Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In Praise Of Melancholy

I usually do not put up links to articles on my blog. But over the last year or so, my bookmarks (not only on my computer but also on have bloated to such an extent that I think I need to put a few up here so that they stay with me.

In this Brilliant article, Eric G. Wilson, a professor of English at Wake Forest University argues that in our constant endeavor to be happy and alleviate depression or melancholy from our lives, by any means, we are losing out on a key part of a wholesome existence.

Read the excerpts. And if you have as much time as I seem to have nowadays, read the entire thing. Apart from being a very thought provoking argument, it's also one of the finest examples of prose writing I have come across of late.

What passes for bliss could well be a dystopia of flaccid grins. Our passion for felicity hints at an ominous hatred for all that grows and thrives and then dies. I'd hate for us to awaken one morning and regret what we've done in the name of untroubled enjoyment. I'd hate for us to crawl out of our beds and walk out into a country denuded of gorgeous lonely roads and the grandeur of desolate hotels, of half-cracked geniuses and their frantic poems. I'd hate for us to come to consciousness when it's too late to live.

When we, with apparent happiness, grab hard onto one ideology or another, this world suddenly seems to take on a static coherence, a rigid division between right and wrong. The world in this way becomes uninteresting, dead. But when we allow our melancholy mood to bloom in our hearts, this universe, formerly inanimate, comes suddenly to life. Finite rules dissolve before infinite possibilities. Happiness to us is no longer viable. We want something more: joy. Melancholia galvanizes us, shocks us to life.

Melancholia pushes against the easy "either/or" of the status quo. It thrives in unexplored middle ground between oppositions, in the "both/and." It fosters fresh insights into relationships between oppositions, especially that great polarity life and death. It encourages new ways of conceiving and naming the mysterious connections between antinomies. It returns us to innocence, to the ability to play in the potential without being constrained to the actual. Such respites from causality refresh our relationship to the world, grant us beautiful vistas, energize our hearts and our minds.

To be against happiness is to embrace ecstasy. Incompleteness is a call to life. Fragmentation is freedom. The exhilaration of never knowing anything fully is that you can perpetually imagine sublimities beyond reason. On the margins of the known is the agile edge of existence. This is the rapture, burning slow, of finishing a book that can never be completed, a flawed and conflicted text, vexed as twilight.

Monday, January 21, 2008

So Far So Good

How often is the anticipation more enjoyable than the actual event. How often is the beginning the best part of a journey.

It's been a good start to the year. I've started doing a few things I should have begun earlier. With me, the most difficult part has always been the beginning. I have a lot of inertia when it comes to starting something new. And although on most occasions I've found the exercise to be quite rewarding once I start on it, yet somehow, the mental block very much remains.

Planning out things and making a road map for the future has never been one of my traits. Dreaming about what's possibly coming without actually expecting it to necessarily happen, is. Somehow I feel quite fresh right now. Not particularly happy or sad. But fresh. And I think it's mostly to do with the fact that this new year, I had reasons to start from a clean slate. A few demons which had bothered me for the better part of last year have been tamed to quite some extent. And although there hasn't been much of a change in the circumstances which had caused all those worries in the first place, yet, the excuse of a new year, a fresh beginning, has been good enough for me. The 'feel good' factor, which had deserted me last year, seems to be coming back, albeit slowly. And the only fathomable reason is the fact that it's a new beginning. Or maybe I had just got tired of being bothered all the time.

You could call me stupid. But I think sometimes all you need is an excuse. An excuse to feel that things are coming around bit by bit. Doesn't matter even if it's just in the mind. Doesn't matter even if it's something as cliched as a 'Happy New Year'.

And yes, the cricket has been phenomenal and waking up at 7 in the morning has become more of a norm.

And this version of Waltzing Matilda by John Williamson has been on my mind since morning. Love his style of narration.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Yahoo Media Player

It's sleek, easier to use and is less bulky. It also has the play list feature, is non intrusive and floats around the page. Just click on the button which would appear to the left of any mp3 that I put up on the blog to launch the player.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Looking Back

Wrote this one sometime in November but never got around to posting it.

...I have about a dozen novels lined up to be read, each one bought very thoughtfully, ones that I want to read slowly, allowing them to sink in. I have my new guitar on which I want to play so many things that I cant even start to list them.... I want to roam around in my new bike and visit new places.....

The new guitar happens to be an electric one instead of the acoustic and the focus has shifted from finger plucking and chord playing to leads. The number of 'to be read' novels has reduced to half. Movie going and eating out have not been able to keep up to the frantic pace of last year. The urge to travel has only intensified, satiated by the occasional bike trip and the trek.

A lot has happened without actually anything happening.

There was quite a bit of traveling. A long trip to a new home. Short ones elsewhere. Some filled with disillusionment, some marked by hope. Some filled with anticipation and others still, characterized by indifference. Sms-ing, talking on the phone before the flight takes off, checking out the air hostesses, hoping for a pretty girl to sit on the next seat, spending the 3 hour long flight reading a book and just thinking about the trip that was or the one that would be; the airports and the flights have made a little story for themselves.

I've discovered and rediscovered music. I've immensely enjoyed listening to songs. Much more than the few posts would suggest. They have seen me through during my gloomiest of days. As have the books. Particularly the ones by an author named Orhan Pamuk. And each one of the half a dozen live concerts has been worth every minute. From my first Rock Concert (Deep Purple) to the Ghulam Ali, Jagjit Singh Ghazal night and the Flamenco song and dance concert; each one of the experiences was unique.

I have had my patience tested. I haven't had most of the things going for me. I have been told to keep the faith and wait. Strangely, at times I have managed to separate myself from my life and laugh at it. Like everybody I know, the million questions about life have haunted me. I have found myself oscillating from living the moment and being the happiest man I know to thinking about the past and the future and getting perturbed and sad. I have tried to hold on to those fleeting moments of clarity and have, at the next instant, found myself drowning in the sea of confusion.

And I have had some wonderful moments in between. Some unforgettable memories and a few instances of unrestrained exhilaration. There have been a few firsts too. Ecstasy and anger, helplessness and calmness, frustration and understanding, knowing and anxiety, longing and desperation, connect and indifference; it surely has been a mixed bag but I would rather have all of it than not have it at all.

Today, I just happened to think about how it was like a year ago. Same time, last year. And that's where this post is rooted. Yes, its been different from any other year in my life. Exciting and unique in itself. I've found myself changing. There has been a lot of self discovery. I've 'grown up' I think. At least a little. I have never been the one to predict or look into the future. But if anything, I hope the next year has a different 'label' to it. This one, though, has been quite a story in itself.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Three Cities 3/3 - Soaring In Singapore

This one will be mostly pictures.

150 meters above the ground in a Hot Air Balloon. A breathtaking view of the city during the day.
A 30 minute boat cruise on the Singapore River in the evening, taking us under the bridges and past the brilliantly lit Fullerton Hotel, Merlion and some of the other landmarks.
A chance spotting of a traditional Chinese Lion Dance, complete with drums and gongs.
This birthday was different.

Next day was the trip to Sentosa. The dolphin show, in spite of being a little cheesy was quite good. So was the walk through the tunnel at the Underwater World with hundreds of fishes swimming around us. The fact that my parents liked them more than I did, made it all the more pleasing. And the view from the Merlion Tower, of the sea with the ships anchored was absolutely worth clicking a few pictures.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Last Day

I remember coming back home late in the evening and handing over the full sleeve shirt to my mother. 'Keep it somewhere and never wash it', I had told her. I wonder if the shirt is still there. I wonder if something (anything) of the names and 'will miss u' and 'all the best in life' messages that were scribbled all over it in sketch pens still remains. I wonder where all those names are right now. Yes, I still know almost everything that's happening in the lives of about 3 or 4 of them but about the rest, I don't think I care that much. It was the last day of school. Sometime in the December of 1999. And the students of St. Xavier's School (SXS) Bokaro sure knew how to create memories.

The build up that had started almost a year ago had reached its finale. And at the center of it was the signing of shirts and dupattas. The music played on and we danced as if nobody was watching. People who had hardly spoken in 12 years were behaving as if they were the closest of friends. The shiest of boys were having a laugh with the most popular girls. Some of the teachers stood back and smiled as the Y2K batch (as we liked to call ourselves) readied itself for a last party.

At SXS, we were a privileged lot. We won all the quizzes and the debates. We had the largest and the most beautiful school in town. We had the best teachers. The entire town looked forward to our Annual Fete on 14th Nov. We were the only school which had the parties and farewells. We created the best gossips. And we produced the best results when it came to academics. And how can I forget; we were the only ICSE school in the city. So when it was time to leave all of it and start afresh, it was obvious that the longing, the loving would be difficult to forget. I don't think I have ever been so carefree as I was then. Slam books were signed, promises were made to keep in touch for ever, phone numbers were exchanged and past sins were forgiven. A few girls started crying but there was no denying the general sense of bonhomie which swept us in those last days of school. Looking back, it sure seems foolish. I guess we were just conforming to the saying - Ignorance is bliss. But at the same time, it was the most natural thing to do.

As the evening went by, a few left for home. Most of us, though, headed to Vora Brother's. Had soya chilli and Pepsi there, giggling all the while. Walked in a line blocking the street. On the rare occasion, also talked about the pre-board exams starting early January. Most of us would still be meeting pretty much everyday for tuitions. But all of us knew that it would never quite be the same again.

That was eight years ago. Long time. A lot has happened since. A lot has changed. I have changed. But today, out of nowhere, that day came to my mind. That particular moment, to be precise. People walking with their bicycles in front of Vora Brother's; the night about to fall.

Writing is as close as we get to keeping a hold on the thousand and one things – childhood, certainties, cities, doubts, dreams, instants, phrases, parents, loves – that go on slipping, like sand, through our fingers -- Rushdie
Couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Three Cities 2/3 - Salamat Datang Ke Kuala Lumpur

Welcome To Kuala Lumpur.

The Malay language doesnt have a script. It uses English alphabets. And it borrows a lot of words from English and Urdu/Arabic. Kerusi means seat, Bagasi means baggage, Negara means national, Kedai means shop. It would be fair to say that I could pick up more of the language in two days than I have Kannada in my one and a half years of stay in Bangalore. Look at it in any way you want! The City of lights (Lumpu is lamp) is like this huge park; built to a definite plan and maintained to perfection. I dont know about Malaysia and its economy, about its villages or any other city but the capital is definitely meant to be a showcase to the world. And KL fits the bill perfectly. Skyscrapers, gardens, monuments made in Moorish style, the Monorail, beautifully laid out roads, smiling locals who speak good English; I couldn't ask for anything more.

The best thing about KL is that there are very few 'tourist spots' so as to say. Sure, the Petronas Towers and the newer Minara KL are huge attractions but the city as a whole is so beautiful to look at, that you feel like clicking photographs every minute.

At about 150 meters from the ground, the 360 degree view of the city from the observation deck at the Minara KL is breathtaking. Especially if the time of the day is dusk. We stayed there for over two hours clicking pictures and just getting amazed as the city turned on its lights and the Twin Towers changed colors from the metallic gray of the day to the shining silver of the night. The Legend Hotel (the one we were staying at) was fabulous. The view from the room, the Malaysian style prawns and Hainanese Chicken served in the restaurant and the smiling staff combined to make it a truly memorable experience.

Then there was the visit to the chocolate factory where we bought a few kilos (yes you heard me right!) of Malaysian chocolates. I got to take only one kilo though. Our Tamil guide for the city tour was excellent, taking us through the city's history and the important monuments. Throughout the tour, a sense of wonder and amazement prevailed. Everything was so tidy and perfect. No traffic jams, no honking of horns, buildings, roads and trees laid out as if an an artist had painted them on his canvas, towering buildings which strained my neck; KL made me feel that all was right with the world. And I guess I reveled in that feeling.

Situated at about 75 Kms from the city, I will remember the Genting Highlands the most for the Cable Car ride over the rain forests and the road that lead to it. And yes, I also saw a Casino for the first time though didn't dare to try out my luck! The day trip was a little tiring because of the huge crowd which had gone there to enjoy the weekend which led to long queues for the couple of outdoor rides that I took.

A little more expensive than Bangkok, I liked KL the most out of the three cities. I think the laid-back atmosphere of the city in spite of being such a big tourist attraction and commercial center did the trick. Also the fact that they are celebrating 50 years of their independence and tourism is a huge focus area for them. So the entire city was all decked up. Add to it that it was new year's eve and I can't think of a better time to go there. Kuala Lumpur, truly lit up my year end.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Three Cities 1/3 - Bangkok

The first thing that struck me about Bangkok was that the city is an assault on the senses. Lights from the cafes, bars, shops, malls and of course the road. The smell of seafood and meat from the roadside stalls and the scent of perfume worn by the Thai women. The noise of the ubiquitous tuk-tuks, music blaring out from the pubs and people bargaining in the shops. And yes, the people that walk the streets - Thai, Indian, Arab, Japanese, European, American... Bangkok is a dizzying experience.

From the glittering malls to the local bazaars selling dried fish, herbs and fruits.From the hundred odd Buddhist temples to transvestite cabarets and message parlours. (Of course, I didnt have any experience of the last two. But the signs were too obvious to ignore) From the ferry boats and tuk-tuks to the Skytrain and Toyota Corolla taxis. Everything about the city is so varied and so absorbing that its tough to describe it.

But before talking any further about Bangkok, lets talk a little about Pattaya, our first stop in Thailand.

We arrived at the Suvarnabhoomi Airport late in the afternoon. The speakers in the Arrival Lounge were playing an instrumental version of Scarborough Fair. A couple of days ago in Bangalore, I had realised (once again) that the city's airport handles almost ten times the traffic it's meant to. In Bangkok, the newly built one can handle ten times more than what it was doing on that day. For a first timer like me, the monstrosity of concrete and steel that is the airport can tend to be overwhelming because of its sheer size. Anyway, we straightaway headed for Pattaya.

Nissan and Toyota replaced Hyundai and Maruti on the road. Though the huge hoardings of LG and Samsung brought back a sense of familiarity. The bus ride from the Suvarnabhoomi Airport to Pattaya wasnt very far removed from any in India except for the quality of the road itself. Small roadside eating shacks could be seen at regular intervals.Villages went by as the bus sped along the highway. We reached Pattaya in the eveing, checked into the All Seasons Hotel and went out in the street looking for something Indian to eat. At the Indian Curry House, Anwar, from Karachi made sure that we ended up having ghar ka khana.

Pattaya is very scenic and very modern at the same time with beautiful beaches, small islands nearby and of course the glittering cafes and pubs. The Thais seem to be football crazy as I could see big screens showing the EPL almost everywhere. A day and a half in Pattaya was spent parasailing, lazing around the beach, going to a traditional Thai dance performance and an elephant show, walking on the main road parallel to the sea shore with the pubs and cafes to the left and the prostitutes on the right (yes, that was awkward because I was with my dad!).

When it comes to the temples in Bangkok, all that glitters is actually gold. The Wats, as they are called, are in one word, grand. We hopped around few of the famous temples, took the ferry to cross the river to see Wat Arun and get a view of entire city from its top. The old city of Bangkok in the foreground and the financial district with its skyscrapers in the background formed quite an image of the city.

We did the usual souvenir shopping and some more in the malls and went around the city in a tuk-tuk and a taxi. I made my parents try Thai food and my mother absolutely hated it. Met a cameraman from Fatehpur Sikri who was in town to shoot for a Rani Mukherjee, Saif Ali Khan starrer, yet to be named film. Had tea with a Bangladeshi who owned a hotel with cheap rooms. Later came back to have fish and chicken at his restaurant and make plans for another low cost trip someday. Saw dad bargain with the lady in the mall to get the suitcases for 3300 Baht (Rs 100 = 78 Baht) from the initial 4800 and later found out we could have got it for a few hundred less even. And yes, this sign in front of the Grand Palace was special!
And I saw it being put to practice too.

Communication was difficult as the Thais hardly knew any English which came as a surprise, considering the number of tourists that come to the city. But it was the cheapest of the three cities with a 2 hour tuk tuk ride costing us just 40 Baht. And it had some of the charms of a typical Indian city. The bargaining, the roadside shops selling food and clothes and the like. Only, it was much more cleaner, more varied and years ahead when it came to the posh areas of the city with the tall buildings and malls. After a two and a half days of peeking into Bangkok and its life, it was time to go to another city.