Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Inspiringly Yours

"Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud" - Maya Angelou.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
The aging watchman of a building I walk past every morning on my way to college has an apparently boring life. He reports for duty at 8 sharp every morning, dons the smart cap which his security company has provided him to go with his uniform, and has a busy couple of hours till 10 in the morning while the regular office goers leave the building in their middle-sized cars. Very little is there to distract him till late in the evening, when these same office goers return to their brightly lit drawing rooms and welcoming families. What does this man do with so much time in his hand, I used to wonder as a child. And one day I discover him, sitting alone on a sultry summer afternoon in the small 6x6 room provided to him, cooling off in front of a small stand fan, and playing softly to his own self a small harmonica. I return to the spot a couple of days later, and I find the man contentedly busy doing exactly the same thing, and this time I notice a small radio set beside the fan, playing softly an old, almost forgotten Kishore tune. I realize that this man's life is not one of boredom, but one of peaceful and untroubled seclusion where he is happy to be busy with the only thing which has managed to inspire him most from across all four corners of the world: his quaint little harmonica.

Where do I even begin this story? To write about Inspiration is surely one of the most difficult tasks there is, for you need to have a lot of it to start writing in the first place. My first encounter with this strange object, or rather the dearth of it, came as I was just putting my foot into the hitherto unknown territories of adolescence and youth. As the business of existence was gradually becoming more and more serious, my 13-year-old self suddenly realized that quite a lot was expected out of me. And off I embarked on this stimulating expedition. At times the journey was challenging; at times the journey was fun; but at all times the journey was dead serious. There were phases when an overwhelming desire to surrender and go back to being a child besieged me. Indeed, the need for inspiration in order to progress was a novel phenomenon.

Anne Frank
Positive Energy! It is the most ethereal yet absolutely essential commodity which inhabits the mindscape. When Anne Frank used to feel saddened by the prosecution of the Jews around her and by how her parents always seemed to love her elder sister more than her, she turned to her diary Kitty to give vent to her feelings, and in turn draw inspiration from her own words. A close family friend I've known since my childhood has this thing for chocolates, and she'd be ready to go out and buy a box of pick-me-up Ferrero Rocher even if there were a storm going on outside. A deeply-in-love classmate of mine needs nothing but a short 15-minute chat with his wonderful girlfriend to get his mood up again and he is ready to face any problem in the world. I, on the other hand, am not easily inspired. I still need a very strong impetus, almost childlike, to shake me out of my humdrum existence and bring me to do something worthwhile.

Uninspired living is dangerous existence. It is true that sustenance demands from us only the luxuries of food clothing and shelter. But just as the body needs nourishment and security for survival, the soul it houses is no different, and that is precisely the quality that sets us apart from our non-human ancestors. Our country has an exhaustive workforce pushing along the nation over the rails of progress, but the progress is not a well-oiled one. The fact that Indian students have potential which go much beyond their international counterparts is accepted by all and sundry, but have we ultimately produced internationally acclaimed researchers and scientists to our true promise? It is unfortunate indeed but an uninspired workforce is not capable of producing magical growth rates and nor can an uninitiated student succeed in winning the accolades he or she might deserve. The human mind is the master of the human body, so when the monarch is impoverished, the heads of the subjects are bound to droop.

প্রতিক্রিয়াশীল কোনো বিপ্লবে
If your existence has been reduced to one continuous monotonous humming in your ear and your mind scatters right and left when you direly need to collect your facilities together, simply look around! Inspiration is waiting to be discovered, in every object around you. I remember a trip I took almost a year back to my ancestral place, and came back from there with many happy memories and one solitary rock, picked up arbitrarily from a riverbank as a keepsake. The memories and the memento together served as a powerful inspiring force for a long time, and the rock still owns pride of place in my study. I was a reader in my youth; time steadily devoured the sacrifice of this habit at the altar of métier. A short discussion on reading habits and tastes with a new acquaintance surprisingly inspired me back to my reading habits once more, and I hope that this inspiration, which ultimately has to come from within, is here to stay. It is said that if you look up into the night sky at the pin-pricked stars against the jet black backdrop, not a negative thought can ever pollute your mind for the moment. And the sky is one thing we all have for free.

Picture Courtesy: Mitrayan Hazra
Life is terribly short, and the wise men and women make the most of it while it lasts. In brooding and melancholic contemplation, every minute spent is sixty seconds wasted. The world is not going to wait for me to get my psyche in shape, so I am possibly in high risk of getting left behind. So tomorrow on my way through my routine errands, when I shall pass that neighbouring building of mine yet again, I will not only throw a cursory glance at the aged man sitting on a stool maybe reading a vernacular daily, but also look to find how he cultivates his source of inspiration which sustains him through a life which is otherwise so utterly routine. And then it will be my turn to flick through my surroundings and try to find my own passion, my article of rejuvenation, which will bring me out of the rut I might be falling into. It is time for me to discover my own harmonica.

"There are two ways of spreading light: be the candle or the mirror that reflects it." - Edith Warton.

May we all be mirrors to God's eternal light, reflecting it upon those who need it most direly.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Year End Chronicles

Numens of the Night, Halt!

Picture Courtesy: Angshuman Pal
Why rush, fair maiden of December, dressed in pristine whites which make you look but a ghostly apparition in the bleak twilit background of cold, the blackness broken only by a handful of stars and a sliver of the moon wrestling the urban pollution and fog? Are you in a hurry to make way for the young lass whose arrival you know is only a few hours away, who comes to lay her claim upon the birth of the new year, which is rightfully hers? Do come into my humble shelter and have a bit of respite; after thirty-one days of attentive vigilance and ministration upon my city, you have surely earned it. Your plight knocks the chivalrous cavalier in my young heart to life!

You are not the first of the honoured maidens to have paused at my dwelling, humble though it may be in the middle of such a crowded city teeming with people reveling the season and struggling for livelihood alike, and I certainly hope you will not be the last. You have been preceded by eleven of your sisters; in families of twelve you always come, I have noted. You appear to me as certainly the most gracious and delightful among all your siblings, I must say, with your dignified presence, bright and charming; you carry a feel of temperance with you. Your sisters who arrived just around midway through the year, I recall, were of a rather temperamental and excitable disposition! But again, it serves no good to differentiate among siblings, does it... Now, such deliberation can wait, as I hold open the door of my residence for you to enter.

Picture Courtesy: Angshuman Pal
Now that you are safe from the cold winds that sometimes pass through my city this time of the year, and are pleasantly warmed up by a cup of tea with a touch of sugar and milk added to it, let us have a chat. Reminiscence is a word I would be disposed to use, for it is mainly your elder family members that I wish to speak of; I have so many recollections of them! It seems almost an age ago, on a very similar night, when I first met your eldest sister. Now I come to think of it, you bear resemblances to her in certain ways; the cool yet pleasant manner in which she carried herself surely bore signs of good upbringing and a pedigreed family. I have always been slightly predisposed towards the first-borns you see.

The eldest maiden, charming though her company surely was, was to be my guest for only a month's meagre time. Nonetheless, I was not to suffer from lack of company, because your other sisters were all kind enough to pass me by. None remained for a very long time, it is true. Your second sister, I seem to recall, had a surprisingly short visit. Or was her stay slightly longer this time around? Maybe, I do not know... Either way, I developed firm affinity towards your sisters second third and fourth, who were all good-natured and fun to be with, though intermittently whimsical! A riot of colours and an occasional wish to indulge could be related to them. In particular, I fondly recall your third sister agreeing to stay on just till my birthday, which was an occasion to be remembered. Pleasant associations were had with all of them, I conclude.

Picture Courtesy: Rounak Akhter
The siblings numbered five and six, though, were a different proposition, were they not? Such strong personalities they owned, and all the world wilted before their gaze. Benefits were to be had from their visits, though, for they bore with them bequests of the tastiest morsels of fruits known to humankind. Well-meaning though they were at heart, I was nonetheless not overly saddened to bid them goodbye when they bid me adieu and wished me luck.

As half of the year exhausted itself, my city was sagging and drooping a touch. It was amidst a gush of wind that your seventh sister announced her arrival, and was soon followed by the next, both sweeping the city with life and vibrancy. Traces of sultriness and temper were washed away by the generous well-watered munificent arms of your siblings. We would do well to remember that the crops that were sown in that span of the year are what mostly sustain us for the rest of the while.

You surely are not getting bored by the stories of your illustrious siblings? Do not, for I shall now recollect the visits of the ninth and the tenth of them. Oh what fun they were! It is indeed a pity you shall never know how my city decks up with fanfare to welcome those two favourite sisters; to call the occasion gala would be a glaring understatement. My city goes wild with excitement it can barely control, and all thanks to your lovely sisters who leave no stone unturned in their quest to make their visit a memorable one for my fellow city-dwellers.

What do I say about your eleventh sibling, who came just before you! Agreeable and kind (you could be her twin!), she seemed to gently prepare my city for an event which was on the horizon - the approaching denouement of yet another year and the associated merrymaking. It was with her leave that I had the pleasure of getting introduced to you. You certainly have given us no reason to crib either, and these days my city has looked as happy and jolly as it could possibly wish to do.

And it is with you, good lady, that I must end this beautiful kinship with your family. Goodbyes, they say, are sad. But isn't it also the promise of a new beginning which can potentially be even more charming and delightful? Of course it is, and that is why we "Ring out the old, ring in the new". It would be indeed unfair to forget the troubles taken by you and your eleven sisters throughout the year, and that is why I look to store your delightful memories in the reservoir of recollections in my mind.

Yet another year passes. One looks back at successes and failures, victories earned and defeats suffered. These important moments are the ones that undoubtedly stand out, but only a knave can afford to forget the remaining time filling in fifty-two glorious weeks of the sensation of Life. It is not in the few big lavish banquets attended in our most impressive formals over the year, but in the three hundred and sixty six simple meals of breakfast we devoured, humble though they may be in terms of cuisine, that the year is defined. Go looking for the trees, and you miss the woods as a result.

With that, maiden of December, I must raise my final toast to you and hold open the door. All good things come to an end, as must your delightful visit to my premises. I know we shall not meet again, for the road you travel by knows no reversing. But in my mind and my heart, I assure you, you will hold your rightful place as have your sisters before you, right until the eggs of my brain get scrambled.

Leave, if you please, by the back door, for I have detected the arrival of an elegant lady by the name of January at my front, and I want to extend my finest courtesies to her and her family.

May the Lord shower blessings uninterrupted upon the world in the year to come.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Malaise of Lethargy

"We were not sent into this world to enjoy the loveliness therein, nor to sit us down in passive ease; no, we were sent here for action." - Dorothea Dix, 19th century American social activist.

Last October, the first time in eight months, my blog skipped it's regular monthly post.

On the brink of completing one year as a blogger, when I pause and look back, this period has brought about a profound effect on me as an individual, a student, a writer, and Homo sapiens in general. Apart from helping a scattered mind gather itself and coordinating my hugely incohesive thoughts into somewhat framed structures, a big lesson was the practice of setting myself goals every month and working to pin them down. To the expert procrastinator that I am, this setting of goals (and achieving them) is a hugely difficult task.

I just missed one of my goals last month, thanks to a monster named Lethargy.

Lethargy leads, within the blink of an eye, to depression
Life of a college student is without doubt a busy affair. I have my regular studies to take care of, do my share of household chores, mind the important business of hanging out with friends, pursue my other umpteen out-of-the-curriculum activities, write lab reports, meet Professors, read and re-read books, and I could go on for a day. Busy life, right! Last month when a friend of mine inquired about my blog, or rather the absence of it, pat came my reply. I told her how pressed for time I was and how my daily schedule was resembling that of Hillary Clinton, crisscrossing the length and breadth of America in her campaign trails. Codswallop. My excuse was about as credible as Donald Trump paying a courtesy fundraising visit to a Syrian refugee camp. What my literary friend eventually summarized for me as "writer's block", was identified by me accurately and ironically as an acute case of the malady called Lethargy. The destroyer of youth, the wrecker of potential, the executioner of talent at the guillotine of indolence, on a mass scale.

If the human brain is fertile land, the world around us is a provider of vibrant seeds aplenty, waiting for appropriate nurturing to bring them to full bloom. Perched on the apex of the divine creation pyramid, we are separated from our lowly primitive ancestors of the animal kingdom by the wish and will to contribute to the world in ways other than only to eat excrete and procreate. Being lucky enough to spend most of my time in company of astute and gifted brains at college and elsewhere, I can observe in people around me the potential to take the world by storm. But it is in converting this potential to actual results that a spanner is placed in the works. The exotic ingredients for an exquisite platter are all available in copious amounts, but there is no one to stoke the flame.

O Lethargy, what a disease you are! Merriam-Webster defines it as "the quality or state of being lazy, sluggish, or indifferent", which doesn't half describe the malady it is. Lethargy now is such a big disease among the youth that you will hardly find anything unaffected by it's spread. From turning upside down the daily routine to adversely affecting examination grades, the reach is ginormous. The disease is contagious as well, as a lot of people residing in uninspiring company know to their own cost. Lethargy is that state when one just cannot be bothered enough to do anything - pertaining to use of either the brain or the body. To maintain status quo is Heaven to the lethargic. Absentmindedly surfing through TV channels or perfunctorily making one's way through News Feed on social media - a large portion of the time wasted due to lethargy owes itself to the electronic means available to us nowadays.

Every day when I wake up in the morning, with the first splash of cold water over my face which removes traces of sleepiness from the mind, a tug-of-war begins. You have that article to finish you've been planning on for two weeks now, and you also need to sit down with the syllabus of the upcoming mid-semesters because it really is quite vast this time around: one part of the cranium tries to nudge me into action. But before the action is actually carried out, there is another thought which pops up on the mental notification window - six new messages on WhatsApp bearing some completely useless information, and there is that new video from such-and-such YouTube channel who make vaguely amusing parodies and sketches. And oh, do I see a long break in between classes at college today? That calls for redundant loitering around and perusal of useless activities, and to hell with the new design concept I wanted to consult that Professor about! Who wins the battle in the brain, I suppose, is as clear as the Yamuna waters to all and sundry.

Source: Elon Musk: The world's Raddest Man
In the meantime, one gets those spasms of inspiration. A finely crafted film, an arousing lecture from a visionary Professor or even a fine piece of music, is capable of generating the sudden will and energy to break the ubiquitous barriers of lethargy. Reading about Elon Musk makes me want to do space research, listening to Michel Petrucciani on the piano makes me a jazz addict for days, and hearing a galvanized Professor enlighten us on some amazing scientific discovery gives me the creeps. These thrills, unfortunately, are ephemeral in nature like the life of a mayfly, and just like the reel of a film, they come to an end.

So how are we actually affected by the symptoms of lethargy? During these days of youth, the human brain is working at it's highest efficiency and when utilized to it's optimum, is capable of producing much useful and productive results. In the atmosphere of mediocrity we live in, being average is sufficient, so not many take the pain to excel. Were any sociologist to do some research on this, I'm sure we would find quite a substantial loss occurring to the nation's GDP each year, thanks to under-utilization of talent and skill of the young minds. (Those who do utilize, eventually seek greener pastures abroad.) The brightest of the lot have fallen prey to inertia, and waste what God had gifted them with. "Every body continues to remain in it's state of rest...........unless acted upon by an external unbalanced force" - Sir Isaac Newton finds applicability everywhere.

Speaking of inspiration...
So it's time to locate the external unbalanced force! Set your alarm clock, keep away the mobile phone, have a breath of fresh morning air and look out - there lies inspiration in every corner of the street and in every person down the road. The sweet water at the bottom of a well is waiting to quench the thirst of anyone who cares to drink it, but you need a rope long enough. The universe outside is waiting for you.

Dedicated partly to all my sleeping friends whom I am desperate to awaken, and partly to my own self, who is in considerable need of awakening himself.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Time Ravel

Do you know how to time travel?

If you do, go back in time the few seconds spent in reading this and do something constructive in the mean time.

If you don't, read on.

Sixteen-and-half years into the new millennium, we are accustomed to the pleasures and pains of this century. You may be a millennial-generational freak to boot hell-bent on rocking the entire planet to your psychedelic tunes, or you may be one of those geriatric oldies lamenting the early demise of the gone-by era - the vagaries of this century are unfamiliar to none. So not many of us would be at a loss to appreciate the multiple paradigm shifts the world has gone through in the last few centuries. To a nineteenth century kid thrown into 2016, what he sees around him is nothing short of sheer fantasy and inconceivable absurdities to his overwhelmed 1800's mind and body. Likewise, I fear I shall be a complete misfit in any social gathering of 2116, were I thrown in there today. So, while in the company of Today, my good friend, I casually put my dreaming spectacles on, and get ready for a double-blind-date with two charming maidens, namely Yesterday and Tomorrow...

Fiction has been at it for a long time now.
It is a passionate wish to know the unknown and see the unseen which has driven our civilization to where it is today. We are all idolators of Science and Logic; Technology and Engineering fascinate us. But what was it in the first place which initiated the logical human brain to drive our limits further and not rest till the unconquered has not been conquered? It is not science, nor logic, but an illogical and emotional urge. This urge is compelling us to keep straining at anything which by nature binds us. Tell a child "Fire is dangerous!" and he'll have an immediate desire play with it, a desire would probably not have been so strong in the first place had the Fire Rule not been stated. We never grow out of our childhoods, so the men of Science have been at this since eternity, trying to break the rules that Nature has apparently put down for us. Lo and behold, we keep on succeeding! Prior warning; this is not a scientific journal article, and hence should be read in right spirit.

We perceive reality (as of now) through four dimensions, of which the first three constitute the realms of Space. Now these three have been conquered, conquested upon, pummeled like punching bags, and made to adjust themselves in every way thinkable for human convenience. It is no longer a big deal to conquer space by traversing through it. NASA's Voyager 1 has left the solar system and has started interstellar travel, and that should be seem like long enough a journey for most humans, some of whom find even the distance between the bed and the water bottle on the dining table so immense that they have to make do with feeling thirsty... Inertia, you see. But jests apart, the bigger picture says that Coordinate Axes X-Y-Z, you don't stand a chance in front of us. Which, in turn, brings me back to my speculative double-blind-date for the day!
Voyager 1

"Yesterday is History; Tomorrow is a Mystery; Today is a gift, and that is why we call it Present!" An old adage, encountered by me for the first time as a twelve-year-old. That seventh-grader back then was an innocent naïve kid all wide-eyed and gullible, just starting to explore the world. The proverb did not make a lot of sense back then. "Today" seemed nice enough a friend, but how exciting it would be to relive Yesterday and have a short glimpse of Tomorrow! Also I was slowly getting interested in time-travel paradoxes and other stuff back then, so the past and the future were super-exciting prospects. Well, not that I would have particularly wanted to kill any relatives, or get involved with strange-acting bartenders (check the links for explanations, in case you you have not got them already!), but speculative prospects of time travel were nevertheless exciting!

There comes the problem. The fourth dimension called Time is as rigid and inflexible as they get. Strain and fight as you may, but you do not have an iota of control over the tick-tick-tick of your wall clock. I am tempted to say that in all likelihood we never shall, but what justification can I provide for that? It probably is ingrained into our mindset. We have been brought up with the counsel time is valuable beyond all, and time lost once is lost forever. These statements while being made to a child unwilling to study are not spoken as assertions of scientific facts, but in order to imbibe the general virtues of punctuality, obedience and whatnot within the kid. This has resulted in us all growing up with a feeling of reverence towards time. "Time" is absolute, unalterable and immutable; something akin to what a dog feels while pushing at a wall it cannot move.

But has the dog ever heard of a thing called a bulldozer? It probably hasn't. Perceptions change over time. Just a century and half ago, a journey from India to England meant a journey of months, and you were not too sure if you would embark alive from the boat or packed in a wooden casket. Could it be imagined back then that one day we will be able to perform that same round trip in 24 hours and be back to have dinner with the family? Such suggestions would probably have been scoffed at. But then the Wright brothers appeared, with a crazy scheme and an even crazier contraption purported to give man wings. The rest is aviation history. My regards to their engineering prowess, but spare a thought for the change it brought to human perspective and vision as well...

The Wright Brothers' airplane
Why do I wish to unravel the mysteries of time? Primarily, to learn from the past and to build for a better future. I would wish to see how my city looked like fifty years younger, to know when (if at all) cancer finds itself a cure, and to waltz in the ballrooms of The Titanic as it left the ports of Southampton! Does that mean I am not satisfied with the present I have built for myself? Oh I sure am. If my life is a snowstorm then every single day is a snowflake, beautiful and pristine. When layers and multitudes of exquisite snowflakes descend together, the beauty of the snowstorm is captured. As a flake is slowly floating earthbound, there is no point in looking down at the ground for erstwhile crystals now lying in the mud, or gazing up at the clouds hoping to discover more snow yet to come. Focus instead on what is in front of you and what you see is a sparkling-white landscape in all its glory.

Excuse me for now; I have a date to attend!

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning." - Albert Einstein.

P.S.: Thank you Wait But Why for the idea behind this post. I recommend all readers to go through it and become disciples of awesome Tim Urban.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

In So Many Words

"Life is a foreign language; all men mispronounce it": Christopher Morley, American author.

The incomplete Tower of Babel
Genesis 11:1 - 11:9 of the Old Testament is an interesting segment of the Holy Book. Among other things, it narrates the story of the Tower of Babel. When the children of Noah (of Ark fame) multiplied and had expansive families of their own, they all lived together and spoke one language. Being clever people, such was their pride and audacity that they began to challenge the authority of God. They came together and started building a tower ever so high destined to reach the Heavens, using bricks and tar for the construction. We are so smart, they said, and God is not important. But God, apparently, was smarter, for He had other plans. To disrupt the ego of the humans, one fine morning He mixed up the languages of the people. When everyone no longer spoke the same tongue, they could no longer live and work together in union, and the city was a confused mess. Very soon they dispersed, in groups of people speaking the same tongue, and the city was eventually and quite appropriately named Babel, meaning "confused" in Hebrew. The tower was never finished, and thus the languages came into being.

Languages are the most amazing things we can possibly speak... Duh? Okay, maybe that does not say a lot... When the heart feels a need to be expressed, it conveys a neural message to the brain. The brain in turn decodes it and gives the expression the form of words in a language. These beautiful creations of the brain are then spoken out loud, or as in my case at the moment, written bold in black and white. The joy of expression reaches its destiny of realization.

 The first language we all speak is the gibberish baby-language that a new-born gurgles. Ask the mother and she will probably translate all of it for you, for since when has communication between the child and the mother depended on mere mortal words! Fast forward a few months. The infant brain has grown at an astonishing pace, and the child has probably started picking up the first few words in the language which will eventually own the distinction of being the child's mother tongue. The language in which we laugh at our happiest hour, cry at our saddest, and swear in during the most bitter and resentful times. Over the course of growing up I have heard umpteen times from elders the story of my one-year-old version's journey through my first words, and each time the story entertains me as much! A scientific study had quoted that in times of extreme mental stress your mind automatically switches over to your mother tongue irrespective of the circumstance, and I have personally experienced this. The lengua materna is your identity, your firm ground for life.

So much for the origins and baby-talk. What about the languages spoken in the world today? Ethnologue, an interesting website about languages and origins, claims information about 7097 living languages. But strict demarcation and distinction among languages is a grey area indeed. Why look further when our country itself has an absurdly varied range of languages? We have 22 officially recognized languages, but that says half the story. In the Hindi-speaking state of Uttar Pradesh, it is said that the language spoken changes with every 100 kilometers you travel by road. In Britain only, the language English takes many twists and turns, with the Scots, Welshmen, Irish and the true-blue Englishmen hanging on to their own distinct styles and vocabularies. Add to that the Americans and Australians with a multitude of unmistakable idioms of their own. The same Spanish word is capable of bearing three or more different and completely unrelated meanings as you travel across South America! So to engage oneself in classifying the languages of the world would be indulging in quite a bit of time wasting.

Have you ever felt the joy of learning a language foreign to you? It is unparalleled. If you have a liking for self-expression, learning a new language is like an ice-cream crazy kid discovering a new untried flavour of Baskin Robbins. If you are of taciturn disposition, it is a new language to stay silent in... Dabbling in a new language opens new vistas for the learner, because you do not simply learn the vocabulary and the grammar of the language, but the essence of the land where the tongue is spoken as well. The manner in which a language develops is a mirror of the entire society which speaks it, imbuing in the history, culture, cuisine, geography and humanity of the people.

We are bound within confines of such a short lifetime, and most of that is frittered away in dull activities like sleeping, eating and creating progeny. Consider for a moment the fact that we are sharing our planet with millions and millions of other human beings and yet we know not an iota of how their journey of survival proceeds day after day. True, we are social media savvy and like to stay updated round the clock, but such media contribute further in consolidating the isolation we suffer from. Friend lists may be increasing by the day but real contact declines.

Antipodal social structures and frenetic lifestyles make each social group a virtual island with little interaction with other groups. Such indifference! It pains me. One of my strongest desires in life is to sit in a room full of people of diverge and polar identities, listen to each of their stories, and share my own with them. It is not merely information which I seek, for the internet is full of them, but the quintessence of the existence which is not conveyable by facts alone. The smallest mundane detail of my everyday life is sure to be a source of amazement for someone without an inkling of how my society lives and works, and the reverse is equally veracious.  But the buck stops there. In reality such desires are far-fetched and impractical; wanting to have a bite of every society of the world is even more silly than it sounds. It is here that I proffer a viable and sensible alternative, that of tapping in to the vast resources of languages. The window to civilizations; the pathway to amalgamation...

21 February, International Mother Language Day
There is no end to eulogizing languages. In the age of cosmopolitanism a successful professional needs a repertoire of communication skills. Be it a budding entrepreneur or wizened corporate honcho, being able to communicate better with a colleague or collaborator in his or her own tongue is a big plus. But to be able to grasp a language as it is spoken, one needs the blessings of an accomplished virtuoso instructor, as well as the will to learn, for dropout rates are alarmingly high in foreign language courses all over the world! But the most effective way to learn a tongue, without doubt, is to go and live in a country which speaks it. True, with the advent of internet you are not in dearth of dictionaries and translators. But the gross limitations of Duolingo and the likes are exposed the moment you move over from individual words and terms to general conversation. Moreover, no fruitful conversation can ever be carried out with one hand and half the mind focused on a smartphone screen! Finally, only two friends sharing a common foreign language will know the usefulness of the same while sitting in a crowd and you need to make a rather shady observation which is not for everyone's ears...

To conclude, surpassing all other advantages is a feeling of immense satisfaction and gratification derived from mastering a tongue. I have only started on my journey, but thanks to the immense spread of the only foreign language I have obtained a certain degree of mastery over (Spanish), I already command the ability to speak to almost 19% of the world's population, in their native tongue! Add to that the non-native speakers of these languages, and the sprinkling of regional Indian languages which most people understand a few words of, and the percentage is bound to increase. Time is ticking on, and I have a world to conquer yet...

There is a vast infinity of stories out there in this world, waiting insistently for a patient hearing. Come let's listen to them together...

Sunday, 17 July 2016

College Cogitations

Time, as they say, does fly.

Do you remember the New Year's Eves you celebrated as a child? For a young me, the 31st night was different from the other festivities of the year. As a ritual, as the clock reached midnight I used to devote some time contemplating upon the year gone by. Friends made, books read, birthdays celebrated, holidays enjoyed, and other such innocent enjoyable tidbits from the last twelve months would crowd my mind. This practice of introspection is something I still carry out every New Year's Eve. With the passing of the years and suppression of free spirits, the reflections I encounter now are of quite a different kind, but what hasn't changed a fraction is the childlike astonishment I still derive upon discovering the simple fact, that yet another year has passed. How could it possibly end so quickly!

More than two years back when I was on the brink of starting college, someone had given me a pretty sound piece of advice. Your college changes your life completely, he had said, but for the better or for the worse is a decision up to you. So neatly and concisely put, I appreciate now. Two years and some more into college, during this critical time of the year when yet another fresh batch of students await what lies beyond those coveted doors of admission, a little contemplation and advice seems due. Things are definitely going to differ depending on people and circumstances, but the general sentiments, I hope, will not be overly contrary to anyone's.

Half of my undergraduate days have passed and it seems that I am on a permanent roller-coaster which has no intention of pausing. You learn and you experience, you progress through the motions at breakneck pace, you are thrown up in the air and then you have the bitterest of falls, only to be thrown up again. You are living as if on a persistent and continuous high where your mind is, if nothing else, active. This frenzied state of activity, it is to be noted, is not at all occurring on an academic plane only, and that is where things get so absurdly interesting. School education was a cushioned fortification, the protected  andarmahal of palatial residence. The big city outside the palace is a jungle where wolves hunt alone and in packs. Welcome to college, the prep-school for the big transition from secured interiors to an insecure exterior, where girls and boys become women and men.

"You are primarily a student, and whatever other activity you may wish to pursue should come after that", thus spake the concerned parent, solicitous relative and the rest of our well-wishers galore when college started. Overburdened by well-meaning guidance, blissfully incorrect preconceived notions and a few mountain-loads of expectations, we step in through the gates. I would merely be wasting words if I tried to explain how entirely inaccurate I had been in my earlier conceptions about college, and how amazingly novel everything was around me when I stepped in. Savour your freshmen year like anything, our college seniors used to tell us, for nothing else is quite like it later on. To make mistakes and be perfectly acceptable in doing the same, to be a "junior" again after a long long time and have no precursory baggage to carry with it, to look up with awe at hallowed portals you had dreamed of entering and at long last you have obtained the keys to do so: those days were a chance to revisit the simplicity of boyhood but with a formed mind.

And then, as is the norm, life happens. When the initial reverence is broken, the vagaries of college life come to the fore. The law of averages has this irritating habit of catching up. Outstanding professors are balanced by rotten ones; the best of friends are counteracted by the worst of them. Also, the mind gears up for life beyond college, which is one heck of a decision to make. It is then that the true worth of you and your college is exposed. When the initial glamour is diminished and a rhythm has been established, how are things spanning out?

A riot of confusions
Education takes a new turn and undergoes a complete makeover. Whichever discipline you may be pursuing, the rate at which new things are learned and applied is phenomenal. To a Learner, the ocean of knowledge is at his beckoning. But since in today's day and age the Learners are an endangered species encountered only in Rajkumar Hirani films, let us address the needs of the more practical minded, for whom there are grades. Oh grades, what a conundrum you are... The simplest solution would be to get the best grades and be done with it. But for those of you who appreciate the minor snags in this approach, certain misgivings may prevail! Banal and clichéd though it may sound, the grades are not the end itself, but the means to quite a different end, vast in size and more enduring in nature. They provide a depiction of the potential of a student, but a depiction only. But at the same time, the sculpture may be susceptible to slight errors in the hands of the maker in certain cases, but never should it be assumed that a model fashioned out of a well-bred German Shepherd would be made to look like a malnourished street dog. In simpler jargon, grades are very important, but there is life beyond them.

For a lot of people, college is the first time in twelve years that you are among a large group of unknown people and you are about to form a lasting bond with a lot of them. I remember standing in my admission queues, looking around, and wondering who among these strange faces around me are going to become my brothers-in-arms, my associates, my companions, my confidantes. These friendships last more, I had been advised by another senior, in comparison to your school mates. Maybe such generalizations should not be made, but the fact remains that your compatriots from college have met and known you as an adult, and despite each having all the convolutions and complexities of an adult mind, you have gelled along. In other words, you know each other in all your imperfections before you strike a chord. In contrast, I suppose most people are acquainted with the very awkward feeling when childhood friends from school met after a long time turn out to be entirely different people as adults, and old memories then become uncomfortable.

Through the inconceivable highs and the gut-wrenching lows that life provides abundantly, your college mates are the people you celebrate and lament with. These times do not simply remain as echos in some sentimental corner of your heart; they fashion and construct your character. That a person is known by the company he keeps is a very old adage, and never is it more appropriate than now. Distractions are not the rarest of occurrences in the life of a young adult, and more often than not they are brought to the fore by a companion. Dabbling with politics and dreams of changing the world crop up. It is perfectly reasonable to dream - where would we be without them - but contact with reality should not be for a second forsaken. Every successful human has undergone this journey of sweeping aside distractions, training the lens on the object of focus, but all the same occasionally stopping by the wayside to pick up a shiny pebble or two.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull
"So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu..." As every month ends, we turn the pages of our calendar. Very soon, sooner than I shall ever anticipate, will come a New Year's Eve when I shall pause and think of my journey through college, and how it ended so abruptly. I shall be soaking in the last bits of sunshine before twilight takes over. Bathing in those slanting rays of the dying sun, I shall be bidding adieu to four years of intense pleasure, testing trials and a collage of unforgettable memories. Imagine a huge maze, which upon entering takes you four years to cross. If I am lucky enough, I'll conquer it in right time. I'll look back at the young boy who entered the maze, then at my own reflection upon leaving, and note the difference. But for the moment, I'm stuck right in the middle, fighting and progressing inches at a time, with friends and family at my side, hugely enjoying every moment of it. Let me enjoy the maze while it lasts.

"Not all those who wander are lost" : J.R.R. Tolkien.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

In Sotto Voce

"One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain." - Bob Marley.

If an alien from Mars descended on the roof of your residence tonight and inquired of you to explain to it this strange earthly phenomenon called music, which is totally unknown to its home planet, how would you answer? It would be exceedingly difficult, because the moment we are binding ourselves to the spoken word while trying to enlighten someone to music, we are attempting a futile exercise, which is akin to taking a blind man to an exhibition of exquisite oil paintings by Italian masters. Easier, therefore, would be to play the alien some music, and then call NASA.

Where words fail, music speaks, said Hans Anderson. There are 4500 languages in the world that are spoken by at least a 1000 people or more, and most of us do not understand more than three or four of them. The musical idiom is as diverse, if not more, but the difference lies in the universal embrace of every human into the realm of music. You may be an absolute layman with zero musical training, or you may be a performer at the Berlin Philharmonic; the depth of understanding of the art form surely differs, but  the Deity of music is equally welcoming into her world to all those who knock at Her gates...

The hills are alive with the Sound of Music.
When was I introduced to music? Some fond recollections bring forth three early memories: an album of nursery rhymes by Preeti Sagar which used to play in our old cassette player now defunct, the humming of Robindroshongit by my mother on Sunday mornings, and The Sound of Music, one of my first ever films. Today when I relive the movie, I am enchanted by the sheer beauty of the story and the depth of emotions portrayed, but back then it was simply the sight of Julie Andrews - running down the green Austrian countryside with the seven children at her side, singing with gaiety and abandon, in simple tunes, about her most favourite things - and how beautiful it was! I felt as happy as little Gretl von Trapp.

From LP's....
Childhood memories fade away as you grow up, and Preeti Sagar now probably lies at the back of some cupboard. Our generation is a lucky one to have passed their teens and adolescence through the period when the internet was fast becoming a household thing. As a result, through our advancing years and changing tastes, we were constantly able to utilize the internet to keep our tastes updated and ears buds satiated. Imagine a generation or two back, and the contrast is glaring. From LP gramophone records to bluetooth headsets via stereos, cassette players and Walkmans, the evolution of music playing devices itself speaks a volume about the change in the music scenario. stereophonic devices.
Amidst the confusion of Growing Up when every kind of music was jostling for space in the playlists, western classical music came and stood softly beside me. The fickle minded child in me took quite some time to adjust to this new, apparently complicated, and tough brand of music. There was no way I could really get the hang of things quickly and everything was seeming vague and pointless! Maybe it was an indication of deep roots spreading well below the soil, but once the plant bloomed it was there to stay. It really does not take rocket science to decipher why classical music is not as popular among the masses as most other forms of music are, for it is pure and unblended. Anything refined is difficult to master, requiring perseverance and patience above the ordinary.

Johann Sebastian Bach, Baroque master.
More than half-a-millennium ago during the Renaissance days, when civilization in Europe was emerging from the Middle Ages, the classical form of music started being written. Back home in India, the origins are traced back to the Samaveda which is said to have been written so that the verses of the Rigveda could be sung in the form of hymns. With progress of the centuries these forms evolved further. Indian classical was classified into Hindustani and Carnatic, with further categorization into Gharanas. Western classical, on the other hand, progressed through period-ages, starting with post-Renaissance Baroque, moving on to Classical, Romantic, and eventually Twentieth Century music.

Popularity speaks for itself, one might argue. In any part of the world, contemporary popular music is ruling the charts, while only those trained in the subject may be able to appreciate classical music. Music is after all for the heart, and no composer should expect his or her audience to consist of only the musically proficient and erudite. To them, I would iterate that behind any genuine musician performing in any genre under the sun, there is a profound influence of classical training, in some form or the other. Examples in this regard are numerous. Coming from the land of Tagore, we need to appreciate that a large number of the Bard's songs have been influenced by classical music, of both the Orient and the Occident, which ranged from Irish and Scottish tunes to Carnatic music from the South of India. For someone interested, this is an absolutely wonderful blog post I ran into while Googling for some information in this regard. The point thus remains that if one is patient enough to build a firm grasp over the forefather of all musical forms, diversification into other genres comes naturally.

Zubin Mehta conducting the Bavarian State Orchestra at Srinagar.
To conclude, I wonder, how well off are we Indians in this sphere? Not very. It goes without saying that we all enjoy music, more so the young generation. Maybe it is an enjoyable pastime, or maybe as a style statement it serves good purpose; interpretation is up to the listener. Having said that, how easy is it for an average Indian young adult pursuing music with heart and soul, genuinely talented in the field, but lacking contacts at proper places, to get a break into the tough music industry? The platter being served before the audience is delicious, but the way through the kitchen is grueling. You may put the blame onto the Great Indian Mentality (read fearful parents and discouraging society), or on the way our entertainment and music industry flourishes on nepotism, or on the sheer lack of opportunities for a talent to flourish: the reality remains that scores of talented youth with a passion for music are being forced away from music into some profession grossly unsuitable and depressing. If a nation's economy is in the doldrums, one or two good governments can rectify the problem. But if the psychology of an entire people needs uplifting, it takes generations for the change to come.

Being an ordinary pursuer of music, I am happy to let music remain as a source of satisfaction and stability in my life, like the thousands of other youth devoting their life and time to other fields but harbouring profound love for music. At the same time, the thought of the pool of musical talent available in my country which is not being tapped, fills me with despondency. This post is dedicated to all the men and women out there with music in their hearts and and melody in their souls, who solely for the want of opportunities could not bring their true potential to materialize....

"If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door." - Milton Berle, American comedian.