Saturday, May 31, 2014

THE DEATH OF A LAPTOP

THE DEATH OF A LAPTOP

I knew that something was wrong with him about eight months ago when suddenly in the midst of our conversation he blinked. Though this was not the first time, I was concerned, for in the past I knew it was due to a lack of energy and because he was fatigued. He used to come back to his normal self once he was plugged on and the charge started flowing through him. For a long time now he was on support system for his batteries had stopped functioning. I did not get him new ones as I found out they were costly and I couldn’t afford to buy them, but then it did not matter for he was quite comfortable being plugged on directly. It was only later that I realised that he had a major flaw. He used to start getting hot and ultimately too hot for me to handle. I found that the only way I could cool him down was to place him over a cool pad when I woke him up. Of course he was quite considerate for he always kept my coffee warm whenever I placed the cup next to him while working. It was my daughter who ultimately told me that the problem with him was in his genes (you see I never question her in such matters as she is into this biotech and genetics stuff and I have grown to rely on her for such advices from time to time). She said “Pa, he belongs to the AMD family of processors and they have a habit of getting hot very quickly. Why did you in the first place get him when there are more cool headed chaps out there?”

I told her “See he was given to me by Bank and I could take him with me when I retired and do you know he was one of the costlier and smarter ones out there and I did not want to let go of the Bank cheaply. What more, this guy had the ability to turn his head 180 degrees and I could fold him and also use him as a notebook (though of course I never did have the opportunity to work with him that way but I was always proud of showing of his abilities to others around).”

She only said “Since you do not want to let go of him I can only advice you to back him up every time you talk with him, after all you have put all your bets on him and if he decides that enough is enough and calls it a day you will be left high and dry. You see all these guys belong to an older generation and have lost their relevance now. You should seriously be in sync with the new generation.”

I kept quite thereafter for I was not sure whether she was advising me or taunting me. But I did follow what she told me and diligently followed her advice of backing up.

And then it increased the number of blinks in frequency and duration. That was not the only thing. I had also noticed that over the last two years his response time had slowed down considerably and he was finding it hard to recollect his memory. It could have been due to overload on account of my persistent conversations with him, but the doctor told me that he had viral infection. I told him “But doctor I have had him vaccinated a number of times, this should not have happened.”

He replied “You see every day a new strain of virus is causing more complications. I feel that you have exposed him to all sorts of unwanted sites from where he could have picked up the infection. If you ask me his days are numbered. You should actually look for newer and better options. The pity is that you cannot even go for an exchange as no one would want him and even if they do it will be a pittance.”

That was it but I continued with him for he had been a loyal companion all these years and was privy to all my secrets. I watched as he slowly started slipping into coma and then one day he blinked one last blink and then closed his eyes. I tried to revive him with all the methods I knew (quite a few of them had been effective on previous occasions). I wrung his neck 180 degrees and then folded him in and out trying to elicit some response, but to no avail. I knew he was dead, but I called in the doctor anyway and he repeated what he had said earlier and added nothing much can be done except that he can take his brains out and give it to me to be kept as a memory. I accepted his offer.

Now he lies buried below all my dresses in the cupboard much to the consternation of my wife who is ever annoyed with my habit of keeping all dead things with me and these include all my old cameras and watches. But I calm her down saying that who knows one day there might be a museum of all my dead possessions when I become famous and rich. She knows that I am an incorrigible optimist.

My daughter rang me up the next day and said “though in a way I am sad for you, one has to accept the reality that the old order gives way to the new. There is this latest generation Laptop that I am sending you – very sleek and fast and has a good memory and I am sure that I shall at least be able to hear and see you on Skype when next time you call.”

Yes the old order gives way to the new and that’s how it will always be. So what’s the difference between us and a laptop?


Friday, May 23, 2014

BOB DYLAN – A TRIBUTE


 
 
 
 
 
 
BOB DYLAN – A TRIBUTE
If one wants to read about Bob Dylan there are any number of biographies, his own autobiography and the ever dependable Wikipedia. So I cannot really write anything new and nor do I know anything special about him except as to how special his music was to me. It was sometime in the late sixties that I first had the chance to be exposed to his music (I prefer to call it music rather than say songs). Having entered college with an overdose of The Beatles, Elvis, Cliff Richards and the like I was thrown into the world of Santana, CCR, Pink Floyd and the rest of the gang of Hard rockers or whatever you may call them. In the midst of all this melee and pulse beating sounds three voices stood out – Simon and Garfunkel, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Though his music has stretched on from the early sixties through to the nineties my personal preference has been the songs he wrote and sung during the sixties.

I remember the first song that I heard was the ‘Tambourine Man’ a song where Dylan accompanied himself on the acoustic guitar and the harmonica (this was of course a trade mark in most of his compositions). We had been practicing the song for the music festival and so had to hear it a number of times again and again to get it right. The person who sung it, I remember was himself as wild looking as Bob Dylan, of course the harmonica and the guitar were played by other musicians. It ultimately came out well but the song remained with me long after. It does even today.

You see there was something about his voice which is hard to explain, but it has the capacity to keep on ringing in your years. I am quoting a piece that I have read elsewhere that would best describe his singing - “The rough edge of Dylan's singing was unsettling to some early listeners but an attraction to others. Describing the impact that Dylan had on her and her husband, Joyce Carol Oates wrote: "When we first heard this raw, very young, and seemingly untrained voice, frankly nasal, as if sandpaper could sing, the effect was dramatic and electrifying."

Bob Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman on 24th May 1941 he subsequently changed his name to Bob Dylan. In his memoir, Dylan acknowledged that he had been influenced by the poetry of Dylan Thomas. Explaining his change of name in a 2004 interview, Dylan remarked: "You're born, you know, the wrong names, wrong parents. I mean, that happens. You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.”

I have most of his songs on my ipod and listen to them on my walks. But I have my favorites – ‘Blowin in the Wind’, ‘A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall’, ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ and of course ‘The Tambourine Man’. Whether Civil Rights or the Vietnam war Dylan was always there and along with Joan Baez represented the voices of protest and that perhaps captured the imagination of that generation to which I belong. I felt like reproducing some of the most significant lyrics he has written, which gives an idea of the man -

Yes, how many years can some people exist

Before they're allowed to be free?

Yes, how many times can a man turn his head

Pretending he just doesn't see?

Yes, how many ears must one man have

Before he can hear people cry ?

Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows

That too many people have died ?

The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind

The answer is blowin' in the wind.

 

Come mothers and fathers

 Throughout the land

 Don't criticize

 What you can't understand

Your sons and your daughters

 Are beyond your command

 Your old road is

 Rapidly agin'

Please get out of the new one

 If you can't lend a hand

 For your times they are a-changin'

 

I again end with a quote here which best describes Bob Dylan and what he meant to a generation.

In December 1997, U.S. President Bill Clinton presented Dylan with a Kennedy Center Honor in the East Room of the White House, paying this tribute: "He probably had more impact on people of my generation than any other creative artist. His voice and lyrics haven't always been easy on the ear, but throughout his career Bob Dylan has never aimed to please. He's disturbed the peace and discomforted the powerful” – source Wikipedia.

I am posting this on the eve of his birthday which falls on 24th May. I never forget it for that is one thing I share with him.

 

Monday, May 19, 2014

THE WRITER’S BLOCK

THE WRITER’S BLOCK

I never knew that I was suffering from a very serious condition till I met this friend of mine during the weekend.

He looked at me for a moment and then remarked -

“You look constipated.”

“I just can’t get it out” I said.

“That’s why I said you look constipated. If you are having difficulty you should seriously consider seeing a doctor.”

“What do you mean? I only said I just can’t seem to be able to get it out. Oh s_ _t! You didn’t think it was that?”

“Yes, that’s what I meant” he replied.

I held my head with both hands and looked at him exasperation and nearly screamed at him –

“I meant that I am unable to get all that stuff out of my head. It’s been like that for the last ten days and my head feels like it’s going to burst.”

He looked at me as if in shock and then said “It seems more serious than I thought. You have to see a Neuro immediately. This could potentially be a big problem if not treated in time. Come let us go, I know a good one.”

“What? You must be joking. How do you think a Neuro can be of any help to get me out of this predicament?”

“May be he can just tighten a few screws here and there. You see you can’t have all that s_ _t up there. That’s not where it’s supposed to be, unless you have been doing those Sirsasans more than required. It was when I did not see any of it on your blog for some time now that I knew something was wrong. That’s why I decided to check in on you. I agree the condition is serious. Ok I don’t think that a Neuro is required at all, but I seriously suggest you see a psychiatrist.”

“And how do you think he will be able to help?” I asked.

“Oh don’t worry, maybe he will connect some electrodes on your head and then connect them to a computer to find out all the patterns up there. I think it is possible that he will be able to download it on to your documents file straightaway. I think that should do it and your next post on your blog will be ready.”

That guy really gets on my nerves. One does not really know when he is being serious or when he is joking. I literally ran from there, went home and rushed to the toilet.

Forget all these psychiatrists, all those Neuros, doctors etc., I have found that the best place for introspection is on the toilet seat, that is where you are left undisturbed, the seat of all inspirations.

Maybe it was the Chennai heat that caused all my inspirations to flow out through all that perspiration, added to that my laptop was in its final hours. At present it is in the intensive care unit and is not expected to recover. You see that’s why I am writing this obituary on my good old desktop. Well like I said it is good and old and I do not know how long it will keep me company. Maybe this was also a reason why I could not get all that stuff out.

I know that you may laugh about all that s_ _t that has been written here, but believe me it is a serious matter. I found out that it is known as ‘Writer’s Block’. I wondered whether one has to undergo a bypass surgery to set it right. So like everyone else I googled to find out how serious my condition was but when I went to the Wikipedia page I was overtaken by what I can only term as ‘Reader’s Block’.

So not knowing what to write about, I wrote all this s_ _ t above with an apology to my readers and a sincere thanks if they have read this to the very end. I promise to come back with a bang after all I have been busy watching ‘The Big Bang Theory’ on the television and that’s all I have been doing.



Saturday, May 3, 2014

BOOK REVIEW – ‘AJAYA’ BY ANAND NEELAKANTAN Epic of the Kaurava Clan – Book 1- Roll of the Dice

‘AJAYA’ BY ANAND NEELAKANTAN - BOOK REVIEW
Epic of the Kaurava Clan – Book 1- Roll of the Dice

Anand Neelakantan in his author’s note says that-

 Ajaya is an attempt to view the Mahabharata from the side that lost the war. It is a narrative of the others- the defeated, insulted, trampled upon– who fought without expecting divine intervention believing in the justice of their cause. Duryodhana is described as a brutally honest prince, brave and self willed, willing to fight for what he believed in.

I personally feel that it would be an injustice to label this work as a retelling of the Mahabharata, not only to the author but also to the epic itself. The original epic is so much ingrained in our psyche that it still stays where it should and nothing can change that, though there have been many versions of it written down the ages, the essence has never suffered. The Mahabharata is a complete chronicle of human fallibilities. There is nothing that we see around us which is left uncovered. And ultimately it has given us the greatest message of the purpose of our human existence and the paths to achieve it – ‘The Bhagavad Gita’.

So I thought that the best way I can do justice to this book of Anand Neelakantan was to shut out making comparisons and to read it as a story that would stand on its own. I was fresh after seeing all the three seasons of the ‘Game of Thrones’ when I started reading ‘Ajaya’ and as I continued reading it I wondered why it should not be made into India’s own version of the English TV serial for it is equally engrossing. Anand Neelakantan is a great story teller and has produced a very interesting book. It is obvious that he has done extensive research and has intelligently interpreted them to write his story. He has written a story culled out of the characters in the original epic with some additions and deletions. It is therefore not a critique of the Mahabharatha though some readers may interpret it as such. Having said that, I will add I enjoyed reading the book as I had while viewing the ‘Game of Thrones’. All in all it is a good read.

Though I empathise with the author when he says that he “felt impelled to narrate the stories of the vanquished and the damned; and give life to those silent heroes who have been overlooked in our uncritical acceptance of conventional renderings of our epics” it is evident that the plot is culled out from our own historical and contemporary happenings. The author’s strong and at times scathing views on the caste system comes to the fore. One of the significant passages on page 26, where Vyasa replies to Dhaumya when asked what right does a Shudra have to quote the scriptures “Why don’t you say what you mean, young man? I am a Shudra. Moreover I was born out of wedlock. I am the illegitimate child of a dark-skinned fisherwoman and the scholarly Brahmin, Parashara, who did not think twice about my caste when imparting knowledge of the scriptures to me.” Vyasa continues “I have added to my father’s teachings by virtue of the knowledge gained through my travels and discourses with saints and scholars throughout the land. None of these savants ever asked me what my caste was” This is a longish passage and perhaps one of the best I liked in the book.

But one thing intrigues me – why should the author continue referring to the empire as India when no such word existed at that time. In all fairness it should have been referred to as Bharata if he wanted to make it relate to the period of the book, but may be his intention was to make the reader connect with the contemporary scenario.

Another important page in the book is 69, where Acharya Kripa explains to Karna about what the Vedas say about the caste system. While this is something which we have time again read in our epics and scriptures, I reproduce the last portion of Kripa’s exhortation –

“Whatever the silly Priests say, nowhere in any of our scriptures is it written that any one way of finding God is better than all the others. They do not even say that finding God is better than not doing so. The Vedic mind wonders about the mysteries of creation and the universe, but it does not speak in the voice of absolute truth. The Vedas merely hold the wonder of Man regarding the universe in which he lives.”

One should appreciate Anand Neelakantan for bringing out such gems in the form of a dialogue in a simple way intelligible to the reader. But personally I find that his repeated references to the caste system in nearly every page, makes you wonder whether this is the central theme of the story. Only he can answer for some readers may not find it too palatable.

In page 119 the author describes the two faces of Hastinapura – one of luxurious villas, broad, tree shaded avenues, golden temples, swanky shops that sold diamonds and silks and noblemen and beautiful women and the other a world of filth, where the streets coiled in on themselves like leeches; the open drains overflowed and the narrow pavements served as garbage dumps. This was the dark underbelly of India’s cities, where the majority lived. The other was just a charade, as hollow and fake as the promises made by the rulers to the ruled. Doesn’t this sound as a very contemporary scene? I guess we all live in Hastinapuras now.

Similarly the chapter 10 on Nagas reminds one of the Naxalite movement and to cap it, “Victory to the people’s revolution” cried Kaliya on page 133 does resonate with the slogans which we had become very familiar with during our growing years.

But there is a lyrical quality in the author’s narration throughout the book, to give an example, the chapter 13 starts with on page 171 – The air was hot and humid, but that did not take anything away from the bewitching beauty of the surroundings. To the east, majestic blue mountains kissed the skies and verdant valleys slept in their misty quilt. On a narrow strip of land, myriad colours bloomed, as if nature was celebrating her fecundity. Tall coconut palms stood like sentinels beside the winding rivers and enchanting backwaters. A deep-green sea caressed the sun-kissed beaches, while a gentle breeze played hide- and- seek in the cool shade of gigantic trees. Obviously this is the author’s own land.

I find the southern empires of the Cheras, Cholas, Pallavas and other such references in the book and this makes you wonder what they were doing at the time of the Mahabharata.

At the end of the book in his short notes there is one sentence that says it all- the truth remains that all writers use imagery that is accepted and understood by contemporary society. I have also viewed this book from that angle. The author says that the advice received from his father was not to approach the Mahabaharata just as a story, for it contains hidden symbolism. That exactly is the point as I said in the beginning itself that the Mahabharata is a chronicle of all the human fallibilities. Ajaya is a story well told and this is only part 1 ending with the game of dice where the Pandavas lose everything. I look forward to the part 2 of the book with interest mainly to see how the author treats the role of Krishna and the ‘The Bhagavad Gita’ in his story, for this could be tricky.

I cannot agree that this is from the Kaurava viewpoint. It is not, for it is only a story about Kauravas with Suyodhana as the hero told by Anand Neelakantan and that’s it.

Two interesting acknowledgements of the author I would like to mention here – 1) To my country and my people, for tolerating different points of view and for the richness of our history and mythology and 2) To Vedavyasa, the patron of all Indian writers, the greatest writer to have walked this earth. Yes that is the greatness of this country and that is why the Mahabharata cannot be rewritten.


In summing up I should say that this book is well crafted, well written and an easy and interesting read, even though it is about 450 pages (and mind you this is only Part 1). The book stands on its own merits.