15 June, 2015

On roads re-taken and (Sal) Paradise lost

Watching On the Road on Netflix reminded me of the book, when I first read it. A sweltering Calcutta summer of 2009. When the world was young and so were we and so was love, lust, innocence and nonsense and art and all other demons and their angelic brood and the sheer idiocy and naive bravery of dreaming dreams untainted by the grey arsenic of reality.

They danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"
Now in a sleepy evening half the world away, after lifetimes have passed and boys become men and girls become women and lovers have loved and parted and shouted and suspected and screwed and bled and avenues broadened and schools reopened and bro-codes broken and funerals attended... I learned to finally outgrow my Sal Paradise and outlive the magic heroism of shambling after my Dean Moriartys.

At a certain age, one begins to judge the childhood heroes (pointless as it is, a necessary pointlessness, if one is to "grow up"), and question their methods for madness, their wisdom for cunning, their laughter for mockery, their deeds for debauchery. At that age and point in life when you can choose whom to smile at stars with, and whom not to, unfettered by whatever claims the past may have - the cavalier promises and musketeer posturing. And that is when you begin to realize: That some things define who we are and what we stood for, once, before the anvil of Life hammered out the wide-eyed idealism with heedless hedonism, cheered on by the spotlit crowds awed and adulating the hurtling spectacle of impulse and gratification that is now you.

It is a strange path today, taking these stumbling steps to be what one was in a life-age past. But it's worth it -- the steps lead back to a world that was cleaner, maybe a mind quieter, and rooms emptier (but again, cleaner) and with something dangerously approaching a conscience. It is always worth the effort, I am told. And then the calm eyes, balm on soul scorches. Whispers in the depths of darkness. There is always hope. Become who you once were when we met in a sweltering summer in 2008. Come back before home stops being home.


Weekends generally require a rendition of Auden, with special emphasis on "working week and Sunday's rest". Its a balmy evening in Brandywine, Amherst. Returned back from Boston the day before, still some stuff left unpacked. The Auden ritual has been observed. Why do I do this? This following of ritual, as a blind tribute to lost years, lost words. A man of habits mayhaps, just like the British with their morning tea and a newspaper, followed by elevenses and whatnot.

23 February, 2015

Musings on homecomings

 I have not yet decided when to go home this year.

 Which makes me think of what life is going to be like - a sense of acceptance of  gradually being a stranger in one's own city. Hometowns, like much of life, moves on. The roads where one played on bandh days, the maidans of mud-splattered soccer, the schools where one walked in and grew out of, the cafes where you loved and lost, the books you read and re-read.
 All those places are not vacant, waiting vainly for the return of some prodigal son. There are, and always will be, the next batch of loud voices and bright eyes, those same old phrases on young lips, the songs and the sunshine. Same as before.

 By the steps of the same narrow bylane, a group with a guitar, a bandana and a Guevara T-shirt. Nothing's changed, not even the rhyming nicknames even.

 And I will see my nephews and nieces in discordant step sizes. It seems that only yesterday I was getting them to say "bye", and now they are fiddling with iPads, joining cricket coaching, reading Potter and whatnot. With the polite smiles at this stranger that suddenly blusters into their familiar lives, one they have to call "uncle/kaku/mamu", one they have to be extra-nice to because of ... just because he comes so very seldom.

 And the ones I will not see again. Last year took way too many. Some of course pushing 80, not entirely unexpected. Some far less, hard blows and unexpected. Four times, four lives that had, in ways large or small, shaped me into what I am. The voice over the telephone made steely with the effort of not betraying a single tremor. The facts. The hour, the day, the nursing home.The contrition. The vast distances palpable. The finality.

It is of course very natural. This sense of observing the lives back home in these discrete steps. Both the ones that are growing up and the ones that have passed away. It just makes you grow up, if the anvil of life hadn't hammered the child out of you by now. It makes one think of chicken stew made just so by aged but imperiously self-sufficient hands, of gestures of generosity so great and all-encompassing as to defy utterance, of lives and times that can flicker out with a sense of finality that is deafening.

It makes you wonder, I suppose, on many things in the grey light of a half-dawn, or the soft limned shadows of a snow-crusted evening. Of what life is, what it should be and where it is headed.

03 January, 2015

old jokes, new year

The same old jokes, the reassuringly never-changing one-liners and ribbing.

That's what the New Year should be about, at this time of life I think. That the best parts of yesteryear remain as constant as ever. And the new things ring joyfully close to the old cheer, which gives more a familiar welcome from the sameness.

 We have become resistant to change, at some deep level. As a generation. Or rather, this coterie from my generation.

21 December, 2014

with a little help from my friends

I traveled to New York last year for Christmas. Spent it with some very old friends. And a schoolboy's cavalier little promise of meeting in the Big Apple came true was made to happen.

Shall be doing the same thing this year. In a country too new to grow roots in already, this seems wonderfully like the beginning of something that could grow into a tradition. And we need tradition to call it home.

But that trip is for next week. For the here and now:

Driving to Cape Cod to catch a sunrise in 4 hours with my roommates. Then a quick peek into Boston. Back home and a short stint at the lab, as planned.

That gives me Monday to get into the groove of things (neural networks are temperamental creatures) with work, do the last minute reshuffling of packed bags. And then the bus to NYC. Sinatra.

The first time I visited that place, it was all the movies and the music and the aura. And a meetup that was also a 5 year promise being kept..
 But this year, it would be the friends. Growing into a tradition swiftly, one hopes. And long, long talks over good food and good cheer. It's strangely reassuring to know that your friends are looking forward as well to this very day, with as much bated breath as you. Maybe I am not as much a Lone Ranger thingy as I project myself to be, on an overdose of Aragorn. After long hours, strange paths, bitter winters, bitter words and bitter endings, after the flotsam and jetsam of my diligently burned bridges leave behind only the sick smell of charred conversations, after the sour turns bitter... who better to cast aside all this and talk and talk till the stars fade and the eastern sky blushes like a desert bride with the ones you grew up with. After all, I do get by with a little help from my friends.

15 November, 2014

On routes, roots and bridges

Fall colours are essential.
 As are yellow leaves (fallen into the sere, haha!) drifting lazily down just outside the window.
 A carpet of gold outside the door, not yet trodden into a sodden mass of mulch.
 Hot coffee on cold nights, when you look up to see the icy fires of the stars pricking the firmament. And naturally Thus Spake Zarathrustra from Space Odyssey has to be playing on cue in the back of the head. Or the Star Trek theme. Somehow.

 A long hiatus from writing on the blog. One would like to say that the interregnum has been productive in tangible forms, thus the lack of need for blogging: for the usual semi-defined ephemerals and self-bolstering diatribes alluded to in here.

 One would be half-truthful of course, like most things in Writing and in Life. Let us merely say that it had its ups and downs, the moments of unmitigated douchieness and blurred boundaries - some bridges burned, others still a little rickety; and the notion - a reminder actually since the halcyon days of yore - that in life, as opposed to songs, the Summers always end.

Maybe I am still getting used to this unaccustomed earth, and instinctively prone to grasping like a drowning mariner at those rare straws - that remind me in another universe of lost rain-drenched Park Streets, the rows and rows of books at Oxford as a child, afternoons spent wandering about the streets of Macondo. And its a precious thing, this memory, and equally so are the handful of persons that can remind me of it amidst the coffee-fueled death marches to looming deadlines and trips to Walmart that doggedly define Real Life in all its (b)anal splendour.

It is so very easy to forget the roots. Why are we doing what we are doing? What made the decidedly arduous journey worth it for each of us - that which fueled us above and over the wicket-fences of safe homes and the reassuring bylanes of familiarity? What balances the columns if we were to total up all the things that we jettisoned - the glad, the sad and all those broken souvenirs kept over the years but now suddenly an addition to the airline baggage limit - over the side on this voyage?

On that note, with maple leaves drifting outside, distant birches murmuring in the morning sunshine, I shall end these words with neither a holler nor a sigh.


There will come a time when the well will dry. When there would be an end to laboured sonnets recited to bygone evenings, when the pang of crossroads not taken fail to take hold on starry nights. Or stop my Bogartesque posturing at some lovely lady with that certain faraway wistfulness about her - like a echo of some childhood Macondo/Nishchindipur; the joy being purely at mouthing the film-noir lines, the thrill in only those cinematheque moments that give some meaning to existence, the final answer never ever mattering.When one stops yearning for the creative, the elusive and the ephemeral and accepts the world as it is.

There was a time, not too long ago, when this man would never have dreamed that day would come. It hasn't come yet. But it will. An end to the cinematic overtures, which is really a filler for things too difficult to speak out straight. To be spoken only when time, place and person converge in some heady moment of truth. It will happen.

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