Saturday, January 28, 2006

She seemed content, and said that we could leave now. I looked at my watch, and saw that it was a little past tea-time. It was so much earlier than I had imagined! When I woke up, I felt sure that we would have to spend the whole day on the streets, fighting off flies and touts, haggling with the shopkeepers in the bazaar, fleeing just before the first signs of nightfall. My mind was prepared for this ordeal, and my body had no choice but to play along. But now this! Thrilled at the prospect of going home early, at that moment I wondered whether I had met a finer person.
The yearning to write is something I seem to have lost over the past year, but sometimes the old spark seems to manifest itself. But these days it is different, and hardly the way it used to be. Ever so often, I read something that makes me smile, and at the same time seems to secretly whisper "You can do this too!". Whereas in the past this might have prompted a blatant imitation, it seems that things have changed these days. Firstly, now I try and wait for something to come and present itself to me. What's interesting is that when something does come up, I seem to be willing to open up a little more in the hope of creating something of more value. Items that are borne out of my own life used to be vague and completely meaningless to anyone but me. Perhaps I am compromising my unique artistic vision (haha! I still have my wit intact!) by selling-out here, but everyone wants to be a star sometimes.

Secondly, I sometimes say "You can do this too! But hang on, why would you want to, it's nonsense anyway", and go back to thinking about the depletion of melodies in our lifetime. (There's lots of good writing out there, but there is also writing that only seems good on first appearance, but then turns out to be a bit of roobish. Whether my own posts fall under this category is one for another day)

In truth, though the vague posts of old are still entertaining, even to me they serve little more than reminders of events gone by. I have started to want something a bit more though. It is not just because it would be of more interest to someone passing by - I still maintain that this blog is mainly for my ego, and thus this new style is primarily me following its wishes. What this "more" is, I'm not exactly sure - it brings to mind ideas of profound statements and observations, but I think that's a bit ambitious. Far better would be attempts to distill the whimsy of situations as they strike me, although it doesn't help that I'm not a particularly whimsical person. If I were, wouldn't this post have been a couple of lines?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The smile

It seems like everytime I see you, you find some cause for laughter. It probably isn't fair to do so, but I do end up concluding that it's something about me. Heck, strike probably - it is unfair, yet if it happens once more, well, my dear, I'm afraid I will feel all the more certain about this matter. Things almost got to this stage, you know. One night, I was thinking about all of this over dinner. I wondered whether it was to do with the fact that I never was friendly to K. I dismissed the thought, but then I started thinking about K. Why was it that I never said hello, again? My mind was wandering, and you slowly began to fade into the background. But you were making your exit as the villain, as some cruel vixen finding pleasure in whatever fault it is you saw in me. For a moment, maybe two, what I felt for you was as close to hate as one can get. Hate forged out of mere speculation, maybe, but I never claimed to be fair.

I remember sitting there forlorn and watching the door. As you came in, I began to frown. "Here we go again", I started to say. Dark clouds were building up in my head, and I almost felt irate enough to take some actual action. Fancy laughing at me, after all. It all seemed poised for a confrontation. As if I would take one of those images in my head and put them into action. Maybe if I asked you straight what was so amusing, it wouldn't seem funny anymore. No more fading into the background for me, I said, for now is the time to act.

But then you smiled. Damn, what a smile. You could dismantle an army with that.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

I like stories like the one about an MP3 player for the Mac that was squashed by iTunes. I'm not particularly fond of including links without any insight or opinion accompanying it, but there isn't much to say - to say it's interesting to be reminded that there are people behind everything is not saying much at all, I feel.
"It was the moment I saw that I wasn't entirely right about her", he said. I secretly said to myself "Oh God, not one of these again...", but betrayed nothing. "For howmanyever days it has been, I suppose she was just someone who met with people from around the world, talking business and the good life", he continued, and I felt like I knew where he was going.

"There was no big revelatory moment, or anything even remotely out of the ordinary. All it was was the music playing out of the blue, and then her saying with a genuine smile "I love this song!". Moments, moments...what was it about this one? The context of the song? The song itself? I was going to say it revealed that at heart, she was a simple girl, but that wouldn't make a whole lot of sense. Were it something from The Sound Of Music, perhaps one could see the connection, but simplicity and perfectly genuine pop-rock? It's a bit of a stretch, even for me". He was lost in what he saw to be the poetic beauty of his own words. But how strange, I thought; how strange that something that I too have felt before should sound so out of place and irrelevant here.

"And yet, I know that I felt something there. Maybe it was that she was, after all, just your average girl trying to make it in this crazy world. No matter what it is we do, we all have our moments of vulnerability, our moments where the simple strains of music can gently blow away the unforgiving menutia of days piled on. It doesn't have to mean anything, it doesn't have to be anything special, it just connects with us on a different level altogether".

I nodded sympathetically, wondering why I saw his words and tired and devoid of the magic I knew he intended them to have. But I did agree on one thing - heck, we all need some pop-rock sometimes.
The young businessman was making quite a name for himself. It looked as though the world was opening up to him, and opportunities were everywhere. But, even though he didn't mean to, it seemed like he was growing distant from his family. He was so immersed in his work that he never seemed to have time for those close to him. Whenever they'd call, he would be busy with some meeting or the other. Or maybe he was having dinner in a scenic restuarant, with a fountain in the backdrop, either with friends or with the moonlight, now his constant companion. He meant to be there more for his family, but somehow he could never find the time. It slowly dawned on him that maybe he didn't miss them at all. Whereas once he would have been wrapped up in guilt over this, computer screens and urgent meetings had now taken their hold on him, and his guilt was slowly overshadowed by apathy.

All this changed one day when he awoke with a blocked nose, and felt as though he was burning up with fever. In that moment of helplessness, the first thing he did was reach for his phone and call his mummy.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

What if there were no mirrors? I don't think I could go on without knowing who I was.

SM (Got Me Down)*

It seems so cruel whenever an idealisation is shattered. I think sometimes that I enjoy lumping people into neat little boxes. That's a terrible thing of course, but I wonder if they'd mind the way I do it. S was always the model of the typical carefree, take-it-easy lad with the perfect outlook on life. Of course, he is still that way, but now some other parts of him have surfaced. All it took was an innocuous comment, and all of a sudden I find myself writing this.

You know what I like? I like looking back at moments like this and trying to piece together my state of mind. There is nothing to speak of! The words he spoke echoed a couple of times, and thereon in it sort of fell out of mind.

If you are wondering what he did, it is nothing out of the ordinary. The only reason it is becoming the focus of this little cloud-puff is that it broke up the box that I had made for him. Almost like the moment a child throws away the present you have bought for him! It was as if his essence walked up to mine, punched it in the gut, and said "You don't know me!". (If one were to follow this up, I wonder why his essence would act so. After all, this box was known only to me, and it's not like it was a bad box. Hey, if someone put me in the box, I'd be happy!).

So what is S now? The same guy he's always been I suppose, except to me he is no longer an idealization. Shame, ain't it? Like I said, he is still that carefree-boy, and I am still me, except I now have a punch in the gut.

* Terrible title - 'tis a strange song title, which is a bit too raw for me to include here. Why this popped into my head, well I don't know.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Camera shy

I remember the day as being nondescript till the evening hit, which is unfortunate because it means that this pretty much ruined the quiet and calm that morning and afternoon had so tirelessly strived to create. I was told to go down and meet the others for an urgent meeting. I think the trouble started there. Urgent. I didn't like the sound of that, it put me under immediate stress. It wasn't just the fact that I had to go down there quickly. It was also an ominous feeling that it was something important that was awaiting us - and, in most cases, that meant someone important wanted to see us and talk to us. I never did feel comfortable with these sorts of meetings, if only because the questions that were natural to ask had no answers in my case. If one were to ask why I came here, well...the opportunity was there, and since it seemed promising, I took it. There was nothing exciting about it, and it was dry enough for me to feel as though such answers were left unspoken. Instead, I would have to try and make something up, something exciting. Even as I was making my way there, I felt some pressure building, as though I would have to come up with something truly genuine, rather than fake pleasantries that everyone could see through.

When I got there, I remember having to wait a little while. Frustration set in - I didn't like having the flow of the day being disturbed, and having to wait only made things worse. It was perhaps twenty minutes later that we were escorted outside. That was where a camera crew was lying in waiting. I saw two girls saying something to the camera, and realized that this was going to have to be me staring at the camera, espousing the exciting answers that I had come up with in the walk here.

For whatever reason, I thought that maybe there was some chance that I wouldn't have to go on camera after all. Maybe it was all voluntary, right? I actually believed this enough to ask someone. I felt some amount of surprise when I was told that no, I would have to speak. I began to feel distinctly uncomofortable, and wondered how I would pull this off. We had to wait a bit longer while they found a place that was just right. I remember hearing snippets of conversation between some of them. What I remember even more is how my pulse was steadily increasing, and their innocuous words were somehow given a dark, cruel complexion. They were far too casual to fit in - they did not explain why I was about to break into a sweat. They were not evil, and so, to set things right, I imagined that they were.

While there were others yet to go, I felt only nervousness, but at no stage was it bad enough for me to reconsider the whole thing. But, seeing two of them go in and put those mics on...ah, it's hard to explain, it was as though there was some primal fear that awoke. I could not imagine myself sitting there and going through all of this. I'd had such feelings under different situations in the past, but this time it was different. Perhaps in the past, it was for something that I knew deep down was important, or that for some reason I had to do. In this case, it was neither, and I inevitably began asking myself why I had to do this in the first place. Pure panic had set in, and as I think about it now, it does not seem too far-fetched to suggest that I would have actually fainted at the time. Well ok, maybe that's going a bit overboard.

I don't know how, but I mumbled something and walked out of there with no regrets. I don't know why, but as I did so, I wondered if I was rejecting it on the basis of principle. Maybe I didn't want to be a part of a case-study, lumped into a group in the process. It all sounded nice enough, for a minute anyway. But then I stopped and realized that this was all nonsense. I just couldn't be on camera.
"How boring. Another student doing computer science. I want something original!". But it isn't true, you see, because I'm not really like all those other people pursuing computer science. After all, hardly any of them spend their time thinking of releasing a seminal folky album, now do they?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

You know, Simon & Garfunkel's (well, I'm pretty sure it's purely Paul Simon's creation actually!) "A Simple Desultory Philippic" really surprises me. I always knew that Paul Simon was an exceedingly interesting lyricist, but I always pictured him as a soft person, never the kind to write something like this, (what seems to be) a somewhat harsh Dylan parody (see here for someone else who thinks so!). If one believes that it is in fact a parody, then what's strange to me is how they covered "The Times They Are A Changin'" on Wednesday Morning, 3AM with perfect sincerity - I'm trying to think whether something Dylan did in between the two abums is what ticked Simon off. Mayhaps he didn't like his new direction with Bringing It All Back Home, although I don't know why that would warrant such a reaction.

I remember reading an interview with Simon where he laughed off the rumour that "The Boxer" was about Dylan (it's one of the many interviews on this neat little page). It's quite a quirky rumour, actually, for it claims that the "Lai lai lai" chorus is in fact "Lie lie lie", referring to the fact that Dylan's not Bobby's real name. You sort of wish that this were true, 'twould take one whacked out lyricist to come up with that...anyhow, in the interview, I remember Simon saying that he wouldn't write a song about Dylan because he didn't know anything about his personal life. I'd like to believe him, really, but you listen to "Phillipic" and tell me what else it could be about! I suppose it's quite possible that it's more an attack on the kind of snob who sneers whenever he talks to someone who "...when you say Dylan / He thinks you're talking about Dylan Thomas / (Whoever he was)". But, the Dylan parody, whether it's meant to be teasing or biting, is certainly there - it's hard to interpret the vocal delivery style, the overt Dylan references ("It's alright ma / 'Cause everybody must get stoned"), the harmonica snippets and the closing "I lost my harmonica, Albert" as anything other than poking fun at Dylan!

There is the view that Dylan retaliated to this insult with a cover of "The Boxer" (hmm interesting that I should be perfectly ok with Dylan's "spoof" yet write this long post in Simon's case!). My own reaction to it is rather funny - initially, I loved it, and thought it must be better than the original (which I don't remember hearing in its entirety at this point). It was as though I thought "Covers of Dylan songs aren't as likeable as the originals, and so Dylan's own covers must be better than the originals" (of course, after really hearing the original since then, I think it is the surely the stronger song, though the cover suits a particular mood). It is only when I read that the song was supposedly a parody that I started to see where these people were coming from - I'd never considered the delivery to be sloppy previously, but on reconsideration I guess it is, almost purposely so. I always took it to be part of the idiosyncratic charm of the song! As for whether I think it a parody or not, I am really unsure. Sometimes I hear it and think it's just too quick and subdued to be a serious take, but then other times I take this to be a very legitimate interpretation, if only for a different mood and time.

Whether Simon harboured resent over the idolization of Dylan by the masses, I am not sure. I got the feeling that there was an undercurrent of this amongst people who saw the case of Lou Reed as being one of "Take Reed if you want a real poet, and Dylan if you want some phoney for the masses" - it isn't exactly jealousy, but there is the feeling that one's favourite artist has been unjustly overlooked in favour of a less deserving one. Simon, in his early days anyway, definitely seems more like a poet of old than Dylan, simply because of the choice of imagery and the general thematics of the lyrics. Whether he's more of a poet full-stop is another question (My answer? The question has none). Yet I'd be disappointed if Simon saw Dylan as a faux-poet or something of the sort. One can certainly accuse "Subterranean Homesick Blues" (which, incidentally, "Phillipic" is supposed to be based on) of being nothing more than a mish-mash of random words. But as rock's most charming poet* would say, "People see no worth in you / But I do". I dunno, I think there's something more than that to the song. It isn't just the lyrics, great as they are** - it's just the fact that it's a short punch of the surreal, what with the frantic guitar (what an unforgettable opening to the song!) and the very style of the delivery. Maybe the lyrics don't mean*** anything, but I don't think I'm kidding myself when I say that it somehow works.

I guess I wouldn't say that Dylan is about the lyrics, and the lyrics alone. For the songs that really work, it's his delivery of said lyrics that will probably win you over. I have a book of the man's lyrics, but simply out of homage to him, as I really don't see myself pulling the book out anytime soon to bask in the words. The reason I say it's not just the lyrics is that I'm not particularly fond of The Byrds' cover of "Mr. Tambourine Man", nor am I in awe of Hendrix's "All Along The Watchtower"****. The originals are far more moving, where Dylan seems to find just the right way to speak those magical lines of his ("Yes the dance beneath the diamond sky"...).

I sometimes think that Dylan suffers from people like me who gush about him and then go on about his lyrics. The problem is that people can go into it expecting an actual poem or something of the sort, but it's not quite that. Poetic, no doubt (at least to me), but there is still a ways to go before we call him a poet. Rock's poet-laureate, maybe, but like I've said before, I don't think one should necessarily consider this to be the same as a "real" poet. Rock-poetry is a different beast, and if you can take the good with the bad, it's ultimately very rewarding.

At any rate, I have a CD of a Simon/Dylan concert that was held sometime in the last ten years, so I guess any problems they had in the past are for the most part resolved. There's an interesting article about these concerts here. There is the interesting point made that Simon was not part of Dylan's 30th anniversary celebration, but perhaps that is not as surprising as it is on first mention. After all, Simon's writing style is a fair ways away from Dylan's, so it's hard to call Dylan a direct mentor of Simon. Whether or not Dylan opened the doors for Simon's own instrospective writing I am not sure - Simon's writing is clearly in a niche of its own by Sounds Of Silence, which is what, 1965?

But, all that aside, even I have to admit that "Phillipic"'s riff is insanely catchy, as are the lyrics themselves. "I've been Norman Maillered, Maxwell Taylored" indeed!

* Shucks, Morrissey comes awful close to being a poet, don't he? One cannot measure the worth of "Reel Around The Fountain" in gold.

** Once you start singing, it's hard to stop - but it's very easy to get breathless. In my youth, I've tried and failed several times to match Dylan's delivery, but it was just too much. Someday.

*** And when do lyrics "mean" something? Oh my, deja vu...

**** I find it interesting that so many people refer to Hendrix's cover as being clearly better than the original (some going so far to assert "We all know that Dylan's songs are better when they are covered by other people". Wow!), again simply because I like how people can see things in such different ways. To me, the original is far more ominous and powerful - "Let us not speak falsely now / The hour is getting late", then that harmonica. Ooh, don't make them like that anymore.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Baby director

Seeing a story on a ten-year old film director automatically put me in a bright mood. It's so disarming, what can one do? Merely hearing him shout out "Action!" is enough to clear the mind. What it also does is put the lines "They call me baby driver" in my head. But then I am then instantly reminded of A singing "You Can Call Me Al", and the world seems complete. Everything fits and makes sense for a brief instant - impossibly fantastic when it happens.

I'm sorry, but in seeing my joy at this, I cannot resist mentioning the fact that I see yet another connection - namely the question of "Lightness or weight, which is better?".

The Window People

It only took a second - I merely looked at their reflection in the window - but it was enough for me to forget it all. I saw nothing of particular relevance or importance. People talking is all that was there, but for reasons that escape me, it provided a brief glimpse into a different world. Heck, what if it all was like this? Looking into the windows of Bangalore to see those around us and their lives. In fact, as I turned back to those sitting beside me, I spent a moment wondering who they were.

I knew it then - I want to be a window person.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Daughter

It started off with me in a loose shirt and cargo pants, sifting through the buffet. I saw her standing there with a friend, and when I found out who she was, I knew I should've gone to my room and changed before breakfast. It was stupid, oh so stupid - what was I thinking? I quickly dumped whatever I could find onto my plate and rushed on in. I thought that I heard a word of denouncement pass between them, but I can't be sure. I ate in silence, feeling very small indeed. I didn't dare look to see if they were smirking at me, it would have been too much. I was turning red, but I knew a good shower would change things.

It was much later that day that we had our second encounter. It seemed like a fair guess that no-one would be up and about on New Year's Eve, certainly no-one queuing up to use the internet. A quick pop out to check wouldn't hurt, though. As for why I went out in those bright white socks instead of putting on shoes, I'll never know. But it just had to be that way, I know it did. As though I foresaw what was to happen, yet welcomed it! She had to be there, of course. I was greeted by a small contigent of people waiting for her, and immediately I knew this would not end well. I pretended not to see her, but who was I kidding? Her friend was there as well. I walked by them all in silence, yet I just knew their eyes were focussed on those white feet of mine.

And as I wandered around shoe-less, I discovered that there were plenty of people very much interested in the internet, even on New Year's Eve. Maybe it was stupid, but I felt half-naked to be strolling around, and could feel their curious gazes layering up on me. I pretended to look for a pizza in the fridge, and rushed back to the safety of my room. Once I was back in, I knew that it was my sanctum sanctorum, and there was no leaving it anymore, for whatever reason. I took comfort in the fact that I would be remembered, even if it was for being the uncouth gent in the bright white socks.

Walking around in white socks, searching for a pizza - it sounds ridiculous! Just like Stalin's son, eh...

The Unbearable Hardness Of Testing

I had once planned to mention that the one good thing that I got out of validation was being introduced to, of all things, The Unbearable Lightness Of Being. I had planned a witty post that took this curiosity and peppered it with some hyperboles about how the other aspects of the subject were vastly disappointing. Such a post would be out of place today, though, for a couple of reasons. I think it might've been the night before the exam that I finally got the subject. Listening to James talk each week, a lot of things seemed to pass me by. It's easy to find problems with my approach in hindsight, of course. Try talking to me when every week it seemed to get worse, as I continued to fail to grasp the contents of lecture after lecture, despite my efforts to read through the lengthy slides on those Friday train rides. But towards the end, I seemed to get it. Or at least I think I got it. Testing is hard. Unbearably hard. Those lectures spent going through lists and lists were in some sense excessive, but arguably necessary to really convey that idea.

It's probably the last time I'll see James, too, and that makes me sad. Should I have put more effort in? It's easy to say yes, but looking back at some of the lectures and tutorials, well...there was something missing, and something I felt I couldn't make up with extra effort. Was it perhaps that I was overly fixated on test-driven development, thereby left perpetually waiting for unit-testing and the like? Possibly. A bit of everything is the easy answer, but I suspect it's also the correct one. It's painful thinking back on these things. They are filled with regrets, blurry memories of sitting in a lab on Friday evening, week after week not knowing what was going on in the subject. And yet, in the end, it all got magically resolved - by which I mean I managed to pull through with a decent mark. Invariably, I leave it at that, but this time, I feel as though I let an opportunity by.

But I can't lie I say that I don't think that he couldn't have done more; no, that would be a complete lie. Throughout semester, I felt as though there was a lack of effort on his part, and looking back on it, well, yeah, I still feel that way. The knowledge was no doubt there, but I don't think it was presented in any sort of accessible manner. But I can empathise - whenever I have taught, there have been moments where I have skimped on details or been unable to produce a nice enough picture of what something is really about. Whether he feels the same, I'll never know. What really gets to me is the feeling that the knowledge was there if I had chosen to take the initiative. If you ask me why I never approached him with one of my many questions on XP, such as its viability, the role of YAGNI, and what have you, I don't have much of an answer. I remember asking DB many C++ questions, though - which leads me to think that maybe it was the perceived difference in standing. I may well have been slightly intimidated by him! But why idolize someone, why paint grand pictures and yet never look to talk to them?

It seems that the lingering memories I will have are that of the book, and the nagging question of whether I wasted a golden opportunity. Not every lecturer is as experienced in the real-world as James is! And none nearly as erudite, 'twould seem...!

As for the book itself, my immediate reactions to pages were interesting. I started off with a sense of wonder and curiosity, and in doing so the book itself seemed to radiate magic, with an unknown mystique that added to its charm. Yet midway, things started to give way. Suddenly there was no magic, and words seemed fake and construed. There were several times that I felt tempted to put the book down, claiming it to be pretentious nonsense and leaving it at that. Yet I persevered, and towards the end things evened out. No genuine magic, yet no distate in the mouth either. But what is stronger that the book itself is the memory of that Friday lecture when this name, unusual and intriguing, was thrown in the unlikeliest of contexts. (Incidentally, as I write this, what else comes to mind but "Thursday doesn't even start / Because Friday, I'm in love". In some sense, perhaps this is the lightness of my being - the song captures a mood that seems so totally out of place and, well, weightless at the moment)

The Critique Of Hesse

When I was 20, I heard of Hesse the poetic master, and when I was 21, I heard of Hesse the Nietszche-with-sugar hack. It's funny, I thought I would've taken the critique of Hesse far worse than I actually did. But the way it was done just seemed so peaceful that it didn't matter. When I read N&G part of the beauty was just the coziness of my surroundings at the time. It was somehow the same here. Out in the open, the cool breeze blowing through our cornflakes and all that. If only all criticisms were so nice! It's funny that I should like this conversation more than most of the other things that have gone on. What does it say about me? Perhaps not all that much, except that I enjoy it when things that seem to be out of a book magically come to life.