Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Why So Insecure?

A few years ago, a movie called 3 Idiots was released. Aamir Khan was the lead actor and it made a mockery of premier engineering institutes in India. I was, at that point, a student of one such institute, premier enough to be blamed for suicides of both students and unsuccessful aspirants. We all went out and cheered at Aamir's disregard for his professors' teaching methods and cursed teachers who threw us out of lab for untidy circuit diagrams. Our teachers, in turn, threw us out of lab for untidy circuit diagrams the very next morning. We all had fun watching that movie. Some professors may have altered their teaching methods after watching 3 Idiots. Some directors may have relaxed campus rules and some departments may have re-structured coursework. The others, who were fairly certain of the efficacy of their methods, took the movie in good humor and moved on.

If you have been wondering why I am ranting about a not-so-recent movie that I don't particularly like, allow me to get to the point. I loved watching PK. Congrats to the entire team involved in that movie! They have perfected the idea of "entertainment with a purpose". But alas, once again, mindless blabber turned out to be much better comedy. I am talking, of course, about the hilarious reaction PK has received from religious fanatics. If PK made my day, the religious gurus' responses have made my week. I ask them but one question: Why so insecure? If you don't see the point, why don't you just move on?

In a country where we frown upon everything from plunging necklines to pre-marital sex, Bollywood has always had the liberty to portray all of these and much more. We have routinely rooted for the uneducated hero trying to date a millionaire's daughter in the movie hall. When has that ever interfered with grounding our daughters for "talking to that guy"? We have shed tears for the on-screen beauty forced into prostitution and accused real-life rape victims of "revealing too much". So why create a ruckus over Bollywood crying foul on religious practices? Do you honestly believe that anyone will stop going to temples or mosques or wherever else they go to butter-up the Almighty just because Aamir Khan said so when pretending to be a confused alien? Do you think the idiots who believe God is all powerful and yet can be wooed by sweets and cash will stop believing so thanks to one movie? I wish that would have been enough to save Copernicus, to stop the Holocaust, to avoid Godhra or to educate a girl child. Yes I attacked your religion there. Please refer to your religious text for the appropriate punishment you are clearly entitled to inflict upon me. In the meantime, allow me to ask exactly why you are so afraid of anyone speaking against your religion? What exactly are you trying to protect? The almighty, the society or yourself?

Let us discuss each of the above possibilities. Let us assume you are trying to protect your almighty. Just like you try to feed him, make him promises of gifts in return of his cooperation, and try to keep him happy to avoid his temper. At this point this God character is beginning to sound like a rather ill-behaved child. I am pretty certain better qualifications are required for the post of "protector of mankind". So under the circumstances, unless you have completely lost your minds, I will assume you understand the circularity in protecting the protector. Hence, it was rather ridiculous of me to suggest that your reaction stems from the insecurity that someone might destabilize the Supreme Power armed with a 153 minute long commercial film. Let us move on to more realistic options.

It is our right to uphold the sanctity of our society. What are we, after all, without strict moral control and herd mentality? You are completely justified in trying to shield society from the evil that a Bollywood movie can cause. There are, after all, young minds we need to protect until we complete the brainwashing process. But here's my issue with that. You remember that movie celebrating the perfect bank robbery, or the one where the hero systematically murdered whoever wronged him? Did any of you launch a mass movement saying that they might be morally incorrect? Did you ever get up and protest the excessive alcohol and drug abuse many movies glorify? Did you question how item numbers affect the youth's perception of sexuality? Let's just accept it, you never spared a single thought about the effect of movies on society. Why, then, do you suddenly care this time?

Here's a theory: You don't care. You are not afraid that people might be misled. You are afraid for yourself. You feel threatened by PK. You stand to lose the unconditional devotion, the absolute control that being a religious leader guarantees. PK teaches common people to ask questions and that makes you nervous. But have you ever heard of scientists who fear being questioned on their findings? Do parents ever beat curiosity out of their kids? Why, then, are you so hungry for people's approval of your faith? Is it because your faith is only as strong as the number of followers it has? Or is it, perhaps, your own insecurity at play here? Maybe at some level you know the fallacy of what you preach and are simply afraid of being exposed. Maybe you know that the only way your faith will be taken seriously is if you have enough puppets tied to your holy thread!

I am pretty convinced it is self-preservation that you are aiming for. So here's something I'd like you to consider. Take a moment to strip off your religion, your accolades and your qualifications. Examine the person that remains. My question to you is simple: Who are you without your faith?


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

All That Glitters...

[...since you'll never know if what you see is what I see too...]
If the world were my oyster, I'd wash it down with wine. The closest I can get to that at the moment, however, is free pizza and extra-strong lemonade! Welcome to grad school, the world of sleep-starved poverty and overwhelming expectations. Add to that a mirage- an abode of angels in the dreary desert- and we have the beginnings of a plot my friends! One that is shared by a significant fraction of  Hollywood movies.

Sadly, we have to leave the award-winning screenplay aside for now. This article is upon request, and it must adhere to exactly what was requested: "Good stuff about UCLA"! Yes, I need to review my request acceptance policy. No, I will not repeat the university brochure. So, without further ado, here's my best effort at not being sarcastic about this place.

The most amazing thing about being a grad student at UCLA, without doubt, is the salary you earn on graduation. I can go on about this forever, but I can't shake off the mental vision of the one who requested this article shaking his head indignantly at my realism(and the "holier than thou" section of my readers following his lead). So I'll move on to more intellectually acceptable reasons with only a mild reminder that rainbows and butterflies don't pay your bills.

Well  rainbows and butterflies are a good starting point, actually. This place is beautiful. Be it the manicured lawns or the flower-lined walkways, it all looks glorious in the California sun. The nights are enchanting with swaying branches casting magical shadows under the street lamps. Not once have I walked through this campus without marveling at its ability to be beautiful in the most unexpected ways! It refreshes me and fills me with the quiet happiness that human company rarely provides.

Now that those of you with a reasonably strong imagination are smiling, let's move on to fashion! To put it simply, I love checking people out here. People here have their own sense of style and wear exactly what they feel like. For someone who has been exposed to the herd mentality of Indian engineers a few years too long, this is really impressive. The fact that an engineering classroom does not preclude the possibility of wearing a pink lace dress will continue to fascinate me for eternity!

Next on my list is the appreciation for talent! Don't get me wrong, my undergraduate institute was home to some of the best socio-cultural performances I have witnessed. It is the approach that fascinates me. This place is devoid of the cut-throat inter-hall competition that defines extra-academic activities in IIT. People here hone their skills out of love for their art, and get applauded for the joy they bring to those around. Your only aim is to outdo yourself every single time. The sheer beauty of it makes me wonder what inter-halls would be like without the n-th rendition of "Charandas Chor"!

To stay on the topic of self-reference, academics here is tailored exactly the same way. While we abuse the quarter system and lament the lack of research opportunity on a daily basis, it is truly all up to us. We get as much done here as we strive for. We get as much out of this place as we attempt to achieve. Everything from easy A's to world class research is laid out before you. It is a buffet, and you choose exactly what you want on your plate.

There I listed out four awesome things about this place. I am seriously impressed with my achievement. Believe me it is extremely difficult to find such things to write about when you have so much going on! I mean I hardly have breathing space between a roommate who shares my love for the outdoors, another who shares my love for literature and a third who understands my introversion. Add to that a beach, a couple of good museums and just the right pinch of bed-time stories - and we have the beginnings of a plot my friends! One that no Hollywood movie can ever match up to.



Sunday, November 3, 2013

Rangoli...

[This post is simply an outbreak of nostalgia... for once, not to be judged on literary qualities but on emotions alone....]
I look down at my hands... manicured nails, fair fingers...people say I have pretty hands. Today, however, I hate my hands. I don't like them so clean, so perfect. Not today, not on Rangoli! Yes, today is Rangoli...not Diwali, not Kali Puja (as those in Bengal call it).. today is Rangoli!Today my hands should have been soiled with a myriad of shades. Today my nails , clipped to the roots, should still have found a way to accumulate pigments under them. Today my hair should have been a mess, my clothes worse than rags, my face barely recognizable. Today my eyes should have been red with a fortnight's waiting sleep. Today my voice should have been hoarse from inhaling pigments (and from shouting at innocent kids everyday!).Today my feet should have been treading a tip-toed path between patches of unfinished rangoli. Today my breath should have been irregular, held every time a bead of sweat threatened to destroy our art.Today dinner should have been fed by a friend braving the rangoli room in spite of asthma, just for my sake. Today my temper should have run high, only to be calmed by the relentless effort of thirty pairs of tired hands.Today my nostrils should have been filled with the smell of cheap powder-dye. Today my ears should have been filled with a Bhaat team's recital interspersed with calls of  "...concave stencil kahan hai?" Today the lights should have been tried(and tried again), the borders should have been drawn, the floor should have been swept. Today the saree should have been wrapped hastily after a two hour long bath that fails to wash all colours away. Today my feet should have hurt, from walking to every hall after a sleepless week. Today my eyes should have opened to an unparalleled showcase of creativity and art. 
Today, this day, is not for crackers, sweets and sounds. It is for achieving the impossible, together, against all odds. Its a celebration of lights and colours, done as only we know how. Today will always be Rangoli (or perhaps Illu for some), every remaining year of my life. Because you aren't KGPian for a few years, you are for life...

Saturday, October 26, 2013

My Personal Paradise


My first step out of the golden gates,cobbled sidewalks lined with roses
My first step on this walk of life - for life - one precious, elusive life
Down a path where memories walk, leading to a treasured dream
As the world I know dissolves into a wilderness of conflicting thoughts
I pick my way in careful steps, avoiding bundled weeds and jagged roots
Eyes searching the gaps among the trees out of sheer habit - empty hope
Branches rustle in the wind, reaching desperately for their fallen leaves
Birds sing of joy, insects stir, a lone wolf howls for a long lost mate
But underneath the sounds of life, the wind sings a haunting melody
Reminding me of all that is, and all that soon might cease to be
Insatiable thirst slows my step, perhaps more than just a physical need
But will, sweet will, proves stronger still, as memories cloud my consciousness
Light from the evening sun seeps in through the branches overhead
Wavering, fading into shadows - an enchantment of the end of day
A starless night! A moon still red - sinister in its soft, reflected glow
Absence of life, a vacant world - a cold and dreadful existence
An unseen raven calls aloud - warning or encouragement?I know not yet
But my elusive faith finds its way back - company serves as sustenance
And with each deliberate step the path is less defined, less traversed by
Till it fades into a tangle of thorns - hindering, cutting, drawing blood
So when I pass the edge of the cliff  into the nothingness beyond
When the stark, empty white engulfs me, when each breath breaks my resolve
All I want is the last backward glance, the glimpse of your everlasting smile
The glow of life in the depth of your eyes - that's my personal paradise