Saturday, September 3, 2011

Keeping in touch

People yearn. Yes, they yearn to stay connected. This comes up very so often in the parting meetings, right after the final exams, at various stages in life. These mile-stones use their conventional power to push people in different directions. Friends scatter after that slingshot. Few of us realize that, that shared circle will be eluding us for the rest of our lives. Some do, in a momentary flash, realize with the last Pani-Puri we have in school uniform and shed tears. But everybody consoles him/her that this thing called Modern Technology couldn't come at a better time. It will, they are assured, help us to be together. The sense of which doesn't dawn on anyone there. If there is an Eagle looking at us from the far off, in space and time, which could span in its vision, centuries of observation, it would have dismissed this meeting of friends to be too common place. That why these people are shedding tears as if they haven't evolved, it knoweth not.

With or without technology we will never be in touch as fervently as we promised. There are many reasons to fall out. But no animosity or ill will. It is mostly because we are out of touch with that distant self of ours. The affections and affectations associated with the uncivilized times hang heavily on us due to the new found maturity, beyond every ford that we cross. Be it school to college, college to graduate and post graduate studies. We meet occasionally when people who have gone out of the city turn up for some vacation. Till our hormones take over, these meetings witness only failed attempts to rekindle the lost camaraderie. We do some roll-call of sorts, about who is doing what and crack a few old jokes. It is a tad sad picture. Something like last supper every time. A boring monotone. But we don't stay there longer than required. Biology comes to our rescue. Hormones take over.

The burgeoning testosterone is the best thing to happen to man since the original sin. It gives rise to so much kitsch. The way we prune ourselves for approval like the tailor birds. Nothing is out of the ordinary. The styles of dressing are flowing in and out. Parents are pestered to shed money on torn clothes. There are shirts on shirts. Bikes with bull horns. A few years more and cars flash by. Their alarms conveying a psychopathic desperation in the parking lots. Yes, one needs a good parking lot. It is all part of growing up.

In this fluid state of our being, school reunions happen. This time more frequently than before. We are all prepared for these meetings now. There is no roll-call. Everybody is out with their talent. And the iron is really hot. Like in a cross-connected call, conversations happen simultaneously. It seems like mental wrestling. Only few of us resign into a corner after deciding that the material present is too good for us and we don't stand a chance. Poets are the worst here. They reach out to their poems like a blind man reaches out to his cane. Impressing a girl in a group with an impromptu poem is the worst move ever conceived in fact. But of course, its bad effect can be annulled by following up with cleverly thought out lines of poetry sent to her in private.

These round-table meetings happen for sometime. The girls who are regulars either saturate their crush-feelings towards their old loves or they have boy friends from a different pack of wolves. Things are terrible now and red signs everywhere. Of course for a Hyderabadi these matter very little in terms of the road traffic. But now this is a matter of life and death. Love or no love. The regulars have taken their pick and there are still many of us left without consorts. That is when the emptiness glares at us in all glory.

One questions in a rhetoric tone where all the girls who are absent from these meetings were. Those stubborn beings, even in these moments of crisis. Thoughts precipitate into actions very quickly. Here again, the poet is at a disadvantage. He has an approachability problem. And clearly and definitively is incapable of fighting any encroachment with better gadgetry or biking performance. People are drawing up lists where as the poet is caught in a vortex of enormity of it all and trying in vain to make sense. His vanity has no bounds. The lists are drawn to perfection and zeroing-in happens. There is nothing one can do but sit up all night calling them or sending SMS. Finally there are a few lucky ones whose calling gets through. They are the victors for now and dispense relationship advice as and when necessary. The others are floating around in their bikes and explore everything of the words possibility, opportunity and other positive things. These lost souls can be found abundantly in the IMS, TIME coaching centers to go to the US or accumulate a fat loan to equal the fat salary after IIMs. They also often wander into Self-help sections in the book stores and mostly subscribe to the Chicken Soup school of thought.

As usual life beats the hell out of everyone. The regulars have no enthu left for the reunions to continue and everything falls out of touch. Recently, I mean not so recently, I met a friend in Mumbai and in a rare fit of endearment and nostalgia we agreed that it is difficult to stay connected. And also made fun and downgraded anyone from that circle who tries to call and tries to be cool unlike us. Keep in touch, people.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Reality demands

(by Wislawa Syzmborska. Translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak)

Reality demands
that we also mention this:
Life goes on.
It continues at Cannae and Borodino,
at Kosovo Poije and Guernica.

There's a gas station
on a little square in Jericho,
and wet paint
on park benches in Bila Hora.
Letters fly back and forth
between Pearl Harbor and Hastings,
a moving van passes
beneath the eye of the lion at Cheronea,
and the blooming orchards near Verdun
cannot escape
the approaching atmospheric front.

There is so much Everything
that Nothing is hidden quite nicely.
Music pours
from the yachts moored at Actium
and couples dance on their sunlit decks.

So much is always going on,
that it must be going on all over.
Where not a stone still stands,
you see the Ice Cream Man
besieged by children.

Where Hiroshima had been
Hiroshima is again,
producing many products
for everyday use.

This terrifying world is not devoid of charms,
of the mornings
that make waking up worthwhile.

The grass is green
on Maciejowice's fields,
and it is studded with dew,
as is normal with grass.

Perhaps all fields are battlefields,
those we remember
and those that are forgotten:
the birch forests and the cedar forests,
the snow and the sand, the iridescent swamps
and the canyons of black defeat,
where now, when the need strikes, you don't cower
under a bush but squat behind it.

What moral flows from this? Probably none.
Only the blood flows, drying quickly,
and, as always, a few rivers, a few clouds.
On tragic mountain passes
the wind rips hats from unwitting heads
and we can't help
laughing at that.

Notes for the poem:

Cannae: an ancient village in Italy, the setting of the crushing defeat suffered by the Romans at the hand of Hannibal in 216 B.C.

Borodino: a village seventy miles west of Moscow, saw major conflict between the French army under Napoleon and the Russian army under General Kutuzov on September 7, 1812. The battle is chiefly remembered for the heavy casualties suffered on both sides.

Kosovo Polje: is infamous for the battle fought there on June 5, 1389, between Serbia and the Ottoman Empire that resulted in the collapse of Serbia.

Guernica: a small city in the Basque region of Spain, was subjected to a massive aerial bombing attack by the German air force, aided by Italy and Spain's national Fascist party, on April 26, 1937, at the height of the Spanish Civil War.

Jericho, located on the bank of the West Bank of the Jordan river, was the first Canaanite city to be attacked by the Israelites according to the account given in Joshua I:I-6:27.

Bilá Hora, near Prague, was the site of the Bohemian defeat at the hands of the Habsburgs on November 8, 1620.

Pearl Harbor was a United States naval base attacked without warning by the Japanese air force on December 7, 1941.

Hastings, sixty-two miles southeast of London, is famed as the setting for the victory of Norman invaders led by William the Conqueror over English forces serving King Harold on October 14, 1066.

Chaeronea, an ancient town in central Greece, was the site of the victory of Philip II of Macedon over a confederation of Greek states in 338 B.C.

Verdon, a garrison town in northeastern France, was reduced to ruins during its historic resistance to German forces in a series of World War I battles that ended in French victory during August 1917.

Actium was the scene of the decisive naval victory of Octavian over Mark Antony and Cleopatra on September 2, 31 B.C

Hiroshima is the Japanese city on which the United States dropped the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare on August 6, 1945.

Maciejowice is a village near Garwlolin, Poland, where on October 10, 1794, Polish forces under Tadeusz Kosciuszko were defeated by the Russian army under General Fersen.

Email from the Past

By some twisted turn in fate's blueprint I wandered yesterday, into my Yahoo Inbox. And a few seconds later I found myself sifting through the oldest Emails I wrote and the replies I received in return. Back then I stunk at writing. I had heavy punctuation problems and committed so many blunders. I had deleted most of the mails that were written to me except the ones from my father and sisters. Blood being thicker than water. My dad, who has a flair for a stricter English, wrote much better Emails. He used correct punctuation, full-stops when necessary with aptly placed commas.

To quote from the past, here is an email I wrote to my father on Tuesday, 25 October, 2005.

hi dad i am fine here .hope teh same for u all tehre.i
dont know what buses to go to XXXXXXX any direct
buses? i will be starting here on 27 th tht is
thursday and reach hyd by morning of 28 th .how is
rajeev?(My Nephew)

today was our last quiz.wrote net started
working in ur office.
convey my regards to mummy and akka.

thats all for now bye trinathg


As I read it now, my hand involuntarily reaches for Delete, Backspace, punctuation keys and a glass of water.

I grew up with strict English grammar rules from Wren and Martin, the thick red 1960's edition that governed our Sunday afternoons. In between English grammar lessons were sandwiched the Mathematics tutorial sessions that my dad organized so diligently. For English exams and other academic writing I continued to follow correct punctuation. But I guess for Emails I never cared to do that. I am not sure if my dad felt how wasted all his efforts turned out, after looking at my garbled up replies to his mails. Even if he had felt he might not have corrected inorder to give me some independence or a free reign to make a few mistakes. I remember filling an application form of any course/examination called for some tensed moments in my home. Every letter was written down slowly as if speed would spill some ink into the next block, the legitimate space of the next letter. White-laid, eraser and a Topaz blade were always by the side to cut out any mistakes that my sisters or I made filling out the forms. After the tense moments are over we would disperse to watch the daily serials on Doordarshan.

But things have changed since 2005. I started dipping my fingers into the honey-pot of Literature, English or otherwise. Slowly, the importance of the words, their weight and appropriateness seeped into my pen. But the boyishness in my writing was still present when I wrote the much eluding Statement of Purpose (SOP) in 2007 for my graduate studies in USA. After a rejection from Uncle Sam and spending two months reading and writing arbitrary verse gave me some hold on the absconding meaning in my words. Soon after I joined a job in Pune. I had a great time exploring the city in Food and Books. The romance of the first job and the company of some of the wonderful people (Krishna, Sravan and Pranab) I have ever met, enriched my experience. We had everyone of the writing world in this group. I wrote poetry, Sravan and Pranab adept in Fiction and Krishna, the Critique. I was taken, what is the word, under the wing, of Sravan and Krishna as soon as I landed in Pune. The importance of the words, communication, clarity and all the Orwellian rules of writing conquered the better part of me during the time I spent there.

Time doesn't have an obituary but may be an experience does. It slips away, bit by bit into the dark. There is no way we can remember all of the experiences that we had, that nudged our way into being this and now. But some exist I believe like eternal poems. Read and re-read till the end of time.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Foreword to Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann

The story of Hans Castorp, which we would here set forth, not on his own account. for in him the reader will make acquaintance with a simple-minded though pleasing young man, but for the sake of the story itself, which seems to us highly worth telling-- though it must needs be borne in mind, in Hans Castorp's behalf, that it is his story, and not every story happens to everybody -- this story, we say, belongs to the long ago; is already, so to speak, covered with historic mould, and unquestionably to be presented in the tense best suited to a narrative out of the depth of the past.

That should be no drawback to a story, but rather the reverse. Since histories must be in the past, then the more past the better, it would seem, for them in their character as histories, and for him, the teller of them, rounding wizard of the times gone by. With this story, moreover, it stands as it does to-day with human beings, not least among the writers of tales: it is far older than its years; its age may not be measured by length of days, nor the weight of time on its head reckoned by the rising or setting of suns. In a word, the degree of its antiquity has noways to do with the passage of time -- in which statement the author intentionally touches upon the strange and questionable double nature of that riddling element.

But we would not willfully obscure a plain matter. The exaggerated pastness of our narrative is due to its taking place before the epoch when a certain crisis shattered its way through life and consciousness and left a deep chasm behind. It takes place -- or rather, deliberately to avoid the present tense, it took place, and had taken place -- in that long ago, in that old days, the days of the world before the Great War, in the beginning of which so much began that has scarcely yet left off beginning. Yes, it took place before that; yet not so long before. Is not the pastness of the past the profounder, the completer, the more legendary, the more immediately before the present it falls? More than that, our story has, of its own nature, something of the legend about it now and again.

We shall tell it at length, thoroughly, in detail - for when did a narrative seem too long or too short by reason of the actual time or space it took up? We do not fear being called meticulous, inclining as we do to the view that only the exhaustive can be truly interesting.

Not all in a minute, then, will the narrator be finished with the story of our Hans. The seven days of a week will not suffice, no, nor seven months either. Best not too soon make too plain how much mortal time must pass over his head while he sits spun around in his spell. Heaven forbid it should be Seven years!

And now we begin.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What's happening?

Not so long ago, I was sleeping with the bedsheets rolled up into a pillow. What struck me, would give this blog another dig at existence. Looking often at the ceiling, I do what most self-proclaimed poets do to kill time. Imagine situations that will haunt me in dreams and further taunt to enlighten the public. Other's nightmares are manufactured like this. Unlike a good littérateur, I thought, I don't give enough updates about the universe I float in. Of hard-bounds and paper backs.

I happened to be at the recent Landmark sale where I picked up few books. Mostly hard-bounds. That has been the protocol for the book sale. Hard is good. Nevertheless, there were few paper-backs which got into the cart. This is the list of books.

Two Lives, Vikram Seth
Agent Zig Zag, Ben Macintyre
The Best American Poetry (2007): Various poets, literary giants, midgets and nobody.
Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson
The View from the Castle Rock, Alice Munroe
Loot and other short stories, Nadine Gordimer
Butter Chicken in Ludiana , Pankaj Mishra

My risks are really risky. So, I tend to go by the popular names in the literati, for my picks. Another definite yard stick is a Nobel Prize. Nadine Gordimer above. A writer friend of mine and I, have a pact to meet in Stockholm one day and throw open the banquet dinner at the Academy. I try in my small, nibbling ways. Chewing literature mote by mote. Our definitive plan would make a best seller. That's a different story anyway.

Among the listed loot, I have finished reading Two Lives. A really long book. But I never felt it, because of the flow in the story. I had to sit up for some chapters about Holocaust. And this is not the first time I have sat up to imagine the horror that's not described. This is a story of Seth's grand uncle and aunt, a German. She flees to England just in time to escape the deportation to the camps. The story goes back and forth, in letters, photographs and memories. Seth's description never leaves you time to turn the page.

Agent Zigzag, is the true story of a spy during WW II. I am half way through the book. It goes, more or less, in a chronological way describing the life of Eddie Chapman, the spy who works with Germans. He later turns into a double agent for Britain. What struck me is how personable and yet impersonal were the spy masters at Abwehr, the German counter intelligence agency. There could have been a greater description of the emotions of Chapman as a double agent. There are one or two letters written by the protagonist that throw some light. They bring forth the opinions of the spy on war, patriotism and on the times. Again, I should warn you, I am only a half way through the book. But I think I can conjecture about the style of writing. That it is drab and not much of a surprise.

Poetry without end rhymes or a pattern is like a wild horse. There are no rules at all. That is what people would make you believe. I look for an occasional rhyme, alliteration, metaphor, some familiar sound when I write. But modern poetry, apparently, is not just that. All this wisdom I get from The Best American Poetry, 2007. Here are the poets who have been published. I mean, unlike me. There are poems which make me wander in the empty space the writer leaves in the middle of a line. It almost looks like a "Fill-in-the-blank" section from school days. This particular poem was titled "Marriage" albeit with so many gaps. Anyway, I move on to further pages. Poetry published in "New American Writing" has both good and bad parts. I could see imagery relating to 9/11 and its after effects (Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan) . Something about war is raging in New American Writing. Another piece with this tag is titled "Super-Clean Country" that ends up throwing "shit" at the readers. I understand that this poem is about covering up a scandal. But somehow it doesn't sit well with the setting. Some Post-Modernist shit I guess. I reproduce it here:

A Super-Clean Country

You(almost) never see it in public so
You have to conjure it up all day long
Drag it into every conversation
To flesh out the corporate picture.

It's an inevitable verbal tic -- wouldn't you say?--
For a super-clean country.

Holy shit, that shit's wack.
She thinks she's hot shit but she ain't dogshit.
There's nothing but shit on the internet.
Why are you so hung up on shit like that?
I got some good shit at home, some far-out shit.
You're so full of shit, you dumbshit motherfucker.


Bill Bryson amuses me with his opening lines. For example "I come from Des Moines. Someone had to." from the book "The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America". He has a touch of humor to the travels and even travails at times. Most of the traveling I do is from my arm chair and cot. And I am never bored when I am with Bryson. In "Mother Tongue" Bryson charts the story of the English language and inadvertently takes us back to the times of Middle England where people spoke differently within a small town's distance. The formative years, so to speak. It is amusing, informative, surprising and at times universal about where it all came from. I am past the mid-way mile stone and not out of gas (petrol) yet.

The rest of the books are yet to be opened. May be next year. Again, years pass by and some never get picked. Just like us who are trying to hitch a ride to Stockholm.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Demon's Poetry

Poetry could be about ordinary things. Ordinary doesn't mean banal and trite. Nor boring and unimaginative. Demon's poetry falls exactly within these four pegs. Banality, triteness, boring and unimaginative. Ironically, the magazine which publishes it is called Reflections. Their mirrored images are distorted and ugly. I can't comment on the actuality. Let's begin with the dissection of the poem or whatever has been published in its name. It starts like this

When we feel hot, we switch on the fan
When we feel cold, we switch it off.

He seems to have a utilitarian approach to poetry. Using every day objects in poetry is not a bad idea but functions of a fan, the switching on and off of lights doesn't seem poetic to my untrained eye. But he has more in the offing. He switches his visions on and off forcing me to sit in the dark and contemplate to become a psycho. It is a torture camp with repeated shocks. There might be myriad definitions of poetry but I am not sure if this has yet reached the people who define things. They might trash everything else to embrace this, for its clarity in being unimaginative. Why has he started off his piece like this? One may soon wonder. Is it a clever trick? Is there something more to this simple description of how a fan works, which my mind warps in trying to understand? Is he laughing at all of us behind this mirror? I reflect for long hours and conclude that I should be blaming my parents and teachers for not enrolling me in the right schools of thought.

In the first Four couplets (I regret to use a poetic term like this) the word "switch" occurs Nine times. Demon switches on and off various things as if he is testing, searching for any metaphors available in his daily life. He reaches to his mind finally and states that one cannot switch it off. It is always running. I wish he switched it off and saved a tree instead. As a civil engineer he is known for his strong sense of principles of structural design. No over designed elements. As if compensating, his poetry is filled with redundancies. One might say, brush off this nonsense. Take the intent of the poem. I am sorry, the intent starts only after ten to fifteen lines of these unintended. One gets bored of the setting as soon as they step in.

The next few lines concentrate on what our attitudes towards life should be. Why money and fame are not everything and other such self-help routines. He yaps all this for the benefit of adolescents who don't know what money is. I mean real money. Nor any fame. Their shot to fame is getting past the toughest exam in the country. Sure this is going to scare them off. The thing that is scary is not his poetry though. The possibility, that some one might emulate him in poetry and wreak a havoc.

Like a juggernaut he moves on after few sermons to comparing human mind to a computer. It appears that he revels, finds joy in whatever he writes about this analogy. He says there are many hidden programs running in mind just like in a computer. That's a shot in the arm.Then he goes on about algorithms, restarting, booting, rebooting and other PC paraphernalia. After leaving the reader in the trenches of this battle, he moves on to dispense wisdom about how to live life. Modern education, whatever it is, is unable to teach that elusive art of wise living according to the poem. There are lines about how to concentrate and meditate without any digression. It is a bawl of self help phrases in the poem. One competes with the other for its arbitrariness and placement. All in all, a muddled thought and reflection in a broken mirror.

Hauntingly the poem is named "Mind Control". I would never give my mind to his control. Neither should you.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

What's Human?

The start of a great idea happens on a blank page like this. You got to be blank to get that idea. How blank is anyone, by the way? Everyone has something going on in their life. A nagging trouble I mean. If not world politics, some local stories of unimportance. We can't get to a state of clean slate anytime. Then what's the point of this objective thinking. We can't get ourselves out of this muck of sensory inputs which pin us down to only a particular reference frame, may be a two or three for the intellects out there, but largely leaving us in quandary about the universe. About nature. About facts. Forget about Truth alright. There is disagreement on whether it exists as a singular or in multitude. There isn't any lab which would fix that. Not yet, I suppose.

Quandary as a child is an innocently cute act. You would get hugs and kisses from all the loved ones for the doubtful eyes you cast on any judgment. There is even an admiration about the various points of view you hold as a child, however stupid they seem to you now. I have seen parents getting together and admiring each others' children. It's a ritual of acceptance of their style of upbringing. As much as an architect seeking approval for the blue print he provides for a community hall. The blue print here is to understand this complex world which seemed too opaque to the earlier generations. To give them the benefit of doubt, I would assume that they had studied and determined the opacity of things. Their progenies would do the same. In different professions and of course expressing their helplessness in different gestures and mannerisms.

Objective thinking might require us to be insensitive, to keep cool, to be not affected by any emotions. I won't say a clean slate like mind. Just a different slate may be. Much like a dual switch between objectivity that doesn't hurt and a compromise that is life. I think irrationality plays as much role in life as rationality does. Between any two rational acts there may be countless irrational thoughts. Much like between two rational numbers there are many irrational ones. I am not sure if there is any single mind which hasn't even thought anything irrational before crossing it out as an impossibility. Our irrationality might be keeping us human in a sense. Could we tag beauty, love, hate, anger, contentment, pride, guilt and other feelings as rational? Is there a rational anger? There might be logical anger. Yet there might not be a logical love. May be a rational love? How insipid that would be? May be these feelings, call them irrationalities if you will, are as much needed as the bridges of rationality that we construct between truths or facts.

Cartesian thinking (originated from Rene Descartes) summed up in the phrase "I think therefore I am" is a very strong case for rationality. It led to successive thinkers to view the world in a Newtonian frame. That the universe is governed by definite laws. Without ambiguities. Then came quantum theory essentially multiple ( dual as of now) states of an object. I can't help notice the overlap ( of times but may be ideas too) in the rise and acceptance of Non-determinism and Existentialism in the Twentieth century. There might not be any connection but the irony of this overlap is interesting. In search for what's human and essentially for a purpose to our existence we have hit upon a quagmire of multitude. Confused multi-level parking lots. Each of us has a favorite spot there.

We stand on a slippery ground of rationality. And to hold ourselves together we need multiple supports. May be multiple constructs of truths. We might be accepting a few now, but what defines us as human would be an openness to accept others' truths. And this is a very difficult thing to do for collective societies.