogs to copyrights

I came across this story on twitter today. It’s a beautiful, short, touching story.

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle. I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home. As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker ‘s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.

Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ”I know why.” Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. It has changed the way I try and live.

He said,”People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The Six-year-old continued, ”Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”

I wanted to share it, and since I like attributing the sources for interesting stories I find online and giving credit where it’s due, I wanted to find who originally wrote it so that I could link to it. After a quick Google search, I still couldn’t find where this story originated. It’s been shared and blogged by lots of people in lots of places, but everybody just heard it from someone else they know. Then I started wondering if this is a real story or if it’s fictional, or if it’s a story that evolved every time it got re-told and now it isn’t much like the real event that it’s about, it’s just the best Story about the event.

Sometimes it’s important for a story to be accurate, because we wouldn’t want to be ignorant enough to believe that Hitler was a nice guy or something. But most times the stories we tell each other are just containers for a feeling, an emotion or an idea. I can explain an idea to you, but it can’t form as deep a root in your mind as when I tell you a story that makes you think it yourself. I can tell you how I feel, but you won’t really feel it as much as when I share the story or experience that made me feel that way with you. Just as we need words to communicate simpler things, we need stories to communicate these things that are harder to articulate. And so these stories evolve. The events are altered and the characters are changed to make the feeling clearer. If you look at it objectively, these stories are exaggerated, distorted and sensationalised but as we go on telling these stories to each other, only the ones that best convey the feelings attached survive in our collective memory. It’s like a form of Natural Selection.

And then I remembered this article I read a while ago on whether we can apply the ideology of Open Source to fiction. It’s a thought provoking article, and beautifully written. You should read it if you have the time, but for now I’m going to paste the important part here.

Ideas–stories–can enjoy a freedom that physical things never can . Imagine: someone’s grandmother tells a cautionary tale, it gets passed around the playground, it winds up in a book of urban legends, maybe one day it even makes blockbuster status at the box offices.  We gossip.  We embellish.  We lie.  We daydream.  Stories are being born all the time, and some of them even make it to paper.   The point is, stories live, and they can live forever.   Like all living things, they emerge organically.  They grow.  They evolve.  They are used.  They are molded.  They share their existence with the other living things on the globe.  They make change and are changed in return.

But as modern writers, we’ve accepted a limited lifespan for stories.   They begin and end between the covers of books.  At least until long after we are dead.

And I want more.

I want my stories to live.

When I’m done with a story, I don’t want it to die a quiet death–not if it doesn’t have to. I don’t even want it to be stuffed and preserved forever behind a pane of glass where people ogle at it all day long.  I don’t want a mandatory DNR stapled to its chest the moment it leaves my hands.

I don’t want this to happen to my stories.

And I won’t let it.


Up until now, every time I had an idea about a story to write, I would wonder where it came from and what inspired it. Every time I would get an idea for a story while reading a book or watching a movie, I would guiltily feel like it’s stolen and I wouldn’t pursue it much further. I’ve read sentences that describe situations so perfectly that I remember them word for word. I wouldn’t think it’s okay to use them in something that I wrote because even though it’s just a short string of words, someone else put them together before I did . Sentences like “her words hung in the air like too ripe fruit.” Every time I make a song that sounds nice I spend at least five minutes thinking if I’ve sub-consciously stolen it from somewhere else.

An interesting point is, I never felt this way when taking segments of code, or even entire modules of software and using them as a part of something I make. It’s strange that our moral view on borrowing ideas changes so drastically from software to literature. But I think it’s wrong to feel guilty about it. I think, leaving the legal issues of copyright aside, it’s okay to take something you come across and do what you want with it. Even if you take a song and only change a few lines because it means more to you that way. Even if you’re writing an alternate ending to a popular story. You should sing it and write it and share it and put it on the internet. You should be able to. Fuck the legalities. Since when did legal mean right and illegal mean wrong anyway? Hitler didn’t break any laws in Germany in his time right?* So yeah, since everything we ever make is built on something borrowed anyway, take what you want and use it as you please.


*I don’t know why I was thinking of Hitler so much tonight.

Unemployment update

Yesterday was my last day at Sterling, I’d been working there for almost two years. This brings me right back to unemployment. It was unfortunate that I didn’t really have much time to be unemployed after I was done with college. My interview with Sterling was only a few days after my last exam and five days later I had to start work. I didn’t even get a decent vacation. I’m gonna make sure I do it right this time and remain unemployed for a significant amount of time.

The Indian Institutes of Technology have a Joint Entrance Examination which is labeled as one of the toughest exams at that level. Lacs of students compete for around five thousand seats. I gave this exam after my 12th and I’d spent many months studying for it. The exam was two months after my 12th board exams and almost all I did for those 2 months was prepare for it. I’ve never been the studying kind but this time it was easy because almost everyone I was in contact with at the time was also giving the exam and I really liked what I was studying. At the end of it I didn’t get into any IIT and got a 12009 all India rank, but that’s not what I want to tell you about. The day after the exam I woke up in the morning and I had absolutely no idea what to do next. The freedom was exciting and liberating and a little unnerving at the same time. The only objective for every day of my life until then had been to get as much studying done and suddenly I didn’t need to study at all. My friend Shiv Kumar called me that day and said the exact same thing. He said he was helping his mom with chores in the kitchen because he had nothing else to do. I eventually got used to having all my time as free time for the two months that followed, in which I did almost everything you’d expect a sixteen year old to do. Those were two of the best months of my life.

Today was nothing like that day. Today I woke up with half a dozen things on my mind. I’d already made more plans for the day than I could keep and more importantly, I needed to start planning my immediate future out and start doing things that will keep me from needing another 9 to 5 job. I need to start doing these things before my enthusiasm begins waning. I need to have at least some of it worked out before I begin to forget how much having a job with fixed timings sucks.

I used to put off things I wanted to do in college for later because I thought that I’ll be better equipped to handle after being done with college. Those things only got harder to do once college was done. If you’re still in college and you’re reading this then please believe me and do all those things you may be putting off. It’s not worth it to worry about how many people think you’re too young and whether you’ll do it wrong.

Today wasn’t a bad first day of unemployment for me. I didn’t do much until the evening, but then I ran 4.03km in 25 minutes which I think is pretty damn good after not having done any real physical activity for the last six months. I have the structure of a plan for what I’m going to do worked out in my head, I just need to put it down somewhere and fill in the details. As a part of this plan, I need to share it online and update how much progress I make on a blog and be brutally honest while doing it so that I don’t drift along aimlessly. I don’t think I want to do that here. I want to make a brand new super-cool website for myself and put up a blog there. So there, that’s my task for the next few days. Draw out my plan and put it up on my new blog.

Things to do when I quit my job

1 – Find something to do that’s actually worth my time. (spend at least 2 months before really starting to do it)
2 – Learn to play the piano.
3 – Play the piano. (this is not the same as #2)
4 – Travel around the country, spend a month in the north/northeast. Also visit friends living in other cities nearby.
5 – Write. A couple of short stories, a novella maybe. (can very easily happen while traveling)
6 – Play a sport, regularly.
7 – Watch at least 20 movies. (at home, in the afternoon. I can’t express how much I miss watching movies in the afternoon)
8 – Read at least 10 books. (and stay up at night to finish them)
9 – Watch at least 20 sunsets and 10 sunrises. (I don’t think I’ve done even half of this in 1 year of working)
10 – Find friends who are equally jobless. (This should be way higher on this list than #10)
11 – Send a mail to people still working at my company telling them how they are wasting their lives. (Just for my own amusement)
12 – Go on a road trip. (in addition to the traveling plan)
13 – Buy a bunch of plain coloured T-shirts and paint stuff on them. (if I don’t end up doing this by then [which I hope I do])
14 – Contribute to open source software in some way.
15 – Wear shorts and 3/4ths as much as possible. (not just because they are incredibly comfortable in Bombay* weather, but also because I can)
16 – Smash my employee ID card to bits.
17 – Spend some quality time with my dog.
18 – Add 18 more points to this list.

*I will always call this city Bombay and I suggest you do the same.

Work life

I don’t normally do things I don’t want to. In fact, I try as hard as possible to not do things I don’t want to. I never really studied for exams after the point where I thought I would pass them, I never attended class if I didn’t feel like, I didn’t wear full pants when I didn’t feel like, I woke up when I felt like, and I slept when I wanted to for most of my life. All these people who tell you that you have to work hard to get what you want, and that if you torture yourself now you’ll have it easy in the end, I think they’ve all lost their minds. And I’m more sure about this now than I ever was. I’ve seen 30 year olds with bellies the size of pregnant women who sit at their desks for over 9 hours a day and live what you would all call the ideal life and I know that they haven’t known the pleasure that I would get when I made a song or wrote a short story or probably even a damn blog post for even a day in their lives.

I’m happy being happy. I believe in indulgence. And this is mostly why I know I can’t work a 9 hour a day job. No matter how good the work is, no matter what the benefits are. I can’t work in that environment, I think it’s absolutely inhibitory to any kind of productivity. Why would anyone be driven to work at a place where they care more about how much time you spend doing what you do rather than what you do? I don’t want to go to work tomorrow.  And I, being the person I know myself to be, would not go to work tomorrow. I know that even if I do go to work tomorrow, I won’t accomplish much there. There, where the clocks on the wall watch you work, with the air-conditioning and the artificial lighting and the artificial personalities and stale humour and well, I could go on.

I haven’t seen the sunset in weeks! I would understand why you wouldn’t think this is a big deal, but honestly, try it. Sunsets just have a way of making my mind work. I heard that in early Mayan civilisations they would have a particular time of day when everyone would stop whatever they were doing and watch the sun set. I don’t know how reliable this information is, but it makes sense. We tend to overlook these things living our busy lives in these big cities. I live about a kilometer from the sea and yet I hardly ever go to the beach anymore. Here, I actually found a research that links decreased exposure to sunlight with cognitive impairment among depressed individuals.

But here’s the thing, I probably will go to work tomorrow and I probably will sit there in office all day and do nothing productive. Just accept money for some time of my life. Who was the idiot who said “time is money?” He ought to be locked in solitary confinement and be paid in millions for it. And yes, I can think of buying myself a new guitar or an iTouch or a Wii, or even a fucking PS3 with a hi-def TV. If I wait a bit longer I’ll have enough to buy a car, not that I want a car, I’m just saying. I can go to Blue Frog and not be that bothered by how much they charge for entry or for alcohol inside. But I think I’m lucky enough to know that I don’t want any of that as much as I want the freedom to be able to do what I want and when I want. I wouldn’t mind having a 2GB mp3 player and traveling by buses and trains and living as stingily as I did in college.

I had decided that I would stay here until I figured stuff out and until I had enough money to do whatever else I might want to do after this. But I’ve had enough money for a while now, and I don’t know what I want to do for the rest of my life but I’m pretty sure that there’s no one thing I could do for the rest of my life. I know what I don’t want to do for the rest of my life and that, I’m sure that I’m sure about by now. (No, I didn’t type that twice by mistake, notice the comma.) So why haven’t I left yet? Well, because when I told them I wanted to leave my generous employers said that I would get to work with them in New York for two to three months in a complicated arrangement that means I have to stay with them till somewhere around November this year. And though this is a very sweet deal there’s a part of me that’s hoping that this won’t work out, hoping that all managers are indeed the rotten bastards I would like to believe they are and that they pull out of this deal at the last minute just so that I can show them the finger and go on and live the rest of my life being me.

But despite all this, I will go to work tomorrow. Do something that I wouldn’t normally do. Do something that’s not me, and watch time pass by as I grow a little more estranged from myself. I will show them the finger someday, before the end of this year, and that I’m sure of. And if you can relate to any of what I said then I suggest that one day you sit alone and watch the sun set and think about it. Because I think that watching the sunset is more important than any of this.


Currently Listening
Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd
By Lynyrd Skynyrd
Free Bird

Update from my life: I’m leaving for hampi on Saturday. I don’t think I’ve been on this kind of a high for as long as I’ve been working, which is wrong in so many ways that I’m not going to elaborate on it. This one week of freedom is all I get after 7 months of working. Slavery, this is. But then it isn’t really, because I can leave whenever I want. I’ll be moving to Thane the week after that, that’ll make it even harder to leave this job but at least I’ll have as much free time on my hands as I want.

So this Saturday, I’ll be going to hampi. And where I’ll go from there I don’t really know. How long I’ll be there, I don’t know. It’s this sense of freedom that I really love. It resonates within my being. If you don’t know me then I can tell you that freedom is one of my most fundamental values. I need to have a sense of absolute freedom to be truly happy. So that’s what this vacation will be about, perfect unadultrated freedom. Imprisoned within the time span of 9 days.

I will leave for Hampi this saturday and you won’t hear anything from me for a while after that. Not that you’d expect to, but if you’re lucky I’ll end up writing a bit there and then I can post it here when I get back.

“I’m as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change.
I’m the bird you cannot change.
And this bird you cannot change.
Lord knows I can’t change.
Lord help me I can’t change.
Lord, I can’t change.
Won’t you fly, free bird?”
*insane 4 minute solo