Tuesday, December 28, 2010

When you're not looking

It's incredible how in the most fleeting of moments, one realises that tectonic shifts have occurred in one's world. And I didnt even feel any tremors.

A shy cousin has metamorphosed near-swanlike into a confident young woman, and yesterday, while I got all emo and misty-eyed, she swept me up into a big hug moments after her wedding. I swear it was as if a mental projector had started to superimpose her elegant sari-clad avatar over onto the girl with blue braces in matching blue pinafore who jumped up and down on a mattress in the hall while Ricky Martin counted numbers in Spanish before she sagely explained to me that her excitement was becoz he was the best singer in the world. And as Phil Collins' A Groovy Kinda Love played yesterday as she danced with her new husband, I realised her musical tastes had improved somewhat over the last decade.

It's like a magic trick someone's pulled on me. The magician seems to have swapped everyone with different people when I wasn't looking. When did the kakas and mavshis of our childhood become grandparents to adorably diligent babies and babas that ask me repeatedly where I've hidden all the chocolate? How did the boy who tugged at my pigtails become the charming young man holding the car door open for me as I struggled with my own sari?

When did we grow up?

* * *

I was looking out at the bleakness of a smoky winter evening yesterday with my nose pressed against the cold glass of the car window, as the car neared the toll naka and I cud see rows and rows of cars of all manner and model lined up ahead of us, the red tail lights unblinking. And I had a fleeting but unshakable impression of a hundred pairs of eyes staring back at me and then, it was gone. And I cudnt place it. The crystal clear moment was hijacked by the not-too-distant memory of that moment.

I dont remember what I felt. Just that I felt something inordinately fascinating. Diabolical, almost. But I cant seem to bring it back. Do you understand what I mean?

Time passes too quickly for me sometimes. Even the smallest instants run away from me, impossibly fast to catch.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A very poetic to and fro

Since this comes right on the heels of my previous post which had snatches of poetry, I wud have preferred to space it more. But I think it's particularly marvellous since the first poem I wanted to post here, is one I'd read about in The Garden of Rama by Arthur C. Clarke. The first stanza from this poem I'd scribbled onto my now-deceased scrapbook. It had the quite wistful idea of not having enuff time in this world to make love last long. It has a man admonishing his lover for being too 'coy'. Now that isn't a particularly appealing idea in itself but the poem that results is quite lovely.

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time's wing├Ęd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

- Andrew Marvell

But remarkably, this poem isn't the point of this post. I was listening to this poem read by SV, one of my favourite channels on youtube when I found that he'd posted a reply to this poem.

Now this reply was by another poet, A. D. Hope. I had never heard of him before. And I found he was this amazing satirical Australian poet who published a poem called "From His Mistress to Mr. Marvell" in a book charmingly called The Book of Answers. What I found most intriguing about this awesome poet I'd never heard of, was that, according to his wikipedia page, he was a polymath and largely self-taught.

This particular poem gives a sharp voice to Mr. Marvell's coy mistress, and its feminist slant is unmistakable. And since I loved the idea of a poetic repartee, especially one so cleverly written, I'm putting it here.

His Coy Mistress to Mr. Marvell

Since you have world enough and time
Sir, to admonish me in rhyme,
Pray Mr Marvell, can it be
You think to have persuaded me?
Then let me say: you want the art
To woo, much less to win my heart.
The verse was splendid, all admit,
And, sir, you have a pretty wit.
All that indeed your poem lacked
Was logic, modesty, and tact,
Slight faults and ones to which I own,
Your sex is generally prone;
But though you lose your labour, I
Shall not refuse you a reply:

First, for the language you employ:
A term I deprecate is "coy";
The ill-bred miss, the bird-brained Jill,
May simper and be coy at will;
A lady, sir, as you will find,
Keeps counsel, or she speaks her mind,
Means what she says and scorns to fence
And palter with feigned innocence.

The ambiguous "mistress" next you set
Beside this graceless epithet.
"Coy mistress", sir? Who gave you leave
To wear my heart upon your sleeve?
Or to imply, as sure you do,
I had no other choice than you
And must remain upon the shelf
Unless I should bestir myself?
Shall I be moved to love you, pray,
By hints that I must soon decay?
No woman's won by being told
How quickly she is growing old;
Nor will such ploys, when all is said,
Serve to stampede us into bed.

When from pure blackmail, next you move
To bribe or lure me into love,
No less inept, my rhyming friend,
Snared by the means, you miss your end.
"Times winged chariot", and the rest
As poetry may pass the test;
Readers will quote those lines, I trust,
Till you and I and they are dust;
But I, your destined prey, must look
Less at the bait than at the hook,
Nor, when I do, can fail to see
Just what it is you offer me:
Love on the run, a rough embrace
Snatched in the fury of the chase,
The grave before us and the wheels
Of Time's grim chariot at our heels,
While we, like "am'rous birds of prey",
Tear at each other by the way.

To say the least, the scene you paint
Is, what you call my honour, quaint!
And on this point what prompted you
So crudely, and in public too,
To canvass and , indeed, make free
With my entire anatomy?
Poets have licence, I confess,
To speak of ladies in undress;
Thighs, hearts, brows, breasts are well enough,
In verses this is common stuff;
But -- well I ask: to draw attention
To worms in -- what I blush to mention,
And prate of dust upon it too!
Sir, was this any way to woo?

Now therefore, while male self-regard
Sits on your cheek, my hopeful bard,
May I suggest, before we part,
The best way to a woman's heart
Is to be modest, candid, true;
Tell her you love and show you do;
Neither cajole nor condescend
And base the lover on the friend;
Don't bustle her or fuss or snatch:
A suitor looking at his watch
Is not a posture that persuades
Willing, much less reluctant maids.

Remember that she will be stirred
More by the spirit than the word;
For truth and tenderness do more
Than coruscating metaphor.
Had you addressed me in such terms
And prattled less of graves and worms,
I might, who knows, have warmed to you;
But, as things stand, must bid adieu
(Though I am grateful for the rhyme)
And wish you better luck next time.

- A. D. Hope
 Mr. Hope comes up with an effective rejoinder to a great poem with an equally fantastic poem. Now one wishes more men in the world wud fight back with razor-sharp wit than blunt weapons, dont you? :D

Sunday, December 19, 2010

And for me, keep this day.

I had the rare but ultimately fortunate idea of cleaning up my old schoolbooks cupboard again, since Mum kept insisting I clean it or she wud throw the whole lot of books away.

I found this old scrapbook I used to keep, in which I loved to record interesting lines from the books I'd read. Or snatches of a brilliant poem. You know the feeling?

When you read a certain line and are gobsmacked by the truth and beauty and goodness of it?

That happened to me again as I found several tonight.

And now that my blog has replaced that scrapbook, I deposit them all safely here lest the pencil-writing fades and I lose those lovely thoughts.

Hook: And now, Peter Pan, you shall die.
Peter: To die would be an awfully big adventure.

Peter Pan,
J. M. Barrie

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Auguries of Innocence,
William Blake
(I didn't actually read this one, I heard it quoted by Captain Picard in a Star Trek movie and immediately loved it and googled it on the first incarnation of my computer on a 56kbps connection and it took an hour for it to load. I still remember how frantically I searched for these lines then.)

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot,
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned...

Eloisa to Abelard,
Alexander Pope
(I didn't read this either. It's from the movie. This was on the last page of the book, and since I'd grown up written with a ball-pen with ink that is now dreadfully smudged.)

Under the spreading chestnut tree,
I sold you and you sold me.
There lie they and here lie we
Under the spreading chestnut tree.

George Orwell
(I still remember how excited I was when I brought this book home in a terribly tattered but delightfully complete edition that my surly school librarian had handed to me. I finished it in three hours and realised for the first time in my life, what it means to be truly free.)

My words fly up,
My thoughts remain below;
Words without thoughts,
Never to heaven go.

William Shakespeare
(I shall never be the same for having read this. I have never read words written like this before or after. I had always expected Shakespeare to be a snob's delight. I had never thought I'd be so bowled over by the wrenching depth of his writing.)

And finally, last and definitely not the least,

I sit beside the fire
And think of all that I have seen,
Of meadow flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been.
Of yellow leaves and gossamer
In autumns that there were,
With morning mist and silver sun
And wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire
And think of how the world will be
When winter comes without a spring
That I shall ever see.
For still there are so many things
That I have never seen.
In every wood, in every spring
There is a different green.

I sit beside the fire
And think of people long ago,
And people who will see a world
That I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think
Of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
And voices at the door.

Bilbo Baggins singing "I sit beside the fire and think.."
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,
J. R. R. Tolkien

(I'd read this in tenth standard when the first movie was about to release. I was moved by the profound wistfulness and latent wanderlust in what is deceptively simple verse. This is written on the very last page. I shudnt really put this here becoz I have it nearly memorized. But it's fitting that it acted as a bookend both there and here.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Subah ho gayi, mamu!

In the big run-up to my Final Final Final exams, we've been visiting our wards for what must be the absolute last time before we finish our degrees. Needless to say my entire batch has turned into Supreme Worrywarts and have been thronging the wards, taking cases feverishly, eliciting signs, jotting down findings.

All this has rather irritated the patients, who provide the aforementioned cases to the point of great anger. And one patient, such as the one I was examining today afternoon, to the verge of hypochondria. This poor man, fancy case of Peripheral Vascular Disease, had been examined by atleast 50 people since morning. He asked me if something was seriously wrong with him, was that why he was receiving so much attention.

I told him that all the people examining him were merely students getting some practice before the big exam day and that what he had was the condition we were likely to be asked in our examination. He looked a little flattered when I said this and a little put out by the fact that my batchmates were doctors-in-training and not doctors.

In the very first year of our clinical rotations, an exceptionally brilliant professor had clearly instructed us to let the patients continue to labour under the illusion of being treated by doctors. Or else they won't "co-operate with you guys if you tell them you're just students".

And while this may be true with some, I've found the advice of a more senior and more considerate doctor more useful. "Try to be as honest but as reassuring as you possibly can. Do not forget that that is live human flesh underneath your fingers." and "Every individual has the first right of control to his body, you as his physician only come a distant second."

I've always told the patients I deal with that I am a student and that I require their help for my study. And not one single person has ever refused. Except for I think a woman suffering from a bout of fever. But that's a lot more kindness than I wud show if I were ill.

Today, watching my batchmates auscultating chests while excitedly discussing murmurs made me wonder how we'll ever learn how to balance the affect of our excitement against the solemn bedside manner that we are expected to adopt.

I dont think I wud be right to be flippant, but I also dont think I'll ever manage to look cheerless. I wonder if people really prefer poker-faced, stoic doctors over smiling, cheerful ones becoz they believe their special conditions deserve more serious consideration.

I dont really believe I'll ever be able to pull the poker-face off. So I've given up trying. I think I'll likely end up being a doctor of the Munnabhai persuasion. :D

What dreams may come

I just read a description of an interesting, if aprocryphal, conversation a six year old boy and his father have on, of all places, facebook.

When the boy asks his father how one can know one's waking life isn't really a dream, the father replies, if everyone were really inside a dream, no one wud go around asking if it's a dream.

And I suppose it is true! All my own dreams are exceedingly vivid and I most certainly believe they're really happening while I'm still in them, to the extent that I sometimes forget what happened in my dream and what happened when I was awake yesterday. I remember asking Shaivi why she kicked my foot under the table yesterday, only to horribly realise a split-second later that that was probably a dream I had. I think it's incidents like this one that contribute significantly to why a lot of people in my college think I've got a "couple of loose screws" somewhere in my head.

I wish there were a profound exploration of the mind's dreamscape that I cud refer to and take comfort in. But The Interpretation of Dreams did not hold my concentration for long, and Inception, which I kept hoping wud grab my attention and jolt my mind, leaving me gobsmacked, was unintentionally funny in a lot of places.

The idea behind it, I must admit, was unique, getting lost in a dream and forgetting that you're dreaming. Or rather, never realising that you left reality, raises interesting questions about the nature of reality and how our minds work to tell the difference in real time.

Another interesting thought was held up by the writers of a segment of The Animatrix. They claimed, "To an artificial mind, the real world and the virtual worlds are impossibly difficult to tell apart." This was shouted out, of course, while plugging a struggling robot into the matrix, so the profound overtones were somewhat lost in the heat of the moment.

I find it fascinating, that so many people in the world, independently, arrive at the same question. How to tell if one is not dreaming up one's whole life? But I think I have another answer to this question.

Have you ever noticed that in dream time, a lot of things tend to happen at rather breakneck speeds, if my afternoon one-hour-long siestas are anything to go by. Life, on the other hand, tends to move reaaaaalllllly slowly at times, especially in the forbiddingly long minutes one spends waiting when one wud rather not.

I think the best way to know that life isn't a dream is simply to come to terms with how boring some parts of it are. Dreams, at least my dreams, are never, never dull. :D

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Serious Woman

Today of all days, I was accused by a certain friend (not an old friend, luckily), of being "too serious". Apparently, I read serious books, I watch serious movies even when stressed out while others prefer to watch "timepass" movies and I use a serious tone even when joking. (I used to think that last was called being sarcastic, but well, definitions change.)

In all probability, she says, one bright and shiny winter day, I just might turn into a blues musician. Or maybe I already am one and I just dont know it yet. She must've believed that I'd consider that a somewhat alarming prospect. Although, why I wonder. Blues musicians seem perfectly normal happy folks.

On days like this, one realizes that what Dawkins said about altruism is true. It is only a front for selfishness, if only thrice removed from the first action. No one, ever, ever, says or does anything that is not selfish. Take that, Ms. Rand. You wrote all those books with such passion, and it was all just a lot of preaching to the converted.

Speaking of being a serious person, I keep entering these bookshops (I did it again today) hoping to find a new Wodehouse book to read, only to realize I've probably read them all. Why didn't you write more books, Sir Pelham Grenville? No one writes them like you anymore. You, Sir, are seriously funny.

No matter. I'll just read the books I have again. Reading Wodehouse's prose never fails to enrapture, even on the hundredth encounter. Stuff like "He was white and shaken, quite like a dry martini." or "She had a penetrating sort of laugh. Rather like a train going into a tunnel." never gets old.

All in all, today is the kind of day that makes one want to curl up in bed with a lovely book, A Pelican at Blandings, in all probability, and switch off the distracting cellphone.

And quote for the day? Well, this one.

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it is too dark to read." by, who else? Groucho Marx!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Tyranny of Beauty

I had a very interesting, if a little one-sided, conversation with an old friend from Ruia's theatre group who I ran into, not too inexplicably, at the Prithvi theatre fest way back in July. We were sitting in Prithvi cafe, that most favoured of suburban smoky pseudo-intellectual open-air hangouts. We were reminiscing about old times when we'd set out to stage the play, Hamlet, except we'd reversed the genders of all the characters. So now, there was a King with a manipulative second wife, who'd plotted to get rid of the Queen, and Hamlet was now a princess, called Hamda. Now, all this, of course, was in Hindi and ultimately, in my opinion, came off as more than a little soap-operatic on the stage (maybe that cant be helped becoz of the way Shakespeare actually wrote his plays). But we won the "Adapt a Shakespeare" inter-collegiate at Malhaar, and my friend, who played Hamda, was praised and uniformly feted by our college folks till pretty much the end of that year. My part in all this had been simply to read the original play and help the 'playwright' Tauseef translate it into suitably clear and correct Hindi.

She was telling me about how she'd found work in this experimental theatre group and I was very happy for her. She was surprised that I'd chosen to study medicine, thinking I wud have chosen to pursue more "literary inclinations" as she'd called them.

I told her that I quite frankly admired her gumption about having chosen to follow her passion for acting while pursuing a Batchelor of Arts degree. She told me that she occasionally modelled to earn some extra money, becoz "As everyone knows there's not much money in theatre unless you're Naseeruddin Shah, and even then it's a struggle."

She seemed to be in this strange confessional introspective mood, she kept telling me about how everyone, even in theatre, was more than a little obsessed with good looks. "It's not enuff that you're talented. You have to appear striking."

I pointed out that on the stage, you can be almost anyone almost, irrespective of what you look like. And it didn't really matter anyway becoz she was quite lovely looking herself.

"Thats just the problem, Karishma! I dont know if the people that say they like me, like me becoz of the way I look or becoz of who I am!"

I thought that all this was coming from someone in particular and I asked her that. She nodded, frowning a little. "Yeah. I dont know if thats why he liked me."

I didnt know how to respond to this, except to assure her that that cudnt be the case, at which point she said something that surprised me completely, though I cant say I was shocked.

"Its so different for you, Kari! People like you always get other people to like you for your mind. You're cute but you know what I'm saying. I mean, its just different for me."

What she left unsaid was plain to me. I wasnt pretty like her. She thought that for some reason that that worked to my advantage, becoz I knew people genuinely liked me for my, ahem, my thoughts and "my nature", apparently.

I wud be lying if I said the thought stated in words was a little hurtful to me. But it is the truth after a fashion.

Besides, being a friend, I had to offer comfort. So I said to her what I firmly believe, "It doesnt matter what you look like, atleast not after the first few days. The people we love become beautiful for us. Honestly, if you met someone you liked right now, you'd smile and feel this warm rush of emotion for them. You wudnt really take time to notice if their hair was messed up or if their shirt was crumpled. That's secondary. What's beautiful is the person."

I dont think I managed to convince her. "Yeah, but what about that very first time? Most people have already judged you by then. Love enters from the eyes and leaves through the eyes, like de Bernieres said."

"I dont believe that." I told her. "People who judge you the first time arent really worth all the trouble."

She looked directly at me, and I cud see contempt on her expressive face, "Yeah, well, atleast that's true. Anyway, Kari, you're too idealistic!"

The conversation came to a rather premature stop while we sipped masala chai and then, she met a friend of hers who called her away. I sat under the tree for a while wondering about how other female mammals had it so much easier than us. In the animal kingdom, only the males worried about vanity. How had humans got it all reversed, then?

The answer must lie in the exaggeration of the ideas of beauty that humans indulge in. So much so that even the very beautiful are bothered by these ideas. And if that is true, thenI do really wonder if beauty cud be more than a little over-rated. Guess I'm not that idealistic after all.