Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Silenced by the Night

For D., who first read me this poem on a long-ago wintry night atop a lovely hill, who held my hand when I was too afraid to look down, whose smile always feels like sunshine, and who always keeps a song in his heart. And because I have no other words of my own tonight.

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear. 
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. 

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go,

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

- Theodore Roethke

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Edge of the Ocean

When I was younger and the author of a different blog, I remember I used to be obsessed with Grey's Anatomy. I thought of the much-confused Meredith Grey as a sort of alter-ego and go-to gal for my own life problems. Of course, this was way back when my 'life problems' consisted of dealing with an uber-competitive classmate/frenemy and agonising about a crush who was completely clueless about my existence. Ah, now those were simpler times!

Anyway, since Grey's Anatomy has since fallen off my tv-viewing radar and I'd like to think my life has gotten complex enough for me to now watch trashier television than I used to, and not obsess about it (contrary to what my friends would claim), I thought it might be nice to revisit those old-favourite quotable quotes that made Meredith Grey such an inspiring character in the first place.

Whereas I've clearly outgrown some of them, and now find a few quite mawkish. But the rest of them, I'm happy to report, still make a lot of sense to me.

This one, for example. "You can waste your life drawing lines. Or you can live your life crossing them." I think those are words to live by, really.

Reading them again made me smile and remember what it was about that scrappy unabashedly-emo chick that was so appealing in the first place. It was that fierce determination to go out and get what she wanted, regardless of the personal cost. It was that unique mix of desperate and zealous, detached and vulnerable, needy and independent that made her feel so real to me. Oddly enough, it was kinda like meeting an old friend - the kind you used to be real close to, but now find you don't really talk to any more, apart from the occasional inspirational text message.

The song remains the same

These days I feel a little lost in the haze of routine. Every day resembles the previous one so exactly that the passage of time doesn't feel like something that needs to be made note of at all, really. I've realised I've spent almost my whole life doing things at odd times of day - so now, waking at the crack of dawn and actually watching sunrises feels like something out of someone else's life.

I'm surrounded by people all the time and yet, I wish the world could be a little more intrusive. Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm holding something back. I've been awfully good at withdrawing from people but now I'm required to do the opposite. To reach into them. And sometimes, quite literally, too. Other people's lives, their existences start to take on the quality of the hyper-real. I used to have a professor who claimed that Indians aren't, what she called 'self-actualised'. 

It isn't true. Most people have such a clear sense of self - they think about their own self all the time and they think about making their lives better. I mean, why wouldn't you? You literally are at the centre of your universe. It's from behind your own eyes that you perceive the world. And everyone else in it. It makes sense that you would think of your place in the world as something important and something unchanging. It is this sense that colours all of one's reactions to the world. This idea of being at the centre of it all. 

Of course, there is a part of me that enjoys being a creature of habit. It's a good thing to have all your days mapped out. It is weirdly freeing. Time passes more slowly and the precious few hours I keep for myself every day feel refreshing. I've started to read more and study more and enjoy it. 

I've never been what you'd call a workaholic. But now the idea of taking a break feels much less appealing, much more unnecessary. I guess you'd say one gets used to anything. And I am grateful for that. I never thought I'd be this content right now. I'm really, really glad that I am.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Love makes the world go 'round

'A General Theory of Love' is turning into a bit of comfort-reading these days. I tend to skim through chapters right before I go to sleep. For a neurobiology book, it's a fairly romantic read.

I was reading it right now and remembered how much I'd enjoyed this idea of limbic resonance the first time that I read it. Our limbic systems which are sort of the most primitive and emotional parts of our brain, are not exactly information-sponges. As the book puts it, they don't pick up facts as rapidly as the neocortex does.

The book postulates that the limbic system is capable of something rather profound, however. That it enables us to share deep emotional states and is responsible for our capacity to form non-verbal connections with other members of our species which are in large part responsible for our elaborate social behaviour. And this leads not just to creating the capacity for empathy but in some cases it lays the basis for the bonds of companionship since it allows 'our systems to synchronise with each other through limbic revision'.

All in all, apparently love rewires the brain by changing its chemistry. And to adopt the book's guileless and somewhat mushy tone, 'In any relationship, one mind revises the other; one heart changes its partner. This astounding legacy of our mammalian brains is limbic revision : the power to remodel the emotional parts of the people we love as our Attractors activate certain neural pathways and the brain's inexorable memory mechanism reinforces them.'

What all that means is that who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love.

It rarely happens that a popular science book ends up saying the same thing as your favourite Jane Austen novel. But when it does, you can't help grinning like a fool as you jump out of bed to type it onto your blog.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Because God is in the detail

I've been trying and trying to scrounge some time for my own self these past few weeks - time to read, time to listen, time to breathe, time to write something that would help me keep these experiences for posterity, time to just reflect on things, atleast for a little while.

I haven't been able to get much recreational reading done these days but one book I finally finished is one I had started to read many, many times but somehow had never got past the third chapter. Something always kept getting in the way - exams, illness, busy-ness. Perhaps, it was in the nature of this book even. It wasn't the kind that had you yearning to turn the page, to go racing to the end. It was more the kind that allowed you to slow yourself down and take your time. You could come back to it any time you wanted, even if you had to leave. You wouldn't be missing anything though you weren't paying attention.

So yeah, it was sort of meandering and ponderous even. And now that I'm at the end of it, I realise although it was barely 400 pages long, it felt like a much bigger book. It even sounds like a big book - One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I wish I could say it was my first brush with this variety of magic realism - something that seems to be a running theme through some good South American writing - Jorge Luis Borges being another writer I've been told I should read.

Of course, my first brush would have been Salman Rushdie but in his hands, even when he writes multi-generational, blowing-in-the-winds-of-change books like Midnight's Children, there seems to be something artificial about this device - something not organic, something learned and not felt.

Marquez, on the other hand, manages to make his literary creations feel real with all their naked emotions and their incestuous longings and their bloody battles and their general sticky sweatiness. It's really incredible. His world-building is so detailed that it becomes difficult to deny that Macondo - this village where the many generations of the Buendia family live out their sordid little lives is a real place - you almost think you could be watching some Nat Geo historian telling you about it in the afternoons.

When we find out that these people who go exploring through the wilderness leaving their old dying town behind, to establish their own  village in what feels like the middle of nowhere, these people have no idea how time passes in the outside world, or even which year it's supposed to be or how far away from the sea they are, it feels not like a conceit that is supposed to make us believe that Macondo is a kind of fantasy Never-never-land, it feels truthful because the kind of people that they are, the times that they lived in, the education that they were allowed to acquire - that they probably didn't know much about navigation or geography or magnetism - we understand that it is plausible that these people would see a block of ice illuminated by sunlight for the first time and wonder if it's really a giant diamond.

The people themselves are vibrant and passionate - it's exactly how you'd imagine Latin Americans to be, down to the very last stereotype. And in a way that is what they are. You get the feeling that as time passes, the people that belong to this founding family cease to be unique and settle for being approximations of those that came before them. The many daughters and sons and nephews and aunts are all variations of the first two people we meet. Jose Arcadio Buendia who is big, strong, boisterous, extravagant, intelligent and imaginative and his wife Ursula who is tiny, quiet, pious, industrious, and grounded. Their defining characteristics get shuffled into several permutations and combinations as their children and their children's children live and breathe and fight and make love and bear children who grow up to repeat the patterns of their parents' lives.

All this reads as quite mundane, I realise now but that is what life is often like. On the whole, we live out our lives engaged in our passions and in our routines and these are often only significant to us because we live them.

A friend once told me, if there was a God, we'd be like ants to him. Running around in little circles, trying to preserve our precious little lives. When I asked her if she thought that we were gods to ants, she thought the idea was hilarious.

There was this throwaway line in an otherwise average film I saw recently - 'We are, each one of us, the hero of their life.' seeming to suggest that even at its most unremarkable, each life is inherently extraordinary.

And after reading this book, after sifting through these lives, I'd say I agree. All lives end, all hearts are broken. But it matters that we lived and it counts when we loved. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Late Goodbye

I used to think it was natural to eventually lose track of people if you had to lead a kind of solitary existence. Not sticking around in one place very long helps, of course. You find it becomes rather easy to end up alone.

There's never a need to make excuses to yourself for not having said a final goodbye to this or that person. There is the hope that your paths will cross again. Some day. And there is the idea that this hope is quite enough. The present becomes bearable, even pleasant, because of the belief that such and such a future exists.

"You can stay in the same place and still find ways to leave people." I kept thinking about his words all night. It must have been such a sad thing I thought at first, but he said it with such serenity that it became a sort of first principle, a self-apparent truth, an axiom really. I didn't think to question it. It must be satisfying - to not have to answer to anyone else. To go it alone. So brave.

It was much later that I sensed the deep melancholy behind the words when I did finally manage to get to sleep. Hovering somewhere in that grey zone between sleep and waking, I thought I heard his voice again. You know, how a recent memory returns, vivid and highly-coloured, just as you're about to relinquish consciousness. And it was then that I realised what I assumed had been serenity, was resignation. I would have forgotten all about it, if it wasn't for those recurring words.

I understand now. It was a surrender, not a choice. I wish I could have reached out and held his hand. Would it have made him feel better? Or would it have been another of those things that lingered in his memory before he decided it was time he left? It's pointless to ponder what could have been when you know for certain what will be. And what I know for certain is that it's too late now.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On the magic of the written word

It's been a while since I watched Carl Sagan's iconic series Cosmos, but I remember the flights of fancy that every episode sent me on. G. who'd watched the series when it was originally broadcast tells me he's been rediscovering it post-exams all these years later.

He emailed me this quote from the episode The Persistence of Memory, a couple minutes ago. And since it makes my heart sing with joy, I'll put it here for safe-keeping. 

"What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic."

I have always admired Carl Sagan, his ability to explain complex concepts in simple words without being reductive, his humanism, his deep respect for all life, his unflagging devotion to the cause of spreading knowledge. He inspired a lot of the scientists of our generation and he's always inspired me, too.

But tonight he's given me more to think about. This feeling of belonging I get, when often I read something that strikes a chord within me, or write something that leads to a conversation with strangers, occasionally turning them into friends. It does feel like magic. I am grateful for it. And for Carl. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Will night never come?

"They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more."

- Pozzo to Didi & Gogo on the lot of humankind, in 'Waiting for Godot' by Samuel Beckett.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Of Love and other Demons

Well, I must say the best thing to have happened to me all this month was to have Chaitanya decide to take a long vacation and return to Bombay for a month to absorb some 'culture' as he puts it. My friends have all been rather busy with visa interviews and moving to another city while my decision to do the same has been happily delayed. However, that left me with a bit of a void in a social calendar, that finally had more free week nights than I could count. So Chaitanya and I embarked on a mission to seek out 'culture' in the city.

This was just about as much fun as it sounded. Well, okay, it was a lot of fun admittedly. Trekking to Shivaji Park every evening in peak hour traffic has been well worth the plays we caught at the Motley Theater Festival but when C. booked tickets for an evening of Kathakali at the NCPA, I was more than a little worried. The only Kathakali performance I had previously witnessed was a rather abridged-for-tourists version at what looked like a warehouse-turned-auditorium in Kottayam in our trip to Kerala last year.

And while we were suitably impressed with the exposition on make-up and costume and the intricate and intensely meaningful hand-gestures, I never expected it to be anything more than visually enticing.

That we watched the incredibly talented Kalakshetra Foundation dancers perform an episode from the Mahabharata called Keechaka Vadham (The Killing of Keechaka) and felt deeply moved was something I really had not expected.

To have managed to take the dance from being a mere visual spectacle to being a truly nuanced piece of story-telling was to the credit of the NCPA Mudra Dance Festival organisers. Behind the dancers and the musicians and the singers were two large projection screens that translated verbatim into English every line of song that made up the story, and the translations were so perfect that we could even guess at the hand-gestures that the dancers deployed from what must have been a fabulously rich vocabulary of sign language.

Although the sentences seemed clunky at first glance, containing words like "Her hair was long and shimmered in the wind like a swarm of bees." or "Her full heavy breasts ignited his lust.", we were mesmerised when what appeared like purple prose in English turned into such graceful movements and such expressive glances.

The story itself is rather straightforward. It is set in the time of the Pandava exile, when they were in hiding at the palace of King Virata. Bhima had disguised himself as a cook in the palace kitchens while Draupadi served as handmaid to the Queen. Keechaka was the Queen's young brother who fell in love with Draupadi and tried to seduce the handmaid not knowing her real identity. When Bhima finds out about Keechaka's increasingly violent advances, he vows to protect Draupadi. He then proceeds to deceive Keechaka and then in a very inventive scene, slays him.

I realise when I type it out, that in this form, it sounds rather brief and even banal. But to watch it played out with such delicate artistry by practitioners of one of India's oldest classical dance forms is a viscerally beautiful experience.

I can't help but recount the many moments that simply took my breath away. The erotic charge in the scene when Keechaka kneels before Draupadi and offers to 'massage her lotus-like feet', the playfulness with which he mimes her gracefully swaying walk, described as 'a cross between the majestic walk of an elephant and the artfulness of a beautiful swan', the frustrated rage with which he searches for her before realising she's slipped away from him yet again. I realised I was watching something really unique when we agreed we were enjoying the villain's antics too much to want the hero of the story to show up. But when he does, Bhima thoroughly acquits himself, what with the comfort he offers his distraught wife and the single-mindedness with which he chokes the life out of Keechaka's body.

We were amazed by the sheer beauty to be found by floating lazily around a story that in these days of instant gratification would have been glossed over in instants. That sometimes love, or even lust, requires a leisurely touch. Even a villain can be charming when you watch him dance mischievously around the object of his desire. His death can also mean something when the dying blow takes a twenty-minute long and visually stunning scene to be delivered.

An old-timer watching the show with us reminisced about his childhood in Kerala when Kathakali performances lasted for days and nights together. But who had the patience for that now? Three hours must feel like a lot to some busy folks, he muttered. I looked at Chaitanya's beaming face and realised what it must feel like for him to be back after so long in a country where these epics are so deeply etched in our minds that we don't even need to be told the story to know what's happening, who wins and who dies, who gets the girl in the end. Perhaps that is why he needs to fill his days here with 'culture' because he really does miss it. He misses the Mahabharata serial from DD where people shot card-board arrows at each other, where people wore faux-gold jewelry and spouted unintentionally hilarious Hindi dialogue sprinkled with a smattering of Sanskrit words.

After the performance, we heard the acclaimed dancer Dr. Sadanam Balakrishnan whose masterful performance of the titular Keechaka has me raving right now, talk about how the Mahabharata was about real people. How the Ramayana was an idealised story about ideal men and ideal kings and ideal brothers and ideal wives but the Mahabharata was about passion-plays and emotions. He also told us about how his need to bring more of these emotions and dramatic stories to Kathakali had led him to adapt Shakespearean tragedies like Othello and Macbeth, and the Greek tragedies of Euripides to dances choreographed entirely by him.

I couldn't help but grab involuntarily at dada's arm at that. He smiled back at me. The idea of watching Othello performed by Kathakali dancers made complete sense somehow. 

Driving back home, along Marine Drive at midnight, I couldn't help but comment on Draupadi's lot in life, to be lusted after by so many men must have been tough. Dada chuckled, he reminded me of Irawati Karve's Yuganta, a fascinating collection of essays about the Mahabharata written in a shockingly detached, even clinical manner. I recalled the penultimate essay about Draupadi. How Karve believed that her great tragedy was not being staked in a game of dice, or being forced into a life of penury. It was falling in love with the wrong husband. While she loved Arjuna deeply, he never loved her back. It was always Bhima - strong, stubborn, selfless Bhima who loved her with all his heart. And she never realised the value of this love until it was too late.

I smiled at the passing lights of the Queen's Necklace at night, resolving to write this all out on my blog as soon as I got home, and wondering what a Kathakali adaptation of that particular tragedy would look like.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

La Vie en rose

Do you think it is possible to love someone utterly and completely for their mind alone? For the thoughts that course through it, for the beauty that it can create, for the ideas that bubble up to its surface, for the marvellous words it makes into sentences spoken in a voice you haven't heard yet?

I was watching 'A Little Romance' in the afternoon, and I couldn't help but be taken aback when the film's thirteen-year-old protagonist wonders about soulmates and says he worried that perhaps he'd never meet his soulmate because she may have been someone who lived in a different time - in Egypt when they built the pyramids or on a colony in Mars in the 24th century. And if he was lucky enough to have a lifetime that overlapped with hers, perhaps she lived in Tunisia or Japan or a place he'd never travel to.

It just felt sad - the idea of having a soulmate you could never meet. The movie probably intended it as a minor cute moment in the larger discussion that led to a rosily pictured 'first-kiss'. But the idea had taken hold of me and I could not relinquish it.

If all I could have of my soulmate was just their thoughts, then would that be enough? For one day, for a year, for a lifetime?

Or as Mitzi says, I am too old to watch movies like this one or to set much store by the beleaguered concept of soulmates.

I agree with her, it is better to know you don't have one than knowing you do and realizing that the laws of probability tell you that odds such as those are pretty insurmountable.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Summertime Blues

Come April (okay, March, who're we kidding?) and everyone around here begins to crib about the heat and the humidity and the electricity bills. Pretty much everyone mutters about 'global warming' in rather ominous tones and declares that this has got to be Bombay's hottest summer so far. Then, there are the discussions about how to 'beat the heat'. There's the air-conditioner of course, but what about the rest of us, who actually have to venture out on the streets and travel in trains and buses and work in places which do not have central air-conditioning? I suppose, we make do with several glasses of lemonade with ice-cubes that an enterprising mavshi provides for a small(ish) fee, the cheerily spiced cucumber slices bought from the railway stall on Parel station, the blueberry muffins eaten in the cool Tata cafe with its transplanted tropical palm trees on the first floor lounge, the watermelon and orange fruit dish outside Sarvodaya and then there are the lunch-time trips to the Amul ice-cream parlour, there's the sugarcane juicewallah down the road and I know that times are desperate when even my most misophobic friend demands a tall glass of juice with crushed ice, all notions of questionable hygiene aside.

But seriously, was it really always this hot in Bombay? My parents swear not. Dad has memories of walking from Sion hospital to Cafe Britannia and ordering endless bottles of sweet sticky strawberry soda with ice and sheltering in the comforting shade of the then numerous Irani cafes and small restaurants.

I suppose it has something to do with the increasing concretisation of the city coupled with the exponentially increasing motor vehicles, if not the gruesome reality of the aforementioned 'global warming' that contributes to the near-unbearable heat, not to mention the humidity that comes with living in a tropical city on the sea-coast.

It's just that I don't remember people becoming so harassed by the heat before. A school friend is taking up a job in Shimla for the summer so she can escape the everyday heatwaves and I suppose if this worked for the British, it ought to work for her.

Then, there's an NRI cousin who is bragging about returning to the 'clement climes of California' next week. Also, there are folks who take summer vacations to hill-stations by the thousands.

I just don't get why the summer is being considered harsh enough to warrant an exodus from the city. For me, the summers have an immediate association with school-vacations and wandering aimlessly around the city. Taking long walks at Marine Drive till 6:30 because the sun sets so late. Lounging around on the terrace in the late afternoon heat and doing nothing but vegetating; making intermittent trips to the kitchen to grab a pitcher of Rasna or Glucon-D in the days before Tang arrived on Indian shores.

Pestering Mummy to let us buy Coca-Cola from the neighbourhood grocer's shop and driving down at night to Chowpatty and buying ice-golas and kulfi faloodas from the innumerable stalls on the beach. Waiting for the crates of alphonso mangoes to arrive from Goa and then whooping with joy when we could smell them and press their fresh warm pulp in their beautiful yellow-orange skins to our sweaty cheeks. Aah, the summer and the mangoes! I could write an ode to them right now. The summer-time vacations in Goa with family, eating jackfruit from the orchard with its intensely sweet smell sticking to our fingers for hours. Running about on the beach and splashing about in the sea. And if not Goa, then the frequent trips to the Odeon swimming pool, filled to bursting point with other swimmers looking to soak in the lukewarm chlorinated waters of the big pool.

Then there came the growing up and going to junior college, when there were the afternoons spent walking around Flora Fountain, sifting through the pages of old, beautiful-smelling books. Oh man, the books! I have so many memories of wandering up to Kitaab Khana and just inhaling the summer afternoon air scented with old paper smells and if not buying, then just sitting down and reading books right there with a glass of thandai from the sweetmeat vendor right opposite.

That's how I first read The Great Gatsby and Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island.

Not for us, the stale air-conditioned air and sterile shelves of Crossword. We yearned for the unbridled joy of chancing upon a masterpiece in the stacks and stacks of books piled upon the pavements in the days before the cops came around and started up their infernal book-burning. The shock of watching books burn in a place so far apart from Hitler's Germany was coupled with Dada leaving for New York and then, college took over. The days of cruising for books on summer afternoons and skipping to Nehru Science Centre to catch up on the new Hall of Aerospace exhibits ended.

The air-conditioner arrived at home and malls sprouted up like mushrooms in every corner of the city. Salvation from the summer sweats was here.

Now all we do is sit at home in front of a machine while it sends out CFCs to soak through the ozone, inadvertently making the summer sunshine more dangerous for everyone on earth, while we make plans to visit this mall or that multiplex as we order mango ice-cream on the phone.

After all, now that the heat has become a diabolical thing to 'beat' and flee from, the summer has become a season to dread. Well, that's only until the monsoons arrive. Then we can all go back to collectively worrying about the floods and praying for an early winter.

Monday, April 2, 2012

In the words of the great philosopher Jagger

No, you can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, you just might find
You get what you need.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

O Fortuna

Just one of those days when I become convinced that there is no such thing as a coincidence. That maybe people don't just get lucky. That whatever happens is for a reason - not a grand plan or anything - just a continuing chain of events with a definite purpose.

But then, on other days, perhaps it's easier to sway to the music of chance. Unbiased, unalloyed, unerring, uncaring chance. Moreso because we are all creatures shaped by the forces of random dice-throwing that is the way evolution always works.

I don't know the answer to which I would prefer was the truth. But all I believe is there is something to be said for trying to beat the odds. Always. Atleast you know you tried, right?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Your Beautiful Mind

Upon G.'s expert recommendation, I've been spending these last few days of drudgery reading the most intriguingly titled book on psychobiology ever written - it's called A General Theory of Love and trust me, it hijacks your interest completely from the very first chapter - a chapter that oddly enough begins with a dreamy poem.

That first chapter, called The Heart's Castle - Science Joins the Search for Love, yields a most interesting paragraph about the intricate osmosis of intuition and rationality in matters of the (proverbial) heart and mind. It's quite unexpected to find such a well-written, almost romantically framed book about the scientific study of the brain in love.

And since I was so fascinated by it and so impressed with the writing that really resonated with my own mental image of the kind of thought processes I'd like to develop, I'm quoting it here.

"If empiricism is barren and incomplete, while impressionistic guesswork leads anywhere and everywhere, what hope can there be of arriving at a workable understanding of the human heart? In the words of Vladimir Nabokov, there can be no science without fancy and no art without facts. Love emanates from the brain; the brain is physical, and thus, as fit a subject for scientific discourse as cucumbers or chemistry. But love unavoidably partakes of the personal and the subjective, and so we cannot place it in the killing jar and pin its wings to cardboard as a lepidopterist might a prismatic butterfly. In spite of what science teaches us, only a delicate admixture of evidence and intuition can yield the truest view of the emotional mind. To slip between the twin dangers of empty reductionism and baseless credulity, one must balance a respect for proof with a fondness for the unproven and the unprovable. Common sense must combine in equal measure imaginative flight and an aversion to orthodoxy."

While I am still upon the first chapter, I am falling in love with this book about the mysteries of love and I am delighted that the writers are experts of affective neuroscience, a field of study that has always been a little too esoteric and opaque for me to follow directly.

But all that aside, I am happy that what was a nebulous idea for me has been crystallised in such concrete words for me to keep here on this blog.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Is success still success if its achievement involves changing everything that makes you who you are?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Speed of Light

Sometimes, I wonder if all our best relationships happen in transit, often with people we may never ever meet or meet again. All that is beautiful is ephemeral and most of what is ephemeral acquires a beauty of near-preternatural intensity.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ye tumhaari meri baatein

As the absolute last and final day of college draws inexorably closer, it seems everyone is feeling this bittersweet sensation of an era drawing to an end. A senior had once told me I would do well only to make business contacts in medical college and that I won't have made any real friends by the end of it. I just wish he'd stuck around to see how wrong he was.

We're all loving each other a little bit more than we ever have done in the last five and a half years. I guess we've all got our 'graduation goggles' on and the campus suddenly feels like a wistfully beautiful place to hang around with all the people you wish you had just a little more time to get to know better.

I've spent the last few weeks having this same conversation over and over and over with different people, "I wish I'd known you like this in second year. We'd have been better friends." or "Why didn't we hang out more? You're awesome!"

I was talking to T. about this last night and he was rather philosophical about it. He said we were like logs of wood carried downstream by the river-current, to draw close and then drift apart, buffeted by the force of the water. He said this was a metaphor the Geeta offered up about the transient nature of all relationships in life.

Wherever he managed to glean a Geeta to read through I may never know, but he did have a point. Such was life.

I told him I had this dreadfully forlorn sense of something important slipping away from me, a sense I'd never had in school or junior college. Back then, we'd all stay close by. Of course, we'd bump into each other we thought. But not this time. People will go off to different cities in different states or even different countries on different continents.

This was a real parting of ways. We are all done growing up now. Real life starts here on. There will always be a twinge of sadness for friends lost and friendships not mended. Even that idea of a real what-if for that one person who got away.

But it doesn't matter. We've got our lives stretching out in front of us still. And maybe the future has some real pleasant surprises in store for us.

And for what it's worth, there are always new friends to be made and old friends to be rediscovered.

Speaking of new friends, Astha of the charming letter in the previous post has just passed along a lovely blog-award which I am very grateful indeed to receive. Her post here has already led me to discover more blogs and through them, peek into more lives and perhaps make some new friends.

For that, I owe her great thanks. And from me, here's to all that could have been, all that was and most importantly, all that will be! :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

For a funky fifteen-year-old!

So last week, I read Astha's blogpost here which was a charming letter to her fifteen-year old self, full of pieces of advice and warnings and some much-needed reassurance. Quite frankly I loved the idea of writing to a younger version of me, and so if one of you is boarding your time machine any time soon, please deliver it for me, won't you?

So here goes.

Dear Cookie (that's what they call you in school I believe),

Before you ask me that question that you've been pondering so much recently, let me tell you the answer is 'yes'. Yes, you are going to, it'll take you seven years to figure it out but it will happen for you.

Also, let me get the answers to your other questions out of the way first. No, you do not make it into the state merit list. You miss it by three marks. And no, it doesn't matter eventually. Yes, you do get into that junior college your grandpa's been telling you so much about and yes, you do meet some pretty special people there.

No, you do not hook up with M. and trust me, he is sooo not the right guy for you. Three months into junior college, he'll give you a hilarious speech about how he thinks he should only date girls with straight hair because curly hair indicate 'wild' type genes and they'd be bad to mix into his straight-haired 'recessive' gene-pool. Yeah, he'll really say that to you. See, he's not as bright as Sarla teacher tells the class he is. Not nearly.

But you know what? You do meet a very nice and extremely interesting guy that year. I'll give you a hint now. Join the film club and attend their Iranian movie screenings on the weekends. Oh, and sit in the third row on the left. Smile at the tall guy with the thick glasses who'll sit down beside you. He'll tell you your smile is his favourite thing about you. However, don't try to delude yourself into thinking he is The One. There is no such thing in real life. Nevertheless, you'll have a lot of fun and he will teach you many life-lessons. Like how to let go of someone you love when it's time.

There's your questions answered. Now, time for some advice. Your team-mates on the Science Quiz team will be your best buds. One of them will go to MIT. But try and be nice to them both.

Keep writing that poetry. It's not as brilliant as you think it is sometimes but it's not as pointless as you think it is at other times, either.

Be especially nice to Chaitanya. He's going to move out of the house in two years and you'll have that room and those Asterix comics to yourself. And yes, despite what you suspect right now, you're going to miss him badly and it's going to hurt like hell to have him leave home and settle down in another country.

And here are the reassurances. You're good at science and maths and you like to read English. Don't worry. You'll still remember everything when you're in your twenties. You're going to pick a career path that requires both your intellect and your empathy. So, don't fret over over-developing one and ignoring the other. It'll work out. Trust me on this one.

Try and enjoy yourself this year, although I know it's hard what with exams and classes and all that, but it's your last school year. And once it's done, you're going to miss school and spend the next few years getting all nostalgic about the memories you're making now.

What? More questions? Okay. No, the Backstreet Boys are not that popular any more and Britney Spears isn't either. MTV will look very different in seven years. But hold on, Justin Timberlake - yeah, he's going to surprise you one day. Yes, Friends will end in two years but you'll watch it over and over for the next five years and you'll still believe you're channeling Phoebe a lot.

Also, the Harry Potter books will end. Yes, the movies, too. No, he won't die. Yes, Voldemort will.

Cut down on those romantic comedies you watch every weekend, will you? Of course, you'll fall in love, albeit more than once. But remember to hold out for the one who can recite Keats. Oh, and you know, Sherlock Holmes, whom we absolutely adore and remain ever utterly in awe of? There's going to be an awesome new incarnation of him on BBC and an absolutely fabulous guy will tell you about it. Watch out for them both.

Oh, and that "internet" thing they keep telling you about in computer class. It's going to figure hugely in your life soon. So pay attention there, okay?

Are you wondering why I'm not giving you anything too profound to live your life by? Yeah, that's because you'll want to concentrate on the little things. Those are what will one day turn you into me. Until then, you'll just have to follow the good advice Piyu's yellow tee gives you. "Be yourself. Because no one else will. " Seriously, there's some damn good advice floating around on a lot of T-shirts in the world.

Why? Still don't think I've imparted enough wisdom, eh? That's alright. You'll make it up as you go along. Of course, things won't be perfect, you may not win the Nobel prize but you will work hard and make a difference in people's lives. And that will be enough to make you very happy.

Oh yeah, and about Piyu, she's going to bail you out of many, many hopeless situations. Buy her her favourite imli candy every day from that roadside store. That's the least you could do for your soul sister.

So long, kiddo! I think you're one helluva gal. Fare thee well!

P.S. If you ever hear from the seventy-five year old version of us, do give me some heads-up, won't you?

P.P.S. Yes, I know you can spot the temporal paradox in that request. But you know what I mean. ;)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bright Star

Have you ever had this feeling? Looking at an old photograph of someone you know and love and wondering who they used to be before you ever knew them.

I tell myself he's essentially the same person - those same beloved features that can be traced now with the mind's eye. But the familiar crinkles at the corners of his eyes are missing from the still carefree smile that he's carried over into adulthood. The intent look in his dark eyes with his luxuriant eyelashes that gives him his mildly Byronic, unintentionally serious air, which was the first thing that I ever noticed about him, is already present in this photograph. The hair is almost a golden brown in this evening light, and there's more of it. The posture is one thing that's remarkably different. That ramrod straight back I am so accustomed to seeing slouches ever-so-slightly forward in the photo. The shoulders seem to have become rounded as they so often do with tall people trying to shrink themselves when photographed around considerably shorter people.

What I love most about this photograph is his hands. He clasps them together in a gesture rather frequently seen in school pictures - it's something I remember Chaitanya used to do in class photos, too. To me, it's my favourite thing about him here. This familiar quirk that my brother and this boy from half a world away have in common.

He is impatient for the picture to be taken perhaps. He's probably waiting to go back to play with his friends. In the background is a field of green grass and far off, a mountain. A school picnic in all probability.

I wonder what he must've been like at that age, more than fifteen years ago. I wonder if we'd have been friends had we met then. Likely not. What would we have talked about? At that age, a seven year age difference is unconquerable conversation-wise.

He looks like someone unfinished to my eyes. Like a pencil drawing waiting to be coloured in with crayons. And I marvel at how time sculpts us and we continually morph into different people who are too engrossed to notice its effect until much later. I tell him this and he smiles. The same smile from the photograph in my hands. I want to touch his face and tell him how glad I am for things that time doesn't change. But I can't muster enough courage yet, it would be too intimate too early I think. I decide to look some more at the old photograph instead.

"Look how tall I was at thirteen!" he exclaims. I nod. Outside it looks like the rain has stopped. "Would you like to go get some chai?" he asks. It's almost dawn. The sky is still overcast. But I can see the brightest star in the sky. "I used to look at it from the roof of my house in the summertime." he whispers in my ear. "Me too. It's always there when you look up. Even in Bombay." I whisper back.

I want to tell him what an amazing night I've had talking to him. But the tea is too hot and I scald my tongue. I need to get started with my morning collections. I say goodbye and start to walk away. "Hey Kari!" he calls behind me. "Good morning!" and he smiles. I laugh at that greeting and think to myself that this is a moment I shall always hold in my mind, much like that old photograph that I realise I've forgotten to return to him.

P.S. This was written on 15th July 2011 at 10:38 AM and thought of as too sentimental to put up on the blog. But I suppose tonight I'm too overwhelmed by the memory to care about the sentimentality.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

When we were young

"I divide my life into two parts, not really a Before and After, more as if they are bookends, holding together flaccid years of empty musings, years of the late adolescent or the twentysomething whose coat of adulthood simply does not fit."

- from When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman.

A big thank-you to the Book Florist for this quote. And cheers to all those out there like us! :)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

In the still of the night

Sometimes it really pisses me off that I'm a person whose defining characteristics include a tendency to vacillate supremely. Every decision seems to be taken impulsively and then overthrown by second thoughts. Certainty is something that can be very elusive.

I realised I am more afraid of success than I am of failure. Failure is more comfortable because it will maintain status quo. It will be an excuse to try again. Try again to do something which would have been easily achieved the first time around if it was not for a weakness of resolve.

I have done this many times before and each time, I've managed to rationalise and intellectualise it till it didn't feel like an internal defect any more. Till I had convinced myself it was a matter of bad luck and unfavourable circumstances. Clearly, I am responsible for this, atleast in part, mostly in whole.

It is not a lack of ambition, it is clearly a trepidation of walking the difficult path ambition urges one to follow.

It will not do to hope to reach the light at the end of the tunnel while secretly wishing it's an oncoming train.

I wonder if accusing oneself of self-sabotage is just another way to sabotage oneself. But I think maybe recognising the problem is the first step towards fixing it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

And the grass won't pay no mind!

Note to self: If you like the poetry, buy the book. Try not to fall in love with the poet.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Dancing with Myself

I can't shake the feeling of slight disorientation when I try to take into account how much we've actually grown up. K. was telling me tonight that she was likely to become engaged to her boyfriend of three years in July. The fact that K. used the word 'affianced' to indicate the engagement was an even stronger sign that we weren't the teenage schoolgirls who thought up lists of songs to dance to at our respective weddings.

She sounded appropriately excited and delighted that I didn't want to interrupt her with my "I've got an exam next week" shtick. "You're always studying for exams!" is what she would say, I was certain.

Surprisingly, she wanted to know my opinion on the subject of marriage for some reason. I told her that I quite frankly didn't feel equipped to discuss the topic.

Truthfully, in my head I'm not really a twenty-three year old "woman", I think I'm still stuck being a little kid mostly. I still live at home with mum and dad, I can cook but only barely, my experience of romantic love is not very extensive to put it mildly and I really, really don't think I'm even capable of managing an entire household as a wife and later, mother.

Maybe this is just a lack of maturity on my part, or maybe it's a manufacturing defect. My friends insist I'll always stay baby-faced and child-like my whole life but then they also insist that's actually a good thing so I'm not sure if I can believe them.

M. was telling me that that's maybe just because I'm a late bloomer or probably because of my rather pampered cloistered upbringing.

I really don't know anything for certain apart from the fact that the very idea of being married to someone for the rest of my life, or even for a short time (you never know these days) fills me with a sort of alarm and a vague sense of panic.

Piyu thinks I'm a commitment-phobe. I don't "follow through" on these things, supposedly. I agree. Also I'm pretty sure I'm not a very maternal, or even a very feminine type of girl/woman. But I had hope that I could make up for that by being extra-warm or extra-generous.

I don't think anyone except my mum can really tell me these things with any authority. So I asked her. Her simple reply was that she wasn't a born mother-figure either, she was kinda thrown in at the deep-end after her reasonably late wedding and when she had kids to bring up without an experienced elder in the house, she simply made it up as she went along.

"You can't read a book about how to be a mother," she said, "Your kids teach you all about it." I am guessing acquiring a husband is also the only way to learn to be a wife.

And since, I'm not likely to do either any time soon, since being a medical student mostly takes care of my life priorities up until my early thirties atleast, I think I should tell K. that I'll get back to her on that question in about a decade's time.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Beyond the Fog of Time

My new year's weekend was rather uneventful in a sense. I've never been much of a party person really, nor do I know anyone who is a party person or rather someone who is one and would actually invite me to a party. So I did the old-fashioned dinner and a movie thing, once with family and once with friends.

The odd thing was the two movies I saw could not have been more different from each other. Saturday night was earmarked for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, followed by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy on Sunday afternoon. In fact, after I was done watching the latter movie I couldn't help thinking they were calling the wrong movie A Game of Shadows.

What was even odder, however, is that two days later, I'm starting to see some similarities. And I'm not talking about the obviously British setting, in fact, both movies also travel half-way across Europe.

Most importantly, both exist in a world now swallowed by the past and astonishingly both evoke that lost world with such delicate and adroit detail, so much so that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is continuously suffused with a sense of nostalgia and intense yearning.

What they both have in common is also the intrigue, the game of cat-and-mouse, the outwitting of an ideological enemy coupled with a sense of respect, even awe for that enemy's abilities.

While the character embodied by Robert Downey, Jr. is a far cry from the original man with the violin, tobacco pipe, deerstalker and steel-trap mind, there is in parts a trace of the science of deduction that Holmes applied with such finesse. However, I must say I preferred the actor who played Moriarty with such a perfect cold sneer behind an erudite veneer.

On the other hand, Gary Oldman's unsmiling George Smiley is a tired and semi-retired spy turned detective, hunting down a mole planted by his 'arch-enemy', the enigmatic Soviet spymaster Karla.

In a sense, both men are more-or-less singlehandedly trying to stall the outbreak of a world war, though the anachronistic bomb explosions in the Sherlock movie are nowhere near as scary as the leaky cauldron of secrets that is the British intelligence agency in the face of the Cold War.

And while Holmes has his loyal companion and best friend in Dr. Watson played by a genuinely funny Jude Law reluctantly tagging along 'one last time', the banter between the two characters and the chemistry between the two actors accounting for most of the entertainment the film provides, Smiley has his dependably sharp and intrepid young protege, Peter Guillam portrayed with a callow vulnerability by the excellent Benedict Cumberbatch who I'm justifiably beginning to have a major crush on.

I also spent a lot of time admiring the languorous beauty of the Victorian world that Holmes and Watson traipse around in. This smoky, overcast, almost dingy vision of London is so beautifully and painstakingly rendered that I can't help but determine that this is to be the exact setting for the stories in my mind when I next read them.

Sadly, the movie is only a fraction of what it could have been. I sat through it the whole time thinking what it would have been like without the naughty innuendo and the grating slow motion fisticuffs and well, the surprising lack of suspense.

At the diametrically opposite end of the spectrum lay Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Now, this film builds up suspense like no spy thriller you've ever seen. Unlike other stylised spy movies, this one has effectively three gunshots and one made me flinch as the blood splattered the grubby wall covered with flowery wallpaper while another underlined who loved whom and who betrayed whom.

It's a film you watch with your body and mind on high alert. This is a world of secrets and lies, illusions and half-truths, misplaced loyalties and unexpected betrayals. Here spies aren't flashy like James Bond or Ethan Hunt, but deceptively quiet watchers and whisperers, their espionage involving coded telegrams and tapped telephones rather than car-chases and hand-to-hand combat.

I can almost imagine Holmes nodding his head in approval of the inobtrusively stolid and cerebral mystery-solving Smiley, an infinitely better successor to Holmes than the brawling wisecracking ruffian that Downey plays. I have absolutely no doubt which movie Holmes himself would choose to watch.

After coming out of the cinema hall on Sunday afternoon, stepping into the cheerful winter sunlight, I shivered a little certainly not from the cold weather, mostly thankful that I wasn't around in the days of the Cold War.

While the idea that history repeats itself lies at the muddled core of the Sherlockian adventure, a lesson that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy chillingly imparts inspite of its gentle nostalgia is that the past really is a foreign country, and one should explore it carefully.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Voices at the door

Not much evokes the passage of time as effectively as a birthday or a new year's day. For me, like for most other people, time is an odd thing to deal with, it lingers at times, it flees at others. It dilates and contracts to suit our states of mind.

For me, the last year was a truly good one. It showed me the due importance of having a purpose in life, the knowledge of being on the right path in life, the indescribable joy of having found the right sort of people to love, the strength of friendships forged in times of duress, and the kindness of strangers.

I wonder what this one has in store. I wonder which way this crossroads of mixed directions has in mind for me. At this point, the best I can do is wonder.

Exams are drawing inexorably close. I can't decide if I have given them more importance than they deserve or less and which is worse.

Every year's end for almost twelve years now, Ishatai sends me a letter - a real letter in an envelope delivered by the postman and she ends it with a resolution from a proverb or a quote.

I like the one she sent this year and maybe I can borrow it as my resolution, too and if I am very lucky maybe I can keep it.

"To the dreams of thy youth, stay true." - Schiller

Happy New Year, folks!