Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Trills of Epiphany

The condition of traffic in the city’s thoroughfares gets worse with every passing day. Forced to travel over fifteen kilometres twice every weekday between his suburban residence and his seventeen-storied office in the up and coming localities of the ever-expanding city, Satyam stared helplessly at the serpentine flow through the mess of car honks and abysmal pollution on his way back home after another long day of work, like any other day from the past four years. No use complaining, he thought to himself; we cannot crave for development and cringe at increase in the volume of traffic at the same time. That would be hypocrisy. Let the new metro route commence in a few years, and then life will certainly be a lot easier. This in mind, Satyam reaches into his backpack and draws out his overused and entangled pair of earphones. Jack in place, he drowns himself in the soothing voices of Simon and Garfunkel who talk to him of what is important in life and what is not. The strains of the piano on The Sounds of Silence engulf the cacophony of traffic.

Damn these examinations, thought Tiyasha, they keep coming back. Who on earth invented this horrific form of torture on young children and would-be adults, and to think that it is all for the sake of deciding upon a two-digit number which will supposedly determine my capabilities and potential? Indignant angst poured out of her sixteen-year-old self. As the clock sneaked past the midnight mark, drowsiness crept into the room lightened by a solitary table-lamp, and was aided by the soporific hum that weaves through the night. The upcoming examinations loomed threateningly at the horizon, so in a last bid at dissuading sleep from overtaking, Tiyasha turns and seeks refuge in the set of Bluetooth enabled headphones she had received as a gift on her last birthday. The rest of the house sleeps on, oblivious to the rhythm of the bass guitar as the Poets of the Fall belt out a song which speaks of Illusion and Dream.

Weekends are fun; weekends are for relaxation. Though not quite in the way most people think, mused Rukmini. For those who spend the other days of the week at work, rest is of premium importance on a weekend. But for her, a homemaker now on the wrong side of thirty, it was the only time of the week when she could communicate with her family in a manner that actually counted. The rush of the week, her husband’s long working hours, the increasing demands of her nine-year-old son’s upmarket school, and the thrice-a-week classical dance classes she conducted at her home, left Rukmini with precious little time to dedicate to things that mattered. No matter, she thinks to herself, as she pulls out the decade-old transistor radio from the kitchen shelf where it stayed on the other days of the week. There was a particular radio station which played the choicest of Rabindrasangeet on Sunday mornings, and what more encouragement does one need in order to cook up a really special mixed vegetable dish which even nine-year-olds would scoop up with delight? Rukmini pours all her love and warmth into a big saucepan along with broccoli and beans as Sraboni Sen and the melodies of esraaj take her through Dariye Achho Tumi Aamar Gaaner Opaare.

The smell of dust mixed with the drops of the season’s first rain hit Shankar like a glorious electric shock. As he left the dusty main road for a sparsely taken track into the woods, the bus that brought him there rumbled on towards its destination leaving him alone to his own devices at a little known village in district Nadia. The chaos of the city seemed a long way away as he trod on towards his destination, a vibrant akhara of a group of Bauls. As the rains begin to pick up, Shankar looks skywards and feels as if he is returning home after a very long time. Just out of college, his degree in Mathematics from a renowned institution does not attest his love towards the music of Lalon Fokir, but as the clouds loom darker his steps lengthen and his ears strain for the first notes on the ektara of the ethereal music which asks the almighty, Milon Hobey Kotodiney.

With every passing mile on the road from the airport towards the city, the sights that appeared outside Animesh’s car window pointedly refused to adhere to the visuals his forty-year-old self had had in his mind from seven years back, the last time he had set foot here. The cars he spotted on the roads were mostly smaller than the ones he drove on the smooth Interstates of the United States, and so were the heights of the buildings he was seeing here compared to those he helped design with an architectural firm back in his new home away from home. But familiarity with big cars, tall buildings and bright lights made the task of getting acquainted afresh with his own city no less startling. The closed windows and the air-conditioning system blocked out the noises from the street outside. As the stereophonic speakers of the car shift a station, Animesh suddenly notices a very familiar tone striking his aural nerves. The strumming of the guitar as Cactus breaks into Holud Pakhi pulls forth from the distant reserves of his memory the early college days when “targets” existed in archery fields and “take-home” probably referred to some fast-food joint.
Shambhunath had just returned from his routine morning walk. At eighty years, life demanded discipline and adherence to rules, so not once in the last seven years had he missed his morning constitutional. After a light breakfast as he settled himself into his comfortable armchair, he thanked God for leaving his sense of hearing unimpaired, much as his knees pained him and his eyesight left a lot to be desired. His routine now includes thirty minutes of his long time favourite Jagjit Singh on the music player his granddaughter had bought him two years back. Jagjit ji and his harmonium hum Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho as Shambhunath peacefully leans back on his soft cushion.

Music thrives in every drop of our blood and every ounce of our existence. Take it away and you have a civilization full of empty souls. Enrich it and the world suddenly becomes such a better place to live in.

**Published on the occasion of Vivace 2017, the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Southern School of Music, Kolkata.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Anchored Aspirations

"...and while there may not be a book in every one of us, there is so often a damned good short story" - Jeffrey Archer.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
It is in the nature of a kite to strain for freedom. As the wind flies into its harnessed face, a string cuts across the breast of the sky and brings to a nought the labours of the kite in freeing itself from all impediments. Gaze long and far at the distant object in the sky competing only with high-flying birds until you have a crick in your neck. Only those of us who have had the privilege of kite-flying in our youth know the ethereal pleasure that is to be had in feeling the struggle of a kite at the other end of a kite string.

Welcome to a short story. It is short, because it is not I who play the principal character in the plot, so I cannot provide the reader with the finer elements of the story the way an experienced novelist would. It is a story of a million human beings, with whom I share common DNA, identical social environs, and a lot more. It might, in all probability, be your story.

Picture Courtesy: Author
The tale commences on an auspicious morning in a middle class neighbourhood in my city, and it happens to be the day of Durga Ashtami. It might as well have begun on any other day, but I look to invoke the blessings of Maa Durga upon our protagonist, now just a small child, who is standing among a throng of people waiting for the basket containing flowers for anjali to reach them. Fold your hands and pray, the mother whispers. The child looks confused. A few minutes later as the mother takes the heat from a fiercely burning piece of camphor placed upon the wide copper spoon of the priest, she places her palm upon her child's head and offers a silent prayer to the Almighty. What a mother might be praying for to Maa Durga to bless her child with is up to the judicious interpretation and vivid imagination of the reader.

As the child grows up, our protagonist begins to gather some knowledge of the world around. Folding your hands and bowing your head in prayer is not sufficient to achieve all that is out there to be attained, the teenager now concludes. The society is quick to impress upon the young adult all that is expected out of a responsible young citizen. Hence it is not long before our protagonist has been rolled forged and machined into a shape that my society would deem to be a perfect fit within the jigsaw puzzle of civilized existence. While this shape is one most of us are pretty well acquainted with, the bits and pieces of the teen-aged soul that were pruned away in order for it to fit the jigsaw are swept into the trash can by the municipal sweeper the next morning.

Picture Courtesy: ©yordphotos
And in the midst of this chaos and confusion, a small family somewhere in my vast city celebrates the birth of a child who is made of a somewhat different mould. A chef who prepares the same dish every day at a restaurant cannot say with certainty that his every fare tastes exactly the same, even though they all undergo the same treatment upon the stove. This uncertainty, on a lucky few occasions, creates a brilliant dish far beyond the travails of his everyday fares. This child, even after going through motions very similar to what all others go through, turns out different, like that unique and exquisite dish the chef produced by sheer accident. But this child is not the subject of our narrative today.

Recall our protagonist once again, dear reader. Now a proud parent in a family of four, this respectable citizen of our society can now boast of an enviable academic and professional record, approbation in the eyes of fellow citizens, a loving spouse, and two beautiful children who win hearts of all those they come across. If social norms are anything to go by, 'successful' is an expression that might define the state of our protagonist perfectly. Even though I was not privy to the silent conversation that occurred between a mother and the Almighty many years ago on the day of Durga Ashtami, I have a hunch that Maa Durga must have fulfilled a lot of the lady's prayers.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
That is where we part ways with our protagonist. As our story reaches its abrupt conclusion, I implore a question upon the readers. A society is a reflection of the people who inhabit it, and it would be gross injustice to smear entire humankind with black paint. "In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart" : these magnificent words by Anne Frank give rise to profound faith in humanity within me. Every human soul is a conglomerate of customs, traditions, principles and scruples. The society and the culture that has brought me up to twenty-one fine years of survival is the one I owe all my soul to. I have been taught how to put up a jolly good fight when need be, and I have also been shown the manner of gracious retreat when the situation demands. The best of me and the worst of me are all embedded in the bedrock of my surroundings. The foundation of my character lies within the by-lanes of this society, and if I were to absent the entire presence of this pervading influence on every day of my life, my character and my principles would die a premature death. And speaking of character, what is a man without one but a hollow mess of confusion and instability?

But then the demon shows its head. There are thorns of middle-class shackles which unnecessarily and unjustly bind our aspirations and dreams, and most of them have got deep roots in the psychology our society has brought up to be so used to with. Surely no one needs recounting of instances where passions were killed, careers busted, and talents smothered without a second thought on the pretext of abiding by grossly misinterpreted social guidelines. Sociology defines a society as a group of people who identify with one another, but when mass generalization on a large scale leads to stifling of individualism in humans, a powerful and glorious social tool is being used for the worst of purposes.

So dream like there is no waking up, breathe like there is no tomorrow, strain at every rope which binds you with the last drop of your strength! But before you do so, it is prudent to go through a spot of self analysis. The world runs by tried and tested rules and regulations, and disobedience for the sake of contrariness serves no purpose. But the moment someone with a huge pair of scissors approaches threateningly to clip away your wings, put up a fight like there is nothing to lose.

A kite-flyer knows the pleasure of feeling the tug of a kite string in his hand. The flyer also knows the subtle technique of releasing the string few feet at a time as the wind carries the contraption to celestial heights. Pull hard, exhorts the wind to the kite. The kite pulls hard and in turn grows in grandeur. But, Irony, how cruel is your blow! The moment a rival kite's knife-sharp string jags across the harness of the defeated one, it is the wind itself which carries away the torn bird. Without the restraining influence of the string, the kite is soon reduced to a torn piece of paper dangling from an electric pole, its magnificence and glory lost to the sky.

Go fly a kite.

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 friend of mine needs nothing but a short 15-minute chat with his betrothed, a wonderful girl, 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 engineers, doctors and social 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 found friend 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...