Archive for January, 2007

scratch a rock, and a legend springs

January 30, 2007

In a small room tucked within the stone walls, a cat lies curled up on the stone tiled floor. Three kittens play about her. One of them is fascinated by the twitching tip of her tail, while another investigates an ant crawling along the edges of a stone tile. The scene reminds me of the lines – “A mongrel bitch has found a place/for herself and her puppies /in the heart of the ruin /May be she likes a temple better this wayfrom Kolatkar’s Jejuri, which is in a way fitting, since this is the purportedly original house of the same god, several hundred miles to the south.

The third kitten, meanwhile, has taken a considerable degree of interest in a pot of khichdi cooking on a slow wooden fire. This annoys the scientist turned astrologer mother fanning the flames, seeing as the pot is meant as ritual offering for the gods. She stamps her feet, but this has little effect on the kitten, which proceeds to sniff at the fire out of curiosity. It burns its tiny snout, and retreats to its mother, yowling in pain.

Meanwhile, I step out and sniff the cool morning air.

The sun is just peeking out from behind the clump of peepal trees topping of the ridge that lies to one side of the temple. Behind the rear wall, and across the largish temple water-tank with half its steps missing, is a dilapidated structure with a number of arches. For a moment I imagine it full of tired pilgrims seeking shelter for the night, but the vision quickly passes.

Its only occasional inhabitants these days are the monkeys – hundreds of them populate a large fig tree by the tank. I step closer to photograph the arches bathed in the soft orange glow of the rising sun. The monkeys do not take kindly to this incursion on their sacred grounds, and respond by making a loud hooting and screeching commotion. Chastened, I withdraw.

Like the hulking remains of a fort some distance away, this place has its own mythology. Here was the ancient town of Prempur where Shiva, as is his way of dealing with all things evil, slayed a demon called Malla who was tormenting the townsfolk. Here he forged a sword (a khand) and felled the demon with one stroke, and convinced by the villagers to stay on, took up residence at the temple they built for him. The town itself got “swallowed up by the earth” later, presumably because its inhabitants sinned, with the result that this place is now in the middle of nowhere.

I’m not a religious person – I don’t believe in God – and even if there is one, I see no reason why he should have anything to do with the lives of insignificant beings such as us. And yet, I find the stories and myths of religion fascinating. Timeless, in a way, they inspire me in a way not unlike mountains or rivers, or the ocean – witnesses to millenia – rising above the mundane. On second thoughts, perhaps I *am* religious.

The grouchy father is having an exchange with the priest on the modalities of a ceremony in which I will apparently be playing a lead role – something called a maharudrabhishek. The priest’s clan have been caretakers here for generations, which means that we possibly share a kinship dating back to the 16th century, which is when my ancestors left, to escape persecution and seek asylum (and opportunity) in the Hindu-friendly Marathi-speaking lands to the north. There is certainly a resemblance between him and the portraits of my ancestors from seven or eight generations ago that used to hang from the walls of the house.

Or I could be mistaken.

As the ceremony commences, I get on top of the platform, shirtless. A dog enters the inner sanctum and lies down on its stomach facing the idol, forepaws extended and crossed under his chin, looking like any other devotee of the god. As I rather ineptly bathe the idol in milk and holy water, the priest chants hymns and the inner sanctum slowly fills up with the first worshipers of the morning. They are careful not to disturb the dog for fear on incurring his wrath.

The nizams and sultans of the deccan tried not to mess too much with the local deities, though. Perhaps, it is fitting, at this point, to tell you the story of the Adilshah of Bijapur who was stung by a swarm of wasps when he desecrated the original Mailar temple by slaughtering a cow on its premises. Needless to say, he repented, and built the much larger temple where I stand. This action of his brought him great success in his campaigns against the mughals. Thereafter, the temple enjoyed royal patronage and is still sacred to the local Muslims. The old temple can be seen in the distance, across a field strewn with ruins.

In these parts, every mound of rubble has a story of its own.

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da mudderland beckons

January 14, 2007

i’m going to be out of this country and back in my favorite city by the sea for the next couple of weeks. blogging might be restricted.

this trip promises to be one where i get subjected to other people’s discoveries – the scientist mother has recently discovered astrology and the grouchy father has recently rediscovered his talents as a hindustani classical vocalist.

there will be visits to the married brother, who has discovered big-screen tvs, and a four-day outing with the extended clan, who have discovered ancestral ruins from the 15th century.

if i get lucky, i might even get some hiking done in the sahyadris.

meanwhile, since one can only have so much of astrology, music, gadgets, and relatives, i would be happy to catch up with some of you – known and unknown (to me) readers alike. drop me a line at geek(dot)fin(at)gmail(dot)com, if you are going to be in bombay over the next two and a half weeks.

addendum to list of comics

January 9, 2007

Here’s a couple more strange ‘uns.

The tao of geek : It features geeks and talks about, amongst other things, grad school, non-replicating artificial intelligences, and unemployment – all of which are to my mind, one and the same. It’s along the same lines as Phdcomics, just a lot more twisted.

And while we are still on it, you might want to check out “The doppler effect“, based on a story by friend and one time drinking buddy fadereu, who also blogs here [1]. Though a bit dated (it was written around the time of the gujarat riots), it’s dark, interesting and thought provoking.

[1] It might not be apparent, but both my blog and his blog share the same designer.

Three comics from the far side

January 7, 2007

I seem to be doing everything in threes today. And i am also posting a lot, but that is probably because i am terribly bored. Some of this is regurgitation, but anyway here goes

1. Fleep

Who could not love a series with a name like Fleep? Imagine that you wake up in phone booth encased in concrete. You have three unrecognizable coins, some dental floss and what appears to be a dictionary in two languages you do not understand. What do you do? The answer revealed here. Written by geek writer Jason Shiga, also the author of the comic series “Double Happiness”, and the choose your own adventure comic “Meanwhile..”( featuring a multi-verse plot), Fleep is a hutke story. Ismey action hai, romance hai, suspense bhi hai.

2. Nine planets without intelligent life

The plot of this series involves the distant future where humans have become extinct. Robots populate the solar system, and as the second episode reveals “see little reason not to continue what [the humans] were doing”. Two robots, Chris and Ben discover they are about to become obsolete and set out to travel the solar system, and experience some culture. The series is replete with great quotes (“The weird thing about culture is that you can chase it as fast as you can and it still speeds past you at the same rate.”) and warnings for human readers (“Human readers should not feel inadequate if they do not find themselves aroused by the following scene”)

3. Toothpaste for dinner

If you like the kind of non-sense doodles i sketch here, you should go check out toothpaste for dinner. It’s a hilarious series written by a guy called drew based out of Ohio. Check out Andrew Sullivan as “Not my president“. As a bonus you could check out his wife natalie’s doodles too for stuff like “Slob Activism: I’ve had mustard on this t-shirt for three days“.

another random memory

January 7, 2007

amongst the many rituals that take place at IIMA is something called the talent nite (t-nite for short.) it is ostensibly a cultural contest (music, skits and the like) between various sections of the freshie class, but in truth it is an excuse for newly graduated alumni to go back to campus and indulge in behavior they could never have while they were there.

and so it was that a bunch of us, including A, U, S, Falstaff, and bunch of other folks, turned up at Ahmedabad in the august of 2001, a few months after we had graduated. we were young, starry-eyed, dreamy and we all wanted to get drunk.

the show starts late in the evening and goes on till early morning. there’s a prize involved. back in ’99 when we were freshies, we put in immense effort to make our thing a success. i banged the drums completely sozzled (it was a conspiracy hatched by seniors from another section to get me drunk), and pappu belted out ‘Lut gaye’ while A, goddess of the senior year, tried to distract him by dirty dancing a couple of inches away from him. there are three things you should realize from what i just said. you should realize that on T-nite, the demarcation between stage and audience breaks down early on in the alcohol soaked evening. you should also realize that there is a lot of depravity involved. but the most important lesson in there is that it sucks to be the drummer.

so, that night in 2001, the booze flowed in the dorms. early on, i gulped down a concoction of mango juice and contessa rum (there is another story behind that drink), and had a couple of joints. Then I ventured forth to explore the harappan ruins that the IIMA campus always turns into for me whenever i am high.

on the way to the show, i ran into Falstaff, who was already considerably hammered, and was being persuaded by fool-jhadu to down a large coffee mug full of neat Bacardi. i believe i raised my right eyebrow disapprovingly, as is my habit when drunk, and hurried on, because the show had begun.

I recall three significant things that happened that night.

U, a friend who was highly respected for his calm and generally, er, respectable nature got into a fist fight. for those of you who don’t know U, this is significant. this is a guy who, by then, had been dating the same girl for five years (he is now married to her), and was so unflappable that B, in a moment of frustration, had described him as a “laash since the day he landed at IIMA”. what is even more significant is that U got into a fight because the freshie girls refused to dance for him (well, not *him* in particular, it was more of a “we won’t put up a show for these bhediyaas” thing, but still). U, not liking this attitude, stormed the stage in protest and was thrown off it by one of the freshie guys. they came to blows. incapacitated by alcohol, i lay in my seat and found it incredibly funny. i believe statements like “do you know who i am?” and “i’ll see you when you come up for placements”, were thrown about.

The second thing i remember concerns Falstaff, who took off on an alcohol-fueled flight. If my memory serves me right, he also got violent about something that i am not entirely sure about. i do remember seeing him abusing a few people and then passing out on the floor in front of the stage. at this point, S (who features here) very considerately decided that Falstaff should be removed from the auditorium, lest he be trampled upon. so a few of us got off our drunken asses and dragged him out. the general idea was to lay him down on the grass outside, but once outside, someone came up with the brilliant idea of putting him on top of a table (apparently, sleeping on grass can give you pneumonia or some shit), and so there lay falstaff, on top of a table in the middle of the RJ lawns.

The third thing i remember (but would like to forget), was cozying up to a certain miss L. Although now respectably married, L had at the time the reputation of a trollop (i remember S saying “she’s had more sex that you will ever have in your entire life!”). Consequently, passing out in her lap was not exactly reputation-enhancing for me, but that is precisely what happened. Fortunately, i was rescued by SG, a junior who had also been at iit with me, and was taken to the cafeteria where U was sulking and nursing a bruised eye. on the way out, i noticed that falstaff had rolled off his table and was now lying in the grass. it must have been a hard fall.

early the next day morning, we sat on empty palm oil tins at mangalbhai the chai-wallah’s little shop. U was still grouchy from his encounter with the freshie’s fists. falstaff sat with one of the lenses of his glasses shattered from his encounter with the ground. and i was hungover and being made fun of for my encounter with L. we reminisced for a while about our days as students, and then caught flights to our respective cities. there was work to do, and we were going to be late.

i used to be wiser

January 6, 2007

I started writing a journal when i first went to college, back in 1995. It started off as a way to deal with homesickness and all the new experiences. While in college, there were occasional times of misery, but i was aware they would pass and that i would fondly reflect upon those times one day- and for that, i am thankful. Originally it was written in a leather-bound notebook. Some time, about seven years ago, i painstakingly transcribed it all onto my computer – initially in the form of doc files.

I haven’t really been writing journal entries for the last couple of years. It has more to to with the severe lack of any interesting happenings in my life than any thing else, but the old journal is a good record of times that involved the self-coined terms “experience overload” and “instant happiness”.

Recently, i was up to some figurative spring -cleaning (look at the weather outside) – backing up my files and so on. So i flipped open the journal (figuratively), and went through it.

They say age brings wisdom and all that, but i think i have gone downhill over the years. Most of my hours these days are spent listening to music that only i care about, figuring out the next meal, and working on bullshit research that nobody ever cares about. But if i were to believe the record, i was a lot more profound several years ago. Check this out, an entry made in Nov. 1998. I have no idea what prompted it, but i seem to have referenced it again three years later when I was going through a personal crisis.

One of the curses of being human is to forever lead a life of paranoia: Just when things are better than they could possibly be, we get the feeling that something is about to go wrong, but we cannot put a finger on exactly what it is. And then life does its usual act of turning things upside down. Many of us get tempted into believing in fate. The cold unforgiving voice in my head, on the other hand, says: its all got to do with the decisions YOU made, things YOU chose.

Life eventually teaches us that the outcomes of our choices are not under our control. Some choices just turn out wrong.

I am not a fatalist, though i do believe in the concept of “luck”. Fatalism means that the course of our lives is charted out by a “higher” power that makes our choices meaningless. Luck (as in X is “lucky” and Y is “unlucky”), on the other hand is simply a statement about past experience. It tells you nothing about the future, which continues to be determined by a combination of ability, effort and, to a large extent completely uncontrollable events.

We have to reconcile ourselves with the fact that our lives are not fully determined by us. The lack of determinism is *not* because of divine intervention. It is due to sheer randomness. And hence, faced with setbacks, we must move on.

I’m not sure i get what i was saying, or even why i said it. But it sure sounds deep, and to the present-day-me, somewhat comforting.