Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Dear Mr. Seventeen

Dear Mr. Seventeen,

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
If there ever were a thing most wretched and disgusting in the world, which makes the mind go numb and the guts churn empty, it has to be the dish called hindsight, garnished with the sticky syrup of regret and the bitter sauce of remorse. The elements outside spell out "Christmas", and as the moods of the weather gods announce the arrival of the most cheerful and happy season which visits my city, I ask you to pardon me for such a dispiriting and gloomy beginning to this letter.

Living in the age when letter-boxes are fast becoming artifacts of historical significance and not so much utility, this particular piece of correspondence is free from the hassles of postage stamps and delivery status tracking (and owl posts). To you, whom this is addressed to, this letter will never reach, for the simple reason that you do not exist any more and in case you did, there probably would not have been any reason to pen these thoughts down.

This is your four year older self writing from the future. Those same genes and DNA, the same body which has housed you and the same mind which has guided you for seventeen long years, but which now has four extra years of learning and experience stored in the memory chip. An elder "brother" maybe? Not really, since we are biologically the same person. But apart from that, oh you have no idea who the next four years will transform you into. So from one man to another, here goes.

That's how you should be feeling right now.
How fickle, you might be thinking, that a mere span of less than half a decade is enough to alter the nature of an individual. Not quite, I say, for the underlying nucleus of our characters are the same. Through experiences, interactions and existence in general, I have come to learn and react to situations differently than you would, and it is in these responses that my experience comes to the fore. Today, you surely are a rather more well-rounded and sensible young man compared to the hot-headed and impulsive thirteen-year-old you have left behind four years back.

If there is one thing about the future that I can promise you with absolute certainty, then it would be the futility of planning and choreographing the destiny you want for yourself. You may scheme and orchestrate however much you want to, but oh boy doesn't God have different designs for you in mind! "Man proposes God disposes" has never rung more true than it does today. You see the journey ahead is so fraught with unknown elements, that the moment you have all your bases covered and the blueprint is just about to take shape, some factor completely beyond your purview of consideration appears out of the blue and all your carefully thought out plans go for a toss. So the prudent thing is to keep the mind open and the heart geared up for confronting all possibilities.

Arjuna and Dronacharya
But it certainly is not wise to go about life without an aim in sight. Our religious texts have not been written for nothing. When Arjun hit the eye of the wooden bird set by Dronacharya as his target, it is fabled that he could see nothing and nothing else apart from the eye of the bird. Focus, determination and conviction of the self are necessary ingredients for success. But do keep in mind that what you are aiming for at this particular moment is but only a temporary whim of your conscience. When you thread a needle, the entire world comes to rest within the irritatingly small eye of the needle. While in the moment, the target in front is the absolute and beyond compromise and negotiation, but do keep the faith that in the longer run there is more to the world than the eye of the needle.

Have you heard of the famous Max Born? A Jewish physicist and mathematician, he was one of the stalwarts working at the University of Göttingen in Germany in the 1930's, till the Nazi regime forced him to relocate to England. It is said that before putting his son's name down for college, Born's father had instructed his son that before deciding on what he wanted to study he should give careful attention to every branch of education being pursued, and only then choose one for himself. Prof Born is then said to have methodically traipsed through the annals of law, literature, psychology, economics, political science and astronomy - but thoroughly failed to reach a conclusion as to which subject merited his attention most. Alas, he had been gloriously unsuccessful in coming second in any of the subjects. I believe it is the great good luck of Science that a brain such as Max Born's devoted itself to Science's worship.

Prof. Max Born
Well you certainly are not Max Born (the distinguished Professor would be turning in his grave at the very thought) and the University of Göttingen is admittedly some distance beyond your reach. So why narrate such a story, albeit quite interesting but not really useful? The point is, little brother, that never should anyone shut down one's vision and limit ones capabilities along conventional tried-and-tested lines. When you pick on an activity of your choice, be good at it - be so good that no one dare raise a word of dissent against your capability - but let it not be the limit for excellence. "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist", said Pablo Picasso, so go pursue your art form in whichever field you wish, and then rewrite the rules of the art yourself. If you decide to teach yourself to cook an omelette and nothing else, by all means do so, but let your omelette be the finest omelette the world has ever eaten.

Don't fry your Omeleto before they hatch! So here is coming to the crunch of this whole letter. How common is it for us social animals to crib about the past? You remember how that septuagenarian neighbour of ours back in our early teenage used to begin most of his statements in the tone of "Back in our days...", and would eventually prove beyond reasonable doubt how much better his generation had been and what an irresponsible bunch of failures we all were? I did realize later on, that the reason for the gentleman's dissatisfaction actually emanated from a sense of unfulfillment of certain desires and hopes from his youth, and who knows perhaps a couple of deep and profound regrets as well. Well he was still a kindly man, and may his soul rest in peace today. The crux of the matter is, when you look back at your days after they have passed, the only measuring scale of success you will have, calibrated and carefully gauged, is the standard of hindsight. Not the degrees you have achieved and not the accolades you have won, but your success will be measured in how little a portion of your life do you regret having gone through. A truly successful human being is one who can look back at his or her life and state confidently, "If I were given a second chance to lead this life I would follow exactly the same path that I have already taken this time." I am yet to meet one who qualifies this criterion.

Illustrator: Sayanta Midya
So then, where does that place us! You and I, we are genetically as identical as is possible and we have shared the same experiences while growing up till seventeen, but having an additional stock of four years worth of experience places me upon a slightly higher rostrum than you. Quite frankly, brother, I know exactly what is in store for you in the next four years. A whirlwind of events and experiences which will knock the wind out of you for quite some duration of time, and by the time you start regaining your breath you are already twenty one. But in spite of knowing that there is nothing to change, that despite all my ruminations nobody is going to gift me a Time Turner (even if they did, I wouldn't be able to change anything), there is some satisfaction to be gained from the knowledge that in minimizing my regrets and locking the misery called hindsight into a closet, I can look forward to a future to live laugh and enjoy in.

Hang on, is that a knock I hear on the door? Ah, I believe it is the postman, who comes to deliver a letter addressed to me from a certain Mr. Twenty Five...

Take it easy brother.

With best wishes,

Mr. Twenty One.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

A Redundant Rivalry

Illustrator: Sayanta Midya

At the guillotine of logic and judgement I place an accumulation of all that is irrational and unfounded, with the prayer that the deity of Science be contented by the demolition of falsehood and the prevalence of reason. Thus having proven myself to be a scientific human being, I turn and observe my deference to the numen of Art and seek her blessings. It is in the consistency of worship to both these avatars of human excellence that I seek to find paradise.

Why do we have the acrimony? Science and Art have been at loggerheads for ages. Back in the Middle Ages in both India and Europe, religion exerted its profound influence over the art forms, and came into direct conflict with the rational and the logical. Progress of science was hindered by minds untrained in the domain of logic and analysis. While science eventually did manage to overthrow the shackles of the illogical, it retaliated with vehemence. A journal on the subject succinctly comments on the matter: “Artistic activity is totally gratuitous, while science aims at attaining a specific end.” Science didn’t look too kindly upon any sort of gratuitous activity. As of the present day, animosity between the two “camps” has gone down but there exists an undercurrent of mistrust and a touch of disregard for the other. Here I do not speak of the refined and broad-minded few but instead focus on the injudicious and unenlightened many. These are the sentiments responsible for a redundant rivalry foaming among intelligent humans.

Galileo was right all along.
Scientists and technologists yell themselves hoarse, that the world we are living in and the gratification we are deriving from it every moment of the day would not have been possible without the contributions of science and technology. Let us consider this argument at some depth. One has to agree that Art definitely is indebted to Science. It is only when the more mundane and less artistic elements of human life have been taken care of, that the human mind can focus itself on expression of its other – more artistic – side. Not to be ignored is the fact that technology has a lot to contribute to the elemental logistics of Art itself. From the optimally designed cast iron frame of a piano to the air-conditioned interiors and acoustically perfected furnishings of an auditorium, expression and performance of any art form today is heavily dependent on technology. So it is in conjunction with the technological progress of civilisation that Art merits to be judged – what quality of Art the cavemen of prehistory might have come up with had they been given a penthouse to live in and state-of-the-art drawing tools instead of charcoal is anybody’s guess.
Artists, on the other hand, consider a different perspective. When food for the body has been provided by Science, Art nourishes the heart and the soul. Appreciation of beauty and affinity towards perfection is what distinguishes humans from the lesser creations of God, and the artist carries the responsibility of pouring life and energy into what would otherwise become the mechanised world of Modern Times. A very commonly quoted anecdote goes like this: If you have an apple and I have an apple and we both exchange our apples, we are left with one apple each. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we both exchange our ideas, we are left with two ideas each. Carrying this analogy forward, artists of the world are propagating a never ending chain of ideas and visions to millions across the world, through the gratifying exercise of self-expression.

But what is science, if not an attempt at self expression? Let us first attempt to declassify the mind of an artist. For sake of convenience, I assume an imaginary painter of my own construct to be the flag-bearer and representative of all those indulging in the profession of creative arts. The consummate beauty of what she sees – be it through her mind’s eye or through her biological ones – is what serves as the primary inspiration to set it down on a canvas as an expression of what is beautiful. Secondly, the other aspect to her painting is the enjoyable challenge of being able to represent on a two-dimensional piece of paper the precise object of art that she has visualised – glorious in the perfection of its representation. The impeccability of the creation serves as a highly cherished goal. I use the term “object of art” for lack of a better substitute, for it is not always an “object” which captures the fancy of a painter; something as ethereal as an idea may be sufficient for creating a masterpiece. The passion that instigates is thus two-fold, one ethereal and intangible, while the other more substantial and analysis-worthy.

I see here an exact correspondence with the psychology of a scientist. Ask any worshiper of Science about what is it that drives the adrenaline, and the most spontaneous and fundamental answer to that will surely be the sheer joy derived in revelation of the truth. Rumour has it that Sir Isaac Newton had made the mathematical breakthrough in the discovery of Calculus alone and by himself, but initially had not taken the initiative for the magnificent tool to be publicised and put to use by other stalwarts of Science. It had taken some amount of cajoling and persuasion to convince him to make public his discoveries, and we the pursuers of Science are ever grateful that the eccentric genius could be convinced into doing so. But Sir Isaac Newton apart, is the “object of discovery” all that matters, and not the expression of the object? It most certainly does. There is satisfaction to be derived from realisation of the truth, and equally so from communicating the beauty of the discovery in its flawless and immaculate form, to another mind willing to learn.

Leonardo da Vinci - Italian Renaissance polymath
Talented scientists and bright young engineers are often faced with the humongous problem of self-expression. In our society, nothing quite beats “Science” in the race to the peak of the social-approval pyramid – alas! But devotion to Science alone can never be sufficient in realising the full potential of the pursuer. Bypassing the popular discussion on why and how today’s society is stultifying expression and art and promoting mindless rigour, I would beg to stress on the point that proper and accurate expression of thought is as important to a man of Science as it is to a man of Art. Oh the gratification in being able to convey an idea to another person, precisely in the form in which I myself had conceived it! Expression of a mathematical formulation in precise scientific terms is no less an art than penning a razor-edged article where every word is whetted and sharpened to leave a mark. Expression of an idea in the form of seamless composition on the violin is no less a science than derivation of a new scientific concept destined to alter human history.

Each incomplete without the other.
In conclusion, there actually exists no scope for conflict. All the antagonism has its roots in the lack of exchange between the two communities. The barriers of “domains, subjects and streams” created by the narrow annals of contemporary education are partially to blame for this mess. True, it does no good to be a Jack of all trades and a Master at none, and neither is anyone expecting a person to humanly attempt to shine in every field of human excellence. But at the very least, it would do no harm to cultivate a sense of respect and regard for the realms of human reach which we are unfortunate enough to be unable to tap in the single and passing lifetime of a mayfly that God has allotted to each one of us. All of it, after all, comes down to the happiness and bliss in the human action of self-expression.

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.”
-       Albus Dumbledore

      **Published in the October issue of the Elixir magazine.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

The Deity Within

"You raise me up so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be."
- Josh Groban

As the smoke from the incessant burning of incense cleared ever so slightly, Gauri, a little child of six, could finally get a glimpse of the face. Sitting proudly abreast her father's broad shoulders, she noted the thick tresses of hair, the complexion of burnished gold, and the eyes drawn wide apart with jet black pupils. The clay idol seemed to radiate more energy than any mortal human of flesh and blood. What unique smell was this which filled Gauri's lungs not with air, but energy and vivacity? It was the smell of flowers, incense, perfume, and the spirit of five hundred people happily coexisting in a hundred square meters of space. Gauri's ears, over the past few days, had slowly become accustomed to this curious pattern of music she had never ever heard before. She wondered what her erstwhile music teacher at the Musikakademie Hamburg in distant Germany would have thought of this rhythm. How would Germany, the country which has produced musicians ranging from Wagner and Beethoven to Hans Zimmer and Ramin Djawadi, react to the patterns on the unassuming and rural Indian dhaak?

Terms like "reverse brain-drain" and "retention of indigenous talent" hold no significance to Gauri's uncomplicated mind. All she remembers is the winter morning when the winds seemed to be blowing even more colder than usual down the streets of Hamburg, when her father and mother had told her that she needn't prepare herself to go to school that morning, or for that entire week. Perched on her mother's lap, Gauri learned that they were leaving Hamburg and were going back to India the next Friday, and she must bid all her school friends goodbye before she left. Okay, thought Gauri, so I'll be going to a new school over there and will make some new friends. She knew some things about India. On Wednesday, two days before she was about to leave the city forever, her friend Michael told Gauri that he had overheard his parents discussing how strange it was of Gauri's "Papa" to voluntarily leave a "permanent position" at the Universität Hamburg and return to India. Oh, and did Gauri know the meaning of the term "third-world"? No, and neither did Michael. Michael invited Gauri over to his house that evening to have some cheese cakes his mother had baked for them.
Having landed in the city of Kolkata on a foggy January morning, Gauri's little heart had taken a liking to this new place at the first instant. There was a warmth about this city, and that wasn't merely to do with the alarming degrees of hotness it reached during the months of May and June. On the other hand, a few things surprised Gauri significantly. Why were all her little cousins, most of whom she was meeting for the first time, so taken aback when they found out that she could read write and speak fluent Bengali? I mean, was she not supposed to do so? In the meantime, Gauri had also ascertained the meaning of the term "third-world" from her grandfather. It was not a very nice term used by people of some countries to describe people of other countries. This got Gauri somewhat confused; Michael's mother was very nice and she had given her cheese cakes.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
As we leave Gauri perched on the vantage point that is her father's shoulder, let us take a deep breath, savour the fragrance of ecstasy, and have a look around the city Gauri presently calls home. It is often said that the journey is more desirable than the destination, and the preparation is enjoyed more than the event itself. After a long period of anticipation and planning which seems to start earlier with every passing year, the occasion is here itself. For five days, the city locks all it's miseries into a dark cellar and lives like there is no tomorrow. All fights are kept paused and the daggers of cutthroat competition for once get some time to gather rust. What is technically a religious occasion very quickly transcends all boundaries of faith, because you do not need a religion to feel happy. For five days, the city is free.

Having reached the grand old age of twenty-one, I have acquired this unusual habit of turning my head and looking back. In a rush of fleeting memories, all that is left behind is a collage of images one on top of the other, some faded and some distinct, some in black-and-white while some in glorious technicolour. I take some time out from my busy schedule and with a pair of clippers, snip out small portions from my collage of memories like comic strips from a newspaper. Then I lay out the fragments side by side and preview my handiwork. If Durga Pujo in my city be the Sydney Opera House pyrotechnics on New Year's Eve, then I have succeeded in creating my own modest little firecracker.
Picture Courtesy: Mitrayan Hazra

It is well known and widely accepted that separation strengthens the bonds of attachment. When sailors were out in the sea for months on end battling the elements of nature at their deadliest, it was the thought of setting their feet on firm ground which drove them on to discover new lands. And the solitary week spent with the family weighed more than even a year's time spent in monotonous routine and unbroken coexistence. Such is my plight today. So accustomed had I become to the annual celebration of Maa Durga's arrival to my city, that it hit me with the force of a willow that this year might just be my last occasion of euphoria for at least some time to come. In the mills of progress and occupation, "aaschhe bochhor abaar hobe" this time around might just be not applicable for me anymore.
Picture Courtesy: ©yordphotos

What is it that I shall really miss about Durga Pujo in Kolkata? I'll miss the "emotion" of it all. But for once, I wish to skip the woods for the trees. This time around, instead of spending the entire duration in one continuous overlapping period of high spirit, I want to pause and take note of every minute detail. These details have been evident in front of us since childhood but one generally skips over their existence to the broader view. The way the dhaaki spins the sticks in his deft fingers in a manner that has been practiced in his family for generations, the way the steam rises from the piping hot meal of pure veg khichudi when it is dished out over banana leaves carefully sewn against each other, and the way the tones of normal conversation of one thousand people under the open sky merge together and create a continuous roar of unfathomable noise. I want to store as many of these memories I can in a precious corner of my heart and let them serve as the means of sustenance till the time I am back again under the peaceful shade of my own city.

Gauri smiles contentedly as her father puts her down on the ground and they wind their way towards the exit from the mandap. Some days back, as the first rays of the rising sun were bidding farewell to the last strains of Mahishasuramardini on the day of Mahalaya, Gauri's mother had told her that she was named after none other than Maa Durga herself. Wide eyed Gauri had listened with unconcealed wonder to the entire narration of how Maa Durga fought against the might and power of Mahishasur and rescued the people of earth from his cruel deeds. Indeed, a few details of the narrative were a bit difficult for Gauri to comprehend entirely; maybe she'd understand them more clearly as she grew up? There seemed to be so many things which only grown-ups were allowed to understand and discuss these days. But when the victory of good over evil was announced, it certainly brought a smile of satisfaction to her lips.

Picture Courtesy: Saptarshi Chakrabarti
And that is where we part ways with Gauri and allow her to be the creator of her own future and the author to her own story. The day is of Vijaya Dashami, so the other Gauri, with her four children in tow, also has to take her leave. The Ganga flows past my city in all her grandeur and grace, and it is upon her that we have bestowed the sacred responsibility to take back Maa Durga to her heavenly abode among the snow-capped peaks of Kailash. As Parvati returns to Shiv, we humans retrace our paths back to the routine and the regimen.

Maa Durga is within us all. In times of trouble and in moments of agony, mere mortals like us do not have the strength solely in ourselves to pick ourselves up from the dirt of the road and resume the sojourn of life from which we were thrown off so unceremoniously. When a child learning to walk falls down on his knees repeatedly, he clings to his mother's arm and stands up and walks again. We only need to believe in the proffered arm and hold on to it.

May the blessings of Maa Durga shower upon every kindred soul of mine in this wonderful world we live in.

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.