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Sufferings of the world and musings of a reclusive western classical connoisseur

It started with Alan Furst�s �The World At Night�. I was traveling a lot this month, so though contrary to my usual taste, I had decided to pick a spy thriller, something I find easy to read even under influence of what I call �cramped economy-class stifled leg-room fatigue� (which we�ll refer to as CECSLRF for sake of brevity). This fast paced novel is set against backdrop of invasion of France by Germany in 1939 and narrates the tale of an ordinary civilian (a film producer, Jean Casson) drawn into the murky, racy world of espionage. Since then every book I�ve laid my hands on, has coincidentally (and occasionally consciously) had holocaust or suffering of human race as its theme, backdrop or inspiration. Nineteen Eighty Four was chilling, grim yet brilliant but somewhere in my subconscious mind, I knew that it was fiction so all the torture that our protagonists suffer in the end actually never caused anyone any physical harm (no human beings were harmed during writing of this novel :-)), which makes it all a trifle bearable.

My next books were Fall of Berlin and Che Guevara�s Bolivian Diary respectively (not sure if �respectively� is the right word here because I am still reading both of them almost in tandem) and my myth of �fictional� torture was shattered. Mankind has belted out every imaginable form of torment on fellow beings. Disturbing things I shudder to think of, leave aside mentioning them here. Just when I consoled myself with thoughts that though World War II was human race�s darkest, most somber hour � it was nothing but past � that being one of the God�s most elaborate creation, we are bestowed with ability to learn from our follies and would not do any of it ever again, I came across this article in Newsweek about rise in suicide bombings in Chechnya � increasingly by women suicide bombers. Women who are widows (rather �black widows� as they are called) of Chechen soldiers killed in conflict with Russia (Chechnya has been trying to declare �independence� from Russia for last 150 years). Grim realities of World War II repeating themselves yet again � the time, place and cause might be different but the atrocities remain unchanged (or keep getting worse). While I am not in a position to tell who is right (and perhaps never will be), I fail to understand why senseless suffering and barbarism should even occur to us as means of resolving a conflict.

With number of conflict zones increasing throughout the world, and US spreading itself too thin, there is increasing talk of using private �outsourced� Armies. Companies that hire mercenaries and make them available for combat for dollars. Men who kill men not for a cause or conviction, but because their next pay cheque depends on it. Already, they are involved in �non-combat� functions in war-zones � like training civil police, but then in a war-zone like Liberia, Kosovo or Iraq the line between what is �non-combat� and what is not is thin, hazy and increasingly diminishing.

Having reflected enough on vagaries of world, I must end things on a musical note. During a conversation on Beethoven�s String Quartets (I am currently listening to Op. 59 - the �Razumovsky� quartets and they are BEAUTIFUL!), my cousin recommended that I listen to Samuel Barber�s Adagio for Strings (that I should be listening to it soon was reiterated by its (yes, coincidental!) mention in �The World at Night� on Page 199!).The piece was composed in 1936, which makes it the one of the more recent western classical works that I am listening to (and one of the very few 20th century classical works that I�ve really liked). The most modern western classical piece that I�ve ever enjoyed is one that was composed in 21st century � its called �Waltz far a Romance� and is part of Lagaan�s Original Soundtrack (A. R. Rahman is the composer). Western classical aficionados are a shrinking minority � of all the music sold worldwide, only 3% is classical and of which how much is �contemporary� classical, no one quite knows. This somewhat explains the increasing disarray, Planet M�s western classical section is � at least here in Bangalore, from what I�ve heard/seen, things are no better elsewhere (and if you happen to ask for something specific from the incompetent helpers, you�ll get those scornful �I_don�t_know_which_planet_you_are_from� looks coupled with unintelligible answers � the emphasis being on bemusing you rather than on admitting that they don�t know or don�t have, what you are asking for, in stock)

I feel increasingly secluded trying to explain pleasures of waking up to gentle riveting sound of Bach�s 4th Brandenburg Concerto or sweet intoxication of gradually slipping into sleep with Beethoven�s Fur Elise or the sheer elation of watching fine misty spray of a drizzle with Eric Satie�s Trois Gymnopedies thrown in for interludes� is anyone listening ?!

posted: 31.8.03 | permalink | 0 comments

Army of Ganesha
Just got a mail from Sudhakar and learned that it's Ganesh Chaturthi tomorrow. Although I am a staunch believer in God yet I would classify myself as a casual practitioner of religion; perhaps, quasi-religious would be a more befitting description. Having said that, I still couldn't resist putting up these two photographs that I took during my early morning walk a fortnight ago, simply because of their (coincidental?) relevance to the day tomorrow:

Idols of Lord Ganesha
posted: 29.8.03 | permalink | 0 comments

More Poetry
Though I started flying more than three years ago, my fascination for view from a plane's window is still that of a 12 year old flying for the first time. Needless to say I try all in my might to inveigle a window seat, especially if on an international flight. While flying from Taipei to Seoul, the dense, white cloud formations found me unsuspectingly scribbling these lines on a paper napkin:

I am
a guest in the kingdom of clouds

uninvited - yes
unwelcome - perhaps
Though they let me pass
untouched, unharmed

Sometimes entertained
through myriad, changing forms
playing, singing, dancing
with rays of sun

Sometimes shaken,
gently, a kind plodding wobble
perhaps to assert their authority
reminding me

I am
a guest in the kingdom of clouds

While sailing through the kingdom of clouds
I seek my soul
Does it lurk beneath my own skin
Chaste, morose, sinking -
Or is it out with the clouds
Jiving happy afloat!
posted: 27.8.03 | permalink | 0 comments

Independence day and a stroll to Lal Bagh
The long weekend which the Independence day (Friday, 15th) bestowed called for some celebration. The term celebration could have different connotations for different people and is largely a matter of personal preference. For me it meant getting up early in the morning, listening to Rahman's Vande Mataram, devouring vadas drenched in hot sambar over a cup of hot coffee and dressing in Khaadi (sounds clichéd in hindsight, but I felt overpowered by a strange sense of national pride while indulging in this small insignificant act).

Saturday morning was earmarked for a long pending walk to Lal Bagh botanical garden in Bangalore. I joined a friend and together we headed for our long stroll around 7:30 AM. While Lal Bagh, as expected, left me spellbound for its sheer greenery and freshness, the sights on way to Lal Bagh were no less interesting. No matter which city you are in India, there is a part in each city which has the same smell, sound, texture as any other city. The familiar sight of school kids lugging their increasingly large school bags, some walking in groups of 2-4, some with their flustered parents. Moms and grannies sitting dazed in the verandah washing utensils or drying clothes from morning's laundry. The distant aroma of rich, oily breakfast being readied for husbands leaving for work. Dogs sitting droopy eared, struggling to keep their weary eyes open. Occasionally a two wheeler, bicycle brushes past you in a narrow lane, with kid in school uniform delicately perched in front. Priests with sacred flame in their thali, rotating it clockwise in veneration around the numerous, colorful idols of deities. Ruminating cows either walking leisurely in search of fodder or sniffing stinking trash littered in open, for traces of edible morsels; occasionally skirmishing with canines or crows laying claim on the same heap of garbage.

What it was like at Lal Bagh and way back is best described by pictures. I usually allow words to make up for absence of a digital camera, but by courtesy of my friend on this occasion, I had the luxury of it (digital camera) and hence the photographs. I'll upload them sometime this week as an addendum to this blog entry.
posted: 17.8.03 | permalink | 0 comments

Poetry by serendipity
I realized recently that I could weave words into strings that resemble verse more than prose - Here are excerpts from my initial attempts:

Sunshine streaming through my window
Reminds me I'm still alive
Plodding but still there
I stare at glistening sea far in the horizon
The beach hidden from me by cluster of sky rises
Calm, Still, Bare
Wondering if equanimity can be mistaken
For lack of verve, life

And here is my first ever attempt at Haiku:

Hard rain drums, rustles leaves
Like notes of Chopin's first piano concerto
Moist soil, poignant aroma, solitude

Finally, a funny one, a dig at those long corporate presentations:

Numbed by PowerPoint
They come, present and go
Hours drift by, like hundreds of slides
Screen, mind both are blank
posted: 13.8.03 | permalink | 0 comments

I have a knack for getting into coincidental situations that are utterly immaterial. Yet they sometimes leave me spooked beyond my wits. One such situation presented itself on my flight to Colombo from Chennai. Since this was the first time I was getting into an Indian Airlines plane in 3 years, I decided to browse their in-flight magazine (it was called "Darpan" or something to that effect). It had an article titled "Animal Farm" that talked about a wild life reserve - a little corny given the fact that Animal Farm also happens to be a famous political satire by George Orwell (no points for guessing that Orwell chose this title for his 1945 novel first). Also, unlike this article, Orwell's Animal Farm did not have Elephants or Leopards (enough nitpicking!). It felt slightly quaint because I was carrying Orwell's other famous political satire - Nineteen Eighty Four for reading during the flight. Just when I was about to dismiss this "Orwellian coincidence" as invention of my own fertile imagination, I saw an editorial on relevance of Orwell in today's world-order in Financial Express, being read by gentleman next to me! If there was a secret message somewhere in the planetary configuration at that time, I failed miserably to read it, but this triple whammy did have me transfixed for a few seconds!

I doodle a lot. The harder my concentration levels, the more intense my doodling. Its my way of assimilating information being thrown at me (people chew pen caps, scratch hair, pull knuckles - I doodle). This seemingly harmless habit has drawn me into trouble since childhood - at work (i.e. at school several years ago) as well as at home. While during classes doodling was taken for lack of attention (which often led to rebuking by teachers), at home I was reprimanded for sorry soiled state of my text-books. Times have changed, classes at school have now been replaced by corporate presentations, but my fondness for doodling is pretty much intact. During one such presentation (one of those despicable self-emancipation management workshops), when Harsha Bhogle was explaining how to install pride in one's team, I was scribbling incomprehensible junk. I reproduce here parts of it for its relevance in context of this blog (don't try to read too much into the following - remember its doodle, claptrap, merely an instrument to help me focus better)

Nike + Alfred Hitchcock = Spiky

(illustration of Nike logo becoming bristly when it comes in contact with Alfred Hitchcock).

I would have doodled and forgotten, except for the fact that I was doodling this on 11th August, while 12th August happens to be Alfred Hitchcock's birthday (which I realized on 13th)! Now am I reading too much into things here, or things like this happen to all of us!?
posted: 13.8.03 | permalink | 0 comments

Requiem for trees
Jet Lag is the result of our primitive biological clock's inability to adjust to fast changes in time-zone. You get up at 3:00 in the morning with strange frenzied activity in your head, while your body insists on catching a few more hours of sleep. Matters are compounded by hunger-pangs, the sort of queasy sensation you get in your stomach when you skip two meals in a row.

E-Mail lag is the result of our highly evolved mode of communication's ability to inundate your inbox. You return from US to find 600+ unread e-mail clamoring for your kind attention. Hitting delete is usually not an option at least not without impediment to your peaceful work life.

A queer consequence of these two lags is that you work both time-zones once you are back. Day - keeping yourself awake with copious quantities of caffeine (and because you want to induce fatigue for better sleep). Night - you are supposed to sleep, but you are not sleepy - might as well catch up with some work.

This probably explains, to some extent, the lack of activity on my blog for past three weeks or so.

Never before has chopping of trees had such adverse, turbulent impact on me. Perhaps because it never happened so close to me. This time it was different. There were two, tall, lush Ashoka trees in my apartment complex. I returned from office to find them chopped. Shabbily cut in the middle - beheaded. The tumultuous rustle of their leaves on a cool breezy evening suddenly replaced by melancholy murmur of foliage left after carnage. Gone are the shrill squeaks of playful squirrels jumping across the trees. It still rains, but there is no music. The soaring branches, swinging and jiving in night sky, I used to stare at and gently slip into sleep's lap, have left a void, firmament, which I am scared to look into. All this because someone wanted a little extra sunlight in his balcony.

Time I am sure would eventually heal, though not without a scar.
posted: 6.8.03 | permalink | 0 comments

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