Sunday, May 22, 2011

The moon cake and the white jet of light

It was a cool dark night in April and two friends were sitting on the Humanities and Social Science block rooftop.

The HSB rooftop is possibly one of the best places in IIT. Unlike Tiffanys, it offers no food and unlike Gurunath, it offers no entertainment. Yet, it is alluring in its own special way, even though it’s just a big, dangerous terrace, and I say dangerous for it has no parapets. At night, there aren’t any lights on the terrace, save the moonlight and if one were to take a casual stroll across its perimeter admiring the night sky, one would land up in the institute hospital.

Nevertheless, it is a wonderful place, which you can never quite leave once in. Such haunts are few and far between in IIT.

On this particular Monday night at eight PM, two friends were dangling their legs and enjoying the sweet breeze blowing from nowhere, perhaps caused by the combustion of certain members of the plant species. They gazed at the sky, looked around the dark terrace in delight, felt like the conquerors of the world, till one powered her laptop and suggested that they study Aristotle, for they had a HS3214 Aspects of Western Philosophy endsem on Wednesday and they had loads of slides to do.

One, however, was an armchair rebel. ‘Why must we do this?’ she enquired. ‘Why must we mug something as dreary and as ridiculous as Kantsian agnosticism? What is philosophy afterall and why am I made to study it? Philosophy and I exist on different planes of existence. We aren’t made for each other. There’s no love lost between me and philosophy. Why must I mug something which goes above my head?”

The other sagelike friend made no response. She opened the powerpoint presentation. ‘Aristotle’s theory of causation’, she read out. ‘Formal, Material, Efficient and Final.’

And thus she continued for another twenty minutes or so, as the night breeze swept across their faces. It was very still, in that quagmire of a terrace. It was truly, the best place to be in IIT.

‘Thirty slides over’ she announced after a while. ‘Only twenty three more to go.’

But the other wasn’t paying attention. ‘Look!’ she said, pointing at sky. ‘Look at the moon!’

And she turned around and looked. A jet of white light swished through the full moon which looked like a particularly delectable cheesecake. It was initially a tangent to the circular moon and then slowly began to submerge the moon. It was like a jet of milk was drowning the moon. It was like, as the foodie among the two later declared, vanilla icing on a cheese cake.

The two friends stared open mouthed at this astonishing spectacle. The white jet of light seemed to grow bigger and bigger in size and one friend tried to capture the wonder with her cell phone camera.

The other one laughed. ‘You needn’t have bothered’ she said. ‘It would look very ordinary in the picture. And perhaps there isn’t anything extraordinary about it. It’s just the white smoke of a jet plane passing over the moon.’

But still, the two friends continued to gaze at the peculiarly long spectacle. The terrace was still, like it was waiting for something miraculous to happen. It was like they weren’t at the centre of the IIT, but far far away from civilization, if there is any difference between the two.

And then, slowly and gradually, one friend sitting on the HSB terrace, realized that in reality, she knew nothing about the person sitting next to her, staring dreamily at the moon. ‘I know her name’, she thought, ‘her age, bloody hell, she is my best friend and yet I really don’t know her. Why is she sitting so silently?’, she wondered, ‘What is she thinking? What am I doing in this dark cold, God forsaken place with this person who I know absolutely nothing about and I never shall, no matter how long it takes? Who am I anyway? It is so dark here that all I can see is my long nose. Can I thus conclude that only my nose exists? I can anyway quite effectively convince myself that my intestines are merely a figment of my imagination, so perhaps I really don’t exist. What sort of a place is this and what the hell am I doing here?’

‘What would happen if I scream?’ she wondered. ‘Yes, she’d be shocked, it’d be unexpected. But no one else would hear me. Or perhaps they would. Perhaps someone would emerge out of the dark shadows and accuse me of ruining the silence of the night. They might ask me what I’m doing here, at this time, with a laptop and a scream. And then I’d have nothing to say.’

‘Why am I thinking all this?’ she wondered ‘Why doesn’t she say a word, why does she sit like a mute rock, watching the sky? Are thoughts buzzing through her head, like mine? But she isn’t anything like me. She’s calm, composed, an enigma. She is rational, thinks before doing anything and is very emotionally stable. Completely unlike the emotional, impulsive, hysterical me. What would it be like, to be her, just a day?’

And then slowly and gradually, the white vapour began to diffuse into the night sky till nothing was left, save the moon. In a few minutes, the clouds cleared and the night sky was the same well loved picture as the world knew it.

The other friend turned around and smiled, her eyes crinkling like they always did. ‘Shall we start on slide 31?’ she asked. ‘Only 23 more to go.’

Thus the two friends continued to dissect Nichomachean ethics as the night flew by. Two days later, they were asked to write on the Aristotelian Theory of Causation, for seven and a half marks. Neither of them wrote about the moon cake and the white jet of light.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Plato's Nemesis

Something I wrote for an elective I took sometime back. And I think, one of the three poems I have written in 18 years.

I cannot write poetry
I cannot feel,
or pretend to
the way you do.
No, I’m not ‘feeling blue’
I just can’t set sensible lines
into a confused skew.
My words aren’t collapsing
into one gigantic volcano
or a particularly warped snake
so don’t look for patterns,
symbols, metaphors , politics
or of the gastric troubles of
Aunt Leo down the road.
My words shan’t tumble
tossed there and there
words which mean the same
words which mean nothing
words which beg for attention
Misery! Tears! Anarchy! Nature!
I can’t write about
how I feel like a used ball of tissue paper
Existential, caught in a world
of hypocrites and poets
how I seek for inner justice
and despair be the drowneth of me
when all I can feel
is my stomach rumbling
in hunger
remembering that blueberry cheesecake
I devoured last night.
I cannot even pretend to ramble about
when my mind is so fixed on order and method
to wander all over, drop political hints
criticize Marxism, espouse Post-modernism
Flaunt a tortured childhood
while all I talk about
are the red peaches
growing in the corner of my garden.
My middle name
is not a convenient melancholy
on my inability to rhyme
and I shan’t write anything happy
for no one likes a merry poet
who writes only nonsense verse.
Ow. Ow. Ow.
I’m pausing at all the wrong places.
I’m punctuating. Emphatically.
Don’t read that as a mirror
of my wretched soul
Because what’s worse than bad poetry
is psychoanalytic hyperbole.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Nocturnal Adventures of WishSong

Something I wrote for a Creative writing event at IIT

It was a fine moonlit night when WishSong danced all alone on 5th loop street as the stars watched him and laughed.
WishSong was a gnome and a very ugly gnome at that. He had a grotesque spotty face, bristly grey hair and a stubby disproportioned body. His skin was a dull weary brown for he lived underground all the time and never dared to go to The Beach And Acquire A Very Becoming Sun Tan.
WishSong, contrary to his name, did not wish to sing, or some such conclusion most humans tend to jump to. He was Wish, the Third Son of Song, brother of FishSong, DishSong and YishSong, all exceedingly handsome gnomes I assure you, who are capable of introducing something akin to love in your human heart, if you didn’t know that they drank squid-juice every morning to cleanse their bowels.
However WishSong was a delightful singer. He preferred to call his music the ‘Notes from Underground’.
But apart from that one redeeming quality, WishSong lived an awful life. He was after all a Gnome With A Very Huge Complex. He Hated Himself.
‘Why mamma?’ he had implored of his mother many times. ‘Why am I so different from the rest? Why am I the black sheep, figuratively of course, in this clan of Exceptionally Good-looking Gnomes? Why did God make me thus? Why me?’
To which his mother would sagely narrow her eyes at her son and reply in a monotone. ‘When the gnoming gets tough, the tough gets gnoming.’
He never quite understood what she meant, but it sounded fascinating, and strangely relieving. He did not of course know that several years later, his mother would be De-gnomed by the terrible Mr. Tough who unfailingly ploughed his lands every day. Such tragedies could happen only in the Gnome World.
WishSong had three overachieving brothers, which did not help his self-esteem one bit. FishSong was a Water Gnome, DishSong was a Garden Gnome, YishSong was a Tree Gnome and more importantly, they all had Girlfriends.
Every evening, DishSong, FishSong and YishSong would scuttle back home to WishSong, full of tales of their love lives and their work lives which were so full of life and animation that WishSong’s fat body would only swell up more and his fiercely beating heart would threaten to burst out of his skin, which he invariably attributed to a bad case of dyspepsia. For WishSong was perennially down in the dumps, and painfully single.
DishSong was the eldest in the family and the handsomest of all gnomes. He was a Travelling Gnome and hence had a Girlfriend for Every Reason and Season. Of course he had only one, but that line sounded nice on his resume and on reading it, every company had wanted to hire him. His charming elf girlfriend however singularly made up for the lack of plurality, so there was nothing DishSong had to complain about. He was fifty three, in a relationship and happy.
Only once did DishSong bring his girlfriend home. On that ominous occasion, she had caught sight of WishSong lurking in a corner, with such a look of misery on his positively revolting face that she had screamed a scream and scuttled away as fast as she could. Later on, she defended her unbecoming act by saying that it was too dim at the Gnome’s Abode and that she couldn’t see clearly what she should have seen. But ever since then, the three brothers resolved never to bring their loved ones home.
This only made WishSong hate himself all the more. Infact, the only time he escaped to the world above was during afternoons, when people were too sweaty and irritable to pay any attention to him, and during early mornings, when he had the world to himself.
Every night, he would quietly sneak out around 11 and dance to his heart’s content until the wee hours of the day, while the moon smiled indulgently at him and the stars pointed their silvery fingers at him and laughed.
And that was precisely what he was doing on the morning of March 2nd, at three A.M. Today, his dance seemed to possess a renewed vigor, a sense of freedom he couldn’t quite place his finger on. Probably because it was his birthday, he was forty one and one more year was all that was left in his search for the Answer to Life, Universe and Everything.
It did not trouble his Sense of Priority that his family was waiting for him underground, all five of them, with a gigantic squishy green cake which resembled a caterpillar which had only recently died a very painful death. It was his favorite and FishSong had painstakingly scrawled all over the cake in caramel – We Wish You A Very Happy Birthday, Song - although the caramel was slowly diffusing into the green mass that lay underneath. In another hour, the cake would resemble a rather exotic herbal pudding.
‘Does he know that today is his birthday?’ piped in Little FishSong after an endless hour of waiting. It was well past the midnight surprise and the five gnomes were all too eager to hit the sack again. But Gnoming tradition stipulated that Every Gnome Celebrating His Birthday Must Take A Bite Of Birthday Cake Before Dawn and when in Gnome, do as Gnomans do. So the five sighed little sighs and continued to wait, for their touch screen cell phones had no network underground.
Meanwhile, WishSong was feeling very cold up above, but he was determined to knock off all those kilos piled around his tummy and he continued to dance, alternating between samba and rather embarrassing pelvic thrusts.
Eventually tired of the exercise, he flopped onto the ground and gazed sadly at the stars above. He ran his stubby fingers through his graying hair. A lock of hair landed on his tummy.
He recalled the time when he paid a visit to the Gnome’s One Stop Shop for Everything. It was a sprawling mall, supposedly the largest mall in the Universe with restaurants of all sizes and boutiques of all shapes. He however had made his way to the Gnomessentials and had politely enquired of the elf-shop lady, ‘Would you kindly, madam, have any products that would make a Gnome like me handsome and charming? Thank you very much. Yours sincerely, WishSong.’
The wiry elf-lady frowned at the shiny bald patch in front of her for WishSong did not dare raise his chin and look at her in the eye for the fear that he would hopelessly fall in love at first sight.
She did direct him to the shelf containing Impossibly Herbal Gnome Improvers. He had bought an Aloe-Vera Cream with Oh-my-goodness REAL Keratin pearls and with a one year warranty. He had even bought a real bouillabaisse flavored shampoo which FishSong eyed warily. But it didn’t help. He turned uglier and even more dejected than before.
He sighed and sat up. He had to continue dancing, no matter what. The show must go on.
He started on a particular brand of Jive which was his especial favorite. For some time, he swirled and swirled, panting and gleaming like a gnome anointed with Real Human Perspiration enhanced Magical Hair Oil. Then he heard a Voice from nowhere.
‘You really love to dance, don’t you?’
He collapsed on the ground immediately. In his forty one years of night-time dancing, never once had he encountered another specie. He had chosen the secluded of secluded areas for this express purpose. This was an Aberration From The Normal and he wasn’t quite sure how to react.
‘Eh heh heh heh.’ He laughed nervously and cleared his throat. ‘Have Feet, Can Dance is my motto. I wish I came up with that from the very beginning.’
The Voice was clearly unimpressed with his answer. It snorted. ‘You do know that you dance awfully, don’t you?’
WishSong was angry. This pesky Voice had no business to spoil his birthday jive. He was about to make a brilliant, dead awesome comeback, when the Voice stepped out of the foliage and presented itself. It was a stunning elf, the prettiest of them all, and even prettier than how he had imagined the Shop-Lady to be.
‘Er…Erm, Ahem, Hmm…’ WishSong managed, clearly uneasy. He had heard innumerable words of advice on How To Behave In Front Of The Female Species and theoretically, he was the Casanova of Gnomes. But unfortunately, that was only in theory.
She stopped him from saying anything further and perched comfortably on the branch of an olive tree. ‘Go on.’ she said. ‘Dance.’
Now WishSong encountered what he loved to call an Existential Crisis though he never quite knew what that meant, for he never read any Kafka in his life. He hated to admit that he was feeling self-conscious and that something in those two big amused eyes in front of him was holding him back. He began again, promisingly twiddling his toes. His protruding stomach wobbled to the beat and his pointy ears twitched, not to be left behind.
She laughed, a clear, tinkling perfect laugh. It was a well-behaved sister of the Cruel Guffaw and he very well knew it.
‘Madam.’ he began, addressing the ground. ‘If you would be so kind as to recognize my need for privacy, I would be eternally grateful to you. Thank you very much. Your humble servant, WishSong.’
‘Alright, alright!’ she replied in a voice which did not betray her merriment. ‘I’ll leave you to your awful dancing, just as you wish! See you around!’ and the Voice disappeared into the darkness.
He continued dancing and thoughts flew in his mind in musical harmony. Was this what the Others called a Date? He wondered. He had once, hesitatingly asked YishSong what it meant for a Specie To Date Another Specie and YishSong had rather cuttingly asked him not to be such an Ingnomarus (The gnomes weren’t particularly strong in their spellings). Later on, DishSong had told him in private that he mustn’t ask such difficult questions for no gnome had figured out that complex social phenomenon yet, but it generally meant having coffee and holding hands and talking of Politically Correct Matters with members of The Female Species. It was true that the elf and he did not hold hands, nor did they have coffee, but they did talk and very politely at that. This potential aberration in his life sent his adrenaline pumping and his heart beating very fast.
‘We must calm down, WishSong’ he told himself a little later after sense returned. ‘We must not build mountains out of molehills. We must not overanalyze the events in our lives. We must stop thinking and start living.’
Meanwhile, at his home underground, five gnomes waited patiently for the birthday man to turn up. Two of them were getting hungry and eyed longingly at the pudgy caterpillar cake which eyed longingly at the door waiting for WishSong to show up. He didn’t however and not once did it cross the minds of the Gnomes to feel remotely worried about his safety. The Gnomes were Insured after all.
Meanwhile WishSong, injected with a new found sense of exhilaration, attempted to decipher the System of Traffic Signals down the road. He could not however understand why the yellow light must continually blink at him thus and resolved to Google it one day, for ready-made knowledge is always better than systematic observation, random experimentation and definite conclusions.
‘I can do anything!’ he suddenly shouted out to the world. ‘The world is my oyster! I am no longer yet another fish in the sea! I am not the proverbial black sheep anymore!’ he thus screamed and realized that deep down inside, he was experiencing an excruciating hunger eating up his intestines. ‘My life is under control!’ he screamed for extra effect, and sat on a park bench, holding his stomach in agony.
He did not want to go home and partake of the birthday feast. He was suddenly ashamed of himself, there was no reason he should celebrate his birthday, after all, what had he achieved? Forty years had slipped by unobtrusively and yet another miserable birthday cake which he loved symbolizing a fresh new beginning in his life only depressed him. He leaned back, looked at the stars and sang a very sad song. The trees rumbled dismally and the birds shivered in sorrow upon hearing it. It was powerful, it was intoxicating, it was dangerously addictive in the way only melancholy could be.
‘You do however sing very well.’ the Voice spoke gently after the music died down. ‘You do know that, don’t you?’
Yet again, WishSong was faced with the terrible task of finding a breath-taking comeback. He soon gave up. ‘Yes, I do. Yes….I do.’
‘You should make a profession of it, you really are good’ the Voice piped in. ‘The people out there are just waiting to hear you, they just don’t know it yet.’
WishSong had a sudden vision of him singing in a circus, paraded by elephants on either side. They would make him wear ridiculous amounts of make-up, a shocking pink and yellow outfit and he would have to sing, to bored audiences which waited with bated breath for fire blowing lions and self deprecating clowns. It was too unbearable for him to even imagine.
‘I’m sure…Actually I’m not’, he replied. ‘You see, I’m only a gnome after all. What else can I dream of doing apart from mowing lawns, building tree-houses and cleaning septic fish tanks?’
She laughed, a gentle laugh without any condescension. ‘But to me, you’re the best singer I will ever know.’
WishSong found himself beaming in joy which sprouted from nowhere. This is what I’m good at, he thought, this is my strength. This is what I ought to list under the ‘Core Competencies – Mention Relevant details’ section in my resume, if I had one. I have the best voice in the world, I can sing to my heart’s content, I can make people happy through my music and ultimately, make myself happy too!
He smiled at the elf in front of him. ‘Will you create music with me?’ he asked. ‘Will you be my melody?’
The elf laughed, all too familiar with The Lame Pick-Up Lines Of The 21st Century. ‘I sure will’ she replied, her eyes twinkling, ‘if you promise to dance to my tunes!’
And so they serenaded on 5th loop street, while five gnomes snored contentedly below, green pudding slobbering on their chins.