Maria

 

It was half-past moon when I heard the sobbing

echoing through the walls and raining upon my window.

I could hear your quivering lips on the other side!

Why were you shy Maria? Why were you afraid?

Of coming to me?

Did you think I’d sprinkle your tears

on the wounds you made on me?

I can hear your smell at the door…

I put my hand on the knob and feel

the heat of your skin…

I have been standing where you left me Maria

I’ve felt the sting of all those men making love to you.

I have seen your broken shadow twitching under the bedspread!

And every time I wanted to dip my fingers in your chest!

And pluck the black-hole from your heart!

But now that you’re at the door Maria

I’d lick your voice clean of all the sobs.

Pluck stars from the nest of darkness

and plant them in your hair!

So that every time the wind kisses your neck,

a song is born in the black-hole of your heart.

 

 

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Prayers for Bobby: Are we killing our own children?

Prayers for Bobby is a simple, heart-touching film. It does not boast of fancy locales, cutting-edge technology or high melodrama. Rather, it tells the story of a mother who is guilty of killing her son through her actions and her journey towards redemption. So Bobby is a teenager who grows up in a close-knit family in the suburbs with the dream of becoming a writer one day. But to his utter dismay and fear, he discovers that he is not like the other guys his age. Bobby has a secret and he realizes that this secret would turn his world upside down. Unable to deal with the torrent of questions and doubts that plague him day and night, Bobby attempts suicide. However, his failed attempt brings his secret to the limelight and all hell breaks loose in the happy family. Bobby, who has always been his mother’s favourite child, discovers revulsion and rejection in his mother’s eyes. He fights a losing war with himself, torn between his own happiness and his mother’s rejection of who he is, until one day, unable to come to terms with her repulsion, he leaps from a bridge.

As one might have guessed by now, Bobby was gay. He was one of those who the society tags a ‘freak’, an ‘abnormality’. His mother’s obsession with purging Bobby of this ‘disease’ makes her blind to her son’s struggles. She fails to see that Bobby is dying everyday, a little at a time! Bobby’s suicide starts to feel like a murder: a murder of an innocent at the hands of societal norms, the murder of a child at the hands of his own mother due to lack of acceptance in her! Bobby’s fall is the fall of humanity into the abyss of prejudice and discrimination. When Bobby dies, so does a part of humanity. The movie pokes the latent but vicious dragon of social stigma in the eye.

Bobby and many others like him die everyday. All we do is come up with opinions, counter opinions and more opinions. Here is a society that only excels at debating. Questions are many, answers are pre-formulated and prejudiced opinions. What goes unnoticed in the cacophony of voices are the lives that are at stake. Social stigma and the fear of being a social outcast are becoming inconspicuous but potent weapons of mass murder. In such a scenario, are we not becoming guilty of genocide? All it takes is acceptance and support from the dear ones, from the ones they love. The taboo that we associate with LGBT is not something made in the heavens. It is not something that we should blame on the gods and religious faiths. The taboo is born out of our minds, out of the lack of acceptance in us, out of our disbelief, out of our rejection of anything that is a little different from what the masses do! And such a taboo can only disappear the day we decide to let go of our faulty prejudices. After all, god only helps those who help themselves. The syndrome of homosexual discrimination and detest does not have answers in the holy books. The only cure lies in our minds and perceptions. So before you call someone ‘gay’ or make fun of a guy because of his ‘girly’ mannerisms and vice versa, spare a thought. Would you have done the same had people discriminated against you for choosing choosing tea over coffee?

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Attempts at a love poem

I knock on your door

you take my hand

and we run…

We are knee-deep in grass.

drops of sunlight

rain down upon us.

I collect a handful-

you give me a chase,

we run through the grass

we stumble and we fall,

scattering a few sun rays.

Our breaths become a

whistling wind through reeds.

I tear away and collect

your smiles.

Days from now when

the shadows grow long,

I shall keep them

on the window-sill.

And find rain, storm and sunshine

in your smile.

 

 

 

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Storyteller

So here in my studio

in a deserted attic,

I try to make stories

out of memories of moments.

Nobody finds me here while

I develop pictures:

black and whites, sepias,

colours and monotones.

I hang them up

and let them dry.

But I can not drain the voices

trapped in them!

Unfinished stories float before me

like vanishing patterns of a kaleidoscope.

Do they even know?

That I want to make stories?

These people and these things that

move about in rectangular frames?

Inside my studio in the attic

the gargle of traffic moans,

banging from wall to wall,

trying to find their voices

in these photographs!

Stories enter the storyteller’s den.

They never leave!

I try to make stories of moments

in pavements and in streets!

I want to tell stories.

Instead, stories come to me.

And I am left to wonder

what happened after this…

 

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Gill Ma’am

The fans are spinning at full speed, spreading the yawns all around. The desks are neatly arranged in rows with the students sitting in pairs staring at the blackboard, which is now ghostly white, reminding us again of the long day at middle school. I am seated on the third bench from the front, feeling as uncomfortable as any teenager. I look at the ‘cool’ kids around. I feel lost and out of place. Most days at schools were like this. The sun would rise and reach up high, while we sat there staring blankly ahead. But that day, she walked in. Wearing a crisp cotton sari, devoid of makeup with her hair worn really short and her spectacles reaching right down to the tip of the nose, she wished us. Her voice commanded attention and in one ‘Good morning’, we all sat up straight. She would be our English teacher.
She studied the rows and columns, taking everything in with one strong piercing stare. We knew then that her class would be like no other. She taught us poetry, Shakespeare, grammar and William Blake. English had never been taught with so much passion before.

One day, she announced that we would be writing an article about the contrast between the life of an underprivileged boy and a rich boy. The first task would be to come up with a catchy title. ”A good title is never longer than five words”, she said.
“Think hard! Then come up to my desk, tell me what thought of. Surprise me!”.
I remember, I took more time thinking about the title than the article itself. I had to get it just right. When it sounded perfect in my head, I gathered my courage to go up to her. Her persona was intimidating, so I walked as slow as I could.

She was busy correcting into our class notebooks, placing dots above the ‘i’s. She was so deeply immersed that she failed to notice me. I managed to utter a feeble “Ma’am…”. Still lost in her job, she inquired, “What is it, Ishani?”

“I thought of a title, Ma’am.”
“Let’s hear it then?”
“So similar yet so different.”

To this day, I remember her reaction. She put her glasses aside, closed her register and looked up. And then, she smiled. “Well then, go ahead.” I knew that I had done well. I had created beauty. And, she was the first one to appreciate my creation. That is how it all started. That day, I saw the strength in my words.

I have come a long way from there. The last seven years have brought about a tide of change. I am little less awkward and a little more confident. I have met some great people in college, who encourage me to write, even on the days I feel too lazy to do so. ‘The Fishbowl Network’ has given a platform to my writing and I don’t feel so lost anymore. I have often thought of that day and wondered how my life would have turned out if that class had never happened. Maybe, I would have never discovered my love for words. Maybe, I would be incomplete. I had been yearning to meet her. I wished to thank her for all she had done, but always got caught up with trivialities of life. I did go to Delhi quite a few times, but never made an effort. You see, I thought I had time.

This summer was spent in Bhutan. Encircled by mountains, life was going pretty good. My mum’s colleague invited us over for dinner one day. There was good food and great company, chatter and laughter all around. There I met a boy, who was an year younger to me. I found out he had graduated out of the same school. I was overjoyed. I eagerly asked him about her, and how she was doing. He looked straight into my eye, and said, “Didn’t you hear?”

I took a deep breath. Somehow, I knew what he was going to say next.

“She passed away last year.”

I lay awake the entire night thinking about her. Twisting and turning in my bed, I thought of that day again. I thought of her smile, her sari, and her thin glasses. I felt like I had cheated her. In my bubble, I had forgotten about the harsh truth of life - the fact that it is too short.

It is impossible to talk her now but I would like her know that she is big reason that I am a writer today. Thank you, Gill Ma’am. I wouldn’t be who I am today, if you hadn’t looked up and smiled.

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A pair minus one

Since I started missing you a little

I got out on the street.

Night makes all the streets

look the same-

in your city and mine.

The guy who brushed past me

might have been a poet.

And I could’ve

found love with him.

But I walk since you’re not here,

lean on the rails of the over-bridge

and think.

So many shadows breathe

in its under-belly,

I lost one of mine there.

But since you’re not here

I keep awake. And wait.

Not for you to return-

but for me to turn over

a new leaf.

 

 

 

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When cricket takes a backseat

The First test between India and England came to a predictable and boring end but a fresh controversy threatens to spice things up
                                            

Towards the final few overs of the first test at Trent Bridge, the England captain Alastair Cook came on to bowl two innocuous overs of spin and seam bowling for the first time in a hundred tests. The fact that India’s bowling spearhead Ishant Sharma managed to get himself out by nicking a leg side delivery made things look rather comical and the stands were filled with delirious laughter. For a match that was marred by a dead pitch and four and a half days of dull cricket barring short bursts of excitement, it seemed like an ending that the ticket paying public badly needed.

Later on, press conferences were held by both teams and the usual protocol of performance assessment followed. But unknown to the public eye, things were unravelling pretty fast in the respective dressing rooms. The final result: the Indian team management has charged England’s fast bowler James Anderson with a Level 3 charge, accusing him of “pushing” India’s Ravindra Jadeja.

So here’s what we know so far:

During the last over before tea on Day 2, Anderson beat Jadeja’s edge in what looked like a close call. He went in up in fervent appeal but was rightly turned down for there was no edge at all. Aggrieved, he gave Jadeja a long stare before walking back to his mark. Things had been brewing between these two for some time now and the altercation seemed to have continued after tea. Anderson was seen having a chat with MS Dhoni while walking back to the pavilion and this is where things took an ugly turn.

It has been reported that Anderson allegedly pushed Jadeja on the way to the dressing room, a charge which Anderson and the ECB have vehemently denied. Instead the ECB has filed a counter complaint against Jadeja, accusing him of approaching Anderson in a ‘threatening manner’. Jadeja has been charged with a Level 2 offence.

The England skipper backed his team-mate and called this charge a ‘tactic’ by India to strike down his best bowler, which is mildly amusing. It represents a classic case of the ‘victim’ being crucified. Although this does not suggest that Anderson is actually guilty of this charge, it is an indicator of the mood in the English camp. This also does not suggest that Jadeja is innocent. The incident had taken place away from the glare of the cameras, hence any video evidence is ruled out, making it a case of your word against mine.

Cricket has not been a stranger to altercations and foul mouthing. Infact, sledging is now considered a part and parcel of the game. Modern day captains back players to be aggressive on the field, stating it makes them perform better when they are emotionally charged up. Commentators too seem to have got the hang of it, citing aggressive body language as being proportional to the passion for the game, which of course does not make perfect sense. Case in point, the recent Ashes series controversy involving Michael Clarke and James Anderson (again?). Anderson seemed to have irritated the Australian captain to such an extent that when Anderson came out to bat, Clarke allegedly asked him to ‘ get ready for ******* broken arm’. This incident was brushed aside by the administrators as a one off incident, citing the desire to win matches and passion for the game as primary reasons for the outburst. The same goes for the spat between Kieron Pollard and Mitchell Starc in IPL 7.

Responding to queries on the Jadeja-Anderson issue, former Australian captain Ian Chappell (who himself had many an altercations with Ian Botham) remarked that administrators were the sole ones to be blamed and stringent rules for such behavior should have been in place. It is a very valid point, but it is limited to on field exchanges. But what about off field incidents, like the infamous ‘punch’ that David Warner delivered to Joe Root at a night club in England? Though action was taken against Warner, the fact remains that he still remains a very temperamental player. Unless players themselves know where to draw the line, the game is in danger of taking the wrong direction. Imposing heavy fines and bans will not solve this issue, but self-policing by the players and the acceptance of the fact that at the end of the day, cricket is a sport and as cricketers it is their responsibility to uphold its spirit will do, at least to an extent.

Interestingly though, for a test series that never promised to liven up, thanks to an excruciatingly boring first game, this controversy spices things up a bit. This is not the first time that India has been involved in a series where charges have been filed against players. Back in 2008, the tour to Australia was an emotionally charged affair with the Monkey gate controversy. Ironically two years later, the two main characters of the controversy- Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds, played for the Mumbai Indians in the IPL. During the course of the tournament, they were seen hugging and hi-fiving each other, much to the amusement of fans. Cricketing universe is small place indeed.

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Catcher In The Rye

“It’s really hard to be roommates with people if your suitcases are much better than theirs-if yours are really good ones and theirs aren’t”

A 16 year old mind is a like a burning furnace. Anger, rebellion, confusion and curiosity - are all muddled together into a fire of emotions. Life can be tough for a teenager. But sometimes among all this chaos lies the most unique wisdom.
‘The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D Salinger describes this contradiction in the most beautiful yet honest voice. Holden Caulfield is a 16 year old who has to make some big decisions. After being expelled from school, he faces an uncertain future. He leaves school early to live in New York for a few days. He is lured by the freedom of an independent life. But very soon, Holden realizes that adulthood is a place of conceit, dejection and loneliness. This loss of innocence is the central theme of the book.

At first glance, the book seems like an unending account of the rants of a teenager. But if you look closer, you see a jewel of a perspective. In his quintessential babble, Holden manages to shake you out of your prejudices. His stubborn opinions are shocking and refreshing at the same time. The book deals with the issue of identity crisis and of not feeling good enough. He talks about how the education system stifles creative expression. Holden’s experiences also underline the teenage confusions about love and sexuality.

The symbols used in the book are mundane but they bring out powerful views of the society. In the quote above, ‘suitcases’ denote the inequalities present in the world. One of my favorite passages of the book is his description of Museums. He considers them to be a metaphor for change. He says that no matter how many times you visit a Museum, the displays are always the same. The only thing which changes is you. Holden’s imagination paints a vivid picture of the world with all its beauty as well limitations.

The characters you meet along the way swirl the narrative with their quirkiness. Whether it’s the concerned mother on the subway, the philosophical NYC cab driver, or the Romeo-Juliet-loving nun - they all somehow etch in your mind. Also, New York City serves as the perfect back-drop for Holden’s adventures.

Catcher in the Rye is a book which should not be judged for its raw language. The absence of floweriness does not limit its ability to be a window to the society. The book succeeds in dissecting the facets of the teenage mind. Two days into Holden’s life reveals what lies within every teen – a burning furnace of wisdom.

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Brace Yourselves, the IoT is coming.

The Internet of Things

Imagine waking up to your favorite alarm tunes being played, one for each day of the week . The number of miles you jog every morning is updated to a cloud service, which monitors your health and fitness. As you get ready for a shower, the smart water heater has already been triggered by the sensors in the alarm clock, which correctly estimates the time required using the data accumulated over a period of time. The smart oven has prepared your breakfast by the time you are dressed. The car has been put into ignition mode after the garage door is triggered by your smartphone. When you drive, real time data obtained using other ‘smart’ cars, lets you know the best possible route to your destination, helping you avoid traffic and other stoppages. Don’t bother locking your house, as your smartphone has done it, not before turning off the lights and asking the thermostat to lower the temperature for efficient energy usage. No, this is not part of the script from one of those futuristic Hollywood movies that are churned out at regular intervals. If things work out well, by 2020 this could be our way of life.

When Kevin Ashton coined the term Internet of Things(IoT) in 1999, he might have very well judged the impact of his proposition, in the foreseeable future. What had actually started as a bunch of sensors communicating and exchanging data has now evolved into this potential juggernaut that recommends an overhaul of our lifestyles. Technology surely does evolve at a rapid pace. The 21st century is a testament to that fact. But when technology evolves faster than the pace at which we can cope, it presents a unique problem. The IoT is one such disruptive technology. Disruptive, since it will possibly encourage a dramatic shift in consumer tastes with the promise of a smarter and technology driven lifestyle.

A technical perspective

Without delving too much into the technical jargon, it would suffice to say that IoT comprises of a huge set of sensors embedded into a wide range of devices. Over a period of time, the IoT has evolved into a much complex and messy system, interconnecting a variety of domains, protocols and communication systems. Imagine fitting every single electronic device in your vicinity with a bunch of sensors and assigning an IP address to each of them. The sensors exchange data over a network with a standard protocol, making use of a wireless ‘mesh’ network. In simpler terms, a ‘mesh’ network is a network topology where every node(read device) is connected to every other node. Data is exchanged between the nodes in real time, thereby turning the rather dumb devices into ‘smart’ ones. The philosophy of the IoT is to essentially connect every single device on the planet across a standard set of protocols, to make the isolated electronic devices smarter for an efficient lifestyle.

It is estimated that there will be 26 billion devices in use by the year 2030, a threefold increase in number considering the current 7 billion devices which are up and running. It essentially means that every individual will own at least 3.3 devices, all of which are of course part of the IoT.

Big Players warm up to the IoT

Less than two decades ago, the IoT was confined to paper presentations and the practical implementations seemed far fetched and unlikely. But the emergence of better semiconductor technology combined with massive infrastructural progress has given a necessary boost to the IoT community. Most importantly, the multinational corporations have been party to such an idea and their R&D investment and expertise has definitely helped. When Google acquired Nest Labs, a home automation company, in early 2014 for a massive 3.2 billion, it was further proof that IoT was gaining prominence among the biggies. Very recently, Apple launched Homekit, a framework for controlling home devices by automation. It is an addition to its newly released iOS 8, taking it a step ahead in terms of practical implementation.

For bigwigs such as Google and Apple, IoT is a jackpot. Google largely earns from its advertising service and now with the possibility of sensors being ubiquitous, every smart house is an information goldmine. A recent report suggested how targeted ads could appear on your refrigerator screen, prompting you to choose the local store to buy items whose supplies are running low. For Apple, it is part of a long cherished dream to make its devices at the center of an IoT universe. Back in 2001, it was reported that Steve Jobs wanted Apple devices to be at the heart of every home automation system. With the new features in iOS 8, it is a step towards achieving that goal.

Problems Galore

Although IoT has made significant progress over the past decade, it would be silly to assume it is well developed. The primary concern that bugs every security analyst is the little or almost no security in an IoT environment as most of the devices will be low key home appliances. Indeed lack of progress in security and privacy mechanisms is a hindrance to IoT’s evolution. Some of the devices like heart rate monitors and health monitoring devices might deal with acutely private data, which raises significant queries over its storage and protection.

Another inevitable problem associated with IoT is the heterogeneity in device manufacturers. It is quite obvious that each manufacturer will prescribe to his preferred mode of protocols. For instance, there are many wireless technologies in the market, most of them fairly new. Z-wave and Zigbee technologies have been around for a few years, but they are not yet compatible with each other in terms of communication. A new entrant, Bluetooth Smart boasts of better features than the above mentioned technologies, but is again isolated with very little compatibility. There is an urgent need to level the playing field by standardizing the wireless technology to be used.

An abstract view.

An abstract view.

With sensors invading every possible space available, the amount of data generated per day will be massive. Structuring and utilizing the data for use will require both infrastructural and capital investments. For a startup wanting to cater to the needs of IoT enthusiasts, it is bad news.

Another issue that might be instrumental in IoT adoption is the impact on environment caused by a massive overhaul of infrastructure. When millions of new devices flood the market, the non-degradable junk leftover by the old devices will be hard to manage. A non-smart device might be valid for several years but smart devices need constant upgrades which render them obsolete after a period of time. The costs incurred periodically might put off potential customers, who might classify them as an unnecessary expenditure.

A brighter future

Though IoT might receive its share of criticism for privacy and security violations, it is still a very good technology to bank upon. Yes, right now it is literally half-baked and messy, but then every emerging technology is such during its development. Technology has always found a way to refine itself over a period of time and IoT will possibly follow suit. The promise the IoT holds for better and efficient living is just too good to ignore.

 

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Gogol’s search for identity in “The Namesake”

 

The Namesake  is the first novel by Pulitzer price-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri. Originally published in The New Yorker as a novella, the book was later expanded into a novel of the same name which went into publication in the year 2003. It was later made into a film by Mira Nair in the 2006. The Namesake is a novel about the  search for an identity  set in the backdrop of Kolkata and the US.  In a lifetime, we comes across several identities: an identity we are born into , by default, at birth; identities forged from a scratch in foreign lands and identity that we want for ourselves. And when so many choices are offered to us, defining who we really are becomes a crisis in itself. Caught in such a web of identity crisis is Ashoke Ganguli’s son, Gogol, named in a haste after Ashoke’s favourite author Nikolai Gogol. Gogol Ganguli was supposed to be someone else but the very first identity tag that could have been him gets lost in mail. Gogol suffers from the condition of namelessness right after birth. And this is a condition that plagues him throughout the rest of his life. Ashima and Ashoke decide on a ‘good name’ for him as per the Bengali custom of naming, but, much to their chagrin, Gogol refuses to be known as Nikhil on the first day of his kindergarten. But growing up in the US proves a daunting task for him, with conflicting ideals inside and outside the walls of the house on Pemberton Road. Gogol refuses to identify with a name so abstract, having no apparent connection with his life. Bearing a name that is neither Indian nor American, Gogol finds himself stranded in the middle of two contrasting and conflicting cultures. The name to him is a baggage that he unwillingly carries , much like the Bengali traditions he is forced to follow at home. He is an outcast in a country that, technically, is is motherland. The decision to change his name is his first attempt at gaining a superior sense of individuality that comes only with being an American. However, what he does not realize is that Gogol symbolizes a rebirth, a new life for his father Ashoke until much later in the story when Ashoke reveals the tale of his misfortune to him. It is after this revelation that the name Gogol becomes a legacy, a souvenir of his father that he never fully inherits. The name which was like a cancerous growth to Gogol, threatening to come back even after amputation (read name change) becomes something he identifies the most with towards the end of the novel. So far, he is neither fully an American nor fully a Bengali. All his life he stays in the US and he never experiences the crisis and exhilaration that comes with relocating to a foreign land. All the women he gets involved with define him, to the point where he feels like a poor substitute in his wife’s life who eventually cheats on him with an old colleague. He never finds a home. He is one without a home, without an identity. Throughout his life, he tries to conform to a world, to a culture, to a lifestyle and to the ideal of an identity that eludes him. Gogol exists in the shadow of his father and outside Ashoke’s domain, there is no Gogol. The story falls into a cliff after the sudden death of Ashoke Ganguli. In spite of being the unremarkable MIT doctorate, in spite of leading a lack-luster, uneventful life, it is Ashoke who has more adventures than Gogol ever does, culmination in an accidental heart-attack that takes his life! The sudden loss of his father marks the beginning of Gogol’s journey of introspection.  For the first time ever, he looks inside instead of searching outside for who he really is. He realizes that Gogol never existed and never will exist outside Gogol. Like Dostoyevsky, Gogol of The Namesake comes out of Ashoke’s overcoat. That apart, he is equally an outsider at both Maxine’s and Moushoomi’s friend’s place. The space he finds himself in is not where he belongs. Caught in self-doubt, Gogol never finds the courage of accepting this identity given to him by his father until the very end, where he begins his final search for identity in a book gifted to him by his father on his birthday.

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