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 !!!