Wednesday, 7 July 2010


My first memory of life in Flat No. 704 is of borrowing Cousin B's camera for taking a picture of the view from my balcony. With me in the foreground, of course. As one Vincent van Gogh would concur, self-portraits are no mean task and my dozen odd attempts were all in vain, (quite like the ones I would make in the years to come) much to the umbrage of Cousin B. Those were the days of the good old Kodak film rolls, you see- digital cameras and the luxury of the delete button were still some way in the future.

In the years hence, Bangalore and Abhishek have made way for Bengaluru and Dela respectively. The population of the city has doubled and so has my weight. Even in the midst of all that, the view from my balcony is as magnificent as ever, my car-park is still the most popular cricket pitch in all of Jayanagar, my love affair with peanut butter continues and Shanti Sagar still makes the best Gobi Manchurian in the world. So much has happened over the last thirteen years. And yet, so little has changed.

The last two months have seen me bid adieu to Bahrain and Roorkee, those two wonderfully bizarre towns I called home for nine memorable years. Bidding goodbye to the lives I led there is another matter, but all in due time.

For now, I'll just look forward to Bangalore and the deluge of nostalgia and hope that comes with it.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Of toys and stories

When I was in school, I always vaguely loathed the way teachers would try to reveal hidden 'layers' within a book. To me a book was about its plot and its characters- all the alleged symbolism and allegory that people were forever finding in books was more accidental than deliberate. Then again, in high school I believed all sorts of things that turned out to be untrue, starting with my belief that a moustache would suit my countenance perfectly.

I left the theater in 1995 after seeing the original Toy Story feeling strangely moved. I was only seven and probably didn't know who Tom Hanks was, never mind Tim Allen and Joan Cusack, but I did know – at least on a basic level of storytelling – that it was fantastic. As you age, nostalgia often has to compensate for quality (or lack thereof) in your perception of the books and movies you once loved. Suddenly Small Wonder isn't as hilarious as it once was. Tinkle is monotonous. Tom and Jerry is plain silly.

Toy Story, oddly, has always been the exception to the aforesaid rule. It is, perhaps, another of those works of art with 'layers'- there is more to it than meets the eye. There is a scene in the new instalment where Woody, Buzz and co. end up having to choose between a life of luxury at the day-care centre and a less-enjoyable one in the place they once called home. I have an odd feeling a large chunk of the largely-expatriate audience was reminded of the choices they had made themselves. Or perhaps that's just my month-long stay outside India getting to me.

The allegories don't end there. There is another scene that seemed straight out of 1984. And another that smacked of Holden Caulfeld-esque cynicism. Toy Story 3 is, in many ways, the most complete movie ever made.

Or perhaps I am just reading too much into a Pixar flick where toys talk, fall in love and do lots of other crazy stuff.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Smoke through a keyhole

Anonymity is a luxury. I came home little over a fortnight back looking forward to spending the month in the snug embrace of my quilt, with the World Cup and Mum's coffee to keep me awake. Earlier today, I received a call from my old school requesting me to turn up and share my two fils' worth on IIT, the universe and everything, being one of the most prolific students to emerge from the narrow corridors of the Indian School Bahrain. Their words, not mine. As it turns out, I am something of a legend in these parts, with a fan base comparable to that of Shakira. Or, for that matter, Puneet Singh Jaggi.

One of the reasons I come home as rarely as I do is the confrontation with the past that it inevitably results in. Reminders of the estrangement of my past and present selves await me at every turn. A Westlife CD here, a Full House poster there- my search for answers only yields more questions. Is there no part of us that survives the irrevocable march of time? If change was indeed a good thing, wouldn't nostalgia lose its purpose? Are the things we do and the people we like truly a reflection of who we are underneath? Do our inner and outer selves ever match up? Is life really worth all the effort it takes to survive? What exactly makes it worth it? Why ask useless questions? How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky? Who is John Galt?

Late edit: Six hours after I typed this post out, I found this

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Last Stand

Destiny has joined the ranks of God, milk chocolate and Cristiano Ronaldo in the elite list of things I can't make up my mind about. Far too often have I seen the plans and schemes of men go up in flames without rhyme or reason. I suppose life's course is determined more by the choices we don't get to make than the ones we do.

For the first time in a while, I went to the Ganga Canteen for a snack today. Friends and acquaintances from the gaon were greeted with 'what-ho's' and smiles. Respectively. Somewhere during the drill, a batch-mate was kind enough to point out that the trip might just as well be my last. I have reached that stage in the life of an R-Lander, I suppose. A glass of Ice Tea, a game of football, a walk in the rain- just about anything I do seems to make me wonder if Fate has another round written against my name.

I am eight hours away from my last end-sem as a student of Electrical Engineering. A wiser man would probably have hit the books ages ago, but the occasion is one that ought to be savoured, I decide, and take a jaunt down memory lane instead. Barring a miracle in CAT 2011 (or 2012, for that matter), this will be the last test I will be sitting through for some time to come. Hardly something I'll miss too sorely, of course, but this will also mark, in more ways than one, the end of the road, to borrow a phrase from this wonderful song.    

Times like these almost invariably make me relive that fateful day four years ago when a series of curious coincidences saw Electrical-Roorkee make that all-important leap over Engineering Physics-Mumbai on my preferrence list.  

'To think, all this was so close to never happening. This life was so close to never happening.' 

Sunday, 2 May 2010


It rained last night, albeit briefly. I possess what I am told is the quintessential Cancarian temperament- a susceptibility to mood swings and momentary lapses of reason. There are days when I am all sunshine and laughter and then there are others when my irritability tires even me out. Nothing reverts me to my cheery best as unfailingly as the rains- a consequence, presumably, of spending four long years in water lorry-infested Chennai. 

I woke up this morning promptly at the stroke of eight, defiantly resisting the ever-alluring alternative of the snooze button. The smell of wet earth still lingered in the air. Petrichor, I think, is the word for it. For once, I remembered to pour coffee powder into my filter (Yes, thank you PPT) just before I went to sleep. I set off for the mess, pleasantly surprised to be greeted by a reasonably edible meal of Maggi and corn flakes. Perfection, as one Chandler Muriel Bing would have put it. 

And that precise moment was when any semblance of normalcy disappeared from my daily rote. As the rest of the world set off for departments and laboratories far and wide, I was confronted by that one question I have faced far too often this semester- 'now what?'

4-2, for the uninitiated, is the master-plan of the R-Land administration whereby students are put through four months of mind-numbing inactivity in an attempt to set right the sham that thesis projects have now become. The reasoning, presumably, is that students will eventually tire of stalking people on Facebook and will find the idea of a project appealing. Sound enough. The scheme, however, overlooks the one thing mankind can never have too much of- sleep.

For the fourth time this week, I sit down with a copy of Gone With The Wind, determined to do Ms. Mitchell justice this time around. The effort lasts all of forty three minutes, seven more than my last attempt. Mrs. Dalloway waits on my bookshelf, as do Freedom at Midnight and The Brothers Karamazov. My head, however, sinks into that familiar depression in my pillow, as I gradually give in to the whims of Lady Slumber. The clock on my bedside table reads 9.22 AM. 

Monday, 15 February 2010

Empty Spaces

Heaven knows I’m a hypersomniac of the first order. There are few things I enjoy more than slipping into the warm embrace of my quilt at the end of a hard (which, like everything else in the world, is a relative term) day’s work.

The same old routine was repeated this Friday. A high-octane Meta v Mech football game and a three-hour sermon on desh bhakti by a topless Salman Khan left me drained, physically and mentally. Somewhere between all that, I even managed to sit through Choreo’s bizarrely-named event (Courante, for those of you who care), if only for a few forgettable minutes. By the stroke of midnight, I had well and truly earned my right to a good night’s rest. Another day in the life of Dela had just reached its inevitable end.

It was at this fateful moment that Long Legs, The Horniest One and Benarasi Babu broke into my room. Yours truly was shaken out of a wonderful slumber and invited on a pilgrimage to the holy Kumbh. Left having to make a tough choice between my quilt and a place in heaven, I did the one thing any normal man in my place would have done- toss a coin. Alas, tails it was, and I was off on my way to Haridwar, knapsack on my back.

For some reason, pilgrimages inevitably evoke images of The Canterbury Tales in my mind. The latest expedition, though, was as distant from that historic journey as it could possibly be. Our bags had deserted us even before we set foot on the Holy Land. The police did all they possibly could to make our 5 kilometre journey seem like a marathon. Our shoe-string budget also meant that we would have to make do with a modest brunch of Coke and Kurkure. Nevertheless, true-believers that we were, we walked. We walked until our until muscles burned and our veins pumped battery acid. Then we walked some more.

A little past six PM yesterday, I was back in my bed, with more memories of the twenty-odd kilometre walk than the holy dip that it culminated in. Somewhere along the way, my sandals came apart after stubbornly holding their own in the face of so daunting a task for an entire day. I can barely feel my limbs at the moment. My neck is currently the only freely mobile part of my body. Touch wood. My laptop is busy gathering cobwebs amidst a stack of newspapers in one corner of my room, which means that Anita Nair's Good Night and God Bless is, for now, my sole source of entertainment. In the meantime, the Minion has been kind enough to remind me that the Mid Sems are less than a week away. As far as my BTP goes, the lesser said, the better.

On the brighter side, I will be heading to heaven at the end of all this.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Rhymes and reasons

One of the few things I’m grateful to technology for is that it is possible in this day and age to fly four hours and land in a city where you can sit comfortably in your T-shirt and ogle all you like at East European girls tanning in the Arabian sun, which is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Paradise, in fact.

The problem with paradise is that it’s temporary: You don’t belong here and the neighbours are nobody you care to know, so it’s only blissful for a week or so. You’re in a country that depends on a dozen tombs built by men of another era out of a faith that you don’t share. You look around at the highway, the temples, the mausoleums, the curvy streets of houses, your hotel, you find nothing that would look out of place in your own hometown; which is exhilarating to some people but not to you. You expect the week-long trip to turn out to be another of those ordeals that fail to capture your imagination. And yet, it does.

Mankind is at its best when engaged in the endless heroic quest for whatever — truth, love, literary excellence, supremacy in tennis, a perfect 10 — and relaxation makes them dull. It’s true. Deep down, we’re all hunters. It is the pursuit of goals that keeps us alive- an eternal hunger that feeds on itself to push us towards whatever it is that we have set out to achieve.

The fundamental religion of most of mankind is the faith that God has revealed Himself to us and not to the non-believers. Our faith is the one God chose and so if we vanquish the other tribes and rain fire and destruction on them, we’re only carrying out God’s Will.

Now, eating pickled cheese under the Saharan sun, I am sliding into hedonistic pantheism, slouching down the Nile towards Luxor, on a quest to make my parents and brother happy until the money runs out and we regain our senses and head home.

Back in R-Land, as I go about the unenviable ritual of chronologically arranging my grade sheets, I realize that it is faith, or rather the lack of one, that lies at the heart of the downward spiral I have been on. I suppose that is what growing up is all about- the gradual loss of faith, be it in a Higher Force, the system, and eventually, yourself.

The 31st of December has a delightful habit of catching me on the wrong foot. On this occasion, much to my own surprise, I find myself on the banks of the Nile, observing the remains of a long defunct civilization. In the run-up to D-day, H-hour, a fancy sound-and-lights show has been set up in Giza, in an attempt to extract a few precious pounds from an overtly-enthusiastic crowd. Five minutes pass, and the event gradually begins to arouse my interest, as it impressively takes on the arduous task of condensing Egypt's three thousand year history to a forty-five minute show.

The show makes up for what it lacks in style with substance. A spectacular flare of red and yellow goes up in the sky to depict the accession of Khafren and the dawn of the Age of Pharoahs. Shadow-figures turn up in the middle of the sky, clutching non-existent bricks in a hapless attempt to depict the construction of the Pyramids. Quite aptly, Beethoven’s String Quartet No.16 is played in the background. ‘Es muss sein’, a voice bellows, ‘ja, es muss sein.’

‘It must be. Yes, it must be.’