Thursday, January 22, 2009

Why IIT Guwahati Is So Funny.

At a certain society meeting last week, I noticed a very interesting episode. It was just another nondescript round of business, nothing particularly special. Not everyone was present, which makes my version of the occurence slightly more specific. I wish it wasn't. It needn't be specific. But my version is one worth endorsing. Not only because everything here is only a record of the event, as far as the recounting of it goes, but also because there is nothing 'new' about it. There was a general discussion about the things that needed to be done, keeping in mind some upcoming event. Some other talk about the things that needn't be done. Some other talk about the ways of the world. More talk about the meticulous scheduling of things that needed to be conducted for doing anything further. We needed to 'figure things out'. It was a moment of sheer calculating brilliance. Dates and days, weeks and weekends, places to stay and places impossible to get back to. Names and lists, people to 'do' and people to judge the 'doing'. All such things transpired. 

Then, in the middle of all this, something happened.

I am sure no one else really noticed. Or even if they did, they did not seem to acknowledge it. There is something very complicated about situations like these. Sometimes, certain things that happen are noticed only by a few people, and for reasons of their own: references to them, an act that they have some hand in, a bit of information that  they may know. There are specific things that appeal to people, make sense to them, that they find useful. Other people, or most other people, around them may not apprehend the same things as them. It's a disparity of reason. The only problem in this situation is, what the one person gets from it often gets dissolved and virutally vanishes in the interchange of words thrown about and noises flung vociferously from corner to corner. It gets lost. Therefore, it cannot be easily understood. 

An announcement was made about some upcoming events at two places. One of the places was IIT Guwahati. In the cacophany of the room, the announcements were all but lost, but most still heard them. It was only a notification. Things that come to pass and go unnoticed. But one person, a girl, burst into a very strange guffaw. It was an odd thing for her to do. Not because it had nothing particularly funny about it, but because laughter is something that can be reckoned with immediately. It's very simple; people can identify laughter. Otherwise, such an outburst would be an innocuous thing - someone laughing off the silliness of a proposition, an idea, or, as in this case, an announcement. But sometimes, and I mean this emphatically, sometimes some dismissals are sinister. They are sinister because they are stupid, they are stupid because they are false, and they are false because they originate from one thing and one thing only - ignorance.

The guffaw probably went on for a while. I didn't notice. My mind was already struck by the sheer biliousness and stupidity of something like this. I don't know what being parochial means in this college. I can't identify it. But by standards of universal stupidity, some parochial comments are condemnably disgusting. This was disgusting. Not disgusting because it was mindless, as related to the earlier point, but disgusting for its vendetta. 

I have no association with the aformentioned institute in Assam. I know no one there, have minimal knowledge of its academic work, or, most importantly, the event in question. I know nothing about what it does at such an event. I know nothing about what they 'get out of' such an event. I know nothing about anyone with any intention to attend it. But I do know that there are standards of decency. Flouting them is a matter of personal dispensations, depending on who's more rude, arrogant, stupid, etc. All such specific traits I do know of. And when something like this happens, things become more apparent than not. I can laugh off the 'mishap'. I don't even care for the mangled shamelessness of the person concerned. But there is something I do care about. I do feel that sometimes, even when everything that we do suffices to fulfill the needs of our daily functioning, there are things that need to be preserved. Respect is one of them. 

You could come from a place where, or be sired of a background in which, they teach you nothing but lambent brow-beating and infra-dig foul-mouthing, which is fine and, really, entirely up to you to absorb from your forbearers and the (rather dubious lack of) culture of the place you come from. But the moment you enter a space where you may violate the civility of other people's sensibilities, you had better watch your mouth. 

The last letter.

The last one was the most difficult to read.

It wasn't very long, nor incoherent. It was extremely clear. But clarity is sometimes a problem. It might elucidate everything, but it does not always enforce the rationale behind it. Things could be clear, but not necessarily rational.

Therefore, it was extremely difficult to read. But the most interesting thing was that the last letter, the last salvo, was not complete. When I had finished reading it, it was still incomplete. There were enormous silences that needed filling in. Several gargantuan voids that needed filling in. Many unarticulated fears that needed assuaging. Not all of these could be done, not all of them could be accomplished. None of them could even be mentioned.

Even then, the clarity of the last letter was astounding. The clarity struck home the point so vehemently, so loudly, so articulately, that it frightened the senses. That it made things so lucid and frighteningly sound. All the distances, the differences, and - the most difficult of all - their many things in common.

So there it established its purpose. It stated it in plainly, in words that ran into one another and didn't stop till the very end. It ended with a word that much of this had begun with. The irony, and the similitude, of everything finally jolted me. Helplessness is a much abused word. You don't know what it means until it ends. And, when it does, it ends like it always does.


It was late evening and they had already had a very tiring day. It was not very far from the Ridge. They walked to it and stood at the edge of the park for a very long time. The light from the sun was already dim. Clouds had begun to gather, soft clouds overhead. The monkeys that normally populate the side-walk were beginning to reticently return. They had had a particularly wasteful day. No one had come along to feed them, no one tormented them and couldn't retaliate. Everything seemed perfectly normal. It wasn't for the course of nature to really change at all.

For the two of them, however, it was an unusual day.

They didn't know what they wanted to do. They only knew that they had to get to know each other. It was incredibly simple. There were no questions about the purpose of their interceptions. They always crossed paths. They always bumped into each other, making slight concomitant excuses for being in the other's college. It was terribly exciting. They knew that they couldn't credit each other with too much premeditation. There was none, in fact. It was only a slightly overpowering intuition. That brought them across the road. That tried to softly hide beneath qualms and polite conversations. That made them look out for each other and then 'accidentally' smile.

They didn't know that day what they really wanted to do. It was difficult for them to even try and decide. There were so many things that they could eat, so many places that they could go to, so many things that they could say to each other, so many roads around that they could promenade in. But they didn't have the inclination to decide. They only knew that if they needed to 'do' something, they would probably just 'chance' upon it. Everything worked 'by change'. It was a terribly energetic confusion of details.

Time got conflated. People swelled around and formed little protective circles. They all said that it would be wonderful. That they would wait. That they would buffer unwarranted intrusions and scanty, remorseless inquisitiveness. That they would like to see it through. Well, actually, none of these people really 'said' anything. They didn't even know. But for both of them, in their separate worlds, even when they didn't even make the slightest mention of the other, their respective worlds implicitly knew. They implicitly knew and they implicitly wanted it.

But this didn't matter. That day, they only thought of doing nothing extravagant. Nothing superb. Nothing remarkable. They only stood at the edge of the park for a very long time and waited for everything to begin. It was theirs for the taking.

Ludmila's Broken English

For her, it was the longest, most scary journey. She had traveled so far away from home, without anything well-planned or corporeal awaiting her at the other end. It was such a long way away that all she could think of were the people she had left behind; the innumerable times she had said goodbye to her friend; the most reticent last mornings with her parents, who, though they felt she needed the journey, didn't quite comprehend her anxiety, her ineffable need to be near them, when every day and every night, her existence ostensibly precluded them from its rigors and its daily hazards. To them, it was very important. They wanted her to discover and reaffirm her roots – the events, and people, and places that her parents said were the entirety of what made them who they were, their Identity. They said it was the very ground upon which they lived their lives together. Living in the Montreal was only a demarcation, an accomplishment of geography. It had nothing to do with the place they grew up in, occasionally reminisced about, sometimes derided, but always used as a point of reference; like a thermometer that measured their sensibilities and judgment, what their values essentially were. And like a thermometer, it drastically altered its readings, oscillating vertiginously between extremes of affection and hate, contentment and disgruntlement, hope and dismay upon the slightest provocation. She needed to return to the city of their birth, to join college there, not so much as a excuse to let the her inculcate what was theirs as young people in their own times, but as a means of letting her know that it was okay to have values that differed from those of her friends back home, that it was all right to have obfuscated and incomplete ideas about what the native people thought acceptable and normal, and that is was, in fact, acceptable to be someone born of parents like hers: Workers, immigrants, people who lived in one city, one country, and performed the daily life of another.

In college, finding people to spend time with was the easiest thing. She would never have thought that, but it was the least enervating thing. Erstwhile caricatures, hitherto images of crazy people in her head, suddenly become full bodied, fully intelligible beings, people she identified with and looked up to. They impressed her with their sociability, their astounding intellect, their grasp of her feelings and emotions, the ways of their world. She was made to feel like she needed to step up and invigorate herself, to keep up with them and their keen sense of living. It was almost ridiculous but she felt a vague kind of repentance about the way she had thought they were, about the exaggerated fear and resentment she had thought she would feel. She didn't feel like that at all. It was very different.

At home, however, everything seemed to made to dissuade her from liking her what she had. The family she lived with, her own as per the directions left to her by father, were inestimably far removed from the people she met elsewhere. They were reticent, disengaged, snide and very often plain stingy and reluctant to share their home with her. They didn't quite know if they felt they were obliged to keep her. Possibly they were, and possibly she felt it too. But everyday, with every little encounter in the house, at the dining table, in her room on the top floor, through the door as she quickly rushed past them in the morning on her way to classes, everything felt laden with a quiet kind of anger. An unspoken antagonism only she could articulate, not them. A silent kind of loathing that made her want to scream at them and tell them that they were insufferable.

But she could never do that. The place, the family, the arrangement, everything had been ordained by her parents back at home. She couldn't try and find other means of dissociating from them. Everything was already decided, she only had to play along and uphold the delicate balance that their respective feelings were predicated on.

In the afternoon, she went to the Ridge, where she sat and watched people as they went by. She had always learned to sketch her visions, people and places she saw and contemplated. She wanted to sketch them too. These people that walked in the park and along the road so purposefully, so determined to reach somewhere, to find something Important to do. She liked looking at them. She felt a sense of relief, that she wasn't them, she hadn't the need to briskly walk and find someplace to be. She knew that at the end of the road, they wouldn't find anything Important to do, that they would silently, lugubriously go back home and surrender to their empty beds. She wanted to sketch them.

They were not difficult to draw. Most of them had some remarkable features – long chins, heavy beards and mustaches, long, pointed noses, thick, hairy arms, and the women had prominent chests, and thick legs and strong arms. They were like the figures that the famous Latin American painter made, whose name she could never recall. The figures were huge, larger than life and bulky out of proportion, they were fat and so big that frightened the imagination. She liked the figures because they abjured all that was acceptable and skinny and emaciated. But she couldn't remember his name. Another thing about the people here was that they were very proficient with names. She saw the people that crossed the place where she seated herself and felt them marching their way into her sketches – big, lusty, amply-fleshed figures with swarthy shading that covered their skins. It would be perfect.

She drew them and kept making additions to her book. Everyday, after class, she singled out someone to draw and mimetically placed him in her notebook, until eventually she had a whole tome of them. It was an accomplishment, and a certain contentment crept into her daily that she knew none of her subjects ever discovered at the end of their brisk march to Importance. She felt that she knew that she had got what they were looking for. And oddly enough, it was something her parents would never understand either. That sending her away and designating her place in this new world would not be the beginning of a new-found empathy, but, instead, the conclusion of an old rectitude to say that she was different.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

I hope the train is not cancelled tomorrow.

All right. So apparently it hasn't been cancelled. That still does not sound convincing enough. It's perfectly fine when you call and they have pre-recorded messaged that assuage irate customers that, yes, their trains are on time. But you never know until you're there, on the platform, in the train, in your compartment - next to strangers, next to people you may know. Well, until then, everything is uncertain. The last time, on the way home, the entire wait on the platform was dramatically punctuated by moments of hilarity and shock. Someone lost a bag. Well, actually, to be more accurate, someone (and I) lost the other guy's bag. So S had to run back to the counters and retrieve it. Obviously, before he even had time to run back to it, there was pandemonium already around the reception area. The policemen thought it was a deliberately abandoned bag. With suspicious 'items' in it. They looked at S astonished and cursed him for his stupidity. He looked at them completely baffled and just continuously brushed his extremely long hair out of his eyes. That was code for 'I am nervous, but too cool to show it - I hate the state apparatus of oppression anyway'. They didn't know, I did.

So now I have this little bit of time to think about things in the past, think about things going on right now, slightly confused by all the reconnaissance. Well, I'm not sure how things change overnight but they do. And when they do, there is nothing you can do about it. Sometimes things change for the worse. Then you might as well be passive. Because resistance and belligerence and discomfort lead nowhere. They are such brilliant ideas. But try and execute them.

But sometimes things change for the better. That's when you start feeling comfortable again. It's a wonderful feeling.

1. I watched a television interview. A famous movie actor spoke about her life and about the things she has done. She said, "My life is made up of combinations of choices that I have made. I have always felt completely empowered, and never a victim of circumstances. I have chosen everything." She sounded convinced. Well, Julia Roberts, actually. I liked it. But there was something confusing about her 'choice' of words. She chose everything? But we all feel like circumstantial victims sometimes, unwittingly. And otherwise, we all need to feel slightly unsure occasionally. Nothing is decided, or prevaricated. You choose. But you also choose because you need to, and that need is created by the circumstances that surround you. Although, I know for sure that the aforementioned statement is something worth considering. Extremely tempting. I feel so 'choosy' about the things I want to do right now. I hope the train isn't cancelled.

2. In Criminal Minds, a homosexual homicide is linked to a string of murders. A man kills several gay men. He kills them after he seduces them. They find the guy.

3. Monk is very aggravated by the presence of 'nudists' at the scene of the crime. The nudists are eventually exenerated and Monk relinquishes his fear of the naked.

4. The kidnapped son in The Deep End of the Ocean returns home to his estranged brother and parents. They try and bring everything back to normal, encompass his present life with everything that he left behind, when he was abducted by a woman. He gradually settles in with the family. They are reconciled.

5. In My Family, the husband hires a cleaner for the house. She is brilliant. But his wife feels beleaguered.

6. Several things happen on Friends.

I hope the train is not cancelled tomorrow.