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Thursday, October 30, 2014

For 5 : For Them

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For Them
 
It's the middle of winter, but
I'm sweating through my uniform.
Now I notice it's dripping
On my graffiti-ridden communal desk, and
My sand-whitened black regulation shoes.
My friends shiver underneath their blazers--
For them, I don't request the fan.

It's been ages since the old man decided
That it's good not to think of oneself
That it's good to be selfless, devoid of ego
That it's good to care, good to share;
But as of yet the old man has offered no advice
On the daily inculcation of his goodness--
And after all these years, despite much effort,
We haven't, yet, quite figured it out.

My people in all their flawed perfection
Prefer ruthlessly imperfect leaders.
Those closest to me know that I was born a perfectionist.
Rather obsessive-compulsive, if you will.
That... that ruthless imperfection... it's like surgery.
False moves equal death -- how can I?
But maybe. Maybe for them.

The spectre of my self-doubt
Is a lanky, wispy, annoying presence.
He smirks and grins and patronizes;
He runs away from all trouble on his pesky legs
And returns, grinning, when the dust settles:
On my black regulation shoes.
His shoes, I've noticed, don't see much cleaning.
Nor do those teeth he grins with, the fool.

Sometimes I forget the old man's dreams.
Sometimes I resent my comfortably clothed friends--
I stride up and switch on all the fans at once.
Sometimes I claw at my wraith as he cunningly fades--
I fell his Cheshire grin to the ground and beat it to pulp.
Sometimes the children in the sandy park
Seem unworthy of all we do for them.

I confess that I'm not free of treacherous fantasy.
There are times when I could kill;
Not just kill, but torment souls
And condemn them to eternal damnation.
That infuriating uniform sticks  to my skin
While I toil for woollen-lined people who don't give a hoot
For wrinkled ideals from a distant Dream--
Those lusting liars, fat cats, scheming slatterns!

But eventually I shiver -- with it I relearn sympathy.
The children squeal -- I remember the old man's labours.
And my ghost? The ghost is but my spirit!
That unsure skeleton is me in another life!
I built him as an aggregation of my wrong choices--
To remind me to safely separate thought from action.
The ghost, I know now, is my creation-- for them.
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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

For 4 : For Once

For Series, 4th poem. Venturing outside my comfort zone with this one, with respect to style.
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For Once

The smiles are hidden and distorted
By strange, dripping puddles on the incomplete glass;
The rough wood, caught up in the lacy tablecloth,
Keeps the frame precariously still--
Askew, but safe between flames and the floor.

The faces in the frame want to look again into those eyes
That saw in them their entire lives, and much more;
And made them, in secret gratitude, the heroes of stories
That the world's people called masterpieces, but which
They knew to be fond memories --
Signatures live, in soot stains and dried wax,
Of nights without electricity: labours of love.

The tired face with half-closed eyes,
Resting on a tired, vein-lined elbow,
Wants to feel, again, the heat of a mind racing
To keep up with wildly competing visions:
Of exotic adventures, bloody wars... car chases, crowds!
It wants, again, to feel the sweat dripping
From the forehead of genius down the brow of wisdom,
Down the rough cheeks, flushed, and lips slightly parted
From exhaustion, excitement, and the sheer thrill of creation.

But not anymore, the inspiration from reminiscence;
Not anymore, the colourful dreams by candlelight,
Immortalized in royal blue ink for the public's adulation.
The intellect made feverish by uncensored exploitation
No longer finds its children worthy of their birth pangs--
The mind that knows to madden crowds and critics alike
Grows uneasy behind that weary, half-lit face.

So what if they soil the birthplace of his creations?
For once, he wants the candle flames
To consume smile, vision and memory;
For once, all love and art, to him, is in the faint music
Of the missing shard of glass falling to the floor,
The ink-stained grip that held the world, now loosened
By the dark pools steadily engulfing the soot stains on the lace.
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Good or clich├ęd? Let me know! Actually, this is my second poem on the general topic, my first being a rather childish one.
At the time I thought that (the linked one) was scary, but I've written many negative poems since then, including the one above. I invite you to check out my earlier poems and tell me if I do better on the dark ones or the happy ones.
Take care.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Whoa. Burn.

That's not a post title I'm proud of, and when I found out partway into Dan Brown's Inferno that his primary historical inspiration this time was Dante's Inferno, I immediately judged that the book was rather unimaginatively titled. Without risking a spoiler, I can say that the element of the plot which is called 'Inferno' appears to be named rather poorly as well, in context of the allegorical relations to Dante's work -- unless we consider the deep symbolism in that old masterpiece, which the common reader, unfamiliar with Dante except in name, will find difficult to grasp through its treatment in this book alone. Then again, of course, Langdon is a symbologist, so maybe the symbolism should be important.
For the first time, my
own copy of Inferno, not
a picture off the internet;
with my hand for proof!
Brown's fourth Langdon story had been on my reading list since it was published, and I finally got to it last week. A novel of its length and pace would take me a maximum of three days earlier, but given my altered schedule I had less hours per day to read -- which means it took me four; and for three of those four days, I was disappointed and nearly bored. Almost everything was predictable, with a little concentration I could see through nearly everything, and as usual Langdon was running around with a younger woman of academic background who had begun to feel warm and fuzzy towards him -- till then I wasn't impressed with the plot, and the small reference mistakes that one can condone in researched thrillers of this kind began to grow big in my head and irritate me to no end.
The consolation, however, lay in the fact that this time, Brown had brought forth richer imagery, better language, more variation of style, better gelling subplots -- and so, lacking thrill, I delved into the technicalities of the thriller. I noticed how, this time, the balance between science and history typical to Langdon stories was tipped heavier towards science than ever, and that gave me some warmth, being a student of Science myself.
Perhaps it is unknown or even unthinkable internationally, but it is a fact that Indian litterateur snobs had criticized Brown's work as cheap, old-wine-in-new-bottle thrill, and drawn comparisons with 'mature' writers like Rushdie and Jeffrey Archer -- comments and comparisons that I always considered baseless and foolish but was hitherto unable to counter adequately. As such, I began gearing myself up to point out all the technical improvements in Brown's work in this post and in my conversations with fellow readers. Suddenly, however, on day four, Brown smashed so many twists in my face that it felt like he was holding it all in for the rest of the novel to dump it into the last third of it. I forgot all about the technicalities, started feeling utterly stupid, went red, broke a sweat, did a dance, tweeted about it, and then sat down to read again -- burn, critics; burn, smart-asses -- Brown just upped his game. You know how they say good writing is about being unafraid of vulnerability? Well, if not really himself, Brown made his protagonist Langdon more vulnerable than ever in this novel, sometimes to the point of appearing clueless and puppet-like, and that gave his story new places to go : the fact that Langdon's vulnerability opened up Brown's writing makes me wonder more than ever about how much of Langdon is Brown's alter ego. I, for one, have always felt that the greying hair and well-tailored clothing are, um, inspired, which is why I've never reconciled with the screen version of Langdon.
Reading Inferno, my first lasting reaction was to rethink my choice of picking French as a fourth language instead of Italian, though both are available, among others, on DuoLingo, because this book has more unexplained Italian than The Da Vinci Code had of unexplained French. The second lasting impression was from a gender equality standpoint -- mostly of a female lead who is, for a change, partially outside of stereotype, but not quite enough. The lead woman this time essentially works independently and does not conform to the expected appearance, but I would like to see a character who is a person first and a woman second. The other strong females in the story are also too far defined by their femininity in some way or the other -- this is something common to Brown's Langdon novels, and absent or inconspicuous in the others. Whether Brown feels the need to design them this way to protect Langdon's masculinity or something stupid like that, I do not know. Also, in this book and previous ones, I dislike how Brown always prefixes the gender of unnamed female professionals. He writes 'female technician', and simply 'technician' for males. It seems to further the idea that the nature of the profession is affected by gender, or like being female is a part of the job description, thus making it different from the 'normal', male version of the job -- it sounds like a clarification or even an apology. I'm all for a healthy mix of equally strong and important male and female characters -- otherwise all this I'm saying wouldn't have a point -- but I think the pronouns should do the defining. It shouldn't be so, that unless specified, the person is male; unless specified, gender should be just that -- unspecified, and if it's a character who comes in for one line as a part of their job in the story, why does the gender matter anyway?
Third, I found the the characters better fleshed out this time, as if Brown paid more attention to them. We are given deeper insight into a larger number of characters besides Langdon, complete with better back-stories and more page space given to their individual thoughts and feelings. They are also more indispensable to the story this time. This, combined with the science-leaning narrative and the relative departure from a Langdon-centric approach makes this story more similar to Deception Point and Digital Fortress than the other Langdon stories -- I always felt that except for being a secondary character, Tolland in Deception Point could be, with a bit of reworking, be replaced by Langdon.
The most lasting impression, however, is of the impact of this book's ending. All of Brown's novels, especially the Langdon ones, have left me with new insight and new moral dilemmas, but the endings have not threatened to change the nature of life as I, or as we, know it. Even issues relevant to modern life have been conclusively put to rest, at least within the scope of the story. But this time, the issue and the ending are especially chilling because the issue is the realest yet, and the ending would have had serious repercussions on everyone's life had it been true. It is a new kind of ending, with a new kind of exit sequence for Langdon, which Dan Brown veterans will find a pleasant surprise.
And yes, the last word. If not for anything else, do read the novel for its last word.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Thomas Mann, You Sneak!

Image Courtesy: Google Images
ie. the picture is of a copy
identical to mine, and not of
my actual copy.
I recently finished an anthology of stories by Nobel Laureates, which I received as a token of felicitation from my school for qualifying for NTSE. It had been a while since the last anthology I read before this (another Nobel Laureate one, from Mom), and I found it strangely exhausting, having to read so many stories to finish just one book. I've realized that it is the storyline which grips me, not the desire to finish the book. In the course of finishing the anthology I had some wonderful moments of predicting the outcome of stories, which as always made me feel clever. I had some more moments when I was able to mentally compare the work of an author to something else by them that I'd read before -- it made me feel very well-read.
The most exhausting part, though, was reading Thomas Mann's novella Death In Venice, which takes up nearly half the book's volume. When I started the book, I expected short stories and stories, not novellas -- which took me by surprise when this piece refused to end. Then I remembered that the introduction mentioned it as a novella. So I had to persevere, and to put it frankly, in this case the desire to finish the book was what fuelled me to read through it. Being unexpectedly long, its intellectual challenge (and the requirement of constant Googling to get all the inter-textual references), which I usually consider part of the enjoyment of reading, began to feel like a chore. The central character was arguably the creepiest central character in the whole book. The introduction says that the object of the central character's near-criminal creepiness is inspired by a real person, who I feel sorry for. The novella was good, but by the ending I was too tired to be moved by finer things like subtlety and understatement, which is probably why I didn't enjoy the ending all that much. Once I finished that one novella, I had a surge of false gratification which was cruelly dashed by the sight of the remaining thickness of the book, but I got through it; and I must say, after many full-length novels, an anthology was refreshing.
The last story, like in almost any other anthology or compilation I've ever read, was the most psychologically disturbing and confusing. I've never ever comprehended the closing story of an anthology to my satisfaction, barring the ones prescribed as schoolwork, and this one was no exception: even Google could not help me. The story was Il Tratto di Appelle by Boris Pasternak. The scariest story was John Galsworthy's The Silence, and the most intriguing concept, for me, was in Anatole France's The Red Egg. I was pleasantly surprised by The Musician by Selma Lagerlof, because her The Rattrap is in my school text this year. As always, it felt good to find India's own Rabindranath Tagore on the list -- this book contains his Artist, which I faintly remember reading in the original Bengali a long time ago, somewhere. The most predictable story for me was The Hack Driver by Sinclair Lewis, but only because this kind of story, pioneered by the likes of him, has inspired too many later works and become overdone to the point of being cliched. I can only imagine the ingenuity it took to come up with that without inspiration. Then again, who am I to pick favourites in a long list of Nobel Laureates? Shaw, Tagore, Kipling, Hemingway, Yeats... all the greats, and that's the best thing about an anthology -- at the end of the book, we get to come away touched by the thoughts of not one great author, but many. They leave you stimulated, outraged, emotional, sympathetic, enthused, inspired -- not to mention more knowledgeable and mature. To more anthologies!
On second thoughts, The Hack Driver wasn't the most predictable for me, in the literal sense. The Sardinian Fox, by Grezia Deledda, was in common with the other Nobel Laureate anthology that my mother gifted me, and I clearly remember being very disturbed by it at the time. I still did reread it, and this time it outraged me much less than the last time -- back then when I was younger, the concept had seemed far more dreadful and the twist far more, well, twisted. Whether I should attribute that to maturity and age or prior familiarity with the story, I don't know. I could also attribute it to the desensitization by all the way more outrageous things contained in this book.
Now I'm thinking I should probably re-read that other book sometime. I might find more stories in common, or more stories to be outraged by, which I don't remember because I didn't understand them then. By the way, I'm too tired to give hyperlinks for all the works listed above. Google them if you're interested. Seriously people, do your own work sometimes -- I'll catch up with y'all later.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

For 3 : For Fun

Back on the For wagon. Read on!

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For Fun

You know that fun guy
With the fun friends
Who does all those things for fun?
Things like 
Smuggling alcohol into campus,
Sneaking out at night to party,
Blackmailing his parents for the new iPad,
Selling leaked test papers,
Etcetera?

Well, the other day at basketball
His shirt rode up for an instant
And we saw scars all over his torso,
Some fresher than the others.
Everyone thought what you're thinking:
One of his fun friends even said it.
But, knowing him, I'm pretty sure --
And I think, knowing him, you will agree --
That he probably just does it for fun.
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I've never addressed this issue on this blog before, but if you know of someone committing self-harm, please get help. Now. Especially teenagers, do keep an eye on your friends -- and know that a) suicidal tendencies are not the only negative coping strategies to be worried about and b) a troubled mind is not always apparent. So be there for your friends, and ask a lot of questions about everything.
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