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Good bye LA...
Since the day I've picked a digital camera I've been clicking incessantly at every opportune (or not so opportune) moment. Of the 80 or so pictures I've clicked so far, about 50 have been abstract subjects - empty spaces, extreme close-ups etc. The real thrill - as I am discovering - is to be able to manipulate these pictures so as to give them a fresh interpretation that might not have been obvious by looking at subject or its un-manipulated picture. Here are two of my most recent works:

The first piece was created compositing two pictures. The Australopithecus Skull was part of an enormous granite collage at LA Convention Center, South Hall. The picture on the right is a close-up of my notebook's keyboard. Put the two together, do some color correction so that both of them are of the same "hue" and viola we have a thought provoking visual:

The second work appeals to me because of the vibrant shades of blue I could capture in it. It also happens to be a small tribute of sorts to my favorite Orwell classic - 1984.

My travel travails begin tomorrow morning at 4:00 AM. The weather here has suddenly become chilly. Sitting at a roadside cafe today, sipping hot mocha while the cold breeze and the cars whizzed past (Beethoven's string quartet no.6 melted sweetly into my ears and blended well with the bustle of the downtown's dusky aura), was the only experience (however small it might sound) worth cherishing to come out of this trip. The stay at LA despite being professionally satisfying (and for all the fun at Universal Studios yesterday) wasn't as enjoyable as I had expected. Downtown LA is more or less a business district and not a single cab driver or hotel concierge desk has been satisfactorily able to point the whereabouts of a good music/book shop around the hotel. It's a stark contrast to vibrant downtown Seattle. (Even New-Orleans had decent music and book shops, the city's notoriety for booze and flesh notwithstanding). I was carrying Amitav Ghosh's Shadow Lines which was supposed to last me the US round-trip, but since the book's narrative was so gripping I skimmed through it within the first leg of the trip itself. I am dreading having to travel without a book for 20 odd hours but am hoping that the sleep denial of last few days would lead to a deep meditative, coma-like trance the moment I hit my cramped economy class seat, depriving me of chance to read.
posted: 30.10.03 | permalink | 0 comments

When songs lost words
and words lost meaning
those were not tears
you saw in my eyes
though I know
they were raining

why is it then
that the strings of my heart
are still strumming...

posted: 30.10.03 | permalink | 0 comments

Room with a view?

An optimistic blogger's philosophy:
Even if things go terribly wrong, they will always leave you with enough to blog about

The hotel room I am currently in does not have much to offer in terms of a view, unless you look a little far into the horizon... My room directly faces the famous H O L L Y W O O D sign!

posted: 28.10.03 | permalink | 0 comments

The journey so far...
My bad-luck from Delhi, continued right into the plane. For the first time in my life, I got a window seat which had no window! (Seat number 34K, two seats - aisle and window just that there was no window). I slept through most of the flight.

Amidst all the intense blogging, I think I forgot my cozy black jacket in Delhi. Did not quite need it till the plane landed in Amsterdam. The 100 meter or so of stretch between the plane and the airport (air-bridge), is hardly ever air-conditioned. The temperature outside was -1 degree C and I was in a skimpy grey t-shirt. Needless to say, it felt like longest stretch I've ever walked (surprisingly, my innards came through intact - unfrozen)

Had a 4 hour stop-over at Schipol airport - which is perhaps one of the most pleasant airports in Europe. There are lots of cafeterias serving interesting food (and they do not demonstrate any particular bias towards non-vegans - vegetarian is as readily available). I gingerly nibbled through my hot cheese roll and washed it down with strawberry shake. Did some music-shopping. Found a CD of Beethoven Piano Sonatas that had the three which I really wanted. (Moonlight, Pathetique and Appassionata). I was pleased to find Moonlight sonata in particular - the first movement of this sonata has this eerie haunting melancholic texture while being softly romantic at the same time. I also netted Jesus Christ Superstar DVD and two Dulce Pontes, Fado albums (Lusitana and O Primerio Canto). Dulce Pontes has sonorous voice which is perfectly suited to singing Fado. O Primerio Canto comes across as an album that was result of a lot of hard work and introspection. Most of the sounds are vividly surreal and soothing, with at least one of them showing some Indian influences. Slightly disappointed with the JCSS DVD, this particular performance is missing the valor and passion in singing that the audio CD performance I own has. Tried hard to have a nap but the fear of falling asleep and missing the flight kept me up. Hunger soon beckoned again. This time I indulged in a scrumptious Apple Pie (though managed to avoid those inviting, luscious sandwiches loaded with think chunks of brie), which was studded with nuts, a cup of hot cappuccino completing the gastronomic duet.

Before I knew it, it was time to board the plane for the onward journey to LA. Another boring ride. This time I had a real window seat, but the view outside remained a constant consistent white sheet of clouds. Occasionally there would be cracks in this cloudy veneer - but instead of revealing the underlying geography they would reveal another thick layer of clouds underneath. As we neared LA, I saw two planes from my window - their long white jet stream trails made them look like a comet with a long tail, shooting across the skies without purpose.

Arrival at LA was smooth. The outside temperature was close to 25, but it was foggy. It was a little awkward to see almost no greenery at the airport. There were soil-beds, but the grass in them was wilted, shriveled with dust accumulated on it. Reached hotel after an arduous 40 minute wait for my shuttle. Almost everyone in LA, right from the reception desk to the cab driver has been warning me about walking in downtown LA after dark. Hooliganism it seems is rampant on the streets here (my sleep was disturbed on at least two counts by howling police sirens and chopper circling above my hotel - it's spotlight would occasionally peep into my window).

I woke up first day at 5:00 AM and was all dressed up at reception desk asking for directions by 7:00. It was still dark outside and I was told to take a cab as it was not safe to be walking outside "at this time". I reluctantly agreed, but for some reason it beehoved me to ask what the time was. "5:00 AM sir" was the prompt reply. The answer caused me considerable embarrassment and anguish. It meant that I had gotten up at 3:00, thinking it was 5:00 because the clock near my bed said so (and because I felt so darn fresh!). As if this was not enough, LA yesterday made some daylight saving adjustments. A note was slipped under my hotel room door instructing me to set my watch backwards by one hour.

I am right now in cozy confines of an air conditioned convention hall. I had ventured outside for a short walk (and to "absorb" some sun as the artificial lighting inside the convention hall, makes me loose sense of time, which then wrecks havoc in recovery from jet lag) a little while ago but came running back because it is so very hot. Several forest fires have been raging in California causing large scale monetary and environmental damage. The smoke from the fires, it seems, is gradually descending on LA as well. There is a fine smoky mist hanging in the air and the breeze outside reeks of burnt coal, its funny that it feels so much like the afternoon right after Diwali in Delhi.
posted: 26.10.03 | permalink | 0 comments

A Diwali in Delhi and Murphy's Law...
Different people when confronted with Murphy's Law would react differently. Today was the ultimate test of my accumulated calm, composure.

If any festival in India has come to acquire any significance whatsoever for me, that would be Diwali - the festival of lights. Holi the festival of colors ceased to be exciting long long ago (getting drenched in colored water fails to amuse or excite me any longer). Dusherra lost it charm a few years ago too. Watching effigies loaded with crackers burn with a colossal din no longer seems to signify victory of good over evil. This leaves me with just one festival to keenly look forward to - Diwali. This year it were to have an even special meaning as I were to come to Delhi and celebrate it with my family. Fate it seems had other ideas. I was summoned to attend a big developer conference in US - not that I wouldn't want to attend it's just that sacrificing Diwali seems like a slightly steep price to pay (over next week or so I would know if it was worth it).

I had my flight on 24 Oct, 00:50 AM - which more or less means that I am actually flying on the Diwali day! Since I was in Delhi on important work, I was spending far lesser time with my family than I would have liked to. So I decided to take 23rd off. The realization that good old Murphy is conspiring, struck me first when I had to drag myself to office to close some burning issues on the appointed day. To salvage whatever little I could, I promised myself to call it a day sharp at 4:00 in the evening. Since 4:00 is not really rush hour, I would have been back home within 45 minutes. I had grossly miscalculated things. When you are commuting on a day before Diwali, every hour is a rush hour. My commute lasted little over 2 hours. In Delhi, winters have begun to set in. There is a pleasant chill in the air in the morning. The days are a tad warm but things cool down exponentially after sunset and can sometime catch you unprepared (especially if you happen to be in one of those Bangalore acclimatized skimpy t-shirts). I was however kept cozy throughout by thick, warm smoke spewed by buses (trucks, cars) that kept me close company on drive home. (How very nice of them). People in Delhi are anything but warm, come winters and weather mimics their temperament. Being in a traffic jam is bad enough - perpetual honking from all directions makes it worse. (Your auto-wallah's insistence on playing his loud, noisy radio doesn't help matters either). And now that we were under auspicious aegis of Murphy, almost all the traffic lights on my way home had become non-operational. The wonderful civic-sense most Delhiites are bestowed with, makes it exceptionally difficult for them to stick to functional traffic lights to start with. And when traffic lights go out, whatever little traffic sense or discipline there is, is banished too. After a miserable ride I reached home and started packing. I was supposed to get a car to drop me to the airport from office at 8:00 PM When it didn't come till 8:15, the alarm bells started ringing for me (having seen the chaos outside earlier, I needed to pad a few more hours to my travel than I usually do).

Couple of phone calls later it became obvious that no car had been booked for me. Panic began tightening its stifling grip on me. Fortunately for me, dad was quickly able to summon the taxi we use often. No the best cab money can buy (somewhat sordid, and had a tawdry arrow-pierced-heart motif stuck to the steering wheel, the contraption powered by the cab's battery, let out a bright, distracting flash of light after seemingly random intervals) but functional and would get me to my destination within acceptable time. The sikh gentleman driving our cab began the arduous drive to the airport in right earnest. There is a lot of construction going around the airport. As we got closer to the airport, the drive became dustier. Puddles of sandy clouds stirred by vehicles hung suspended in mid air. (Just a day before I had had an argument with colleagues at office about how much cleaner Delhi air was after the switch to CNG, someone has to remind them about SPM being a potent pollutant too). Suddenly our cab slowed down and came to an abrupt halt. My inquiring glance was answered by another glance from driver pointing to the flat tire outside. (Couldn't help noticing the fact that the cab had stopped right outside "Lucky Punjabi Dhaba - Jalandhar Wale"). Our driver was a young, strong man in his early twenties. Within 5-6 minutes the new tire had been put in place and we were cruising smoothly again.

My journey ended outside Departure Gate No. 1 of Indira Gandhi International Airport. Or so I thought. Murphy wasn't done with me yet. Suddenly two Delhi Police cops materialized from nowhere and started questioning the driver (while I was dislodging my suitcase). The sight of cops - even if you haven't done anything wrong can be slightly daunting (if you've ever run into sober, gentle, mild-natured Delhi Police cops, you would know how intimidating things can get). Anyways, fortunately the issue was left to be settled amiably between my Dad, the drivers and the cops. I never quite understood what it was all about, but at that point in time I wasn't exactly buzzing with curiosity either. (Nervousness has the power of overriding all your faculties).

The rest was easy. I now wait for my plane's boarding announcement. Very tired and numbed by day's happening. The incessant Happy Diwali SMSes I have been receiving every 20 minute or so being the only reminder that its Diwali tomorrow. The festival it seems will never be same again.

I have a queer sensation that there is a bigger purpose to this trip than what is apparent. Well, I would know soon :-).
posted: 25.10.03 | permalink | 0 comments

Musings of a reclusive western classical connoisseur - II
The number of Beethoven's works might not be as enormous as that of Mozart's but getting your hands on all of them can still be a daunting task, more so in India where the number of western classical aficionados can probably be counted on your fingers. The relatively smaller scale of his works can be attributed to the fact that Beethoven spent a lot of time on each work (which I think is quite natural because most of his compositions are far more complex than that of Mozart's). It is said that he often used to roam around the country side with a sketch book and used to jot down all his ideas which he later strung into complete compositions. Then there was a period when he was coming to terms with his deafness and so composed little. This period of "silence" is most profound towards later years of his life when he moved from a state of partial deafness to that of a complete ("stone") deafness. Many scholars view this period as a period of gestation and churning for Beethoven, which allowed him to come out anew with a fresh style. All these factors add up to the fact that Beethoven composed only 137 numbered works (mostly numbered chronologically, each major work is termed an "opus"). A lot of these opuses are a collection of more than one (though related in style) work, for instance, opus 18 is a set of 6 string quartets. There are other works which were discovered after Beethoven's death and are given a WOO ("Wereke Ohne Opus", German for "Work Without Opus") number - for example the most maligned works of all times is, WOO 59, better known as Fur Elise (Bagatelle for Piano in A Minor). Which mobile phone, car reverse gear chime, door bell does not have the most unflattering monophonic rendition of it? (hence the use of word "maligned"). Without taking into account WOOs, (but counting all the works under the 137 opuses distinctly), I am chasing a list of 193 compositions.

I've always criticized Planet M for the state of disarray their western classical section is (at least here in Bangalore, and as far as I can remember, chaos ruled in Delhi as well). Though I now must also give them credit for at least having one (a dedicated western classical section i.e.). Most other shops, most notably two of them which were my primary source of western classical (Habitat at Church Street, and Music World at Brigade Road) have completely abandoned (or are in the process of abandoning) the genre. It is natural then, that each opus discovered is a source of immense pleasure, a pleasure that a child experiences on getting a new toy. Each CD added to my Beethoven collection is an eternal conquest of sorts. His symphonic works are easiest to find, then come his piano concertos and sonatas but its his chamber works that are most elusive. So when my eyes caught this CD of Op. 20 (Septet in E Flat Major) and Op. 11 (Piano Trio No. 4 in B Flat Major) I was delighted (price usually isn't the consideration but at Rs. 325 or so, it was a good deal as well!). I was at Planet M to pick up Rahman's latest soundtrack Tehzeeb, and I pay a visit to their western classical shelves as a matter of habit. The fortune Gods it seems were smiling on me on this occasion :-). (7 out of 10 times I come out empty handed, my disappointment usually accompanied by disgust at the total randomness of the way CDs are arranged and at quazi classical albums with titles like "Bedroom Bliss with Beethoven", which increasingly crowd the shelves, making trying to find a genuine western classical work even harder).

Op. 20 is extremely cheerful which I attribute to the wind ensemble playing together with the stings. The 3rd movement ("Thema di menuetto") is particularly cheerful and has this quality of looping in your mind. In fact, the 3rd movement feels more like a Josef Lenner Waltz (perhaps because of consummate use of wind ensemble) than a movement from Beethoven's septet work.

Op. 11 is a piano trio and starts where Op 1 no. 3 left. This work again is fluid and chirpy. The booklet which comes with the CD informs me that the trio is intended for a Clarinet, Piano and Cello and that a Clarinet may be substituted with a Violin. I was initially apprehensive about the use of Clarinet (I prefer strings to wind instruments, and the two of the piano trios that I've heard, use Violin) but the Clarinet now has grown over me and in fact brings a dreamy texture to the entire work. The piece has another special significance in that it was the last chamber work that Beethoven wrote for a wind instrument in combination with a piano and that it has three movements unlike, its predecessor piano trios, which had four. I would still like to hear the Violin version - which takes the total no. of works I now pursue to 194!

One of the greatest advantages of growing up in a country as culturally diverse and open as India is that you are exposed to varied and somewhat conflicting musical forms. Something that takes away the awkwardness in switching from Beethoven to A. R. Rahman within a matter of few minutes. So it would only be fair, that I spend some time mentioning Tehzeeb's music too. The album has seven tracks (track 8 is a repeat of track 2). Three of them are Ghazals, which means you would expect them to follow a particular (cliched) style of singing.. But then we are dealing with Mr. Rahman here and this is exactly where is talent comes in. I would usually wince at the mere mention of Ghazals, not on this count. There is a certain degree of freshness to the orchestral arrangement and the way which the Ghazals have been treated without deviating too much from the traditional style of rendition. The soul of a Ghazal is the accompanying poetic beauty and by that measure I find Track 5 "Mujhpe Toofan Uthaye" most soulful. It's a ghazal by renowned urdu poet Momin Khan Momin and here is the first couplet from it:

"Mujhpe Toofan Uthaye Logon Ne,
Muft Baithe Bithaye Logon Ne"

which roughly interprets to:

People raised storms at me,
Without any rhyme or reason

It has rained all evening in Bangalore, the atmosphere now is a lot lighter and a gentle breeze with a hint of chill crisscrosses my living room, bring in some music and you've invented heaven!
posted: 19.10.03 | permalink | 0 comments


Here is a couplet that has been haunting me for a while but was waiting expression for want of better words, words which finally descended on me with unmistakable clarity (and unexpected abruptness):

The sun teased me and dissolved in sordid, torrid salty water
Now the crescent moon dissolved in clouds mocks me too...

Random rant of the day

Life is not a Strauss Waltz

posted: 15.10.03 | permalink | 0 comments

My first year at Bangalore!
A short walk to Levi's showroom at Brigade road on Saturday evening led to somewhat funny sequence of events. On my way back, I spotted a new restaurant specializing in Andhra cuisine - being the culinary connoisseur I am, I decided to give it a shot. The restaurant itself is at the second floor of a corner building, while the small ground floor lobby serves as an improvised seating area for people waiting to carry away their orders. So there I was at the second floor, the meal though elaborate did not last long. Within 30 minutes I was there at the lobby, all ready to walk back home except for the fact that the sudden downpour wouldn't let me. It has been a year since I've moved to Bangalore. An umbrella has become one of the crucial objects that I take inventory of before stepping out in the open. Its ubiquitous. Its there very next to wallet, apartment keys, handkerchief. On this particular evening however, due to other preoccupations my mind was indulging in, I forgot to carry it along. The rain Gods it seemed were mocking my absent-mindedness. I rested myself on the sofa and tried wandering into my thoughts, buying time to see the rains away. I was soon joined by three men, who like me, had no intentions of getting drenched in the rain at 9:00 in the night. As a gesture of courtesy I shrunk to the far corner of the couch making room for two of them. This kind move was reciprocated somewhat inappropriately when all three of them forced themselves into space which was barely enough for two. Disgusted at being squeezed around and at the unwanted physical contact, I abandoned my space and stood in a corner. In no time there was a deluge of people from restaurant above. Husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, kids - everyone seemed to have finished their dinner at that very precise moment. Those who had their cars parked near-by, braved the showers while others either stood there chatting or invented impromptu skull caps using their polythene shopping bags which they snugly slipped on their heads and darted out.

The cozy, somewhat inviting lobby now resembled coach of a train in which ruffians without tickets had forcefully barged in. The muffled chat growing to the bustle of a busy cafeteria - intermittent cacophonic beeping of cellphones; shrill, hoarse yells of kids - clamoring for their parents' attention, Loud guffaw at some stale joke which had ceased to be object of humor for me at least 10 years ago. Unable to bear the commotion I stepped out into what was now reduced to a gentle drizzle - or perhaps it was my 10 year old heart that on this occasion took precedence over the 26 year old brain.

While I was fine facing the rains, it dawned on me that my expensive, new cellphone might have different views on the subject. So after dashing for about 200 meters or so I took refuge in the Java City outlet down the street. I knew that taking shelter in a cafeteria would almost certainly translate into a cup of cappuccino - a thought which is otherwise welcome, is not very pleasant at 10:00 at night, simply because coffee in any of its myriad manifestations interferes with my somewhat sensitive sleep cycle. The second problem concerns itself with the brew served at Java City... It's a trifle too bitter for my liking. Granted that coffee by its very nature is bitter, but we are talking about a different league of bitterness here - something more to the tune of unpleasant "medicine-bitter". When caught between the devil and the Dead Sea, the eternal optimist in me chose the sea, for seas usually have beaches and I for one absolutely adore them! Upset sleep implies additional time for blogging and so I relented into ordering a cup for myself. A good downpour brings with it erratic power cuts and tonight was no exception. I had barely enjoyed two sips of my coffee that a sudden pall of darkness descended unannounced. Everyone sitting in the cafe seemed keen to tackle darkness in his own heroic way. Some pulled out their cigarette lighters, while others raised their glowing cellphone screens or turned on their wrist watches - total strangers united by their common crusade against darkness. Very soon the Java City employees carried the power-generator set - raising it like one carries a wounded soldier on a stretcher. The genset, despite valiant efforts by two, seemed reluctant to start. It coughed, sputtered, spewed black smoke as if emulating a teenager having his first smoke and suddenly but adamantly roared to life. The lights gradually came on and I quickly gulped down the lukewarm coffee, cringing at the bitter-sweet last sip. The drizzle came to a gradual halt, and hence spared me the agony of another cappuccino at Java City. What a way to start my second year in the city that is so much a part of me!
posted: 5.10.03 | permalink | 0 comments

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