Wednesday, December 20, 2006

For you, mother

Today is my mom's birthday.

This is for you ma...

Baby's Way by Rabindranath Tagore

If baby only wanted to, he could fly up to heaven this moment.
It is not for nothing that he does not leave us.
He loves to rest his head on mother's bosom, and cannot everbear to lose sight of her.

Baby know all manner of wise words, though few on earth canunderstand their meaning.
It is not for nothing that he never wants to speak.
The one thing he wants is to learn mother's words frommother's lips.
That is why he looks so innocent.

Baby had a heap of gold and pearls, yet he came like a beggaron to this earth.
It is not for nothing he came in such a disguise.
This dear little naked mendicant pretends to be utterlyhelpless, so that he may beg for mother's wealth of love.

Baby was so free from every tie in the land of the tiny crescent moon.
It was not for nothing he gave up his freedom.
He knows that there is room for endless joy in mother's littlecorner of a heart, and it is sweeter far than liberty to be caughtand pressed in her dear arms.

Baby never knew how to cry.
He dwelt in the land of perfect bliss.
It is not for nothing he has chosen to shed tears.
Though with the smile of his dear face he draws mother'syearning heart to him, yet his little cries over tiny troublesweave the double bond of pity and love.

Image source:

Monday, December 18, 2006

What has changed?

What has changed?

It was early Sunday morning and I was being driven in a cab to the Tucson International Airport. Some beautiful western classical music was playing which I did not understand. The cabwoman was very talkative and she kept on talking about something or the other varying from weather in India to whether we celebrate Christmas in India and so on. And out of the blue, this question struck me. What has changed? This was the place I had longed to be in. The US of A. The land of opportunities. The land of knowledge. Right now, I am at thousands of feet from the land. Leaving on a Jet plane as Elton John sings! And I can’t help giving way to my thoughts and reminiscences of the last 5 months at the Graduate school.

I have started treading the path I have chosen. The beginning of my journey has been mixed with pleasant as well as harrowing moments. Days filled with stressful hours of work. Days filled with anxiety about project completion. Tremendous pressure to perform well in a severely competitive class. Constant effort to attain financial support from the school. Moments of pain. Moments of small yet tantalizing achievements too. I have been exposed to the shades of life which I had never seen before. I never knew how it felt to continuously fail in achieving your goal and then succeed finally and emerge like a winner. I was unaware of how it felt to have worked extremely hard for something and then loose it by a small margin. I never knew how much effort was actually required to outperform someone who is definitely smarter than you. All these things I learned here the hard way. Life has been a good teacher.

So I sit back and think. What has changed? Or rather more relevant question is, have I changed? If yes, how much have I changed? For good or bad? I believe, what life has taught me in these months is really precious. More than learning operating systems or networking, it is more about learning how to face challenges. In the mega-epic Hindu literature Mahabharata, the Arjun’s son Abhimanyu is faced with a challenge which has seven stages. Each stage getting more and more difficult. And the epic drama-poem depicts how the brave warrior Abhimanyu, achieves his goal of penetrating all seven stages one by one. I have tremendous amount of respect for Mahabharata because it is has some element of life for everyone. It describes every sort of problem human kind can face. And also solution which is, ethical or otherwise, but effective. I take the analogy of Abhimanyu’s victory over seven stages and compare it with any ambitious person’s struggle to achieve the goal she sets for herself. And to live upto the expectations of herself and the world around her.

With every achievement, the stakes are higher. A new set of expectations rise from deep within. Expectations from yourself. And also, with higher and higher confidence. Isn’t this phenomenon common in the world in many diverse situations? For example a gambler will keep raising his bets if he is on a winning streak. A team will display more and more attacking game if they are scoring goals. Being a computer science student, I can’t help quote technical example too. That is the TCP networking protocol which has exponential behavior while controlling the congestion at transport layer. If the congestion is not detected, the sending rate of packets is continuously increased. Every success defines higher confidence level. New expectations, new goals established for oneself. Increased enthusiasm to work harder. And show the world that you are capable of doing much more than this.

Success makes you ecstatic. But failure makes you stronger. It is the failure which makes a person think more. Securing financial aid for the first semester just remained a wish. I could not make it. Hitting upon four or five almost definite opportunities, I failed in the end in each one. Most of them, without my own fault. Some of them I still haven’t been able to figure out whose fault it was. Was it just the fate acting against me or was I really not deserving it? But that does not matter anymore. Another blow came as below average performance in one of the subjects for which I had really worked very hard throughout the semester. But the last two hapless hours of final exam ruined all the hard work and I ended up with not so great a result in that subject. I do not have anyone else but myself to blame for that. If I look back, I realize it required more effort from my side. Probably more hard work than I had done.

As the greatest boxer of our time Mohammad Ali says, “Float like a butterfly, Sting like a bee; You just can’t hit what your eyes can’t see” It is about seeing the goal clearly. And an unsuccessful attempt makes you think about how to make your goal even clearer than it is now. Mahabharata also talks about the exploits of Arjun. One of the episodes describes Arjun taking training of archery along with his brothers. And while other could see the whole target bird object, Arjun could only see the bird’s eye as the target. For success, you need this level of accuracy in defining your target and tracking it. Not at any moment, I am claiming that I have attained this level of accuracy or proficiency in whatever I do, but it is for all of us to derive the learning from such episodes of legendary epic.

We don’t know whether the story of Mahabharata ever happened on this earth. Neither do we know whether a man like Arjun or a deity like Krishna walked the surface of Indian continent. But more important characteristics of such epics is to take lessons in indirect form. Instead of questioning the veracity of them, we should learn the underlying morals and principles of such stories. This is what makes them larger than life. The legends. The sources of inspiration.

But apart from all this learning, have I as a part of society, changed? I think I am still the same. Distance and work has not prevented me from being in touch with my family and loved ones. My hobbies and tastes for music and reading have not changed. I am still in love with the music of Pink Floyd as intensely as I was before! I still hate cooking! Even after 5 months of cooking practice, I still do not enjoy it. My heart still bleeds for India when the Indian government brings silly legislations and make way for downfall of Indian society and intellect. I still hate Indian cricket team but still follow the game. Thus maybe as an individual, I have changed and improved a lot. But the other aspect of my personality has still remained the same. That's the beauty of life. The constant change with immutable underlying personality.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A day in the life of a graduate student

An irritating alarm clock goes off. Made in India. Ringing in the bright sunny morning of America. But I do not want to get up. Every night, I convince my self that tomorrow I am going to get up early. Yes, tomorrow will be different, I will keep up the strong will power and get up from the bed early. Same self-talk every night. Same result every morning. The alarm goes off and I say to myself, okey old boy, you will get just 5 more minutes and then you have to get up. Those five minutes transform into 50 minutes atleast and I wake up at around 8 or 8.30 without breaking the schedule!

Time to 'skype' ! Thanks to Skype, I talk to my parents in India everyday two times. Morning and evening. Free of cost! God bless Skype. I have used it so much that I am really thinking what philanthropic soul had the idea of founding this company and deciding to give free calling service. Hope their sanity will remain intact and they will continue this service.

The sleep has still not evacuated my brain cells and it still influences me. Like a hangover! So my parents can figure out everyday that I am still sleepy! But anyway, so the talk lasts for an hour almost. Then it is breakfast time! A desi student's exclusive breakfast. Cereals and milk. We generally keep half a dozen packs of cereals as it is our daily routine to eat it.

Then the rush to finish today's homework begins. Only a couple of hours to go before the class begins and still one report to write for the class. So I frantically go through the paper, note down points, half dozing half alert, somehow I manage to write the report well.

I have started becoming sloppy in timing! So initially here, I would be ready to leave my place atleast 30-40 minutes before class. But now I have become more calculative, and bolder. Because I know it takes 20 minutes for me to walk to the department, I will exactly start 20 minutes before. Sometimes even late! And in all this process, the lunch gets sacrificed many times. But I have become more regular in this matter since last few days. So what I do is I make some instant ready to eat which I would have brought from India Store here. I have quick lunch and then go the deartment. I find this way much better.

Then comes class time! Sometimes interesting, sometimes boring. Sometimes literally soporific. No offence meant to any of the professors. But can't help it. Prof. Hartman, the UC Berkley guy of Operating Systems is too funny in the class. His sense of humour keeps the class alive! The talks in his class are really interesting. After the classes, I head straight to library.

Library has become almost my second home. But that is the place where I like to spend most of my time. Reading or working on class projects. The environment within the library is really nice and conducive. A large bar of Hershey chocolate ( and a grand sized coffee mug are my usual companions there. Storehouse of calories. Do I care? I anyway need a lot of energy and calory to keep myself going. It is interesting to see some people daily coming to library like me. There are two old gentlemen almost staying in the library the whole day reading some books. They see me, I see them. Daily routine!

The whole evening is spent at this place with nothing better to be done! Anyway I prefer spending time alone working or reading! I take the last Teal back home. Oh, by the way, the Teal means the University's bus service. They have different color coding for different routes. Purple, Teal, Orange and so on. So I come home, have a cup of hot 'desi' tea which I get from India regularly! Then time to call or chat again with friends in India and second round of talk with my parents.

Dinner time is as erratic as our Indian cricket team's performance. It is sometimes at 9, 10, 11 or sometimes even goes to 12 o'clock in the night. Cooking is one of the activities I hate from the bottom of my heart. I wonder how people can cook with such enthusiasm as one of my neighbours does. I hardly like what I cook. Not that I am so bad a cook. But somehow my tastebuds always reject the food that I cook.

Then the night study sessions start. I used to go to the department at night for working on project. But lately, I have been staying home at night, working on my pathetic 800x600 resolution screen of Fedora Linux. I have grown used to it now I realize! If you are constantly given bad things, you get so used to them because of repeatation that you don't feel bad anymore and you become comfortable with it. The session continues till 2-2.30 at night generally and then I drop my self dead on the bed, ofcourse with that self-talk of deciding to get up early the next day, knowing it would be of no use!

Sometimes I wonder, what is it that makes the life so monotonous? Is it the heavy course work load of Computer Science department? Or is it just me, shutting off myself from the outside world where people enjoy and have fun? I hope I will find the answer someday. One semester has passed and I hope I find it before this life as a graduate student is over!
Image: Main Library Building - University of Arizona

Monday, November 20, 2006

Solitude Vs. Loneliness

Although the meaning of both the words is 'to be alone', there is a vast difference between the two states. I was actually planning to write on loneliness but I took up MS Word's thesaurus to play with words and looked up for loneliness and the synonym given was 'solitude' which struck me as awefully wrong. And therefore I decided to write a few words on this comparison.

Who doesn't enjoy solitude? Sitting on the porch of one's house at one o'clock at night, enjoying the drizzling rain outside with a cup of hot coffee, Oscar Wilde's book and Pink Floyd's serene music in the background. This description has uncanny resemblance to my own liking so the reader is free to substitue any book and music she likes. That is how I define solitude which I enjoy. I am sure everyone has felt the bliss of solitude some day in her life. Or at least longed for solitude. It is chosing to be left alone. Far from the meddling crowd. In the company of oneself.

The importance of solitude is immense. This is the time when you can have a dialogue with yourself. Introspection takes over and unravels the inner depths of your own thoughts and psyche. Getting disconnected from the outer world and connected to yourself gives you a chance to know yourself better. And he who knows himself, wins the battle of life. Aspirations, emotions, feelings, frustration, elation and much more get a free flow at such times.

But when negative feelings dominate your solitude, the thin line between solitude and loneliness diminishes and it becomes more of a loneliness. So this allows me to make a transition to loneliness. When do you feel lonely? Most of the times, when you are in trouble, things are not working out in your favor, the whole world seems to act like an antagonist, at such times you feel lonely if you do not have someone to share these thoughts with. But also, in much simpler times, when you won an award in your school and you want someone to know, someone who is near to you but yet far, at that time, this absence instigates the feeling of loneliness.

Some more complicated and unfortunate incidences of loneliness have to do with being with someone yet feeling lonely. You are madly in love with your friend but you haven't confessed to her and one day she comes with a broad smile on her face and tells you about her falling in love with some other guy. You two are sitting side by side. She is with you. You are talking and laughing. But you are lonely. Such feelings of loneliness are even more painful.

One day I was walking back home from school. It was a Saturday night. The whole world was in the cheerful mood of partying and enjoying in groups with friends. It was twilight. I saw a young man sitting on a bench in the park with his dog. The scene described here does not tell you much. But that young man's face was so transparent. Revealing his feelings of loneliness and gloom. I could easily make out he was longing to be somewhere else. With someone. Wishing to break the bonds and transcending to somewhere else in space and time. Humming the tune of 'Wish you were here'.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

My music choice shifts and influence of Hindustani Classical

People say your choice of music reflects your personality. I am afraid of that generalization. Because if that notion is true, it would imply that I have multiple personality disorder! I can not bear so many personalities in my body.

Music runs in my family. Be it my sister's virtuosity and prowess in Hindustani classical music or my mother's music training in her days of youth, my father's inclination towards old classical songs or my uncle's profound theoritical knowledge of classical raagas. It has been in the family.

Memory is not my strong point. But I will exercise my grey cells a little and go back in past to find the source of my musical inclination. I remember listening to those old songs by Mukesh and Kishor Kumar when my father used to put them on radio or that small tape recorder of old times. It was so much fun even then! The absence of hi-fi dvd players did not dampen the enthusiastic voice of Kishor Kumar nor did it alleviate the sadness of Mukesh's voice. The sweetness of music was unharmed. In its pristine form.

Thus I remember this was my first encounter with some music which I liked. Especially that song of Madhumati 'Suhana Safar' always impressed me so much. That song indeed is enigmatic.

My first exposure to non-filmi and modern/western music occured when I came across a song called 'Patel Rap'. I do not know who the singer was. But it was some Gujarati Rap mixed with some english words here and there. I can still recollect the beats and rhythm of that song even now. It sounded so catchy and new at that time. I had never listened to anything like that before. So that became the pick of the time for me. Then I remember listening to some movie songs which were slightly off the usual track and had some good amount of mixing of sounds and effects. Especially those rock-n-roll type songs of Mithun and Govinda.

Then I see the shape-up of my liking towards English music during schooling days. I had come across a song of Apache Indian who is an Indian named Steven Kapoor, living in Caribbean Islands and popular in Ragge type of music. ( A mix of Caribbean music with Indian touch of Bhangra music. It dominated my taste of music for a long long time as I remember now. I had bought all his albums thanks to my father who never denies my whims. So I remember the album names as 'Make way for the Indians', and then 'No Reservations' and a few others. The songs were really terrific. And even now sometimes I like to listen to those songs again!

Then the era of chocolaty music of Boy bands came. Backsteet Boys were a rage all over the place. And I stumbled upon one such compilation album in which they had a song. And I became an instant fan of them. If I remember correctly, 'Quit playing games with my heart' was the first song of them I heard and fell in love with their music. Boyzone was to follow. With their chart topping song 'Words', they did not fail to impress me. I bought several albums of Boyzone and Backstreet Boys during those days. Those days were school days of around 11th and 12th standard.

Then came college days. I will only narrate major shifts of my liking here, barring those small flickerings every now and then. Marc Anthony was very impressive with his voice full of sentiments and good music. Therefore I bought a cassettee of his new album and that event has made a huge, lasting impact on my music preference. It came as a serendipity. This Marc Anthony's cassette had a free album along with it and that album was by none other than Pink Floyd. The album 'Wish You Were Here'. One of my most favourite albums of all time. I was introduced to Pink Floyd by this lucky event and from that day onwards, I do not even know where that Marc Anthony's album went and Pink Floyd completely took over my music liking.

The whole genre of Classic Rock and Psychedellic Rock is fantastic. Pink Floyd are unchallenged Gods of Rock music.

Elton John has had a major influence in my taste of music. I remember listening some of his wonderful songs 'Something about the way you look tonight' and 'Sacrifice' and 'Candle in the Wind'. These songs are so beautiful that even after listening to them hundreds of times, even today, I can listen to them and enjoy. Some music is destined to be beautiful eternally. Like an ever charming rose. My most favourite album of Elton John remains 'Songs from West Coast'. Some songs from that album are really amazing. For example 'Original Sin'.
Even though my interest in western music is quite old now, the chance of attending a live concert in India came late. It was April 04 when Mark Knopfler of Dire Strait visited India. I was not particularly fond of Knopfler at that time, but I had heard a few songs by him and was curious to attend a real, live concert ! Therefore I decided to attend it. And it was a fabulous experience. The crowd was sparse, as the number of hard core rock fans in India is still not very large as compared to fan base of people like Bryan Adams. Knopfler was in his ever simplistic attire of blue jeans and a plain white shirt. No body can figure out that he is one of the finest rock star of our time. You can say he is a professor at some University! So simple he looked. And the songs he played that day, I was thrilled. He is a gifted guitarist as well as vocalist. The fame of Dire Strait is often attributed solely to him, rightfully. And after that concert, I became a huge fan of Dire Strait music. You will find almost entire collection of their music on my harddisk!
My second concert visit was in February 05. This time it was heart-throbe Bryan Adams. And this time, I was not alone. I went to concert with a few friends. I had a lot of expectations. But somehow, I did not have a very pleasent experience because of things other than his music. It was a terriblly small place for a crowd of thousands. Therefore people were suffocating each other in the crowd. We could hardly breath, crushed in the sea of people. But the music was asusual fantastic. BA rocks anyday, anytime. He played most of his classic hits like 'Summer of 69' and 'Everything I do' and so on.
My encounter with classical music is not very old. And the major influence is ofcourse my sister as she is one of the best classical vocalists of Gujarat today. I used to go to 'Saptak Classical Music Concert' in Ahmedabad which is a yearly music festival, just to accompany her. But as and when time passed, I started liking the music more and more. And then lately, the scenario reversed such that sometimes she had to come with me to give company!
I am a big fan of Pt. Jasraj and Ustad Rashid Khan. Their music is divine. There are two types of music which touch your soul. One hand you have western classical music and instrumental music by artists like Yanni. And on the other hand you have Hindustani Classical music. The former calms your soul and gives you peace. The latter elevates your soul and takes your mind to a different world altogether.
Lately I have realized that Computer Programming and Hindustani Classical music really go well with each other !! So when I am programmin, I always listen to this music and it really works wonders. It keeps my mind fresh till long hours.
In my shifts of liking, there is also a significant place for Hip Hop music, mainly by eminem. I admire eminem a lot because of his talent for hip-hop and his own struggle in life. His has been an inspiring story. Moreover, recently I have also been listening to Mike Shinoda. He is a good upcoming talent in hip-hop and alternative music.
I wonder what is next in store for me. Jazz.... Carnatic Classical..... or some other genre which many people have not heard of !!!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Wet earth and rain and home

It is amazing how some whiff can take you back in time within a moment. Miles away from the place you are standing, months and days away in time. It is the rain and the wet earth and that smell which is doing this trick to me. I am sitting here writing this in Tucson, thousands of miles away from my home, remembering the days of rain in my home town. My balcony, that wooden swing, the rain, that fregrence of wet earth, that melodious sound of rain drops hitting the earth and bouncing on the puddles, that favourite tree of mine in front of my house, swinging back and forth to the tune of rain and lightening sounds. Mesmerising visuals being drawn in front of my eyes.

I remember how I used to enjoy the rainy days back home. The memories go as far back in time as schooling days. I remember coming back home from school in those rainy days. It used to be so much fun, walking through the small streams of running water on the roads, clasping mother's hand, walking besides her. The green trees, bathing in the pure elixir of God, the rain. And the smiles on everyone's faces, silently thanking the mother nature for her blessings.

After those memories, my mind is flooding with the days spent at my native place called Sihor. It is a beautiful place surrounded by hills. I spent most of my vacations there. This place becomes amazingly attractive during the rainy season. The river overflows. The mountains look charming. And the festive mood accompanies the weather. I remember going to those fun-fairs during those days as at this time, ther is one of our celebrated festivals called 'Janmashtami'. The fun fairs were always very alluring because of the attractive toys, food and above all, going out with the people I love most.

Then there is this celebration of breaking the 'Matki' (A pot filled with butter). This pot is hung high on the street and the youth forms a scaffold and one young boy climbs this human scaffold and breaks the pot. It holds a religious significance in Hindu mythology as the Lord Krishna performed similar rituals. My uncle's old house used to be 4 sotries high and we used to stand on the terrace and watch the whole celebrations at night. People used to throw buckets full of water on the boys to disrupt their formation but they used to persist and achieve their target. Fun, frolic, faith and joy. They used to characterize the mood of those days.

After that I remember my long drives with friends a year ago during the rains. The highway used to be flooded with water sometimes and it was a difficult drive. But it was pleasent as light drizzling and cool breeze made up the mood.

Good old days....

Life as a drama on this world's stage

After three months or so, I am reading something of my interest. After last night's submission, I got a chance to breath and read some literary work. As always, I resorted to Oscar Wilde whom I consider one of the finest writers of the past few centuries.

I am reading his essay on importance of costumes in drama. He mainly talks about how Shakespeare described the costumes and masks of his characters to the utmost accuracy and detail.

Take a look at this sentence. "... But with the stage, how different it is. The ancient world wakes from its sleep and history moves as a pageant before our eyes, without obliging us to have recourse to a dictionary or an encyclopaedia for the perfection of our enjoyment. "

I somehow always believe that the whole life is a drama. And this world is a stage, we all being actors. Compare it with every characteristics of drama. As Wilde says, the drama is always an elaborate depiction of what is written in the book. In life's case, the drama of life is an elaborate depiction of what is there in the 'book of life'. We can assume every person's life to be a biography written by God. And then when the time comes, this biography is performed on the stage of this world.

And the more interesting part is, all these biographies being performed interact with each other and make a complete play. And this play is so very interesting. The more you are involved in some events of life, the more you enjoy musing about them in retrospect. Some parts of your life, you can actually re-live when you think about them in your quietest of moments.

We all are actors and the God is the writer director of the drama. But one stark difference between the life and drama is that in a drama, all the actors have known the script a priori. And they know what is going to happen in the subsequent scenes. God's drama is much supirior in this respect. In the drama of life, noone knows what is going to happen to their character in the subsequent scenes. And this makes it so much more interesting.

Such uncertainty bring about the most natural 'acting' possible from the characters. The contemporary drama directors should actually try this strategy. Do not give the script to the actors. Just tell them the immediate sequence and make them act accordingly. In this setup, the actors will have no prejudice towards the coming sequences and will be most focused on the current scene.

Or thinking in reverse direction, how would it be, if God gave us the entire script and asked us to act accordingly? How would it be to act all your life knowing that you are acting. We all act even now, but we just don't acknowledge our behaviour as acting. If we knew what is going to happen in future, in other words, if we had the script of the drama called life, then everyone would be acting.

The world would become so unnatural and appallingly boring. Imagine a boy acting to be in love when he knows that his love is not going to last for ever. Imagine a farmer acting to be anticipating the rains for his harvest when he knows that it will be a famine this year. Imagine a soldier bidding goodbye to his fiancee and promising her to return soon when he knows that his 'role' will compel him to die in the 'war scene'. I would actually say it is not only boring but it is sad.

Another interesting aspect in comparison comes to my mind and that is re-takes. Imagine having re-takes in our lives. If you make a mistake, the director - God will give you another chance to correct it. Will it be good? Will it be bad? What will happen to the consciences of people if they know that they will have a second chance always? Will they be less judicious in their behaviour? Will they be less burdened? But again, one similarity here is that an actor learns from his mistakes in the previous scenes and becomes more careful in his subsequent scenes. Life also teaches lessons at every step. We learn from past and correct our mistakes in future.

Going back to Shakespeare's style of writing, he assumed the most ornated and elaborate stage setup available while writing. Therefore we see many complaints in the literature form the directors of such drama that it was extremely difficult to recreate the magic of Shakespearian dramas on the stage. God is one step ahead than Shakespear. He not only assumes the grand stage for performance, he creates it too. Now think about this, would God have created the stage and then written this drama called life? Or once the God wrote this drama, then he created the stage and selected actors?

If given a chance, would you take up a different role in this drama? Or would you like someone else in your life to take a different role? Would you ask God to change your part of the role slightly?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The taste of failure

It was a bad start of the day today. Barely I had woken up from last night's slogging till 3a.m. in the morning and I got a mail saying I had lost one more opportunity today.

Not that I was very sure of getting the position, but still deep down inside of heart, I had a feeling that I might be able to grab it. But once again, luck decieved me. As a coincidence, I came across a song by Fort Minor which had lyrics which accurately described my day.
He says, "It's 10% luck, 20% skill, 15% concentrated power of will , 5% pleasure, 50% pain and 100% reason to remember the day!"

So that 50% of pain clearly dominated the day today. But yet, doesn't every pain make a man much stronger everytime? Failure makes you realize the true worth of yourself. This would sound negative but clearly that seems to be the case with me. It makes you more realistic about your own self. Cut down to size.

But yet, it doesn't dampen my spirits. Those moments of blues will fade with time. Let the melancholy befriend me for sometime. But I will emerge from that. Rise up to the new horizon. New challenges facing me. Or me facing new challenges !

Friday, June 23, 2006

Bitter Sweet Symphony... Mumbai - A story of my experiences

A small article that I wrote a couple of days ago and got a good response from those whom I had sent initially. So I thought I would share it with some more people !
Hope you will enjoy this..

I have been to Mumbai quite a few times now. Here is a small part of what I experienced and what I thought about the mighty city. Those who have been to Mumbai will find this story their own. And those who live in Mumbai will find the story to be part of their lives. Undetachable one.
A huge creature is charging towards you with full force. And you see lots of men grabbing that creature, hanging onto it from all over the sides and some even from top. Trying to control the beast which is going berserk. And you hear that beast shrieking at loud thunderous voice.
Welcome to a local railway's platform in Mumbai. The city of blinding lights. The city that never sleeps. The city that never halts to take a breather.
If you have hit the platform of Mumbai for the first time, you are in for a good joy ride. The shock of a life time. There is a sea on the platform. The sea of humans. The difference between a sea and this human sea is that here the humans acting as droplets in the sea are far from being in unison with each other like real droplets in the sea. Thus what you see is not the harmonious waves but a chaotic and grisly picture of reality.
The fight for survival begins at the dawn of everyday. Without even seeing the first rays of the sun, people rush to the railway platforms, lest the rest of the world wakes up and the floods the platform. Every night the fear of tomorrow's struggle haunts oneself. The uncertainties. Or the certainties of hardship.
During my first few visits, I was more involved in saving myself from drowning into this sea on the platform. But as my instincts grew stronger or more ferocious and I became more familiar with the 'ever-urgent' state of people running on the platform, I developed a habit of observing people and thinking their thoughts.
There is this concept of direction and reverse direction traffic on the rails. For example, people say that during morning hours of office time, there is a demonic rush towards south Mumbai on the western line. So it is from Borivali to Mumbai Central that you see the unimaginable rush of people. And during evening hours, it is this crowd that wants to go back, desperately, to their respective homes from office. Thus it is the rush from South towards North. And the remaining hours are quite normal. No denial of the fact that these so called busy hours are indeed frenzied. Unfettered wilderness. But the thing that amazes me most is that even apart from these 'busy hours' there is never a time when you can easily get to sit inside the train. If you get a seat, consider yourself extremely lucky. But most of the cases, you might have been in the wrong train altogether which is a high probability event if you find yourself seated.
Then there is one more legend about trains going to Virar. The people regularly travelling in this train have become so feral that for them, anyone violating their conventions, knowingly or unknowingly is worthy of severest of punishment. For example, if you, by mistake, board this train to Virar, and you want to get down at Borivali (a station which comes before Virar), people will obstruct you and will not allow you to get down at your desired station. Reason? They considered the train to be exclusively for themselves. For those who want to get down at Virar only. And no earlier station. Eventhough there is no such rule written about that train. Even worse, if you try to get yourself free from this half-human half-demon crowd, they will beat you to your limits and make sure they teach you a lesson. And also to the generations to follow. The train is for us. Exclusively.
There have been times, I have had the honour to travel by the Luggage Compartment. The humorous part of the story is that you will hardly find any place for luggage inside such compartments. And there are no rows of seats inside. More room for people. More people. More frenzy. But the most noteworthy part about travelling in the luggage compartment is the wide variety of smells that your senses are exposed to. Most of the times it is the biting stench of fish which kills you if you are not already overrun by the people, the mob. Sometimes, the smell of vegetables, the rotten ones also accompany the drift of stench to your nostrils. But unhindered as you are, you travel on. And on.
One more notable phenomenon about the platforms is the ticket windows. Someone with wits as simple as mine, will never figure out where the ticket window is. Even asking people will not help. Because there are numerous types of ticket windows. Once I stood in three queues one after the other. Finding the right one at last after these many attempts. Sometimes, the windows are hidden under the bridge. Sometimes they are on the bridge. Sometime, inside the station. Sometimes outside. I wonder, how creative, the architects of this amazing maze would be.
Now let me narrate a typical sequence of events when a train charges inside the platform. First thing to happen is that the movement on the stairs of the overbridge increases rapidly. Everyone wants to grab the beast which has entered just now. Can not wait even for a couple of more minutes. Not acceptable. This is Mumbai. Thus, there is a sudden increase in the movement even along the platform. People getting ready to take a sprint. To dive. To throw their corporeal bodies in the direction of the menacing beast.
Let us look at the scene from within the train compartments. People wanting to get out, desperately nudging their way out to the doors. Shouting, abusing, threatening has already begun. Both from inside and outside. It is the battle between those who are this side of the train doors and those who are on the other. It is the battle of wits, nerves and muscles. He who has the perfect combination of this, wins. And so does the persons standing behind him. There is no inclination to make male gender the hero in this story by using 'he'. The only reasoning behind this is the availability of ladies special compartments and thus less hardship, though not the absence of it, for female gender.
While this drama of emptying and filling up of train continues, many potential tragedies are avoided by God's grace, or some mortal who transcends the mortality by helping someone. And for the less fortunate ones, the calamity strikes. Often. But the insensitivity has reached such a level in the persons that these incidents are not paid heed to at all. One accident. One news event to talk about in office. Life goes on.
On a lighter note, I would like to share my own experience of getting in a local. The adventure to be remembered for long. It was Dadar station. One of the busiest places in Mumbai. We had to reach our place where we lived in Ghatkopar and then again return to Dadar for taking a train back to Ahmedabad. It was 6 in the evening I remember. Three of us, Ruchir, Mahesh and I, standing at the Dadar station. The first beast comes rushing in. The flurry on the stairs. The movement on the platform. The site of hundreds of people hanging on the doors frightened us if not bogged our wits down. But we had to catch the train so as not to miss the connecting train to Ahmedabad. Thus, after having a short discussion and taking a unanimous decision of getting into the train no matter what, we got ourselves charged up for the thrust. And the train slowed down, or so it seemed. And the next moment is beyond the comprehension of someone who has not seen the utterly wild and maniac scenes at such platforms. People were literally ready to kill each other for a place to keep a foot on the train. And others to keep a foot on the platform, getting off the train. The fight went on for the dreadful half a minute. And the train moved ahead, as normally as if nothing had happened. Some weight got out and some got in. The machine. What else do you expect from it? Sympathy? Do you expect that from a human as well? In Mumbai?
Unfazed by the white washed defeat and all the more determined, we decided to board the next one. A few minutes of wait. And the same prelude. Same activities before arrival of the train. And then came the time. The effort, hardwork, bravery. All paid off in full and we set our feet on the train. But then we realized that setting a foot each was not enough. We had to squeeze our bodies well inside the compartment. Ruch, and I somehow managed to overcome that challenge after much effort but Hesh's condition was somewhat ludicrous and pitiable. His spectacles had almost fallen of his nose and were about to be shattered under the crushing feet of the wild crowd. He was holding on to my one hand which I had stretched to save him from remaining behind on the platform. The other hand of mine swung into action and I saved his spectacles from falling. The next moment, I gave all the strength that I had left in the body to pull him up on the compartment. And then came the moment of glory. All three of us, successfully inside the compartment. With all the body parts intact and all of them inside the train.
But if you wonder for a moment about the efficiency of this local railway network, you will realize that it is a task of mammoth complexity. Hundreds of thousands of people travelling everyday. Not many times would you have heard about some accident of local train, however minor it is. If you remove the local train from mumbai's face, imagine what would be left of Mumbai? Just like a pale ghostly dead body after all the blood has been sucked from it. Lifeless.
End of part I
I plan to write more. Covering my experience in Mumbai apart from those with local trains. I hope I don't have to stop writing that one after getting reviews from the people who have read first part !

With best wishes....

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Hungry Tide - Amitav Ghosh

I am not sure what prompted me to pick up this book and buy. But I am thankful to that moment when I decided to read this book.

It's an awesome piece of work. My thoughts might be coloured by the fact that I have a very intense liking towards Bengali culture and it's people. But above that, I can say that it's a good literary monument.

The book describes the crux of the human soul. There is no hero or villain in the story. The theme is not gripping like some thriller. But there is something in the entire setup which is exotic, inexplicably beautiful. While beginning a chapter of the book, a reader feels as curious as a child opening the christmas gifts. Each page brings a new surprise to the readers. Immersing them in the plot and the surrounding events.

The story is based in some backwater region of West Bengal. The description of the scenic beauty is amazing and touches the most sensitive parts of the neurons of our brain.

Categorically it describes relationships. Relationships between strangers. Relationship between humans and nature. Relationship between humans and animals. Relationship of yourself with you. Relationship of a soul with another soul.

There are mainly 5-6 characters in the novel. There is this Kanai - who is a typical succesful urbane and sophisticated person from Delhi. Despite his external demeanor, he is not characterised as a hero.

There is this girl, Piya, who can be called the heroin of the story. She does not understand the indian languages yet she understands the human nature. The book revolves around her and her feelings towards a rustic young man who is another strong character of the novel.

Again, there is this character of Kanai's uncle. He is described as almost a non-entity but yet, the entire book surrounds his diary which Kanai keeps reading. And the secrets of human souls and feelings that are revealed from the diary are just mind boggling. This character reminds me of people who are never succesful in life. Success neither in their own eyes, nor in the eyes of world. Yet the world is full of such people and they live their lives. But at the same time, there is a hidden desire in their psyche to succeed in life. They always try to give meaning to their life and ultimately die struggling. As 50 Cent says, "get richer or die trying". Ofcourse, this is a bit off track as this character did not have a crave for money alltogether. But I guess you got the point.

The plot describes how the beast (tiger) plays a vital role in the fears of the villagers. They don't even take its name because it is considered ill omen. And in the end, it's the fear that saves Kanai from the beast in a symbolic encounter of his with it.

The story is an epitomization of Love, Sacrifice, The untold feelings, The inexplicable relationships, Human hearts.

Give it a try folks if you get some time to go through the book.