Saturday, June 11, 2022

Another old poem


Sleeping is all well and good --
I really can't complain -- but
I really wouldn't like to sleep
If I'd miss the rain.

Let the sun be out, or let
The darkness still remain;
In light or night I'll always wake
To see my precious rain.

Be you a child who's running wild
Or a man who plays with trains,
In present, past, or future tense
Please wake me when it rains.

This rain of ours will come and go
As do fun and friends -- but,
From slumber deep in memory's keep,
I'll wake you when it rains.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Gonna unload some old poems

It turns out that a lot of my poems lie unposted, so I shall start posting them one by one. Here's this, from about 1.5 years back. Time sure does pass strangely during this pandemic.



When I see into your soul
Hope screams like a wounded beast,
A vulture, long of carrion starved,
She throws herself into the feast.

Then, she flies -- exultant, crude --
For she sees you look at me;
But Reason sees you grin and bear
That which is not meant to be.

Hope and Reason, rival wolves,
Battle for this battered throne
That I have nursed within my breast,
Secretly, for me alone.

When the wartime siren sounds,
To each, a different song it chimes:
Hope, she hears of bliss and love,
But Reason hears the end of times.


Friday, November 12, 2021

My PhD advisor is apparently a person

I realized recently that the supreme omniscient deity that governs all of my existence is, in fact, just a common fleshbag, complete with weaknesses, injuries, and, wait for it, feelings. Talking to my advisor is nothing like the pure, unadulterated, blue-meth of intellectual exchange that I had been led to believe it would be, and I feel cheated. I feel cheated out of the simplicity and ease that comes with being a tool in someone’s toolbelt and treating them like a tool in mine, until either I graduate or he dies. Wait, I say inwardly as my advisor explains how he values honesty and genuinity and mentorship and what-not, why are you not talking about algorithms, or math, or publishing papers?

Apparently, I said something, and he hates that I said it, or rather how I said it. That notion meets immediate resistance within me, because I think that he is being an overbearing, tone-policing, power-tripper when he decides to tell me what or how I can or cannot speak. How insulting! I try my darndest to remain diplomatic in our conversation but, after a lot of needling about frankness and openness, he gets me to let slip a few complaints -- I confess that I hate certain things he has said, or rather, that I hate how he said them.

I explain to my favourite teacher, the second coolest person I know, the third funniest person I know, the guy whose mentoring style is reminiscent of my older cousin encouraging my nerdiness, that he is not my friend. Obviously, I continue, him saying things to me and me saying things to him are not the same, because there is a power gradient, and I cannot simply answer back in the same tone. My friend listens, and when I am done explaining, he speaks. He tells me how he understands that he is not my friend, or rather, he backtracks slightly, he is not my peer -- and then he continues into the nuance of it, explaining all about genuinity in the context of a power differential. While I listen, I look at the floor, at the walls, and at the numerous knick-knacks full of colourful personality that fill the warmest and most welcoming office that I have ever seen a professor maintain.

As the conversation continues, and I scramble to maintain my precious diplomacy, my friend’s marvellous skill as a teacher reveals itself to be more expansive than I had known. In a subsequent conversation with a classmate, I would say that my advisor can imprint understanding onto my brain without me knowing how it got there, and my classmate would impassionedly agree with that sentiment. In my advisor’s office, that day, however, I experienced the flip side of that skill. The dude is apparently quite the artist at getting things out of my brain, too. I end up telling him that yes, I did, in fact, have personal troubles that had made it hard to work. In response to his assurances that I can and should be communicating stuff like that, I find myself revealing that I fear such vulnerabilities being used against me. I, somehow, even tell him how these fears are rooted in reality, how people that I have trusted with the information have used it against me in the past. I say that to him, and I look at the walls, perfectly certain that relenting to this squishy, emotional business was going to backfire at any minute. My teacher, meanwhile, looks away from me and seems to be thinking, for what seems like ages and ages, and then he finally looks back at me. With easy conviction, like stating a theorem that he knows how to prove in three different ways, he says two words to me: “I won’t.”

From there, our conversation slowly wraps up. As I step out of my advisor’s office, a wave of empathy for this tool in my toolbelt begins to hit me like a hammer over the head. Over the next few days, the realization that I am now putting into words imprints onto my brain, without me knowing how it got there. I realize that my PhD advisor is, apparently, human; and I, apparently, have a long way to go before I can call myself the same.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

A remote goodbye to She-Infinity, the smoothest goshdarn dogger

 A Dog-walker’s Dirge

The vet has said that you must walk:
Foot up, foot down, foot up.
Walk now or you will never learn!
Please walk, my little pup.

Walk to the mess for tasty scraps,
Walk right, and left, and right;
And walk upstairs for treats and love
At all hours of the night.

Walk on fields, and on the streets,
And jump, and play, and run!
And walk, a proud and tired mum,
To bring me to your son.

And now that end times call you home,
Walk up, and up, and up,
To the highest heaven that's just for dogs--
Walk proud, my little pup!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

RIP Undead

Dream 5 : Perspective

When the professor emerged from his meeting with Izuh, the Roger clones regarded him with an amusing mixture of less regimen but more confusion. Since then, on his shopping trips here with Jagruthi, there began familiar looks and mild favouritism from the businesses, which Jagruthi proudly attributed to her husband's deepening connection with the less fortunate. Soon after, "Bhaskar H" invited Murthy again, but was himself absent on the day. Juhi served tea, and requested an autograph on the book -- Izuh had forgotten at their meeting, she explained. She also invited a third visit, on which Murthy only met some minions, who served him inferior tea and a letter.

Now, on a night far removed from that day, and farther from their accidental first encounter, Professor Murthy agreed with Izuh on one thing : kurtas felt far better than shirts in this weather. He chuckled at how the media had stopped speculating right around the time when he had actually sat down with Izuh -- as usual, they lacked the journalism to match their fictional flair. Occasionally, Izuh's chiselled face rose in his memory, and a deep concern gnawed at his professorial heart.
Above all these thoughts, though, Murthy nursed a strange tussle of resolve and nerves -- the next union meet was scheduled on the morrow. In the dim glow of outdated streetlights, the stage looked exactly as it had looked back then -- smaller than what Murthy would have considered ideal -- and so Murthy paced, turning on his heel at each end, more often than he would have considered ideal.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Having a friend makes life happier

Dream 4 : Behind Successful Men

When the Izuh-ra awoke at the crack of dawn, there was a lot of work to do in preparation for welcoming their guest, and yet more to do in preparation for defending their stronghold against his presence. Their big brother had retired to his chamber with his closest aide and oldest mistress -- they were to decide upon his outfit for the afternoon. So it remained up to the Izuh-ra, the bridal party in this curious marriage of ideological worlds, to create an environment where the stranger's loyalty could be enforced.

By four forty-five, they had done an excellent job of scrubbing rebel slogans off the walls of the alley and stairwell, and of rearranging the planning room to look more mercantile than warlike. Milder ideological quotes among the graffiti had been strategically spared alongside signs of obvious proletariat suffering such as exposed wiring and peeling paint. Thus, when Murthy entered the alley with the confidence of an invited man, he was faced with a picture that fed his precise brand of ideological fire. The same young messenger as before had led him to where the alley opened out, and they were now in a room lit only though missing parts of its ceiling. Teenagers and young adults milled around the place with the air of running mundane but important errands, holding paper and food and gadgets. Murthy stopped here, and unsuccessfully tried to make eye contact with these boys and girls engrossed in their duties. He remembered an article about how crime gave youths the stability, work ethic, and paid internships that society refused to offer; and he was quite certain that this was precisely the phenomenon unfolding before him. He would have gladly skipped the tea appointment to simply observe these kids, but the young messenger had been quietly replaced and a larger hand now tapped Murthy's arm.

The gruff twenty-something that now stared him down was the most glaring archetype Murthy had ever encountered. He was an exaggeration of the most angsty kids from Murthy's college class -- Murthy attributed some of the exaggeration to actual suffering as opposed to not enough of daddy's money -- complete with a pierced ear, blond fauxhawk, and camouflage pants. Before Murthy was done sizing him up, the man had fashioned a street-smart smirk, introduced himself as "Roger", and pointed to a precarious staircase at the far end of the room. Led by Roger's hand on his back, Murthy walked with reluctant briskness to the stairs, and was promptly handed off to what could only have been a female Roger. Aside from being shorter and sporting purple hair instead of blond, she was his clone even in mannerisms. Murthy was reminded of how his son and daughter always played similar characters in those video games except for gender and hair. The game comparison suited Murthy, because he had never before met such a woman in real life. This new cartoon did not introduce herself -- she simply walked so quickly behind him that he felt practically swept along to the top of the stairs, around the landing, and up another flight before he had entirely formed his judgements of her. She braked behind him, he reconnected with his surroundings, and a small room cleaner than the previous one appeared in his vision. A measured voice thanked "Rosa", who quickly slunk away, and Murthy marvelled at the low effort these folks put into their fake names. "Bhaskar H" wasn't very innovative either, given how his host, now smiling at him from a charpoy along the right-side wall, was obviously from the wrong social denomination to have that name. Why would a man named "Izuh" think that "Bhaskar H" was a believable alternative?

Preoccupied with all this silliness, Murthy walked towards Izuh more amicably than he had originally intended. Izuh had put some effort into the meeting -- he was dressed in his best cottons, and had bothered to put together a turban and a deliberate stubble. Aromatic tea and a copy of Murthy's book occupied a small table before the charpoy. Izuh wore his kurta with two buttons undone, and Murthy again found himself compelled to agree with Jagruthi and her friends -- this was one hell of a handsome man. Behind his charpoy, in the shadows of what were probably window drapes, stood the owner of the voice that had dismissed Rosa. She was a woman of about Izuh's age, with looks and obvious charisma rivalling his, and a glorious head of hair rivalling Jagruthi's. She was in cottons quite like Izuh's, with the exception of a jacket over her kurta and a rifle over her shoulder. Hers was the first weapon Murthy saw in this house, and hence also his first reality check about the situation he had inexplicably agreed to be in. Suppressing the nervous professor, then, the adventurer in Murthy fought to the forefront, and perhaps overdid the artificial ease -- the first words Murthy ever spoke to Izuh were also his least articulate, because Murthy grinned ear to ear and bluntly asked Izuh if this hunterwaali was his girlfriend.

The woman immediately looked tired of such questions, and a clearly amused Izuh told Murthy that she was not. The subject of their conversation then left them alone, pausing only to fix Izuh's turban and flash him a knowing smile. When she was gone, Izuh spoke of her to Murthy : Juhi belonged to no one, he said, but had always been by his side as the bravest person in his employ. He was glad of her company as a woman, but it would not matter if things weren't so, because she had saved his life more than once. Murthy would like her, Izuh opined, because she had made that afternoon's excellent tea.

Presently, Murthy took a sip of that tea, and against his best judgement was entirely mollified by the delectable brew. Soon he was sitting more comfortably upon Izuh's charpoy, pulling the book onto his lap and listening to Izuh's comments on his writing. The day outside slowly dimmed, and they continued to speak under the room's austere electric lights. Izuh asked probing questions to the man whose work had made him think and fight so hard, and Murthy answered like a professor faced with an eager but struggling student. Their meeting was a natural one : that of author and reader debating, parrying principle with principle and question with question -- time and again Murthy's theories drew blood, Izuh's worldly wisdom retorted sharply, and then both rallied around to the centre of their shared passions. Izuh often felt disarmed by Murthy's unassuming intellect, and as the streetlights came on they still talked, both as deeply interested as when they had begun, and both in silent agreement upon Jagruthi's taste in men.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

We play games together

Dream 3 : Cuppa

Murthy almost felt more handsome than Izuh when Jagruthi looked at him that night. She was so very full of pride in his speech at the union meeting. Murthy told her how these folks' businesses were under dire pressure from mall culture, and Jagruthi immediately decreed that their household would buy from that market street as often as it could. So come Saturday afternoon Murthy played dutiful husband, carrying bags as Jagruthi shopped from folks he now knew to be Izuh's people. The radical sympathisers put on such artful masks that, in the company of his wife, in the peace brought upon him by the kids being at their grandparents', in pure Indian wedded bliss, Murthy almost forgot the significance of where he was. Eventually Jagruthi asked for the bags to be taken to the car, and Murthy instinctively mumbled something about wanting to stay behind to talk to the tradesmen. His wife agreed with obvious pride, ensured that he had change for the bus, and drove away in their Alto.
Quietly, Murthy took a few brisk laps of the street. The makeshift stage was back, and the occasion was probably less serious than a meeting. In a while, some devotional music began to play, and old aunties gathered around the stage. Murthy stood watching and listening, blending with the backstage bamboo as Izuh had done the other day. It was refreshing to see something non-ideological on this stage. There were people Murthy had judged as obvious Izuh-ra the other day, who were among this crowd but did not seem to be on duty. For them, too, it was a wholesome community event. Izuh, of course, was not there, as would be expected before the close of business.
As time passed and religion became boring, Murthy took a closer look at the immediate surroundings of the stage. There were many loudspeakers blasting prayers to the crowd, but one cable seemed to run between the shops, down an alley, to one of the houses that lay behind the market. The tradespeople mostly lived around there, but this one house was rare -- it was two-storeyed, and the alley cut through its lower floor, almost as if it were a supporting structure rather than a house.
Murthy moved cautiously towards the alley, and with boyish excitement realised that the occupants of the house must be interested in the ceremonies outside -- they were unable to show their faces, but had set up a loudspeaker right outside their window. Murthy marvelled at how obvious it had been for him to pinpoint where Izuh obviously lived. Was Izuh so smart after all?
Before he finished that thought, a wiry boy of about fourteen emerged coolly from the alley, placed a square piece of paper in Murthy's left pocket, and returned even more coolly than he had come. Murthy began a quiet exit from the market street, and read the note when he reached the bus stop. It carried a succinct question in the grave but rusty hand of Leader Bhaskar H : the Leader planned to read Stolen Labour Stories over tea the next day at five, and would love to have the author over for a dialogue on the book. He was confident that he remembered how the Professor liked his tea, so perhaps he could be entreated to come?

Murthy shook his head. The bastard is a coffee-drinker, he reminded himself, and immediately wondered why on earth he knew that about Izuh.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

That new friend is now an old friend

Dream 2 : Wordsmith

It was past sundown, and a surprisingly disciplined group of tradesmen sat around listening to Murthy. They did business under severe disadvantages but had donned their best clothes for this meeting -- after all, for the first time, someone from the better parts of the city was expressing sympathy for their troubles without asking for their votes. They probably found it a bit surreal, Murthy thought, that a professor who wrote books about their troubles had actually bothered to come talk at one of their weekly meetings. They were also more attentive than any class of young adults or any audience of his peers that Murthy had ever addressed, so he revelled in the constant availability of eye contact from some listener or the other, and that too not always from the front rows.

When the smartly folded invitation had been opened at breakfast last Tuesday, Jagruthi was overjoyed that the grassroots were reaching out to Murthy. Bless her heart, she never takes my ramblings seriously unless they actually help people, Murthy had said to himself at the time. But alongside, he had also shuddered -- the letter was likely not coincidence, and it was a rare source of stress to have to hide things from his wife. Eventually, it had taken Murthy a fair amount of mental gymnastics to convince himself that he was not, in fact, becoming a recruiting tool for a terrorist, and that his excitement to speak at the event had more to do with humouring his wife than with the curious pull he had felt towards Izuh ever since that meeting.

When the two men had recognised one another, they had taken less than a second to also recognise what the other must have been thinking. They had looked away from one another like middle school crushes caught staring, and the meeting had anticlimactically ended with Murthy's hasty departure and Izuh's resumption of his pacing. But the radical leader, while he executed the obvious strategem of inviting Murthy to the next union meet, had also given thought to what Murthy was like as a man. So when, upon scanning the attentive audience, Murthy finally noticed Izuh in a nondescript corner, Izuh was prepared for his reaction.
Predictably, Izuh thought, Murthy's face mimicked his expression from that night. There was, first, shock and curiosity markedly devoid of fear. Quickly following was guilty surprise at his own lack of revulsion towards Izuh, who now felt a curious warmth spread through his body -- the academic had not, in fact, remembered to look down upon the terrorist. Watching Murthy steadfastly look away, Izuh wondered if this was who he himself would have become had he finished college. Not that he liked how this man was dressed, but it sure would have been great to dress like that and be taken seriously. Here was this man outfitted like he was ten years older, and there were organisations hanging on his ideological pronouncements. Izuh wondered if anger is more palatable coming from a better part of the city, from a man with no tattoos on his arms and, indeed, without his arms bared at all. Murthy was excellent at recruiting people to his viewpoint, and so it made no sense to Izuh that Murthy was not a more vociferous supporter of Izuh-ra. After all, it seemed to him that the curious connection he felt to this studious fellow was bilateral; but of course, there were limits to how deeply a professor could feel in tandem with a slumlord.

Comfortable for that moment with his understanding of Murthy, Izuh allowed himself to sit back and enjoy the book-smart validation of his deepest resentments. Murthy was Izuh's age, dressed like an uncle, and was losing a battle with thinning hair. But his face, in the middle of that night, had brought a storm of clarity to Izuh's fleeting heart. His aides had advised him to withhold his penmanship from the invitation, but Izuh was overcome by a desire to be classy with this man. He also deeply trusted that Murthy wouldn't run to the law -- and so the Union Leader Bhaskar H had written to Prof. R Murthy, asking him to please grace the union's gathering; and grace there was, thought Izuh, to how artfully Murthy had roused his listeners' rightful indignance.

The power of words had always struck Izuh as marvellous, and now he admired the beautiful control that Murthy possessed over their potence. Be it that day or later, Izuh decided, he must ask Murthy to meet him alone. He had a feeling that if he asked just the right way, then Murthy would come.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Ask me about my new friend

Dream 1 : Writer's Block

Murthy had always been a moderate man. He preferred to be left to himself to do as he pleased, and held the simple belief that everyone that did not hurt anyone else should be accorded the same laissez faire. His severe critiques of powerful people would mostly concern issues where this sacrosanct freedom was violated, or where people were allowed to perpetuate injustice sans oversight. He would, however, never support an armed rebellion against the status quo -- whenever the media made vague allusions that his work had inspired the Izuh-ra, it left Murthy deeply disturbed. His entire system of principles would bristle in indignation, and he would mope and sigh about the lack of basic reasoning that the TV hosts and Izuh-ra seemed to have in common. But these allusions would now accompany every news story about Izuh-ra's activities, and Murthy was just about getting used to it.
This time, however, the reporters had absolutely outdone themselves. Fuelled by a fresh press release from the police, the media's imagination had gone wild, making Murthy irritable company for his wife at dinner and a victim of writer's block and insomnia thereafter. Finally, getting back into his outdoor shirt and trousers, Murthy stepped out of his family home for a stroll in the midnight breeze. He let his mental faculties slosh over the day's problems, and as his irritations slowly cleared, he inevitably began to analyse why, after all, the news outlets behaved as insensibly as they did. Quickly spiralling into a deep analysis of the underlying economic and political factors, Murthy was late to notice that his surroundings had grown noisier than respectable residential areas usually are at night. He could hear the hum of trucks on the highway and the slight murmur of tradespeople who had only just finished their days. Around him was the locality that folks of his stature only visited at daytime for shopping and repairs, and deserted cautiously at the close of godly hours. The street lights here were still yellow gas lamps, the last sleepy tea stall still burned an incandescent bulb, and cathode ray televisions still were the window to the world beyond.
Murthy's realisation of how far he had wandered finally stopped him at the mouth of a busy market street, now deserted save one man pacing a makeshift stage. Presumably, this man was ruminating over the next day's important (if Murthy's peering eyes read the signs right from that distance) trade union meet. Clearly this man was a union leader, and given how he stared into the street, he had a lot to think about. Murthy rationalised that walking into the street would disturb this stranger's thoughts, but he did not quite convince himself that the very bias towards the poor that he so decried was not stopping him venturing deeper into this neighbourhood at night. He had spent countless evenings over tea and snacks arguing against friends who saw the inhabitants of this area as natural criminals, and finally, as if to prove the entirety of his own socio-economic class wrong, Murthy walked with the most sincerely forced nonchalance into the dimly lit market street, and almost immediately felt guilty of something akin to slum tourism. It was as if he had only walked in there to make himself feel better about his fortunes in constrast to these people's misshapen dwellings and workplaces. Nonetheless, thought Murthy, the hum of the highway could be gotten used to, and the slightly shabby street felt cosy to walk along that night.
Settling thus into his decision of entering the street, he bowed his head and crossed his hands behind himself, into a posture ideal for analysing media mentalities -- and so he walked, an author once again sure of his intellect, and a man once again friends with his principles. His thoughts now proceeded to convince him that the associations the media had formed between him and Izuh, the eponymous leader of Izuh-ra, were absolutely bizarre. Yes, they were born in the same city, a hotbed of the country's every ideological revolution; yes, the police suspected that Izuh was back to that very city, which Murthy had never stopped living in; and yes, sympathisers and possibly members of Izuh-ra thrived in the city, especially among its disgruntled lower middle class; but lumping Murthy with these radical people was absolutely atrocious. Murthy had completed college respectably, made a name for himself, and always communicated his ideas, howsoever disruptive, in a collected and academic manner. Moreover, if Izuh had read Murthy's book as was rumoured, it was not Murthy's fault that he chose the wrong paths for realising the resulting inspiration. In fact, Murthy reasoned, how differently the thoughts in that book had influenced the two men would in fact be the most glaring evidence of how fundamentally in contrast they were -- and so Murthy listed out more obvious differences between himself and Izuh, this man he had never met but for the media's picture of him.
Even if Izuh had never read his book, there were other ways to most obviously exhibit that they were entirely unlike one another. Izuh didn't drink on principle, and Murthy was practically incomplete without whiskey. Murthy was loyal to his wife and children, in contrast to the horde of mistresses that Izuh maintained in every hideout. Moreover, thought Murthy with the chuckle of a man bringing levity to the deepest philosophies, Murthy would never be as well-liked among women as Izuh probably was. Sensible girls would marry well-settled stoutish men like Murthy; despite ideological differences, though, they would secretly swoon over Izuh. Murthy sure had good-naturedly sat through his wife and her friends guiltily detailing Izuh's eyes, Izuh's stubble, Izuh's chiselled jawline, Izuh's hair that would definitely be so very soft to the touch. And so the pleasant mental image of Izuh, for a moment untouched by his knowledge of the man's deeds, rose before Murthy's eyes. Immediately stopping to ponder over the disconnect between surface beauty and ideological attractiveness, Murthy lazily stopped in his way, and stretching himself slightly, turned to face the other side of the street. With the laziness and his ponderings still lingering, Murthy registered slowly that the makeshift stage was now just ahead of the spot across him, and the man on it was still there, his feet facing Murthy with his body partly turned away mid-pace. Murthy's gaze had been low, and now he began to casually follow the man's loose clothing upwards from his sandals. Instinctively, perhaps because of the utter emptiness of the street, Murthy also began to cross the road as he raised his gaze. The man was strongly built, and jolted Murthy with his long-held admiration for the working class. Presently, perhaps taking notice of footsteps approaching him, the man on the stage reversed the spin of his athletic torso, and turned to face Murthy who also, by now in the middle of the road, had finally raised his eye to the man's chiselled, stubbled face.
The eyes that looked at Murthy from within that face were beautiful, and glowed with strong surprise and soft admiration. They were very, very different from Murthy's own beady eyes, which perpetually squinted from academic stress, and were now staring ashenly at the familiar face in front of him.

Rajaraman "Red Man" Murthy. That's what this fellow must be thinking, Murthy reasoned. Then, painfully, Murthy added to himself the realisation that, if the man before him was smart, as he definitely must be, then he too knew the one word that now held Murthy's brain in a clammy grip.


Friday, November 8, 2019

Show and Tell

Sacred Games

This fabric of hope
Stretched thinly on your bones
Reminds me of a comrade, fallen,
Another of your ranks.
Merciless and wanton,
One more I abandon
On the busy seashore
Of these rocky banks.

Each one that fell away
Wanted ballads on his stone;
Each one, he took his price
When he burned away alone.
But asking not my rhymes,
What does he ask of me,
He whose spirit burns away,
Everyday, for free?
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