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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Yuletide

So, Merry Christmas, if you celebrate it. Happy Winter Holidays, and Happy Summer Holidays if you live south of the equator. I live atop the Tropic of Cancer, so there's no snow in my town, though the northern bit of my own state is a Himalayan area and houses snowy tourist destinations. But winter does come, and Yuletide comes with it. Before school closed, on the 17th we had a Creative Carolling contest at school between the classes, and the great ninth ( :D ) won in the seniormost group. We got the biggest applause: we had Disney characters, two girls under one cloth for a reindeer, and we burst party poppers on stage, so of course we won. :D:D School reopens on 2nd, btw. :(
I hate weekend festivals. They eat up holidays.
Anyway, here is the Holiday wallpaper, which is also special as my 50th:

I last posted wallpapers till #45. Wallpapers #46-49 will hit you shortly. So will the blog's Yuletide look. Goodiebyes!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tiny Poems 6, 7 & 8

Lilting tunes, notes of
Lauded music, perhaps to one,
Deafening.

Broken glass, tainted crimson.
Shining, showing
The world in pretty pink.

Dead children
Wrenched away from parent in pain;
A bouquet.


Tiny poems 3, 4 & 5

Raging war
Alone in the cold
A star.

Guiltless rage
The soul embraces the dark
Flames flicker in response.

Endless canvas
The starving soul finds solace
In Creation.

...again.

Fortified city,
Untouched by breaking waves;--
Dewdrops find a way.

I just thought of another tiny poem.

Breaking out of rhyme

I've been wanting to write proper non-rhymed poems for a long time. Today while thinking of something good to put on a greeting card, I thought of this:

===============================================
Red war, white snowstorm;
Ochre desert sand, blue seas--
But the One, sees green.
===============================================
I guess it looks a bit like a haiku, but I don't really know if it fits the rules, so I'll simply call it a tiny non-rhyming poem for now.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Catching Up

I was away from here because my internet betrayed me. Anyway, meanwhile I have finally used the T-shirt markers that a cousin gifted me quite some time ago. I did three practice runs on torn tee material. I drew a bouquet, a girl, and a block of houses with just them 6 shades: red, yellow, blue, green, orange, black. I am overwhelmed with how good they turned out given it's my first ever time with this medium. I can't say if there will be photos. Also, I'm doing good with my new phone. The inter-school fest Vibes, run by us, the students who are coordinators at The Statesman Voices, went well just like the past two years. This Saturday we had an exhibition displaying our craft work. There was some spontaneous rivalry between classes even though there was no official reward. Most classes had some innovation in their presentation, and our class's display was a hit.
I haven't made a wallpaper in ages, and I think my considerable collection of unposted ones is taking my attention off that. So I'm gonna post some right now:
#41 was made while I tried to create painting-like effects in Photoshop. It portrays a caveman crouching in his cave behind a fire, locking eyes with the dangerous beast outside, clutching at a piece of rock just in case. Good for keeping on your desktop if you're feeling unlucky -- it'll remind you of how much worse your life could be. I made with the different watercolour brushes on Photoshop, using the finger painting setting of smudging.
#42 was inspired by a salwar suit my Mom bought. It is everyday wear, with rather simple black flowers on dark blue. I liked the dark blue and black combination, and also the shapes of the flowers, which matched a preset flower shape in Photoshop. I added and subtracted a few concentric flowers to create the shape I wanted, and then coloured it. I also created the background, but I wasn't completely satisfied. I played around a bit and then did the curvy lines, tinkered with blend modes, painted the background colours and copied in more flowers. Then I blurred the flower layers, merged them and applied the plastic wrap (of all things!) filter on it. I like the final product.
#43 is another one I made with repeated use of preset shapes. I remember that I began this with no idea in mind about what I'd do. I did a row of green branches and made two more copies of it. I overlay those copies with yellow and red. Then I used different blending modes, bevels, etc. and transformed several copies in different ways to get this. You will notice that there's nothing in this but that leaf pattern, even in the background. Even the filling of the leaves is actually more overlays of the same layer, moved or rotated a bit.
#44 was completely whimsical. I took the four watercolour brushes, and set them to have the maximum rotation jutter, spacing, scatter and colour jitter. I did some random brushwork with my colour set to black. Then I changed the settings, the brush shapes, the set colours, the jitters and speeds and everything else I knew how to change about brushes. At one point I had enough on my canvas to proceed more logically, which I did. I think I used something else for finishing but I don't remember what.

I dig #45, because it actually involved some conscious creation from the beginning and was spontaneous at the same time. I used the bonfire and the spiral from the preset shapes, loads of gradients, blending modes and masking. I also used some fab colours: the flames are blue and purple. The basic colour I hit upon was the onion-peel colour that I really love. It's a bit metallic, and a bit soft as well, this colour. Another reason I love this one is because it shines! I made something shine, at last! I remember almost everything about the making process for this one, but I fear that I am so self-taught that I will use wrong language for half the things I did. Yes, I know the terms. But there I things that I know can work, but don't know the background workings deeply enough. I also don't have enough training to know the general effect of some tools, and only know what situations I have worked with. And this wallpaper involves a lot of those things. Otherwise, in all this that I have said, I might as well have told you the process. I'll see if I feel any spunkier one of these days: spunky enough to tell you in my amateurish way.
CIAO!



Friday, November 11, 2011

Of Morality and Religion and How I Became an Atheist

Atheist, Pantheist, Theist, Irreligious, Spiritual, Pious, Agnostic...
Moral, Immoral, Right, Wrong, Criminal, Righteous, Honest...
Connected, or not?
I have long struggled with the idea of religion and spirituality -- it's existence, accuracy as well as significance. My family can be defined as a Hindu one. The prophet-like guy and his gang my mother and grandmother are subscribed to is defined as a Hindu saint and his family and followers. Don't get me wrong, I mean no disrespect for the great people of our bygone days. But that's not the point. The point is, I have implicitly learnt to identify as Hindu, in a country where identifying as Atheist, Agnostic or in any other way devoid of religious identity is very uncommon, as is changing this identity without explicit conversion (which itself is uh-oh). Everyone around me has a religion by birth, whether they practise it or not.
However, my mother is also an advocate of free thinking, which has been inculcated in me apart from basic socially required religious training. My religious thinking has also been nurtured to be less narrow-minded than those of my peers. So, as I've grown, I've opened up to other ideas.
My family has always taught me blind faith. My grandmother is overly protective of the religious views that are the norm, and reacts rather unpleasantly and defensively if I question what she has taught me in the field of religion. But hey, what can stop me from thinking. The first thing that happened to me outside the norm was the refusal to accept science and spirituality as contenders. I began to believe in a single quest for truth. I formulated my own theories of accepting the state of affairs around me. I also saw how much ancient knowledge could be distorted, how religion could be twisted out of shape by shameless politicians and how blind faith could kill. And that's how I first deviated from my grandmother's teachings, by picking and choosing from amongst the tenets that my family followed in general. I began to believe that in an old and hugely branched religion like Hinduism, each person already has a particular cocktail of codes according to their particular stream, which can easily be completely alien to one's neighbour of the same religion. Then why couldn't I make a cocktail that served me well, instead of choosing one of the assembled platters?
Blasphemous. Who are you to formulate religion? That's how people go astray. You don't have the calibre to know what's right or wrong in entirety. You can only follow a code laid down by some who supposedly did. Oh great.
My mother supported my views about 'one truth'. However, my beliefs have now deviated even more drastically from what I was taught. I have decided that deities are but symbols of the unknown, and though I believe that prayer works because of the unknown powers of the mind, it is against my principles to pray. Why? Because I refuse to accept the unknown as an entity to be communicated with or as a single sentient being. I also refuse to be judged at every step by some codes that discriminate and divide. There are many mysteries, and I accept that we hardly know anything, but I know that we can do better than hold on to a system that hardly evolves and that owes much of its development to historical power games. I find it a better lifestyle to wait to find out than to accept distorted forms of euphemistically expressed ancient knowledge. Much of it can be related to known facts, but no religious code can be taken for its word without some serious digging into how it came to be. Also, all religion now involves elevating certain persons, like you and me, to levels above mortal. That simply disgusts me. Whatever is beyond our reach, the form given to it by human beings and the prescribed methods to be in touch with it are so twisted that I prefer irreligious reasoning to religious training as a means of learning the truth. I prefer to apply my mind's facilities directly and concentrate as hard as possible, rather than to pray for what I want.
The accepted form of secularism in my country (and many others) involves generalising God without naming a particular religion. Atheistic or irreligious forms have no place in it. One thing all religions agree about is that Atheism is a no-no. Why I chose Atheism has many reasons: my hatred towards religion is not the only one. I also can't choose a religion even if I want to, because, at the simplest levels, I cannot agree with any. Women's rights or not? Beef or not? Pork or not? Alcohol or not? Gay rights or not? I say, are these people out of their minds? They keep quarreling, and I cannot pick a side because none of them agree with me completely. I accept LGBTs, I accept all sorts of meats and beverages even if I don't consume them all. I am a woman, and I believe we deserve to be treated as well as the men are. At the same time, I have a very simple way of deciding what to support and what to oppose. If more people did such-and-such, will the world be a better place from where I stand? If yes, it is a good thing. Else, not. I also believe that at the cores of our subconscious we all do the same when it boils down to a binary decision. I shall not listen if you tell me that people who drink alcohol are bad. I agree that people shouldn't get drunk and beat up their families, but I am tolerant to people who drink socially. I have similar views about many debated topics. And the results I arrive at never are a complete match with any religion. So basically, I HAVE NO CHOICE. Sorry, everybody in my family and school and in religious places who will be disheartened to know this, but I don't want to pray. I want to do things on my own terms and not give credit to some entity who apparently does everything for long-term good. An earthquake in Haiti is not good. For any term. It just happens and we must adjust, but no one in their right minds will cause it. If I am wrong and there is a God, then because of things this God chooses to do in spite of having absolute power, I don't like Him anyway. (Or Her. Don't even get me started on that one.)
And so, for several reasons, it's completely illogical for me to believe. I have my own moral code, my own judgement. Atheism actually has given me that freedom of conscience that religion never did. Atheists are not bad people. They might not pop up and kill you. Many theists might. As David Morgan-Mar of Irregular Webcomic once said (I paraphrase and severely condense), it might not be conceivable for theists that someone can make their own moral code, but that system works.
Hello World, I'm an Atheist.
P.S.: Some old profiles of me and considerably many of my old creative work, especially poetry, dates from the time when I was an unwavering believer. Most of these were created in the second phase I mentioned, when I was rebellious within religion. Many expressions and ideas in those I now find completely alien. However, I will not destroy those works, as they are products of my abilities nonetheless.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Old Drawings on Paint --3

These were some drawings that were part of my 'formal' training of using Paint, in which my Mom would give me specific exercises to do, with some help from a book for kids learning how to use computers. Most have my own choice of colouring and some additions too. These are proof that my eccentricity was not caused by any freakish accident. I'm kidding. They just prove that I was always awesome :P. I named these drawings 'Practice-1' through 'Practice-5'.
You will notice that this involves almost all basic drawing tools in Paint.
The birdie was my idea.
Involves the basic ideas of cutting, copying, pasting, and rubbing out to simulate overlapping.
Isn't drawing in Paint a cute thing in itself without the pictures being cute?
Arrrrr. First usage of curved line and polygon tools. And also zooming in to do details.
My memory doth serve me well at all unnecessary times.
It was a 'test' in my lesson program, with the task being the red and blue blocks with text and the hills.
Later, during a phase of fascination with the Lucida Handwriting font, I added the rest.
I'm not sure if this qualifies as a drawing... oh wth, there's modern art.
The neatest of my practice drawings by far. Also the one most deviated from the original task by later modifications.
This makes prolific celebratory use of my then new-found knowledge of the two different selection modes.
I've always liked drawing both on my computer and on paper. And I've always been crazy enough to show these drawings to people long after growing out of them and graduating to better stuff and then Photoshop and Gimp. That sums up the logic behind Old Paint Drawing posts.
I have done some better artwork in Paint, and had some even better ideas that I abandoned out of laziness and later sometimes resurrected in Photoshop. And as most regulars will know, design wallpapers for a hobby now. I was inspired to make efforts in digital art by some great work, mostly in Paint, by my cousin Pamelee. If you saw the landscapes she made at times in Paint, you'd be amazed by her infinite patience before you appreciated how awesome and real-looking they were. The effects she achieved with the rather primitive features of Paint are well worth appreciation. Now that she works, I don't know if she still does any digital art.
I also know that Windows 7 has a Paint which is not that much primitive at all, and has interesting brush modes etc. I for one still have XP, and do not intend to change until it gives compatibility issues for new software or I get a new computer, whichever is earlier. Also, I think because the target users are different (though overlapping), Paint will never become like Photoshop. I do intend to do stuff other than wallpapers. Will tell you when that plan reaches anything resembling fruition.

Highly Irregular!

I found a new webcomic that is good enough for regular following. Irregular Webcomic! by a geeky and extremely knowledgeable Australian guy whose name I don't know is a genuine laugh riot. It does mostly theme-based comics, built from Lego, RPG figures, and real-life photos of the author and sometimes some other people. Many themes directly draw inspiration from real-life fictional work, people or incidents, but that fact is not always admitted. I don't blame the guy, given the possibility of his humour being misinterpreted.
Two additional good things about this comic: it is PG-rated, and it raises money for the Jane Goodall Institute (he has a theme on Jane Goodall too). So go read!

Edit: David. His name is David.
Edit 2: Hah! Found it. David Morgan-Mar. I didn't want to research, and was waiting for another mention of his name as I flipped (clicked) through the archives.
Edit 3: The comic's been discontinued last year. But hey, there's a whole huge archive to read.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Back to the basics

Not strictly, that is. I've returned my blog to the regular look after deciding that I'm too tired of specials to do a Diwali special and also that fireworks are difficult to integrate into a ramble blog. However, I am experimenting with the description line. It used to be "Expressions of a free-flowing mind". My blog involves showcasing both my creative side as well as the interesting (and not-so) things that happen in my life, in my dreams or around me. Not that they never overlap. Often do, actually. Basically stuff: as I've chosen to put this new description: "Little Stuff, Big Stuff. Stuff."
I intend to convey through my description line that I have myriad items here as opposed to a single topic, but with a consistency in the sense that it's always something that's going around inside my head: it's always something I need to say. My blog is my journal, my gallery, my whiteboard and my soapbox all rolled into one. [rambling]It's my life, that is going to live on after me. It's my dream, that's going to give me strength because I will know there are always people to listen, look, criticize or support whenever I need it. It's my little corner of this absolutely fabulous community of blogs and bloggers. [/rambling]
At the same time, there is material for those who enjoy topical blogs: I have the label cloud handy just below the tabs, and readers can selectively visit my blog just for the poems, the events, the wallpapers, the narratives or even the link library -- whichever they like.
In a nutshell, I have a lot of things to convey in a first impression, and a merciless limit imposed by, well, human psychology and the ever-growing pace of life, especially online life. And sticking to the same old is a guaranteed way of wooing less new regulars. That is why I am always open to suggestions as to what it should be, so that people know what they're in for as soon as they read those first few words -- those first few crucial words. Brownie points (non-redeemable!) for anyone who can add to all that an oblique request to comment. Ciao!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pujo 2011: Poshak and Paduka

Clothes and shoes. Huh. I'm not much a stickler for the new-outfit tradition, and I have no qualms about wearing something twice within the festival or wearing something that I've just worn before for a few hours. Anyway nowadays most people don't buy new trousers every time, just the tops. So that's what I did. I bought a couple of new tops, wore one which I had worn only one before (last Pujo!) and one which I had worn in the SPICE Club Congress. And no new trousers. Only instead of keeping just one pair active at a time (which I usually do), I had both my pairs of jeans out, along with my two semi-formal pairs. So that makes four pairs. Enough, don't you think?
I usually don't buy new shoes, and this time too I technically didn't. However, for the song costume at the Congress, our school's team wore identical black ballerina shoes. So they were practically unworn. They weren't too ballerina either, if you know what I mean, so they went with almost anything. I wouldn't wear them in the rough and tough of daily life of course, but they were sturdy enough to walk about in. So for the days of Pujo, I wore that pair. Then, back to good old sneakers. :P
This is the end of the Pujo series. I think I'll do a Diwali and Kali Pujo theme starting tomorrow or coming weekend. But no promises.

Pujo 2011: Pet-Pujo (ie. fooood!)

Mahashashthi (sixth day of lunar waxing in the month of Aashvin, customary day for beginning the celebrations): Simple home-cooked food. Nothing worth mentioning. The next four days I ate at Buzz Court, the multicuisine food court in the new snazzy Junction Mall, which is the first proper mall here in my opinion. The others are shopping complexes, that's what I think.
Buzz Court is a hassle-free place. You get a debit card made at a counter for some round number, use it at all stalls, and take home the balance.
Mahasaptami (seventh day of the same): Buzz court has several stalls of different cuisines and types of food. On Saptami I ate chicken sandwiches from Pop Tates. Mom took veg sandwiches. I also ate a scoop of butterscotch ice-cream topped with M&Ms from the stall of the famous Cream and Fudge Factory, which is inside Buzz Court as well.
Mahaashtami (eighth day of the same): This day I ate a couple of tikkas and aloo paratha from Kebabilicious. Ice-cream was a scoop of chocolate ice-cream with white chocolate chips. Way to combine two choco tastes. :D
Mahanabami (ninth, obviously): I ate crispy noodles with soup and chicken momos from Shanghai Noon. Mum took some curry and kulcha from another stall along with her share of the veg momos. I finished with a scoop of sweet cream ice-cream with chocolate chips. Yum!
Bijoya Dashami (tenth lunar day): This was our totally Indian day, and we took food from Garam Masala and Kebabilicious. We ate dal makhani with aloo paratha. For dessert I ate a scoop of chocolate ice-cream.

We ate rolls from outside one of the evenings too, and Mom cooked good stuff at home. We also had stocked up on our dessert at home, making the Pujas a complete gastronomic delight. But my favourite part was the ice-cream from Cream and Fudge Factory.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pujo 2011: Pandals & Protimas

Mahashashthi (sixth day of lunar waxing in the month of Aashvin, customary day for beginning the celebrations): The goddess's arrival. The first part of the day I just relaxed at home. In the evening I went out. I kicked off the pandal-hopping, of course, by visiting my colony's Puja pandal. They used an orange-based colour scheme for the pandal and white-based decorations for the protima (idol). I visited just one other Puja that day: the Vatican City-inspired pandal at Choturongo grounds. The pandal resembled Roman architecture, and the idol was pale-skinned and light-haired to keep with the theme. As is customary, I wore new clothes. I didn't buy too many new ones -- in our family we don't insist on new clothes for each day, and buy only if we find ones we like. The only compulsive custom is to wear new on Shashthi, the rest is, in the traditional sense, optional though almost everyone with the means opts for it.
Mahasaptami (seventh day of the same): I didn't go anywhere in the morning. I ate out for lunch (more on that later) where I met two of my friends. They were all hanging out at the Choturongo pandal and asked me to come, but that day I went out in the evening elsewhere: we took Granny to see the colony pandal where we watched some of the ongoing cultural programmes too. There's a relatively easily accessible pandal (compared to the other award-winners), the Poshchimanchol pandal, so we took Granny along to that one, which is why is took us some extra time. They had made a really imposing, golden-coloured temple and a very pretty idol, the face of which was beautifully crafted, very close to the traditional majestic face of Goddess Durga. I met one of my classmates at this pandal, which is always an added bonus.
Mahaashtami (eighth day of the same): I ate out for lunch on Ashtami too. Then I visited the Cement Park pandal. It was not themed but was pretty, decorated with grains, sand, etc. and I liked the idol. It is a unique Puja because it has it's Kumari Puja (the worship of a young girl as the goddess) on Nabami instead of the traditional Ashtami. Then I visited the Anandabihar pandal. It was a dark red-based colour scheme and a traditional idol. The whole thing was very neat and looked beautiful. In the evening I visited the Marconi Dakshinpalli pandal, which wins district- and state-level honours every time and this time was no different. Like some previous years, the honours included the Bengali TV channel 24 Ghanta's Best Puja of Burdwan District. It was also the 51st year of this Puja. They had replicated the famous Somnath Temple of Gujarat, and like every year the craftsmanship of both the pandal-makers and idol-makers was excellent. The idol was not the traditional idol, but wasn't strikingly unconventional either. It's size and beauty was impressive, but the integration into the theme was not as seamless as the previous years. The only flaws of the Marconi Puja were in comparison to it's glorious record -- independently it's hardly fit for criticism. They had even invited two real ascetics to sit on the temple foyer and do real yajna. I also passed by several small Pujas which I peeped into, for increasing my pandal-hopping count, both this day and the next. In the evening I went to the Choturongo gathering of my classmates, many of whom live near there and more come there to meet them. Choturongo is the Pujo adda place for many groups of friends as it is the locality Puja of a large number of people.
Mahanabami (ninth, obviously): Lunch out again, and I visited the most pandals this day. I visited the pandal at the Chandidas market which was inspired by Dakhineshwar temple. The red lighting inside was impressive and added to the effect, but the idols were too small. Then Mom suggested that we visit the Fuljhore pandal, right beside my school, so she drove straight there, and it was worth covering the distance. The pandal was in the shape of a giant palanquin with two giant bearers. All around there was artwork. And all this was done using construction material. There was no paint. Intricate designs, and even the whole surface of the idols, including weapons, jewellery and hair was made, and perfect expressions were crafted on the idols, without any paint. For straight hair and border lines they used small construction chips and for curly hair they used the big ones. Skin was made with sand. In the artwork all around, broken pieces of burnt clay from flower-pots were used for shapes like heads and sailboats. Pebbles were used for the gemstones in jewellery and figures in the artwork. Sand was glued on in various shapes for everything from waves to clouds. Out of all the pandals I saw, I liked this one the best, and Mom agrees with me. After Fuljhore I came back nearer home and visited the Joydev pandal which was winning awards for the past few years but was an utter disappointment this time. There was no delicate craftsmanship or well-executed theme. They called it 'Disney World' but nothing was done properly. There were just imperfect representations of cartoons. All the characters shown (imperfectly) were not even Disney characters: they included non-Disney characters like Tom & Jerry, Ben10 and Bugs Bunny. They even had manga characters like Goku and Indian cartoons like Chhota Bheem. It was like a bad dream. I hadn't expected this from Joydev: their last few pandals had been really outstanding. On Nabami too I went to hang out at Choturongo.
Bijoya Dashami (tenth lunar day): Maha or 'great' is added to the usual names of lunar days to signify that they are the Durga Puja days. For Dashami, however, the prefix Bijoya or Vijaya is used. Bijoy means 'victory', and due to the mythological background of Durga Puja, this day is specially significant of the triumph of good over evil. This is the last day of Durga Puja, when the goddess is said to return to her Heavenly Abode on Mount Kailash (the mountain is really there; creepy, huh?). Traditionally the straw and clay idols are immersed in water bodies in the evening on this day, after sindoor khela and feeding of sweets. After immersion, till Laxmi Puja, is the Bijoya period, when greetings of 'Shubho Bijoya' and sweets are exchanged and blessings are sought. Nowadays, however, the themed pandals draw huge crowds, and not only does the pandal hopping begin before Shashthi, but it also continues on and beyond Dashami. Several Puja organisers keep a smaller idol which is actually worshipped and immersed on schedule while the large decorative one is kept longer for show. Others carry out symbolic immersion, which is a compulsion in Pujas outside India where environmental norms do not make provision for the minority festival. Here, cleaning of the water after immersion is undertaken. This time, a few Pujas like the one in my colony, delayed the immersion for a day, not because of show (ours is a non-themed Puja) but because Dashami was on Thursday and journeying on Thursdays is inauspicious. Bijoya Dashami is my lunar birthday, which means that the moon was in the same phase, and it was Bijoya Dashami, when I was born, though the calendar date varies every year. So my mother cooks payesh for me on this day. Usually I watch the immersion procession of the colony pandal, click photos, etc. and then eat my ceremonial payesh, but in this case the immersion was on Ekadoshi (eleventh lunar day) and so the routine was different. Also, I visited one last pandal on Dashami which had delayed immersion (probably for show cuz it was awesome). It was the David Hare Road pandal, where the decorations were done in contrasted colours with golden sitting Buddha idols all around. The protima (idol, remember?) was made entirely out of paper, and the gods and goddesses along with their vahans (transport animals) and all the supports and idol decorations together weighed only 19 kilograms. Awesome, right? At the David Hare pandal too, I met a classmate and also a junior. Meeting schoolmates and teachers at pandals always feels nice. I, for one, anyway like meeting people from school outside.
শুভ বিজয়া!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Pujo 2011: Preface

Durga Puja is close to every Bengali's heart. This year the main celebrations were from 2nd to 7th October. I was celebrating all these days, so the Pujo special on my blog comes up now. The next few posts will be about my doings during Durga Puja: the pandals, the pujobarshiki (annual Pujo release of magazines: I read the Bengali magazine Anandamela regularly), the pet-pujo (colloquial term, means 'tummy-worship', ie. eating), the poshak(clothes) and paduka (footwear), and all other things Pujo.
I will also write about the post-Pujo Bijoya happenings, which are again an oh-so-Bengali thing: the greetings and mishti -- sweets -- celebtrating the victory of good over evil, touching the feet of elders, blessing the younger, etc. etc. Hope everyone likes the Pujo & Bijoya Special look of my blog.

SPICE Club Congress YouTube Video Day 1 Parts 2&3

Prayer Dance and Prayer Service Enactment of the Inaugural Session are now live on YouTube.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

SPICE Club Congress YouTube Video Day 1 Part 1

Though the official SPICE Club special of my blog is over and will be replaced soon by the Pujo & Bijoya Special, the YouTube videos of the Congress, which are gradually being updated after editing of the CDs the school gave, will keep coming. Here is the first one. Lookie. But remember, it's existence depends on the complete approval of the YouTube bosses and my school peeps. Otherwise I might have to go through more editing.

The four days of SPICE -- Day 4

I don't remember what exactly I was dreaming about, but I was rudely awakened by one of my teammates. It was 6:25. Our Animator had already arrived, and Morning Prayer was at 6:30. Somehow, I tumbled out and freshened up, changed into jeans and ran to the auditorium. I spent the prayer sleepily, thankfully closing my eyes during meditation. Oh, I was so tired.
It was the last day, and there was a solemn undertone to everything. After the usual breakfast of luchi and potatoes, Sr. Sarita A.C. the principal of the Kharagpur school, gave a talk about 'Peace At All Levels', including Peace with God, oneself, others, and one's past and future. Then, after a break, we had the Skit event, with the theme 'Go Green and Clean'. Kharagpur came first while M.A.M.C. came second. Our skit was called 'Garbage Diet', and was an adapted (and Indianized) version of an American story where a family, at the urging of their youngest, goes on a drive to minimize their garbage output.
The Closing Ceremony was performed by Carmel Steel, with some performances from other units as well. Sr. Veronica Kamath delivered the Closing Message.
Then the memento boxes were given to the visiting units. The Carmel M.A.M.C. teachers received the trophy for the Best Contribution Award. At last, the time had come for the Overall Performance results to be announced. To judge this, each gold-winning unit was awarded 5 points, each silver-winning unit 3 points, and 1 point for bronze. Ties were broken with the number of consolation prizes won. (I'm not sure if there were any ties.) There were three beautiful trophies on the prizes table. One by one, M.A.M.C. principal, our dear Sr. Sudipta announced that 2nd Runner-Up was Carmel Jorhat, 1st Runner-Up was St.Agnes Kharagpur, and the Best Overall Performance trophy went to... Carmel M.A.M.C.!!!!!!!
We screamed so much, and clicked so many photos. Each of us clicked a photo with the trophy. Beautiful, right?
Carmel M.A.M.C. Principal Sister Sudipta and Animator Ms. Soma holding the Trophy, with some of the Carmel M.A.M.C. attending unit, in the Auditorium.
(Five of the attendees including myself are not there in this one, I don't have the other photos yet)
Then there was a special lunch of fried rice, chilli chicken, and sweets. Departure was sad. We bade goodbye to many new friends. Last minute exchanges of contact details were done. Borrowed items were returned, lost items were found or mourned. :P Bags were frantically packed, and then at last we left, with heavy hearts and indelible memories.

The four days of SPICE -- Day 3, Second Half

Preparing for the Dance was hectic. We, the M.A.M.C. unit, had Orange as our theme colour. We presented a fusion of Kathak, Bharatnatyam and Contemporary dance to a medley of three music tracks, some narration and Vande Mataram. So we had different costumes for each dance form. The two Bharatnatyam dancers had the traditional costume in orange, gold and black. The two Kathak dancers (including me) had the two-piece version of the traditional costume: orange top and lehenga with golden dupatta across the front, above the head and around the back, with golden cummerbunds. The Kathak and Bharatnatyam dancers wore traditional jewellery and long plaits and the requisite number of ghungroo which was of course much more (>100) for the Kathak dancers. The decorative painting of the hands and feet in red colour was also done. Make-up was done in natural shades. For the four Contemporary dancers, the costume was orange bandhgala with a golden V in front and orange leggings. Their hair was done in buns and make-up was done in natural shades except for some green eye make-up. As with all other events, it was a rule to wear the SPICE Club badge over all costume in this event also. As one teacher commented, we looked 'all gorgeous'. However, that was the least of our concerns as the bell rang for the end of break and we fervently rushed to the auditorium. I actually ran there barefoot. I actually had taken a lot of additional time as only one person could manage my massive amount of natural hair and I had to wait till she had finished with everything else she was doing. :P
The event began after the short introduction of judges, who were, like the singing judges, eminent personalities from outside the present Carmel family. However, the short break seemed like an eternity. Next was a moment of frenzy, as we had planned to start and end with on-stage formations. However, there was no provision of raising and dropping curtains during competitions, so we had to make up entry and exit plans then and there. When it finally began after last minute advice (and threats from our Animator about beating me up if I didn't dance as well as I did the previous day at the Campfire :D), I decided to drop all my thoughts and nervousness and give it everything I had, and smile as much as possible. It was over before I knew it. We nervously sat through the nine other performances, gauging our chances. I had made no mistakes, in fact no one had, so it totally depended now on our basic abilities and the concept. Finally the results were being declared, and I hid my face in my hands, listening to my heartbeat quicken. "...Kharagpur, and bagging the gold, the host school, Carmel M.A.M.C.!"...my mind went blank as my teammates screamed. I opened my mouth to join them, but no sound came out. I ran to join the group hug, and as I found my voice, I cried. And then our unit shouted like there was no tomorrow.
In the short break that followed, we couldn't change completely out of costume. We only removed some of the accessories and the ghungroo. Then, for the second session of the day, Sr. Seeja A.C. from Kolkata, who is also involved with the Carmel Eastern Province's NGO The Ashadeep Trust, spoke. She gave an extremely humorous and interesting talk on "Peace For Social Change". It took away much of our tiredness. Then we changed out of our costumes and attended Evening Prayer, conducted beautifully by Kharagpur and Kutra units. After a dinner of rice, dal, curries and fish, we had the Collage event where five students from each unit were shuffled into mixed teams. The theme was 'Make Earth A Home To Live And Give'. The results were declared the next day: no one from my school was there in the winning group 7, but we had members in the other winning groups.
Only one competitive event was left, the Skit to be held the next day. We relaxed, and the Skit girls rehearsed later into the night while others slept somewhat earlier. I slept really soundly. So soundly, that... well, that's another day's story.

The four days of SPICE -- Day 3, First half

The most eventful day of the Congress dawned: there was the usual Morning Prayer and Meditation, this time by the Jorhat unit, followed by a breakfast of luchi and a different potato curry. Then we had the first session, on Man and Environment, which was in two parts. The first part was by Sister Kiran, the principal of Carmel Steel, and the second part by Mr. Bardhan, a vice-principal of Hem Sheela School. Then we had a tea break.
Next, all the units had to present reports of the Club activities in their respective schools. Creative freedom was given for innovative methods of presentation. Almost everyone had a PowerPoint and narration. Some added songs, dances, skits, etc. The Rourkela unit integrated dialogue and dance into their report. The Keorapukur unit presented it in the form of news-reading like on television. The Keorapukur unit was the only Bengali-medium unit present, and thus were praised for presenting their report in flawless English.
Following this the competitive events of the day began, with the Original Song and Extempore Speech in quick succession. Lots were drawn for the order of performance, and our school was the sixth to sing. The theme of the Original Song competition was 'Peace and Environment'. 8-member teams from each school had to present a song that they had composed on the theme. We, Carmel M.A.M.C., sang an ode to Mother Earth and emerged the winners. Carmel Steel came second.
Our song team's uniform was appreciated by several visiting friends. It was a Scottish-inspired costume, with an off-white full-sleeved ruffled shirt and a green and black-based checkered flat-front straight skirt, knee-length. The shirt buttons matched the skirt. We wore our hair in tight ponytails at the back, accessorised with thin leather-band watches on our right wrist. We wore black stockings and identical black ballerina shoes. There was no break before the next event and I had to do the Extempore Speech in my Song costume. It was troublesome to sit up there in that skirt for so long. :/
Extempore Speech was a mixed team event with two participants from each school mixed into two-member teams. The teams had two minutes of preparation after which each speaker spoke for one minute. I was paired with a nice young girl from Kurseong (We made good friends with the Kurseong and Jorhat units and are still in touch with them.) My team's topic was 'Be the change you wish to see in the world'. I spoke first and well, but my partner's speech was too short. However, the other student from my school won the gold along with her Kharagpur team-mate. My personal luck was bad in both mixed events that I was selected to participate in. After the Extempore Speech event, everyone gathered for a group photo, and then each unit took a group photo. Then it was time for lunch. However, we had drawn lots again and our unit was to go first in the upcoming Choreographic Dance event. To avoid dancing on a full stomach, we had taken extra breakfast and decided to skip lunch. So while the others went to lunch, the 8 dance girls from our school went straight to get dressed for the Dance.
Attendees of SPICE Club Regional Congress Eastern Province 2011 at Carmel M.A.M.C., Durgapur
They include sisters and teachers from the various schools, attending students, and organizing volunteers from the host school. Backdrop: High School building and central garden of Carmel M.A.M.C.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The four days of SPICE -- Day 2, Second half

Just before lunch, the quiz pairs from each school had to answer an elimination round. The top four teams would then be shuffled into four mixed pairs. After lunch, we had the second session of the day, on Human Rights, by Mrs. Rita Banerjee, who had earlier moderated the Inter-Faith Dialogue. Interacting with us and taking our ideas, she defined 'human', and listed the qualities of a human being; then she defined 'rights' and listed examples of rights. Then she finally defined human rights. She showed us videos of United Nations campaign adverts, with a separate ad for each of the 30 Rights from the UN Charter. She made some of us perform an impromptu skit to showcase a common violation of one of these Rights. She divided the other girls into groups to write short poems on changing the current status of enforcement of Human Rights. Of the 30 Rights, the Right to Play, which most of us didn't know about, delighted all of us. We received many new ideas and information regarding our basic rights and the responsibilities that come with them. We felt empowered after the session. The session was extensively interactive which made it very interesting. Personally, I felt happy because Mrs. Banerjee appreciated the way I presented my views.
Then we had a tea break. The next event was the Quiz: and the top four were Carmel M.A.M.C. (us!), Carmel Steel, Carmel Gariahat and Carmel Jorhat. After the shuffling, I was paired with a student from Steel. The quiz topics were the Bible, General Knowledge and any one from a list comprising Science and Technology, History and Geography, Literature, etc. Team C comprising Gariahat and Jorhat won with 55 points. Both of them were pretty knowledgeable, and the Gariahat girl aced the Bible quiz. My team D came second with 30, which incidentally I achieved on my own which is a bit of personal consolation. My school partner won the bronze paired with a Jorhat student, as Team A. Ms. Sangita Jayal from our school conducted the Quiz, helped by others from our unit as well as other units. Then we had another short break, after which we gathered in the auditorium again for the Evening Prayer which was arranged by Carmel Gariahat and Kutra and consisted of songs, beautiful pics and hymns. Dinner was next, which was rice, dal, curries and fish for this day.
Just like the previous days and the days to come, the Animators were to gather for a meeting while we were to sleep -- but a disturbing thing happened to our unit. There was this hole, not very big, in our room (my classroom) which we had jammed up as nicely as we could. But we saw that there were big black ants coming out of it in an endless stream and ants all over our stuff. While other schools got ready to freshen up and sleep, we lugged out our luggage and unpacked stuff while the workers pulled out our bedding. The whole empty floor was then cleaned, smeared with gammaxene and dead ants were swept out. Meanwhile we opened another room just at an angle from ours (which is actually the music room) and moved our luggage there. There were three cots there for some teachers who were supposed to stay but changed plans later. We arrived at the decision not to move back our luggage as it had food and delicate material like costumes, cameras, CDs, etc. After our original room was dry, some bedding was put back in there, steering clear of the side with the hole. Some of us slept there while the others slept with the luggage on the cots there.
Because of all this, our unit was late for the campfire, which we had to hold in the hall around a symbolic fire, thanks to weather. Each unit performed or conducted games which had little prizes (chocolates, etc.). We conducted a game in which everyone had to identify brand names from their slogans. Everyone joined the songs and dances. I danced myself crazy. :D
After all this, we also had to do final rehearsals for our Song and Dance events the next day. There was also the Extempore Speech event which required calmness of mind. And guess what? I was in all three. There was also the Collage event, good thing was that none of our unit was in all four.We slept as quick as we could, ardently hoping for the best. My, that was a long day, but as we were to find out later, definitely not the longest.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The four days of SPICE -- Day 2, First half

I had set the alarm for 4 am, as 92 girls were sharing 2 showers. I was already a bit hungry: the previous night's dinner, though rice-based with enough curries etc. that we consumed in enough quaintity, it was taken earlier than most of us usually take dinner. Anyway, the second day was here, and we were to become acquainted with the routine that we would get used to by the end of the Congress. We freshened up at lightning speed -- after the long queue for the shower -- and rushed to the hall for the Morning Prayers at 6:30. The Rourkela Carmel students arranged the prayer and meditation session, which included songs and beautiful videos. By the time it ended, we were pretty hungry, and had a sumptuous breakfast of luchi and  dum aloo.
Then we had the day's first session, which was a Talk On Peace by Ms. Anindita Home Choudhury, an alumnus of our school and a vice-principal of a nearby school. She had her higher studies in Physiology, and teaches Biology in her school. She is also an educationist, and has spent time at the Drury University in the USA in this regard. The most interesting thing is that I have known this lady by face for a long time, as some teacher of importance at her school, as her school is often the centre for different competitive examinations that I answer. As I didn't know her name or anything else about her, I had no way of knowing that the nice teacher from HSM School I met several times was the person who would be coming. Her talk was engaging, and she spoke on a change in attitude towards problems, as in realizing how petty even the biggest of our problems is in the greater scheme of things. Her PowerPoint had lots of clever pictures which I intend to look up on the internet and collect. She interacted amiably and was comfortable to talk to. She also gave out two activity sheets, one to fill in our thoughts about peace in words or drawings, and the other to think and write down the differences in the attitudes of our heart and mind regarding the issue of peace. She looked at some of the sheets and asked for them to be read out. The 'heart' responses were more emotional and impulsive with more ambition than the more rational 'mind' responses. Unfortunately there was no time for all to share, which was a sad but inevitable thing in all the other sessions too.
Then we went downstairs for tea (and cookies!) break. I don't drink tea or coffee, so I attacked the cookies right away. Butter cookies, yum! Then we returned to the auditorium for the Local Unit Report Presentation, where each school reported on their SPICE Club activities in their own localities and within their schools. The reports were presented in creative ways. Almost everyone had a PowerPoint, and some included skits and dances. Carmel Keorapukur presented it in the form of news-reading like on television, which was interesting to watch. The next event was the first competitive event of the Congress. It was the Inter-Faith Dialogue. Each school was alotted a religion before the Congress, and one representative had to prepare a 6-minute speech on that religion. Lots were drawn to ascertain the order in which they would speak. The session was moderated very efficiently by Mrs. Rita Banerjee, who was also to be our resource person for the day's second session. My school's speaker drew 10, and had to go last. She had to sit there on stage and listen to each and every person before she could speak, poor thing. We were given Christianity. The Kharagpur speaker won this event. We didn't get a medal in this event; though our speaker spoke pretty well, it was not good enough for some very fiery ones that other schools delivered. The results, though, were declared in the second half: I mention them here as I'm going to write by event.
Then we went for lunch, which consisted of rice and a few curries, some veg and some non-veg, and dal.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The four days of SPICE -- Day 1

At 3 in the evening I reached the school. At 5 the Cabinet including me marched into the hall followed by the guests. Then I went to dress up as a Man for the Prayer Service skit of the Inaugural Session. The skit was very much appreciated. However, I could not change back into uniform in time for the Club Pledge and Anthem. Later students of different classes presented cultural programmes. Our Councillor For Education delivered the Inaugural Speech and read out a message from the Provincial Superior. Then all other than the participants staying back left. After dinner there was an Introductory Session which Ms. Bela, an Animator of Carmel Gariahat conducted in the form of a game. Each student was given a chit. There were equal numbers of chits, each with the name of an animal. No one was allowed to speak, you could only make the sound of that animal, and find others making the same sound as you to form a family. Then the whole family introduced themselves. I was in the Dog Family. Then we went to sleep. Our unit slept in my classroom. We went to bed full of anticipation.


I could not update before because of internet trouble. I went back to school today after a well deserved holiday on Monday. More about all the exciting events in the subsequent posts.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Time Is Nigh

After a long wait and lots of rehearsals, the SPICE Club Regional Congress is finally here. Today at 3pm, I will be at school with all my stuff. The Inaugural Session is going to be hectic: I have to change costumes twice in half an hour. Can't divulge too much about the Congress now, though. I will write loads of posts once I'm back (after 11th afternoon). I can tell you though that the theme colour that we were given for our dance is orange, and the religion we were given for the inter-faith dialogue is Christianity. Each school got a unique colour, and two schools got each religion. Being the hosts didn't give us any advantage in the competitions, which is both a good and a bad thing :D.
I'm sure you've noticed the SPICE Club Special look of my blog: all dressed up in the Spread Peace Improve and Conserve Environment get-up. It is going to stay until I finish reporting about the whole Congress. That leaf is the club's logo, and also our SPICE Club badge. It is green, with gold border, a white dove, and gold inscription: 'Spread Peace Improve Conserve Environment'. I also changed the whole colour scheme of the blog to fit the mood. I'm participating in dance, singing, quiz, extempore and the Inaugural Session, so wish me luck. Staying at school day and night and meeting Carmelites from other Apostolic Carmel Eastern Province schools is going to be fun. Ta-ta!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

More experiments

Some more of my wallpapers. Here's #36:
It's half-experimental and half-planned: texture was planned, colours and effects were done on the job. Now #37:
It looks like something under a microscope, I think. Result of bold thoughts, tired mind and lots of time. Next, obviously, is #38:
It came to me while playing around with pictures: I was having laughs, converting stuff from Cartesian co-ordinates to polar or vice-versa, and dabbing colours randomly, when I had a nice ring-like shape of rainbow colours on a bluish base. So I started working with those colours, and did a little more of co-ordinate fun, and discovered the waterfall-like possibility. Then I used several masks and blending modes for the effects. I did the horizontal mist lines to reduce the vertical effect of it. I still think it's a bit too much, but I didn't want to overwork it.
Ooh, that was a long story. #39:
I was looking at all the available custom shapes, and the hands fascinates me. I just started drawing them randomly. I was dozy and some gathering nearby played really disturbing loud music, out of tune, and my head went buzzing. That prompted me to do the ripples. It was all in grayscale, when I had some real ideas and decided to actually make it a wallpaper. I made a few layers between my shape layers and experimented with very basic colours and diverse brush modes. It looks shocking even to me.
I didn't know that I remembered so much about the process until I started writing, heh. #40:
I was experimenting with the watercolour filter. Some day if I have patience I'll try to make something that looks like a real watercolour. I started a few times, and figured out more or less how to get the basic effect, but I never had the patience to sit with it for long enough to finish it. The filter is very gradient sensitive, and so unless I account for every layer with it's own required brush settings, I won't get much graded effect.
Adios for today, subsequent wallpaper updates probably won't come this frequently or in so large batches. I was making up for the absence, during which I made so many that I have lots not uploaded yet instead of the usual one or two. Also, wallpaper page is updated till #34. Alignment issues are not solved yet, so that will continue to be a slow process.




Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Death has a far reach

A woman lost her husband. I didn't know her. Neither did Callye, from who's blog I got the news. But the news travelled, and the blogger world is mourning with this food blogger and her family. Thousands are making the peanut butter pie that Jennie's husband loved, to celebrate his life and honour his memory. Thousands are touched by his last dance with his daughter.


The news of deaths of happy, innocent people just like yourself is a sad thing to come by, even if they were far away from you and absolutely unknown to you in  life. When I heard of Jennie's loss, I had the same sinking feeling that I would have if it were someone I knew and honoured in their lifetime. I thought of the family's immense, unthinkable sense of emptiness. Sympathy comes to me, but empathy eludes me, because I am lucky. It eludes me because I want it to: never anywhere does anyone want to have the direct experience that would acquaint them with how it really feels. But it comes. It strikes when one least expects it, leaving a giant black hole in one's life. One has to move on. Among all those who mourn, the degrees of sadness varies greatly. For some it is a parent or a child or a sibling, a family member or a friend, for some it is one close to a friend; for some it is a neighbour, or the nice person one met at the market every week and didn't know the name of. For some, it's a stranger who one somehow feels for. Everyone mourns accordingly, and take proportionate time to move on. But in spite of these differences, death leaves a mark. In spite of assurances of a better place, of immortality, of union with the divine, death is a blow. A massive blow.

I write this because he was a fellow human being -- loved, cherished, honoured and cared for, just like we all are, and will be missed deeply by those close to him; because the news of his passing brought a sudden solemnity to my day: this post was to be a celebration of my exams ending. Death, however far away, does that to me. I contemplate the nature of death whenever I hear of one. Even if predicted, it actually happens in the blink of an eye . Here last second, now here no more. How can I ignore this occurrence in the lives of a happy family, in the life of a fellow blogger? But all I can do is leave a comment on her blog, and write a post in here to show my sympathy. Rest in Peace, Mikey, and may your family have the strength to recover, and continue to keep your memory alive.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Wallpapers Galore, but with regrets (31-35)

I'm putting up loads of wallpapers today, overdue from my absence. However, I cannot update the Wallpaper page, as it is a time-consuming job.
31: Random experiment with filters: looks like some futuristic environment-saving thingie.
32: First attempt at sceneries. Drew a rough sketch with a light brush and applied mosaic and other effects.
33: One of my favourites, and the definite winner with my Mom. I didn't draw the kingfisher. I modified an internet picture. I'm going to try that more often: composition-based wallpapers, y'know.Worked hard on this one. Lots of brushes, filters, blending modes and editing. Still isn't perfect, but I didn't want to risk overworking it. And yes, I know I can always keep a copy and do it, but I don't have a clear idea what to do yet.
34: I learnt a lot about paths from a tutorial. The black and gradient-based background and the curves are (partly) from there. Then I added my own schemes to it. The pointillizing, the rings, lines, lighting effects and stars. Applied lots of new knowledge about layer handling too. I extensively used shape layers, fill layers and masks. One of my most technical ones yet. I can actually recreate it almost to the tee.
35: Ooh, chillies. Another whimsical one. Was playing around with radial gradients.




Life comes in the way

I haven't been touching my computer much these days. It takes longer than usual to do any work on the bad internet, so I need longer free hours to get anything like blogging done, which I don't get. Here's something fun to keep you occupied: Join RuneScape.
Also, my half-yearly exams are on. I'm trying to catch up with my online life too, but I keep falling behind. There's the SPICE Club Congress too, after the exams. I'm participating in the dance, quiz, singing and extempore competitions, and in the inaugural programme that we are doing as the hosts. So lots to do, and till then blogging can only happen once or twice a month.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Travians Rehab

I'm back from the Travians rehab that the universe forced on me. A series of troubles plagued my cyber life for some weeks, and I used it against myself as an excuse to quit Travians as I'd been meaning to for a long time. I quit for the same reason i quit Travian: I don't like playing unless my efforts bear fruit, and in these 'peopley' games the others whom you inevitably need to succeed have lots of expectations from you. So there, nothing but RuneScape now. That is one multiplayer RPG I can play alone and still enjoy. I can't afford to tailor my schedule to gamers who have loads of time on their hands. Somehow, I don't know how. And forgive me for any missing y's in this post. That key is not working well as ants chewed on the spacer layer between the circuit and the keys. It's happened with the g and m before. I just need to get used to applying extra force on y as well.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

He fell on a log and found a root...

... a square root.
I fell on a link and found an awesome math webcomic Spiked Math. It's a comic, in colour, where all the jokes are based on mathematics. Being more topical, it is tougher to do (an understand) than general humour, but nevertheless great fun. The site comes with a commenting system akin to blogs, which often adds to the fun and results in follow-up jokes, and many non-math people can enjoy the comics because of others explaining it to them in the comments. The artist is Mike, who's own favourite webcomic is xkcd. He has a ranking system of other webcomics, and his list is a valuable source of more funny comics. He does his comics with MS-Paint: the art is not exceptional, but the jokes surely are.
Speaking of webcomics, I found several sites that regularly explain xkcd. Since there are several, you'd better Google 'explain xkcd'. There are similar ones for several other webcomics too. I'm serious, there really are. Really. I'm not being irrational here. I'm not pi.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Infinite Awesomeness

Yann Martel's 'Life Of Pi' is an amazing novel I picked up at the school library. Much heard of, finally read. The detailed story deserves to be found out on its own, but I can tell you that it begins with the writer writing in first person, mixing fact with fiction to talk about an encounter with a man who directs him to the protagonist Pi, saying that his story would make the author believe in God. The writer follows the lead though with little conviction as to the story's quality: his compulsion being only his writer's block. Pi tells the author his story, and the extraordinary narrative that follows is mostly in the form of Pi's delightfully vivid reminiscence, again in first person, interrupted at times by the author's commentary on Pi, his home and his family that he sees before him in the relative present. Pi is 'now', an Indian-born Canadian citizen, married to a woman of Indian descent, and with two children. The symbols of faith in his home reflect no particular religion or belief system, but that of multiple religions: Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. This peculiarity of faith, as we come to know later, happened to him early in life, in the happy young phase, before his life-changing adventure crept in.
The cover in which I
read the book
In the first part, Pi talks of his life in Pondicherry in South India as son to a zookeeper and his wife, little brother to Ravi the cricketing hero, nephew and disciple of an ace swimmer; an ace swimmer himself, Piscine Molitor Patel is named after the Piscine Molitor swimming complex in Paris that his uncle was extremely fond of. Tired of being called 'Pissing' in secondary school, both mistakenly and intentionally, he enforces the nickname Pi for himself in high school right from the beginning. It did lead to 'Lemon Pie', but he even prefers the impersonal and shadowing 'Ravi's brother' to 'Pissing'. Also, he begins a trend of Greek letter nicknames. These and many more are the enjoyable stories he tells of his childhood, some of which are rather ordinary ones, like those about teachers and relatives. He also dispels some myths about animals, and voices his opinions about animals and religion, the two big things in his life. Then he talks of the bombshell that fell on Ravi and him, when in the 1970s tumult in India his father gives in to the alluring prospects of greener pastures abroad. He sells the zoo's animals, which combined with other preparations like paperwork takes well over a year, and then they get on a cargo ship to Canada with a few more of the animals that were to be sold there. And there ends the first part of the novel.
The second part is a shock, with the fifteen-year-old Pi on a lifeboat, trying to rescue Richard Parker, until he realizes they'd be together on that boat, and tries unsuccessfully to prevent him from boarding it. He really can't afford to be together with Richard Parker. Because Richard Parker is a young adult. A young adult weighing 450 pounds. A 450-pound young adult Royal Bengal Tiger. And this tiger is not Pi's only companion. There's a zebra with a broken leg, that the hyena eats, an orangutan named Orange Juice that also the hyena eats, and this hyena is eaten by Richard Parker. Pi spends the rest of his lifeboat days (227 days, a record time) in alternating phases of desperation and resolve. He uses his experiences from the zoo to try taming Richard Parker. He builds contraptions of survival and tries to overcome his navigational ignorance to understand the survival manual completely. He learns to overcome his inhibitions as a lifelong vegetarian to kill and eat marine animals, and makes use of the different devices among the rations that he had never seen before. He even has an extremely surreal adventure on an island of algae (spoilercarnivorousalgaespoiler) with an equally surreal ecosystem. He occasionally writes undated accounts in the notebook he finds among the rations, as he copes with the innumerable travails of being a castaway. His hope of reunion with his family dwindles but never disappears, as on the day he estimates to be his mother's birthday, he sings 'Happy Birthday' to her loudly.
In the third part he finds land, loses Richard Parker and after a harrowing and rather comical interview with the Japanese authority of the cargo ship he was on, he makes a choice to take his insurance money and go on to Canada instead of back to India : he says India has only sad memories for him. Pi since then has grown in foster care, studied at Toronto University with a double majors, and has become a family man.
Some other covers
Life Of Pi is a gripping adventure, that, as one of the reviews says, is 'deceptively simple'. Martel spins a web of fact and fiction, of everyday life and adventure that truly cannot be described as anything other than 'life', however extraordinary it is. It, however, is more than just and adventure. More than a third of the book consists of the first part, which has nothing to do with the adventure at sea. It is a simple account of Pi as he was in India, but it does not feel boring or unnecessary to the book in any way. Somehow, it gels perfectly with the rest of Pi's story, at times with veiled allusions to the adventure, and at other times referring to life in the future in Canada without speaking of the saga in between. It explains a lot about Pi's character, gives a firm base to the adventure and thus does away with plot detours of explanation when the adventure sets in. It shows the sharp contrast between the two, or rather three lives, all the time being enjoyable even as a standalone account of a grown man's boyhood days. It also shows another significance as the story unravels: the very reason Pi stresses on his early life so much is that he doesn't have much to show for it; all memorabilia they carried are at the bottom of the Pacific. He, at one point, says that he cannot remember clearly how his mother looked like. The first part is also the part that has more of the author's commentary on the present Pi, which lessens in the second part to keep the adventure brewing.
In the second part, the dangerous situation sets in with suddenness that one can almost feel mortally. It just drops from nowhere, instead of picking up where part one left off, that is, at the journey's advent. It starts with a time after the sinking and retraces only to give an account of the sinking and some very essential details: Martel wastes no time in giving any details that have no place in the twists and turns of Pi's life; there aren't many necessary details left out in the first part. Then Martel takes to the adventure with gusto, in his extremely realistic style. Pi's plans of survival are often written in the form of lists, even when no list is actually made by Pi in the story. This is a risky device that could very well take away the flow of the story and give a poor impression of the author's literary flair. But Martel tames them and deftly integrates the lists into his narrative, squeezing every possible benefit from them. When there are no written lists, they serve to show that Pi has put his broader thoughts on hold to focus on a very immediate problem. Where there are, they reflect Pi's mental state, like when he takes inventory of everything he has, and in the end includes the animals, himself (one boy...), the boat and the ocean as items in it. He ends this list with the item 'one God', two simple words that show the source of his will to live.
Yann Martel: the novel novelist
Martel takes many more risks: he uses extremely simple language and contradicting emotions, that serve but to make his story more realistic. He weaves extreme surrealism, bordering on science fiction, into a story of realistic adventure. He ventures into statistical improbabilities, like Pi meeting another survivor, temporarily blinded by prolonged sea living just like him, but they only elevate the gripping headiness of the narrative. He jumps genres shamelessly, from happy anecdotes to adventure, to unreal themes, to comedy and all the way back. But never, ever, does the narrative come loose; it only draws the reader more deeply into it, until one is made to laugh or cry, feel despair or exaltation, hope or anguish, as and when the author pleases.
The novel differs from other adventures in being not comprising solely the adventure. It differs in the hero being not at all heroic, lacking much of anything, be it experience, strength, knowledge, or even constant hope and courage. He has the last two in abundance, but they come and go like the storms on the sea. Pi is not hardy enough to be able to make moral exceptions right away: he has to struggle with his conscience to give up his vegetarian ways, to kill another being for his own survival. To boot, he is only fifteen. His only strength is in the simple, unconditional will to live, in prayer and in the hope of reunion with his family that eventually gives way to fond memory of them. Unlike other adventures, Pi hadn't taken even a small risk intentionally, other than the inherent risk of overseas travel. Differently from other adventures but very realistically, the exaltation of deliverance is not very great in Pi's mind. He does not react to finding land except for the disappointment at the inconclusive way in which his relationship with Richard Parker ends, with the beast disappearing into the jungle.
SPOILER In the third part, the shipping authorities interview him in the hospital as the sole survivor. Upon their disbelief of his story, Pi cooks up a more believable version of it and then gives them a choice between the two. He responds wryly to their doubts and their routine questions, and evidently doesn't care much about all of it. Martel's narrative changes tones drastically in this last part. The whole interview is in the form of an audiotape that the author obtained from one of the interviewers. It doesn't have any more of Pi's own words, and ends with the report that this interviewer had handed in: it diplomatically sidesteps details about Pi's lifeboat days, only mentioning in the end the record-breaking 227 days of survival, made more unique by the presence of a Royal Bengal Tiger. /SPOILER

That number pi just goes on and on. So does the awesomeness of this book. A must-read for anyone and everyone. Read it, and see how beautifully fresh and unique the novel is: not one bit of cliche in it. See how wonderfully the novelist has woven together completely diverse ideas into one tight package of excitement and food-for-thought. Truly novel, I must say.

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