Saturday, August 16, 2008

"Most people are... when you get to know them"

I believe reading a great story more than once spoils its purpose. Whatever meaning it was to convey is complete in its first perusal. Later readings only lead to hardening of ideologies or discovery of flaws that spoil the original joy of reading it. I could never get around to reading "To kill a mockingbird" a second time for exactly the same reason. I wouldn't want to change any of the first impressions that I had of the book.

Yeah, some people would find it boring because of the lack of an invincible hero who stands tall silhouetted against the skyline after vanquishing all of his hopelessly fake adversaries (Oh Supreme Being, if there is any up there in the skies, please help me get rid of this unrelenting hatred I have for "The Fountainhead". Please, please! I sure as hell can't do it by myself). Others would claim that it is too clean and sanitised a version of life to be considered of real literary quality. After all when you are writing through the eyes of a little girl, you could hardly touch upon the more mature or if I may say so cruder topics that go a long way in making a conventional 'great' book great! I guess that's what it makes it so distinctive. It has the most serious of thoughts perfectly put out in the most innocent and humorous of all things, a child's mind.

What is the story about? It's about racism, it's about tolerance or the lack of it, it's about how society tends to demonize certain harmless individuals just because they are not part of the regular run, and most importantly it's how about how tough it is to stand by your moral convictions with a wry smile. Atticus Finch probably knows long before the event that he will not be successful in his endeavours. But he knows that it is the only way to go, because it is the right way. Patience, it seems, is the staff of the good man and the conscience his backbone. Finch is not a person with the most dazzling talents, but he is a good man and that's all that should be required of any person.

And then there is my favourite line of the book. When little Scout confides to her father that Boo Radley was a really nice man as opposed to the blood thirsty image that she and her friends had imagined for the recluse, Atticus in his usual, calm manner tells his daughter, "Most people are... when you get to know them."

Friday, August 15, 2008

A patriot in the witness box

It's the 15th of August in India already so what else could I have possibly written on this day? Here is a set of questions and answers that ought to explain my take on patriotism, the kind that Ayn Rand aficionados seem to hate.
Q- Do I love my country?
A- Yes, sometimes so much that it hurts inside to be so proud. But love for my country is not equivalent to hate for others. Other countries have their strong points too but come on, they aren't even half as cool as us.
Q- Was the previous answer tongue-in-cheek or casual in any manner?
A- You'll have to take my word for it that it's 100% true.
Q- Do I love everything about my country?
A- No, in this case, love is not blind. There are 10 billion things I'd die to change. But I believe you've got be really really really ignorant to be unable to appreciate what India always was, is and will be!
Q- Don't you hate your country for the way it behaves sometimes?
A- No, I'd rather hate the countrymen who put my nation's beautiful name to shame.
Q- Why then do you really love your country?
A- Well, I was reading an article recently which summed up patriotism quite bluntly and correctly. When you love your family, it's not because objectively speaking it's richer, happier and more prosperous than the other families that you know of. You love it because it's your own! The same goes for my country too. I feel genuinely sorry for those who haven't ever had that unique feeling of ownership, a strong sense of having a stake-hold in their country's future. Your honour, the defence rests...

Thursday, August 14, 2008

From Cal to California

Laugh aloud. Please laugh aloud, all you doubters who are aware that in my 2 months in the USA I have managed Boston only twice and haven't yet sniffed the polluted air of New York. All this negligence despite being only 1.5 hours away from Boston and 3.5 from NYC. Unfortunately for you, I refuse to give you further fodder for smirks with my dream travel plans and hope to shut you up with a real one. I am going to the city of the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz, and I have the air tickets to show it. August 29th is the day when I arrive in the sunshine state of California and spend 4 glorious days basking in the warmth with an assortment of West Coast beauties. A tram ride would also be a must for instant comparison with its brethren in Calcutta and the excitement of hitting those sloping streets where Nicolas Cage crashed a yellow Ferrari (If you haven't seen "The Rock", go kill yourself first and then I'll explain further) has just about already killed me. One of the great cities of the world awaits my arrival now and so does my first glimpse of what is definitely the most evocative of all the names in my travel dictionary - the Pacific!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cigarettes and alcohol

The frequent squeaking of the netted door hinges post sundown meant only one thing. That someone or many of them were cycling in and out of the common verandah between two single rooms of the hostel. That again could mean only thing. Another party in progress! The reason could be insignificant but the end result was always opulent. A group dancing as if their life depended on it, a set of attendees at various acute angles to the floor living out the effects of too much alcohol in too little time. PCs blaring out the music of choice, again an irrelevant choice once the participants were drunk enough. A lot of jousting would ensue at the beginning of every party over which song was cool enough or which was not. Towards the end any music that could drown the sounds of an over zealous drinker puking out onto the grounds would serve the purpose.

Nameless, purposeless parties ending in total mayhem were a way of life at RECK (Or in most other hostels of other colleges, if I am to believe others too). The funny thing is that no one and I mean absolutely no one ever carries an iota of guilt for the murder of time as they were. Youth they say was meant to achieve greater heights, but as far as I know most of them were too busy getting themselves up from the grass on the hostel lawns. Communal cigarette smoke rose up in mushroom clouds against the bug encrusted yellow lamps that exposed the doings on all verandahs. The tinkling caused by shattered glass as bottles launched into free space from the third floor was more like a distant melody for the alcohol amplified imagination of the revellers. The slurred conversations were always so other worldly that it would only be a fool who would try to distill a common meaning out of them. Every once a while, enraged voices would shred the "Peace, love, empathy" flavour of the evening indicating that two utopian worlds has run into each other's paths, either by virtue of a misdirected bottle or purposefully guided swear word under the cover of drunkenness. However nothing on earth no matter how shocking or off-putting could halt our forays into decadence. As we plundered through the 4 most important years of our lives, with every party, the drags on the cigarettes would only get longer and the pegs would only get stronger.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

15 minutes of fame

January 30th, 2008:
It is said that give a man centre-stage and watch him reveal his true self. All right, maybe no one had said that before, but I just did. When I was centre-stage for a teeny-weeny quarter of an hour, I discovered what an a**h**e I was. The occasion was my moment in the sun when a lucky break saw me flown to Bombay as a winner of a national level essay contest. The topic was of particular relevance to my obsessed, 'pseudo' secular/ secular fanatic (I get a lot of that on web forums, believe me) mind and it was about the best years of my life, my engineering college years. Hence the output was good enough to win me a prize but I always feel that I had fared extremely poorly in actualizing what the subject matter deserved. Right upto the point when I landed in Bombay, I felt more than a little guilt about fortune's winds favouring me in this obscene manner.

It was evening when I entered the Nehru Centre auditorium with nervous apprehension. Every second I expected to hear a sneering voice say, "It can't be that you're giving away a prize to this piece, no, it can't be!" So I sidled up to the second row, quiet as a mouse and took my place. The other essays that had also won prizes were being read out as I mentally chewed my nails over what the reaction to my essay would be. The stage was then taken over by this intensely beautiful woman who read my essay with much more effort than it deserved and then committed the mistake of praising it too.

From that very instant, what on earth was humility? I was the proverbial rooster all ruffled up and crowing with all my might. I assumed the stage sloshed with absolutely unbearable doses of narcissism and proceeded to venture my suddenly 'wise' and 'cool' opinion on everything from money to Gandhism. I went on to advice my fellow participants on writing and randomly criticize a girl's write-up who had unluckily winded up fourth on the prize list (This bit of the mess-up thankfully occurred off-stage). I remembered clearly while reading her entry earlier that her words were sharp and charged with so much zing, that it made my write-up look like a plastic flower in comparison. But you wouldn't expect to acknowledge that, would you? It pains me deeply to say this, but all it took was a single beautiful girl and just the hint of a compliment from her for me to don this nauseous 'avatar'. Never before have I been successfully been such a repulsive loser!

Hell, I feel I have hardly written anything worthwhile since that fateful, ignominious day when I got to meet the attention-starved megalomaniac that lives in me. Things have never been the same. Maybe this confession will help improve things from now on.

I bow to people like Sachin or Shah Rukh who live everyday under the blindly constant affection of their fans for their very real skills. They must be really spectacular human beings to want to still talk to us common folk like they do. I have had my 15 minutes of fame and found out that frankly I am just not suave enough to deserve any more of it...

To Orkut or not to Orkut...

My Orkut profile is a strange beast. When it started off, it was a beehive of activity. Friends being added by the dozen, the his and hellos flying across like bullets in the trenches of war time Europe. I hardly got time to work on my "About me" section since I had first filled it in while joining Orkut. It remains that way to date, not because I was being too lazy (for a change) but because I fail to see how it matters! I don't add any person I don't know and for those that I know, the big picture of me up front should do the trick. Nevertheless in an aborted attempt to be 'kewl', I did spend some time over what I would want to put there and figured that it should stay as it is, considering the megalomaniacal alternatives that sprung to mind. You see it was very convenient for me too.

Then came the phase of a tremendous lull, when I, a regular offender in the time-wasted-at-cyber-cafes crime gallery invaded every friend's profile asking them soul searching questions like "Hey bro, what's up?" or "Where are you nowadays?". Politeness being the fault of a few of them, the equally dry answers came crawling back across the Internet. That is kept a little blood throbbing in the veins of my Orkut account. But this stage managed piece of gregariousness couldn't be sustained for long. How well and long could I act so interested in everybody else's lives? After all, they were just as boring as mine and they had realized the truth earlier therefore ceasing to discuss it at all. I guess that's what they call becoming old. When you lose interest in everything but your own complicated life and that interest is only a necessity born out of the need to survive.

Now there is the new spurt of life on the social networking horizon, even though it should be called old by the lightning fast timelines of the Internet. People are randomly slapping each other, 'crapping' on each other (210 kg proclaims a proud participant), linking to the madness of YouTube and a variety of other ways to keep themselves occupied after office. I am playing this game too with intense focus as if it is the only thing that'll make my life an explosion of delight. I get heart warming comments like "Great videos!", "Nice pics! Looks like you are really fat nowadays" and more on those lines. Do they make the sun shine brighter on a gloomy day? Does the gleaming set of teeth on display in the profile photos really convey the present sentiments of the owner? Who knows and why should I really lose my sleep over it? This is a game is played by everyone and has only one tangible and rhetorical rule. Play because you have to!

Monday, August 11, 2008

The road not taken

I was whiling away my time at Frankfurt airport, all 11 hours of it, waiting for my connecting flight to Boston. I started off in the usual fashion, meandering about in the glitzy boutiques that shopping crazed travellers flooded. All the big brands, at throwaway prices by their normal standards seemed to be source enough for all my fellow travellers to put the stopovers to good use. I got quickly bored of the commotion in the shops and tried my luck with the German police for a transit visa into Frankfurt. The heart of the automobile industry that Germany is, parent to Porsche, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes to name just a few, was always a dream destination for my car crazed mind. No progress was achieved in that department too as post 9/11, people seem to have lost a little bit of trust in the casual tourist. Dejected I wound my way back across the multiple level behemoth that is Frankfurt airport. I stood for a little while in front of a window which looked out onto the runway as a variety of planes took off or landed. Then I stumbled across a collection of display boards where amidst all the incessant motion of the crowds there was an involuntary pause as everyone took a second to peek at the status of their flights. In an ode to legendary Teutonic efficiency, every single one of them seemed to be on schedule!

I ran a quick compare of my destination to others listed up there. Boston to where I was headed versus the mystery of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. The cab infested streets of New York shared space with the exotic Caracas. The Hollywood glitter of Los Angeles glowing alongside the endless meadows surrounding Ulan Bator. I couldn't help but sigh at the mundane nature of my life. Sure, it was my first trip overseas to the wonderful developed world of USA. But did I really want to go there at all? A galaxy of unfamiliar points on the world map, names that evoked a sense of the unknown versus the familiar names that had been already mapped out in my imagination through the done-to-death images force fed to my mind through Hollywood and cable TV. The unknown was dangerous, and the unfamiliar was scary but isn't that what I crave? I want to wake up to a new question and a new mystery everyday, not the same, old routine that ensures that I have a certain amount in my bank at the end of the month. The comfort of regularity seems such a poor invigorator, a whisky peg rendered impotent with too much water!