Monday, August 27, 2012
Who, or what, is a hero? How do we define heroism? We give out medals, adore them, even take them on as our role models, but do we pause and ask what exactly is it that we are adoring. Is it the person? If so then what kind of person would we typecast as a hero? For that matter, is there any such thing as a ‘typical hero’? Is there any checklist, physical or mental, that has to be crossed off before a person qualifies as a hero? The most common quality that we usually attribute to a ‘hero’ is bravery. Soldiers dying on the battlefield, people protesting a repressive regime, they are all heroes, that is the burden that society has bestowed them with. But is that all? Many young infantrymen displayed exceptional bravery while fighting for Nazi Germany. Tales of their heroisms, and courage resound even today, but while we unflinchingly use the word ‘heroism’, not one would ever accord them the status of ‘Heroes’. Brad Pitt pretty much summed up how we remember them 60 years later, when he called them “the foot-soldiers of a Jew-hating mass-murdering maniac”. So do we take it that to be a hero, you not only have to be brave, you also have to fight for the right side? And it’s the winner who writes the history books, so what does that tell us? What if the Nazis had gone on to win the war? Say they went ahead and conquered all of Europe and Africa, and say Hitler died the very next day. And to the helm came a ruler who not only established full human rights, and peace, he did that across his global empire. Would there have been a Balkans, or a Desert Storm? Africa for one would have been definitely better off, pretty much anything is better off compared to how they have spent the last half-century. So in this Utopia, would we remember the American and British troops who stormed Normandy as heroes? Or the foot-soldiers of a corrupt and violent way of life? Memory is short-lived. Alexander of Macedonia, indisputably a hero. Tell that to the villages that smoldered in his wake. Genghis Khan, revered as a god in Mongolia even today, how would the people he raped and killed in his wild rampage feel if they heard that?
But bravery in the battlefield is only one of many kinds. Courage comes in many forms and so do heroes. M.K. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., random Egyptian on the streets a year back, brave people who went up against a whole system. What they lacked in skills they made up in moral strength, going up defenseless against a powerful foe who only needed to say the word and they would have been dead the next instance. Humans, a species as obsessed with worship, as with optimism, thus fused the two together, valor with moral strength, fighting skills with incorruptible good intentions to create the concept of God, or their modern day pop culture counterparts, comic book superheroes. Who as child did not believe, or at least wish, that Superman or Phantom were real? What really is the difference between a college student who studies nothing and goes to the temple before the exams, firmly believing, or hoping, that ‘God will save him’, and the 3 yr-old who jumps from his balcony with full faith that Superman will catch him before he hits the ground?
But till gods and superheroes come back again (or out of disguise, we know you are there!), ordinary mortals will have to do. And thus the whole weight is for the chosen few to carry. A soldier wins the Param Vir Chakra, and the country goes gaga about him. How did he not feel scared, they ask. How would it be to run straight into machine gun fire, without feeling the slightest tinge of fear, they wonder. A recurring theme in every war hero's testimony is that they never ever felt like heroes. They would call the people they served with heroes, but never themselves. They would say they felt fear stronger than anything else they had ever felt. They would say every action they did, was for their own survival and for the man next to them, that thoughts about country and strategies and armies were not even in their minds. But we choose to ignore that. In our movies they cry out the country’s name before dying, keep the national flag in their pockets. Because they are our mules. Theirs is to carry this burden that they have earned. Because a hero is more than a person. A hero is a belief. A belief that our world can be saved. A belief that our world is worth saving.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
I once read an article in the newspaper that rued that the previous decade, the 00’s, had nothing of significance to contribute to the world of music; that the best way to remember the ten years would be to forget it. That was back in 2007, and Coldplay had only recently come out with Viva La Vida, which was being hailed worldwide as their coming-of-age album. The article went on to argue that bands like Coldplay had all but become a rarity, and despite that, there was no one band which had risen above the others and given the decade a musical identity. The author argued that with three years left to go, there seemed to be no one on the horizon to take up that mantle. According to him, the music industry had hit rock-bottom. If only I could read his thoughts now.
“You tell me that its evolution, well, you know…..”
|Led Zeppelin live|
“Talk and song from tongues of lilting grace, whose sounds caress my ear…..”
|The Beatles at their famous Rooftop Concert|
But the 60’s were not just about The Beatles. While the Fab Four did break down most walls and bring artistic legitimacy to Rock n Roll, there were pioneers aplenty in that decade. The greatest poet-cum-singer to have ever lived, Bob Dylan, did his best work in that decade and made the leap from Folk to Rock n Roll. Throaty-voiced and Jack Daniels-drinking Janis Joplin redefined the concept of a female rocker while, bands like The Who and The Rolling Stones pulled music inexorably towards a more heavy sound. This was the decade of Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, two members of the hallowed yet heartbreaking 27’s Club. The one band which, in the annals of music, is considered worthy to hold a torch to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, had its seed sown in this decade with the formation of The Yardbirds, the band which also has the distinction of launching the careers of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Pink Floyd, the original and true masters of psychedelia, got together, while bands like The Animals and The Byrds kept making chart-toppers from time to time.
“To be a rock and not to roll…..”
The 70’s would go on to see many other greats take center-stage. It would be the decade of Led Zeppelin and Queen, of Pink Floyd and AC/DC, and of Ted Nugent and Steven Tyler. Paul McCartney would play to packed stadiums with his post-Beatles band, Wings, while John Lennon would become Saint John, the perfect archetype to young and hungry rock n rollers everywhere. Eric Clapton would come into his own, while Bob Dylan would lose his way. People like David Bowie and KISS would shock and challenge the limits of audience acceptance. Out of the wilderness would rise a band named Black Sabbath which would singlehandedly invent Metal, later to be perfected by Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth.
|Kurt Cobain goes into a solo at the Roxy, Aug 15 1991|
“The times they are a-changing …..”
|AC/DC's Angus breaks into his antics|
“It’s a long way to the top, if you wanna rock n roll.”
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
A few hours to go before I start out for Rourkela, and it seems I have become quite the procrastinator, since its only now that I have sat down to write the ‘Summer Entry’ for my blog, many of which had been planned originally. And while I know, dear reader, that such behaviour is inexcusable, I have my defences, this being a pretty good vacation, one in which if not anything else, I was kept busy. There isn’t much to write about, partly because all my creativity is being drained away by White (yes, that is the name I have decided to stick since that was the name that Windows autosaved it under, and its as good as any other) and partly because, I am reluctant, nay scared, to speculate about the future. Very different from the mental state that I had around this time a year back, or the year before. And I am not exactly languishing in agony or melancholy either, so that takes away my other favourite muse. So dear friend, instead of cancelling this article, the thought of which has already visited my mind more times than I would care to admit, lets, I say, dwell on the past. ‘Cause it is not only in your most tender years that your mind has the ability to block out, or cover up, the painful memories, preserving just the pleasant ones, for moments like these.
I, thus, withdraw into my cocoon, my shell. The shadows are done creeping around, I let them jump up and engulf me. The ceiling grows distant, the walls draw closer. I let it, I let them, because its only when the night is blackest, do we see the stars, and it is stars I have promised you.
But nothing bright leaps up at me, no white shimmering spot steadily rising in intensity, till it grandly announces its arrival on the scene. No. It is just dust and ash, and clouds, and rain. I strain my eyes, for a cold now grips me, the fear that I, having promised you and led you along for so long, might have to shame-facedly turn you back, that in a moment as monumental as the final few hours at home, I haven’t been able to produce anything worth anyone’s while. But, what is it I see? This can’t be! Yes it is! But I had seen that cloud once already, I can swear it wasn’t there. But, see for yourself, it is there! Have I then, in my search for something grand, overlooked this tiny little star? This dwarf quietly throbbing away in the shelter of the brown mist? Have I betrayed the all-too human flaw of expecting every beginning to be a collage of grandeur and megalomania?
No, as I can see now, and must tell you, the first tiny star, the first memory that entered my mind, is nothing but a brown brew in a red paper cup, in front of a red booth. The whole place seemed so alien back then, the first lab ever of my B.Tech career, the cup of coffee taken to ward off sleep, something I had much read that it happened so. ‘Engineering Drawing’, the two words had filled my mind up with neatly drawn pictures of buildings, on large charts of paper, shaded to perfection, with complicated drawing devices strewn across my work-table. I remember thinking of all that and also the abrupt feeling of disappointment and betrayal I felt seeing just a small room crammed with dozens of computers, all shamelessly displaying the words “AUTOCAD Student Version” on their screens.
But I must move on, three more stars have started gleaming in the velvet firmament already, begging to be inspected too. There I am saying goodbye to a weeping mother as they go away and then proceeding to the swimming pool where I meet the first friends I make in this college, and there I am in the cool February night uttering into my phone words that I had never meant till that moment, and there that’s me again, standing in awe as men dressed in black do windmills with their guitar, and their long hairs, while my ears are assaulted by the huge speaker next to me.
Now the space around me grows thinner, light pervades the surroundings; they are now popping up everywhere I look. A massive explosion of life, and brightness. They flow into my mind like a river breaking a dam. I am tossed a tennis ball which I refuse to take, as it gets closer, it turns into a balled-up fist. I brace myself for receiving the ball, when the lights go out, and I am missing a locket around my neck. There is my senior, who pours into my glass the first drops of what would forever increase its presence in my life, and there is me repaying his debt to my juniors a year later. I see bright yellow lights, not unlike these stars, blinding me, and I am disappointed at the roar, or the absence thereof. But it doesn’t matter ‘cause they have been preceded by laser-lit skies and moonlit stairways, by dances and by buses. And by aimless wanderings, eyes averted even in darkness. There are friendly invitations and more balled-up fists. There are drops of sweat on radiating keyboards. There are blank screens with pulsating dots, and inquisitions scribbling hasty D’s. Peers accept while patrons reject. Amber finds a voice, while winter learns to scream. Cold breezes caress backs, yet sweat accompanies shivers. The warm woody smell of trust fills my nostrils as grey concrete rushes past at hundred. Sparkling yellow drowns me from the insides while its bubbles rise all the way to my head. I see myself black marker in hand greeting the first rays of a red sun by scribbling on my room’s walls while a maths book lies open on my bed. It rains and an umbrella is borrowed, skins wet and heads ache. It rains words, the mist obscures the crowds. And obscures it still.
Saturday, April 30, 2011
My last 18 minutes as a second year engineering student, which means I am now officially ass deep in my 'chosen' career. Screwed up my endsems big time after a neat performance in the midsems, which basically means, I am staying put as a 7 pointer. Engineering Grades Inertia, the mystical condition where the graph of your academic performance gets suspended in time and space, making you fight to hang on to your average while offering no chance for improvement, has claimed its latest victim.
The electricity returns to our rooms, breathing life back into my desert cooler. The noisy apparatus drowns out the irritating voices of the final year students, who in a collective stroke of nostalgia, had been playing antakshiri for the last half hour. My cooler served me well for these two months, its water-choked breeze seeing me through the worst of the summer. I shall be returning it tomorrow, its stint over in room B-318, the meagrely dimensioned space I shared with another full-grown human for the last one year. We had settled on staying here because it was the only room that wasn't locked, infact it didn't have a latch, and no lights either, and one wall covered with graffitti that was both meaningless and obscene. When we leave it tomorrow, it will have a layer of debris thicker than a hedgehog's hide, and infinitely more dangerous( I sometimes hear sounds from under my bed that convince me, the two of us aren't the only occupants of this room), a very hastily hammered together latch, and FOUR walls full of meaningless obscenity. And we intend to take away the lights.
"Self-imrprovement is masturbation."
Me not being a smoker, the backpost wasn't at all the reason why I had chosen to come to Hall 7. "Its got a gym better than DTS, a music room and many other such designated 'rooms'" is what my senior, a Hall 7 addict had told me. Here I am ten months later and I am yet to see what the gym looks like. If there is one word I associate with Hall 7 it is 'ennui'. In a corridor that has Gulti M.Techs and people from the strangest parts of India playing the most obnoxious form of music ever invented in the most obnoxiously loud speakers, it is no surprise that I hardly ventured out of my room. My days here were spent stretched out on my bed staring glassy-eyed at my laptop, occasionally strumming my guitar and/or reading the previous occupants' wall-scribblings for the umpteenth time.
Hall 7 wasn't all about boredom and inaction. There's a reason why this place has been christened Hell 7. And if this hostel is hell, my corridor, the hill-facing B-top, is where Satan takes his dump. His minions, the little red ones, swarm this place, arriving in thousands every evening, all year round, wreaking havoc. You need nets everywhere, on your windows to protect yourself from these tiny terrors. And even that is not enough. I personally don't have a single part of my body that does not have scars testifying to the my ordeal here, my suffering at the hands of this plague.
Two minutes to go now. All in all, Hall 7 is where I wanted to come at the end of last year. Now, I never want to see this place again. Its not about how good the place looks from the outside. Its about how it makes you feel inside. The environs of a person do affect his outlook and state of mind. I know I am going to try my damnedest to get shifted to another hall next session. But there is this one place where I can never go back to. It was a place where you always referred to your room as "our room", where ALL doors were broken, yet we somehow never worried about our belongings, where the mess was the size of the room the Hall 7 night canteen is in, but it had a fridge and you could wake up the guy anytime in the night to give you an amul kool. It was a place where I had the most helpful of GMAT's living next door, the craziest of gamers a few doors away, whose desktop was as good as a public computer, and who could solve any technical issue with a swipe of his mouse, and a college-superstar-in-the-making sleeping right next to me. It had a real lawn, one that was not surrounded by concrete and people on all 4 sides, where one could have a long phone conversation without everyone in the hostel being able to see you. It was less silent than Hall 7 but infinitely more peaceful.
I miss Hall 4.
Friday, February 4, 2011
There is a heaviness in my heart. And to think of it I can’t remember the last time it had actually felt light. So much time in its company has afforded me the unenviable chance to analyze it, to look within, figure out what it is. Not much good has come of it though. Its a mixture in there. Pretty much everything I have looked for, I have found. If I thought maybe it is because I carry so much hatred in me, for everyone and everything around, that is what I found. If I wondered whether it is because I am deeply in love, I have found that in there too. But thats not it. The weight never lifts. Nostalgia, boredom, irritation, regret, sense of achievement, helplessness- its all there. But there is more, or maybe it is something entirely different. Maybe I’ll never know, maybe I can never know.
People tell me I should smile more, that they get negative vibes from me from the very first meeting onwards. That I ought to be more amiable, or sociable. I want to tell them I can’t. I can’t because I AM guilty of all that they accuse me of. I really don’t like to smile. Laughing is not a problem, but smiling makes me something I am not. I do stay wrapped up in my own existence. I like it that ways. I like empty classrooms. I breathe a subconscious sigh of relief everytime my room-mate goes off leaving the room to myself. I like it when its dark. Not because I can’t be seen, but because I can’t see others. I do feel that I exist on a different, not higher, level of existence. I am genuinely disinterested about other people’s lives, and find their problems and stories plain mundane and boring. That is why my ‘Hello’ is more of an acknowledgement, rather than a greeting. That is why I feel it to be too much of an exercise to distort my face into a smile. And even if I do, my eyes simply don’t obey.
I have trouble letting go. Even when I was a kid, I always found it tough to part with old toys. My wallet’s back pocket is evidence of the fact that I like to preserve. I like to hang on to stuff long after they have outlived their usefulness and even if they have become downright harmful. Maybe that is what this weight is all about; bits and pieces of the past that have accumulated over my two decades of existence. The memories are long gone, but the regrets and disappointments have not. Will they? I don’t know. Do I want them to? I don’t think so.