Friday, March 28, 2008

Blissfully Troubled

A word of caution: You'll be happy to skip this piece if you are sick of my perpetual talk about the rain, or if you are allergic to cribbing students.

There are moments when Data Mining scares me no end- if it was Artificial Intelligence last semester, Data Mining definitely takes the cake this time. It doesn’t exactly go over my head, but it’s not great fun either. I suppose the authors worked on the textbook when they were depressed with life and desperately needed some publicity; or when they had a bad toothache. It goes from comprehensible to complicated, and finally becomes totally incoherent. I’m probably exaggerating; I understand most parts of the book, but it’s the remembering part I detest. There seems to be very little application, it’s theory all through, and all new. Now you know what I mean by ‘new’ if you are or have been a ‘normal’ engineering student.

I believe in leaving trouble alone until it actually comes to haunt me; so I’ve decided not to get nervous till the exams actually begin. And I have the perfect thing to bolster my spirits- you know it- the rain. A couple of days ago, I reread my favourite part from Ruskin Bond’s Book of Nature- the chapter ‘Rain’. Can anybody ever describe the sensations the first cleansing showers evoke so beautifully? Bond talks of how the rain can get tiresome if it goes on and on. Now that is something I’m yet to experience, but if and when I do, I’ll surely let you know.

The skies are high and dark, the wind is crisp and strong, and I like the way it blows the stinging, electrifying raindrops in my face. A cool, sensuous rain- I have parted the curtains in my room so I can hear it talk to me and feel the damp. I just hope this bliss lasts for atleast two more days.

Nature feels like a beautiful prayer tonight.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Pleasant, Rainy Monday

Not all Monday mornings are gloomy. This one, for instance.

I went to bed last night in a good mood, thrilled with the Ferrari victory (no matter they didn’t have a 1-2 finish; they’re atleast back where they belong) at the Malaysian GP. Consequently, I woke up in the morning in a comfortable frame of mind, no thoughts of college to bother me, no puzzling questions lying at rest all night and trying to surface now through the morning haze. Surely, everybody knows that feeling, when you go to bed before a big day with your mind in a state of turmoil or excitement, and when you wake up in the morning, you are immediately besieged by the thought that you are supposed to be worried or excited about something, but can’t figure out what it is.

As I pattered into the hall, the air felt slightly different, even in that closed room. It pulsed with invigorating energy, and as I peeked out of the window, a little idea taking root in my mind, my suspicions were confirmed. The bushes by the compound wall swayed in a delirious dance of their own as a new, fresh, rain-scented breeze rippled through their branches. The rain that had been promised me a couple of days ago was here at last.

The clouds, in their annoyingly familiar habit, had sneaked in at night, when I was oblivious of them, cocooned in the stifling comfort of my bedroom. The first shower of rain is always the most exciting, as it arrives after much joyous anticipation; almost invariably at night, when all the world is asleep. So it was last night, then, after a partly cloudy evening, but nothing very threatening. I could see the signs of rain on the wet concrete floor. There were more flowers strewn beneath the bushes than on a normal morning, and the sky was heavier than usual, even at this usually dark hour before sunrise. The gentle scented breeze definitely held the promise of rain.

About an hour later, the rain came with full force. Normally loath to do errands, I went out this morning to buy the newspapers, a very short walk from home. I clutched my umbrella in joy, feeling the rain drum against its top with a steadily rising tempo. Only an occasional bike passed me, and there were no pedestrians on the road. By the time I reached the shop, hopping over the puddles (some purplish pink, the after-effects of Holi) that had formed in the imperceptible depressions that exist even on a good, level road, the hem of my skirt was wet. And I was enjoying every moment of it. I looked up at the hill as I walked back home, intoxicated by the mingled fragrances of damp soil and fresh newsprint. It was wrapped in its own misty reverie, kissed by the moist, rain-laden clouds.

A little while later, the narrow lane was chock-a-block with people, autorickshaws and cars. An exam was to be held in the school next door, and the umbrellas and raincoats (and some plastic sheets) were out. More than last-minute revision, the students were concentrating on getting to school dry. Heavy raindrops thundered mercilessly on a black Skoda parked across the street. Where on earth was the owner?

As I write, the exam is finishing, and the horns are blaring again. I hear engines sputtering to a start, and the relieved murmur of voices released from a three-hour detention. The students would probably like to feel the cold drops sting their skin now, after having cursed it in the morning for all the trouble it must have caused them.

Thankfully, the rain goes on.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Chronicles IV

A Lazy Afternoon

At exactly one o’clock on a hot, summer-like afternoon, the streets are deserted but for the odd car or motorbike, honking to warn away any imaginary pedestrians. There are no customers at the provision shop across the street, and the girl at the counter and her father stare out at the sun-splashed empty road from the stifling confines of the small room. The heavy, coal-fed iron clanks as the weary woman at the rickety stall on the other side of the road draws it across a pair of grey trousers. A heap of clothes is piled behind her on a narrow table balanced across a culvert; a little child, her daughter or niece, maybe even her granddaughter, drinks thirstily from a green bottle.

It could be a scene from this day. Or thirty years ago. The unvarying quietness of hot afternoons always reminds me of summers gone by, of the vacations associated with them and the concomitant sights and sounds.
The sky is languid and cloudless. The bushes on my bit of the hill are parched and dry. From where I stand on the balcony, I don’t get a clear view of the hill. Intersecting wires strung between electric poles, and an ugly white-and-orange building rising from the gentle mound towards the foot of the hill, mar the vista. But you notice them only if you pay attention on them. Lose yourself in the hill, and they don’t bother you. It just depends on what you want to see.

Down the street comes the postman, pushing his old bicycle, a bag slung from the handlebar. There is an inexplicable timelessness in his arrival, in his disinterested walk as he delivers letters. True, the friendly communities have been replaced by the cold isolation of flats, and business mails largely outnumber intimate letters; the arrival of the postman is no longer a much looked forward to event as it must once have been.
But I like watching the postman as he walks through the sun-drenched streets, an occasional tree providing him with some welcome shade. He wears an old, faded, once-purple cap, and an indiscernible expression on his face. He reminds me of the last century, of Tagore and RK Narayan, of everything homely, earthy and simple.

A Formal Goodbye

The rose from last evening is drooping, and everything is now just a confused memory of dazzling lights and sound, no, noise.

We had our Farewell party yesterday, and it was evident that the Third Year students had gone to much trouble organising it. I appreciate all the effort they put into it, but it really wasn’t my kind of thing. It was my first experience of a discotheque kind of atmosphere, a DJ, crazy lights that gave me a headache, and loud music that almost shattered my eardrums. Evidently, no conversation was possible, and all I did was watch as people danced and laughed for no particular reason. Once dinner got over, however, it was fun- we took many pictures and acted silly. Some of us crashed into the DJ’s booth and explored the console. It was my first time at a party of this kind, and watching everybody all dressed up was rather interesting. Nobody got emotional. We were probably too absorbed in the way we looked to worry about other things.

So it’s officially over.


I have been reading two books- Beyond Boundaries, the autobiography of businessman Swraj Paul, and Autobiography of a Yogi, the story of the life of Paramahansa Yogananda. I am a little disappointed with Beyond Boundaries- I’d been hoping it would be a light account of an Indian’s experiences in a foreign country, something in the style of Ruskin Bond, but it’s more about philosophy, business and politics than simple anecdotes. Autobiography, on the other hand, is extremely compelling.

I try not to accept beliefs without questioning them. Indeed, some instances mentioned in Autobiography seem rather incredible to me. But I am not inclined to write them off as exaggeration, because I know very little of the powers of meditation and spirituality, and I cannot let my ignorance come in the way of learning. I have been curious about the powers of cosmic sound, and the idea that every single sound in the Universe has a positive or negative effect on the cosmic sound is rather intriguing. If this were true, then we might be giving an impetus to a lot of evil with all the negative talking we do. Is that why we should always think before we speak, not just for decorum, but for the good of the Universe as a whole?

I have a few questions. Is it necessary to be a yogi or a sannyasi, give oneself up entirely to the contemplation of God, to be free of the cycle of rebirth? In that case, will there be such a life of renunciation for every one of us, so we can attain salvation? If everything depends on karma, who guides our actions?


The sky is heavy with grey clouds. I think there’ll be rain. This seems to happen everytime I get contemplative and go rambling. Is that an omen? I don’t know. But right now, I just can’t wait for the rain.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Looking Back- The Last Day

Where I Belong

The first floor landing swarmed with students, heads bent over books, writing busily. We sat on the steps, leant against the banisters, wandered into the open Second Year classrooms, trying to be creative, honest, or simply trying to get it over with. Filling up ‘slam books’ is always tiring. After the first few books, our writing got automatic, and we often ended up saying things we didn’t mean.

Yesterday was officially the last working day of college. Four long years I have spent here, and despite my claims to the contrary, I shall probably miss this place. Just a little bit, when what I’ve had the past few years compares favourably with what is to come. I don’t know why that feels like such a crime.

We spent the afternoon writing these numerous two-page autobiographies. Most of my classmates were there, gathered in groups around somebody’s car (I really pity the person to whom it belongs), writing away as if their very lives depended on it. Somebody said we didn’t even take our exams so seriously. True. Camera phones were whipped out, banter flew back and forth. Though I have been on good terms with everybody, never really experienced any coldness or rebuff, I have never belonged to any group. I think I’m too fond of my private space for that. But I did feel kind of lonely yesterday, especially as the people I normally spend time with weren’t there. I retreated to the shade of a tree, leaned against the trunk, and started writing in a book that had been thrust into my hands. For the first time, perhaps, watching everybody else clustered together, I wished I were more popular.
And then one of my classmates pulled out her phone and clicked me as I stood there under the tree. All of a sudden, the unwarranted feeling of having been neglected that was building up in me disappeared; another picture was taken, people were talking to me. I felt wanted.

It was just one of those moments of total absurdity. I may not be the most well known person in class, but it felt nice to know that I wasn’t as much a non-entity as I imagined. Maybe I do belong here, after all. It’s taken me four years to realise that I do. And now it’s time to leave.

On The Bus

One of the few trips home from college at six o’clock in the evening, a full hour and a half later than the normal time. The blue dusk spilled in through the tinted windows. The hills looked more lush and velvety than in the mellow glow of sunshine; as it grew darker, they were silhouetted starkly against the pale grey-blue sky. (This was exactly how they’d looked the first time I’d ever seen them, passing that way on a trip to another town.) Long, unbroken streaks of cloud ran across the length of the sky, and a pale ribbon of pink on the horizon above the hills gave away the sun’s hideout; it was apparently reluctant to depart on such a glorious evening.

Everything I had ordinarily seen in broad daylight was now awash with electric light. The little temples that line the highway glittered with psychedelic lights, one of the numerous temple festivals on in full swing. A board in the distance announced a wedding. Soon, the interior of the bus was flooded in neon light, quite destroying the dreamy, lulling effect the pallor of the sky had cast upon it. I could continue reading the book that I’d put away because of the lack of light. But I chose not to.

I saw tired heads drooping on friends’ shoulders; hair tightly plaited in the morning all ruffled by the wind and the exercise of a long day at college. The Third Year boys at the back were involved in an animated discussion about the merits of a particular lecturer, career prospects, exams…I felt strangely grown-up. The last time we’d made these late journeys was during the recruitment drives; before that, during the Second Year exams, which were scheduled from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Nostalgia creeping in? Perhaps.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Chronicles III

The brief winter is over, and summer has arrived in unnecessary hurry. Spring is not for us; the flowers don't bloom slowly and burst into a riot of colour, filling the air with their mingled fragrances. There is no mild breeze, no gradual change in temperature. The sky is blue, streaked with long, squiggly lines of white cloud; sometimes the blue is replaced by a blazing white. The sun has shaken off its winter slumber, and is burning down in full glory. The floor is hot against the feet, vapours of heat rise from the earth at midday. Summer has arrived.

The 'slam books' are out. (Question: Why are they called so?) I was given one to sign this morning. The same set of unnatural questions, answered with ostentation, sometimes dripping with insincerity. Are they just trying to be nice by asking me to sign, for they are not really my friends? That the semester is coming to an end is evident, of course. What I cannot understand is how people I haven't known for three and a half years are suddenly opening up to me. Are we trying to get to know one another, for fear we might have missed something in the time gone by?

I shan't miss college. There is no reason to. Four years is a pretty long period for something that is not exactly a great deal of fun. Not that it has been a bad experience; I enjoyed the delicious hours we spent talking in the scant shade of the few trees that survived the onslaught of expansion, meeting with a few interesting people, and some of the learning. Notwithstanding the emotional bond that does crop up as a result of a long time spent in one place, and the inherent resistance to change and to getting out of one's comfort zone, I am looking forward to whatever comes next. Life will probably not be as cosy and secure as it has been all these years, but looking at it another way, I'm getting a step closer to doing the things I want to.

Things change suddenly, don't they? Life is all smooth and simple, when something happens out of the blue and disturbs this tranquillity, throwing everything into disarray. Questions are asked. Obviously, they have no answers.
Most things about life are inexplicable. But where would we be without mysteries?

I like watching the sea. I've seen the Bay of Bengal in quite a few colours and moods. I've seen foamy waves being churned out of turbulent yellowish-brown waters on a cloudy evening. I've seen the almost-black pools far from the shore. Sometimes the sea is a cross between blue and green, mostly it's a colour that doesn't have a name. The sea looks divine early in the morning, when the sun breaks out of the clouds and casts a thin funnel of light on a small portion, embellishing it with silver. That is when the fishermen set out, their boats bobbing gently on the waves, minuscule objects against the vastness of the sea. The sea isn't a single entity. It's a community.

I haven't written for a while, and I can see how rusty I have been today. But I had to do this, to make a beginning again and rejuvenate my brain (tired in more ways than one), and hopefully I shall make more sense next time.