Saturday, January 17, 2009

Magic

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.

26 comments:

WiseOwl said...

Haunting.
A nameless sorrow finds a tune to clutch on to, with all its hopelessness, and magic is created, for the moment in the mind, and forever in the vague essence that it leaves behind in the memory.
We all try hard to re-create, re-capture, store for posterity that which is ultimately, impossible to trap. Like a 'restless wind inside a letter box' it roams inside our being, roaring through the hollow spaces, and hitting against the not-so-hollow -- ultimately sending ripples through everything that it touches, and transforming, or bringing back, both what we have lost, and what we have.
Moments, are everything. That is essentially what we all are made up off, and all that we have, at the end of the day. Darkness, and little specks of light.

P.S. I hate Baclavas. Its so sweet. Aargh.

Rick said...

Intense. I agree, little unexpected moments with all their unpredictability. And then, the onrush of telltale memories.

Sarbajaya said...

:)
thats it.
no words.
just :)

Shruthi said...

"The bagpipe was playing me my childhood"

Your words reminded me of so many unguarded moments from my childhood. Somehow, your post brought back beautiful memories. Some euphoric and some sad. But beautiful nevertheless ...

Moments like these make up everything we live for, don't they?

chris said...

intensity...

you are too good. be a writer, sir.

precisely said...

Rik, this writing is sad. Why are you sad? Don't be - that's the last thing the General Gloom needs.

That is not to say that it's not nice. It's very very very nice. :)

Ravis said...

"The bagpipe was playing me my childhood"

Amazing!!

This is the best blog post of yours till date. And yes, these are the moments that redefine us.

Ravis said...

And "sad"? "Dont b sad"? Crapp!!

Anonymous said...

this is SO good. i felt tears in my eyes after reading this.

Vihang said...

When I saw that you had a new post named Magic in my RSS feed-reader, the first thing I thought of was 'Magic - More Magic' (Kudos to you if you get this reference ... You need to read the Jargon Files if you don't!)

But reading this post pretty much rendered me speechless. This is true beauty. This was an amazing and damn thoughtful piece of writing. I wonder how you can act as a goof when you're talking to us and then whip out this amazing work ...

On a side not, I live for the moment and I just love it!!!

Aparna said...

and they say the moment becomes part of you, but the truth is every time you leave a little bit of yourself behind...

Asif said...

This is without doubt the best blog entry you've written, and also one of the best pieces of writing I have ever seen in my life. Which includes Rushdie, Borges and Calvino :P.

sonalisa said...

Oh, to be able to return to my carefree, lazy childhood life around the corner days of my youth will be the most precious thing tht i can ask for right now..nd ur thoughts certainly again created tht pensive mood which i try so hard to avoidd...seriouslly thank you so much for making me remember my childhood days again..if only clock can run anti-clockwise.. :(

Steve said...

Silence.

And respect, I haven't seen writings like this on a blog.

Anonymous said...

Very, very, very niceeeeeeee.

You should write more often, I think.

new age scheherazade said...

"Before you leave, remember why you came." Thank you for reminding me.

I think this should go in the Daily Princetonian, or on the website.
@Vihang: I was just thinking of buying the stickers :)

ИΞΘ said...

I am so, so jealous.
That campus, you know, looks gooood.

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

I really like your blog, update soon! The place looks amazing :-)

Aniket Chakravarty said...

Reminded me of 'The Solitary Reaper' by William Wordsworth...

Great piece of work...
Melancholic and euphoric at the same time...
I dont remember the last time I saw a person write this beautifully...

Keep up the extraordinary work, mate!

Rik said...

Thank you so much, everyone. I really appreciate so many encouraging comments, and believe me when I say that this overwhelming feeling cannot be compared to anything else in the world.

Puff said...

You write like a dream.

Ashwath said...

That was perfect.

Priyanka said...

rik re, i just saw this. i love these small moments, sometimes they make more sense than entire days. very nice :)

RIK.......BIZARREDENESS Z DEFYND BY ME said...

the very style of writing is really very enchanting.....i ws stunned for a few minutes after reading it.....as if i cud also listen to "my childhood being played again"

the surroundings that u hv described in a lyrical manner has an ethereal charm in it...in a nutshell it kept me involved and in the end completely moved.....
i hv read very few blogs before lyk this!!!!

i will wait ardently for such poignant flavours of ur instanteneous selves.....and ur unique manner of describing those unforgettable incidents in life that remain indelibly etched in our memory.....

InAyAs said...

your writing seemed to be like a melancholy strain...
I want more and more magic from u in your blogs...
its not the first time am reading ur writings...i also liked the ones u wrote for ASCENT.mainly the one u wrote in our last year.
well, this picture reminds me of my tour to Shillong where i came across a church and the fogs made it look almost like the picture u uploaded..but there was no bagpipe playing in the scene..
just like u wrote.
"The bagpipe was playing me my childhood"...the same way your writing reminded me of my childhood tour with my parents to Shillong...
well done buddy...
cheers
S

SANJAY UCHCHARIA said...

You're an amazing guy I've ever met. I like to read your blog and have read about you in SPAN magazine. What kinda person you are, you know we feel that why we couldn't be like you. And in the end we have to satisfied that at least we can follow your prints...