Tuesday, May 25, 2010

London Diary -- Part 1

These are my journal entries, quoted verbatim (and supplemented with some pictures), for London so far.

1. On board the flight, sometime between 10:20 pm, Saturday, May 22, 2010 and 2:30 am, Sunday, May 23, 2010.

I’m on the plane now. Got out of Princeton without much difficulty, though there were a few last-minute hiccups in packing. But surprise surprise, I managed to either pack or stow everything, so I’m all good. This is a short entry written while on the plane. The plane in question, Delta Flight 3 from New York JFK to Heathrow, had the worst food I have ever eaten in my life. My co-passenger is a wonderful person to talk to – a Pakistani American who struck up a long conversation with me about life, the socio-cultural differences between the East and the West, and academics. The lights are out in the plane. The shutters are open, and through the window I see immeasurable darkness. Somewhere far away, it is now 8 o’clock in the pale Calcutta morning. People are waking up to the smell of the summer heat, not aware of the possibility that someone somewhere in a plane misses that heat. Wonder what London has in store. We will see.


2. Room 410, City YMCA, 12:15 am, Monday, May 24, 2010

On my bed now. Strange day – worst imaginable start to it though. The plane landed on time, but then I stood for two hours in the worst line I have ever seen in my life, including some at Eden Gardens. After that excruciating wait, a friendly Visa Officer waved me through, where I collected my huge suitcase, and tried unsuccessfully to make a number of calls I had been supposed to make. Following this I lugged my baggage to the Underground station at Heathrow, where I bought an Oystercard with a week-long City-ticket after several expressive gestures at a man who refused to understand my impeccable accent. Shortly after, I took the Piccadilly line in a long, tiring journey to King’s Cross, where I changed to Hammersmith & City for Barbican. Both these stations, King’s Cross and Barbican, were entirely devoid of escalators or elevators this Sunday. Add to that the fact that British people are extraordinarily unhelpful, and you get the picture: I dragged my suitcases up the stairs, a sweat-drenched bedraggled piece of luggage myself by the time I reached the City YMCA, a building in the middle of nowhere.

Here I kept my luggage in the storage when I learned that I wouldn’t be able to check in until 2 – which was three hours later. I took my computer out and started skyping, and an hour later the receptionist (a very stupid Indian lady who was being affectionately called “bitch” by the fellow receptionists) walked up to me to inform me that my booking was, in fact, from the 26th – three days from today. So I woke my dad up, and he (looking impeccably professional in his vest and his early-morning thicket moustache) shouted professionally at us for a bit, so that was ok. It was a mistake on their part: I was to have a room after all, and interestingly, it was a twin room without another occupant. I would have this room to myself. This was good news. I went up to this room at around 2, looked around with some satisfaction, went to the shared bathroom, took a shower, set my alarm and instantly fell asleep.

At 5, my impossibly loud alarm rang and woke me up along with this half of London. I stomped downstairs to have a reasonably bad dinner with something that was precisely halfway between a bad strip of bacon and a nice piece of ham. Also, the worst potatoes I have ever eaten. Along with “juice”, which was basically powdery red things floating around in water.

With some asperity, then, I decided to go out and take the Jack the Ripper walk today, out of sheer vengeance. So I took the Underground to Aldgate East, changed lines, and got off at Tower Hill. This was the best part of my day: the Tower of London was glorious in the dying sunlight, and I took a walk around it, ending up beside the Thames, where I made a Bengali family (“ei desh-tar kono sense of srinkhola nei”) take my picture next to the Tower Bridge. Having made enemies out of several Japanese tourists, whose perfect pictures I ruined by standing precisely between them and a beautiful shot of the Thames, I strolled back to the Underground station at Tower Hill, where I saw a crowd already gathered around a very academic-looking man and his harassed wife.

Turned out this was the famous Donald Rumbelow, Ripper historian, author, former curator of the Scotland Yard museum, sensationalist. They were collecting money for tickets from the crowds gathered all around, and also selling his books. I proved that I was a student using my Princeton ID (this makes the ticket £6 instead of £8 – the alternative being to pose as a “Super Adult”, ages 65 and up. I thought I could play a student marginally better). So I paid, and then Rumbelow took us on a long walking trip across London. He started out at the Tower of London (“admittedly, this is the least significant part of Ripper history”), but grew rapidly more interesting as he walked and stopped at ambient places and talked about how the Ripper came to be the global phenomenon he is.

In that hour and a half, I learned more about late 19th century East End prostitutes than I have learned mathematics in 20 years. I knew that these prostitutes were of three varieties – 3-penny prostitutes, 2-penny prostitutes, and the ones in exchange for a stale loaf of bread. In contrast, 4 and a half pennies got you a slice of cheese, just to give you an idea. I saw the places where Annie Chapman, Catherine Eddowes, and Polly-Ann Nichols were murdered, and also Ghoulton Street, where the Ripper graffiti “The Juwes are not the men that shall be blamed for nothing” was found. I saw the invisible line between the City Police and the Metropolitan Police in the topology of London. It was a great walk, only I was stunned when he seemed to be stumped by my question about the Ripper’s signature difference on the day of the double event – his use of a short knife for Liz Stride and a long one for Catherine Eddowes. Other than that, everything was fine. I even illegally audio-taped about 80% of the entire tour, which I intend to put up somewhere soon.

After the tour, we walked to Liverpool St. Station, and I was feeling hungry. Luckily, I happened to see a KFC opposite the station, and promptly bought myself a 5-piece chicken life-saver. I took this back to the hotel with me – scary train ride at 10 to Barbican, deserted walk to YMCA, but inside the YMCA there was a lot of life. There were people skyping everywhere, and a lot of activity and bustle, so I enjoyed that for a while, till now. Now I’m just writing down what happened to me today. Strange day. Very strange. Let’s see what happens tomorrow. Until then, adieu.


3. Lobby, City YMCA, 11:21 pm, Monday, May 24, 2010.

Good stuff happened to me today. Woke up really early in the morning, and got a lot of mostly unnecessary advice from dad about what to pack for the National Archives. Subsequently, of course, he called back to tell me that the National Archives are, in fact, closed today. So much for plans. As a result, I got something of a day off, and therefore decided to make good use of it. Again, dad came to the rescue and sketched out a reasonably decent itinerary for today, and I decided to follow it as closely as possible. This necessitated a hurried but heavy breakfast, which – surprisingly enough – was actually not bad at all: three huge pieces of the same unidentified entity somewhere between ham and bacon, an omelet, three most delightful hash brown patties, two slices of toasted white bread, with strawberry jam, two paper cups filled to the brim with the same watery juice as yesterday. All in all, satisfying enough – what more can I ask for, after all, this is YMCA.

So then, at around 9:30 am, I packed my backpack with my camera and a bottle of water and several thousand maps of the same thing (the London Underground), and went to Barbican station to catch the Circle Line to Embankment. It went smoothly enough, and I decided to walk outside for 100 meters rather than take another train from Embankment to Charing Cross, and the weather was beautiful. So I took a brisk walk to Trafalgar Square, finding myself at the foot of the Nelson Column, in the same spot where I used to feed pigeons decades ago. Trafalgar Square was a whirl of colors, with two nice fountains and a view of the Big Ben in the distance (note to self: need to go to Westminster in the next two days). Anyway, it was a piece of cake identifying the building I was looking for, and so, twenty seconds later, I was climbing the marble staircase that led up to the National Gallery. Inside, I spent about three hours exploring – and genuinely found something had changed about me; I have always hated art museums before. My ridiculous snobbishness and cultured outlook notwithstanding, I couldn’t ever stand too much of art, and so even in places like the Louvre, I have always started yawning and stretching and generally creating a nuisance after the first three hours exploring. This was different: somewhere I think I had grown up a bit, because I actually loved what I was seeing. Not just the famous ones, but the nameless pieces of art tucked away in their own corners – having said that, the famous ones of course were especially wonderful. I saw van Gogh’s The Sunflowers, Monet’s original Water Lilies, Constable’s The Hay Wain, Caravaggio’s Boy Bitten by a Lizard (a very creepy one, if I may add), and da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks, whose sister painting I had seen in the Louvre five years ago. It was a great experience, and I walked out at 12:45 feeling very educated and artsy.

Following this, I visited the nearby church, St Martin in the Fields, famous for its large association with music, and especially its lunchtime concerts on weekdays. I attended one of these concerts for about forty five minutes (two talented young men, one a baritone-tenor, one a classical guitarist), and then decided to pay a visit to the Museum of Science to wrap up my day.

So I took the Bakerloo Line from Charing Cross to Embankment, and the District Line from Embankment to South Kensington, where I met a nice British young man who made the following immortal comment to me: “Hey, you walk really ridiculously fast, are you American?”, and then took the underground tunnel from the station that branched out periodically towards the different museums. After passing the branches for the Natural History Museum (note to self: go to this later this week) and the Victoria & Albert Museum, I finally took the final branch towards the Museum of Science, which had – among its many positive qualities – free admission. I took a map inside and toured the museum for over a couple of hours. Honestly speaking, I have seen much better stuff before (in my opinion, any of the Smithsonian museums beats this hands down), but it was still a nice way to spend two hours. It eventually gave me two insights: the less profound one being that I had made the right choice for me by studying mathematics rather than any of the sciences, and the more profound one being that the British are extremely boring people, who cannot even make a children’s museum interesting beyond a certain point. I had a nice snack break in the middle of my tour of the Museum, with a slice of cake and a cappuccino (here called – completely wrongly – an Americano; it tasted nothing like Americano coffee, though in its defense, I’ve also had better cappuccino pretty much everywhere) I truly enjoyed the 0.3% of the museum’s floor space that was devoted to mathematics (elementary math, but good, real math – some topology thrown in as well), and had a thorough laugh at some of the other BS (astrophysics was a particular letdown – I can’t believe I had once considered a major in astrophysics, Jesus Christ), including the “award winning” simulation of how the internet sounds, an extraordinary gimmick that, funnily enough, had nothing to do with how the internet sounds.

After the Museum of Science (note to self: important, don’t miss the British Museum), there was nowhere left to go, so I decided to take a stroll down to the Royal College of Music, which had taken all my piano exams for years and years, after all. So I walked to the Royal College, passing the Imperial College of London on the left, took a turn, and found myself staring at one of the most impressive buildings I have ever seen. No, I learned to my disappointment, this wasn’t the Royal College of Music, but the Royal Albert Hall, and the building opposite was the Royal College; it was also an impressive castle of a building, but dwarfed by the magnificence of Albert Hall completely. I took a few pictures, and went into a quaintly old telephone booth to call mom; I was informed subsequently that this telephone was refusing to make calls anywhere other than Greenwich. So much for British telecommunications.

To cut a long story short, then, I came back to Barbican by the other Circle Line route, thereby passing the Baker Street Underground Station with its mosaic tiling with a Sherlock Holmes motif. Back at the hotel, I had a heavy dinner with two pieces of chicken, a truly monumental object that was masquerading as a jacket potato, a bean-lentil kind of thing, and juice. I took the rest of the evening off – will go to Kew Gardens for the National Archives early tomorrow. Will write more soon, see y’all around. Or not. Whatever.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Worst Movies in the World

Quote of the Week: "We went to Gandhi's house in Bombay once. I saw the dude's crib, man." (Nitin Viswanathan, Princeton University)

In my defence (and that's the British spelling, for any American readers out there), there have been people who have written much less than once every year and have got (British for "gotten", for the Americans) away with it pretty well, sometimes even with a Nobel prize. I have seen no throng of enraged fans screaming at me, demanding that I come back to the realm of the Blog. And all along, I have been quietly getting owned in the background, by extremely hard Princeton classes, so I have a valid case.

Anyway, I am alive, and well, and just about kicking. And I want to share with you some of the worst movies I have ever seen. This is a tribute to the very worst of the worst.

First of all, Sawaariya. This was a Bollywood movie that redefined "bad" for me. I don't know what it was going for, but it was full of hilarious attempts at recreating some sort of magic realistic world inspired partly by Venice and partly by Gotham City. There were boats everywhere in a city of canals, and a few royal-looking buildings, all very well, but then this slightly dense-looking dude started dancing in a towel all over the place, and this strange shy girl decided to appear every thirty seconds, look from behind a veil, laugh hideously and disappear. Then there was a scene in the clock tower (it might have been a zoo; I don't know, I was sleeping through this part of the movie, nothing terribly interesting happened) where this girl let out a terrible secret, and then the guy took a boat and sailed away below a bridge to ... an enormous candlelit bust of the Buddha. I am going to move on to the next one now, because I think I have said all I wanted to say about Sawaariya.

The next movie was recommended to me by Juan, which makes sense, because I guess you can't get anything better than this in Mexico. This movie is called The Thing, and I have three words of advice to give anyone who is getting ideas: don't watch it. Just the name of the movie should tell you that there was definitely something missing somewhere; the authors ran out of ideas, and gave the protagonist of the story the somewhat unimaginative name of "the Thing." But in all fairness to them, that's the best, clearest possible description of this protagonist. The Thing is about a monstrous ... thing ... in Antarctica, that eats people alive and then replicates them. So obviously, the usual group of researchers end up in Antarctica where they meet ... voila! The Thing. And our friend Thing starts eating them up one by one (not even sparing their pet dogs, bless their souls) and then behaving exactly like them, so it's impossible to figure out if you are addressing your friend Kurt Russell or the Thing. Oh also, the Thing looks something like a spider that Dali would draw if you gave him enough marijuana, and then replicated in 3-D by James Cameron, with the addition of about a couple of hundred extra fangs, the odd tentacle here and there, and gallons of gooey liquid dripping down its anatomy. That's only when the thing is not replicating someone, obviously. Whatever fault Kurt Russell has, it's still hard not to distinguish him from an enormous repulsive spider. Anyway, The Thing was, for a long time, the worst movie I had ever seen. But of course, records are meant to be broken.

In the meantime, Hamza told us about a film called Idiocracy that he had watched, that was apparently one of the worst movies on his list. This movie portrayed a world of idiots, where movie theaters screen the motionless picture of gluteal muscles. Then a change comes over them, so that they are no longer idiots. Now, they have the same screenings, only they try to make sense of what they see. I decided not to watch it.

In the meantime, Kynan came up with a wonderfully bad movie called Shoot 'em Up. It stars Clive Owen in a Rajnikanth-like role, where he takes on thousands of enemies singlehandedly with a deadpan face, using his ultimate weapon: a carrot. In its defence, the movie was actually very funny, even if it was unintentional for the most part. Every once in a while, you would see about thirty assassins with either ninja reflexes or cutting-edge technology planning for months about how to kill Clive Owen. The scene would cut to a close-up of Clive Owen's lips biting off the end of a carrot (with an appropriate cinematic crunch), and you would just know what's coming. The next scene would be a whirlwind of smoke and gunpowder and fire and blurred movements of Clive Owen and his carrot against the very latest in technology, and at the end of it all, you would see Clive Owen standing with his carrot over the dead bodies of all those assassins. At the end of the movie, he has his fingers all broken with sickening crunches. With those bandaged fingers, he kills a hundred terrorists in the last scene. How? By flicking a revolver in the air, catching it with his bandaged fingers on one hand, and then using the other bandaged hand to hold a carrot like a finger on the trigger, and then just pull a Chuck Norris. In another memorable scene, Clive Owen has sex with Monica Bellucci while killing twenty assassins. The girl is clearly unaware of what's going on, errr, behind her back. Clive Owen rhythmically moves with her and with each thrust kills an assassin as well. He redefines multitasking in the thirty seconds it takes for Bellucci to get an orgasm. This is by far the most ridiculous scene ever shown in a movie.

This is a MUST-WATCH.

But the two worst of the worst -- the worst and second worst movies I have ever seen -- are going to be described in the next post. I will put up two stills from the movie here, as a teaser trailer of what they are. Thought I have just barely managed to watch thirty minutes of one and twenty three of another, in those fifty-three minutes they have made me a different person. But I will talk about them another time. Enjoy!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Remembering Princeton -- Part 1

Yes, I know this blog needed a revival. And yes, I know it has been ... a while. But hey, point is, I'm back, and how. And I am far from losing my former brilliance; it grows better with age.

So, today we will talk about Princeton. Rather, I will talk, and you will listen quietly. This might turn out to be a long post, I don't know at this stage -- but I'll write as I go along. Freestyle, so to speak.

Princeton is, first and foremost, not just a place for geeks. While it is a known fact that Princeton math beats the crap out of pretty much any other math department in the world (I mean, come on, look at our department), that doesn't mean that our dinner table conversation consists of the Axiom of Choice. Well, not more than once or twice, that is. We do have lives. We fall in love just like everyone else. We talk about girls more than postulates (occasionally). We hang out at New York and watch Broadway shows at ridiculously subsidized rates; trust me, they are ridiculously subsidized. We are talking about $125 tickets being sold for $25, even free for the first person to come. We don't wear tweed coats to class. Most of us don't even know what a tweed coat is, and we make fun of Harris for his long trench coat -- too 19th century in our opinion. We wear t-shirts like everyone else; Lewis even wore an orange bubble-shaped raincoat to class one day. We talked about that one for weeks.

And yet, the mathiness is evident. Princeton was the first place I've ever seen where a bathroom wall graffiti consisted not of lewd, immature comments but of hastily-scribbled small, insignificant lemmas pertaining to Fermat's Last Theorem that never made it out of the bathroom.

Princeton was something of an enigma. I learned some of the best mathematics I have ever learned, much of it from my classes, but most of it from my ridiculously amazing classmates. My peer group taught me topics like group theory, and a number of ideas from modular arithmetic, elliptic functions and algebraic number theory (thanks Erick!). I learned what the fudge the term "U_40" meant, and why it had 17 elements, and 3 generators. I learned how to find uniqueness of certain solutions by searching for the elusive partial differential equation and equating the local solution to the global one for a second degree PDE. I learned how the weak solutions of a differential equation formed a Hilbert Space. In class, I learned how insanely difficult matrices really are (so much for Class 11 matrices, South Point), and why we always get 4 when adding 2 and 2. I learned the fundamentals of mathematics, the basis behind continuity, the idea of linearity, and the structure of integration and differentiation. I learned why vector spaces are super-awesome, why inner product spaces are even more so, and why all these spaces resembled R^n or C^n in structure.

I learned a whole lot more from my teachers and my friends. I learned that saying "But it's obvious" might elicit a reaction of "Fuck you". That was sort of funny. My favorite teacher, Max Lieblich, was holding this study session with our MAT 215 class, and going over a particularly hard proof. At one point, he told us the next step and said "But how do we get to that step from this?" And I started with "But it's obvious that a and b are --", when Max suddenly interrupted me and said "My friend. Never. Ever. Say it's obvious. Because you know, one day, someone might turn around, look straight at you, and say, 'Hey fuck you, man'." That shut me up for the moment, but several minutes later, Max asked another question. I answered "Because p and q are in the same equivalence class." Max said "And why is that?" and I said "Well, it's kind of obvious, because --" and Max said "Hey fuck you, man." That was the funniest thing I've ever heard from a teacher.

Fine Hall, the Princeton math department building, is an ugly 14-storey tower that rises straight up and dwarves all buildings for miles. It is supposed to be by far the ugliest building on campus -- Princeton is known for its extraordinarily pretty campus with its imitation gothic architecture and fields and lakes and fountains. But math majors like to say how, true to the philosophy of the subject it houses, Fine Hall is the only building on campus from where you get to see the beauty of the rest of the campus in its entirety.

So much for math majors and metaphors.

Anyway, the top floor of Fine Hall is this huge circular lounge with comfortable sofas and glass tables with impeccable furniture all scattered elegantly. It's just the sort of place you expect rich and famous British people to hang out in, and is rather appropriately called the "Professors' Lounge". This Lounge is, technically speaking, out of bounds to the students. But we, being -- errr -- us, found a way to get in any time we wanted. And so we came up with a brilliant idea.

A group of math majors, including myself, decided to get together once every two weeks or so, and fix a really hard problem that we would each try to solve. These are, well, HARD problems we are talking about. Make no mistake, they take pretty long to solve. A week, maybe, or even a month. And we agreed that whoever would get the solution first would communicate that to the rest of the group in a beautiful way: he would go to Fine Hall in the middle of the night, sneak in to the Lounge, and turn the lights on at midnight. So every night, we would look at Fine Hall before going to sleep (it is, in fact, visible from everywhere on campus) and check the top floor. Most of the time, the lights would be off, just like everywhere else. But if the lights were on, that would mean that the problem had been solved.

This elicited two reactions, really. One was a slight sense of indignation that some lucky bastard had found the right solution before I had. But the second, more overwhelming one, was triumph; the problem, then, had a solution. And it had not defeated us. The two times I went up to Fine Hall to "light the lamp", as we called it, had been moments of indescribable triumph. I had turned on the lights and sat in the Lounge for a long time, looking out at the gathering darkness of the Princeton campus.

My Princeton was the Princeton of my third night on campus, when I didn't know where anything was. I stomped downstairs at 1 a.m. in search of the drinking fountain, and wandered into the Forbes College Lounge, with its two comfortable fireplaces and scattered sofas and piano. And there I found a group of sophomore math majors (a year older than me) huddled around the fireplace, playing a game. They invited me to join them, and I agreed -- and it turned out that the game they were playing was called "Exploding Cows". Yes, I kid you not. Exploding Cows. Each player had a set of cows, and the object of the game was to explode all the other players' cows before your own ones exploded. There, in the middle of the gathering of Princeton math majors playing the most ridiculous game ever, I found my Princeton.

My Princeton was Forbes College at night, when we went down to the pool table to play pool (we started out being very bad at it, but grew better and better) or foosball. Later, some of our group took to video games, and we could hear the music of SuperSmash Bros. as we played pool. But pool was a constant companion; I met some of my best friends over the pool table. We each have our unique style -- Hamza is the silent pro who fails to deliver in the most important games, Sreedev is the pro who is consistently good, I am the unpredictable player who plays either brilliantly or amazingly badly, Dan is the hotheaded player who gets lucky all the time, Efrem is sort of like Hamza, except slightly worse, Marcus is the man with a vendetta against the table itself, Brian's the intense hawk surveying the table for minutes before taking a shot, Juan's the complete noob who misses by three feet, and Michael is the knight of yore, who holds the cue stick like a lance and jousts with the balls (if you know what I mean). I heard one of the best lines I have ever heard in my life beside the pool table, when Dan and Hamza were teammates, and it was Hamza's turn to shoot. Sreedev and I, the opponents, had almost won, and it was up to Hamza to deliver, and he was looking at the 6-ball intently, wondering the best way to hit it. Dan, in his animal excitement, screamed at him at that point, "Hamza, just HIT it, come on, it's easy! You don't even need the stick!" I don't remember if Hamza ever found out the secret of hitting a pool ball without using the cue stick.

Then there were the Mafia games. We used to play four-hours Mafia games late into the night, starting out with 24 or so people. Dan would generally be God, and the games would turn intense. Efrem was the best Mafia player. But that's why he would be the first one eliminated, because the townspeople would think he was the Mafia, and the Mafia would try to get rid of him early. I learned fast and got good, and I remember my continuous arguments with Efrem and Sreedev. And there was the intense game where it came down to Hamza's word against Sreedev's at the end, and Juan made the wrong choice. And the complete mess of a game, where Brian (who wasn't any special character) died immediately after clearing my name -- I have no idea why, because I was the Mafia and Brian was against me. But that was a complete game, Dan, Efrem and I were the Mafia, and we eliminated every single one of the others before they got even one of us.

Assassins, of course, was something that my other post described. Right now, I have managed to kill that last guy, Crisitan Rastapopoulos or whatever -- sneaked up on him when he was in the shower room, and ... errr ... reenacted the Psycho scene (more or less). There are now two players left in the game, myself and someone else, and whoever gets the other first wins.

My Princeton was the trips to New York, where we saw operas and Broadway shows. In my first year, I saw three operas -- Don Giovanni, The Damnation of Faust, and Eugene Onegin. I went, moreover, to four Broadway shows, Mary Poppins, Wicked, The Lion King, and Avenue Q. Next year, I'll go to The Phantom of the Opera -- something of a dream.

Those trips were always the best experiences ever. We would get on the buses, grab seats next to friends, and set off. We had scores of packets of chips, cookies, Milano biscuits, fruits, cold drinks, and water for the journey -- which took something like an hour and a half max. Then in New York, we always got around 45 minutes to explore Broadway before the start of the show. In the last few shows, I paid a quick visit to Starbucks, and walked around Broadway with a cappuccino and a chocolate brownie for half an hour before taking my seat in whichever theater I was supposed to be in. And the shows! The shows themselves were a delight, to make the grossest understatement I have ever made in my life. The Lion King and Wicked, especially, were the best plays I have ever seen. Anyway, before I make enemies among you, I will stop going on about the Broadways shows.

The pranks! My roommate Brian and I were partners in crime for most of these pranks -- and the victim in most cases was Dan (sorry Danny boy, nothing personal). In the first three months, there was the ridiculous Cake Prank. I work in the dining hall, so I saved a HUGE chocolate cake for Brian and myself. We put it in the fridge, and promptly -- with the arrogance of youth -- forgot all about it. Three weeks later, I opened the fridge to put a Twix bar inside and voila! There was the chocolate cake in all its glory, smelling vaguely of old detergent. Brian looked at me and I looked at Brian. Both, I may add, with some degree of reproach.

"Take it out gingerly!" said I.

"That's what she said," said Brian.

After that, there was no question of idling around. I took out the cake very carefully, trying to ignore the smell, and looked at Brian again suggestively. He understood at once. "Dan," we said simultaneously, with a sense of finality.

Juan and Hamza had to be taken in our confidence, of course. Juan managed to find an old cardboard box (that had once held a microwave), and Hamza found a nice, clean tablecloth (funny what you find if you scout the halls of Princeton at 4 in the morning). We arranged the box neatly in front of Dan's room (outside, in the hall), put the tablecloth over it, and put the cake neatly on top of it all. I found a rose from the dining hall, so I added that to the general paraphernalia as well. Finally, I wrote a note in beautiful handwriting that proclaimed:

For Dan. From his secret admirer.

After setting everything up neatly outside Dan's door (it was close to 5 by then), we decided we'd had enough of the forbidding snores coming from inside, and it was time he woke up to his secret admirer. At the time, there was some talk of Hamza posing as the secret admirer in a silk gown, but we gave up on that idea, mainly due to Hamza's strange reluctance.

So we knocked loudly and fled to our rooms. We kept watch, of course, carefully and unobtrusively, as Dan opened the door blearily, looked right, looked left, yawned, and closed the door. Ten seconds later, he opened the door again, this time much more awake, and looked down. Then he immediately took the whole box (cake included) and went inside his room, much to our general amusement. Two seconds later he stormed out of his room (without cake) and came straight to our door and walked in. Brian and I put on innocent looks of surprise and mild indignation. Dan cornered me and said, "Was it you?"

I said, "Dude, I'm studying vector spaces here, what are you talking about?" I have found from general experience that the mention of vector spaces always has an effect on history majors.

For half an hour after that, I faced Dan's interrogation (Dan, being Dan, took lessons from history and subjected me to something akin to the Inquisition), but my Mafia skills paid off, and he was eventually convinced that it couldn't have been my idea, but was Hamza's entirely.

The other major prank that we played was on roommates Sreedev and Juan. They'd gone out for lunch or something, and left their door unlocked. Brian and I, like true friends, walked right in without announcing ourselves, found the room empty, and promptly switched everything; Sreedev's stuff was exchanged with Juan's stuff -- EVERYTHING. Books, desks, laptops, beds, chairs, tables, laundry, even bathroom supplies. After 15 minutes of hard work (but a job well done), we went back to our room (which is right opposite), panting slightly with the effort. Five minutes later, we heard footsteps coming back through the hallway outside, a door opening and closing, and then a guttural roar from Sreedev and an anguished bellow from Juan. We helped them clean up, of course.

The last major prank we played was on Hamza and Michael. They'd gone out the same way as Sreedev and Juan. Brian, Juan and I went into the room, made a mess of everything, put red handprints on the wall, and suggestive-looking stains everywhere else, and finally stuck a menacing looking roll of kitchen towels on the ceiling that proclaimed (in very intimidating handwriting -- mine):

"Chuck Norris was here."

I should stop writing more at this point -- this is already a very, very long post, and I don't want to go overboard. But I will write more about my first year at Princeton later. Remind me, especially, to write about how Harris came up with "Koko doesn't care, Koko's a lesbian", and how he used to mutter to himself about himself: "The Jewb does not care. The Jewb will not be shouted at." Remind me to tell you about watching the first 25 minutes of a movie called Executive Koala, and giving up on watching a koala in a business suit intimidate all of modern Japan only when his boss, a giant red-eyed rabbit in --that's right -- a business suit, made an appearance. Remind me to tell you about Javaria and her indignant shout of "Arre bhai!" shattering the dead silence of the Forbes dining hall. Remind me, most of all, to tell you about Alex Leaf and his fetish with oscilloscopes.

But all that comes later. In some other post, some other time.

And I'll write more very soon. Promise.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Every moment has its own magic. We just have to look swiftly but carefully to find it, but it is always there for that one fleeting instant, after which it becomes just a memory.

It is funny how the smallest, most insignificant things can change a life. Yes, that does sound like the trailer of the latest Richard Gere movie, but do bear with me, because it is one of those cliches that are very, very true.

More than a month ago, my Princeton classes for this semester officially ended. After that was winter break, then it was "Reading Period", which is a pretty much self-explanatory term, and right now we have exams going on.

Anyway, the point is, a month ago, almost to the day, one of my classes ended. It was the last day, and in spite of the baklavas that the professor brought as a parting gift for each of us, it was not exactly a sentimental moment; every single student of the class was relieved to go.

Class was more or less the usual. The professor desperately tried to hold the students' attention and failed disastrously. She droned on and on about while the rest of the class Facebooked furiously (we sometimes talk to each other through Facebook in the class, a far more interesting occupation than the class itself) or stared at a fly on the ceiling.

But after the last baklava had been demolished and the final parting pleasantries exchanged, I discovered that it was raining hard outside. I had, with my usual alacrity, forgotten to bring an umbrella. Luckily I had my bike, so I would get drenched for only about 3 minutes before going back to Forbes.

So I took my bike, and started pedaling in the rain, when I heard something in the distance that I have not heard for a long, long time.

So I turned and rode to Nassau Hall, and discovered magic.

Sometimes there are things that mean nothing and everything at the same time. It is futile trying to explain them, and it is always much, much easier and provocative to just describe them as they are.

This is what I saw.

It was just after sunset, so that there still was a semblance of light, but the clouds and the rapidity of evening had made everything darker. The lights were on in all the buildings, and Princeton is a gothic wonderland, with the buildings looking ancient and grim, like something out of Edgar Allan Poe or Emily Bronte, with gargoyles and massive stone blocks and towers and turrets. Just behind Nassau Hall, there is a small opening larger than a garden and smaller than a field, before the actual main road. This opening is surrounded by gothic buildings, and I was in the middle.

And the lights were shining through the windows, half-veiled, mysterious, intensely sad in the darkening sky. There were a few students hurrying back in the rain, or huddled together under one of the many arches, waiting for the rain to abate. There was a bell tolling in Nassau, the 4:00 bell, and a flock of birds flew overhead, drenched.

The trees, bare, stood silhouetted against the sky, the few remaining leaves rustling in the howling wind, whispering unknown stories and unspoken secrets. The rain was falling hard, and once in a while there were scuttling sounds, and I could look up and see characters straight out of London in a Victorian novel, with top hats and long tailcoats and canes hurrying from the small alleys and disappearing behind the gothic buildings.

And in the middle of the field was a man. He was silhouetted clearly against a tree, which offered him no protection against the rain. He was simply getting drenched in the rain, and was playing a bagpipe. The bagpipe case lay on the ground before him, and nothing else. He wasn't playing for money, he wasn't playing for entertainment. He was playing only, only for himself.

And what a tune he played. A soft yet harsh, sad, lonely tune, echoing throughout the fairytale Princeton campus, played with an intensity unmatched. It was the first time I have ever heard bagpipe music with my own ears since 1994, and it was strange what the music evoked. Shadowy nameless thoughts, long-lost desires, half-forgotten memories ... everything came rushing back to me, everything that the bagpipe was saying to me. So many stories, so many dreams ...

The bagpipe was playing me my childhood.

And I stood there, leaning on my bike, getting completely drenched in the rain, for twenty minutes, taking in the picture I saw, etching it on my mind, desperately hoping to cling to it forever. I stood there, in a swirl of thoughts, my only company the childhood that no longer actually exists, but is an extended memory of the happiest times I have ever had.

I never saw that man again, nor heard his bagpipe. But to me, he is one of the many characters who define who I am, who shape my life, in a sense. He is the integral part of the magic I glimpsed at - and he created the moment.

And then he went away in search of lives yet to be changed.

And I still stood there in the rain, lost and alone.

If you have time, try to watch these two videos:

Lumina Princetonia

The Spirit of Princeton

Also, the pictures are both from Flickr, not taken by me. But I will maintain that the visual sight I saw was much, much more spectacular.

Friday, December 19, 2008


So ... we have been playing Assassins.

For those of you who don't know, Assassins is the best game in the world. You have at least 30 players, and the organizers arrange them in some sort of circle; each player is assigned a "target", who is another player in the game. You only know who your target is; you obviously don't know whose target you are, not unless he or she screws up big time. You are supposed to "kill" your target, which may happen in a variety of ways. At SSP, there were three ways of killing: "sniping", i.e. throwing a rolled up sock at your target, "poisoning", i.e. sticking a toothpick in your target's food before he or she noticed it, and "stabbing", i.e. pasting a sticker discreetly on your target. What made the game complicated in the SSP version was that no one could kill his or her target in the presence of a witness, who could be anyone, a player, a teacher, a random person, whatever. So if I threw a sock at my target furtively, and someone else was present when that happened, my target would not die; the move would backfire, and he would know who I am, so that he would take precautions ensuring he was never alone with me.

So much for SSP assassins (there are funny stories with that too, remind me to tell you one day).

Here at Princeton, the International Students Association organized a game of Assassins recently; which is to say, it is still going on, but no one except the dead people seem to care too much any longer. Also, the game is not solely for international students - in fact, the most zealous participant so far (read: most bloodthirsty) is from Ohio; perhaps more relevantly, he is dead now. Someone squirted him with a water gun.

So, the Princeton Assassins rules are different in some key respects. First of all, there is only one way of killing, "shooting", which is just a fancy name for squirting with a water gun. One of the more zealous participants went to the extent of sending ISAP (that's the organizer) an email asking them to define "shooting with a water gun". He got back a reply containing the technical definition, which is to say "at least two or more square inches of the target's clothing (when unfolded) or body must be clearly wet or moist with water of or relating to that squirted from one of the water guns specified by Princeton University, or any similar water gun, orange or green in color, whose range may not exceed 12 meters. Furthermore, the target must clearly feel the sensation of being squirted, and in the event of any confusion, an amenable agreement must be reached by the two parties involved" - the email went on. That's how ivy league universities work. Anyway, the other, more important rule in this version of Assassins was that there was no No-Witness rule. So I was allowed to shoot my target even in the presence of witnesses. There were, of course, "safe zones", which were classrooms in session, bathrooms, the Street, and so on. There was also a "safe time", from 1 a.m. till 8 a.m. No player is allowed to kill anyone in a safe zone, or during safe time. Once I killed a target, I got his or her next target as my next. So the whole circle got smaller and smaller until only one remained, and this was the winner. So much for the rules.

Now, I consider myself to be a great Assassins player. In fact, a number of people will vouch for the fact. So I said to myself, "Ok, you have to win this. You know the game inside out, you have resources, you have the looks, you have the style, what more do you need?" It is true; I am too modest to actually ever admit this, but I am the essence of the sexy killer, a James Bond reincarnate. Daniel Craig - pooh. I brush my teeth with ten Daniel Craigs every morning.

Anyway, so I started preparing. I set up shady alliances with all the other Forbes players (Forbes, for those of you who don't know, is the residential college in Princeton where I live). I sent spies throughout Princeton to look for clues and mysterious strangers. I ignored the beautiful girls who always seem to gaggle around me and set to work with cold, steely resolve.

My first target was Edvin. Edvin Memet, the genius from Romania, the International Physics Olympiad gold medallist, soccer fanatic, who had placed into a ridiculously advanced physics class (one that is affectionately called Death Mechanics in Princeton). And my job was to kill him.

It was intense. I stalked him on Facebook, sent out spies after him, kept a dossier on him; this was weekend, unfortunately, so I couldn't get him before or after his classes. But fate was on my side. Dressed impeccably (shirt, formal trousers, tie. I had considered a tuxedo, but decided in the end to leave that for the more important targets) a la the Mafia, I waited in the afternoon for Edvin to walk out of a building I had traced him to. He did, and I said in my sexy tenor Al Pacino voice, "Edvin. I am really sorry that this had to happen." and squirted him with my green water gun.

It was heroic! He took his death like a man, falling in a slow motion, and I could almost hear choral music all around me. He was going out, he said, but he would give me the name of my next target when he came back.

I went back to Forbes, thirsty for more blood. All the perfumes of Arabia and all that was just complete shit. I needed to kill more people. I sent ISAP an email, because we had to register each kill within 3 hours.

Within 10 minutes, they sent me a reply. The game, apparently, would not begin until midnight, and so my target, Edvin Memet, was still alive.

I was shocked. I had killed him, and watched him die slowly and painfully, and extracted the promise of his next target. Now he knew who was after him. Worst of all, I had already used up my Al Pacino voice.

No matter. I am a professional in these matters. At 12:39 a.m., I killed Edvin Memet again. He died slowly, just as before. I had taken some of my friends with me, and they had served as the bait. They had knocked on his door, pretending to collect support for Obama, and his roommate had answered, and apparently Edvin was not in. At that point I had just started using four-letter words randomly when he actually walked straight into the corridor. I quickly arranged my shirt and everything, and started using a Johnny Depp voice, found that I had lost my voice from the cold, ended up growling menacing and then almost choking, then chucked the whole idea and emptied my water gun on Edvin for the second time in 10 hours.

He was drenched, but he took it like a man ... again. My next target was Estefania Fiallos. Freshman, again. In Wilson College, too, that complicated things.

My first attempt on Estefy failed disastrously. I made the mistake of walking right up to her door and knocking. A guy answered, and I could tell he was suspicious. I admit it was stupid of me.

But who has ever stopped me from doing what I want? My sources told me (doesn't that sound insanely mysterious?) that Estefy was going to go out that night with Justin, who was a friend's roommate. To watch a movie (ha!). So I collected a small band of followers (Katharina, Jon, Michael), and went to Frist, waiting for her to turn up with Justin.

It was short. I recognized Justin's booming voice, and looked up to find him waiting outside the theater with a smallish girl who I recognized as Estefy. This time, because she was a pretty girl after all, I used my deadly Charlton Heston voice.

"I want you to know, Estefy, that this is not personal", I said in a sexy growl, and shot her. It was tragic, watching her eyes tremble, in the knowledge that I had ruined the date, and sort of betrayed Justin. Justin stood stoically beside her, and I suspect he was rather amused. Estefy took it like a man, too, except of course, she was a woman. She told me my next target was Jonathan Erlichman.

That one was hard. Jonathan proved to be insanely paranoid. I spent four hours outside his door, and he didn't come out. I knocked on his door, and his roommate opened, and spotted my water gun, and almost slammed the door shut in my face. I managed to convince them that I was after Chris Perlman (I couldn't come up with any other name; I have never heard of any Chris Perlman in my life), and I had simply mixed the rooms up. Anyway, I couldn't do much after that.

Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of humor. The next day I attended a lecture on Pythagorean triples in Fine Hall (yes, I am a math major. Funny how similar I am to Moriarty), and enjoyed every minute of it. When it was over, I made a rather fine point about Pell's Equation and how it was relevant to the lecture, and - glowing at my own brilliance - turned around to leave the lecture hall with everyone else. When I found my target sitting two rows behind me, ready to leave the hall too. Apparently, he had listened to the lecture too. And ALL this bloody while, he had been at my mercy. Now I was essentially stuck, because I had my water gun but it was empty. The nearest bathroom was three floors above. By the time I would fill my gun and bring it down, my target would have left.

But I had an advantage; my bike. I knew where my target lived, and hoped he would be going straight back to Whitman. I watched him leave and rushed upstairs to the bathroom to fill my water gun. I used warm water, and rushed down again, and got onto my bike and pedaled furiously to Whitman. To make matters worse, my gun had a leak, and I could feel my jacket getting wet all the while I rode. I hoped it would not seem inappropriate.

I was looking out for Jonathan all along the way, but I missed him completely. No matter; I had overtaken him. I met a friend, Waqas, near the entrance to Whitman, started talking with him (a cover, gentle reader, a cover) animatedly, and soon found Jonathan walking up to his death.

I was vicious this time. I don't know why, probably because my own jacket was half wet from the dripping water; but I basically soaked Jonathan top to bottom. He looked more like a bedraggled crow than I could ever have imagined.

And then it was Olaf's turn. Olaf, a very nice Buddhist students in charge of several student groups around campus, was a junior (third-year). I went to look for him in the Whitman Dining Hall, where he worked; but my efforts failed, and I was almost caught as a spy. I managed to lay the blame on someone else (don't squirm; he survived the angry mob), and escaped to my target's room. I had decided on a full frontal attack, so I knocked authoritatively. He lived in a 9-person suite, with TWO floors and a luxurious living room. He wasn't there. His suitemates told me to come in, and I did. I introduced myself as Hamza Aftab, a Buddhist student (Hamza is one of my closest friends, also playing; he's a Muslim from Pakistan), interested in racial abuse (I later wondered how this had sounded), and in joining the group "Conversations", of which Olaf was the President. His suitemates were very friendly, and gave me a Sprite, and heard all about my Buddhist roots (I was brilliant here!), and what Tibet was like (I let my imagination run wild), and so on. And still he didn't come back.

I took my leave after an hour and a half, and waited in the landing for Olaf. He came in, with a friend too, and came up the stairs cautiously. It was like The Untouchables stairway scene. I started talking on the phone (with no one, of course. Just a decoy) in Bengali, fingering my water gun inside my pocket with the other hand, waiting till he came within range. I started talking animatedly in the language I knew he wouldn't understand (I was reciting a Chandrabindoo song, for Christ's sake), and sometimes laughing aloud to make it convincing.

Olaf had been eyeing me warily for quite some time. As soon as he came to the landing, I whipped out my gun and started to squirt him with it; and he did something completely unexpected. He actually jumped forward, and grasped my hand. It would have been scary if I hadn't shot him by then, he would have taken the gun out of my hand, probably. But I had managed to give him one good squirt before, so that was okay. His friend, apparently, was playing too. I introduced myself as Hamza, again (of course; what if his friend had been after Rik? I couldn't afford to take a chance), and learned that my new target was Atanas Petkov.

That was really, really hard. Atanas had been prewarned by Olaf's friend (who was a Bulgarian like Atanas himself), so he was prepared. I went and lurked in his corridor, and suddenly his roommates came out and took pictures of me. This was really freaky. I had been expecting paranoia, but not intelligent counterplanning. The fact that Atanas now had my picture made things very, very inconvenient.

I decided to use one of my contacts who lived in the same building as Atanas. Mehek Punatar, also from India. I explained my plans, and counted on her.

A day later, I realized she was double-crossing me, and helping Atanas.

Sick of the ways of the world, I arranged for an accident to meet Mehek, and set out on my way to find a new contact. It came unexpectedly, in my Freshman Seminar class. Andreas Sakellaris, my classmate.

Apparently, Atanas and Andreas attended the same mathematics class, MAT 201 (prospective math majors like me who start off in MAT 215 use MAT 201 to crack hideously arrogant jokes). And the last class of the semester was the next day in Lewis Library.

So I was ready. I skipped the last few seconds of Rahul Pandharipande's MAT 215 class to take position. I filled my water gun to the brim, and lurked outside the classroom Andreas had shown me. As soon as the class was over, the professor walked out and I walked in. Atanas was smiling, a dejected, fallen smile; he knew death when he saw it ... and I was death in a sexy package.

And then ... I got my new target, Cristian Rastapopoulos. He isn't called Rastapopoulos, of course. I just named him so because his last name is unpronounceable. He is a Romanian SENIOR.

I have not killed him yet. Because the first time in my life, I am facing the prospect of a task that is in essence impossible.

He goes out of his dorm before 8 in the morning and comes back after 1 at night. So I can't get him in his dorm (safe time, remember?). What he does in between is deeply mysterious. To make matters worse, he is a Taekwondo fanatic. As is each and every one of his 8 suitemates.

I did everything possible. I tracked him down individually in three sites and searched his interests. I talked to professors and tried bribing certain people in power to help me get him. I assumed a new identity. To half the campus now, I am known as Sreedev Basu, who is in reality a classmate who stays in Forbes in the room opposite. I went to the official Taekwondo club, where Cristian is a regular member, and attended the last six practice sessions; he didn't turn up. I am now known in the Club as Sreedev, the guy passionate about Taekwondo, who is going to join the Club next semester. I have taken a few kicks during the sessions, and learned terms like "Fang!" and "Chop!", which are the grunts that we're supposed to do before kicking the hell out of someone in Taekwondo. And he still hasn't turned up.

There was a Romanian night in Princeton the day before Winter Break, and I hoped Crisitian would be patriotic or homesick enough to attend. I went there beforehand, and slipped in, the only non-Romanian in the entire hall, hoping to pass off inconspicuously as an Indian immigrant in Romania. I drank Romanian apple juice, had Romanian food, tried to convince some babbling Romanians that I was Sreedev Basu from Romania who just happened to be unable to speak Romanian at the moment, and then adjusted my disguise. I was still Sreedev Basu of Romania, only hard of hearing, so I didn't have to participate in conversations. I learned the basic words, "Buna!" for greetings, and "La revedere" for goodbye. I wandered among those throngs of Romanian math geniuses, my frail disguise holding out, saying "Buna!" randomly and receiving stares and blank looks. I even learned the Romanian national dance and danced with a pretty little Romanian girl for a minute, later introducing myself in English as Sreedev Basu. The girl immediately said "Oh! I know a Sreedev too, at Princeton! He's at Forbes, do you know him?" I mumbled, went back to my hard-of-hearing disguise, and said "La revedere!" and slunk off.

Which was when I bumped into Edvin. My first target.

I will never forget the nightmare that followed, Edvin grasping me by the hand and introducing me to everyone else in his loud voice "This is Rik, from India. He is playing Assassins ... he killed me - TWICE! Har har har."

My disguise was falling to pieces. Everywhere I could hear mutters like "Assassins? What is he doing here?", "India? This is a Romanian thing, isn't it?", "Rik? I thought he said he was Sreedev or something?", "Holy shit I just danced with him and he said his name was Sreedev", and so on.

My exit was not graceful. I practically fled.

So that's how things stand now. I have not yet killed Crisitian. I have infiltrated at the highest level, true, so much that the entire Taekwondo Club except him now knows and loves me and uses me occasionally as a punching bag. I have learned Romanian customs, added my name (i.e. Sreedev's) to the Taekwondo mailing list, and have done everything except killing him.

Now what?

At least my water gun is not dysfunctional, like Dan's. His gun's trigger came loose, so that before killing someone, he had an elaborate process; he took out the gun itself, took out the trigger, screwed the trigger on to the gun, squirted it at the ceiling to test it, then squirted his target.

And yet he managed to kill 10 people before he died. My assassination list is now only 5.

But what the hell, I'm alive.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Before I start writing funny-as-hell entries once again, let me take a moment. A moment is not the kind of thing you can have any time you want at Princeton. But today, in the midst of a chaos of homework that have to be completed as soon as possible, in the midst of waves of nausea at the sheer fact that my homework was not yet done, in the midst of a tremendous rush for good grades and the onus of proving the fact that everyone who got into Princeton deserved it ...

... I felt lonely, and spent half an hour just staring out of the window.

Outside my room, there is a tree that is slowly turning orange and yellow - and shedding its first leaves all over the squirrels seeking refuge. The rabbits are rushing back into the comfort of their homes before sunset, as soon as the intense cold starts settling in. Inside Forbes, my home, the warm crackling fireplace magnetically attracts groups of friends to chat with each other and play games and finish homework - the closest thing to an adda I can ever get here. The moon rises over the tall steeples of Gothic buildings - and fairy tales are created in the Princeton campus. Sadness. And poignant evenings quietly settle over the ancient lampposts, and the gargoyles look sad and lonely ... as the earliest traces of winter touch the campus. The trees are slowly getting bare ... and the orange and red plethora of colors sometimes makes the rushing students forget everything - and they feel lost, standing in the middle of that rush of dreamy colors, but ...

... somewhere two oceans and a continent and an entire world away, Pujo has arrived.

Durgapujo. The best times of my life ... all those nights of staying wide awake, cursing the incessant beating of the dhak, all those Shoshthis wandering around Maddox Square with friends, watching girls and weaving dreams, all those lazy afternoons of impossibly heavy meals and careless siestas, all those jingle jangle mornings of idling away time and hanging around at the parar pandal, all those evenings of the fiascos that went by the name "cultural program of Golf Gardens", all those chess matches with friends, card tricks ....

... the smell of kaashphool merged with that of my childhood ...

and the Saptamis. Me and my circles of my greatest friends ever ... wandering around from early in the morning, having lunch together, then pandal-hopping, generally hanging around together, playing Killer with cards, and finally going back to our earliest childhoods in Deshapriya Park, riding all the rides, screaming in delight like eight-year-olds, poignantly watching darkness fall.

That is my past now, but I cannot let go of it. The memory is too overwhelming, it's my present, it's my future - and this year, I wasn't there. I will not be at home for Pujo for the next three years, and maybe not even after that.

And the leaves are turning red and falling off, and my childhood with them. But it's not yet time for the memories to go.

I love you, all my friends. Happy Pujos.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Return

Yes I know. All the while I have been absent, I have been sorely missed. Fellow bloggers have had a chance to come into the limelight, my fans have been steadily biting their organs off one by one (in sheer anticipation, I assure you), girls have been swooning, life has been a whole lot less interesting.

But yes, the winds of change are here again, and with the quiet assurance of spring, I'm back again.

It's technically not spring, ok, fine, whatever. It sounds cool.

First of all, I would like to thank all those people who have waited patiently for my return, knowing that this blog would be revived one day. My parents, for their everlasting belief in me. All those associated with this beautiful project, I would like to tell them all, this is OUR dream, not MINE, and this is not my triumph alone. Thank you all for that. Wait -

Who the hell mixed up my blog post with my Oscar speech? He's fired, whoever he is.

Among other news, I have been to the International Mathematical Olympiad Training Camp 2008 in May. I have, as usual, failed to enjoy it. All they ever talked about was mathematics. I mean, seriously guys, get a life! I met Ninad there too (scroll below for my post about Ninad and his tryst with bedbugs). He's a whole lot smarter now than I remember him. He beat me 3-0 in a chess tournament, in fact. That's all right, though, it feels good sometimes to let the losers win.

I wrote a poem a couple of days ago. Here's how it goes:

The Subtle Chihuahua
The subtle chihuahua,
A sad figure in the musical twilight,
Sits and stares at the lollipop sea ...
He thinks
Dark thoughts ... dark red mainly,
But dark grey ones as well -
And love ceases to be a theorem
And life an assumption
In the nuanced corners of his brain.
The subtle chihuahua -
Black against the sea
Thinks of home
And Rolex watches.
Swiss chocolates - metaphors for thoughts -
Crowd his mind;
And the walruses watch desperately,
Clinging with their last strength
On to the subtle chihuahua,
Who thinks of his childhood
And the black and white colors it is painted with.

Yes, intense, I know. It has metaphors for all sorts of things, I believe, and also a nuanced analysis of life. It has a commentary on - er - the general state of affairs, and the metaphysical imagery, as I keep telling anyone who would listen, is just schnilledorous. That last word, by the way, was coined by me. It means "of or relating to the metaphysical imagery of Rik Sengupta's poem The Subtle Chihuahua". Five minutes before I coined the term I had been reading up about circular definitions. Here is what the dictionary has to say about circular definitions:

circular definition n. See definition, circular

So much for technical terms.

I also started writing another poem, but I got bored thirty seconds into it. See if you can perceive any subtle signs of my boredom ... it's hard to spot, I think ...

I was walking along the sands of Mali
Thinking about life and DalĂ­
When suddenly, a whale appeared
In overalls, with a scholar's beard;
And if you think this poem's weird,
It's your own effing problem.

I have no idea why I just wrote down two of my MOST random poems ever here. As Anasua would probably say, these are ddmp (deep dark morbid poetry). But hey, they are a part of what I am, so I'm not complaining.

Anyway, I think I've had just about enough for now, I'll probably update again tomorrow. Or not. Either of the two. I'll see you guys later.