Saturday, May 30, 2009

Crazy Diamond

Very Important: In case you haven't heard Shine On You Crazy Diamond, don't think about reading this post. But, But. You can read this post while listening to it. Not hearing to it. Listening. Get the hint?

I have been listening to Shine On You Crazy Diamond since (which implies on repeat) last night and I actually thought of a story for that song. It primarily dwells upon an alien invasion which overpowered the one on Earth with their superior music. The face-off starts with the aliens challenging the earthlings with a lovely synthesizer sequence, followed by a painful and surreal guitar riff. It is as if they don’t want to subjugate us but simply can not help doing so. The regret in the music is almost tangible and you can feel it on your finger tips if you reach out for the vibrations. The guitar often cries.

There’s a strange console music (one generated by computer consoles) playing in the background all the time, signalling the arrival of someone far superior to us, both intellectually and technically. The paradox of having to do something without even wanting it in the first place is very well represented by the twin sounds of the weeping guitar and the haunting background score. The score is coming from somewhere far away. Light years away. Then there’s the sound of water flowing down in ripples (if you care to hear closely). Music, from primordial times, which has somehow been lost to senseless slapping of electronic guitars and electronica. The entire experience is not overbearing. It’s soothing. Mellow. The aliens finally arrive in their majestic spaceships.

There’s silence for a few seconds. Then we are challenged to combat by a guitar solo. A sign of power. One. Two. Three. Four. We reply to the challenge by intimidating them with the sounds of drums and an impoverished guitar sequence. The aliens call us to a jugalbandi session in order to win freedom and we accept, not realizing that the battle had been lost no sooner than it had begun. The jamming starts and we put up a tough fight. The war cry is oft repeated and put to good use by the extra terrestrials. Sometimes it’s them on top. Sometimes it’s us. Both giving each other the respect that is deserved, and commanded. But, in the end, they are all over us.

Why do we lose? The lyrics come to the rescue. The alien invasion respects the one here but confesses that it has degenerated beyond redemption and must be overcome. That is the only way out. It’s a submission that’s amalgamated with respect. Somewhat like the one between Porus and Alexander. Porus fought bravely and lost. But he was respected as a fellow king by Alexander. The guitar sequence just before the lyrics start almost talks to you and tells the story of a flawed genius. A genius whose tale had been lost in yellowed pages, none being able to tell fable from fact. The snigger just then might be us, still not ready to accept to what is staring right in our face. Hence, the inevitable downfall.

Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun / Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky / Threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light / And well, bask in the shadow of yesterday's triumph, and sail on the steel breeze.

Come on you boy child, you winner and loser, come on you miner / For truth and delusion, and shine! / Come on you target for faraway laughter, come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!

The stand-off ends with them aliens going back in their spaceships to where they came from. The sound fades away into empty space, with the earthlings eventually accepting their submission with a blues number on a saxophone. It is only fitting that the less advanced of the civilization goes back to its African music roots and signs off with a saxophone sequence. We are done for here. Long love Martians!

So long, and thanks for all the music.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Burn after Reading

A bit about the people. Ritwick stood on the edge of the bridge, with Shlok as a silent companion some distance away. Both of them were leaning over the railing and trying to look brave staring down. For the first time since they had known each other, it seemed as they were enjoying their silence more than any form of conversation. The banter seemed unnecessary and futile right now. Almost as inane as its name implied. The hush approved of whatever was going through their minds. Or whatever was not. The stillness in their thoughts was in sharp contrast with the lovely breeze that tried to push them over the edge. The sun had already set, leaving a dull orange haze in its wake. It spread across the sky in lazy artistic strokes, becoming darker every passing second, and subsuming all other colours with it. Birds and bats were returning to their nests and seemed pleasantly surprised at the unexpected visitors. Smugly satisfied thus, they flew past, suddenly fluttering their wings a tad too excitedly in an attempt to unsettle the unlikely couple.

Now something about the local marvel. Due to some bureaucratic hiccup in the unbelievably efficient government machinery, the construction of the bridge had been stopped just when the other end had seemed within reach. Probably the river had dried up too soon (because of the dam some distance ahead) and the thoughtful engineers decided there shouldn’t be one over a desiccated bed. Whatever happened, the result was what came to be known as “The Broken Bridge” – a somewhat normal construction that ended somewhat abruptly. A derelict signpost at the beginning of the structure and a pile of concrete served as grim reminders of incomplete contracts and satiated pockets. The unfinished project had now become a favourite hunting ground for lovers, dopers, alcoholics, and just about everyone else. As such, police raids were not uncommon. Neither were thefts and muggings.

Back to the setting again. The drop to the unending expanse of mud below was sheer and steep. One could not stand on the edge without feeling a bit dizzy. Although the river had disappeared a long time ago, it had left serpentine trails in the mud in order to remind the visitors of its presence in a time not so long ago. They now served as makeshift roads for drivers who were a bit too adventurous for the normal takeaways. A lone jeep was making use of one the trails, very close to the horizon, stirring up a dirt storm in it wake. Lights blazing, it appeared ready to take the plunge and jump over the edge. The jeep seemed to be the object of attention for both Ritwick and Shlok. They looked at it for sometime, then at each other, and finally smiled, nodding their heads in silent agreement. Yes, both of them were thinking of the same thing. The scene was poetic enough to be the finale of some abstract movie. Not a painting. Not some random poem. A movie it needed to be.

An unlikely company. Undeterred by secondary human presence, a couple came to the bridge at about this time. It seemed as if they had walked the distance. The fellow was sweating a lot and looked like he was in the mood to complain. He was frustrated and sore. It looked like he had dressed up for the occasion. Quite a bit. But now, wet patches under his armpits graced his designer shirt while his red sneakers were dusty and almost brown. The lady in question just smiled serenely and probably tried explaining to him that it was worth the effort. She was fair, very elegant and wore a faded yellow T-shirt with bermuda shorts. A strange form of intelligence shone in her eyes. Hers was the kind of beauty that made you jealous of the stupid bloke who had been lucky enough to have her. You could be satisfied by just looking at her. Shlok sighed inwardly. Ritwick not so inwardly.

At the first sight itself, it had become apparent that there was no pretence in their boldness. They just did not care. So Shlok looked at Ritwick and hinted about giving them the privacy that they deserved. But Ritwick seemed to be in a sour mood himself and decided to stick around. He was not going to let others spoil his moment at the edge. Not if he could help it.

And now the masala. The fellow seemed to have calmed down a bit and was tracing his fingers through her lovely hair as she leaned back. The wind caught a whiff of her smell and carried it to where Shlok stood. She smelt delicious. Like a baby just bathed by its mother. Wet and innocent. They were hugging now. Shlok tried to resist staring at this amorous couple but gave up doing so. They did not mind, he eventually decided. He was softly speaking something into her ears and she was smiling while nodding her head. The earrings jingled in appreciation. The eyelashes blinked in sarcasm. And the eyes shone at the prospect of a scandal. She was not looking at him but through him, as if her sight could pierce through flesh. As if its insight was something tangible. The lone jeep caught her attention as well and for a moment her forehead was lined with furrows. But then she was herself again – smiling, nodding, jingling, and listening. He, on the other hand, had ceased to inspire any observation long ago.

Then in a swift smooth motion, she brought his lips to hers. As if taking control from him. And they kissed. It was not the embarrassed kiss of lovers hesitant about their intentions. But the passionate kiss of two people who knew what they were doing. He had his eyes closed. But she had them open, as if she wanted more; not just satisfied by the taste of his sweat on her lips. For a second she glanced at Shlok and in that second it appeared that she was proving a point to him. That she had taken the plunge and chucked all the inhibitions circumstances had imposed on her. There was the slightest smudge of a smile on her lips as she looked away, and locked her lover in an embrace. The world had shrunk to the space between their arms.

The sorry departure and just a hint of philosophy. Ritwick and Shlok mutually decided that they had enough. They tip toed their way back to the bike and started on their way back, leaving the lovers still entwined in, well, love. The area around the dried river bed was pockmarked with ravines and scrubland. The trees and bushes were a dull shade of green because of the dust that had settled permanently on them. There was a strange brown haze that hung in the air. It dulled everything with its suffocating presence. Restricted vision. Prevented thought. It was hard to take away one’s mind away from it. But if one tried, one could find beauty in the stunted shrubs. Find hidden patterns in the ravines and listen to them telling stories of floods that gave birth to them. But only if one made the effort to look beyond the permeating dirt. If and only if.

Riding back home, it seemed as if too much life was running through their veins. Too much of it going to waste. The stillness in thoughts had been somewhat replaced by the tiniest question. Well, several tiny questions in fact. All of them connected. All of them vague and futile. Where they looking too far ahead into time? Was this vision of the future somehow preventing them from making the best of now? Was it preventing from appreciating the wrong kind of beauty? Were they making a dash for the wrong finish lines? Would it help if they too shed their inhibitions and risked it? Gave it a try just once? Not a long time back, Akanksha had chided Shlok for romanticizing and dramatizing everything. “You think too loftily”, she had innocently remarked. If it was a personal obsession, why then was Ritwick suffering from a similar turmoil? Even if just for those few moments. Something can not be wrong with everyone. Not everyone can lust after the same sinful (or was it simple?) pleasures.

Back in his pigeonhole, Shlok smirked at the irony of the words that were exploding from a house nearby. They hung in suspended animation and mocked his thoughts as subtly as possible.

Oh, it's a mystery to me
We have a greed with which we have agreed
And you think you have to want more than you need
Until you have it all you won't be free

Society, you're a crazy breed
Hope you're not lonely without me

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I Dream of Electric Sheep

Shlok Deepankar walked back to his room. No, he strolled back. His gait seemed relaxed, almost bordering on what cynics would call lazy. The setting sun had painted the sky a bright crimson. The pale white crescent had not yet made its presence felt. But he was not in the mood for romantic musings right now. He had enough for one day. A random book had triggered the wildly erratic thought process. Threads had gone out of control and had necessitated a trip to the cafeteria. A lonely, deserted cafeteria. It kind of reminded me how all of us actually lead our lives. We think we are surrounded by all sorts of people. Feel safe in their hustle bustle. But in reality, it’s just a farce and when the push comes to shove, we must find ourselves alone. Swim against the tide. And fight our own wars. Now that he trudged back, the mental overdrive seemed to be slackening. A toothy grin greeted all those who loitered by, much to their ill-suppressed surprise. Who was this person?

The subtle ambience of Shlok’s room greeted him with open arms. He could not resist smirking. He had been derided, often ridiculed, for his civic sense. It did not conform to the standards of a boys’ hostel. But the aptly aimed sarcasms merely ricocheted off the thick skin he had acquired over the past four years. The spick and span bed sheet had stayed on, despite telling glances from more seasoned hostellers. So had the table lamp. He switched it on and glanced at the neatly stacked novels on his study table. Doctor Zhivago. The Godfather. Shantaram. Hitchhiker. Mocking Bird. Rest. This led to a spontaneous, almost guilty, peek at the dusted editions of Tannenbaums and Deitels lying inconspicuously in the same room. A pair of shoulders was shrugged and some decisions were repented over. Life then continued at the same snail pace.

The semester had already drawn to a sorry conclusion. In line with expectations, plans had been shelved. Decrepit time tables jeered like skeletons in one’s closet. Shlok made a point of making a face at them and then slamming the door shut. A session of customary mourning usually followed. Letting it out always helped. When the scattered remains of wasted opportunities had been gathered and safely stashed away in some nondescript corner, Shlok looked around. It was time for a smoke. Ritwick, his partner in crime, had left for home for the last time. But today, he was in the mood to light up alone. So he did.

As he did so, he decided to play Floyd. He had been holding back from listening to any of their Music. It did things to him. Strange inexplicable things. He had not wanted any of that. But today was different. The random book and the ensuing trip to cafeteria had already ruled out the possibility of any constructive work. Moreover, he wanted some inspiration. Some silver lining. The smoke got to his mind instantly. The words were in perfect tune with his mood…

From morning to night I stayed out of sight
Didn’t recognise what I’d become
No more than alive I’d barely survive
In a word...overrun

He flicked the ash. It seemed to have a mind of its own and the light weighted particles flitted in and out of the yellow light like moths drawn to the flame of a dying candle. When they were tired of all the games, they flopped down on his table in exhaustion. He blew them away and smiled as, this time, they disappeared without a trace. Even the smoke came to life and flew around the room, exploring all the nooks and corners like a curious child. It clouded his senses faster than it usually did. Floydian melodies, combined with the intoxicating influence of the first smoke, hit him like a sledgehammer. There were goosebumps and he decided to relent for the first time in several weeks. He decided to be weak. He tried reigning in the tears, but the voices told him otherwise. So he did not and they, in turn, made his eyes look almost poetic. Like the ones in a water colour painting. The ones brought to life by a struggling artist.

Look at him now
He’s paler somehow
But he’s coming round
He’s starting to choke
It’s been so long since he spoke

He heard someone knock on the door. For a second he contemplated getting up to get it. Then realizing the state he was in, he decided otherwise. This war was his and if he let anyone into his mind now, it would mean staying this weak even after. So he got up and lied down on the bed. Ignoring the hammering on the door. The words were still floating in the air and seemed to mind their own business…..

And with these words, I can see
Clear through the clouds that covered me
Just give it time then speak my name
Now we can hear ourselves again

Against all regulations and rules that he tried to adhere to, Shlok decided to dream. He saw sheep. Yes, electric sheep. So many of them. All looking alike. They were jumping over the fence of a barn in order to graze the grass in the meadow that lay beyond. They bounced along, happy in each other’s company. Unmindful of the sheep that had stayed back. Or were too afraid and weak to jump over the fence. He could see the want in the eyes of the sheep that stayed behind. Even in the dream. They looked at their fellows grazing gaily, lost in the pleasures of the world and oblivious to everything else. It was almost pathetic to find them this way. So pitiable and full of self-loathing.

But then he saw something else. Something unnerving and encouraging at the same time. Amongst the ones that were still in the barn, there was a group of sheep, no electronic sheep, which stood out. They had refused to follow others not because they could not, but because they chose not to. On a casual glance, they seemed like a bunch of haughty arrogant electric woolies to Shlok. But this was his dream. And so he decided to draw closer and observe them a bit more closely. It was then that he found that they were neither haughty, nor arrogant. They were original! They had decided to swim against the stream, even if that meant ridiculed and jeered at. Even if that meant not being able to graze the lush, delectable grass in the meadow that lay beyond. Even if that meant being isolated not only from others, but also from each other. Even if that meant facing failure, as the other electric sheep had come to define it. In time, the others would realize. That not only does the grass on the other side always seem greener; but that one must always find oneself on the side less green. As of now, they were content in their solitude, silently biding their time.

When Shlok was done with the dream about electric sheep, he knew he would be okay. Stronger, better. And yes, okay. With a sigh, he adjusted the pillow under his head again. And drifted into a dreamless sleep.