Saturday, December 24, 2016

So long

Wow. Twitter has killed blogging, they say. This page adds to the growing evidence for this thesis from the widget on the right. The 1/n rants over there seem to act as a convenient replacement for the poorly punctuated and pathetically proofread essays from here. Surely, though, there were more stories to narrate than the year-long silence suggests, weren't there?

Maybe the big bad machine called Work has finally gotten the better of us. Or Twitter and Facebook's offering of brevity is the sole channel for our wit. There will still be some stories where we'll have to paint a picture, though, rather than post it. That paint may have been slowly running dry as we spend progressively lesser time on these laptop screens, but I'm certain our words will return to attempt pleasing you, dear readers, and offer a different window into these stubborn hearts.

Until then, and onwards, long live our blogs - capsules of nostalgia.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tempus Fugit


I don't quite remember what car we were in; the trusty Maruti 800 doesn't fit as well into the mental picture I have as the hospital's Omni ambulance does. To be honest, I don't remember much at all – it was, after all, well past my bedtime, almost two decades back. What I haven't forgotten is being dazzled by the lights outside when Ma woke me up. We were about to reach the airport.

I rubbed my eyes vigorously, trying to wrest open my eyelids through sheer force of curiosity, as my mind sought to put an image to the roaring blast of airplanes taking off. One that had landed, though, was what we were waiting for, and the promise of Pa's invigorating hug got me out of my drowsiness. Plus the prospect of the amazing gifts he'd brought from the exotic foreign lands he was returning from, of course.

I don't remember most of the other gifts, but the second time I was to be dazzled that night was when my brother and I got our final presents – original Mickey Mouse and Goofy watches. My brother chose first, and I got Goofy.

***

The routineness of a school-going child's life had the effect of rendering the concept of keeping time redundant. Pre-recess, you'd wish teachers a good morning and the three 40-minute lessons after the noon's recess, you wished them… you get the idea. Cartoons for an hour after lunch at home were followed by playing in the parks outside till sundown. Catching up with parents when they got back from work passed time till dinner, which was swiftly followed by bedtime. So, it seemed only appropriate that we kids use the accessory of a wrist watch only when going out for special occasions – events that broke from the routine.
Watches were our ice-picks in the snow; tools a nifty turn of which would often be an invaluable way to get out of sticky situations, and dependable accessories in the wild terrain of unplanned events.

***

I almost never wore a watch to school – the few times I did, it lay pristine on my wrist till I had to stuff it into my bag before games. Ma gave me two, though, when dropping me off at Roorkee for the first year there. Use it well, and don't forget to take if off before you bathe, I was told. For the first month, it hung precariously on the hooks on the bathroom doors almost every day.

It was to prove invaluable, as the time I'd leave for breakfast before an 8 am class changed gradually from half past seven to not at all because I landed in class in my pyjamas a good ten minutes after it started. Various tunes like Violin Sonata No. 14 (by unknown), the Pirates of the Caribbean theme and Adele's Rolling in the Deep blasting away in the form of alarms ensured I saw the time every morning - or often afternoon - on a mobile screen first. But it was the watches I turned to surreptitiously in classes, dangerously on cycles, gingerly in the pouring rain, and as quickly as possible even in the unforgiving Roorkee winter.

***

The routine of work over the past few months, and my laziness to get those two old watches fixed meant I got used to going through days without the need to keep time again.
Yet, after I finally got new batteries for them, and wore one proudly last fortnight, I was horrified by myself when I instinctively lunged for my phone in the car to see if I was on time for a meeting. My mind slowly flashed to those early days in Roorkee, to those boring birthday party conversations I got out of by giving the watch a third glance, and, of course, to the magical night at the Delhi airport.

The wistful flick of the wrist that followed gave the watch a new, if only fleeting function, of time travel.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Calling the fall


I spent almost six months listening to Coldplay's The Hardest Part daily that year. Being the lunatic romantic that I was then, I didn't deem it just coincidental that I first heard its opening lines the night of the call.



… And the hardest part - was letting go, not taking part.

'Twas the hardest part.



***



A little under three years back, I sat at the top edge of a U-shaped classroom, on the precipice of an exciting new social milieu. The air was full of pre-emptive judgement - every single garment, hairstyle, word and activity was being fed into a mixer-grinder in each of those ninety-odd brains to churn out early opinions. For example, despite assertions of being a wanderlust-afflicted lover of philosophical discussions, the patch of hair dyed blonde above his forehead lent one man the stubborn, if not imaginative, nickname Blaundie. As an articulate gentleman earned awe by mere mention of his work with the government and a masterfully controlled motion of hands as he spoke, time flew before the spotlight came to my seat. The recently-oiled rotating chairs didn't creak, but I could feel every single turn of all those chairs as if they were tightening the knots in my stomach. I tried breaking the tension of the momentary silence by quickly narrating my funnily long full name, and then managed to muster just one more sentence - I like finding out the origins of words and phrases.



***



Editing sessions for the college literary magazine mostly didn't even bother pretending to be that - we'd traipse in well after the agreed meeting time, and proceed to chat about everything in the world save the stories, poems and book reviews nobody would read the next month. It was in one such meeting, staring into a ceiling dotted artistically with used teabags, that I wondered aloud - Why do you think the phrase falling in love came to be? The conversation swung wildly - from the physics of love as a gravitational force, to the semantics of love as a state of being, via countless crude jokes. We never reached a conclusion - even a couple of minutes of Googling didn't particularly help - but the armchair etymologists all seemed to agree on the presumption that much like love itself, the explanation would probably seem fairly irrational.



***



If the only words you've ever spoken to a girl are "That wasn't Barbie - I think it was Batman.", it's a real stretch to say you had fallen in love. But, as Chris Martin's voice achingly explained, falling is easy. Once you're in the act of it, the ground beneath your feet quickly disappearing, your body quickly passing control to a fickle force, and your eyes feeling the cold slap of flying time, letting go is the hardest part.



The call began the fall, so it was only poetic that an SMS was the dull thud that signalled its break. The real sign of progress, though, isn't just failing and falling, but being in a state to be back up for the next fall. Over another phone call a few years later, I was in love again. But that's fodder for another story…

P.S. - A batchmate from A has started an e-zine that intends to publish a bunch of articles every weekend. Do check it out here. I'm hoping this post should go up on that sometime this week or next.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Winter Nights

After an early winter sunset, our cab screamed past Gurgaon's towers and South Delhi's wide boulevards, hurtling through the capital's northern part's patchwork roads before emerging onto the smooth National Highway - 1. Kilometres of shimmering dew-covered fields and highway motels were covered in a few hundred seconds. I couldn't wait for a warm bed and the promise of a night's sleep far, far away from Kolkata.

The body wasn't prepared for winter in the northern plains, though, after more than half a year near the east coast. My feet froze even before I could locate my room on the windy tenth floor. The blanket felt colder than the floor, and as I wrapped myself like a mummy within it, I wondered what a long night it was going to be…

***

I hate this place. A scandalously overcharging rickshaw driver and a swindling cartel of a marketplace might have played their role in forming that opinion, but the few conversations I had had with what were to be people I'd have to see for the next 4-5 years firmed up that opinion. My parents reassured me that what I'd seen was definitely an unrepresentative sample - and like Visakhapatnam so warmly did, maybe Roorkee would grow on me, too.

A week of uninspiring lectures save one, mounting examples of administrative nincompoopery and a hostel full of late teenagers making the ugliest most of their new-found independence meant my daily calls home became ever more frantic. I can still make it to DCE's counselling! I'll write the JEE again, or just apply to DU like I first wanted to!

The rains came and went in a flash, and after a disastrous first set of exams and a brief trip home, winter was coming. The ceiling I stared at every night was no longer painted by a creaky fan whose rotations I counted to sleep - just three dusty blades Pa implored me to sweep clean every day. The trusty bedsheet I invariably knocked down to the floor each night was replaced by a fleece quilt I didn't trust to help me survive the sub-Himalayan plains.

But the cold was a common enemy. We bonded in the wing, our motley crew - crouching around that one hot-air blower, fighting for the last hot rotis, braving the icy winds for paranthas and Maggi and playing cricket in the corridor. Winter mornings got by faster, as I moved from the stationary fan to figure out ways to get the lizards off my ceiling.
In an extremely weird instance of camaraderie, many of us chose to forsake baths for as long as a week during the semester-ending NCC Camp, whose 6 a.m. aerobics sessions were a source of much comic relief. In the subsequent holidays back in Vizag, I was fed like a temple elephant to regain the 17-odd kilograms I'd shed. Waiting eagerly for the delicacies to come, I also thought of the serious writing I needed to get done to impress an Arbit Prat, and to maybe finally winning a quiz, that one connect from school. And, of course, rip that perfect off-break in the corridor…

***

Trucks with Bollywood tunes for horns honked away on the highway below, and a fancy, shiny, golden-coloured fan gleamed motionlessly above. I'd be getting up for some corporate mumbo-jumbo in a factory, instead of uninspiring lectures, 6 a.m. aerobics or corridor cricket. But I knew there were tougher winters I'd gotten through, and it was with warm thoughts about Roorkee winters that I fell dreamlessly asleep.

The next morning had paranthas for breakfast. Oh, it's good to be back!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

New Slang

"Gold teeth and a curse for this town - were all in my mouth.

Only I don't know how, they got out, dear."

The Shins' most popular song played perfect background accompaniment to Natalie Portman's varying degrees of smiles. That scene from Garden State always tends to light me up. She passes him the headset predicting this song "will change your life". It's a magic pill, a suggestion that comes across as most ironical as they're both in the waiting line outside a psychiatrist's office. But in the moment that the headset's noise cancellation kicks in, blocking out the rest of the world's waves, the only sounds are of those acoustic guitars in harmony, and the overriding image of a most beautiful woman smiling nervously as she waits, hoping you like that song she just recommended.

***

"Turn me back into the pet; I was when we met.

I was happier then, with no mind-set."

Princess V (I don't choose all the names here) and I often looked back at Roorkee as a place where things were simpler. Despite hindsight being rose-tinted, I'd say it probably was easier then. For starters, I spent a majority of that time as a teenager, when making mistakes was not only welcome, it was encouraged. Thinking about the future usually meant deciding where to have dinner. And most of the time, placements was what many disagreed with one MS Dhoni on.

Ahmedabad was a bit more complicated - and the change came at you suddenly. Classmates fretted deeply over failed careers three months into a two-year course. Professors and alumni continuously reminded you of your ability to change the world if you wanted to, while some also sagely suggested you do only what makes you happy. And most of the time, placements decided who you were friends with.

Despite that, troubling questions of who you are and what you're meant to do prevailed more in R-land. It was the kind of place where you could spend days thinking about them - classes could be missed guilt-free, and you'd stay staring at your laptop screen all day until it was dark enough for you to consider getting up to switch the light on.

***

"And if you took to me like a gull takes to the wind,

I'd have jumped… and danced like the king of the eyesores."

It was in times like those that you needed Natalie Portman to light you up; her smile and James Mercer's voice telling you that you could do whatever you wanted, and the rest of our lives would've fared well. She never disappoints - even as Roorkee looks like heaven relative to Kolkata, and as the mall downstairs lit up for Christmas starts shining through the window. I know I have to stop typing, and get up to switch the light on now.


I love that song.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The End of Nothingness

Nihilanth is a part-Latin, part-Sanskrit word meaning "The end of nothingness". 

***

We waited with bated breath as Team No. 6 got into a huddle, the quizmaster broke into a brisk walk towards the one raised hand rising from their table - they were seemingly going for broke, and we had to trust them. For a stage which had 24 quizzers exclusively from IITs and IIMs, it was funny how only nine of them were doing the math at that point. Team No. 6 was obviously one of them, and Kitty, Samaadhi and I in team no. 3 had no choice but to metaphorically bite our fingernails and literally chew off the skin around them as our bated breath turned us blue. We found out later team no. 1 on the far right, with Nene among them, were the only others who realised the importance of that pounce. The smug championship leaders sitting in the audience, had no idea of the significance of the ten points earned by team no. 6, then languishing in 7th place out of 8.

The most joyous high-fives the three of us shared then were easily the quietest. The louder ones had been for when Samaadhi comfortably identified the story of how his home state of Mysore was renamed to Karnataka, and when I'd earlier just taken a look at an early 19th century bust of a lion across a canal to proudly scribble Solani aqueduct. High-fives were accompanied with awestruck bows towards St. Kitts, as she pulled out an outrageous guess on unheard-of sculptors who've made statues of Rabindranath Tagore. Now all we needed to do was to ensure this last question didn't go past us…

***

Missing out on qualifying for the Sports Quiz rankled deeply, even as I bravely ventured to quip misguidedly - "I think we're among the top 10-20 sports quizzers in the country." That first trip to Mumbai was memorable, though, as the run-up to it and the hope in the journey back elevated Nihilanth, the inter-IIT-IIM quiz festival, to Holy Grail status.

The next edition took us to Ahmedabad, when I first marvelled at the genius of Louis Kahn's work. After missing out on qualifying in the General Quiz on the first day, hopes of making it in the later quizzes were high once again. Those hopes were cruelly crushed by some callous decision-making (Cup noodles and figuring out what TANSTAAFL meant versus the Lone Wolf quiz prelims) and some high-quality teams making a mark tough to replicate.
I missed the trip to Calcutta, and in a severely depleted field in Lucknow, Battula was by my side as I qualified for the finals of a Nihilanth quiz for the first time. Messrs. Malhotra and Mateen pulled the contingent more points as we made it to more finals, but only two podium finishes - including a blazing performance from the Chemical Brothers in clinching the business quiz  - were what the contingent had to show in my final year representing Roorkee.

***

Sometime during that chaotic first month in A, Kitty and I were talking about "Why MBA?". This wasn't the usual "I'll change the world" discussion, but "Why, really?" was the question. I was pleasantly surprised to hear myself say without any prior thought - "Two more years of college quizzing, right?". I don't think we've ever agreed on anything more than that.

A little over five months to that day, we were stuck firmly to our perforated wooden seats, our breath only more bated as the last question went past us unanswered. As it passed, I couldn't think of the not-quite-there's in Lucknow 2012, or the nearly-there's of Ahmedabad 2010, or even that first lurch of disappointment in Mumbai 2008. We were here in Mumbai, December 2012, back where the quest had first begun for me. And team no. 8 had just passed.

On the last question of the India Quiz, team no. 3 were declared winners but we went straight to team no. 6, where Amith, Sapru and Talwai clinched 5th place and the extra points we needed to retain the Nihilanth championship in Ahmedabad. As the six of us joined Sachin, Chandu and Saranyan for a huddle, the Holy Grail was in our hands, and full to the brim.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Poetry and a lack of motion

I've spent a good part of the last five months complaining about how much I dislike Calcutta. While I've tried to channel some of that into a little comic routine about how the Bengali language probably originated, bitterness for the city of mishti shines through more than the creativity in another joke based on the Bengalis-are-lazy stereotype.

Dissatisfied with the present, I've had two choices - invest in an incrementally better future, or fall back on a cosier past. It's getting chilly here for a city this close to the coast, so I've shamelessly snuggled into the latter.

I've happened to have crossed paths with many poets over the past seven years in Roorkee and Ahmedabad. A loyal reader might remember the brooding Perusing Poet I haven't mentioned in a while (I don't harbour any illusions of a loyal readership, by the way - I'm just glad you're reading this). There's Kondy who's written his second novel now but will always be a poet to me. And back at A, cursing himself for wasting almost an entire weekend chatting with me about me must be young Minnu. Three that come first to my mind.
They're all very different people - the first probably a strong believer in Sylvia Plath's "no poetry without suffering" school of thought. The second argues over troubling questions about being and believing, but whose real themes are probably closer to love and longing. The third, easily the most prolific of the lot, is a painter of portraits so vast and intricate, that I fear my mind is too small for their size and depth.

But why I call them poets is not because they write verse - as a matter of fact, none of them writes in rhymes, the one form I find easiest to go through because I just sing it - but because of the sheer density they bring to each sentence. Each word is carefully chosen, and each line is like a twist in a complex-looking knot, which opens up with a little swoosh as you put them all together. In the world of words, they aren't so much architects or artists, as they are sailors - roaming the seas, picking up rare oysters, drinking to good health, brooding and suffering in storms, and making perfect knots.


In their world, I'm the dilettante. The architect who's tried a hand at building domes, and given up in the foundation pits. The painter who's bought the canvas and colours, but frets over the clothes he'll spill those colours on. The curious kid, who collects educational degrees on a coat hanger, sells some food for buying clothes to put on more hangers, but shivers in the cold room of missed opportunities. Their world is my world - words are the rope they anchor their thoughts with, and I'm still finding the words to tell my story to myself.