27 February, 2014

On translations, again

That day the summer sun scorched like never before
Molten tarmac and asphalt roads
And the faintest sigh of the promise of rain
That's all there is for you.

What else may pass from me to you -
Derelict parades and derailed trams,
Balloon cars, abandoned sidewalks
And the tongue-tied red-and-white
Thronging this hateloved cityscape of mine

Not the smell of mud-flats and paddy fields,
Nor the rustle of rushes on a river bank;
All that elusive grace we lost
In the half-light of a silent dawn,
Seeking still the forgotten rhymes
In diesel-fueled lives and times
The comfort of cloying smog.
In every word by a poet's pen
In every drop of a painter's pain
Every bit of that is there for you!

 The above is a woefully inadequate attempt to translate an iconic song in my mother tongue, often losing its way in words. Tomaae dilam. 'I give to you'.
Addendum (much thanks to Little Boxes where my words fell short at the missing stanza):

What else do I have to give,
 But the night sky littered with neons in their tungsten glory, 
 The blinding lights of unnamed eateries 
 And the tallest speck in the highest storey; 
 That's all I give to you.

24 February, 2014

slip sliding

 At times it bothers me that most of life seems to have slipped past me while I was too busy trying to hack a trail through some neck of the woods. Who knows where those days whizzed past, when all they seemed were lazy afternoons on the broad sun-baked steps at the corner of Middleton Row and green benches and ATS - hearty welcomes from another adopted home. Street corners and random rehearsals and every other day some production (by some friend or the other) at Gyan Manch (hah, that place).

 Ages back, in 2010, I had written something. That percolated up through another Sunday musing. Written by a kid who had seen his first sunset. Really seen it, not just looked and never looked back. It was that crazy/beautiful time when dreams get broken and paths get made. Realizing that Summers don't last. Taking the dive-bomb after a suspiciously colonial high schooling. Hanging around his old haunts, just crossed the field from the school to the college (not his own, but adopted/adapted like most things).  Tentative ventures to 8B and certain otherwordly views beyond. Mutual friends galore and magic wallrushes.

 And paths look rather uphill at the beginning.

Sipping from a coffee mug at the end of the day,
Thinking of that oft' trodden way to say
That nothing much matters in this clamor and clatter,
And nothing great is handed to you on a platter.

The steps are too many for these fumbling feet -
I'd rather stumble to this my age-worn seat
And as my day wanes with the swiftest sigh
I'll sit and watch the burning ones pass me by.

 It's funny to note now that those steps were all climbed years later. Like most things, it meant carrying some things and casting others over the side. No boat is large enough to take the entire harvest of our flimsy attachments.

 I see younger people uploading pictures on social media (that palantir of our times) -standing on that stage at St. Xavier's auditorium, or the big field. The benches. Later on the jaunts and haunts in and around Park Street. Or JU, that oldtime sanctuary to restless roamers. And I 'like', or pass some wise-ass comment or just smile in the way that men smile when they walk past the school buildings where they grew, the fields where they played, the mud where they slid and fell, the cafes and rooftops where they loved.

 Just a way of shouting out "I was there too, sonny! You all kids probably do not remember, except as a footnote in some past school diary, or in the passing reference to a chap from another college in the conversation of seniors. But I was there! Yes, there! And there! That bend in the path, the break in the fence, the roads paved with your mischief was just so in our day. The places where you grow, you fight, you love and lose and pick up the paltry savings to join in the crazy rigmarole again. They were the same places we dripped our soulblood too."

A last voyage to childhood quests. And forgotten paths West of the Sun, East of the Moon.

20 February, 2014

Snatches of realtime

Gradually feeling drawn more towards concurrent systems as I go about designing one in a course this semester.

Maybe at heart I always was an engineer. All this machine learning and vision was just "mathematical masturbation." And too much of Asimov and Neuromancer while growing up.

 Maybe I became an engineer because as a kid I thought most women would be like that chick Ayn Rand. Misleading witch! :P

 In other news, a friend of mine got bitten by a bat while coding. Promptly updates his cover picture with the Bat-signal.  Who says there's only one way to skin a cat ...erm...bat? Current theories at Ithaca, NY vary between being a vampire (which entitles him to three ravishing undead wives) and Batman (which entitles him to an English butler). The balance is tilted slightly in favour of the latter currently.

 I hate slush, but enjoyed paintball at -18 Celsius more that any self-respecting PhD student should.

 Also two hours of trying to skate on ice. Trying to. Let us leave it at that. During which time my charming undergrad students from last semester made it a point for courtesy calls.

 In the hindsight of just over six months, I could not be gladder that I moved to Amherst. Having spent an entire lifetime behind the wicket-fences of safe homes, the first glimpse of the great outdoors needed to happen - sooner the better. The parallels to leaving behind the Hobbit-hole in the Shire is not lost on me and never fails to cause a smile.

 This is a place where breakfast is made, doesn't materialize. Garbage needs to be thrown out, food bought and requires pointed discussions regarding who is doing the dishes. A Google calendar is a necessity to keep track of research group meetings, TA hours, discussions blah blah.

 This is also the place where one does as one pleases, with the true freedom of reaping consequences - the glad and the sad. Where one stops writing of dreams but starts living most of them.

 There is some amount of homesickness, yes, but far lesser than what one might have expected from me - a person who had never even lived on campus during college, who had lived and loved in one city throughout his life.

 Then again, did I ever belong in either place? Always seem to recall a constant seeking, a search for some undefined significance. That was always a grey area. A friend once mentioned in jest, the only place I might truly be peaceful would be early 20th century Britain with a house in the country, when Test cricket was the only cricket, a spot of high tea, walking the dog in the morning, and a wee bit of roistering over the weekends, there's a good chap! 

 It was possibly the passing reference to Ithaca that made me re-read Cavafy's poem Ithaka. As ever, it finds resonance in most people who make a journey - either from country to country, or door to door, or hearth to heart. Or that most important journey of all: there and back again.

    "Do not hurry the journey at all . . ." 

16 February, 2014


And that's why I have to go back
to so many places in the future,
there to find myself
and constantly examine myself
with no witness but the moon
and then whistle with joy,
ambling over clods of earth,
with no task but to live,
with no family but the road.

-Pablo Neruda, End of the World (Wind)

 In hindsight, maybe my true musings began from 2007. Before that the attempts were acutely embarrassing. They are still embarrassing now, but the acuity is thankfully lost. Mostly in an obtuse way. 

 There was a time, oh years ago, when every other post was to some Muse. And what Muses they were! Fish-eyes, blue-eyes and other beautiful names. Most of them faded away with the jaded flotsam of yesteryears. 

 A faint chance of a new muse. I wonder . . . 

 On a different note, reading Sunil Ganguly's poetry after a while. Some subliminal trigger no doubt. 

09 February, 2014

lost causes and Sundays

 Listening to old IPTA song's sung by Debabrata Biswas. Songs I grew up listening to, songs my mother grew up listening to as well. Songs of that bygone era before my birth - the Calcutta of black and white films, people's movements, distinctly Red theatre, curfew, communes, brigade rallies and all that jazz. Giving in to wannabe-leftist fancies fueled by music, literature and Ritwick Ghatak films. The old words on schoolboy lips - mouthed without meaning.

 With the faint whine of the 78 rpm, later the squeaky wavering of spooled tape and cassettes. It would usually be the Sunday mornings. Or if it was a day off. Or the omnipresent lockouts in the 90s. There would be something fancy coming out of the kitchen those times. And reminisces.

 Songs in my mother tongue, songs embedded in the backbone of bricks and mortar of my now-distant city, in moldering LP records and cassettes displaced by iPods and glitzy malls.

 To watch an art film at Nandan 2.

 To go thereafter, rambling, to the Academy of Fine Arts next door.

 A cautious sip at scalding tea at the entrance. The throng of scruffy intellectuals, starving thespians, penniless painters, limbless beggars and their ilk. The smell of cigarettes and dialectics in the afternoon air that rolls unhurriedly towards a metropolitan dusk. Placards and bill-boards of plays with titles like "the People's voice", "Dispossessed", "Bhasha", "Shoshon" etc etc. Generally in red-and-white.

 These are folks for whom that 78 rpm is still playing. Somewhere. On a turntable of eternity.

 And then maybe, if you so wish, a walk inside the gallery. I take care not to mention to you that I was enrolled here as a child, that once a few forgotten things on that wall had borne my name; nah - too much posturing. An offer for a quick light up your smoke, yes? At your service.

 The movie was good you say, and I grin. Apparently I can stay silent during a film - a quality prized by you. Quietly ecstatic. Might it mean more such evenings?

 With a silent joy, almost brimming over, as we walk down the gallery. The paintings are the usual riot of form and color, death, decay, starvation and sensuality. The sudden things we both stop and stare at. The stark, the grey and the reds. We stop before the same motifs, unerringly. Or maybe it's just the fondness of my myopic hindsight.

 And then it's over. Just another day in the clutter of lost evenings, jumbled words and tumbled lights of cityscapes at eventide.

 This was the last of those evenings. A last salute at too many missed crossroads over the long years. Hoarded. For who knows what? For a bit of cold comfort mayhaps on snowy days, that that day for me was a gasp of fresh air. A respite maybe from the usual, the domesticated, the utterly (and thus horrifyingly) homely. For you just a day out with a persistent kid.

 For once, just once, a day that merged seamlessly with the endless rotation of that 78 rpm, somewhere. Still turning. But now voiceless.

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