Friday, March 31, 2006

The Mason-Dixon Line

...Which separated the southern slave-owning states of America from the northern industrial "free" states.
...Which burnt its fiery shade upon the hearts and minds of millions of Americans during the Civil War.
...Which became a symbol of the imaginary boundary between oppression and emancipation.

A lot of my blog-consumers have been complaining, and rightly so, that I have stopped penning down my thoughts concerning each book that I have read. Quite a few of the newer ones do not realize, not having explored the cavernous reaches of my archived posts, that there was a day, not so long ago, when I used to engage myself in writing book reviews.

So why did I stop? The answer is simple, my friends.
Book reviews are boring. Their appeal is limited to a very rare kind of blog-reader, one whose leitmotif of existence is simply to garner knowledge and opine about the world around himself (herself). To such a reader, it is imperative that the reviews be idiosyncratic enough to appeal to the former's tastes of eccentricity and trivia. However, this readership forms a very small core of the overall blog-reading population.
Book reviews on my site were deemed unnecessary and boring by quite a few persons whose opinions I value. Which is why I stopped writing them.

So why am I starting again? Again, it does not take Einstein to figure out that a budding "person who has something to say to the world" (I'm still hesitant to use the word "writer" to describe myself) will die to grasp the opportunity of tubthumping his opinions in the major e-pubs of the world.

The solution I have wrought is simple enough. I have separated my blog into two: one for posting my book reviews, and the other for just about everything else. I believe this is a nice system in that whenever something becomes big enough, I'm sure I'll be flaking it off into a separate blog.
The Mason-Dixon line marks my boundary between popularity and self-satisfied navel-gazing.
So, check out my new blog: I'm sure you'll enjoy it. If not, now you have two locations at which to post your hate-mail.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Joys of the Herd

There was a discussion on our departmental group mail yesterday and today, kickstarted by Siddharth Brahma. Concerning Iraq. I read all the posts and got angrier and angrier. Angry because of the ad hominem attacks on Brahma. Because of the "we-are-so-pragmatic" responses showered by everyone.
Yup. It touched a raw nerve. Especially because everyone knew, in their heart of hearts, that Brahma was right. I am sure Brahma did not need me picking up cudgels on his behalf, but, well, solidarity isn't only for Lech Walesa.

I have often been accused of being a passive bystander, an armchair critic who laughs at people's follies and foibles while peacefully reclining away on soft leather. I guess I needed a guy like Brahma to arouse me from my slumber. To be fair, I have had my own reasons for my lack of participation in such debates, primary among them being my belief that every one should be able to find their own guiding lights, evolve their own personal philosophies of life; there's nothing more insulting to one's native intelligence, and more irritating, than a preacher at a pulpit hammering away at your brain.
But there comes a time when you need to intervene, because the steps you take could have an impact on other countless lives.

We are IITians. We pride ourselves on being called the 'cream of the nation' (come on, I'm sure all of you have had the familiar chest-swell when that phrase is uttered). But how many of us have stopped to think beyond our monthly paypackets, or even beyond the Caribbean paradise island that a few of us would like to buy when we get rich and/or lucky?

"Iraq is far away and doesn't affect us. America will never do this to India anyway. "
Wake up and smell the coffee, people. The Neo-cons are in power right now in Washington. And they have a single agenda - to keep reworking their geopolitical strategy so as to continue harvesting benefits out of conflict.
No. They do not want a new American Century, like the one we left behind, pre-Y2K. Neither do They (the inevitable capitalisation!) want peace and democracy to descend to each and every god-forsaken trigger-happy nation in the world.
Profits. Each cleaning-up contract handed out to Haliburton in the glorious "democratic" nation that is Iraq is worth billions of dollars. This is how the contracting occurs:
1. Haliburton gets a transport contract from the Pentagon, worth $30-40 an hour, to transport resources from one place to another.
2. Haliburton sub-contracts off to tiny leech companies who'll arrange the actual transportation.
3. Leech companies sub-sub-contract to "slave-owning" companies (generally from the Gulf or Malaysia), who employ Indian/Pakistani workers in sub-human conditions to do the actual driving. Costs: $3-4 an hour.
4. American GIs are employed to perform guard duties, and to GUARD THE RESOURCES, not the driver.

Of course, we can all guess what the RESOURCES (TM) in Them Amrikan "magic box" convoys are.

Cronyism. Political corruption of the highest order. A massive collusion between the military-industrial complex and the politicians who will give them the war they want oh so eagerly. Life sure is peachy, isn't it?

Costs: minimal. Yes, some 100,000 eye-raqis have died. But those ragtops deserved what they got. We decent cubicle-stuck Hanuman-worshipping gentle geeks will not have bombs on our tails any time soon. Because, of course, we are decent and are permanently stuck to cubicles. And oh yes, could you nuke Pakistan out of existence while you're at it, please pretty please, because those bastards on the other side so need to be slaughtered.

We as a nation are entering a new phase in our relations with the rest of the world - a major policy shift which needs to be evaluated and re-evaluated at each step. As a nation which will soon have the greatest value on Earth in terms of human capital, we need to honestly step back for a minute and ponder the following questions:
1. Do we really need to support a group of people (not the entire American nation) who are hell-bent on destroying entire countries purely on the basis of adding zeroes to their figures of wealth?
2. Is the hatred that we feel for the Other ---- (insert appropriate other here) so deep that we would not think twice before slashing their throats?
3. Are we really no different from animals?

I offer no solutions, no opinions. Life isn't that easy, friends. Sit back and think. Analyze as you will - pragmatically (Bhadra, et al), or with a hopeful dose of idealism (Brahma). The resulting opinion is not what matters. What will matter, and you will realise this later, is that, for maybe the first time in your life, you will have thought rationally about an issue larger than the 70 kilos of protoplasm that constitute you.
Think. And let the horrors of war hit you. Do not be misled by the sight of the almighty greenback. Because if the latter is the Pied Piper of Hamelin, realise what that will make you.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Run The River

This is a short-short story I wrote as part of the Inter-Hall Creative Writing event here at Kharagpur. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

Memory is a capricious mistress. Serving no one's cause but her own, she skillfully intertwines the affairs of men and gods. Of all the Olympian muses, she is the one to fear.
And yet, tragically, it is to her wiles and wicked mazes of the mind that I must submit. For, without the crutches of memory, a man must remain helpless.
I used to run the river those days. Times have changed; giants no longer roam on Earth, and the chimerae and unicorns have been relegated to the dusty decaying realms of myth. We live in a world where a miracle is butchered every day, where the wonders of science wound our highest flights of fancy.
I could tell you of the giants of industry I met, I could pour forth stories about Prometheus stealing the iron forges of the gods, I could whisper into your ear the infinite patience of Atlas. I could tell you of Rockefeller and Ford, of Gandhi and Lenin.
But I won't do that.
I could, but I won't.
For memory, that very infinitely capricious muse, gently nudges me towards a tale often told, a tale of heroism and love, sung aloud in campfire-induced drunkenness.
A tale which has never been told like this.

Running the river was a job which took away all your time, leaving you exhausted and spent. At the end of the day, all you could ever want was meat, bread, and a jug of ale. At least I did.
I used to frequent this restaurant, tucked away discreetly in Hell's Kitchen. A quiet place, kept that way by sensible management who knew exactly what a river-runner wanted. Peace, food and a bit of entertainment on the side. It was a perfect place to relax after a hard day's work. I knew the owner, a short chubby Greek going by the improbable name of Atlas Stephanopoulos, for the only thing I saw him lift was his finger, imperiously directing his workers.
Atlas was a smuggler.
He was many other things as well, but his reputation as a trustworthy human trafficker was firmly established eons before I knew him. If you wanted someone to come to America, Atlas was your man. Of course, it was always easier when the person in question himself wanted to come. In such cases, matters were generally handled with a ruthless efficiency that surprised nobody who knew Atlas.

It was a fine June afternoon. I had taken a day off, my first in years of service, and had decided to spend my time at Atlas's restaurant, drinking myself into a silly stupor.
I was halfway into my sixth cup of ale, and was desperately trying to convince my co-worker that the jug was the root of all evil, and should be smashed to the ground as a favour to society.
Someone snatched the jug away from me. I turned around, ready to square off for a bar-room brawl.
It was Atlas, and with him was a young man fresh out of tears, grim determination blazing through his still-damp eyes. I looked at Atlas, raised my eyebrows.
"He's my nephew, fresh from Crete."
The joys of a familial existence having always eluded me, I nodded out a lukewarm welcome and turned around to continue my intellectual banter.
Atlas sat down in front of me, with a soft satisfying plonk.
"I need a favour. And you will help me."
It was enough to make me laugh.
"I'm just a poor old river runner," I said, wiping tears of laughter from my eyes. "How could I possibly help the great Atlas? And why would I?"
Atlas stared at me, the way we stare at people talking loudly in restaurants. And then, glanced softly at his nephew.
"Sing," said Atlas.
And he sang.

And he sang then, oh yes he did, of longing and lament, a song which pierced the heart and cleared the mind. A song of love and innocence, of olives and plums and the smell of fresh Greek soil, of the hunt of the boar. He sang of sunshine and death, and the slices of life stolen away by Chronos.
He sang, and the afternoon melted away into the growing darkness of the night.
After a while, I sensed that he had come to a stop. I stared at Atlas.
"What do you want from me?"
"I want to meet the Boss," he said, and smiled, a slow secret smile.

Those days, I used to meet the Boss very infrequently. My sole job being running the river, my only meetings with him were during times of crises and flooding, when ferrying became the most important job in the world.
I met him in his lair, a high-rise Manhattan apartment. I told him of Atlas, told him about his nephew, told him everything.
His wife was intrigued (and, after all, who wouldn't be, at the thought of a soulful Greek singer).
They agreed to meet Atlas at his restaurant.

I shall never forget the day as long as I live.
For it was at Atlas's restaurant that I saw his nephew sing again.
I saw the effect on the Boss.
I saw his worries melt away.
I saw his wife crying openly, when he sang of unkept promises, and stare at her husband.

And when it was all over, and the Boss was pleased, he looked at the nephew of Atlas, and he asked unto him what he might desire.
And the lad replied.
"Hear me," he said. "I have just one favour to ask."
"And what, pray, is that, soulful Cretan?"
"I ask but this, mighty Hades, that Eurydice, my wife, be returned to my side. For I am Orpheus, son of the Lord of Dreams, and in this manner do I beg a favour of kin."

Hades smiled, looked at Persephone. I felt with naked fear the stab of pure evil in his glance.
"There will be some conditions," he said.

The rest is a tale oft told, by bards and sages.
But this was exactly how it happened, that fateful sultry June night.

And though the chasms of reality swallow my world day by day, though memory, Calliope, and the rest of the muses faintly shudder when Olympus slowly turns to sand, though Zeus and Poseidon still grieve over the fate of humanity, this story shall remain with me.
For the world has changed beyond recognition, and appearance imperceptibly blends into the shadows of thought.
I shall remember Hades, remember Persephone for ever.
I used to work for him once after all.
The Styx might have dried away and turned to vapour, but I shall always remain Charon.

And forever in my memories shall the Song of Orpheus and the roar of the river, the barking of Cerebrus and the deadly orders of Hades be preserved.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

My Blog, China, and the Rest of my Life

It's been a while since my last post. A dark wind has blown across my life over the last few weeks, and punched holes in the picture I had painted of the world and its future and a tiny little me in it.

Certainties have been made uncertain.
Trust systems have broken down.
Faith and religion have been shattered.
For what I have always held dear is lost, maybe forever.
But the rest of my life awaits. I just hope it's worth the effort of living it.

So, on to the future! The perceptive reader must have noted the fact that I have added many shiny new features (SNFs) to my blog. Notice, for your utmost amusement and pleasure:
  • A Shout Box!
  • A Hit Counter!
  • A Blog Roll!
  • A Subscription Service!
The last SNF being solely for those unfortunate enough not to have discovered the wonders of Bloglines. Explore, and gain nirvana.

I have recently had the marvellous fortune of having a set of delightfully lovely ladies praising, and thus publicising, my blog on various fora. To all such damsels (and you know who you are), I doff my hat in gratitude, and make a promise to kneel in prayer a.s.a.p.

So what about China?
Hehh. Hehh. Hehh.