Friday, 26 April 2019

To Mary Jane

I do not know how you’d feel about me being on you and talking to you about us in public. But I know you would understand, just like all times.

To say that I have had the pleasure of your company for the better part of my 20s would be neither precise nor just. And considering you already know how emotionally malleable I can be on occasions, I can comfortably say something as insipidly romantic as ‘our companionship has been one for the ages, my love’.

I wish I could start by talking about our very first acquaintance. But you know I’m easily embarrassed by that. To think I met you after being hammered dead by none other than the old Duke of McDowells on a helpless night in my third year hostel! In my defense, it wasn’t even a fair introduction. That other guy who knew you didn’t even tell me your name! And in that dress you looked like a partially annoyed Lady Nicotine. Yeah, right - what did I know? I was already a lost cause for that night. It was only once I woke up after losing half of the following day, did the guy tell me that it was actually you the previous night. My bad. But bless that guy- I was convinced I wanted to know more about you.

It was the other sophomore who gave me a proper introduction with you. Together, we created our own social circle, the fabric of which was stitched together by hemp. I must say it was pretty unique. Actually, for some reason it always has been. But back in those days, our gatherings used to be few and planned based on occasions. (Yeah I know – to think there was a time I needed an occasion to be with you!) This occasional rarity used to make them joint sessions very special. It is not by mere chance that those first encounters of ours are the most memorable of all.

Your influence was some sweet sorcery Señorita. How you would ease yourself into our surroundings has always been your most magical quality. It didn’t take long for us to realize it was only one among many of your super powers - like how effortlessly you could make everything better. Our shared sense of humor was probably what first got me interested. Remember how almost anything could make us laugh out loud? LOL it still does.

And boy could you talk! Conversations with you have been everything from naively delightful to surprisingly profound, from heart breakingly true to mind numbingly dark. Your company would make me feel like a poet, a scientist, a philosopher and a mathematician- all at once. The hopeless romantic in me would say ‘you make me want to be at all times how I am when I am with you’. But I’ve never really let him talk much, have I?

And then time moved on. Our company changed. From being one among many boys in a hostel for engineering students in North India, I graduated to become one among many boys in a hostel for management students in West India. Now I know you’ve had your complains about my hopelessly reductive life choices. But hey, I’ve always managed to convince the lunatic in my head to prioritize the continuity of our company over fleeting human motivations. Poor excuse – I know. My bad again. For a change, allow me to change the mood for you mademoiselle.

It was in the company of 2 fellow indulgers in the 9th floor of a supremely windy and quiet hostel balcony that I realized that all my experiences till date had only been with the light side of your force, figuratively speaking. Until then, I had only heard wild tales of the dark side of this force. But this time, I was determined and prepared not to screw up. This time, we met like two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year.

Over the next year and a half, we started meeting virtually every day. It was in this time that the ludicrous uninitiated apprentice in me mastered the dark art of rolling Js. If the ‘age of the #’ just gone by was an era of ignorant restraint, the 18 months of green-leafy delight to follow was the fucking renaissance. We started going out on long trips, almost every time I wanted to. And just when I thought I’d caught up to all your charms, I was swayed yet again by the powerfully persuasive cocktail of you and music. It was seduction for the ears and they wouldn’t get enough. From Steven Wilson to Shamoon Ismail and Bonobo to Glass Animals, I have only you to thank for humanizing us savages by bringing some culture to our group.

Our circle expanded till it became a family – the joint family. It was amusing- the number of people who wanted to get to know you. We must have sat with at least 20 first-time enthusiasts over as many months. Most of them would turn out to be lifelong devotees but it was our chemistry that exploded by the day. Cheesy - I know - just like the countless pizzas we’ve devoured. Which reminds me- food continues to be just another prop for you to work your mystical magic. From making maid-cooked food far less sufferable, to making the richest tiramisus even more luscious than Scarlett Johansson in a red dress, I have only you to thank Mary Jane. And the Lord knows I ain’t lying.

By this time, we had been spending so much time together, I knew I had to take our relationship to the next level. Swearing by the bong in our possession, we moved in together and you introduced me to facets of yours I could never imagine, despite having known you for almost 3 years. Neatly encapsulated within the clamor and chaos of a world that is never enough for anyone, ours was an alternate reality full of carefree happiness and curious content. It is this uncomplicated existence that a-man has always admired the most about you and which continues to be the bedrock of our companionship.

As it is always with you – time flew by and life made a slave out of the part of me that has always refused to rebel against the choices us humans are made to feel are our own. But the distractions of the blue pill soon wore off and I relapsed back into the red pill as soon as I could. Time forged a reunion and the paths of the two sophomores intertwined once again. From that first joint to the four hundred and twenty first, unforgiving life had somehow come a poetic full circle. It was amusing - how you had preserved in both of us the parts that still recognized each other despite the whirlwinds of two years of youthful realisations fueled by our respective exploits outside the Matrix.

The universe continues to wear us all, recycling tiny bits of its incomprehensibly mighty self through our existence- silently mocking at our apish endeavors. I often wonder where you and I are headed. Whether all this is just one of countless acts of an eternal drama from the theatre of the absurd or just a wild experience that will eventually be a memory of a time that I tried so hard and got so far but in the end it doesn't even matter… I don’t know. I don’t think that is something I’m meant to know. I am too poorly made to answer my own questions. But sitting by another windy window on a Friday evening, I like to grapple with them, if I have you by my side. You met me at a very strange time in my life MJ.

So where was I…

Friday, 29 March 2019

Moh Maya

There is one question we’ve all thought about, albeit through different lenses and to varying extents. It is a knowledge gap that lies at the heart of science, at war with the very laws upon which it rests, questioning its very existence! Sort of like an embarrassing secret. In some trains of thought that pass through this particular station, it may also be the holy grail to existentialists. For a definitive ‘how’ would help tackle the even more mammoth ‘why’, a pain that belongs to philosophy – a place where science need not venture.

How did the universe come to be? 
Hmm.

Our universe is incomprehensibly complex. Can we distill it down to elementary essentials?
Yes.

Quite evidently, the universe consists of a lot of… stuff. Stars, planets, and all things bright and beautiful. All of this comprises of finite number of elements which were forged in the hearts of countless super massive stars from nothing but hydrogen (the simplest combination of the two most fundamental sub-atomic particles - electron and proton) and then sprayed all over space when those stars imploded and died (yes, we are all star dusts). Thus, we can generalize the first ingredient and call it mass.

Then we see a lot of energy – the sun for instance, which not just gives warmth and light but also nourishes plants and animals which power our vehicles and industries, millions of years after they die and decay. So energy becomes the second ingredient. Now all we need is an arena for all this mass and energy to play out their billion year dance of evolution. This cosmic arena is space - the final ingredient of our universe.

However, the most famous scientist of all time told us that mass and energy aren’t really different entities but 2 different sides of the same coin. Most of you would also be familiar with the relation between these two ingredients – the most famous equation in all of science.

So, as it turns out, all we need is energy and space. This means our question simplifies to ‘how did space and energy come to be’? As Axl Rose famously sang – Where do we go now?

Science which has brought us this far also tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Certainly, so much of it cannot just pop out of nowhere. However, this apparent vice of science becomes a virtue if we evoke a concept even yours truly does not understand – negative energy. This implies that at the moment of creation, when all the energy in our universe came to be, an equal amount of negative energy was also created. This is sort of like having to create a mountain- you can do it by just digging a lot of earth and piling it all up in one giant heap. But while you have created a mountain, you’ve also dug up a hole - this is negative energy, simplified.

But where is all this negative energy? The answer is it is all around us, in all of space. But how can it be? The second most famous scientist of all time taught us that every object with mass attracts every other object with mass with a force we call gravity. This gravitational force makes our universe one giant storehouse of gravitational potential energy. Few of you would be able to recall the formula from 11th grade:
That minus sign solves the negative energy conundrum.

And what about space? Edwin Hubble, sometime in early 20th century, saw through his telescope that galaxies weren’t just moving away from one another, but doing so at an ever increasing pace. This means if we were to rewind the cosmic film, they must have been closer together at some time in the past. The cosmic rewind takes us to this moment where everything that we see today was smaller than the smallest thing we can imagine. This is the big bang – the moment of creation that has had scientists and believers slam their heads and tales for millennia. At this point, we enter the quantum realm (a place even Einstein and Newton dread to tread but which Hank Pym and Scott Lang visit for occasional adventures). 

The rules of this quantum realm are some of the strangest but most fascinating areas of science as we know it. Here, particles can not just be at two places at the same time but also (seem to) appear (or disappear) out of nothing. Is It possible all the mass in the universe just came out of nothing at this quantum moment of creation?

Rewinding the cosmic film by 14 billion years also means we reach the beginning of time as we know it. This makes answering ‘what caused mass to pop out of nothing’ extremely tricky. Causation as we know it implies something at one point of time resulting in something else at another time in the future, as if they were two events on a linear timeline. So how do we answer what comes before the beginning of this timeline? To quote Hawkings - "We have found something that doesn't have a cause because there was no time for a cause to exist in".

So kurzgesagt, this is the best prevalent understanding of how the universe (i.e. the energy and space that makes all of it) came to be. After 14 billion years of awe-inspiring companionship, this is where physics seems to have given up on us today. But don’t worry, people driven infinitely more by this curiosity than mere mortals like you and me, haven’t given up yet. This means you and I get to surrender our cosmic inquiry and get back to partying another weekend.

Happy?

Friday, 13 July 2018

Nothing Really

If you'd ever have cared enough and scrolled down this dumpster I consider "my blog", you'd have found (among other things):
  1. Admiration for childhood idols
  2. Disguised nostalgia
  3. Sheer cynicism
  4. Early attempt at cheap fame (we WERE naive back then)
  5. Hopeless attempt at Urdu poetry
  6. Hangover of a TV series I'd just finished
  7. Anger
  8. A true story
  9. A one-dimensional anatomy of love
  10. Self consolation
  11. Brush with nihilism
  12. Some serious overthinking
  13. and just plain shite!
A blog that was started exactly six years ago by two Nobodys, who were too high one night on an embarrassing concoction of three parts whimsy and one part misguided literary-vainglory, today has 16k hits at an unremarkable-but-noticeable 7 page views per day. The number means literally nothing in this age of virality. But for a web page that bears a name barely designed for recall, and which has virtually nothing pointing to itself in the infinity of cyber space, I often wonder what brings you - the reader - here. Being driven to my office in the rear seat of an Uber on a lousy Monday morning, the obvious next question was the quintessential "why"- why were they written in the first place?

Scrolling down my posts over the past 6 years I saw a list like you see it on top. Although the actual titles aren't half as self explanatory, I could - in the ever so magical experience of retrospective wisdom - see them for what they truly were. And I realized this- despite all the loved ones and closest of relationships one might have, there are things which perhaps no one can truly understand, but one's own future self- a person that doesn't even exist when those thoughts first come to amuse, haunt, annoy or delude you, but a person that slowly but surely emerges out of them. That is because theoretically speaking, anyone else's understanding of our mental state would be defined and limited by two factors-
  1. your own understanding of that emotion or state of mind at that point of time, and
  2. the efficacy of any language as a tool to communicate such a complicated emotion or realization to another individual
There are clear inefficiencies here. Which is why such emotional states are so fleeting in nature- they evaporate before they can be thoughtfully (and at times painfully) distilled into a realization or an understanding. That is essentially all of adolescence- a lot of feeling with little understanding of what anything actually means. Perhaps that is all of life itself- a constant mismatch between what we feel and when we actually become able enough to comprehend what it truly means. And hence, a constant attachment to the past, for it always feels clearer/simpler than the present, which in turn will make more sense some time in the future.

Or maybe it means nothing really. Perhaps, as a species we should spend more time understanding ourselves than anything else in the universe. Or maybe the best of us knew this and accepted the futility of such an endeavor and the sheer existential horror that it would bring. So we created a world and a society that could keep us distracted enough to remain sane.

Why should this blog be any different?

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

To Infinity and Beyond

It was in an utterly unremarkable moment that a good friend handed over to me, a petite book in our high school library. The awkward smile of the author was equally unremarkable, as were the large specs that the person had put-on in the photograph on its front cover. What was written on the cover though was interesting enough to spark the curiosity of a 15 year old. Those were words he would stumble across on the Discovery or the National Geographic channel, once in a while when neither Buzz Lightyear nor cricket was on TV-


“From the big bang to black holes”

I barely knew anything about the book or its legendary author. I did not understand much of it back then and years down the line today, I do not understand why it is the-most-widely-owned-but-unread book of all times (shouldn’t the Bible deserve that honor?).

Despite Mr Hawkings' best efforts to make the daunting science of it palatable for the layman (by not including a single equation, except for the famous E=mc2), I was too young to understand A Brief History of Time. But intelligently strewn between a gamut of scientific jargon and abstruse concepts, were some truly fascinating ideas! It was about the most genuine of all human curiosities-

Where did the universe come from?
Why is it the way it is?
What is time?

I still think those are the most important (and uncomfortable) questions before mankind. Dabbling across the treacherous frontiers of science and philosophy, they come to all of us at one time or the other- in moments of profound existential despair or times of drug addled thoughtful inquiry. It is for this reason that I found myself going back to the book over and over again. I am sure I still do not understand bits of it. But I do realize what it is about and why it is important. Along with the likes of Feynman and Sagan, Hawking was among the first members of the scientific community who had endeavored to extend scientific discourse from classrooms to drawing rooms.

He may not have been able to produce testable unification of physics, but in this regard Stephen Hawking did succeed. The sheer number of people talking about him today is evidence of the same. It was unfair- the cards he was dealt by life. The way he played with them though, was nothing short of an inspiration- opting to battle the universe that crippled him for life, by unraveling its deepest, darkest pockets.

And that is the man’s legacy, if not anything else.


Remnants of my 15 year old self hope you’ve just begun your journey to infinity and beyond.

Bon voyage!

Friday, 15 September 2017

Conscientia

It begins in the morning,
and never leaves you alone.

The lips, they try to hide,
before the eyes give it away.
But they try anyway.
(Just between you and me- I know.)

The smile, contrived, is a stretch.
Here and there, everywhere,
a rehearsal.
All the world's a stage.
You think- is this what he meant?
(Between you and me, I know.)

The faces, calculative.
Words- measured, misunderstood.
Pride, envy, lust-
four sins too less.
Needless.
(Between you and me, I know.)

The concern, feigned.
Unnecessary, no?
No.
For we be civilized.
See, we lied.
(Just between you and me, I know.)

The presumptuous shenanigans.
Stories, the lot of them.
Then pretending they believe.
He, hers.
She, his.
(Between you and me, I know.)

The little tricks they play,
learning from one another, growing up,
thinking it's magic.
What is amusing isn't the fact
that they think it is being clever.
It is that they think it works.

But we don't talk about this-
the elephant in the room-
with them.
For that is how we fit in, isn't it?
(Just between you and me- I know.)

Why curse the elephant though,
when it is really about us?

And so once I chose,
to not dance and closed my eyes instead,
to pay attention to the music.
But there wasn't any!

Asleep or awake,
between you and me,
I was alone.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Us and Them

In one of several of our free days in B-school life, a couple of stoned heads ended up talking about the overwhelming sentiment of nationalism that had immersed the entire country ever since the BJP government had risen to power in the most spectacular fashion amidst nationwide fanfare and skepticism alike. We probably got a little too carried away with the train of thought as we ended up making an amateur podcast that day. The not-so-subtle subject of this mostly embarrassing attempt was 'would you die for your country'?

Couple of months down the line I found myself discussing a similar subject with another friend. It started when I received the following WhattsApp forwards in response to an article I'd shared about Chinese aggression along border areas-

Underlying cynicism aside, the friend felt strongly about a border-less world, a universal family so to speak. As compelling as it may sound, I reckoned it was little more than utopia, which I tried to justify in the string of messages that followed. The underlying question- to put it a lot more subtly- was 'would it be possible for humankind to thrive in a border-less world'? Is it possible for us to shatter the smoke screens that the so called evil governments across the world have pulled over our eyes, dissolve borders that keep men from men, forget our irrational fears and hatred, and unite mankind once and for all?

As tall a task as it seems, at an individual level I suppose it would be fairly easy for most of us to raise our hands and sign up for such a virtuous ideological revolution. That is exactly why this question deserves a more sophisticated analysis. Taking some time out of a lazy Sunday morning and after incorporating requisite edits and explanations, I have tried to put together the same, merging the string of messages I'd shared with the friend while preserving the core idea and the overall chain of thought:

Man is an animal, think we can all agree and build upon this truth.

And a social animal at that. We can't live/survive on our own by being a loner; nature is simply too unforgiving. In fact the single greatest characteristic that puts our species at the apex of the pyramid of species (most being far more powerful than a human being) that inhabit the earth is our ability to cooperate and form long term social groups. Hence, the notion of living in communities, some sense of which is also prevalent in almost all animal species across land, water and air.

How does such a pack or tribe come to be in the first place?

The primary requirement is resemblance- commonality and shared features. This is the reason you would find (say) monkeys only hanging out with monkeys, never even with chimps, orangutans or other apes, even though the underlying genetic material giving rise to those features is so same (over 99%). It is for the simple reason that two monkeys look like one another, a chimp and a monkey do not. Birds of a feather flock together.

This is how small groups first formed. Then they expanded and very soon the first tribes came into existence based on more such shared features- tangible, observable traits and not any underlying latent ones.

But then humans somehow ended up being far higher up the evolutionary ladder. Sometime down the line we evolved the ability to string several complicated thoughts together and communicate them far more effectively and efficiently to one another than any other species on the planet. This is when an unprecedented cognitive revolution took place- groups of hunter gatherers could now come together to form bigger communities. These communities rested on shared physiological features but prospered upon shared ideas, stories, myths and belief systems. While trying to make sense out of the vast and complex world, we developed inter-subjective realities- 'truths' which couldn't (and needn't) be objectively verified, which wouldn't even mean anything at an individual level, but when practiced and repeated across vast groups, became the very fabric that helped stitch those groups into communities. That is essentially how the first civilized societies came to be.

Gradually, the features became more defined, more refined. With natural forces and migration, races soon came into existence. Entire civilizations formed and with that, these same features started getting even more refined.

Soon we came up with constructs like money (another more sophisticated inter-subjective reality), which further complicated things. This broke civilizations into socio-economic stratas- castes, religion and what not. We got 'divided' simply because those underlying features kept becoming ever more refined, shaped by nature and partly by our own endeavors to build complicated hierarchical but sustainable social structures.

However, the primal instinct of belonging-ness (which unsurprisingly also finds its place in Maslow's hierarchy of needs) based on commonalities and shared ideas prevailed. It is simply because we needed them in order to survive against those we now began to consider 'outsiders'.

Economics 101- time went by, population boomed and scarcity soon came into the picture as we came to realize that there isn't enough for everyone all the time, can never be anymore. Then started the scramble for power/resources which continues till date in different ways almost everywhere.

The core point is the fact that the underlying instinct of belonging-ness is primal and will always be there. We need to share and we only share with those who we think are 'like us'

What this implies is that the lines which my friends had so started to abhor, would invariably have been drawn. The only difference is HOW you choose to draw them - race, caste, religion, economic status or even a simple line on the map. It isn't ideal. It isn't perfect​. It is simply primal and hence necessary.

That is where the roots of modern nationalism (which began with the advent of nation states and French Revolution) lie. Basically meaning 'love your kind’, those who (you think) are 'like you'. That doesn't mean you hate everyone else. It just means when the chips are down, you'd instinctively know who's on your side and who's not.

That is why we are all doomed to talk about preserving peace while continuously preparing for war. That is why men who have nothing really to do with a piece of land are holding guns to save it from other men who have nothing really to do with that piece of land, while those who actually have homes built on those lands silently suffer. That is why some men will live their entire lives trying to engineer hate between people who will never even meet each other, ever. That is why, sadly, our defense budgets will continue to outstrip government expenditure on food, housing, healthcare and education combined. It is because we are all too human to ever escape that eventuality.

I cannot know about you but the friend still disagrees with (and hates) this line of reasoning.

Either way, we have an India-Pak cricket encounter at our hands today. And I ain't gonna waste any more time trying to convince you folks. Can't wait to see those Kashmir-hungry, militant-spawning, China-friendly, terrorist-aiding, jealous mullahs lose to the men in blue.

Oh wait a minute...

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

That's life.

One fine afternoon in my seventh semester of college, I was in one of my professor’s cabin. He was a knowledgeable man, admirably articulate, delightfully sarcastic and among the very few in that place who always knew exactly what he was talking about, perhaps even more- a thorough professional. I had always looked up to him as a straightforward man of reason who wasn’t to be messed with, in any form or measure. That was also the popular opinion. Back then, I was a rudderless ship, rejected by the very first (and in all likelihood then- the only) company that had come to recruit on campus, one of India’s leading auto makers- a "dream company" for everyone. Dejected and seeking an escape, I had pinned all my hopes on the CAT which was due in a fortnight. Incidentally, I was also coordinating a team of 43 people to organize the college literary fest in the coming weekend. I was drowned in work and despair.

I had gone to meet him that fine day with one humble request- to postpone the internal exam for his subject by one day. In that place and time, it was (IMHO) a reasonable request, more the norm than an exception and many a student had often used various means to accomplish the same with other subjects and professors. But not this person. Nevertheless, I presented my case before this gentleman for what seemed like a minute or two, laying out my apprehensions as well as nearly all the insecurities of my ravaged mind as best as I could.

Seated on the other side of an immaculately arranged table, the professor listened intently, laid back calmly on his executive chair, elbows rested on its arms, fingertips of the left hand gently meeting those of the right exactly in front of his chest- motionless- a mildly intimidating reptilian gaze analyzing all my verbal and non-verbal cues. Then, straightening his back, slowly drawing his elbows to the table while maintaining the overall posture, retaining the eye contact and with an expression on his face that would have made even the best poker player in the world fold; he said those two magical words you see on the title today. I do not remember what he said thereafter; as he went on to shoot the request on its head, respectfully apathetic to nearly everything I had talked about until then.  

Miserably short of preparation in what was arguably the most nagging subject for everyone in the entire graduation curriculum, I went on to give the exam precisely on the pre-decided date and time, later clearing the subject with 55 marks- barely 5 more than the minimum required and my lowest ever anywhere.

That’s life.

Most of what we millenials consider quarter-life-crises (or just 20s things) arise out of messed-up priorities stemming from a warped sense of life and reality, especially our personal notions of right and wrong. We are genetically programmed to seek patterns in random events and behaviors. From our (embarrassingly limited) individual learnings and life experiences, we continuously seek to encode the enormously complicated and multi-faceted human nature into a set of laws and rules- what we then so self-righteously like to label as our ‘life principles’. Then, carrying our respective sense and interpretations of ideals and morality, we blissfully go about this world believing that every person we come across will also be willing to play by the same set of rules and principles all the time (Wow!). Then, when things go south (and they invariably always do), we sulk and go about resenting anything that will make us feel good about ourselves once again (lies), conveniently editing our own rules all the time (much Wow!). The vicious cycle repeats itself.

In reality, however, good and bad are unnecessary over-simplifications that life does not have any regard for. They are human constructs, laughable attempts of a clueless race of apes with a huge sense of self entitlement, who think they are smart enough to make sense of the sheer randomness that surrounds us all the time. Conservative upbringing and social conditioning do more than enough in this regard to give an illusion of the existence of some sense of cosmic justice- Karma so to say- that pervades God’s beautiful world that we live in. We are deluded into believing that good begets good, that IT is all about us, and that this incomprehensibly vast universe owes us this much.

Thriving warmly in our own cosy bubbles, it takes us forever to make truce with the simple reality that principles don’t matter, only actions do. That the notion of Karma is at best a personal consolation, a cold uncomfortable hug available to everyone in times of great grief and suffering. That right, wrong, truth, morality, friendship, duty, success, justice, love, happiness, responsibility etc are all personal constructs that carry no inherent meaning- constructs that mankind developed and fostered in order to establish and nurture civilized societies (look where that got us!). They only mean what we want them to mean, what we wish them to mean. That may obviously be something for one individual and something else entirely to another, possibly even totally contradictory. As a matter of fact, most of what transpires around us all the time has no inherent meaning or purpose in itself. It is just a result of the actions and momentary endeavors of a vast bunch of intelligent apes doing what they think is necessary, what needs to be done at that point in time. It is we who choose to ascribe any meaning to such primal acts of unconditional needs, wants or desires.

"The world only makes sense if we force it to". Looking around these days, it seems whatever little sense of conscience that some of us possess is an evolutionary weakness which natural selection will soon get rid off. In today's times, when internet memes on social networks have become the latest source of our life principles (let alone billboards and paperback) and the guiding light of our lives, there remains only one way we can live- without any rules. Believing nothing. Expecting nothing. Doing whatever is necessary and whatever needs to be done- primal and pure, as it has always really been, as it was always supposed to be.

In the times that followed, the more I reflected back on that eventful day, the more I found the gentlemanly professor’s actions and decision justified. In fact, he was far more courteous and reasonable than life itself is. It is incomprehensible, unpredictable and unforgiving. To everyone. And we would be miserably naive to believe otherwise. Those who disagree simply need to give it more time to discover this themselves. It isn’t necessarily a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ thing, just what it is.

There is no truth but what we claim. No fate but what we make. Everybody lies. Everybody dies.

And that is the lie I choose to tell myself.

What’s yours?

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Vagabonds of Punterland IV

Vagabonds of Punterland II

The Help 

‘Please, let me get this for you…’ Ayan requested. Sam and TJ joined.

He was headed to a woman across the street who, with a baby on her shoulders and what seemed like a week’s grocery on the other, seemed like someone wrestling with an octopus on a conveyor belt.

‘Thank you beta’, the lady smiled handing over all the stuff, careful not to wake up the infant. She watchfully made her way across the road to a Honda City and managed to open up the trunk.

‘I hope it’s not much trouble’, she seemed very modest.

‘I’d told you not to carry it all at once’, a coarse husky voice startled the three of them. They could not notice a man fast approaching the vehicle while they were busy adjusting the items in the dickey.

In the absence of street lights, all they could make out was a bulky six-foot frame wielding loads that could easily substitute weights in a gym. They realized he was the man whose ego they’d just bruised by helping his woman.

‘No uncle it’s fine’, TJ replied smiling, casually grabbing and pulling Sam and Ayan by their shoulders, ‘Good night aunty!’

‘It’s late beta. Come we’ll drop you’, she said getting into the car, glancing at her husband. The way he occupied the driving seat made it clear that it was not a request. They exchanged looks of 3 fellowmen attempting a base jump from Petronas Towers. They were already past 9 and too loaded to walk anyway. A little help wouldn’t harm. Ayan and Sam took the rear seats. TJ complied reluctantly.

‘Household shopping is an exploration here. You got to travel all the way across the place to get to this mart. And until last month, it wasn’t even an option’, the woman complained. They realized this store had just been opened, right by the university exit.

'Which hostel beta?’ the woman asked cuddling the infant who’d perhaps woken up.

The question made the three skip a beat. She knows! Although undergraduate student population was a clear majority in the place, one could not neglect the local residents which formed an influential subset of the place’s demography. This time the looks were of three inmates attempting a Prison Break. TJ held back Ayan who was about to answer.

Silver Jubilee aunty’ he said nodding at his friends.

SJ?’ Sam complained in a whisper.

‘You really want to be dropped at a senior hostel at this time of the night? Stop fooling around.’ Ayan wasn’t as quiet with his revolts.

TJ winked. ‘Just play along'.

‘3rd year? All three?’ the man seemed older in the dim lighting of the car and oddly intrigued. There was no practical concept of entry time for seniors, although in theory it was 10. TJ, knowing the fact, had played the odds.

'Which branch?’ he inquired, eyeing the three in the rear-view mirror, lowering the gear to slow the vehicle considerably.

‘Eh… my name is Alok, Production Engineering. This is Karan…’ he said patting Sam on the back ‘…Information Technology. And he is Rahul…’ he said pointing at Ayan ‘…Civil Engineering’.

The lies were bang on. No one really knew students of the first 2 branches cause they barely had classes and no one worried about students of the third- the most feared department of the college- cause they could rarely ever skip any. To an absolute stranger in a car at night they should have been nothing but random variables and absolute gibberish.

'Oh! Civil? That’s nice. Then he would know Sir, right? Which course do you take, you say?’ the woman seemed pleased.

SIR?!’ the statement soaked the air off their lungs.

‘Yes, he should. Don’t you Rahul?’ the man replied, childish mischief reeking of his voice, or so it seemed. The question sent shivers down the spine of Ayan. Sam could feel the vehicle closing in around him. TJ could barely think, let alone lay an anti-thesis as a deathly silence descended upon the car.

The old man had called their bluff and won.

‘Sushil Kumar, Associate Professor’, he replied with an air of condescension, pushing the gas and revving up the engine now, as the Honda City creased into the dark night.

Vagabonds of Punterland III

Basic Instinct

The cold drink bottle on his lips was tipped beyond vertical as TJ soaked the last few drops of Dew from the edges. How people like him could sustain the unbearable fizz while gulping the full volume in one go, had always been a source of utter amazement for Ayan. Sam sat scanning the menu card as if it was written in code. He had taken it on to himself for arranging the most cost-effective-cum-surfeiting one course dinner for the 3 tonight. 

Earlier, with an extremely vocal TJ, the 2 mile walk to the place had turned out to be shorter than expected and checking out of the main gate had hardly been a challenge- Walk like you own the place. 

The guard at the hostel entrance was paid to care while those at the university exit didn’t care to pay attention.

Meanwhile, the luscious aroma of spices and the sight of people gorging all around them, served only to aggravate the hunger. Located just by the highway that would get ironed with loaded trucks ferrying goods across major industrial centers established nearby, there was a titillating feeling about the place that night. The rhythmic hustle of the night train speeding across the railway tracks, at a stone’s throw from the place, would superimpose with the surrounding noises at times, damping the irritating shrieks of an over-used speaker blaring nearby. It was amazing how yester years’ chartbusters sounded like lamentations today.

‘I think one half Mix Veg should suffice. All paneers cost the same. But we don’t know which is better- kadhai, matar or shahi. Daal makhni is another alternative. So is aloo jeera. The problem gentlemen- as always- is choice…’ Sam declared.

For TJ, it never was. To him, within or without an examination room, ‘both A and B’ had always seemed the most appropriate option, especially when it came to matters of the tongue- no compromises. Ayan and Sam discovered nothing could shut TJ up as well as good food, not even good girls. The 3 of them fed on until the dishes were wiped clean.

The gentle breeze after a hearty meal made music for the ears before Ayan decided to make a point.

‘I still don’t see why we should risk a CP for just a little better food’. The reasons for getting a Conduct Prohibition were crystal clear to him. And for a first year, being out of the campus after 8 in his first month at college was somewhere around the top.

A little better? The second Batman movie was a little better than the first. Dude, this is massive improvement…’ TJ’s love for the movie and obsession with food had almost nipped the argument in the bud but for the lack of wheels, it was getting late.

‘Cycles will save time. We should have tried a little more’, Sam complained, nodding to Ayan.

‘Well and you should have listened to me when I insisted on not writing our names on the stupid register while checking out, at least not real names.’

It was 8:44 when they reached the university gate and with the quantity of food in their alimentary canal, the 2 km walk back was becoming exceedingly impossible.

The next frame of image that was processed by TJ’s mind was Ayan rushing forward. It was a little instinctive decision that was going to substantially alter the course of the night for the 3 of them.

They should’ve known the founding tenet of ‘Chaos Theory’- how small changes in initial conditions can lead to vast differences in final outcomes. They should have known that the difference between adventure and accident is measured only by luck.

Vagabonds of Punterland IV