Banner by Rituparna Chatterjee, a woman with the potential to make it big. It's not that she can't: she just won't.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Plea

Whatever happens at 3.30 PM Indian Standard Time today, please, please, please do not lose your temper. It's not worth it. We've seen it all in 1946. In 1992. Before that. After that. We do not want an encore.

For once, I'm really afraid, petrified that something equivalent is simmering, and is about to explode in a few hours. Please abstain from violence. Whatever happens, it shall still remain a beautiful world. Nothing, absolutely nothing is more valuable than innocent human lives.

Remember A K Hangal. Live as long as him (with a static look, too). Remember her. Let others live the way she did. If you really feel like doing anything, stop the culprits. Do not have a go at the innocents. Please. The person you feel like thrashing is probably as innocent as you, or as the smiling infant who is most precious to you.

Please. It's seriously not worth it. The world is taking giant leaps forward. Let us stop making news for all kinds of wrong reasons. Let us show everyone that whatever they think about us is wrong. Let us show that we shall not be provoked any more, drawn into acts of violence of any kind.

I haven't been this scared about my countrymen for a long time. Nothing will happen, right?

***

Postscript (three and a half hours after the verdict): Thank you for the verdict. You solved it so simply by converting the land into a Draupadi with valency three.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

29

Zero is my favourite number. 42 is my favourite positive number. But if I'm asked (why anyone would ask me such a question is entirely another issue) to choose a number that I have found strangely entangled with my life, I'd possibly choose 29.

For a start, I've spent the best years of my life at Kolkata 29.

Carrom, one of those things in life that I always wanted to excel at but never could, is won by whoever reaches 29 points earlier.

29 is also the greatest card game ever invented. The sequence involved in the game, J 9 A 10 K Q 8 7, would possibly rank as the third-most popular ever, after Fibonacci's sequence and the Gunda sequence (xi=2i, i=1,2,3,4,5, x6="bus", about 500 times more profound when said in Hindi).

The first number that really got me hooked towards mathematics was 1729, Ramanujan's number (and the story involved).

You get to see werewolves every 29 days (approximately).

29th February remains my favourite date of the calendar.

I've grown up on stories of Gavaskar emulating Bradman's world record of 29 test hundreds with his fastest ton, then going past the record with 236*, a number that remained the highest score by an Indian for over 17 years.

Irfan Pathan became the first bowler in the history of the game to take a hat-trick in the first over of a test on the 29th day of (January) 2006. I also turned 29 that year.

29x4=116, the number of moonlit nights to be associated with kaandhe ka til.

It's also the number of knuts per sickle.

Above all, the 29th day every year is celebrated as Feast Day.

Lies, damn lies and all that

The saga began on another gloomy, wet afternoon, much like today's. This was 1996. By some twisted turn of fate I had landed up in a classroom (if you know me, you know how less probable it was for me to attend classes on a lazy, rainy day in those days).

There was one thing, though. The professor was Saibal Chatterjee - the most charismatic individual I have known personally, and someone who single-handedly smashed my pathetic perception that college professors were generally boring people (I admit that I have seen many more who have built on what he had started).

He, too, did not seem to be too keen on teaching us Descriptive Statistics (how many names can you list that would immediately create an aversion for the subject in your mind?) on that afternoon. Instead, he decided to teach us the philosophy of statistics; of its power as a subject; of the fact that it, unlike any other science, teaches us to predict, and how each and every subject is virtually non-existent without using statistics to predict the future, investigate the past, venture the unreachable and visualise the unseen. It is a tool so powerful that it converts the gargantuan volumes of the unknown to predictable, guessable stuff.

A year or so before this I had taken up statistics because I had scored decently at +2, I loved solving cute problems involving urns and I thought that the word ANOVA was cool. In general, I was otherwise clueless whether I actually liked the subject or not. In a matter of fifty minutes he put that bit of reassurance into me: my decision was correct.

***

Fast forward. 2010.

My daughter knows vaguely that statistics gives one the power to grasp the unknown, to tell the future. Combining the above with the fact that it was my major at college, she's terribly impressed with me, and considers me a demigod.

On days when my daughter doesn't go to school, I almost always wake up before her. The other day I was in the loo, and I could clearly hear her walking from one room to another, calling out my name. When I finally decided to respond, she was (definitely) embarrassed at not having guessed my location earlier.

This conversation followed, from either side of the bathroom door:
I know you're embarrassed.
I know how you know this.
How?
You had studied statistics.

OF COURSE IT WAS STATISTICS! My brain, buoyed by the experience of studying peoples' behaviour over decades, had estimated that she was supposed to be embarrassed (given the prior chain of events) at 5%, or even 1% level of significance!

At that very moment I realised how powerful a tool it is. Unknowingly, my daughter actually reinforced the reassurance instilled in my brain by SC fourteen years back.

Watch out, world. The stats guys are on the prowl. They're ruthless, vicious, lethal, mean, median and mode. Underestimate them at your own peril.

Monday, September 27, 2010

2001: An American Odyssey

I came to this country for the first time in 2001. I had a few reality checks within a week of my existence:
  1. I am not tall, broad or obese by global standards
  2. Neither am I a voracious eater, again by global standards
  3. Most parts of the country does not look like Times Square (or The Wild West, for that matter)
  4. Scantily clad gorgeous blondes are not likely to pounce upon you, your character or your virginity (or whatever is left of it) from every nook and corner
  5. Every stranger you pass is bound to ask you of your health and well-being with zero real concern about it
  6. You can not hail a taxi out of nowhere
  7. Burly police officers do not chase random criminals across any road
  8. On subsequent trips, I also came to know that you are supposed to do everything that a cohort of servants had been doing for you since childhood. However, staying in a hotel has its advantages, and I was spared, just this once.
There were surprises waiting for me in the hotel as well. There was a spacious bathtub, and of course I was tempted to fill it with water at first go. Okay, I know now that it was no jacuzzi, but then, decades of Hollywooding would obviously tempt you to do a Marilyn Monroe (yes, yes, the gender, but it's not about posing like her, it's about basking in the same glamour, only without the camera, get what I mean?).

So then, in I went, with a book (For Whom the Bell Tolls, possibly). Within a minute I realised a few things:
  1. I had completely forgotten about a certain Archimedes and his stab at glory. My volume exceeded the difference between the volumes of the bathtub and the volume of water in it, and as a result, there was a spill. This is more serious than it sounds, as American bathrooms are typically dry bathrooms, with no water outlet outside the pot, the sink and the bathtub. There is no drain in the dry section of the bathroom (okay, restroom), and hence if you spill water from the bathtub you either mop it, or wait for evaporation to take over. Room service wasn't really happy about it.
  2. Reading in a jacuzzi (or an adapted version of it, like a hotel bathtub) might be cool, but it's not really a comfortable option. Your back (and other entities below it) get shoved against hard porcelain; you move an inch, and you're very likely to wet your book; even trivial activities like poking your nose or scratching your back meant you'd have to raise your elbow, or any other wet part of your body outside the water, which would again make you wet the book.
But the most spectacular aspect of the bathroom was, in my opinion, the coffee-maker. I was impressed by the fact that it was placed next to the commode (I hate the word pot). I have seen only three things that compare to this:
  1. A funeral centre next to an old-age home on Reynolda Road, Winston-Salem, NC.
  2. A vulture's nest next to a window (the very window of my mother's cabin during her hernia operation in 1993) of the sixth (?) floor of Belle Vue Nursing Home.
  3. An ill-reputed (supposedly) brothel close to Pradeep, famous for being flooded at around 3 PM everyday when the high tide water came in and for screening C-grade pornographic (again, supposedly) movies (though I clearly remember Vijaypath having a release there, first day, first show).
And even that wasn't all: next to the gallant coffee-maker, complete with instructions, neatly stacked and supposed to be replenished every day, lay four honest Styrofoam glasses, one inside another, upside down; and innocuous pouches of coffee, milk powder and sugar.

And then I examined the labels: the coffee said decaffeinated; the milk said non-dairy creamer; and the sugar said artificial sweetener. For a moment I thought whether I was an Abhishek impostor myself, looked at the mirror, verified my picture on the passport and calmed down. Okay, not the last bit.

I was catapulted into America that very moment.


Friday, September 24, 2010

KANK

Imran Khan is the greatest cricketer I have ever seen. Mind you, I have seen the likes of Gavaskar, Richards, Botham, Marshall, Akram, Tendulkar, Lara, Ambrose, Warne, McGrath and Muralitharan, and still there is not a flicker of doubt in my mind that none of them was ever greater than The Pathan.

Sheer numbers put him head and shoulders above the rest. 3,807 runs @ 37.69 and 362 wickets @ 22.81 from 88 tests are not numbers you dare to mess with. As a captain those numbers become 2,408 runs @ 52.34 and 187 wickets @ 20.23 in 48 tests. In the 26 tests that Pakistan has won, he had scored 900 runs @ 36 and has taken 155 wickets @ 14.50 (no, this is not a typo). In addition, he averages less than 20 with the ball against and in every country that he has bowled.

And that wasn't all, either. On field he stood well above anyone else in terms of sheer aura. It wasn't just that he was the best - he looked every bit of it; the others, some of them legends of the game, never had that imposing authority over the field the moment they set foot on it. No one matched his presence on the field; whatever he did on the ground, right from measuring his run-up to having a routine gulp of water from a bottle, he seemed the undisputed king on the ground. The only person who possibly came close to match him in flair was Viv, and even he came a second when Imran's authority on the ground was in question.

My favourite Imran memory, however, goes back to the 1987 Reliance World Cup semifinal at Lahore. Like Gavaskar, Imran too had announced that he would retire after the tournament (it's another story that their President had convinced him to break his resolution, come back and lead his country to one of the greatest test series ever, in West Indies next year; and lead his country to victories in the 1989 Nehru Cup and the jewel in the crown, the 1992 World Cup).

Imran didn't really disgrace himself as Pakistan fielded, taking 3/36 as Australia amassed 267/8 (mind you, he finished the tournament with 17 wickets from 7 matches, just one short of McDermott's tally of 18 from 8). Australia struck back, and soon Pakistan was reeling at 25/3 as Imran joined Miandad. The two added 112 runs, and despite some lusty slogging by the lower middle-order, Pakistan fell 18 runs short.

As Imran was trying to put up a valiant effort, there seemed to be some sort of female chorus going on in the gallery, packed to capacity. They were chanting something; and despite Doordarshan's lion-hearted efforts to provide us with pathetic picture and sound I realised that it was a catchy tune: at the age of ten my Chitrahaar-dependent song database wasn't good enough to recognise it. My parents knew the song, though. 23 years later I do, as well, and whenever I listen to the song, the Lahore girls come to my mind, and those freaking goosebumps just keep coming:

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What did I mean, whenever I listen to? I'm getting goosebumps even as I'm writing this! They have stopped making his kind ages back.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The song template

Bollywood songs, especially those written by individuals lesser than the inimitable Sahir or the often unfathomable Gulzar, have often followed a template throughout the song. The concept goes like this: a template is laid out in the mukhda (sthayi), and the same template is followed in the antaras.

Consider a template using the following variables:
Problem variable: X
Problem activity caused by variable: P
Solution variable: Y
Solution offered by variable y: S

Now that we have defined our variables in the template, let us define the template:
If x causes a problem P, then Y offers the solution S.
If Y causes a problem identical to P, then who offers a solution identical to S?

Now, let us assign values to the variables:
X=chingari; P=bhadakna (agan lagana, which is synonymous); Y=saawan; S=bujhana

So we get
Chingari koi bhadke, to saawan use bujhaye
Saawan jo agan lagaye, use kaun bujhaye?

Then again,
X=patjhad; P=baag ujaadna; Y=bahaar; S=khilana

We get
Patjhad jo baag ujaade, wo baag bahaar khilaye
Jo baag bahaar mein ujde, use kaun khilaye?

Now, the antaras are somewhat more descriptive. They also contain a couple of lines each that basically act as an introduction to the situation. So, in essence,each of the antaras contains two lines of set-up and two lines of template:

Antara 1:
Introduction:
Humse mat poochho kaise mandir toota sapnon ka,
Logon ki baat nahin hai, ye kissa hai apnon ka.
Template:
(X=dushman; P=thnes lagana / ghaao lagana; Y=meet/manmeet; S=jiya behlana / ghaao mitana)
Koi dushman thnes lagaye, to meet jiya behlaye
Manmeet jo ghaao lagaye, use kaun mitaye?




Antara 2:
Introduction:
Na jaane kya ho jaata, jaane hum kya kar jaate?
Peete hain to zinda hai, na peete to mar jaate.
Template:
(X=duniya; P=pyaasa rakhna/pyaas lagana; Y=madira; S=bujhana)
Duniya jo pyasa rakhe, to madira pyaas bujhaye
Madira jo pyaas lagaye, use kaun bujhaye?




Antara 3:
Introduction:
Maana toofan ke aage nahin chalta zor kisi ka,
Maujon ka dosh nahin hai, ye dosh hai aur kisi ka.
Template:
(X=majhdhaar; P=naiya dolna / naao dubona; Y=maajhi; S=paar lagana / bachana)
Majdhaar mein naiya dole, to maajhi paar lagaye,
Maajhi jo naao duboye, use kaun bachaye?
See how easy this is? Just define the template, define the variables and run it again and again.

Footnotes:
  • If a garden really doesn't blossom in spring, then it's not really worth attempting to maintain it.
  • I've never heard of anyone who consumes alcohol to quench his thirst.
  • The dehydration (often resulting in hangovers) is easily overcome if one consumes water and/or fruit juice in adequate quantities. Caffeine is not advisable.
  • Of course the wave cannot be blamed; the storm is the guilty party here.

আবার যখের ধন

শচীন তেণ্ডুলকর তখনও স্কুলে; রাজীব গান্ধী তখনও বেঁচে; শাহরুখ খান তখনও অচেনা; পূজাবার্ষিকী "দেশ" তখনও বড়রা বাড়ি থেকে বেরোলে লুকিয়ে লুকিয়ে পড়তে হত; সুমন যে ঠিক কোথায়, কোনো ধারণাই ছিল না; পাঁচ পয়সার ব্যবহার ছিল; আর কলেজ একটা অদ্ভুত স্বপ্নের, অথচ নিষিদ্ধ জায়গা ছিল।

১৯৮০র দশক। কলকাতা দূরদর্শনের শ্রেষ্ঠ দশক। ১৩ পার্বণকলকাতাঅভিনন্দন ভগীরথগোয়েন্দা ভগবানদাসযদি এমন হত। বিবাহ-অভিযান (যেটা কোনও এক রহস্যময় কারণে শেষ হয়নি, আর সেই অসমাপ্ত জিনিসটাই বারবার দেখানো হত, বছরের পর বছর) আরও নানারকম। ভাল-খারাপ মিলিয়ে নানারকম। তখন অবশ্য সবই ভাল লাগত। এমনকি সাপ্তাহিকীও (ভাবা যায়, একটা ১৫-২০ মিনিটের অনুষ্ঠান, যেখানে শুধুমাত্র সেই সপ্তাহের নানারকম অনুষ্ঠানের তালিকা বলা হয়, সেটাও আমরা দেখতাম, আর রীতিমত আগ্রহভরে)।

যাইহোক্‌, এই সময়েই আসে আবার যখের ধন; সম্ভবতঃ ইতিহাসের সবথেকে অভিনব সিরিয়াল। ছোটবেলায় সাংঘাতিক নেশা ছিল হেমেন্দ্রকুমারের, কাজেই অনিবার্যভাবেই বেশ আশা নিয়ে দেখা শুরু করেছিলাম। নানারকম অভিজ্ঞতা হল দেখতে দেখতে, তার কয়েকটা মনে আছে, আর স্মৃতিভ্রংশ না হলে সারাজীবনেও ভুলবনা:
  • শুরুর গান (title song): আমার ধারণা, একটা গা-ছমছমে পরিবেশ সৃষ্টি করার প্রচেষ্টা করা হয়েছিল। একটা আদিম আরণ্যক পরিবেশে ম্যাণ্ডোলিন আর মাদল-জাতীয় বাদ্যযন্ত্রের সঙ্গে আদিবাসী গান, আমার ধারণা বেশ রোমাঞ্চকর পরিস্থিতি আনতে চেয়েছিলেন পরিচালক আর সুরকার। যেটা দাঁড়াল, ক্লাস ফাঁকা থাকলে কেউ একটা গাইত, আর আমরা বাকি সবাই হাসতাম।
  • দ্বিজেন বন্দ্যোপাধ্যায়ের অদ্ভুত অভিনয়: কোনো এক অজ্ঞাত কারণে সেই অদ্ভুতভাবে "বিমলবাবু ভাই" আর "মানিকবাবু ভাই" খুব জনপ্রিয় হয়েছিল; আমার বেশ অসহ্য লাগত, কিন্তু আমার চেনা অনেকেই এটায় প্রচুর আনন্দ পেত, আর আলোচনা করত দুর্দান্ত অভিনয় নিয়ে।
  • গাটুলা সর্দার (কে অভিনয় করেছিলেন - জ্ঞানেশ মুখোপাধ্যায়?): সম্পূর্ণ অকারণে অদ্ভুত থমথমে পরিবেশ সৃষ্টি করতেন গলার আওয়াজে। "বাবুমশায়রা, ঐ দেখা যায় কাবাগো-পাহাড়ের চূড়া" তো ঠিক আছে, কিন্তু "বাবুমশায়রা, ঐ দেখা যায় আপনাদের হোটেল" জাতীয় সংলাপে ঐ ভৌতিক অনুভূতি বোধহয় অপ্রয়োজনীয়। স্পষ্ট মনে আছে, বন্ধুরা হাঁটতে হাঁটতে হঠাৎ এ্জজন থেমে গিয়ে বলে উঠতাম "বাবুমশায়রা, ঐ দেখা যায় গড়িয়াহাটের মোড়"; এছাড়া ছিল হঠাৎ করে ভদ্রলোকের কারণে-অকারণে বলে ওঠা "এবার শুনুন সিংহদমন গাটুলা সর্দারের সিংহগর্জন" বলে একটা আপাত-ভয়াবহ (আসলে হাস্যকর) চিৎকার।
  • আফ্রিকার জঙ্গলের নরখাদক আদিবাসীরা: গোটাতিনেক লোক ছিল, বড়জোর চারজন। তাদেরকেই মুখে রংটং মাখিয়ে দৌড় করানো হত নানান্‌ দিক থেকে নানান্‌ দিকে, আর ক্যামেরার দিক বদলে বদলে ছবি তোলা হত। তিনজনকে সত্তরজন দেখানোর চেষ্টা করা হত, কিন্তু সেই বয়সেই আমরা এই অদ্ভুত গোঁজামিল বুঝে ফেলতাম।
  • বাঘা: বিমল-কুমার বহুবার বাঘাকে ডাকাডাকি করত, আর বাঘার গলার আওয়াজ শোনা যেত বারবার। ব্যাপারটা একইসঙ্গে অস্বস্তিকর আর সন্দেহজনক ছিল, কারণ বেশ কয়েকটা পর্ব অবধিও বাঘাকে দেখা যায়নি। তারপর একটা পর্বে দেখা গেল রামহরিকে, হাতে চেন, "চল, বাঘা, আয়" করতে; বেশ উত্তেজিত হলাম, এইবার নিশ্চয়ই বাঘাকে দেখা যাবে। কিন্তু সেই চেনের অন্য প্রান্তে কলার, আর সেই কলার গলায় নিয়ে স্ক্রীন আলোকিত করে থাকা বাঘাকে দেখা গেল না। গলার আওয়াজ শোনা গেল অবশ্য, যথারীতি।
তো সেই আর কি। এত সত্ত্বেও গিলতাম, বুভুক্ষুর মত, শুশুনিয়া পাহাড়-জাতীয় কোথাও আফ্রিকার জঙ্গলে অ্যাডভেঞ্চার। কি খুশি ছিলাম তাই নিয়েই! আর আজ, ১০০টা চ্যানেল সত্ত্বেও ঘুরিয়ে ঘুরিয়ে কিছুতেই আর শান্ত মনে কিছু দেখে উঠতে পারিনা।

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bovine memories

This is perhaps going to be my first bilingual post in the true sense of the word. The original script is too vivid to miss out on, and the contents are too good to keep it restricted to a few.

Somewhere on a Delhi street, 1999. A certain member of the bovine family made its way towards a couple of my friends, rather nonchalantly. This led to a conversation, somewhat historic:

ARNAB: দেখ্‌ সৌগত, ষাঁড়টা কি স্বাস্থ্যবান্‌! (Hark, o mighty Saugata, and cast your eye on this wonderful creation of God; isn't it a really dandy one?)

SAUGATA (very politely): না অর্ণব, ওটা ষাঁড় নয়, গরু। (Tarry, o learned Arnab! It isn't an ox that you mention - it's just the female of the species.)

ARNAB: বললেই হল ওটা গরু? (O enlightened, you daresay claim that my assessment of its gender is erroneous?)

SAUGATA (even more politely): হ্যাঁ অর্ণব, ওটা গরু। (O educated one, it, indeed, is a female; your assessment of its gender is entirely at fault!)

ARNAB (agitated): বললেই হল ওটা গরু? দেখেছিস্‌, ওর কাঁধ কত চওড়া? (O masterly one, how do you assert so confidently that it is a female of the species? Have you not cast an eye at its broad shoulders?)

SAUGATA (polite to the extent of being dulcet): দেখ অর্ণব, যদি দেখিস্ কেউ ছোট করে চুল কেটে, ছেলেদের পোষাক পরে হাঁটছে, সে ছেলে না মেয়ে বোঝার জন্য তুই কি তার কাঁধ দেখিস্‌? (O elite one, if your eyes fall on a human being in masculine attire, with short hair - how do you tell its gender? Do you cast an eye on its shoulders?)

অখণ্ড নিস্তব্ধতা।
The silence of a graveyard.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The new generation sedative

Visualise this. You hear something really funny. So funny that you laugh out loud, really loud. Then, as soon as you're through with the laughter, you fall asleep, snoring profusely.

When I first thought of this, my first reaction was that it is not possible. No one can start snoring immediately after he laughs out loud.

However, the younger generation (or the SMS generation, as they call it) has definitely found out a way to do it. I have seen them type it as a reaction to really funny stuff online, in various forums, blogs, email chains, and possibly in chats as well (though none of my acquaintances are as equipped as them to have trained their bodies in such a fashion).

They simply say lolzzzzzzz... (the number of z's may vary, though).

Wow.

Is your mind corrupted?

Ask yourself a simple question:
What is the first word that comes to your mind when you hear the word "gay"?

If your answer is anything other than Lussac or a synonym of merry, your mind IS possibly corrupted.

Memories of ammonia

I have always found urinals quite intriguing. Urinals are possibly the greatest levellers in the history of a particular gender: they have brought princes and paupers together, in adjacent stalls, releasing at various levels of intensity or force. They have also been life-saving for me. Given how unmindful I am, I have often found myself entering a public restroom on sheer instinct, only to be mortally afraid that I've overlooked a tell-tale LADIES sign outside. And then, these celestial creations in white china have given me some of the greatest moments of elation in my life.

They stench in all degrees and extents: I have been in one that smells remarkably similar to blue cheese, though I've never found out how. In the malls and multiplexes back home, they always come in groups of (n-1) urinals for grown-ups and one for children/midgets/dwarfs. However, for <=3, there is usually nothing for children. Here, it's almost always one for children, and the rest for grown-ups, even for n<=3. Somehow the desi split reminds me of Newton's catflap, but then, I'm known for such bizarre analogies.

I've never found out why people spit in urinals while being at it. And not only that, they also clear their throats prior to the spit. The sound is remarkably similar, from person to person, and from stall to stall: they always clear their throat with a long khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaak, and then spit with the ubiquitous thuh. It's always in that format, nothing else, with the thuh invariably finishing less than five seconds before he moves his hand to redo the fly.

If I ever sat down to make a list of things I normally associate with urinals, ১/ৎ-shaped hairlets would top the list, and mothballs shall come second. A distant fourth shall be Dr Lodh's pamphlets, but with a threatening increase in the number of shopping malls and multiplexes, the boring clean walls (Fame at South City Mall even has pink lights and TV screens on the gentlemen's toilets) kill the show.

However, at number three there shall be a surprising entry - used chewing gums. Exactly why people all around the world think that urinals are a convenient place to dump used chewing gums has perennially been a mystery to me: is there some sort of glee achieved in making a circular rubbery blob pass through a forceful projectile jet?

I've also seen bus tickets (of course), pencil stubs (from behind the ear of an enthusiastic architect?), chalk bits (possibly), bones (I'm serious), feathers (I wonder how), a marble (is there a championship?) and the undisputed winner - headphones. No, this isn't a lie. Small, iPod-sized headphones (the ones they sell with Rs 60 FM radios) in the row of public urinals next to Jatin Das Park, well-soaked and, in all likelihood, still usable.

***

PS: I have used a commode where all the stalls have been full, or where it was the only option. One of my favourite games (even at this age) was to start flushing midway and ferociously attempt to empty my bladder before the water is gurgled out. Unfortunately, I often lose the battle, wait for the cistern to refill, and then flush again.

***

PS 2: I was thinking of writing something today on Rupam Islam winning the national awards for the best male playback singer. Instead I ended up writing this. Unrelated stuff, I suppose.

Ever seen anything more masculine?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Nomenclature

At a very nascent stage I was under the impression that a doormat was called WELCOME in English. I was also under the impression that USE ME was a very apt synonym for a dustbin.

***

At a very young age I went to see my first movie in a theatre, The Dark Night was Over. I'm sure I've got the name wrong, since I cannot find it anywhere on the internet. All I remember is that it was about a blind girl.

So there I was, mystified by the aura of being in a theatre for the first time, surrounded by my classmates and teachers (yes, my school took me to a movie), groping inside my school bag for my tiffin-box and finishing my lunch as I watched the movie without understanding a lot.

As I returned home, my parents asked me about the movie. It was brilliant, I lied confidently. They asked me the name of the theatre. I was clueless. They dropped a hint - it was written somewhere on the walls, somewhere close to the doors, they said. My prodigal brain lit up - of course I knew what it was called.

"EXIT!" I exclaimed.

I shall never forget the look on their faces. It took me a few years to realise why a single word brought about so much exasperation on their looks.

***

PS: Okay, I lied about the dustbin and USE ME bit. But then, someone had said that no one should compromise on the quality of a story for the sake of trivial stuff like honesty.

***

PS 2: Okay, I lied again, it was my own quote. But then, I've made my point, haven't I?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

আর্বিট সব স্মৃতি

ছোটবেলায় আমাকে বলা হয়েছিল অচেনা কেউ ডাকলে বা কিছু খেতে বললে না খেতে, কারণ সে ছেলেধরা হতে পারে। এটা শুনে বেশ অবাক হয়েছিলাম। ছেলেধরা আবার কি? মেয়েদের এইসবের ভয় নেই?

আমাকে আরো বোঝানো হয়েছিল, যে ছেলেধরারা আসে বিশাল বস্তা কাঁধে নিয়ে, আর আমার মত বাচ্চাদের (হ্যাঁ, আমিও কখনও বাচ্চা ছিলাম) তাতে ভরে নিয়ে চলে যায়। শিশি-বোতল কেনা বা কাগজ কুড়োনো মত নিরীহ পেশায় লিপ্ত কিছু সর্বৈব নিরীহ লোকজনকে অকারণে ভয় পেয়ে অনেকগুলো বছর কাটিয়েছিলাম।

পরবর্তীকালে, চব্বিশ বছর বয়সে, প্রথমবার মার্কিন যুক্তরাষ্ট্রে পা দিয়ে এত ব্যাকপ্যাকের ভিড় দেখে বুকটা একবারের জন্য ধক্‌ করে উঠেছিল। তারপর সাহস করে কিনেও ফেলেছিলাম।

***

আমার মাধ্যমিকের রেজাল্টের দিন কথা ছিল আমি এক বন্ধুর সঙ্গে স্কুলে যাব। তো সে তার মা সমেত আমার বাড়ি এল, খুব চিন্তিত মুখে। আমি (খুব প্রত্যাশিতভাবেই) তখন খাচ্ছিলাম। তার মা (আমাকে ছোটবেলা থেকে চেনা সত্ত্বেও) আঁতকে উঠে জিজ্ঞেস করল, "তোর আজ রেজাল্ট, তুই আজ খাচ্ছিস?"

তারপর থেকে যতবারই কোনো গুরুত্বপূর্ণ ঘটনার আগে খেতে বসি, মনে পড়ে যায়, আর নিজের থেকেই মুখে হাসি ফুটে ওঠে।

***

অনেকটা এইর'ম দেখতে
আমাদের ছোটবেলায় একধরনের eraser পাওয়া যেত, চ্যাপ্টা, চৌকো, ওপরটা সবুজ, নিচটা সাদা, সাদা অংশের ওপর বড় করে কোনো একটা ইংরেজি হরফ লেখা, আর সেই হরফ দিয়ে শুরু কিছু একটা আঁকা। তারপর কত eraser এল গেল আমার জীবনে, ঐর'ম আর দেখলাম না - না অত নিখুঁত মোছা, না অত সুন্দর গন্ধ। আজকাল আর ওগুলো পাওয়া যায় না, এমনকি দোকানদারদের বোঝালে বুঝতেও পারে না।

ওগুলো, আর তার সঙ্গে আরও অনেক কিছু, ফিরে এলে খারাপ হত না।

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sloths

The inexplicable position
I've always found sloths quite intriguing. Yes, my laziness has played a significant part towards my bias, but there's something else to it as well. Sloths mostly eat leaves and tender shoots, and hence you almost always find them on trees. That's fine.

But why do they cling on to the trees this way? Why would anyone cling on to the branch in such a way that if somehow a few fingers give way, they'd fall with a crash? Has it never occurred to them that staying above the branch is a lot easier? Would it not make sense to remain that way? Does this pose seem easy at all? I mean, why don't they just have a look at the rest of the animal kingdom and try to be on all fours like the others?

The (artificially created) Utopian position
What stops them, I wonder. Are they so kind to the tree that they're even willing to risk falling down at a moment's lapse, to avoid exerting pressure of any kind on the branches? Or are they foolish, as plain and simple as that?

I wish they were smart enough to get the picture rotated by 180 degrees. Or ruthless enough, maybe.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The link

Of late I've been reading a bit of Dorothy Parker. Just a while back I came across yet another amazing poem called Résumé, which happens to be one of her more famous works:

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

It's amazing, the way she could make me re-read this, over and again: twenty-six words was what it was, and still it was magical. After reading through this multiple times, the prosody seemed oddly familiar. Where have I heard eight lines like these? Where? Of the format aaabaaab abcdabcd, that had an impact on me, entirely different in nature, yet extremely similar in degree?

And then it struck me. It was unmistakable. Play this, and scroll to 1:15, 2:35 (for an encore), and see the magic unveil (with the unmissable echo effect to boot):
">
Paap se dharti phati... phati... phati...
Adharm se aasmaan... aasmaan... aasmaan...
Atyachar se knaapi insaaniyat... aaniyat... aaniyat...
Raaj kar rahen haiwaan... haiwaan... haiwaan...
Jinki hogi taaqat apoorn... apoorn... apoorn...
Jinka hoga nishana abhed... abhed... abhed...
Jo karenge inka sarvanaash... vanaash... vanaash...
Woh kehlaayenge Tridev... Tridev... Tridev.

The realisation suddenly made the world a lot better place to live.

The elevated error

I've never really heard John Arlott live. After all, he had quit commentating when I was three. All my information on Arlott is really what I have obtained from his quotations available in various books and the internet. Naturally I was intrigued to see that he had a Cricinfo profile.

Highly informative, they are, Cricinfo profiles. The last paragraph of this one, for example, had enlightened me about the role he had played in (probably) ensuring the seamless operation of elevators at Lord's. I was impressed - apart from being arguably The Greatest Voice of the Game and one of the best experts known on wine, he had other attributes too. I was remarkably impressed.
Click on the image if you're more optically challenged than me
Perhaps the biggest blessing of the computer and internet revolution is the ability of a single typo to bring a smile to millions of faces around the world irrespective of their mood. Awesome. :)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Queen

She yawned and stretched Her arms as She woke up. Yet another day, She thought.

It was the same dream. Again. A stupid one, it was. The same stupid dream that She has been having over the years, night after night. Well, not that frequently, but frequent enough for Her to remember the dream vividly.

***

It was a simple one, though. She had got up on time, got Her maids to dress Her up, had a hearty breakfast, and had set off for court. Only that She didn't make it to the court. Because She didn't want to. Because She wanted to spend the rest of the day, possibly the rest of Her life outside the regal section of The Palace, in a small little courtyard.

She remembered the courtyard vividly. It was a small square block of land. People never seemed to notice the courtyard - they always walked past it, busy with their daily chores. Obviously they were more keen on The Palace. The towering imperial structure of white marble stood with an air of unmistakable superiority: people seemed to marvel in awe, in respect as they stared at the imposing grandeur of The Palace: every nook and corner was decorated with mementos of the triumphs, the glory, the legacy of Her dynasty. At every corner you'd find a vanquished king's mounted head, or a plaque depicting a famous victory, or simply a number indicating the number of people massacred in a certain battle. Who would notice a small courtyard, when put into perspective?

She did, though. After all, it was the only portion in The Palace without a roof, exposed to sunlight, exposed to the sky. Perhaps it was for that reason that people avoided walking on that square: who would want to get out of their comfort zone and face rain or the Sun? It remained the most ignored section of The Palace - to such an extent that even when a couple of blades of grass seemed to grow, somewhat outrageously, people overlooked that as well. It wasn't really anything important, you see.

The Queen's dream always ended like that. She would skip court, and head for the small square of stupid bright sun-bathed yellow amidst the endless ocean of white elegance. She would even dream of a rain drenching Her, and even night falling across Her graceful self, bathing Her in an all-encompassing darkness. Then She would look upwards and stare for hours at the night sky: there was something in the truncated spectacle - the infinite vastness it promised was supreme. The night sky almost looked  back at Her like a pair of real eyes, really savage, hungry eyes that seemed to devour the most private of Her interiors. Her bosom heaved in agony as She couldn't communicate with those mystical eyes - She stood up, Her arms outstretched in helplessness, Her voice almost emitting the most piercing of shrieks in desperation.

It was at this situation that She always woke up with a start.

***

Meaningless, She thought. Absolutely meaningless.

***

She got dressed and had the choicest of breakfasts. She talked to a couple of very important men. As they were very important men, they discussed very important affairs with Her. Since the courtyard was not remotely important, it was not discussed. Since the queen had dreamt of the courtyard the night before, it kept coming back to Her mind. She hated for not having a control over Her mind. After all, she was the queen: she couldn't afford to let Her very important mind drift away towards unimportant aspects of life.

***

She headed off towards court. Court, as you know, is a very important place. Very important matters are discussed there, mostly by very important men. Even if the men or matters aren't very important, everyone tries to ensure that both they and the matters they speak about sound very important. So she sat through a very important phase of time, Her adamant mind drifting away towards that unimportant square of outrageous sunshine, that now contained minuscule blades of unimportant grass as well.

"Excuse me, gentlemen", she said, as she left court early, leaving behind several very important men, awaiting their turn to recite off some very important pages of some very important material.

***

She was really mad at Herself now. She now knew that She had lost control over Her mind. However, She was determined, both to punish Herself for deviating from Her duties, and to stop Herself from visiting the courtyard in real.

So She called the royal blacksmith, and ordered him to do something unique: She asked him to nail Her feet to the ground.

The unimportant man, trained to follow instructions, and nothing but instructions, should have followed Her orders at once. Instead, he shuddered for a moment, and even dared to look up at Her.

She repeated Her orders again.

This time they were carried away without hesitation.

***

She was pleased with Herself now. She had finally been able to teach Her stubborn mind and body a lesson for a lifetime. She almost enjoyed the pain that was supposed to be intolerable. She even managed a smile.

She stood up, Her feet nailed firmly to the rock-solid marble. She was supposed to deliver a speech. She looked at the incredible number of people gathered below The Royal Balcony. Everyone had heard of The Queen and The Great Sacrifice She had gone through earlier the day to deny Herself access to a stupid, unimportant block of land inside The Palace.

"We're proud that She's our Queen", one of the proud very important men uttered.
"Oh yes, She's the greatest of them all", said another man who was not very important, but important nevertheless.
"She looks happy, though", said the very important man.
"Why are Her eyes glistening? Is She crying?" interrupted a somewhat unimportant man.
"No, silly, it's just that She's glowing with pride and satisfaction", said the important man.
Everyone seemed happy at this answer. They were, after all, trained to assume that is obvious, and ignore everything that isn't. That's the way the world should work, isn't it?

***

The Queen stared at the mass. Her eyes refused to look back at those expectant eyes, waiting for Her words. They searched for that stupid, unimportant block of sunshine, that in all probability still had those defiant specks of grass.

She smiled as She looked at Her people again. She didn't need Her eyes, anyway. One doesn't need eyes to stare at a faceless block of humanity. She looked at them for one last time, turned to an attendant and asked  for the royal surgeon.

She knew that getting rid of Her eyes won't solve the problem. She had to get rid of each and every sense organ of Hers; She had to purify Her senses; only then would She become the perfect Queen the world knows Her as. She would be able to please everyone - everyone in Her kingdom.

The surgeon was a very important man, unlike the blacksmith. He knew that the blacksmith had shuddered initially, and he was hell-bent on following Her instructions without hesitation of any kind. There should not be any indecision on my part, he whispered to himself.

"Yes, Your Majesty?"

"You see all these organs of mine? Sense organs, my hands, legs, everything?"

"Yes", he replied, his voice unchanged, thanks to the importance he had attained in the society. "Is there an order for me?"

"Ampute. Endlessly. It's The Order."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Déjà vu

The lecture theatre at the Department of Statistics in Presidency College had a high pedestal in one of the corners, apparently without a valid purpose.

On the first day of my academic life in a dozen years that didn't involve a school uniform, we, the innocent, docile first-years were all crammed in the first row of the classroom. We were being ragged, of course. It went well (other than Rahul threatening a couple of seniors that he would call his father if things went out of hand). The climax, however, involved the pedestal, as Saugata, after committing a trivial error of some sort, was asked to climb up and be perched up there for a while.

He was as athletic as I used to be, but apparently vertigo wasn't that serious an issue for him. He climbed up quite sportingly, and rested there till he was asked to come down.

He had his revenge, though. The next year we were the senior ones; so we had a go at the hapless first years. And yes, you've probably guessed it right - the first errant one was asked to climb atop the pedestal by a vengeful Saugata: "please, oke otar opor uthte bola hok."

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Why am I suddenly remembering this after all these years? It's because after all the spot-fixing allegations raised at Lord's the last weekend involving the Pakistani cricketers, MOHAMMAD AZHARUDDIN has stated that those guilty of fixing should be punished.

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PS: The other reason why I've named this article déjà vu is the fact that I simply love watching the /.\ formation over E, J and A.

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