Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"It's sometimes reassuring to have a jester such as you around", I was told. "But mostly, it is a mighty pain". I decided to play the part, and laughed along.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Inspiration comes in the strangest forms, you know. I don't know why I sometimes see extra-ordinary magic or meaning in an image or a line from the unlikeliest of places, but it does feel right to try and capture it somehow. It sometimes makes for uninteresting, or at worst, pointless reading, even to me, but for now, I will keep trying.

He was standing in the veranda, the cool breeze gently lifting up the last pieces of him. The sun was awake in all its glory, and the peasants exclaimed about the bounty of the harvest they were sure to receive this year. Ever since the flood, they had started to wonder whether they could pull through, but their God showed that he had not left them yet. It was not until years later that his name would be forgotten, tossed away as yet another false idol, just like they threw pebbles into the ocean in the days they believed he favoured those who did so. Standing in the veranda, however, did not care what they talked about, and made every attempt to avoid conversation with them on the topic that held no meaning to him. Maybe many years ago, when he used to live here as a child who explored the beaches at night, things were different; he could not even remember these now, for there was too much else on his mind.

But regardless of his frustration at the place being too foreign from his memories of it, he was glad that he found himself standing there. "Even if I've delayed this for a long time", he thought, "it was worth it". It was never an easy choice, and some nights before drifting to sleep, he would wonder whether this was a sin, but the morning would erase these thoughts from his head. It is just as how the tide recedes and takes with it all that is strewn on the sand, he would say in his more contemplative moments.

The radio was blaring inconsequently in the background as he pondered what to do next.

"Now the rainy season reminds me of Maria,
The way she danced, the colour of her hair"

He sighed and knew that the road to being cured was sure to take its strain, but it was a risk he knew that he simply had to take. The ethical dilemma was firmly won when he weighed up his longing to forget against the moral instructions he received as a child, so very long ago, now battered by the mores of the times he lived in.

It still felt wrong, though, to be standing there in the brightness of day, where there was no one who was even half interested in what the purpose of his visit was. The day he came, with those two large suitcases, there was only the mildest amount of talk among the peasants, who speculated as to what its contents might be over simple food and smoke. But the next day, all was forgotten, and it was as if he had always been living there. In a sense, of course, he had; but still, he sometimes thought that it was as if his secret was wasted on them. Thinking about this again, he simply laughed, and enjoyed the bake of the sun.

"I left a little something to help the time go by"
It was many, many years later, when all that was left of what he inherited from his father was his baldness. On a cold winter afternoon, he sat stationary, soaking up the heat, as he sipped the chrysanthemum tea to help stir his senses. It took him back to those days in the house by the open field, with the workers on the porch just like he always imagined. He was served tea there once, and saw a book on Zen sitting peacefully next to the couch. He remembered opening it and seeing those Tibetan characters, wondering if somehow the thoughts would transcend the barrier of language and help him reach enlightenment. After a minute, he started to feel dizzy from the patterns that seemed to be forming from the letters, and placed the book back down.

He never knew why he went to the cupboard and opened that cardboard box where he had carefully placed all that had ever passed through in his life. He looked at the photo and letter that signalled a farewell that at the time he had welcomed, now faded with the years and the places he had been since. He sighed and was glad that he kept these things to remember the times, and at that moment, he knew that any regret was but an illusion his mind had created.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Heh, I like this, even though I will admit that imitation can only be taken so far.

Good-intentioned is how people would describe Kavitha in the years to come, although she was aware neither of the tag or the fact that people talked about her, which, considering her personality, was to be expected. If one asked those close to her family to be more revealing as to her true nature, then they would usually make an embarassed smile and recall fondly the days when she would proudly show to the world that she had learnt how to walk, remarking how even then they knew that she would be destined for great things. That these things never materialized was attributed to the sickness of the society she lived in, and perhaps her weight. "I always told her it would never hurt to lose a few more", a concerned aunt would tell me, and proceeded to confirm that she didn't judge people based on appearances, but that one nonetheless had to be pragmatic and realize the nature of people one was living with. I never thought her to be in the slightest danger of having a problem with her weight, but when I brought this up during my next round of questioning, it turned out that it was a matter of great delicacy, but also secret, shameful gossip. No-one admitted to thinking that it should have mattered, of course, but they all agreed that it was never a bad thing to care about how one looked.

When piecing together these offhand remarks and observations about her soul, there was only one thread of common resent, and that was her belief that others were much like her. Although she was brought up in a family that had traditionally kept its distance from those it did not know, her vivaciousness would sometimes let them dream of one day joining the rest of the world in the happy haze that they imagined from books and movies. Her brother was once so invigorated by her tales of the world she drifted through that he attended a major social event in his best white shirt, only to leave mid-way once he realized that the people there all seemed to stare at him. He began to imagine laughter directed at his shirt, which was till that point his favourite one. After that night, he did not wear it again for fear of reliving those terrible memories, and one winter evening he threw it in the fire, deciding to start afresh.

She would invariably drag her mother into a conflict over her choices, which to her made perfect sense and which were always made based on what she would love to have happen to her. Paying no heed to her family's long history of reserved tolerance of the outside world, she once thought that it would be a particularly brilliant idea to get them to interact with her world. Given how much she enjoyed her own life, and given how she sometimes felt her family were being bored (when in fact they were merely content), such an idea seemed only too obvious. When the news came that her family was to go to her friend's house for dinner one day, her otherwise quiet mother grew noticeably irritated as she stirred the soup on the stove and let the potatoes get over-cooked on purpose. She had done it, perhaps unknowingly, to elicit a reaction from her daughter, and she got one. When Kavitha complained that the food was burnt, her mother lashed out at her and screamed that if she was so picky that she should start cooking for herself. Kavitha became puzzled at this outburst, and started crying in confusion.

The dinner passed without incident, and her family seemed to have a genuinely nice time. She smiled triumphantly, and casually remarked later on how lovely it was, and then got each of her family to agree that yes, it was a delightful evening. Her mother did not speak very much that night, but come the next day she seemed to be back to normal, although the incident of the burnt potato was never spoken of in the house again. Although Kavitha would try to get her friend to come over more often, it never eventuated, but instead both would talk about that dinner for the next twenty years, recalling the pleasant conversation and the sense of the two families bonding. Their parents would meet on occasion and exchange platitudes, always promising to meet again in the future, but neither side made any particular effort to do so for reasons that were perhaps lost in the dirty dishes that were cleaned that night.

No one would ever lose their temper with her, or if they did it would not last very long, because it was known that her heart was genuine as were her motives. This was often put down to the strength of her father's upbringing, which caused her mother to raise an eyebrow that hid years of silent opinions that were waiting to come out. Regardless of where her behaviour came from, it was certain that she passed through life like few others before her. When the time finally came for her to seek her own fortune, she bade farewell to her family with customary tears that no-one saw as over-dramatic, even though the rest of her family remained in control of their emotions. Seeking she did not have to do, for fortune smiled at her and let no harm come near her, and it was then said that she had been blessed at a young age. Another aunt told me a story about her youth, and how a palm reader said he had never seen such a life line, nor did he think would he ever again. From what I know, Kavitha always believed in these readings when she needed to the least.

Many years later, as we all suspected, her good intentions would carry through onto her children, who would become famous throughout their school as the only ones who lacked the sibling-rivalry that was taken for granted by the teachers. It was initially met with suspicion, until it was discovered that she was the mother. The teachers would smile knowingly, recalling the days of their youth and the girl who was something of a legend in these parts.

Fascination Street

It was a rainy June day when I saw her in the distance, twirling an umbrella decorated with imposing dragons breathing fire, one that seemed to have no effect in appeasing the downpour. Yet it did protect its owner from the rain with its life, like some divine shield that broke each raindrop on contact. It was as if there stood a perfect invisible wall around her. She was in a lime green kameez that saw not a drop of water, and was making slow, measured steps along the footpath. There were tales about Judy, the mystical beauty from some faraway land, but I never did pay any attention to them. My interest was always in her aura - her appearance always seemed incidental.

I asked her once why she wore the local dress, and she said that she wanted to fit in, but also that she thought it very pretty. On that day, seeing her moving as a column unaffected by the tears from above, I noticed the floral patterns of her dress, and I think it was the first time I saw why people thought her beautiful. But there is a deeper force at work here, I told myself. I found myself struck with the desire to acknowledge these powers, hoping not only to appease them, but also to ensure that the story would not be forgotten. In the years to come, I told myself, people will speak of an enchantress from another land whose presence brought good luck to all who came across her path.

This was many years ago, and sadly today there is no sign of the revelation dawning on those around me. It was not many days after I saw her in the rain that she left abruptly, some say back to her native land. I would coyly try to find out more details, but no one seemed to have any. And so, Judy lives on as a phantom, walking along the footpath on a rainy June day, splitting the waters in two.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Seeing that hideous sweater, it seemed like they had no choice but to point it out. "You look like a grandmother!", they snickered. She attempted to brush it off with a laugh, and made up a story about having her good clothes still in the wash. As she did so, she felt slightly guilty, and thought of her grandmother who knitted it for her lovingly as a present for being such a good grand-daughter.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ten years ago, I never knew what you looked like. When someone told me it was you, that it was really you, I will admit that I stared long into your face in the disance. But please see nothing more in that than what it was - I was just trying to see traces of the things you had said, to find them embedded in your eyes, your hair, your bemused smile. It seemed impossible that you were the one who said those magical things, the one who proved that heaven was within our grasp. I never imagined that there was a face behind those things; you were always like a spirit drifting around my head.

Yes, all this, but I still could not bring myself to say a word. It was only out of respect, you realize. And yes, there was probably more, but let us talk of it another day.

Friday, May 19, 2006

I have been pondering over whether I was temporarily insane when I chose computer science and rejected mathematics. No answer has come to me yet, although I do think it's a bit silly to get so worked up about it. It is true enough that theoretical computer science does get heavy on mathematics, so to the untrained eye (don't be fooled! Mine are worse than yours) it would seem like they're the same. But the focus is different I suppose, and mathematics is used as a (sophisticated) tool to different ends. One thing that worries me is that I seem to be drawn to the areas and problems that are inherently mathematical; which begs me to ask myself why I shouldn't do mathematics instead! Do I enjoy algorithmic analysis and the like? Yes, but I'm not good at it - which is a worry.

This latest crisis was prompted by the startling realization yesterday that I wasn't being unduly harsh when I said I wasn't particularly good at this field; those at the same level as me are bailing out and so aren't overly concerned about their mastery of algorithms. And I'm considering further studies - heaven help me!

The only consolation is that I have little doubt that if I had made the opposite choice, I would be considering whether I really wanted to give up programming forever or something like that. Not that it seems to make anything much easier, mind you.

'Tis true, not having to sit in on mathematics lectures does not imply that it the door has been shut or anything like that. But self-study, while it sounds like a genuine possibility, has never seemed to work especially well for me thus far. At the start of the year, I told myself that even if I stopped studying mathematics formally, I would still be able to do all sorts of maths on my own, figure out exciting new topics by myself and all that. But I remember exclaiming many years ago that I simply must master complex analysis, with the intent of understanding its subtleties and charms. The net work in this direction has been minimal, and with time presenting itself in scarcer quantities, things don't seem so bright for this little dream's future.

Temporary insanity, eh? I think this whole thing is more insane than anything else. Maybe I just want to be called a mathematician, as if it were more prestigious than being a computer scientist. Hey, maybe it is!

I should take these things more seriously, but I couldn't help thinking the whole while today what Paul Simon once asked me - "Who, now who we foolin'?". Blasted stuff, words, for in their artistic guile they can make one be sure of something that is not necessarily true. It's tempting to want them to ring true, to experience such an ephiphany through song. Heh, I don't know sometimes.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

It seems like many years ago now, but it isn't, really. I was asked to leave my mark on his life with a pithy statement that would somehow contain my very essence for him to remember me by. I wished I had more time to think about it, but I had to come up with something on the spot. I could see that my reputation preceded me, for he helped me along by suggesting I write down my favourite equation. Delighted at that brilliant idea, I wrote in my neatest script the equation, e = 1. It took me a whole day to realize that I had got it wrong, but instead of being distressed, I merely smiled and thought it quite funny. And, in some sense, perhaps a more fitting legacy.


I wanted to keep the first line, so I guess I wrote around it. At least the tone is correct, even if the expression is characteristically trivial.

When fate descended twice on the same day
And showed itself in two different lights
I foolishly listened to all it did say -
Don't make that mistake
For when it comes from above
Its memory is lost on the way.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Pictures of you

I read a story with a similar setting to this one, but was somewhat disturbed by what seemed to be implied. I guess my simplistic response is meant to show the other side, but I am not thoroughly convinced it succeeds.

I remember the first photo of myself that I gave you, and how nervous I was that your friends would disapprove. I had that bashful look about me, which was alright, but those blasted shoulders wouldn't stay straight. I had a slouch that could only be consciously over-corrected, making me look even more foolish. I imagined all sorts of spiteful slander based solely on that one photo, and told myself that it would be superficial anyway. At first, I didn't believe you when you said that nothing of the sort went on. I thought then that I knew better, and it is still surprising now that I found out that I did.

When all these years later you told me what they had really said about me based on that photo, for a second or so I wished them all dead. You were giggling about it, much as I expected you would, but I didn't think it amusing in the least. How dare they presume to know who I am! I am sorry I got angry at you, it wasn't your fault - you can't help who they were (are). I am still shocked that V would say something like that; to think of all the times I've shared a dinner table with that...well, there are some things that are best spoken, not written.

You tried to soothe me by saying that it was so many years ago. That much is obvious to me, but I am surprised you do not realize how some wounds are hard to cure, even with copious amounts of time. It seems convenient to say now, but I wish you had told me when it first happened. Does it seem unfair to you? Normally, I would agree, but considering your place I think it is a justified wish. You needn't explain to me twice that it should make no difference as to what was said back then, but some things, well, some things don't change (I'm sure V would attest to this).

But I also see now that part of the reason I got angry is because of what J told me in private after he first saw you. It was a joke (of course) - "domesticated cattle", I believe it was. I'll give you a moment to laugh. Some have said I should've taken it lightly, but how can you? I don't know whether he understood the situation back then; judging by how he subsequently reacted to my deathly silence, I guess not. So perhaps I am punishing him for not being who I want him to be? I will admit it, but I haven't the strength to do anything about it now. But you see, I always felt ashamed that I never told you about him, and always feared that you would find out. Little did I suspect that you were keeping a secret of your own! I think in that second, both secrets were the same secret, and all those years of surreptitious pretense decided that they could stand it no longer, and came out in an explosion.

No, I am not angry any longer, least of all at you. But I think I deserve to never see V again, no matter how much she might have once changed. Yes of course it's unfair, my dear, but time hurries on, as do I. I will be back next week, but before then, there is something I'd like you to do with that photo...

Sunday, May 07, 2006

It must be the dim lights, I think - they bring out in me all the reflection and carefully crafted thoughts I have kept tucked away since my last visit. The painter in my mind makes careful strokes with colours that are visible regardless of the dark around me. It is true, I usually entertain myself by modifying the fairly innocuous previews that are shown, but there is for some reason a heightened reaction to whatever I see. Be it pathos or bathos, I refuse nothing, and champion the splendour that shows itself for those few minutes. Almost always, I find the experience cathartic. Although it is itself far removed from art and beauty and whatever else I care to muse on, these are the very things that are given strength, and I exit with these notions feeling validated and strengthened. It must be the bombast and majesty of it all, which is something, I tell myself, that I would do well to pay more attention to, even if I know it will be forgotten till the next visit.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The nuclear bomb let itself be known on the blackboard. He surveyed it in its diminutive form, and said before swiftly erasing the very idea from reality, "I think it's all madness myself". The whimsy was almost staggering, and I was glad that I was the only one who seemed to pick it up. For that second, I fixed my stare upon him - his greying beard, those thick, dignified glasses, and the endearing paces he made back and forth between nowhere. Everything combined in a dizzying fraction of a second, and, if only for that moment, it seemed like things were possible.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Classical music, rock, and art

A little while ago, I read something in the paper that talked about the "inherent superiority" of classical music, as opposed to popular music (meaning primarily, among other things, what is loosely defined to be "rock"). I initially thought it to be terribly elitist, and presuming a slight upon my taste, got upset. But a little digging around and I wonder whether the statement is true in an objective sense. The answer - maybe, but right now it doesn't matter to me. Maybe in ten years, but not right now.

A very nice article (since I'm sympathetic to his views, otherwise it would be total nonsense, of course) on the matter is Alex Ross' "Listen To This". It may be long, but it's worth it. It contains a line that I whole-heartedly agree with ("The best music is music that persuades us that there is no other music in the world"), as is probably evident from some of the things I've written here over the years (or the little item in the sidebar, for that matter). It is no surprise then that it is Mr. Ross (and, it should be said, if only to give you an understanding of the truly crass nature of who you're dealing with, an otherwise forgettable episode of The Simpsons) who has provided me with the sufficient push to go ahead and have Mozart sitting amusedly by Morrissey.

Again in the paper, this time a fair while ago, I read something about pop/rockers not being remembered in the next few decades, let alone centuries (unlike Mozart). Neil Young made put forth his view on the very first line of Rust Never Sleeps, yet is his defiant statement misguided? Well, I'd wager that the giants of the '60s will certainly find a place in the history books of tomorrow, and that if we do see their work being dismissed as the years go by, I think it would be a pretty big loss. So I suppose I think that it would be wrong to dismiss rock uniformly as being low-art (or no-art!) at best.

As for why I think this, I suppose it's based on how some of it has made me feel over the years. Oh it can make one feel all right; judging by the amount I've written about it, I'd be surprise if one who is versed in it could claim otherwise. I do get somewhat upset when people try to dismiss all of rock as being shallow and incapable of communicating any serious message to the listener, or otherwise educating or informing them. I don't believe that all my experiences of having deep emotional reactions to songs or albums have been illusions, or self-induced!

Yet, having said this, what I have come to realize after thinking about the subject is that maybe the feelings it induces aren't always all that deep or complex. Maybe I'm over-zealous in my yearning to find something of worth that I get carried away. A little critical reflection and I think that sure, I've been a bit hasty sometimes with praise of the emotional depth of certain albums/songs*. But I still maintain the best stuff, as in whatever has remained once the dust has settled, is deep and profound and all that for me. Although, I now accept that this may well change in the future, even though my heart tells me it won't.

I guess the problem with such an intuitive, emotional evaluation is that it makes it impossible to give any sound rebuttal to the claim that the music is somehow inherently inferior. I cannot argue on the basis of technical terms; I am willing to concede that rock is usually not as complex as a classical piece. So I suppose my reaction is, in a loose sense, equivalent to the familiar "I just care whether it sounds good!" philosophy.

The unfortunate temptation with matters like this is to dismiss the opposition as ignorant; especially so when it comes to rock music! Because, unfortunately, there probably are those who see rock as little more than the mainstream acts that receive airplay these days (e.g. "My Humps"**), or the strings of hits of most other artists. You can't really blame such views, because unless one is marginally dedicated, it's hard to get past these things. And assuming one starts off knowing nothing about rock, where's the incentive to get dedicated when this seems to be the standard of things?

Now, Alex Ross seems to be someone who has heard his fair share of classical and popular music alike, and when I think about it, I don't know too many people like that. If we take classical to be more general than western-classical, there are some who immediately come to mind. One particularly strange incident happened sometime last year with dear S - at the heart of it, it was the cultured vs. non-cultured argument (guess which was which!?!). While I usually know my place, I immediately rose to defend my beloved music, and asked that I be openly criticized for being uncultured if that was truly her view. There were too many people present, so I don't think it got resolved; in fact, I don't know if I even got a response. C'est la vie!

I once asked A for thoughts on pop/rock, since he is one of the few people I know with a leaning towards orchestral pieces. I remember A writing about how he saw most pop/rock to be ephemeral at best, and that it was doomed to be the stuff of instant gratification. The real art, he said, would be found in classical pieces, symphonies, operas, and what have you. I cooly attributed this to a lack of exposure on his part, but maybe there is more to his view than I give credit. I find it hard to be anywhere near objective with these things, you see. I mean, if I gave A "Misery" to listen to, God only knows what invectives would come forth from his mouth. Lou Reed might've captured this on "The Trouble With Classicists", except I haven't heard the song***.

Look, I'm going nowhere here, so I may as well stop before I start talking about the time I first opened the liner notes to album X. I suppose even if I can't say that rock is art in general, then at least I can say that rock is something that, when done properly, can make me feel a lot of things. Maybe the emotions put in are sometimes naive, and maybe I swoon too easily; but the best stuff is still amazingly rich for me. Who knows, maybe their beauty too will wear off in time - that would not be a trademark of the highest form of art! I am far too inexperienced to predict which way it will turn out, but for now, I believe at least some of it will resonate in my life. So while it may be inferior, it doesn't matter - just yet. Which does not mean that I will shut my ears to classical music - only that when I do try to listen to some classical pieces and when I think about them afterwards, it will (hopefully) be devoid of these notions of inferiority/superiority.

You know, at one point, I was hopelessly elitist in my views about books and music. I am glad for experiences like this that reveal how much I have to learn, but also make me test my own convictions. I used to shudder at the thought of appreciating anything I saw to be for the masses, preferring to be smug at my obviously superior taste; little did I know that I'm being looked down upon too! I have started to appreciate things for what they are, not for perceived opinions, and don't feel as ashamed as I once might have. Unfortunately, the elitist still remains to some extent (see the Peas comment below), but so it goes.

* I cleaned up my naive RYM list yesterday, but it's still quite bloated with the sins of impatience

** Look, I'm sorry, I don't like bashing things, but I found this song genuinely funny. I know I could never make it big like them Peas, but do allow me this indiscretion (so it seems that I am unabashed elitist, and so really have no right to comment on the classical elitists!).

*** But I do know the lyrics are well worth your time:

The trouble with an impressionist, he looks at a log
And he doesn't know who he is, standing, staring, at this log
And surrealist memories are too amorphous and proud
While those downtown macho painters are just alcoholic