Sunday, 9 December 2012

Shadows in the Night

What was my worst fear has materialized. I'm the owner of a dormant blog.

H

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Getting Fresh - II

(For Part-I of this post, visit http://hamstersqueaks.blogspot.in/2012/07/getting-fresh.html)


The lackadaisical lifestyle that dominated my first half at Munger very quickly gave way to frenetic- there's no other word for it- work.

I used the white board more times in three days than I ever did back in my hostel room in four years
I worked for 14 hours a day. I worked on Sundays and I worked from 11 to 6 in the night (or the morning, whatever) and just when it seemed to me that I was going to go the way of the dinosaurs, a convocation happened.


For a couple of days, I found myself back in the infernal institute which had bad food, erratic and mostly poor internet and with a penchant for cutting out the power on the eve of an examination. It was then that I had the most predictable epiphany.

You don't need great luxury if you can slouch all day with a bunch of basters.

Add the fact that I barely had a chance to bid farewell to everyone on my own terms (courtesy a broken fibula) and you'd know that I clicked a lot of photos.





Thank God for convocations; I'm waiting for my official batch reunion now
(which should come on some date in 2037).

*************

On the journey back to Munger, I was struck by the sight of a monstrously long queue awaiting the same train I was supposed to board. Easily running down a hundred metres or so, it was whipped into place by a few policemen who looked bored with the mundane task of handling scores of disgruntled passengers all clamouring for a way to slip ahead in the line, a lathi or two be damned. My attempts to take a snap were aborted when I noticed the anti-elitist stink eye I received from a fair few fellow travelers and I could only afford to lock away the image of that human snake winding its way down the platform in Howrah. The poor souls only wanted a square feet of area (or less) - enough space for a trip back home.

**************
I end this note with what I hope would be an enduring symbol of my experiences in the strange cut-off town that is Munger.


Wednesday, 18 July 2012

HWR - 4

Strictly or even loosely speaking, the following post is hardly a weekly roundup. I've been on the move for a month now with little or no internet access. I did manage to finish a couple of books. John le Carre's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold  was a well written espionage novel. It was the only copy left in the Carre section at a stall in the World Book Fair (I beat some good friends to that last book). The book is about an agent of the British secret service who's out on a mission, his final one, to discredit and ultimately eliminate his counterpart on the Red End. It's less of James Bond in terms of action and rather heavy with the tribulations of the battered and weary protagonist.

The highlight of 2012 will also most definitely consist of Roger Federer's 17th Grand Slam title, allowing the Swiss maestro to reclaim the rank 1 spot and further emboldening his place in the pantheon of sporting greats. I had written a post on him not so far back as a fan and it's a great privilege to see him play for some more glorious years.

Here, then, is a list of links and articles I found interesting:
  1. Allow me to begin with a must read article on the state of Federer's mind before Wimbledon. Positive and slightly cautious in its outlook, it's worth a few minutes of your time.
  2. This one's a really #longread. A mammoth 12000 word essay on Gandhiji.
  3. I intended to write a long piece on the state of morality in the corporate world but then there are several articles on the Libor case already, including this one from HBR.
  4. The demise of Rajesh Khanna closes another memorable chapter of Bollywood's history. Open magazine published an excellent story on the rise and fall of RK a month ago. Do read it.
That's it.

H

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Getting Fresh


The blog that you are reading has never had a moment’s rest. It was born out of the desperation of a crippled student stranded on his bed for more than 45 days. Weeks that the student under question could have spent rafting, trekking, bungee jumping, spelunking, hang gliding… or at least clicking a few photos of the small town that is Roorkee.

The canvas has changed dramatically. A fresh post ultimately comes after being inducted into the corporate world. The first two weeks at Kolkata were spent at an awesome luxury hotel. Years spent in a hostel with the very worst in lavatory facilities; it was slightly overwhelming to see a bathroom of such calibre. The corporate induction programme wasn’t bad either.

Heaven hath no joy as this.

A glass of cold milk with ice please

Add another two days of “experiential learning” at a resort that was part fun part farce. Then a week in a jolly old guesthouse that was warm and kind and slightly mouldy. The circle of life was completed rather quickly- I was back to daal sabzi. It was also the week when I began my work life, in a factory with the heavy smell of tobacco and the constant whirring of machines, which meant that a few sensory organs had to be put under suspended animation.

Bangla United
Work life began but not with the smooth pick up of a Ferrari. It coughed and spluttered, gathered pace only to lose direction and finally ground itself to an abrupt halt by Saturday. Restaurants and book stores were visited but with a sort of tired franticness that I had never experienced before. Gangs of Wasseypur also made it to the menu, making June the only month in my entire life when I could see two movies at the cinema.

I am learning again but not from books. A bunch of people with very different views and expectations from the world is a welcome relief from the pseudo protection I received from like- minded peers. I have to fight for my convictions; I have to concede the weaker ones among them.

****************

Munger is a philosopher’s dream. Even after a murderous day of work you can return and spend an hour or so staring at the high ceiling, constantly going through a path of depressing self-discovery. There is a certain sense of desperation in this land of goats and desi kattas; a feeling of distaste lingers at the back of your mind. You are moulting again and it’s no less painful. Bursts of excitement in witnessing the state of the art management practices are interspersed with the wariness that can only come to a body that has never run for more than two hours at a stretch.

My very first week at Bihar also included a trip to adjoining villages. We returned with torrential rain on our heels, the lush green countryside a sight to behold. A trip to an old fort where Mir Qasim allegedly spent his last years in exile was also squeezed into the itinerary. On top of the hill, staring away into the distance with the vast expanse of villages, hills infested with Naxals and rivers and streams slithering away to the sea you couldn’t help but think of all the people out there, playing out their insignificant parts, never to be recorded or remembered. 

The hill will still remain.

 Mentha oil extraction requires this crude but highly effective distillation column
Arvi


****************

The leg swells up occasionally. My forays into the employee township generally end at the community club where I’ve started playing snooker (I’m at level abysmal currently). For days when I came out, generally accompanied with the harsh and now slightly familiar sting of rookie-rape, I barely noticed the tennis courts and the curious mix of kids and thirty somethings whacking their way to a sweat. After 8th July, after Federer’s majestic and awe inspiring victory at Wimbledon, I stop there for more than a few minutes. One thought beseeches my mind.

The court is tiny. I mean it. When you watch the game on TV you often forget that the battleground of the likes of Laver, Borg and Emerson never changed. And I forget that the seemingly huge surface isn’t all that big. To think of all the angles, the insane drop shots and blistering groundstrokes that the Federer racquet conjures up take place in a court of exactly the same dimensions is simply belittling. There I stood staring at the opposite end and wondering how I had let slip this obvious fact. The difference between the top twenty and the rest of the field was never more apparent. It just isn’t enough to know how to play the game. Can you squeeze as much juice per inch of playing surface?

BTW, Federer is the GOAT.

****************

Another Sunday has come and we’ve all been advised to be careful and wary of snakes. I am waiting for my turn as the local barber (naayee) snips and cuts away with the pitter-patter of raindrops in the background.

The place looks a lot like my alma mater



(to be continued)








Friday, 1 June 2012

A Belated Eulogy


Steve Jobs, pioneer of the computer as a jail made cool, designed to sever fools from their freedom, has died.
                                  -  Richard Stallman

On October 5, 2011 it seemed the world at large was in grief over the untimely death of a great entrepreneur. Hashtags abounded (#iSad?), cut-copy-paste was channelled effectively in sharing eulogies and there was turmoil of despair in the minds of millions of wannabes.

The dust has largely settled. It’s much safer to wade against that time’s tide and it gives me a chance to say a few things that have been brewing in my mind ever since the departure of a great visionary. I thought of many ways to begin a measured tirade but I have a somewhat easier approach to bring home my case with an appropriate analogy. The Oatmeal, an instrument of satire and slapstick had recently called Thomas Alva Edison as the biggest douchebag in the history of geekdom. The accusations levelled against Edison can be briefly listed as follows:
  1. That he did not invent the light bulb himself but only improved it in a way that made it accessible to everyone. “Edison simply figured out how to sell the light bulb.”
  2. “Edison was not a geek; he was a CEO.”
  3. “Edison was known for rushing to the patent office as soon as one of his employees had something.”
  4. He was utterly ruthless with his employees (even with Tesla when he worked under Edison) and would get down to ridiculous levels of savagery to disparage his rivals' works.
The Oatmeal guy then concludes his robust and highly impartial analysis of the achievements of Edison with the following apt conclusion:

In short, the only thing Edison truly pioneered was douchebaggery.

See anything familiar?

Exactly.

Monday, 28 May 2012

HWR - 3

It was an emotionally turbo-charged week. I am out of IIT Roorkee...

(I'll write a post on it some time)

This week's round-up has variety and I hope you like the links. As usual, please comment and disagree:
  1. Neil Gaiman gave a commencement speech at The University of the Arts. Really inspirational stuff.
  2. A highly readable short piece on how minor and generally insignificant research is excitedly taken up by the media and grotesquely misrepresented.
  3. Facebook has been lambasted too many times in the past 10 days and I thought I'd post this article on how it threatens to take down most of the net based companies as well.
  4. I've shown this link to several friends but for those of you who have missed it, take a look at Darth L. Jackson.
That's all for this edition of HWR. 

P.S. My companions at my Alma Mater are sorely missed.

H

Update: The Neil Gaiman Vimeo link has been causing problems for a lot of people. You can watch it on Youtube.

Friday, 18 May 2012

The Battle for Grammar


There was a time not very long ago when I used to feel very proud of my control over grammar. You know, your ears prickle when you hear an incorrect sentence, you have the ability to catch hold of the best way to express a thought and you’re able to correctly apply some of the more rigid rules (those that are less conducive to being explained through simple logic) of the Queen’s. I lived in a happy bubble. Even after turning incredibly lazy and occasionally spewing out a dirtier combination of easy-to-use phrases, I still turn red whenever I make a blatant error. I wasn't the only person to harbour a feeling of supremacy and quiet contentment. The number of grammar conscious people constantly increased in my circle and all was well.


Or so it seemed. Peers play a crucial role in moulding your tastes. I had no qualms about using SMS slang in chats and texts. I had no problem not using the proper sentence case while typing. Not until I experienced deep disapproval from my seniors that I changed my preferences and started looking down upon the lowly classes. “That guy writes ‘hawt’!” or “I can’t understand why they spell ‘kool’ when the original’s in four letters too”.  I was part of the elite, the Right, a protector of the sacrosanct ways of English. I could only generate sympathy for the other side in a good mood, and scorn otherwise.

Things started changing soon. For one thing, your friends are a mirror of your own self and I could see how I looked to the outside world- patronizing, insensitive and deluded. Besides, there was a limit to my desire of emulating my peers. As the years went by, I thought I had narrowed my view of the world. The argument that resulted from my mental meanderings was this: as long as you can convey your thoughts to the intended recipient does it actually matter if you use proper grammar? And who sets the rules anyway? If we had not digressed from the standards set by the pre-eminent linguists of the era we’d still be using old English. Shakespeare would have been convicted for gross sacrilege and hanged as he invented words on the go to suit his need and distorted verbs and tenses that go far beyond anything else done by a writer in the name of poetic license. Language is a living body; it reflects the pace and needs of our times. We might just end up with Newspeak. But the difference is that people aren’t being forced onto a newer language, we’re adapting it to our lifestyles. On the other hand, a Hagrid sort of a guy generally wouldn’t get a chance to speak at an international conference of leaders. His language may be a natural consequence of his environment but it’s like the FPS system. It’s good enough for the entire course of a person’s life but wouldn’t fetch him/her an entry into a science seminar where the de facto standard is the SI.

As it turned out, I didn’t have to search very far to receive a context to my tribulations. There is a raging debate going on in the academic world, the battle between the Prescriptivists and the Descriptivists.

A brief description is warranted. Precriptivists are the conservatives. They demand the need to define and regulate the form of language. There are rules and these must be followed to maintain the beauty of language and to keep out all forms of ambiguity or dilution of standards. A case in point is the difference between the use of “who” for the subject and “whom” for the object in a sentence. They say that rules are important to avoid chaos and to keep everyone in line (at the expense of losing those who couldn’t be inducted in the right way). Descriptivists are those who believe that rules are nothing but the current predominant state of usage. It’s enough for a child who learns a language from his environment and then uses it to communicate effectively with others. An emphasis on rules necessitates bias against certain dialects and forms. Language is a living system of internally consistent logic. Many of the rules, they say, have no basis in them. They are, to use Steven Pinker’s words, “old wives' tales”.

I mention Pinker’s name to stress that this is not a debate between the academics and the masses. It’s a battle that’s raging between the top psychologists and linguists of the world. A recent essay by Joan Acocella sparked off a skirmish between the two sections. On first glance and to an uninitiated mind the review is a lengthy discussion of the merits and fallacies of a recently published book. A more informed read tells you that the reviewer has launched a scathing attack on the decriptivists. It would have been all well too, except that Acocella makes several mistakes in her analysis. Consequently, her review has been lambasted  and ridiculed. You can’t launch an attack without knowing your terrain.

To my mind, the greatest difference between the two sides is the emphasis which they put on the role of rules in defining a language. It would be easy to state that a middle path is desired, one that allows language to evolve continuously but with the rules there in place to avoid confusion. It sounds simple. It isn’t. The hardest thing for an intelligent mind which has spent years on a problem is for it to concede or compromise. I don’t think rules are so important. I don’t find anything wrong with slang. Historically, truth and convention are defined by the majority. The day enough people regularly write hawt instead of hot will be the day it’s inducted into the dictionary.

Take it away, Bob:

For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

HWR-2

A big yawn to you all. I'm not really in a mood to be articulate today. Let's just get on with the round up:

  1. Theoretically, all electromagnetic waves can be refracted. The amount of refraction naturally depends on the wavelength and it's been very hard to see any such effect on gamma rays. Not anymore. Researchers have managed to bend gamma radiation, with many possible applications in technology.
  2. This one's for movie buffs. Here's a rare picture of the impressive gamut of stars MGM was once proud to possess. (1943)
  3. A link for the increasing number of committed friends around me. A list of 42 ways to break up. (Warning: The list is huge. I haven't gone through the entire thing myself)
  4. On to football now. I'm not sure how many people know about it because I haven't seen any talk or discussion. John Terry's photo was used by the Indian Health Ministry in its quit smoking graphic on all cigarette packs produced in India. Let the jokes roll.
That's about it. The week has been consumed by my BTP and all that lack of sleep has turned me into a wreck. I hope I can post something apart from an HWR next time. 

H

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Haaris' Weekly Roundup

Too much of free time can kill you. It's a lesson I've learnt the hard way, after spending weeks in bed with a few painful excursions to the bathroom. It's at times like this when you must get all the grime off your life, or you'll end up like a sloth in the jungle.

I'm starting a new feature on my blog. It's not original but I don't think anyone else will be doing it in my fields of interest. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Haaris' Weekly Roundup, a collection of anecdotes, must read articles and other topics of interest for you and me to discuss. I'm sure a lot of you will crinkle your noses in disgust and say, "It's not going to work" but the thing is, life changes too quickly for anyone to regret a bad blogging decision. 

So (rubbing my hands together), let's kick off:

  1. Most of us keep the Economist in very high esteem, and it's not uncalled for- they have a measured style of writing and their way of putting forward their case is seductive- but it seems that their opinion articles are, well, highly opinionated. Several economists have questioned the supposed absence of balance and meaning in their articles. Par exemple, read.
  2. A lot of us (excluding me) have seen the Avengers movie and the response has been very good. The movie has earned about 200 million dollars beating the previous record set by HP 7-2. BUT, do our comic buffs know about the boycott of the same movie called by some prominent cartoonists . The reason (as I mentioned in a tweet) is the apparent injustice meted out to the illustrator of the Avengers and several other prominent Marvel comic characters, Jack Kirby. In an essay, read and feel.
  3. Moving on to astronomy, if you've missed it, do take a look at how a blackhole devours a star.
  4. Tom Alters has written a very sentimental and touching post on how Sunil Gavaskar has changed from being a stalwart of the Indian batting line-up to someone who has to endure amateurs discussing IPL cricket with him.
I can go on actually but I don't want to. I'll limit myself to a maximum of five links every week. Read the ones you're interested in, and do revert back and comment.

Never fracture your fibula. 

H

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Sporty Behaviour



If you’d ask me, I’d say all of sports is a big sham. Probably the biggest of them all. Millions or even billions of dollars going up in smoke over a bunch of guys in shorts who spend an hour or more grunting, cussing and running all over the place. Think about it. What have they done for us? Have they cured a life threatening disease? Have they stopped wars, or given birth to the steam engine or even the little Post-It notes that dot my desk? No, sir, they have not.

I remember as a lad when people used to start shedding tears whenever we lost a critical fixture at the Cricket World Cup. Not to mention all those who harangue their own senses by hockey’s "sad" demise in our sporting culture. These days we’re all obsessed with the Premier League, something that confounds my mind to no end. It’s the height of irony. People in India tend to support the predominant teams of the decade. In a way, you can tell when your friend started watching club football. If it’s Arsenal, it was probably during the Invincibles season, Chelsea for the Mourinho era and United does the job of ensnaring all our remaining die-hard fans. No Sunderland, no Blackburn (with or without Indian ownership) and definitely no West Ham (that’s taboo).

Don’t brand me a heretic. I’m ready to fight my case. When a team or an individual or a mix of both get famous, brands are all ready to splurge their booty for a 15 second commercial that leaves some of us salivating. Fuming in my case. You could do a lot with that cash. Give it to the families of those who’ve sacrificed their lives in the army, or use it to help the poor and the unfairly deprived. I get it when someone works to earn his money. I just don’t understand the logic behind the crunching of numbers in this case.

Of course, I can make an exception with certain sports. Or certain individuals. Take Roger Federer, for instance. One look at him and you can tell he’s special. The sort you see once in your lifetime. Calm, elegant, and with shots that speak of grandeur and understated efficiency in one go. Nadal’s good but he runs around too much for my liking. That’s a lot of hard work and getting brutishly physical. Achievable as well, I expect a horde of clones in the near future. Djokovic is on fire but then it’s hard to see how he can keep this up. Even today, when Roger plays, he makes his job look ridiculously easy. That is, I think, the mark of a true genius. You work as hard as you can to get there but not without some innate talent. If you can look at a sportsperson play, and then shake your head with a I-can’t-do-that-the-way-he-does look, the player is huge.

My obsession with Roger started in the summer of 2004. I was then an admirer of Andy Roddick. Boom-boom serve and all that. The Wimbledon final was on air. The match was a big one, Federer defending his title against a resurgent Roddick, looking for a shot at reclaiming his No.1 ranking. Federer won in straight sets. And I shamelessly switched allegiances. It was all smooth sailing from then on. For several years then, there was a juggernaut annihilating everything in its path, and as a fan I was happily sitting on the bandwagon. Things started to change after the Wimbledon 2007 final. You could see the great man was struggling. The victory was difficult, and mononucleosis followed the next year. In one swift stroke, I was thrown out of the lazy comfort of my courtside loyalty into the dark streets of uncertainty and doubt. Every point lost was terrible, each title lost was a pain that shot up my forehead. It reached a nadir when a victory could only bring relief while every loss brought days of disillusionment and despondency.

That’s when I realized the three stages of fan following. They don’t necessarily follow a particular order. But this is my story, and this is how it went. There’s this glorious phase of upsurge and triumph where you can only get better, when a loss is only a stepping stone to even more greatness. It’s easy to support your man, and you can let loose screams of vindication, and snarls of condescension. Then, the plateau. A phase of recurring patterns, of victories in familiar grounds, of defeats that shouldn't have really happened, it’s when you start coming to terms with the possibility of vulnerability and mortality. It becomes hard to accept things as they come and a lot of your mates have a thing or two to say about your erstwhile claims. And then there’s the last stage. You happily accept what comes your way. You will most happily revel in victory but a loss would only mean a kind shrug of the shoulders and a fatherly clap on the back of your man. 

All right I admit it. I am a hypocrite. Arrest me if you will. I don’t think sports is so great, that Lionel Messi is a lot more than a short kid who runs really quickly. I mean, think about it. What have these people done to our lives? Made us happier? Only if you are ready to immerse yourself in their victories and defeats. If I had my way, I’d tell every sportsperson that playing sports is deeply atavistic, a throw-back to the times when we had to live a Captain Caveman life. Grow up folks, we’ve evolved over the years, we need to get a thrill from sophisticated, metaphysical constructs. Not animalistic activities. I do make liberal exceptions and while I write this the French Open shall soon begin. Allez Federer! Get through the semi-finals and I’ll be proud of you!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Ukodus



It’s the big day. I’m ready to take up the cudgels, after weeks of solid procrastination. So solid that a neutrino would slow down and kill itself rather than make an attempt at penetration. Breakfast was unhealthy- pakora with a slice of pastry. It hasn’t exactly done my stomach any favours but it’ll have to do. Lesser people have completed it under more daunting circumstances.

I need to secure the area.

I have a customary chit-chat with my next door neighbour. We discuss how Mourinho might get Pepe killed before leaving Real, that is of course if they lose La Liga (which they seem to at this point). I nod through the discussion and think of the classes I’ll encounter in the week to come, an excessively fruitless endeavour seeing that 4-2 in Chemical is a vacation in sheep’s clothing. The sun is out and we move in. I don’t have to worry about anyone visiting my room anytime soon.

It’s my moment of glory.

With a deep breath (very deep since I wanted this gust of oxygen to symbolize the gravitas of the occasion) and a quick prayer to the one above, I begin.

Five minutes in, I can afford a smile. A five star Sudoku and I’m three boxes down. I should now draw energy from my immeasurably large reserve of intellect and razor sharp decision making prowess. I should unsheathe my sword of purpose and kill the beast.

I start singing.

A minute in – I’m singing an MJ track in a falsetto which sounds very close to the original. If only I could thrust my pelvis in the same way- I see that something is very wrong. I’ve slowed down. I had been sailing through the puzzle with the winds of inspiration blowing me on. Looks like I’ve hit the doldrums. I need to regroup. Stick to the basics. Approach the most conducive of empty spaces and count. Everything that you’ll ever need to solve this infernal logjam is there in front of you. Don’t worry that it’s a five star puzzle and you’ve only ever solved a three star before taking on the ….

I am panicking.

It’s at moments like these when you need the weight of experience behind you. I knew what must be done. I pull my lappy towards me and open Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, xkcd and a dozen other standard web pages. There, that should take my mind off the tension of morale sapping defeat. Apparently the Wrestlemania battle royale between Cena and the Rock was fixed. Puh-lease, as if anyone outside the States didn’t know that. Just to make sure, I watch the link on Dailymotion anyway. Concentration is difficult to attain especially when you’re supposed to climb Nanda Devi with a pair of sneakers and low waist jeans (they might get you chicks (I doubt that) but what about Sherpa babes). I can’t allow my time to be desecrated when I have about five comic strips to go through and someone might just have retweeted my views on Coal India’s land acquisition policy. At the same time I don’t want a sea of guilt to wash over me all day. High tide. Low tide. So I keep an eye on the puzzle and try to find out if there’s a way to seek inspiration from an episode of Family Guy.

I hate myself.

In the end, after an hour of pointless jabbing (as pointless as cutting through Cautley bhawan’s rotis with an instrument as classless as your teeth), I still go on. I’m not joking. I’m not a coward and I pack up my focus. Genius is 99% perspiration. Ekla chalo re. This is my chance at redemption, a chance to make my four years at IITR all worth the lost sleep.

Until I realize I can blog on it instead.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Gods and War


For one who prides himself on having read the best books in every genre, it’s quite humbling to set your own words in motion on a piece of paper. It's difficult, to say the least. I wouldn't have put in half the effort if the process itself hadn't been so exhilarating. 

Standing on the shoulders of giants is all fine but who's going to get you up that high?

Virgil might just have felt the same. He is best known for his epic The Aeneid, which is a stunning account of the life of the hero and legendary progenitor of Rome, Aeneas (ee-nee-uhs). Our hero is a son of Venus and one of the very few Trojans to have survived the battle of Troy. The epic is the story of his journey of exile from his beloved motherland to the alien shores of Latinum (Italy).

'I myself, a stranger, in want, and driven
From Europe and Asia, now wander these Libyan shores'

While writing his magnum opus Virgil was working under a number of peculiar constraints. For one, he would have known that he was living under the shadow of the undisputed master of the epic form - Homer. The other was the more dicey aspect of narrating the story out to Augustus Caesar. One wrong word and you could land up in a pit full of lions. As a result, you see several gratuitous overtures being made to the regent which somehow only enhance the appeal of the final work. 

Virgil’s masterly understanding of the human psyche is marvellous. Aeneas is all that a hero can be, or has ever been. Driven into exile and almost shipwrecked he lands up in Libya only to fall in love with the queen of Carthage, Dido. Virgil seems to take his cue from the Antony-Cleopatra affair and predictably, Dido commits suicide when Aeneas must leave to fulfill his destiny.

Ah, pitiless Love, to what shifts dost thou drive men's hearts!

The second part of the story deals principally with a war that Aeneas is fated to fight to win the right to marry princess Lavinia and attain true legitimacy over the kingdom of Latinum (It was always about the girl, wasn't it?).

The gods feature prominently in the story and therein lies the irony of life. The victor and the vanquished pray alike. No person is actually evil; they are all working for what they believe is right. Virgil invites us to smile at the tragedy of life, the fragility of divine inspiration and the "tension between the public voice of celebration and the tragic private voice." Greatness is achieved but at the cost of deep personal sorrow.

Go read the book for its simply awesome war scenes. Virgil effectively paints a combination of Troy, Ben Hur and the Ten Commandments through the power of his words. I knew the entire story before beginning the book and despite that, I was hooked. It’s powerful stuff. Especially the insults.

'Broidered all over, your hearts are set upon sloth,
You love to join in the dance; your tunics have sleeves,
And your caps are fastened with ribbons. You Phrygian women-
No Phrygian men are you- begone to the heights
Of Dindymus, up there where the twofold mouths of the pipe
Utter music to those who love those familiar strains.
The tambourines and Cybele's boxwood flute,
The notes of the Mother of Ida are calling to you;
Leave fighting to men; abandon to others the sword.'

Before I wind this, I'd like to point out something interesting. People talk about an invisible wall between what is known as the rigid western philosophy and the softer, more diffused sense of eastern consciousness.

The following lines seem to suggest otherwise.

Don't read it. It's not necessary. 


‘Firstly, a spirit within them nourishes the sky and earth,
the watery plains, the shining orb of the moon,
and Titan’s star, and Mind, flowing through matter,
vivifies the whole mass, and mingles with its vast frame.
From it come the species of man and beast, and winged lives,
and the monsters the sea contains beneath its marbled waves.
The power of those seeds is fiery, and their origin divine,
so long as harmful matter doesn’t impede them
and terrestrial bodies and mortal limbs don’t dull them.
Through those they fear and desire, and grieve and joy,
and enclosed in night and a dark dungeon, can’t see the light.
Why, when life leaves them at the final hour,
still all of the evil, all the plagues of the flesh, alas,
have not completely vanished, and many things, long hardened
deep within, must of necessity be ingrained, in strange ways.
So they are scourged by torments, and pay the price
for former sins: some are hung, stretched out,
to the hollow winds, the taint of wickedness is cleansed
for others in vast gulfs, or burned away with fire:
each spirit suffers its own: then we are sent
through wide Elysium, and we few stay in the joyous fields,
for a length of days, till the cycle of time,
complete, removes the hardened stain, and leaves
pure ethereal thought, and the brightness of natural air.
All these others the god calls in a great crowd to the river Lethe,
after they have turned the wheel for a thousand years,
so that, truly forgetting, they can revisit the vault above,
and begin with a desire to return to the flesh.’



P.S.- In the last post I forgot to add that the Tech Quiz at Gnosiomania, MNNIT was the first quiz I won after joining IITR. Our team consisted of Moh, Battula and yours truly. One fifth year with two facchas. Take that.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

A time to make amends


In starting this blog, I am undertaking several risks. The first of these is what you'd term as self- dignity.

Flashback to January 2009. It was my first quizzing trip, to Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology (MNNIT). Somewhere along the journey, on the bus to New Delhi, I had the definitive opportunity to meet a real life blogger. Until then the concept of writing for no cause seemed to be as pointless as a half-fry without bun-butter.

I must emphasise the importance of what follows. To give you an idea, let us momentarily skip back a few centuries to the Renaissance. When Leonardo da Vinci was toiling over his brass horse, he made it using the standard practices of the day. Making any brass sculpture was preluded by an exact clay replica which contained all the little details the artist wanted to incorporate. In a literal sense, therefore, you need to know where you’re going. Sometimes you get an exact replica, quite often you have to make do.

Even the greatest artists needed a model to train themselves over.

And that applies for us mortals too- we like to have a model in front of us, only that it takes the shape of ideals and morals, role models and ambitions, and other remnants bestowed by our evolutionary predecessors. 

So here's a snippet of the ensuing conversation:

Battula: Hey, ra, so how's your blog doing?
Murtha: Pretty good. It's getting more popular by the day [sic].

In case you're wondering about the veracity of that statement, check exhibit A. 

That day, that singular moment convinced me at heart never to write a blog in my life. I have only managed to get over this stubborn resolve after 3 years of living on.

Then there's the whole issue of content. The question is, why would anyone read my blog? What can I add to the simply overwhelming body of literature, of science writing and of philosophers and pun-sters that can allow me to carve out my own niche? 

Some very close friends tell me that their blog is their own personal diary which they maintain for the sole purpose of keeping hold of their thoughts, something like Dumbledore's pensieve. Then why do they keep it public? Why don't they maintain it on Word or in an actual paper diary? Surely, you can't write all your thoughts in the public domain. No one does that. Your thoughts then are in grave jeopardy of being lost for eternity. 

Why does one maintain a blog?

I've spent several years mulling over this question. In this time, I have consciously avoided all further blog posts from my friends, a few occasional peeks notwithstanding. I've seen enough to know people who load their writing with heavy deadweight words, others with a queer style of old school English and, to be fair, a few good reads by people I hold in high esteem.

I think I have an answer now. It has something to do with the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. You need to tell your story. You need to unload your experiences to someone. Being a recluse offers scant comfort to the part of you that wants to grab the attention of the masses.

This then, shall be a brief account of my life's story. I intend it to be a blog which carries more information in it, something which I am sure Shannon would appreciate. I would also like it to function as a critique of the expansive amount of literature that I read daily and also to include other things that interest me. This is a space devoted to you, reader, whoever you are. It is time to set the record straight. It is time to make amends.

H