Monday, May 19, 2008

Prelude To A Sabbatical

Today, like every other day, I'm going to pretend my blog is all-important, that the world cannot do without my opinions. Absurd? Totally. But what is life without a little bit of imagination to enliven things and make you believe what you want to, true though it might not be?

I locked myself in the bedroom, to spend a pleasureable hour reading, after having watched television for three hours this afternoon(!). However, I spent more time thinking than reading, fantasising, worrying...all those things that you do when you realise you have just a few more days at home, before you move out into the open to be on your own. It's not easy. When thoughts come surging into my mind, I cork them up. There is no room for nostalgia here, not at this moment. I have things to enjoy before I begin to wish I could travel back in time.

What am I going to recall? Udit Narayan's terrible pronunciation in the numerous Telugu songs he sings. Long bus rides to and from college. The granny on the balcony opposite ours, who wears a perpetual scowl. The Spencer's outlet nearby, where my mum and I pop in if we just happen to be passing by, for want of something better to do. The girls working there are really nice and friendly. Inquisitive, too. One of them asked me today, for instance, why I don't wear earrings. The schoolgirls in my building and the next- I don't talk to any of them, but we always wave when we see one another. The cranky shopkeeper across the street, who always wears a grey-stained yellowish-brown vest and grey trousers, and inevitably has an argument every day with one of his customers.

What am I going to miss? Some of the nicer people among those I just mentioned. The hill and its twin palm trees(or three, I can't quite spot the third now). The sight of the setting sun behind the rocky projection on the hill. Leaning out of the balcony to feel the warm, fragrance-laden moist wind of new rain. The crows that alight on the balcony wall for their biscuits or bread every morning. My books (I can only carry a few with me...I'll have to be really careful with them). The Bay of Bengal. Reading old issues of Tinkle. My privacy. (I almost added the rain to the list...the rain is the same in every part of the country, isn't it? Or is it endowed with certain characteristics that make it more enjoyable at home than elsewhere?)

I'm really glad to see Ted Corbett's columns in the Hindu again. He brings life to gloomy days of English cricket (the weather, I mean) at Lord's. He speaks with hope of England's chances of winning the Ashes next year. He is a man after my own heart. Wouldn't he have been perfectly at home in one of the cricket teams in PGW's schools?

I'm not a big fan of the IPL. So why do I support a team when a match is going on? Why do I want Chennai to win the tournament? (I have the audacity to live in Andhra Pradesh and not support the Deccan Chargers. Honestly, when my friends bewail the lack of performance on the part of the Deccan team, I can't help feeling a little smug and condescending.) I simply cannot watch a game or read about a forthcoming match and not be partial to one of the participating teams/players. Even if the match in question were taking place between Jamea Jackson and Tracy Austin. Partisanship makes the game exciting, even if you have barely heard of the players involved and would probably not even remember the result of the game a couple of days later. Oh, and while we're talking about the IPL, I don't know what I was happier about yesterday- SRK losing or Chennai winning. By the way, how is the D/L method applied in T20 games?

Time to go. I simply cannot think of anything more to say(!). This post has solely been for the purpose of putting something here as a (rather long) prelude to mentioning that I may not be able to blog for a few weeks. But because the number of people who read me is not even as large as the number of people who can spell floccipaucinihilipilification (have I got that right?), or have even heard of the word, and as almost all of you know I'll be away, I can see that this is one totally futile post. I am in the habit of posting something atleast once a week, so you can see I'm just doing my duty to my conscience. I do shudder to think what my blog will look like a few weeks later, devoid of anything new or relevant. This blog is not defunct (in case you're reading this a few weeks from today). I am just taking a sabbatical that I'm not enforcing on myself. See you soon.

PS: My ego was vigorously at work while I typed this post out. My imagination was busy trying to overestimate my importance. Not its fault, it's just livening things up on this hot, extremely unproductive evening.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Books and Retirements

Mila 18 is one of the most marvellous books I have read in a while. Set in the Warsaw Ghetto, it is an engaging story of Jews standing up to the Nazis. Leon Uris describes in a compelling fashion the trials of the Jews as they withstood the onslaught of heavily armed Nazi attacks with their ragged armies formed by ordinary people. With extreme determination, the Jews stood up to wave after wave of evil, endless crimes and horrors perpetrated against them by the arrogant, indifferent Nazis under the leadership of Hitler. It is really hard to describe the way I felt when I imagined a large mass of humanity struggling to survive despite the indignities being heaped on it. Such books make one appreciate life better, to realise how blessed one is not to have to suffer such atrocities.

What an irony that I was in the midst of this particular book when I heard, for the first time, about a woman named Irene Sendler. Sendler, who died recently at 98, smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto to give them a chance at life. Mila 18 describes just such people, who dedicated their lives to giving the rest of their kin a chance to live. It was an extremely risky job, and they did it really well.

Uris describes war not just through cold facts, but by delving into the hearts and minds of people who were involved in it. You can feel the grit and the anger of Andrei Androfski, the quiet determination and frustration of Alexander Brandel, the bravery of the Catholic Gabriela Rak who defied her people to come to the aid of the Jews; while most other Poles cowered under German domination, people like Rak came forward to help the Jews out of their misery. It is hard to conceive how anybody on this planet can be capable of such cold-blooded cruelty. But it has happened, and continues to.

It's rather disappointing to think Justine Henin is retiring so early. I had been expecting her to play for two more years at the least, to win a Wimbledon title, the only Grand Slam title that has eluded her. Perhaps it wasn't to be, or she would have won it last year. She capitulated in a bizarre fashion to Marion Bartoli in the 2007 semi-finals, throwing away her best chance to win arguably the most prestigious Grand Slam title and prove her skill on grass. I must admit that my loyalties had begun to get a little confused with the rise of Ana Ivanovic, but I did want Henin to win as much as possible because she had very little time ahead of her. However, she is retiring gracefully, while at the top, and she will be remembered long for her talents, playing amidst a host of female players who depend on brute force. She hasn't been having a very good season this year, and obviously she knows best if she is really going irreversibly downhill. Her announcement did come as a shock, though; perhaps her turbulent personal life hastened her decline. Alongwith fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters, she came as a breath of fresh air in a women's game that was increasingly depending on power and force, rather than skill. The summit will probably belong to East Europe again, with the Russians and the Serbs leading the pack.

Another star female sportsperson, Swede Annika Sorenstam, has announced her decision to retire at the end of the season. I haven't really followed her career or exactly been a fan, but she was the first female golfer whose name I knew, and I respect her for the stature she has earned in yet another male-dominated game.

I shall go back to reading My Name Is Red now. It is pretty different from the books I've been reading all this while, and I find it pretty absorbing. The power cuts have made my progress miserably slow, for I really don't fancy holding a book for long with sweaty fingers, perspiration running into my eyes as the rain clouds stubbornly refuse to grant respite from over-40 temperatures.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Going Away

Is there a word for the sudden feeling of desolation that overcomes you when you realise you are moving on, that a phase of life has come to an end and you are beginning a new one fraught with responsibilities and cares, when you are wholly responsible for your actions, and have to leave behind a large part of your life and the people who know you well?

We had our last get-together this evening. Just five of us, because a few others couldn't make it. Which shows we're already going our own separate ways. I didn't know finishing college could feel so...unpleasant. College was never great fun. But it was something safe and familiar. Life is never going to be the same again, is it?

Homesickness is a word that I have only heard of from others and in books, and when they describe it, it seems like an experience you'd rather do without. And now it is going to become a reality. At midnight, when I'm trying to fall asleep in the dark, thoughts just come streaming into my head unbidden. The feeling of homesickness tries to push its way in even before its time; it is irrepressible, and I have to fight to keep it at bay. So do my friends. But why should I worry about it until I really have cause to be homesick? These are the last few days I have at home, and I mean to enjoy them, all the work and the preparations notwithstanding.

If I know what I'll miss most when I go away, I'll memorise those things and feelings. The scent of jasmine, the fragrance of newly moist earth, the sight of the first rays of the sun glinting on the sea? None of these is unique to home, but will always be reminiscent of it. Familiar music, the musty odour of old books, F1 races, photographs in newspapers. Everything will carry memories of home, and there is nothing I can do about it. Maybe it will be easy to summon the memories as I like and let them ease the unfamiliarity of a new place. Did I say once that I wouldn't like to have my memories bottled up (as mentioned in the book 'Rebecca')? I'm not quite sure I feel that way now. Adolescent arguments with my parents, the little hurts endured as friends came and went, unpleasant occasions...all to be left behind. Is this new phase really going to so big and important as I am making it out to be?

Four years...they have just flown by, and I remember how on the first day of college a senior student told me I seemed aloof and unfriendly. Isn't that what you are like when you don't want to be humiliated by strangers trying to make you prove your 'obedience' to them, flaunting their own cowardly inferiority complex by making you endure what they were forced to go through? I've got along fine; I made friends with the people I liked, and I get on pretty well with them. When you begin to think you're happy with life, it is time for a change. You have to accept it, you don't have a choice. It might hurt just a little, or a lot, but you have to move on. That's the only way you avoid boredom and stagnation.

I have no idea what I am trying to say. It's hard, when a large number of thoughts are racing one another madly through your head, and you have to separate them and lay them out clearly. I know there is much I want to say, yet the words refuse to come to mind. Another of the side-effects, perhaps, of a mind not calm enough to think rationally. Every single thing that I come across now seems to remind me of something. A warm, rainy evening reminds me of a day in school when my friend actually brought a blanket along, and we snuggled under it during Hindi lessons. Oh, how crazy we used to be! I would give anything to be in school again. My school, the place where I was what I wanted, and had the nicest years of my life. Now, I have to be all grown-up and responsible, take charge of my affairs to a great extent, go out among strangers! It's not fear, it's just a strange, inexplicable feeling in the pit of my stomach. How do I describe it? I know I'm failing miserably at this, but I also know there are many people out there who must have felt the same way at some point in their lives. It is now my turn, and my friends'. We talk about it- there is nothing more we can do. We'll soon drift away into our own different worlds, and probably not feel so badly as we do at the moment. It will pass. But there is quite a bit to be borne before it does.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Summer Rain

Beautiful rain! The sky burst open unexpectedly this afternoon, sheets of rain falling from layers of white clouds, cascading down walls, forming swirling muddy rivulets and short-lived bubbles on tar and concrete. It fell noisily for a quarter of an hour, then slowing to a swish, and finally all that remained was a distant, indiscernible gurgle of rainwater through pipes. The tantalising, cold rain washed away months of summer dust from the scraggly bushes on the hill and turned the exposed rock a damp brownish-purple. The lone hibiscus on top of the bush by the wall, protected by its height from human assault, blushed and bowed as the rain caressed and pricked it. The wind, bearing the fresh fragrance of spores newly released from the earth, tore yellow leaves and dried-up flowers away from the plants, and they now lie strewn on the road, to be scrunched up under careless human feet and release their own overpowering scents. A cigarette stub and a blue ribbon of cloth lie among the other debris of the summer rain. For once, people have forgotten their indifference to the rain and actually come out to enjoy it; the sun has bothered us enough, let the rain take over.

The sky is now clear, the new blue is turning amber, and the sun is lazily nestling among golden folds of cloud, ready to retire to bed. The rain is a distant memory, lingering only in the nip of the water-kissed wind stirring ever so softly, and in the damp patches on the road. What will tomorrow bring?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Triple Turkish Delight for Massa

Felipe Massa drove his Ferrari to victory from pole, claiming his third straight win at the Turkish Grand Prix in Istanbul. The race was evidently not as comfortable as he would have liked it to be, with Lewis Hamilton breathing down his neck during the opening laps, and overtaking him at one stage for the lead. Hamilton's three pit-stop strategy, however, was good enough only for a second-place finish, splitting the two Ferrari cars, with Kimi Raikkonen coming in third.

The race at the anti-clockwise circuit was rather uneventful, with the only bit of action coming at the start. Thanks to the withdrawal of the Super Aguri team due to financial difficulties, Force India have been left to bring up the rear of the pack. They didn't have a good start at the Turkish GP, with Giancarlo Fisichella locking up and sending his car crashing away from the track. Kazuki Nakajima of Williams retired early, and Sebastien Bourdais of Toro Rosso ended up beaching his car; these were the only retirements in a race that saw 17 of 20 drivers finishing.

Massa started well, while Hamilton squeezed past McLaren teammate Heikki Kovalainen, who had started on the front row of the grid beside Massa, into second place. Raikkonen struggled to hold his position, being overtaken by BMW's Robert Kubica and Fernando Alonso in his Renault. A minor tussle between Raikkonen and Kovalainen sent the latter into the pits with a puncture, ruining his race. Kovalainen, despite all his overtaking manoeuvres, managed only a twelfth-place finish.

Ferrari have once again asserted their status as favourites for the season, earning their fourth win in a row. McLaren seemingly have a lot of work to do to put both their cars in a competitive position with respect to Ferrari, as do BMW. Kubica and teammate Nick Heidfeld came in fourth and fifth, never really in the reckoning for a podium finish. After their promising start to the season, they have not quite maintained the momentum. Nico Rosberg managed only one point, failing to live up to his promise yet again. This season is beginning to run on predictable lines, but nothing really can be said about the championship yet. McLaren had a strong start last season, but faltered when in mattered. The Monaco GP should be interesting, as Ferrari haven't won at the circuit since 2001. Much depends on qualifying and strategy, as the showpiece race tends to get rather processional due to the lack of overtaking opportunities at the street circuit. The Monaco GP will also mark the end of a third of the season, giving the teams a good chance to get their act together and reestablish their goals and priorities.

All is not well for Vijay Mallya in sport; with just one of the Force India cars finishing yet again, and only in a lowly 17th place, the team has a great deal of work to do to put itself among the midfield teams, as was the initial target.

Chronicles V

I finally finished my exams on Friday. The external examiner arrived at three o'clock in the afternoon; rumours said he was convalescing from a sunstroke or a bout of malaria(!), and the heat obviously didn't do anything towards improving his spirits. So he came in, surly and bad-tempered, determined to make students grovel at his feet and protest their innocence when he asked questions like, "How on earth did you get recruited?"

The examiner wasn't happy with any of the answers we gave him, even though they were on the correct lines. I won't say they were absolutely right, because we might have missed out on a few of the finer points. Granted, most of the time we do invent answers, but this time we knew what we were talking about; the answers we gave weren't so haphazard that he couldn't accept them at all. When he asked five of us the same question, and wasn't happy when the first of us answered correctly, we resorted to various combinations of the same words (with one or two technical-sounding additions) to attempt to produce a sentence that would produce the slightest affirmative nod. No good. However, I believe in the natural goodness of people, and I am prepared to give even this person the benefit of doubt. Something really must have soured his temper.

What is it the heat does to kill imagination and creativity? Not a single idea has popped into my head of late, and I have been waiting really long for some kind of event to occur to give me something to write about, and even now I can find nothing better than my exam to talk about. Unless you're interested in the fact that I went shopping yesterday, and spent about twenty long minutes picking up clothes. I actually took five minutes to choose, my mum spent the rest of the fifteen minutes looking for alternatives to what I'd picked. Finally, though, a consensus was reached, and we came home happy.

One good thing about vacations is that I can read as much as I like. But because it's summertime, more often than not, I fall asleep while reading during the afternoons. Even so, I have a good amount of time in which to read. So, for the past few days, when I wasn't plodding through the program printouts in my record, I was immersed in a rousing Nazi-Jew battle in a ghetto in Warsaw. It is incredible how the Nazis could resort to such cold-blooded extermination of a race of people, their hatred of the Jews baseless and unreasonable. Mila 18 is a fabulous book. This is my third Leon Uris book. The first one was Exodus, a magnificent story about the creation of Israel and the hardships of the Jewish people. The Angry Hills, my second Uris book, was set in Greece, and I don't really remember much about it, except that it featured a man on the run. It was more like a Robert Ludlum novel. I enjoy reading Uris more than Ludlum. While their books are all about war, Ludlum seems a little impersonal to me, whereas Uris appears to delve more into the suffering of the common man during battle, and his main characters are modelled on common men and women, but of extraordinary courage, who come out to help their people. Each author has a different story to tell, though, and both Ludlum and Uris looked at war from their own individual perspective, one talking about the men behind the war, the other about the people suffering due to the irresponsible actions of these men.

It is easy to express sympathy in words for something that we hear of but never have to go through. Does that mean a person is heartless if he is unable to make politically correct statements about being sorry about the loss of lives in a natural disaster? What merit do empty words of sympathy hold anyway, when they are only published in a newspaper or mentioned on a news bulletin, and don't even reach the people they are intended for?

Reading about homeless people starving to death in the ghettos, depending on soup kitchens for their only nourishment, reminded me of a picture of a boy feeding his younger brother in a shelter in Myanmar. While the people were reeling from the after-effects of Cyclone Nargis, speculation was on about which agencies' help the Myanmar junta would accept. It is a pity that even in pressing situations, politics comes into play and takes precedence over relief measures.

What an irony, then, that we are hoping for rain here, while a whole country nearby is worrying about the death and the destruction caused by storms. There was a slight drizzle here last evening. It lasted about five minutes. A greyish-white cloud floated up from nowhere and burst overhead. But all the drizzle did was to unleash the heat vapours locked in the dry earth; the breeze that, a little while earlier, had stirred the drooping leaves to life, died down, and the evening only got hotter. The only pleasant thing that came out of it was the subtle fragrance of damp earth. It seems like a long wait to the monsoons, or the next depression over the Bay of Bengal, whichever happens first.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Growing Up

Am I writing an epitaph to my joblessness? I’d rather not; suddenly, though, the future seems to be taking some sort of shape, admittedly hazy, but it’s better than being wholly ignorant of what is to come. A few of the blogs I have read abound in horror stories of life in cubicles, but I don’t want them to deter me from looking forward to the future. People often tell you what you’d not like to hear when you ask them about something, but it’s not a rule. Encouragement comes in from some quarters, and also hope. Soon, it will be time to put all the different theories to the test.

I went to school yesterday. To my school, where I finished Class Ten six years ago, before heading out into the jungle of competitive examinations. I thought much would have changed. But when I went in there, it felt like I’d been there every day these six years. It was all so endearingly familiar; the building, for some reason, looked a little smaller from the outside than it used to, but every inch of the inside was just as is engraved in my mind. My friend and I met our teachers; more grey hair than there used to be, evidently as they have had to cope with six more batches of unruly children/adolescents since we left. We saw some of their children as well, now in the higher classes. They received us with such a lot of warmth that I felt like I’d always been a part of school. I miss it a great deal; during recess my friend and I clasped hands and walked through the corridors teeming with children in uniforms, feeling like schoolgirls ourselves.

It’s hard to explain what I exactly felt like. School gave me the best years of my life, the most carefree and fantastic days. We had a great deal of fun and laughter, some tears, games in the hot sun…we hatched plots so we could worm a free period out of some teacher, we had our nicknames for them, ‘bullied’ our seniors (and most of them were nice enough to play along with us; those who didn’t were never popular). I have never been at ease as much as I was in school, among some great, understanding people. We were friends with our English and History teachers, and still are, and I feel good when I think I can always talk to them about anything I like. Whenever I want to go back to the past, I have something to fall back on.

My visit to school also made me realise in what magnitude my life is going to change now. Here I am at the moment, doing my Guardian crossword in the DC with a little help from the Internet (it’s not cheating - what else can I do when the clues are about the Renaissance and baby clothes?!). Soon, I’ll be going out into an entirely new world and doing things I’ve never imagined. What I do in the next few months will be nothing new, from the perspective of those who are now buried deep in projects and programming, and perhaps trying as hard as they can to get out of it. I have not the vaguest idea of what life is going to be like. These languid days of freedom will soon come to an end and there will be much change in my life. So why should I live in denial? If it’s going to be difficult, so be it. Atleast there will be, and have been, plenty of other people in the same boat. Besides, it is only when life becomes challenging that the little pleasures can be enjoyed best. Easier said than done, but that's the way it should be.

PS: I just might be happy to get rid of parts of this post once I'm actually in the wilderness. So please be kind enough not to rub it in if that happens.