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Visitations

How is it that I am visited by so many?
And yet none take away anything?
Do I give away nothing or do they flit about aimlessly?
Only in the night do I get any peace,
as if  they all fall in slumber accidentally,
while I keep awake.
I do not wish much of this life,
to be happy, to be strangely persistent and persistently strange,
Just to get by alright, whatever that means.
What is our “duty”, our “purpose”?
There is none,except to live our lives,
each in our own way- Life itself is noble;
It needs not a reason or purpose.

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Facebook: Observations

Česky: Logo Facebooku English: Facebook logo E...

Image via Wikipedia

I state a fact not stated enough when i say that Facebook has brought about and is continuing to bring about a revolution.A world-changing revolution that marks a turning point in the history of human progress.It’s effects will be studied by sociologists and psychologists decades from now.I daresay the psychologists have already got to work.Now, some would say that largely, Facebook has merely compounded the societal effects and changes set in motion by the advent of the internet and the World Wide Web two decades ago.I am inclined to agree but only to an extent.The genius of Facebook is how it has tapped into the vast potential of the internet.It is simply, to my mind, the greatest application of the Internet hitherto!Note that I am not commenting here on whether the changes brought about by it are good or bad, but on the magnitude of those changes.Now, sure, you may argue that the most groundbreaking use of the web is as an information resource.To that I would ask you,”Aren’t books still in print?”If the web is nowhere near rivaling  books as a tool of learning, then this application of the web is nowhere near as sweeping in it’s reach as the ongoing “social web” revolution, of which Facebook has been the chief architect.

And that finally brings us to the crux – Facebook as the big daddy of all forums.Now, internet discussion forums are not new, obviously – They have been around in one form or the other since the early Usenet networks created in 1980.What is new of course, is the reach of Facebook and the transparency of Facebook.Classical forums have an air of obscurity about them, with their multitudinous anonymous profiles and gif images.They have not been able to assimilate all ( or even close to representative) sections of society, having been restricted to a highly closeted, internet-savvy community of programmers, geeks, and gamers.

Facebook on the other hand is bringing out highly localised ideas and opinions from, as the title of this article says, fringe elements in society.You have pages like India against congress(73,000 likes),The Bharat Swabhiman Movement (9000 likes),which are basically people pursuing a hindu fundamentalist agenda, to the point that there are people congratulating each other on abusing Mahatma Gandhi and calling Nathuram Godse a hero for all hindus.Also widely seen is a sort of reverse-racism against Sonia and Rahul Gandhi for having italian blood, propping up Hindu figureheads like Baba Ramdev as national leaders.Needless to say all this involves no actual thought or discussion – it’s mere brainwashing and herd-mentality.The most obvious reason for the growing number of people joining such hard-line causes is the percieved protection offered by the platform being the internet.Naturally people are less likely to mince words or ham about online, amidst so many “like-minded” others.Thus such pages do give a more accurate idea about actual sentiments of large numbers of the people.It is easy to relegate them to the term “Fringe elements” like I just did, but I am apprehensive that such hate feelings maybe present in a much greater section of the people, they just haven’t surfaced yet.I fear that, piggybacking on the anti-corruption euphoria, such fundamentalist forces may seek to alter the secular fabric of our country.I see it as a rise of conservatism in the Indian middle classes.Nowhere is this indicated better than on social networks and social web-enabled plugins which have now become common on most major news sites.

Another product of the Facebook revolution in India is the rise of Pop-Activism, as I like to call it.Social activism has been reduced to clicking the share button.The most common form nowadays is a photo with an attached write-up, plus a message to “LIKE AND SHARE!SPREAD IT LIKE WILDFIRE”.The most ridiculous are those with a picture of a little child saying “For every share, this disabled girl will recieve 1 paisa which will go to her treatment”.In the comments everyone participates in an orgy of sanctimony.Nice, isn’t it?Just one click and you immediately feel better.

Isn’t it a marvel how well Facebook lends itself to the widely differing social and cultural scenarios in different nations across the world.I mean, imagine the differences between society in the west and in the subcontinent!To conclude here, I think Facebook trends are definitely related to how people are actually feeling.Now that one in every five people is on Facebook, maybe the time is not far when Facebook will contain a record of the lives of each and evry person in the world.

Does that worry you?

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Johnny Cash did good covers…

…is the understatement of the 21st century.I don’t know how he does it.Let’s see, what are the rough requirements of a great cover artist?

  1. Judgement
    First and foremost, the chosen song should be a great one.Equally important, the song should match your style in some way or the other, otherwise it’ll turn out grotesque.
  2. Confidence
    You need to have faith in your own abilities.If you’re not forceful in your approach, you’ll end up towing the line of the original , removing the reason for the cover to exist.If you’re Johnny Cash, well, no one’s gonna question what you do with the song anyway.
  3. Greatness
    You need to be a great artist yourself.It’s just needed.
  4. Fearlessness
    Take anybody’s song.Electronica, grunge, whatever.

Now let’s come to the characteristics of a great cover.

  1. It should sound authentic.If you can sing it in a way that lends so much depth and weight so as to render the originals slight, that doesn’t hurt.
  2. If you’re an acoustic artist, that doesn’t mean the cover has to be just you and your guitar.Be bold with your arrangements, mix and match, break the rules, even if you are a country legend.
  3. Be fallible.Be human.If the original was note-for-note perfect, sing some off-notes.Break your voice.
  4. A great cover is more than a novelty.Much more.

Of course, this is not a guide, silly.If you’re not Johnny Cash at 62,with an astonishing career already behind you, you can’t do all this.Here was, truly, a man who contained multitudes.

What’s that?You haven’t heard any of his covers?You poor, poor man.Here you are :-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtbuUlSGXzc – of Soundgarden

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3tm-MYEHnY&feature=related – of Depeche Mode

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcmbFKstspk – of Sting

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Jaipur Literature Festival 2012

Howdy, folks!Just one day left for the Annual Jaipur Literature Fest to start, so I’m gonna plan out my itinerary for the next 5 days here.It turns out I got free at just the right time, having given the last of my exams yesterday, so,Yay!So, here’s what I plan to attend at the Lit-Fest.I’m also giving some information about every event listed here so that maybe if anybody reading this is planning on coming, it should help you plan out your programme.

Day 1 – 20th Jan

10 am – Inaugural Session & Keynote address: ‘Bhakti Poetry: The Living Legacy’ – Purushottam Agarwal and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

Venue – Front Lawns

Er, I would love to be able to reach Diggi Palace at 10’o’clock tomorrow, but I don’t know if I will.Anyway, Dr.Purushottam Agarwal is a prominent scholar on Kabir and other Bhakti poets, while AK Mehrotra is a poet himself.They will, of course, be talking about Bhakti poetry.

11:15 am – ‘Tolstoy the Man’ – Rosamund Bartlett, introduced by Chiki Sarkar

Venue –  Durbar Hall

Gotta make it to this one!Rosamund Bartlett has recently written a well-recieved biography of Leo Tolstoy.Chiki Sarkar was the Editor-in-Chief at Random House India, and is now Publisher with Penguin India.

12:30 pm – ‘The Disappointment of Obama’ – David Remnick in conversation with Samanth Subramanian

Venue – Mughal Tent

David Remnick is a an American journalist, writer and editor at The New Yorker magazine.Samanth Subramaniam is an international journalist who has written articles for many newspapers and magazines worldwide.The title is pretty self-explanatory.

1:30 pm – Lunchtime, boys!

2:30 pm – Do Deewane Shehar Mein’ – Pavan Varma and Gulzar, introduced by Neeta Gupta

Venue – Mughal Tent

Pavan Varma is India’s ambassador to Bhutan and has written many acclaimed non-fiction works, including The Great Indian Middle Class and Being Indian.Gulzar is one of India’s greatest film lyricists and poets.Neeta Gupta is publisher at Yatra Books.I guess they’ll be talking about issues like the Indian identity, the urban middle class aspirations and such, though I’m not sure.

3:45 pm- Designing Imaginary worlds’ – Samit Basu, introduced by Nilanjana Roy

Venue – Rio Tinto Samvad

Samit Basu is a well-known fantasy author.Bestselling works include The Simoqin Prophecies, The Manticore’s secret and The Unwaba Revelations, which together form The Gameworld Trilogy.I am a sucker for richly imagined fantasy worlds like Middle Earth and the Harry Potter universe, not to mention Dungeons & Dragons.So this one is a Go-to for me.

Day 2 – 21st Jan

10 am –In Search of a Story’ – Chetan Bhagat in conversation with John Elliott

Venue – Mughal Tent

Chetan Bhagat, ha!I’d like to attend this just to see what he’s doing in a literature festival.No, seriously, I’d like to judge whether he’s more intelligent than his books let on.John Elliott is a Journalist based in New Delhi.

11:15 am- Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Crossroads at Jantar Mantar’ – Joseph Lelyveld, MJ Akbar, Sunil Khilnani, Aruna Roy , S. Anand moderated by Urvashi Butalia

Venue –  Front Lawns

I am fascinated by accounts of the freedom struggle and pre-independence India.Just last year I read a fantastic book called Indian Summer – The Secret History of the end of an Empire.Eagerly waiting for this.

12:30 pm- The Better Angels of Our Nature: A Decline of Violence in History’ – Steven Pinker introduced by Barkha Dutt

Venue – Front Lawns

Steven Pinker is a somewhat famous psychologist.There are widely polarised opinions of his theories.Here he will propound that the human race is becoming less and less violent, or at least that’s what history shows.Intriguing.

2:30 pm- In Defence of the Enlightenment’ – A.C. Grayling, Steven Pinker introduced by Vijay Tankha

Venue –  Mughal Tent

A.C.Grayling was Professor of Philosophy at the University of London.Maybe this will be my philosophical cup of tea.Will check it out.

3:45 pm- Tigernama’ – Valmik Thapar followed by ‘Animal Palette’ – Chetan Joshi

Venue – Rio Tinto Samvad

Tigers!Finally something different.Valmik Thapar has made many documentary films and written books on the subject of wildlife and especially tigers.He serves on the National Board of Wildlife.

Day 3 – 22nd Jan

11:15 am-On Pakistan’ – Fatima Bhutto and Ayesha Jalal in conversation with Karan Thapar

Venue – Mughal Tent

I love Karan Thapar.Fatima Bhutto is a Pakistani journo while Ayesha Jalal is a reputed scholar of Pakistan’s history.But I want to see Karan Thapar.

2:30 pm- Thugs, Emperors and Convicts: The Art of Historical Fiction’ – Readings and conversation with Michael Ondaatje, Philip Marsden, Tabish Khair, Richard Flanagan, Kunal Basu moderated by Rupleena Bose

Venue – Front Lawns

Historical fiction – ah, My Name is Red.I must get down to reading The Name of the Rose.Michael Ondaatje is the writer of the booker- prize winning The English Patient.

3:45 pm- Dissent and Democracy’ – Aruna Roy, Sunil Khilnani, Ayesha Jalal, Dayamani Barla, Partha Sengupta, Tarun Tejpal in conversation

Venue – Mughal Tent

Well I think everyone should be interested in this subject in the wake of the mass protests helmed by Anna Hazare last year that gripped the nation like few other protests have, if only for a short time.

Day 4 – 23rd Jan

10 am – ‘Kahani Kisko Kehte Hain?: Script, Story, Screenplay’ –  Javed Akhtar, Prasoon Joshi and Gulzar, moderated by Samit Basu

Venue – Front Lawns

Three big names in India – Javed Akhtar, Gulzar, Prasoon Joshi.Bollywood buffs as well as people eager to see these celebrities are sure to come here in droves.

11:15 am- The Art of the Short Story’ – Roshi Fernando, Jamaica Kincaid and Linda Spalding Chaired by Hari Kunzru

Venue – Front Lawns

Unlike a novel, which just seems too much work, all voracious young readers aspire to maybe, you know, write a short story of their own sometime.Maybe this session will give some insight into how writers write their short stories.

5:15 pm- The Magic of Reality’ – Richard Dawkins and Lalla Ward in coversation

Venue – Front Lawns

Friggin’ Richard Dawkins is coming!The God Delusion was one of the most edifying books I’ve ever read.

Day 5 – 24th Jan

10 am – Midnight’s Child

Venue – Front Lawns

Earlier, Salman Rushdie was supposed to be there from Day 1.With all the controversy with Hardline Muslim groups, his visit was postponed.It is hoped that he arrives in time for this session.Regardless of his presence or absence, this session will have a discussion on one of my all time favourite novels, Midnight’s Children.The upcoming movie adaptation will also be discussed.

3:45 pm- The Great Arc’ – John Keay in conversation with Hari Kunzru

Venue – Durbar Hall

John Keay has recently written a book called To Cherish and Conserve;The Early years of the Archaelogical Survey of India.My interest is piqued.

Music

And now we come to the music.There are the following 2 programmes which I will be attending.

22nd Jan

Salman Ahmed of the rock band Junoon will be playing in the evening.

24th Jan

“Progressive Alternative Rock” band Fire Exit is going to play on the night of 24th.

Okay, then, so long, folks!Oh here’s a link to the website:

http://jaipurliteraturefestival.org/

Register here

http://jaipurliteraturefestival.org/registration/visitor-reg/

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My 2011 – An individualist,self-centred look at the year gone by

My first attempt at recalling the main events in my life in 2011 draws a blank.I find nothing of significance?Yeah, I’m that kind of person.Nothing is significant for long.Everything fades in importance.All enthusiasm is fleeting.I’ll never accomplish anything.Bah.

I still can’t recall anything.This is getting me worried.Why?!Is it because I’m listening to Cream at high volume(that’s subjective)?Okay, here it comes.

  1. Attended the Jaipur Literary Festival in January.Bought a great historical book.The sessions I attended weren’t particularly great but seeing so many famous people, authors and not, was a new experience.
  2. Had lots of problems with my girlfriend and finally broke up.Still feel a li’l bit guilty at times.Even then I much prefer being single at this stage in my life.
  3. Got an amp and an effects pedal for the first time in my life.That too for free, due to certain circumstances.Mind blown.Great,LOUD fun.
  4. Became active on this blog, as in wrote at least 11 posts.I’m satisfied with their quality, if not their quantity.Started a parallel blog – http://cameratrails.wordpress.com/
  5. Got 2 second prizes (that’s right, two second prizes)in an Inter-college Photography Contest, the first I’ve participated in.The result was intimated very late – Poor me had given up hope when, about 6 weeks after the contest I got a phone call informing me of my winnings.Ah, REDEMPTION.
  6. Finished 2 computer games – Icewind Dale and Limbo.Those who know me well know that gaming has been a dormant passion for me.I just haven’t felt free enough to devote time to it, for years.So 2011 was a success in this aspect.Have also finished a big chunk of Baldur’s Gate, and hope to complete it before the passing of the first tenday in the new year.
  7. Got sick four times.
  8. Saw some great movies – Favourite?The King’s Speech.I simply like Colin Firth a lot.Did anybody say Geoffrey Rush?
    Worst? Murder 2.
    Can’t resist mentioning – Before Sunrise is a marvel.So is Before Sunset.
  9. Got bitten by the American sitcom bug that has infected 90% of the English-medium background engineer populace in India.But i stayed away from the “20 episodes-in-a-day” routine – I catch ’em on TV and that’s the way i like it.Made an exception for Family Guy, which is definitely the greatest thing on TV right now.
  10. Was attacked and bitten by a dog.The attack was quite ferocious as a matter of fact, and my arm was left in bad shape.In spite of my best efforts to master myself, I now feel a certain apprehension around other people’s dogs.Let’s use a hashtag, because they’re quite cool.#scarredforlife
  11. Made some new friends and bonded with the existing ones.Male bonding is truly beautiful.And sometimes grown men cry on each other’s shoulders.When no girl is looking.
  12. Thought about life, the universe and everything.Found some answers, each gave rise to multiple new questions( This is an awfully generic and cliche-ridden passage, I know, just bear with me here, I’m in a mood.). Discovered new things about myself, some comforting, some unsettling .But maybe, just maybe, I’m a better man than I was a year back.(You can relax, the mood’s gone now.)
  13. Retail therapy came to my doorstep in the form of  http://www.flipkart.com/. Amazingly good service.Now I can’t go more than 3 weeks without ordering something – books, music cds, even a hair dryer!
  14. Cultivated the habit of saying “Bloody ……!”Best cuss word for a Victorian anglophile like me.

CONFESSION – I confess to using my Facebook timeline to check for any noteworthy events I might have overlooked.Yes, I checked it month by month, and I did find a few incidents i had forgotten.Damn you, Zuckerberg, you devil, you.

Now that we’ve looked at 2011, here’s a look ahead to 2012:

http://badlandsbadley.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/2012-a-look-ahead/

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Songs that give Déjà vu

There are certain songs which have the queer quality, that when I heard them for the first time, I thought that I had heard them before, while knowing for certain that there was no way this was possible.There, I’ve defined Déjà vu for you.Note that this does not necessarily mean the feeling that I’ve heard the full exact song before;It maybe some element or elements of the song such as the verse, or the chorus, or the basic feel of the song, or something else, though it must be a prominent feature.

Such songs bring an unusual sense of wonder to me, while at the same time producing a sense of surprised dissatisfaction at the apparent familiarity I seem to have with them, which robs me slightly of the joy of an entirely new discovery.It is really the strangest feeling;I am drawing a parallel between multiple songs but as a matter of fact the experience is as unique as the song.

Simon and Garfunkel’s Cecilia is one such tune.That melody is so natural it seems to have risen out of the earth, so celebratory and good-timey.It doesn’t seem constructed or composed; The way it flows from the first line in the verse to the second one is such an ecstatic progression.That is another point in common with all the other tunes I’m discussing here; They are so fluid, unforced and un-contrived that one feels the apparent familiarity I mentioned earlier.Something which is truly natural does not need to be created – It is already there!This might be related to the pure philosophical question “Is music created/composed/constructed, or is it discovered?”When listening to such songs, musical discovery seems more apt then musical creation.

You must have heard “In my Life” by the Beatles.Great song it is,  no doubt.Again,  the melody is so perfect I again get the sense that it was always there and it’s just been discovered here.But the first time I heard the song, it veered from my melodic expectation in a very annoying way.Now, of course this element of surprise is exploited by composers but I urge you not to think about this on a basic music theory level.On the plane that I am talking about there is more complexity and much more subjectivity.In “There are places I remember”, I love it till the “..places I” but then the melody with ” remember” has always put me off, slightly. I hear something different when I play the song in my mind.

I realize I’m a little far-out here, and I can only hope I conveyed to you some sense of my reactions to these amazing songs.As of now these are the only ones ones I can think of that have had this effect on me to such a noticeable degree, but there are definitely more of them.Some other songs that are similarly affecting but with a lesser potency, are

  • Heart of Glass, Blondie
  • Love will tear us apart, Joy Division
  • Sgt Pepper Title track, The Beatles
  • Substitute, The Who
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The Travails of Traveling – An Analysis of the thoughts that arise on the road

I have a confession to make.Traveling by road is an ordeal for me.Unsettling thoughts originate in my mind, as I gaze at the passing scenery.Especially on oft-traveled roads, where the countryside is familiar, my attention turns to myself.

I don’t really know what it is about inter-city commutes that troubles me so.I suppose, while we are traveling between cities, we are transient;Neither here nor there.Betwixt our refuges.I don’t think it’s just the long hours of solitude or silence;At home, a whole day without any talk or company bothers me not in the least.Is it just something about the way the sprawling fields and empty landscapes go by?Am i struck by the realization that this is the way it usually is, that civilisation is an aberration?Naah, that’s probably pushing it a bit too far.

Travelling alone for a few hours feels like a capsule in which time stands still, time in the outside world that is, while time flows by as usual in my capsule.That really happens, you know? While you’re in between towns you feel as if nothing is happening in either of the towns.I guess that shows the inadequacy of individual human experience in expressing the truth.We only experience what we experience – everything else is just second-hand;It doesn’t even come close to the real thing.

I try reading a book or a magazine, and it works, for a while.But my attention wanders after about 30 minutes or so, especially in a bus.And music? Ah, music integrates itself with my thoughts so beautifully it’s impossible to determine whether the thoughts are precipitated by the music or if your mood inflects on the way you perceive the sounds coming out the earphones.For me, while travelling, music really affects my mood.It pulls me down or pushes me up, but not neither.

I’ve been side-stepping the issue of exactly what unsettling thoughts I have but I think that would probably bore you.Some of them might make you quite a bit uncomfortable, not to mention my discomfort in disclosing them to you.Suffice it to say I have my insecurities, obsessive thoughts, nagging doubts and anxieties et al.

I really don’t like travelling by road.If i have to, I somehow feel better with the shades on the windows closed, imagining that I am actually static.Pretty fucked-up eh?

Though I love getting down at small town bus stations and browsing though the shoddy book stall while drinking a cup of espresso( the Indian Espresso that is), and maybe pick up an issue of Maxim or a Jughead comic.Each town is so different, you know?It doesn’t take 2 minutes to get a sense of the intangible identity of the place – The faces, the dresses, the mannerisms, the style of buildings, the level of activity- ranging from a sleepy backwater town to a center of hustle and bustle  – Wait, why am i trying to describe it?I said it was intangible, right?

I’d like to return to the topic of music, since I like talking about music.Some of the albums that I associate with listening to while traveling are The Queen is Dead, Louder than Bombs, Modern Life is Rubbish, CCR’s Chronicle Vol.1, The Masterplan, In the Aeroplane over the Sea, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, If You’re Feeling Sinister, Murmur, Life’s Rich Pageant, Ride the Lightning, And Justice for All and some others which I can’t think of right now.Actually many others.Travelling alone does offer a golden opportunity for ticking off albums from your ‘To listen’ list, does it not?