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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A short update

I played around with stock photos and Pokemon on Photoshop for Christmas -- thought I should share it with you all. 
Keep well!

Monday, December 1, 2014

I Felt This Was Necessary

It takes immense maturity, and is a desirable characteristic of civilization, to hate the sin and not the sinner. However, there are numerous instances in which, that intellectually charged sense of heart-wrenching fairness becomes a vehicle for excuse-mongering in favour of convenient injustices. What then? In the face of a rampant social evil, is the sympathy-based correctional approach at all fair, or for that matter, effective?
================================================
Blame

It's not his fault, they told her--
Blame his parents, his childhood, his home,
But not the poor boy.
His mother probably didn't teach him well.

So she forgave him, and prayed for his soul.
Not being its fault either,
She let his godforsaken child live:
Hated the kid all her life, but raised him, fed him.
Even took him to see his blameless father;
Sent him to school, where one day he knew.

He turned sixteen:
Decided it was his time to emulate Father.
Many saw him, and kept quiet.
Mother saw him, but kept quiet,
And she prayed for his soul
Because perhaps she hadn't taught him well.

And that's what they said to the girl.
Who, history repeating, let it live.
The guilty mother saw the signs one day.
Decided to make right her sin,
Took a blade to the girl's throat,
Went to jail for misplaced mercy.
The sixteen-year-old blameless son
Watched her shackled departure in disgust.
His child, his blameless child, he thought.
His innocent creation in the belly of his prey.
A boy, he had hoped.
Just like him inside his mother.

What a shame!
So he went out to make things right.
Few nights later, one of them screamed.
This time everyone saw.
Elections approaching, this time,
The many-coloured flags rose in protest.
Also some candles, black arm bands,
Journalists, columnists, analysts.

But one wise old man said,
It's not his fault.
His mother didn't teach him well.
What a tainted mother anyway, to let him live --
And gladly the old man repeated events
To those not in the know.
The old man's wife reminded him, helpfully:
Not just that, husband --
Remember how she killed that girl?
Of course the poor boy's not to blame;
To have a mother like that, poor thing.

================================================
This poem is a product of many people, on many occasions, encouraging me to understand the greyer shades between black and white, and appreciate the reasons behind crimes committed. In response, I have chosen to write, and I've picked the foremost criminal issue in India which was also the last issue I discussed with someone along those lines -- the continuum of sexual aggression against women, from harassment, to domestic violence, molestation and rape. While a lot has been said about fixing the grassroots and changing mindsets, which I respect and even agree with, I will never support the utterance of these ideas in the immediate context of a crime. With all due respect to campaigns like #startwiththeboys , and the women and men who want to change the attitudes at the origin of crime, we cannot expect a victim, or even her immediate family, to appreciate the reasons behind the crime. Doing so trivializes the victim's ordeal and shifts focus from her trauma. Once the crime has been committed, once the basest human dignities of a person have been trampled upon, there are no shades of grey -- it is black and white. 
All crimes, sex crimes included, are a product of troubled pasts and wrong teachings in some form -- but let that not become an excuse. Once committed, the primary action must be punishment -- harsh punishment. Campaigns are for potential criminals, not hardened ones who are already desensitized -- and even if convicts are to be reformed, it can hardly be done in a day, and is best attempted inside secure facilities. Let us not be so concerned about being fair to the perpetrators and protecting their rights that we forget the justice we owe to the victim.
(Speaking of victims -- let us not subscribe to the voyeuristic idealization of the 'shamed victim' picture. Let us offer the kind of support that encourages a victim to be strong and move on, instead of defining her by her ordeal for the rest of her life.)
The secondary theme in the poem, and the reason I chose to write about the mother, is a simple and direct reaction to this:

"Like a compass needle that points north, a man's accusing finger always finds a woman. Always." -- Nana, in Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns.

That book, along with its predecessor The Kite Runner, are some of the rawest stories of systematic social injustice that I've read. More on that later, hopefully clubbed with the discussion on And The Mountains Echoed, which is next on my reading list.
Meanwhile, #startwiththeboys , but lets not make a victim live with the humiliating knowledge that the perpetrator has received lenient treatment or, as is often the case, has gone scot-free. Men who consider women less than human, should receive a taste of that same humiliation. Domestic violence is non-negotiable. Harassment is non-negotiable. Molestation is non-negotiable. Rape is non-negotiable. It is black. Very black.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

For 5 : For Them

==========================================================
For Them
 
It's the middle of winter, but
I'm sweating through my uniform.
Now I notice it's dripping
On my graffiti-ridden communal desk, and
My sand-whitened black regulation shoes.
My friends shiver underneath their blazers--
For them, I don't request the fan.

It's been ages since the old man decided
That it's good not to think of oneself
That it's good to be selfless, devoid of ego
That it's good to care, good to share;
But as of yet the old man has offered no advice
On the daily inculcation of his goodness--
And after all these years, despite much effort,
We haven't, yet, quite figured it out.

My people in all their flawed perfection
Prefer ruthlessly imperfect leaders.
Those closest to me know that I was born a perfectionist.
Rather obsessive-compulsive, if you will.
That... that ruthless imperfection... it's like surgery.
False moves equal death -- how can I?
But maybe. Maybe for them.

The spectre of my self-doubt
Is a lanky, wispy, annoying presence.
He smirks and grins and patronizes;
He runs away from all trouble on his pesky legs
And returns, grinning, when the dust settles:
On my black regulation shoes.
His shoes, I've noticed, don't see much cleaning.
Nor do those teeth he grins with, the fool.

Sometimes I forget the old man's dreams.
Sometimes I resent my comfortably clothed friends--
I stride up and switch on all the fans at once.
Sometimes I claw at my wraith as he cunningly fades--
I fell his Cheshire grin to the ground and beat it to pulp.
Sometimes the children in the sandy park
Seem unworthy of all we do for them.

I confess that I'm not free of treacherous fantasy.
There are times when I could kill;
Not just kill, but torment souls
And condemn them to eternal damnation.
That infuriating uniform sticks  to my skin
While I toil for woollen-lined people who don't give a hoot
For wrinkled ideals from a distant Dream--
Those lusting liars, fat cats, scheming slatterns!

But eventually I shiver -- with it I relearn sympathy.
The children squeal -- I remember the old man's labours.
And my ghost? The ghost is but my spirit!
That unsure skeleton is me in another life!
I built him as an aggregation of my wrong choices--
To remind me to safely separate thought from action.
The ghost, I know now, is my creation-- for them.
==========================================================

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

For 4 : For Once

For Series, 4th poem. Venturing outside my comfort zone with this one, with respect to style.
====================================================
For Once

The smiles are hidden and distorted
By strange, dripping puddles on the incomplete glass;
The rough wood, caught up in the lacy tablecloth,
Keeps the frame precariously still--
Askew, but safe between flames and the floor.

The faces in the frame want to look again into those eyes
That saw in them their entire lives, and much more;
And made them, in secret gratitude, the heroes of stories
That the world's people called masterpieces, but which
They knew to be fond memories --
Signatures live, in soot stains and dried wax,
Of nights without electricity: labours of love.

The tired face with half-closed eyes,
Resting on a tired, vein-lined elbow,
Wants to feel, again, the heat of a mind racing
To keep up with wildly competing visions:
Of exotic adventures, bloody wars... car chases, crowds!
It wants, again, to feel the sweat dripping
From the forehead of genius down the brow of wisdom,
Down the rough cheeks, flushed, and lips slightly parted
From exhaustion, excitement, and the sheer thrill of creation.

But not anymore, the inspiration from reminiscence;
Not anymore, the colourful dreams by candlelight,
Immortalized in royal blue ink for the public's adulation.
The intellect made feverish by uncensored exploitation
No longer finds its children worthy of their birth pangs--
The mind that knows to madden crowds and critics alike
Grows uneasy behind that weary, half-lit face.

So what if they soil the birthplace of his creations?
For once, he wants the candle flames
To consume smile, vision and memory;
For once, all love and art, to him, is in the faint music
Of the missing shard of glass falling to the floor,
The ink-stained grip that held the world, now loosened
By the dark pools steadily engulfing the soot stains on the lace.
====================================================

Good or clichéd? Let me know! Actually, this is my second poem on the general topic, my first being a rather childish one.
At the time I thought that (the linked one) was scary, but I've written many negative poems since then, including the one above. I invite you to check out my earlier poems and tell me if I do better on the dark ones or the happy ones.
Take care.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Whoa. Burn.

That's not a post title I'm proud of, and when I found out partway into Dan Brown's Inferno that his primary historical inspiration this time was Dante's Inferno, I immediately judged that the book was rather unimaginatively titled. Without risking a spoiler, I can say that the element of the plot which is called 'Inferno' appears to be named rather poorly as well, in context of the allegorical relations to Dante's work -- unless we consider the deep symbolism in that old masterpiece, which the common reader, unfamiliar with Dante except in name, will find difficult to grasp through its treatment in this book alone. Then again, of course, Langdon is a symbologist, so maybe the symbolism should be important.
For the first time, my
own copy of Inferno, not
a picture off the internet;
with my hand for proof!
Brown's fourth Langdon story had been on my reading list since it was published, and I finally got to it last week. A novel of its length and pace would take me a maximum of three days earlier, but given my altered schedule I had less hours per day to read -- which means it took me four; and for three of those four days, I was disappointed and nearly bored. Almost everything was predictable, with a little concentration I could see through nearly everything, and as usual Langdon was running around with a younger woman of academic background who had begun to feel warm and fuzzy towards him -- till then I wasn't impressed with the plot, and the small reference mistakes that one can condone in researched thrillers of this kind began to grow big in my head and irritate me to no end.
The consolation, however, lay in the fact that this time, Brown had brought forth richer imagery, better language, more variation of style, better gelling subplots -- and so, lacking thrill, I delved into the technicalities of the thriller. I noticed how, this time, the balance between science and history typical to Langdon stories was tipped heavier towards science than ever, and that gave me some warmth, being a student of Science myself.
Perhaps it is unknown or even unthinkable internationally, but it is a fact that Indian litterateur snobs had criticized Brown's work as cheap, old-wine-in-new-bottle thrill, and drawn comparisons with 'mature' writers like Rushdie and Jeffrey Archer -- comments and comparisons that I always considered baseless and foolish but was hitherto unable to counter adequately. As such, I began gearing myself up to point out all the technical improvements in Brown's work in this post and in my conversations with fellow readers. Suddenly, however, on day four, Brown smashed so many twists in my face that it felt like he was holding it all in for the rest of the novel to dump it into the last third of it. I forgot all about the technicalities, started feeling utterly stupid, went red, broke a sweat, did a dance, tweeted about it, and then sat down to read again -- burn, critics; burn, smart-asses -- Brown just upped his game. You know how they say good writing is about being unafraid of vulnerability? Well, if not really himself, Brown made his protagonist Langdon more vulnerable than ever in this novel, sometimes to the point of appearing clueless and puppet-like, and that gave his story new places to go : the fact that Langdon's vulnerability opened up Brown's writing makes me wonder more than ever about how much of Langdon is Brown's alter ego. I, for one, have always felt that the greying hair and well-tailored clothing are, um, inspired, which is why I've never reconciled with the screen version of Langdon.
Reading Inferno, my first lasting reaction was to rethink my choice of picking French as a fourth language instead of Italian, though both are available, among others, on DuoLingo, because this book has more unexplained Italian than The Da Vinci Code had of unexplained French. The second lasting impression was from a gender equality standpoint -- mostly of a female lead who is, for a change, partially outside of stereotype, but not quite enough. The lead woman this time essentially works independently and does not conform to the expected appearance, but I would like to see a character who is a person first and a woman second. The other strong females in the story are also too far defined by their femininity in some way or the other -- this is something common to Brown's Langdon novels, and absent or inconspicuous in the others. Whether Brown feels the need to design them this way to protect Langdon's masculinity or something stupid like that, I do not know. Also, in this book and previous ones, I dislike how Brown always prefixes the gender of unnamed female professionals. He writes 'female technician', and simply 'technician' for males. It seems to further the idea that the nature of the profession is affected by gender, or like being female is a part of the job description, thus making it different from the 'normal', male version of the job -- it sounds like a clarification or even an apology. I'm all for a healthy mix of equally strong and important male and female characters -- otherwise all this I'm saying wouldn't have a point -- but I think the pronouns should do the defining. It shouldn't be so, that unless specified, the person is male; unless specified, gender should be just that -- unspecified, and if it's a character who comes in for one line as a part of their job in the story, why does the gender matter anyway?
Third, I found the the characters better fleshed out this time, as if Brown paid more attention to them. We are given deeper insight into a larger number of characters besides Langdon, complete with better back-stories and more page space given to their individual thoughts and feelings. They are also more indispensable to the story this time. This, combined with the science-leaning narrative and the relative departure from a Langdon-centric approach makes this story more similar to Deception Point and Digital Fortress than the other Langdon stories -- I always felt that except for being a secondary character, Tolland in Deception Point could be, with a bit of reworking, be replaced by Langdon.
The most lasting impression, however, is of the impact of this book's ending. All of Brown's novels, especially the Langdon ones, have left me with new insight and new moral dilemmas, but the endings have not threatened to change the nature of life as I, or as we, know it. Even issues relevant to modern life have been conclusively put to rest, at least within the scope of the story. But this time, the issue and the ending are especially chilling because the issue is the realest yet, and the ending would have had serious repercussions on everyone's life had it been true. It is a new kind of ending, with a new kind of exit sequence for Langdon, which Dan Brown veterans will find a pleasant surprise.
And yes, the last word. If not for anything else, do read the novel for its last word.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Thomas Mann, You Sneak!

Image Courtesy: Google Images
ie. the picture is of a copy
identical to mine, and not of
my actual copy.
I recently finished an anthology of stories by Nobel Laureates, which I received as a token of felicitation from my school for qualifying for NTSE. It had been a while since the last anthology I read before this (another Nobel Laureate one, from Mom), and I found it strangely exhausting, having to read so many stories to finish just one book. I've realized that it is the storyline which grips me, not the desire to finish the book. In the course of finishing the anthology I had some wonderful moments of predicting the outcome of stories, which as always made me feel clever. I had some more moments when I was able to mentally compare the work of an author to something else by them that I'd read before -- it made me feel very well-read.
The most exhausting part, though, was reading Thomas Mann's novella Death In Venice, which takes up nearly half the book's volume. When I started the book, I expected short stories and stories, not novellas -- which took me by surprise when this piece refused to end. Then I remembered that the introduction mentioned it as a novella. So I had to persevere, and to put it frankly, in this case the desire to finish the book was what fuelled me to read through it. Being unexpectedly long, its intellectual challenge (and the requirement of constant Googling to get all the inter-textual references), which I usually consider part of the enjoyment of reading, began to feel like a chore. The central character was arguably the creepiest central character in the whole book. The introduction says that the object of the central character's near-criminal creepiness is inspired by a real person, who I feel sorry for. The novella was good, but by the ending I was too tired to be moved by finer things like subtlety and understatement, which is probably why I didn't enjoy the ending all that much. Once I finished that one novella, I had a surge of false gratification which was cruelly dashed by the sight of the remaining thickness of the book, but I got through it; and I must say, after many full-length novels, an anthology was refreshing.
The last story, like in almost any other anthology or compilation I've ever read, was the most psychologically disturbing and confusing. I've never ever comprehended the closing story of an anthology to my satisfaction, barring the ones prescribed as schoolwork, and this one was no exception: even Google could not help me. The story was Il Tratto di Appelle by Boris Pasternak. The scariest story was John Galsworthy's The Silence, and the most intriguing concept, for me, was in Anatole France's The Red Egg. I was pleasantly surprised by The Musician by Selma Lagerlof, because her The Rattrap is in my school text this year. As always, it felt good to find India's own Rabindranath Tagore on the list -- this book contains his Artist, which I faintly remember reading in the original Bengali a long time ago, somewhere. The most predictable story for me was The Hack Driver by Sinclair Lewis, but only because this kind of story, pioneered by the likes of him, has inspired too many later works and become overdone to the point of being cliched. I can only imagine the ingenuity it took to come up with that without inspiration. Then again, who am I to pick favourites in a long list of Nobel Laureates? Shaw, Tagore, Kipling, Hemingway, Yeats... all the greats, and that's the best thing about an anthology -- at the end of the book, we get to come away touched by the thoughts of not one great author, but many. They leave you stimulated, outraged, emotional, sympathetic, enthused, inspired -- not to mention more knowledgeable and mature. To more anthologies!
On second thoughts, The Hack Driver wasn't the most predictable for me, in the literal sense. The Sardinian Fox, by Grezia Deledda, was in common with the other Nobel Laureate anthology that my mother gifted me, and I clearly remember being very disturbed by it at the time. I still did reread it, and this time it outraged me much less than the last time -- back then when I was younger, the concept had seemed far more dreadful and the twist far more, well, twisted. Whether I should attribute that to maturity and age or prior familiarity with the story, I don't know. I could also attribute it to the desensitization by all the way more outrageous things contained in this book.
Now I'm thinking I should probably re-read that other book sometime. I might find more stories in common, or more stories to be outraged by, which I don't remember because I didn't understand them then. By the way, I'm too tired to give hyperlinks for all the works listed above. Google them if you're interested. Seriously people, do your own work sometimes -- I'll catch up with y'all later.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

For 3 : For Fun

Back on the For wagon. Read on!

====================================
For Fun

You know that fun guy
With the fun friends
Who does all those things for fun?
Things like 
Smuggling alcohol into campus,
Sneaking out at night to party,
Blackmailing his parents for the new iPad,
Selling leaked test papers,
Etcetera?

Well, the other day at basketball
His shirt rode up for an instant
And we saw scars all over his torso,
Some fresher than the others.
Everyone thought what you're thinking:
One of his fun friends even said it.
But, knowing him, I'm pretty sure --
And I think, knowing him, you will agree --
That he probably just does it for fun.
====================================

I've never addressed this issue on this blog before, but if you know of someone committing self-harm, please get help. Now. Especially teenagers, do keep an eye on your friends -- and know that a) suicidal tendencies are not the only negative coping strategies to be worried about and b) a troubled mind is not always apparent. So be there for your friends, and ask a lot of questions about everything.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Poetic Whimsicality

A standalone poem -- not part of the For Series.
=====================================
The Tale of the Gravy King

Once upon a time there lived a King
Who so strongly swore by gravy
That with it was made his crown and throne
And his Army and his Navy.

He ordered gravy currency made
To replace the kingdom's money
And found himself a gravy wife
To keep him company.

He built a new capital in his name --
All made of gravy, wall to wall --
And at its centre, was his gravy palace
With gravy towers tall.

Deep within that gravy palace,
Guarded by forty gravy men,
Lay the King's gravy bedroom,
Gravy bath and gravy kitchen.

Daily from there the King emerged
Dressed in gravy head to heels
And boarded his gravy carriage, that
Had gravy flag and wheels.

He rode the carriage to gravy court
To meet his gravy minister,
His gravy commander-in-chief,
Gravy priest and gravy jester.

The King was so in love with gravy
That one could be put to death
If one decried gravy in his deeds,
His words or even his breath.

It so happened one morning
That a King of another nation
Visiting our Gravy King,
Called to question his obsession.

At once the Gravy King stood tall
And drew his gravy scimitar
And thundered, "In the name of gravy,
'Gainst thee I declare war!"

The visiting Royal, bound by honour,
Accepted the invitation.
When he had left, patriotic spirit
Gripped the gravy nation:

All the ridicule that they faced
For their King's peculiar ways
Would give way, in case of victory,
To glory and high praise!

So the gravy soldiers drilled all day
And the forges growled all night,
Making gravy swords and cannonballs
And gravy armour bright.

When the battle day came, however,
The gravy swords and shields
Proved no match for weapons forged
Of iron, bronze and steel.

But the Gravy King rallied his troops
And denied them retreat.
The gravy soldiers fell one by one
In an inglorious defeat.

Grievously wounded, the King was carried
To the camps and given care,
But soon the gravy healers
Declared him beyond repair.

With weakened words, the Gravy King
Of the proud gravy nation
Requested that the gravy priest
Come in to hear Confession.

The gravy priest was fetched, and at
The Gravy King's behest,
All but the priest left him, after
Paying their respects.

Then, with his dying breath, the King,
In a voice tired and small,
Made his last Confession: "Father,
I never liked gravy at all!"
=====================================

Saturday, September 27, 2014

For 2 : For Friendship

Taking it 'for'ward. Ignore the bad pun, please, and read on.
====================================
For Friendship

We've always done a lot for friendship.
We've lowered standards,
Altered expectations,
Reconsidered principles.
We've tolerated ugliness, vice, weakness.
We've opened our homes and hearts
To leeches, beggars, thieves
And given overt benefits of the doubt.
We've rewarded manipulation and betrayal
With compromise and second chances.
We've risked reputation, integrity,
Identity, sanity, health, wealth,
Privacy, family, country -- even life.

So I think it's time we let everyone know
That what we've done for friendship
We've done for friendship alone.
If there's anything else
That they'd like to append to friendship --
Be it business, or worse, be it pleasure --
They're on their own.
Because only for friendship will we ever
Stoop as low as we have.
Everything else
We'd like to do with dignity.

====================================
How far would you go for friendship? Let me know.

For 1 : For Innocence

Beginning the 'For' Series.
================================================
For Innocence

Let us all strive for innocence today.
Let's show the world our best puppy-dog eyes
And flash our pearl-toothed ingratiation.
Let our tongues rival the finest silver,
Let servile flattery be our clothing
And hypocrisy our adornment;
Let our self-love and egotism, garbed
Covertly in gold and silk, be disguised
In the humble livery of service.
Let's win hearts and confidences and trust
And eventually minds and bodies,
And finally races, peoples, nations...

...let's decree innocence mandatory!
Let's enforce its permanent residence
Beneath women's veils, abused children's smiles --
Then, we'll celebrate 'cause we saved the world,
Rid it of suspicion, complications, --
And made it a safe place for our children,
Where no child will suspect a stranger's touch,
People will procreate but not know how.
It'll be Paradise -- but the fruit, untouched,
Will never tell man of his nakedness.

================================================
Reference to The Good Book... what-what?!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

#13, #14

#13

Bony, knotted grips;
Cold hands on shivering knees
And Friendship and Love.

==================================
#14

The Goddess alights.
She will vanquish evil, and
Demons' wives will weep.

==================================
As you can see, I included the numbering within the post this time. Better or worse? Feedback please!

Of Change, Clichés and Reality Checks

I heard in some TV show of an experiment where they gave people glasses that fed them with an upside down view of the world. At first, they had trouble but in three days, they got used to it and could make their way around. Then, they removed the glasses.
The scientists wanted to know if the recovery of normal perception would take as long as the 'upside down' conditioning did. Knowing that the way we usually see the world is 'normal', you would expect it to take less time, wouldn't you? But no, the test subjects where just as disoriented as during the first change, and took all of three days to get used to the upright world.
The conclusion? Even something trivial as which way up is subject to conditioning. Our brain has immense power to adapt, and half the things we believe to be set in stone are not actually so.
Hmm, that statement got dangerously close to cliché territory, didn't it? Very self-help! Maybe the other day's motivational session courtesy Aakash (should I write about that or not... show of hands?) left me with some inspiration. But I know what it most certainly left me with. I volunteered at the session and scored myself a bar of Bournville... hey, hey, hey!
Ahem, focusing. Focusing.
So, people want to change things -- say people like me, and we're always up to making some noise. But lately, I find people throwing all their nonsense unplanned dreams into the world and expecting them to come true. I'm sorry, y'all, but if you want to bring a social revolution or something, my heart is with you, but you need a damn head! Back in Carmel, the SPICE Club did very little for the society and the planet compared to bigger organizations for similar causes; but whatever was done was planned and hence fruitful.
The other day this girl I know -- sweet girl, really, nice heart and all -- comes at me with this weird and creepy-ass rumbling ramble about wanting to go 'motivate' poor kids. Apparently, she got First World Guilt when she passed a slum on the way back from shoe shopping at the mall. She felt we should do something. I had to explain to her that this stuff needs commitment and expertise and not just good intentions -- doing something is different from donating to the Prime Minister's damn Relief Fund. You need something real, like the SPICE Club took up coaching some underprivileged kids. Besides, just talking to them would be intruding into their lives and wasting their time, probably getting in the way of their livelihoods and the work of real social workers, and leave with a fake self-satisfaction that we've done something. It's the typical thing we privileged people do to feel less bad about our indulgences and, well, privileges.  I know many great movements are born from the aforesaid First World Guilt, especially if said First World is ensconced in the Third World, as it is in India -- I, however, highly doubt that quenching the guilt is equivalent to an actual contribution.
At the cost of further cliché, I will say that one should rather start small, around oneself -- be nice to the maid and her kids, stop the elders in your home from mistreating the staff. I will also reiterate that most states of affairs that we take as unchangeable are actually a result of conditioning. Some take three days and some take three decades, but change is possible.
It has to be, however, real change, which comes from realistic effort and a mindset built for not dreaming but doing. Which is why I told that girl -- go and find someone who really knows this work, and volunteer with them instead of stepping out on your own. There is no point in ignoring all the work done by the experts and reinventing the wheel. In the change business, as well as in any other field, growth begins with learning. Always.
Ciao, and peace.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Back to School, Students' Council, and Small Good Deeds

In less than eight hours from now, I will begin another day of normal school -- the same old 7:45 to 1:50 routine, studying, socializing, Students' Council work, and keeping a lookout for inconspicuous opportunities to affect other people's lives in a positive way.
Since the day I became Head Girl of HSMS, life has been... well, pretty much the same really. Mostly, I go around setting straight things and people that stray, or go askew, or make mistakes, or get hurt, or cause hurt to other things and people that matter -- which I've been doing since last year (and that is just in this one school) and has simply become official and organized now. My day consists of making the most of class hours, and then in the breaks, aside from eating, I try to utilize the time to make a difference in the HSMS experience for my fellow students.
Students in the school tend to think that being Head Girl (or anyone in the Students' Council, but especially a Head) is all about power trips, power walks, power talks, power yelling, power play. The older students do somewhat appreciate the discipline and streamlining we bring to the school, but that is hardly everything. As a leader in my previous school and in this one, I have tried, in every working hour, to inspire goodness in my fellows and juniors -- especially my juniors. I don't know how much I've succeeded, but the journey hitherto has been amazing, and continues to be so. Every day I deal with volumes of troublesome kids and friends who refuse to listen or understand, and sometimes I have to take action to extents that break my heart. But from time to time, there's that kid who comes up and asks me how someone can become the Head Girl or Head Boy, and I tell them about being true to oneself, about sincerity, loyalty, dedication; and also about time management, compartmentalization, innovation and self-discipline. Whenever I can, I try to dispel from the minds of children the image of a leader who is nothing but an authoritarian -- which is difficult to do in a day and age of rebellion against all forms of authority. Having passed through such a rebellious phase myself, I continue to strongly believe that rebellion, in essence, is indicative of free thinking and intelligence: qualities that, if channelized, can make marvellous grown-ups out of children, which is why I, self-punishingly, make those kids, the problem kids, my business.
Ask any kid who has ever been yelled at by me (individually, that is -- crowd management is a different story), and they will tell you how their first offence has been handled discreetly, and as far away from the public eye as possible. I strongly believe that a calm voice and an explanation, instead of shaming, can go a long way: Mother always explained to me what I did wrong, and so, unlike my classmates, I never resented my mother for a single moment of my life. Annoyed with her, maybe; angry, maybe; disappointed, oh yes all the time: but I never doubted her loyalty to the cause of my betterment, as opposed to what most grown-ups prioritize -- their authority, their pride, their public image and not the child's. Children need that -- they need to trust someone to be truly dedicated to their cause, their life, their hopes and dreams. So when kids act out, I try to apply my mother's methods -- I try to seek the root of their rebellion and do my bit to repair it. Sometimes it is, unfortunately, out of my hands: factors like home conditions and peer groups have influences greater than mine, at times. But at other times, kids have changed because of things I told them, which is a rare beauty in my life given the fact that I, myself, am essentially still a kid. It is cause for great thanksgiving, and a deep satisfaction that many adults never get to experience.
Back in Carmel, there were countless juniors and peers who were brought back to the mainstream of school life after I spoke to them, and they continue to keep in touch and thank me from time to time -- I feel immensely humbled to have touched their lives. There are also children who were always in the mainstream, but lacked confidence or organization, and I could, if not for privacy concerns, name a handful who claim that they learnt those missing skills because of me. One kid told me almost a year back that I changed her life, which is when I first thought of penning this post. My teachers in Carmel have praised me for creating more leaders before I left, and hopefully those leaders have created more. In Hem Sheela, the task is more uphill, given the larger body of students and the shorter time I had here for groundwork. But still, I persist to do leadership differently. The kid from above is in Hem Sheela now, and she reminds me every day of the gift that I must share with all: the gift of integrity, passion and kindness, which I learnt from my mother and some unsung stalwarts in my family and among my teachers.
The things I do differently are simple, really: in fact, by the book, they should not be different but normal. First, aside from doing this for myself (which I don't mind admitting I do), I also do this for others. Specially, I do this for those kids who are invisible and cannot stand up to miscreants and bullies. Sometimes they are too scared to make formal complaints and they come to me, and I coach them in making compact, logical and believable complaints to their teachers, with courage, composure and willpower, which will ensure that their message gets across. Many have reported back to me that they were no longer scared of the authorities, and they managed to approach their teachers and get problems -- bullies, thieves, evil twins -- sorted to their satisfaction.
Second, I go to great lengths to make sure that I'm fair, and that I don't overstep my bounds. People may have cause to complain that I'm cruel, but they will never, ever be able to complain that I'm unfair or against the rules. If I'm cruel, I'm equally cruel to all, as a leader should be. Third, I know when to swallow my pride and get help. My friends sometimes resent me for reporting problems to teachers and getting someone in trouble in the process, but I know when something is out of my league. And so yes, I run to momma. Things get done, don't they? Fourth, I don't do things just to show people who's boss. I don't hit people, I don't curse at people, I don't loudmouth people into submission. The things I yell are logical -- always. Simple, don't you think?
Yet these simple, textbook, rules of leadership are considered unnecessary, ridiculous, outright weird even. Still I try, and I attempt to instil the same in the budding leaders who work under me. I must reiterate here that among all the kids I meet, the few that change positively because of me are the beauty and joy in all of this. They are my fuel, my inspiration, my light. They are the real strong ones, because change is scary, submitting to help is scary, facing your problems is scary, but they have done it. They have learnt confidence, defeated bullies, controlled tempers, quit vices, improved in academics and co-curriculars: and so much more -- which they claim, is all because of something I said to them someday, but is really because they always had inner strength. Granted, ninety percent ignore what I say and move on, but the ten percent is my reward. And friends, I'm not the only one with this gift. Clichéd as it may sound, every person can influence others positively. And if you try, you will feel the same joy that I feel as I write this. I swear, people, at this point if I were speaking to you instead of committing my thoughts to this piece of plastic and glass, chances are I would cry. I would cry out of sheer happiness and gratitude that I have seen things grow and bloom under my touch. It's wonderful, beautiful, transforming!
Which is why, people, I go back to school tomorrow despite the dreariness and the monotony. I go because of the sheer addiction of doing something good, bringing some change, showing people what leadership can be. I go for the hope that when I'm done, the people who went to school with me will not just remember my power walk and ninja plaits and loud voice (though I would love it if they did!), but also my smile, my jokes, my help, my hand on their shoulders in troubled times; and I also go for the hope that all of this will earn me a few, if not many, hands to hold and shoulders to cry on when I will need them. Because that's what we mean when we speak of humanity, don't we, people?
I must mention here a quote that caught my attention because of how perfectly it captures the philosophy behind my style of Students' Council work:
“Discipline without freedom is tyranny; freedom without discipline is chaos” -- Cullen Hightower.
Hence, people, I believe in the kind of discipline that fosters the freedom of mind, body and emotion in a way that this freedom is organized and equally distributed -- hence the tough love, hence the rules, hence the power walk.
I will leave you with a plea to wish me (and our Council) luck for restarting work after the Durga Puja holidays (work, unfortunately, will be in suspended animation till then because the junior Council members still have exams). Unfortunately, the last kid I tried to inspire disappointed me terribly, and I have, sadly, identified the factors at work to be beyond my influence. Hence, I'm a bit down on the good feelings. Therefore, let this post be a reminder to me and to all of you that despite the failures, touching even one life just a teeny bit is more than what most people ever get to do, and that it is the most beautiful and humbling feeling ever.
Peace out!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Poetry Done Quick

This one's very spontaneous and very real, and hence I have no explanation. Just read it.
==============================================
Reflection on the Day Before Bedtime

Why can't I see?
I've dissected every possibility
I've peeped into every crack of light
I've burrowed through the crumbly mud of depression and self-loathing
I've done it right.
Believe me, I have.
I've taken every precaution
I've double-checked everything
All of it is exactly as it should be
But still I feel gaps that let in the cold air,
That steals the warmth in my spirits
And leaves me shivering, heavy, blinded

My eyelids droop and I don't know why
I see clearly all those things
That I don't want to see
That I want to deny
That I wish were not true
The betrayals, the hatred, the manipulation, the duplicity
The hypocrisy, the fake smiles, the murder of morals
The selfishness, the crude lies, the rumour-mongering
Confound it all!
That's all I see!
Why can I not see
The things I want to see?
Peace and laughter and friendship and trust
And sharing, and compassion and honour and respect
Those things that seem so real until I begin to believe in them
And then they bare their teeth and transmogrify
Into swooshing imposing dark shadows
Flying in swirling motion all around the inside of my head
Laughing maniacally; or worse still, they become
Honey-sweet words, or promises of love, silver tongues dripping
With selfishness, malice, poison, revenge!

Why the insecurity?
What have I ever done to you?
What can I ever do to you, for have you not weakened me enough?
What bounds can I overstep, for have you not already hemmed me in?
What pride can I display, for have you not already humiliated me?
Am I so powerful that you fear me?
Is my oath too strong for your plans?

I've taken every step with careful consideration
Walked a web of tightropes
Navigated carefully, cushioned your ego
Made you comfortable in your flimsy existence
So what's wrong?
Do visions of my prospects, my future
Remind you where you stand in comparison?

Oh the horror, when my bliss of numbers and words
Must give way to anger and sadness and wasteful rants
When the dreams of a pair of young eager eyes
Are mocked and betrayed and quashed
By those meant to protect,
Just because those dreams are real and possible and imaginable
Unlike what young dreams tend to be,
And in being rational and impossible to dismiss as fantasy,
In being on the way to becoming reality--
In being plausible without abandoning
Honour, vision, kindness, love, friendship, trust,
Poetry, politeness, light, laughter, truth--
They intimidate all those who, in fear and weakness,
Have abandoned their dreams in the dark mad-houses
Of that voyeur of life called Time

They are defeated
They are done, they are yesterday
And thus they resent those
Who have much left to dream of
And so much left to do --
Who still stand a chance to win.
But let them, let them wither and waste;
Let them, let them die;
The young are too young to decode their lies
The young are too tired to sit up and think.
It is past midnight.
Not the time for the young to be awake.
The young must rest.
The young must sleep.
Tomorrow, then?
==============================================

Friday, September 5, 2014

Gratitude 7 (Teachers' Day Special 2014) : Five

Teachers' Day Special : I suppose that's self-explanatory. Please read the entire poem before forming your opinions.
====================================
Five

In the classrooms behind the cobwebs
Of our greying reminiscence
There lives a story of The Five :
Five high school friends --

Five rebels of hot young blood
Who found all things unfair;
Five devils of the school's halls,
Every teacher's nightmare

And how they ruled the place!
They mangled the chairs and walls
And broke the teacher's desk, and
Trashed the washroom stalls.

Every teacher, class and rule
Was branded as nonsense
By The Five, the high school bosses,
With the utmost confidence.

If ever perchance there was a class
That they deigned to attend,
It ended with one or all of them
Standing out at the hallway's end...

... and on Teachers' Day in Class Twelfth,
The Five, the smart and clever,
Decided it was revenge time --
Payback, now or never.

They usurped the stage on September Five,
All prudence dead and burnt,
And hurled every sick expletive
That they had ever learnt.

When The Five finally left the stage,
Anger spent and gone,
Their homeroom teacher of three years
Asked to speak with them alone.

The words spoken to The Five behind
Those closed classroom doors
Are unknown to all others till date --
Not even the Principal knows

But thereafter till Farewell,
The Five went underground;
Come school's end, they shook hands and parted,
Never again to be found.

Tonight, on September Five,
Fifty and five years thence,
Three people gathered at my place --
Three remaining of Five friends --

And on the moonlit rooftop
Looking skyward, we lay
Whispering to every star,
Happy Teachers' Day.
====================================

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Owning Your Anger and other stories

Today I felt real, white-hot anger after a long time. I can't remember when the last time I felt like that was -- it had probably been more than a year. The reason I call my anger 'white-hot' is because of how I perceive it. Anger has traditionally been associated with the colour red, but despite my originally explosive temper that I keep gagged and bound, I have never, ever, seen red. When I'm really angry, angry without adulteration by disappointment or sadness, I feel my forehead and the tip of my nose grow hot. I've been told that they turn red, but inside I feel it like a blinding white glow, and you won't believe me when I say that I feel a strange wave of clarity and logic sweep over my thoughts. The irrationality characteristic of anger kicks in only when it comes to translating thought into action. Which is why, when I began to work on my temper, I felt my mental faculties damping. Suddenly, my moral instinct and righteous energy had no outlet, and all of it stewed in my head until they boiled up everything else, eventually resulting in more severe albeit infrequent bursts of anger -- in trying to control my temper, I had transformed from short-tempered to hot-tempered.
It was at the bottom of my anger management curve that I realized that trying to deny myself my anger was not the solution, since the cause of my anger itself was never illogical -- only my consequent actions were. Having realized that, I decided to separate the two. About a year and a half ago, I began to successfully stop myself from acting on my anger without extinguishing the anger itself -- I learnt to think when angry and act when calm. It worked. However, I didn't need the method for long, because soon, ICSE was over and times changed.
Since then, I have transitioned from a Xth Board examinee to a XIIth Board examinee and from SPL of Carmel to Head Girl of Hem Sheela, which in a very short time has uprooted my entire life, taken it for a ride, and planted it somewhere else. In all this time, I was so occupied that I probably forgot to be angry, or to be precise, I never had the time in which my anger could peak, until today.
Today was essentially a very busy day, but unlike most busy days, which I enjoy, today was a disappointing and annoying day as well. To begin with, we (Head Boy Nihal and I) were wantonly disappointed in one of the junior members of our Students' Council. We spent half a class period yelling at the kid and another quarter picking up the pieces of the giant mess he made. To put it lightly, he embarrassed (not to mention disgusted and annoyed) the hell out of us. As if that wasn't enough, I had two different kinds of unpleasant interactions with two different teachers through no fault of mine, no thanks to my uncontrollably 'romantic' (read debaucherous, more on them later) classmates, and to how Indian mothers raise their sons, in reverse chronological order. Also, I had a mildly unsatisfactory Physics Practical test -- mild enough not to bother me, if the rest of the day had behaved, but hell, it didn't. To top it all off, the Council incident made me late for PE -- not only did I lose out on play time, but I also missed my call for the long jump test. They allowed me to take it when I explained, and I beat my personal record, but I believe I could have done better without the preceding 150 metre dash from the main building to our sports complex. My distance was third highest among the girls and somewhere in the top 10 overall, which is much better than anything I've ever done in that test, but I believe I could have made it further.
So, as you see, I had cause to be angry, which my long-sleeping anger took full advantage of, and my method came out of retirement. I allowed myself anger but not action. The white light flooded my head, and I saw it all clearly. The deception, the manipulation, the breach of trust and loyalty, the classroom politics, the moral blame games, the power trips -- all of it opened up like a giant, interactive chart. And then when I calmed down, all the information was right there in front of me, and with Nihal's cooperation as an occasionally vocal sounding board, I chalked out the Council problem. That done, I navigated the others as well, remaining mostly unscathed. I expect some repercussions and hurt feelings come Monday, but hopefully the weekend damper, despite the Saturday Parent-Teacher Meeting un-damper will cushion them. The good news is that this meeting is optional unless a teacher specifically calls in your parents, which is done for academic underachievement and severe discipline issues. So basically, I'm in the clear and tomorrow can be a relatively normal Saturday.
Hopefully, my methods won't be required anytime in the near future. Lessons learnt : self-control of all kinds is worth learning; negative emotions can be channelized for positive effects; and a sounding board is always a good idea as long as it knows what to echo, what to absorb, and when to do a bit of both.

P.S. : The clock tells me it's 1:18 am... so all the todays should be yesterdays and all the tomorrows todays, I guess.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

About the Powers of Nature

Another one outside the Gratitude Series.
=================================
Little One

There goes the little one,
Wearing his crisply creased uniform,
His shoulders heavy with papery knowledge
His head bent, ringed in simple studious glasses,
His hair cropped by parental discipline.

And oh, it starts to rain, but
He doesn't run, he doesn't smile either,
He only lifts up his head;
The rain speckles his glasses
With tiny worlds of rare imagination,
The slush beneath his regulation shoes
Trips up his routine gait and becomes a canvas
For the big spirit inside the little one.
The water plays on his head, messing up in two seconds
Twenty minutes of a doting mother's toil.

A thousand rains later when the little one grows big,
When he makes big money in a big office,
Where the rain is never felt but only seen
Through the big, clear windows that show him
How far above the rest of the world he is,
In his perfectly conformist suit and haircut
That represent the freedom of adulthood
And the formal shoes that he chose to wear
Just like all his colleagues do,
Maybe then, it will rain...

...and perchance he will notice it, and maybe
The big spirit, now dwarfed by the big man
Will awake, and he will lean outside
And let the rain ruin his suit and tie
And his hair so carefully fortified against time;
He will wonder how the slush would feel
Beneath his formal shoes impeccably polished;
He will remove his contact lenses, he will find
His old glasses and hold them out until
The drops of dreams dance on them again;

Wearing them, he will look anew
At the rain-washed world that he'd have learnt
To look down upon and feel bigger than,
And remember how very big that world is
And how he
Is so, so little.
=================================

#11, #12

Congratulations,
Tears of joy, laughter, treats;
And apprehension.

====================================

On festival day
Happy colours jostle with smiles
And desolate greys.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Gratitude 8 : Plumeria Pink

Gratitude 7 has been written and is being saved for a particular occasion. This here is therefore Gratitude 8, a tribute to old companions and the good times spent with them.
==============================================
Plumeria Pink

In our old school of a decade and a fifth
There grew two plumeria trees
With pale trunks
And branches dressed all year in delicate blossoms
And decked with the sounds of our laughter --

One tree mine, blooming innocent white
The other yours, its blossoms
Rebelliously touched with pink
Both with leaves most joyously resplendent 
With the hopes of our youth, and with the joy
Of being home to little creatures -- birds, spiders, caterpillars;

And the fallen blooms
Adorned our childish funerals of dead birds
And the occasional dead squirrel
The souls of which we prayed for as is taught :
But oh, futile teaching of transience! While 
We mourned the woodsy creatures, not once did we doubt
The permanence of our play upon the plumerias' boughs.

Then suddenly one day the trees
Were inches higher than how we knew them
And the two of us, miles farther
Than we ever dreamed we'd be,
Our new schools
On opposite ends of a six-lane expressway, jammed
With honking six-wheeled lorries and six-feet trailers,
Sixty five kilometers of bustling commerce between us.

Sometimes I wonder if, there, you ever see any plumerias
Like the ones we climbed --
Because lining the wall of my new school here
Grow a perfect infantry of their kind;
Confident in the appeal of their white blooms they smile at me and call,
Especially after a morning rain
Or in the afternoons when the bus runs late
They expectantly watch me as I walk over, touch them, smell their fallen flowers;
And when I quietly walk away, they ask me why

And to their utter hurt I tell them
That for all their beauty of blossoms pure and brightly white,
They cannot give me that which I miss
For they bloom white, so white, far too white --
Too confident, too comfortable in white to ever care or ever dare
To wear the slightest blush of pink.
==============================================

All the trees mentioned are real, and the poem contains little bits of some real people as well. I thought of this poem when I saw children in my new school playing beneath the plumerias, not long after I'd made a visit to my old school. In hindsight, my study of Toru Dutt's 'Our Casuarina Tree' in my old school for the ICSE probably influenced my thinking -- it is interesting to note that Dutt's poem mentions yet another poem by an even greater poet -- 'The Yew Trees of Borrowdale' by Wordsworth.
Also, the first time I have varies stanza lengths to such an extent -- so do tell me if it's working.
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