Sunday, December 23, 2012

Poem: Spice

At home:

He sees
Slender slices of onion
perfectly tanned

He tastes
Tamarinds dancing
the tango on his tongue

All seasoned with her loving glances
served by her pampering hands


In some dark alley:

He sees
Red-hot chilli powder
igniting his eyes

He tastes
Pepper sprays
evoking helpless tears

Flavoured with her contempt
Served by hands ready to smother him
If he even thinks of pouncing on her
Again.

We women are not born to be imprisoned within the walls of the kitchen. We have the freedom to go wherever we want to, and men cannot rape us into submission. If you hurt us, we WILL strike back.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Poem: Silence

I am taught:
Silence is golden

Let the
safe-keepers of democracy
extort, loot, plunder
Let their nexus
with the blue-blooded,
black-suited
white-collared
deprive the "mango people"

After all, this is a banana republic!

So here I am
Bribed into silence.


I am taught:
Silence is golden

Let the
sadists and rapists
rip, tear, kill
Let their lewd mouths
Lusting gazes
Lecherous hands
Prey upon every woman

After all, wolves have insatiable appetites!

So here I am
Gagged into silence.


I am taught:
Silence is golden

Let the
megalomaniacs
ravage, decimate, annihilate
Let them sow mistrust
and harvest innocent blood
Let them impose their
unholy silence over the Holy Land

After all, they are the "Chosen Ones"!

So here I am
Deceived into silence.

A silence that corrupts,
Corrodes,
Corrals me into guilt.

And now I learn:
Silence is only golden
Not gold.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Short Story: The Doctor

The tall, middle-aged man paced back and forth in his spacious room, circumventing the large glass tube that stood in its centre, his eyes darting around like a hunter’s.

A colourful assortment of pie charts, digital maps of the human brain, chemical analyses and scan reports stood in stark contrast against the sterile white walls. The man, however, seemed interested in only one of the objects: a Neural Activity Tracker graph that had many areas highlighted in orange, mounted within a black frame.

“Target areas apparent... transmitters go there... but where is the bull’s eye?” he muttered. His hands absently traced the letters ART embroidered on to his blue coat.

Short for Art Repression Team, ART was a clandestine group of the most brilliant psychologists and neurologists in the world on a relentless quest for singling out the creativity centre in the human brain. Art, the manifesto of the organization maintained, was the cause of all dissent and discord on earth. Art encouraged needless debates. It instigated rebellion, incited revolutions. For a peaceful world order to prevail, it was essential that all creativity be suppressed.

Naturally, successive World Governments had been generous with funding.

And so, here was The Doctor – not just any doctor, the imperial head of the team himself – analyzing the brain, well-mapped out with the help of state-of-the-art equipment. After years and years of research, the team had recently narrowed down their search to the scattered areas in the right hemisphere of the brain. ART members had been riding on the momentum of the biggest breakthrough in the recent history of the organization, but the euphoria was slowly wearing off…

Bing!

Interrogation of Case #1,
Five PM, a robotic voice announced.

The pristine room suddenly seemed to hum with energy. Just outside, twenty blue-coated figures smartly stepped out of twenty different Intra-Building Teletransporters, filed into the room and occupied the seats arranged in a semicircle right in front of the Doctor’s unoccupied chair.

“Reports?” The Doctor’s authoritative voice boomed from the back of the room.

A young psychologist stood up. “Case One has finally started talking, sir. Abnormal activity in the right brain, as usual. Exhibits signs of violence, as well as an affinity for the abstract – “

“No precision,” The Doctor snapped, “We are not a team of amateurs, doctor. Affinity for the abstract is a common quality that all artists share.”

The psychologist trembled, the prospect of facing The Doctor’s wrath being formidable. “I apologise, Doctor. By abstract, I meant in the very extreme. She’s a reported abstractionist, but it is the first time she has mentioned the S-Word since she has been the subject of our experiments, sir.”

The silence that ensued was palpable. The Doctor walked towards his table, one eye still on the NAT-graph.

“Hmmm. Go on. And kindly use the word properly, doctor. The Censor Board will not come barging in here. And while the recently unearthed ancient epics maybe full of fantastical claptrap, they do have one thing right – Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself. Now proceed.”

Swallowing the lump in his throat, the young doctor said, “She keeps repeating that art comes from the – comes from the – soul.”

The Doctor sneered. Soul – the bane of all reason, all logic. That nonsense concept attempted to erode the foundations of scientific progress. It was rightly accorded the first place in the Black List of Censored Words.

A few mutters cut through the silence, immediately quelled by The Doctor’s loud, clear voice. “Alpha-Alpha-Beta Activate.”

The humongous glass tube in the centre of the room glowed blue. At its base, a circular section of the floor slid out of vision smoothly and a metal platform revolved upwards, seemingly from beneath the room. On the platform was a single chair, chained to which was a woman. In ART, she was known as Case One.

She was only twenty, but her appearance belied her age. She was weak, emaciated, with stick-like limbs and a pale, sunken face. Her flowing white robes emphasized her frail profile. Her hair had greyed since the last time she had been injected with Creosuppressants. But her most striking feature was her eyes – too large for her bony face, too owlish, but they still shone like a pair of supernovae. She smiled at her rapt audience.

The Doctor, having no time for niceties, immediately got to his point. “Why do you create your so-called art? Tell us.”

Case One merely smiled.

Inside the tube, two long silver needles sprouted out off the chair handles and pierced the girl’s hands. She did not flinch. “Why do you create?” The Doctor’s voice was no longer soft. It had risen an octave higher, an almost hypnotic quality to it.

She continued to smile, like the miraculously well-preserved portrait that was discovered in the ruins of the Louvre Museum that belonged to Previous Human Era.

“Where does you art come from? Why do you create?” repeated The Doctor. The others present in the room lifted their voices in harmony with his. They sounded like a swarm of bees about to sting somebody who’d disturbed their nest.

The smile did not waver.

But The Doctor’s placidness did. With a snarl, he threw the pen in his hand across the room and shouted, “Why do you create all this rubbish, you no-good artist?”

Her smile gave way to peals of laughter, the sound echoing throughout the room. Her body convulsed. The bio-bonds, designed to tighten at any sign of resistance, wrapped themselves more firmly around her wrists and ankles, but she didn’t seem to mind.

When she finally spoke, her voice was surprisingly clear. “Very good, doctor. You are learning, slowly so, but definitely learning. You are learning not to be a robot. They can’t feel, they can’t create, because they don’t have a soul like you and me – don’t interrupt!”

The Doctor’s retort died at the tip of his tongue and he meekly sat down in his chair, like a properly scolded schoolchild. The glint in the girl’s eyes seemed almost manic, like the laser sculpture (saying ‘You cannot oppress us forever’) that had condemned her to a life of test doses.

“You are searching for the creativity centre, are you not? You think you have the target area. You think you only have to find the bull’s eye. Then, let me tell you – you will never find it. The bull’s eye is invisible yet visible, touchable yet untouchable. I am art. Art is me.”

She smiled and said nothing more.

The Doctor stared at her. He had heard similar things from the other guinea pigs, but something about the conviction in the puny girl’s voice had broken his conviction that they were lying – at least, partially. He thought of the years of toil, the thousands of scholarly articles, the scores of newly-developed drugs and equipments.

He suddenly recollected that the word for ‘art’ in one of the ancient languages (was it Tamil?) was ‘kalai.’ But the same word also meant 'disturb'. Dismantle. Destroy.

I may have not found my bull’s eye, The Doctor thought, but art certainly has.


 

This story was accorded the first place in the Short Story contest (HSS) held as a part of the Chevayur Sub-district Youth Festival. The theme was 'Bull's eye.' I'm still trying to figure out why I came up with a sci-fi story, of all things, as I've never read a sci-fi story in my life apart from Isaac Asimov's 'True Love' - and only because it's part of our +1 syllabus.

How did I fare? Looking forward to the feedback on this!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Elfje: Memento Mori

Memories
Dance like
Pretty butterflies, fleeting,
Just out of reach -
Tantalizing

Treasured
Photographic memories
Reduced to graffiti
Etched by impetuous light -
Meaningless

Reality
Now fragmented;
Well-defined lines
Between fact and fiction
Blurred

Soul
Lost in
The labyrinth of
Tangled impressions, intangible expressions -
Chaotic

Wandering
Down the memory lane
Encroached by dementia
Bold steps
Falter

Time
Spares none:
A black hole
Vacuum-pulling all into
Oblivion

 


Written during the English Versification competition of the sub-district Youth Festival for the theme "Down the Memory Lane." My grandfather turned out to be the source of inspiration yet again, so you might recognize a few lines from my poem Moirae, which I "borrowed" when I couldn't come up with anything more suitable. All stanzas are in Elfje form, except for the penultimate one which is an inverted Elfje (1-4-3-2-1)

EDIT 22-11-12: I won the second place for the poem! :)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Poem: The Spectrum of Growing Up

Monochrome
Ceases to exist:
Now I see
Earthy sepia
Effervescent turquoise
and amber, yellowed with age.

Innocence
Lost in transition

Technicolour,
A kaleidoscopic explosion
Muting words -
Violent cobalt
Vivacious magenta
and scarlet, volcanic with rage.

Emotions
Lost in translation

Fluoroscence -
Ghosts of stressed
Molecules, glowing
Neon orange
Nebulous pink
and lime green, far from sage.

Identities
Lost in transmission

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Elfje: Phoenix


Black
Pyre ablaze
With flames of
Terror and hatred, spewing
Poison

Grey
Ashes smoulder
With passionate defiance
Birthing voice of dissent -
Hope

White
Veils ignite
Sparks of freedom,
Forgotten symphonies of rebellion
Amplified


For Malala Yousufzai, who showed me that "kids" can make an impact on the society as well. My sister, I salute your courage, your resilience, your spunk to stand up against the Taliban and assert your right to education. I hope you rise and shine again, and continue to inspire lives.

This Elfje has been published at Simply Elfje.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Elfje: Inspiration Lost


Words
Struck down
In inky battlegrounds -
Frantic searches for flighty
Muse



My first attempt at an Elfje, a form which originated in The Netherlands. The word Elfje means ‘Elven’ or ‘Fairy’ poem (from ‘Elf’ meaning ‘elven’ or ’fairy’ and the suffix ‘-je’ meaning ‘little’). The form consists of 11 words spread over 5 lines in the form 1-2-3-4-1.

This poem has also been put up at Simply Elfje

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Haiku: Infinite


Bonds forged in hellfire
Withstand the scorching summer 
We are infinite

 


For Malavika, the greatest friend I could ever ask for, on her birthday. [Coincidentally, this is also my 50th post.]

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Haiku: Dreams


My dreams
Mine alone, and not for sale;
Happiness can't be paid.

Monday, September 10, 2012

In Memoriam: Two Poems for My Grandfather

A long overdue tribute to my grandfather, who passed away in February. All the stories I've heard about him claim he was a colossus, but all I can see is the frail man who was left paralyzed by a stroke and had his memories robbed by dementia.

1. MOIRAE*

Memories flutter
Like elusive butterflies
Just beyond reach

Well-defined lines
Between fact and fiction
Now blurred

Sparks
Of former brilliance
Try to reignite

Helplessness
Erodes colossal spirit
Hurts worst

Soul burns
As self fades from memory
This phoenix won’t rise.

I spent a few days with grandpa while he was at Mangalore and Parassinikadavu, undergoing treatment. The poem above is an attempt to describe his deteriorating health as I saw it, in five haiku. But I wish I had happier memories to remember him by...

2. UNNAMED

You left the
Fairy-tales untold
Lullabies unsung
Photos untouched

I left my
Questions unasked
Beliefs unchallenged
Poems unread

We left
Garden paths untrodden
Ripe mangoes uneaten
Paper boats unmade

Now all you have left is
An eternity beneath the earth
And all I have left is a wish 
To undo all that we left undone.

I'm sorry the white flags of truce were raised too late for us to know each other very well, grandad. I get the feeling we would have had loads of fun.


*Moirae are the Three Fates in Greek mythology.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

My First Haiku: Oyster


Grains of sand
Become ethereal pearls
In her magical touch


A tribute to every teacher who has taught me so far, for dedicating their lives to making better people out of ignorant kids (like me.)

Haiku is a Japanese poetic form consisting of seventeen syllables in the order 5-7-5. However, Wikipedia claims "English haiku do not adhere to the strict syllable count found in Japanese haiku, and the typical length of haiku appearing in the main English-language journals is 10–14 syllables." And not one to stick to rules, especially when they've been circumvented, I came up with this.

Technically, this isn't my very first haiku. That one was included in a collection of haiku - yet another tribute which is long overdue.... I'll be putting it up soon. Expect more haiku coming your way this month! But do keep in mind that I'm a complete novice and I have a LOT to learn when it comes to form poetry.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Poem: I See, They See

I see
The green leaves freshly
Laundered after rain;
They see
Chlorophyll pulsing
Throughout the leaf vein.

I see
The restless river flowing
Like an impetuous teen set free;
They see
Hydrogen and oxygen
Forming molecules, each of atoms three.

I see
The sky blushing scarlet
As the sun sinks into sleep;
They see
Shorter waves scattering
Letting the longer ones seep.

I see
The arduous path of thorns and brambles
Curving with coarse beauty;
They see
Another: a red-carpeted alley
To white-collared duty.


I see the art in nature; some people see the science. I want to explore the unexplored; some want me to follow the same old path that everyone else follows. Now the question is: what should I choose - adventure and unpredictability or safety and security? A poem written while stuck in this quandary (aka choosing a career) that doesn't look like it's going to end soon. Inspired by Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Poem: Silver

I am silver
Killing werewolves who
Feast upon my confidence.
I will avenge.

I am silver
Glowing like the moon
Through mediocre darkness.
I will shine.

I am silver
Anchoring myself
Against the pull of the past.
I will persevere.

I am silver
Retaining lustre
Impervious to corrosion.
I will prevail.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Of Changes and Choices

"The only constant in the world is change."

This statement is one of my all-time favourites because of its profoundness and the use of contrasting words to describe a universal truth. Be it a sunny sky giving way to a thunderstorm, my decision to choose a new flavour at Baskin Robbins because I got bored of the old one or when oppressed people revolt against tyranny, change is everywhere. From the infinitesimal quarks to the infinite universe, everything is in a continuous process of change.

Without change, we'd still be the savages of prehistoric times, clad in animal skin and eating shoots and leaves. Change is the very essence of life, preventing it from being dull or monotonous.

And it is one of my biggest fears.

Change means taking chances and venturing into uncharted territory, which entails a lot of what-ifs that drive me crazy. What if I fail? What if others ridicule me? I need to know what's going on and what's going to happen before I make I choice; while the former is possible, the latter, most often not. I'm afraid whether my choice will take me to a situation worse than the present. I know this feeling all too well - you get used to it when you lose crucial points in a quiz while guessing an answer. What if it's wrong? (But then, what if it's correct?)

This epiphany about changes and choices was probably the result of the soul-searching while Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" was being taken in English. Anyway, I resolved to take one small step towards conquering this fear of mine by going forward with a change I've been deferring for a long time: changing the name of this blog.

Yes, I'm afraid whether I will come to regret this decision, like Gogol Ganguli changing his name to Nikhil in The Namesake. Because a name isn't just that. It is your identity, something that defines you, something other people recognize you by. I'm anxious whether people will say, "The old name was better." But I feel this step is one I have to take, to break free from the juvenileness associated with the title "My Li'l World."

And so, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Metamorphosis. Where cocoons of ideas transform into moths of fulfillment.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Short Story: Chromosomes XX

Not-so-dear husband of mine,

The clock claims that it’s only an hour and a half since the alcoholic storm began. It must be lying, since it feels like aeons to me. An eternity of punches and slaps and kicks, of cuts and scratches and bruises.

And I did not scream, not even once.

I know that frustrates you. Maybe that’s why I remain silent throughout the daily tortures – I like to think it as my only way of rebelling, though it only serves to infuriate you further. The pleasure of not giving you the satisfaction of knowing for sure that you’d hurt me, that’s what sustains me through the night. But today, you went too far: You slapped Asha for crying loudly.

“Shekhar’s boy is nice and well-behaved! Why can’t this accursed brat just shut up!” you growled. As if my brother-in-law’s spoiled betaa hadn’t bawled when he was four months old. I would have said all that, and much more, but I was too fond of my life and that of my daughter’s to test your patience. But it was as if your slap had jolted me, not Asha, out of my stupor. It brought me to my senses and now I know what I have to do.

Even the full moon is finding my actions blasphemous; it has stormed away behind a cloud, trying to deter me with darkness. But nothing, nothing, will stop me from taking this chance.

Because I can easily see my daughter  growing up into a beautiful woman, only to get caught in that vicious cycle that I, my mother, my grandmother and great-grandmothers all lived… only to replay the sorrows we had to live through. 

I can see her, eight years old, draped in an old red cloth, eyes lined with kohl and hands daubed in mehendi, adjusting the countless bead necklaces around her and flashing a pretty smile at the imaginary onlookers at her “wedding”. Her naïveté makes me want to cry. 

I can see her grow and discover all what she had missed in the hullabaloo of hide-and-seek and hopscotch: her father’s icy indifference towards her, the pitying looks her parents received when people learned they had a girl, the disapproving creases in the elders’ foreheads  as she studied diligently while skipping a chore or two…

I can see her glowing with pride as her teacher praised her work and said, sadly, that she was destined for greatness. I can see her, at fifteen, eyes flashing in anger as she was placed under house arrest while the boys went off to the city for higher studies.

I can see her watching her father bargaining with the ladkewale over the dowry. I can see that bitter smile on her face as she thinks how uncannily he resembles her mother haggling with the greengrocer over the prices of the vegetables.

I can see her getting married for real, her destiny knotted with that of a burly man she’d never even seen before.

I can see the terror and grief on her face as she sees her father’s lifeless body hanging from the rafters of her childhood home. On the floor, her mother lies, spread-eagled, an empty bottle of rat poison clutched in her cold hands. A crumpled piece of paper proclaims about a loan that could not be repaid.

I can see her kneeling in front of the temple, praying fervently for her unborn child not to be a girl. Please let it be a boy, she will plead as the camphor seeped through the morning air, I’ll do anything, anything, to prevent a child sharing my fate. If she was lucky, she would be lead a better life, compared to enduring the taunts and the scathing comments about giving birth to a girl. I can see her wondering how her mother-in-law could forget that she herself possessed XX chromosomes. (You’ve forgotten the lesson on Genetics, back in tenth standard, haven't you? I thought so.)

I can easily see history repeating itself. And as Asha’s tiny fist close around my little finger as a grapevine coils around a support, yearning for strength, I realize it’s time I became her greatest support. It’s time someone rewrote the storyline that has been parroted for generations. It’s time I earned my freedom. It's time I just left.

And, for once, I want to scream out loud. I want to scream in wild joy, scream without inhibitions.

Refusing to be yours,
A woman, and proud of it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Poem: Songs of My Blood

My blood wants to sing.
So I tear open my veins
Letting the blue blood gush forth
From its narrow confines,
Pulsing in wild joy.

My blood tries to sing.
For a fleeting moment,
It throbs with wordless emotion
Seeking expression, but
Sinking into lethargy.

My blood sings,
Echoing the wails of the beloved
But muting the heartbreak;
Reflecting the grief, the regrets,
But fogging their dizzying depths.

My blood once sang,
Weaving melodious words
Into tales and epics.
But now it sings
Tonelessly.


A/N: Ugh. Writer's block is as bad as a common cold: It may be trivial, but it has an outrageously immense capacity of frustrating the affected. And what better way to combat writer's block than write a poem about it?
        I'm not 100% satisfied with this one, but at least it's a start. Here's to a speedy recovery from a suddenly-malfunctioning-vocabulary and pages of struck-out writing!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Poem: I Can't Pretend

I can't pretend that
I did not see
Someone being murdered
With the ease of reaping paddy with sickles.

I can't pretend that
I did not hear
The blood being washed off,
Hands absolving themselves of blame.

I can't pretend that
I did not smell
The glee lurking in the air
As vote banks were looted.

I can't pretend that
I did not taste
The saltiness of beloved tears
That few saw in their race for power.

I can't pretend that
I did not feel
That my silence fuels
This politics of spilling blood.

My humble tribute to T.P Chandrasekharan, leader of RMP, who was hacked to death recently. I won't claim to understand political parties and their policies, but no one deserved a brutal end like that. This poem is also a promise to myself that I'll try to stop turning away the moment I hear 'politics' and make my voice heard against such atrocities.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Poem: It Rankles When...

It rankles when
They turn down your plea
For new poster colours
And say,
It's not as if you're the next Picasso.

It rankles when
They refuse to buy
A pair of binoculars
And say,
Who are you - the future Salim Ali?

It rankles when
They don't allow you
To use the computer
And say,
Don't act like you're the 21st century Chekhov.

It rankles when
They have no patience
For you playing the piano
And say,
You're not going to be Mozart; leave us alone.

It rankles when
They just don't realize that
We put our hearts in our art
And that
Words, ideas and birds don't wait, like time and tide.

This poem is dedicated to all those unlucky adults who are ignorant of the joy that we "amateurs" experience when we are involved in doing what we love, be it drawing, writing or singing. And also to the ones who don't understand that we might not be professionals or legends, but we're every bit dedicated as they are.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Untitled Because I Can't Find the Right Words

I'd set the alarm for 8 in the morning, thinking that I'd at least be up early on Doomsday: 26th of April 2012.

Of course, I switched it off and snored away until ten. Though how I managed to sleep is something that still amazes me - after all, at precisely 11.30 am, my destiny would finally present itself. The SSLC results. The cause of sleepless nights, the subject of my nightmares. While all seniors and adults may mock or scorn my words ("You have much more to face, my dear"), let me remind them that this was my first experience with a major exam and I was perfectly entitled to freak out.

That day, the sky seemed to be sympathizing with my mood, perhaps the mood of every 10th standard student. It was overcast, a sombre grey, as if mourning the hopes that were to be shattered soon. The light drizzle further dampened my spirits. I quietly went through my morning routine and picked up the newspaper, staring vacantly at the article on the announcement of SSLC results. It sprouted all the usual rubbish: completion of the evaluation in record time, expected pass percentages...

My mom's order to sweep the house finally broke through my inertia. After a little bit of complaining, throwing dirty looks and futile mutinying, I set upon the tedious chore, dragging out a job of fifteen minutes into an hour. My eyes kept flitting nervously to the clock all the while. Eleven o'clock.

Propping open dad's laptop, I drummed my fingers nervously on its edge as the screen flickered to life, humming the signature tune of Windows. Even the normally quick-to-respond PC seemed a bit sluggish. I opened up four different sites; three of them were as blank as my face when asked a sports-related question. I turned to the fourth webpage, the one by the IT@School venture, which brought on a small grin on my face with its cheery colours of blue and green. The Submit button below the text box for entering the Register Number was disabled.

The next half-hour progressed slowly, painfully.

11.30 am. My heart seemed to be doing a marathon. Calm down, I told myself, trying not to think about the only A (for Maths, duh!) among the crowd of A-pluses. Nothing's going to happen if you lose an A+, I soothed my panicking mind, It's not the end of the world.

That dormant being in my brain suddenly woke up and snorted. Who are you trying to convince?

Before I could even shut that annoying voice out, the 'submit' button was enabled. I furiously punched in 193213, with my family peering anxiously over my shoulder. Anticlimactically, the screen showed the familiar Error 404 - File not found. Biting back a scream of frustration, I tried once more. Same result. On the fourth frantic attempt, however, there was no sign of the 404. The page was taking its time to load. This is it, I muttered, clenching my fists. The I-can't-breathe sensation in my chest intensified...

... And the results flickered onscreen. My eyes immediately sought the Mathematics column. A little, black A+ stood against the stark white background.

What came out of my mouth was a semi-hysterical squeal, loud and shrill enough to rival an ambulance siren.

The following hour was a blur of congratulatory phone calls, SMS-s and Facebook posts. My joy knew no bounds as I learned that my three best friends scored A-pluses in all subjects as well. I mentally yelled, "In your face, suckers!" to all the so-called 'cool' gangs in my school who looked down on us as a quartet of book-loving mutants.

A little while later, when the exhilaration began to subside like a receding tide, I withdrew into the little room upstairs. The feeling of isolation it exuded had made it my favourite spot to brood. Now I found myself looking back upon the past eight years - the time I spent at Presentation - marvelling how, in retrospect, eight years felt like eight minutes.

For a moment, I wished for my world to continue like this, a celebration, forever. For things to stay as they were, not blotted by regrets of the past or worries about the future.

But then, with a smile, I remembered Percy Jackson's words to Annabeth Chase in The Last Olympian, though they were spoken in quite different circumstances: I didn't want things to stay the same for eternity, because things could always get better. 

*********************

P.S. In other unrelated news, the blog has crossed the 1,000 page-view milestone! A thousand thank-yous to every single reader who has contributed to the success. Keep reading and commenting!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Battle of the Books: Harry Potter vs. Twilight

This is an improved version of what I wrote for one of my friends. Many thanks to my junior at PHSS, Javed Hussain, and all those pages in Facebook for providing powerful ammunition against Twilight.

    

All rabid fangirls (and guys) of Twilight, please don't shriek or scream as you read this. We Potterheads believe that wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure, not in voicing your (illogical) arguments vociferously.

Harry Potter is so infinitely better than Twilight that the two should not even be compared. But alas, I have to do this so I can at least claim to have tried to cure some people of their blind worship of Twilight. Come on people, J.K Rowling wrote a far better love story in one chapter - The Prince's Tale in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - than Stephenie Meyer managed to do in like, what, 4 books?

My love for the Twilight Saga extends only up to the name of the books and their cover arts. They are rather symbolic; for example, New Moon depicts the darkest time of Bella's life at Forks. The cover art of Twilight shows a fruit resembling an apple, standing for the forbidden fruit - an obvious allusion to Bella breaking all known norms of normalcy by dating a vampire.

With a few examples, let me prove why Twilight qualifies as the worst (best?) teenage trash ever written. First, the plot - the most basic thing a novel should possess. The books don't even have proper ones. I can sum up all four Twilight books in one sentence: A girl falls in love with a guy who turns out to be a vampire and they live happily ever after despite a few minor hurdles like evil vamps, an army of newborns etc.

I dare all Twihards to summarize the Harry Potter series like this. You can't even sum up even one HP book, let alone the whole series. There you go. The Twilight books drag on an on as Bella Swan drones about her life. 99% of the paragraphs don't end without at least one reference to Edward's godly looks *pukes* The climax comes in the last two chapters or so, the preceding ones being just fillers. Plus, Stephenie Meyer seems incapable of using normal words like 'talkative', instead preferring to use substitutes like 'verbose'. Sorry to burst your bubble, Meyer, but using the thesaurus does not a good novel make. Especially when the words have been used in the wrong context. (This apart from the needless tense changes, abuse of punctuation marks, wordiness - oops, verbosity!)



On the other hand, J.K Rowling gets her message across strikingly in a few simple words. The best proof would be Fred Weasley's death in the Battle of Hogwarts, described as "the ghost of his last laugh still etched upon his face" - a fitting tribute for a prankster whose mission was to spread laughter. I shudder to think what Stephenie Meyer would have come up with in a similar situation. But then, there isn't even one casualty (in the so-called "good side") in her books. This makes the Twilight Saga completely unrealistic; after all, in wars, a lot of people die, be they good or bad. In Eclipse, the biggest loss during the Cullens/werewolves' fight with the newborn vampires were Jacob Black's bones. Which were later healed, of course.
 
Next: character development. This is one of the reasons why I love Harry Potter and loathe Twilight. The world is not black and white - there are many shades of gray. People just cannot be labelled and put into boxes. But that is what exactly Meyer does in her books. Edward's handsome. Bella is clumsy. Her dad is quiet, and she gets it from him. End of story.

Being a Potterhead, I have just two words in reply: Severus Snape.


In Harry Potter, the character range is so vast and vibrant that they leave a permanent mark on us. For me, the reason why the series became a phenomenon is that despite all the fantasy, all the magic, we can identify with the characters and the trials they undergo. Their lives mimic our own, replete with friendships, crushes, internal and external conflicts, coping with grief/loss. We see for ourselves the importance of courage, of standing up for what we believe is right, of cooperation, of trust. We can even draw parallels between our corrupt bureaucracy and the Ministry of Magic; between the racism that exists in our world today and the blood discrimination in the wizarding community. And as we witness the evolution of characters, we learn that magic cannot solve all problems.


Another aspect where Twilight is an epic fail is consistency. In HP, the characters and situations and backdrops are woven seamlessly into one magical plot line; mistakes can rarely be spotted. J.K Rowling (and her editors) make sure that a character doesn't state one thing in one line and end up contradicting the same in the very next. In Twilight, it is explicitly stated that Bella is not allowed to call her father by his name. However, she does... and what's more, Charlie doesn't seem to notice it at all!

But this takes the cake: Isle Esme, where Bella and her controlling boyfriend - now husband - go for their honeymoon, is apparently off the west coast of Brazil. Now take a look at the map:


Any kid with a basic understanding of geography and the sense to read a map knows that Brazil does not have a west coast. Conclusion: Stephenie Meyer would've been eliminated in the first round of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Her editor wouldn't even have made it past the prelims.

On to the core of the matter - the female lead. Which self-respecting and sane teenager takes pleasure in knowing that a bloodsucking vampire kept watching her as she slept? Bella Swan is an insult to the concept of a strong female protagonist. She is shallow, hypocritical, manipulative - basically, just another damsel in distress, always dependent on her 'knight in shining armour' to solve her problems - completely sexist and not to mention, cliched. Her whole world is excessively Edward-centric and her incessant whining about how she doesn't deserve him is insufferable.

In Deathly Hallows, Hermione Granger stuck to her duties and helped destroy Voldemort even when Ron deserted her. And what did Bella do when Edward left? Moped about for months and finally jumped off a cliff! If that doesn't reek of male chauvinism, what does? And in no way can Bella be a role model for young girls - for Merlin's sake, she became pregnant at EIGHTEEN!

Harry Potter is about facing adversities, big or small, with courage. The seven books proclaim that love is the greatest magic of all, because many events in the books boiled down to Lily Potter's sacrifice for her son and how her love continued to shield him even after her death at the hands of Lord Voldemort. And let's face it, "Twilight is about how important it's to have a boyfriend", to borrow Stephen King's words.


And don't even get me started on the movies. The Twilight Saga may have raked in billions of dollars, with the help of franchises like MTV which inflate the Twi-hype. But that doesn't stop them from sucking (pun intended). How many of the Twihards watch the movies because you honestly like them, not to ogle at Robert Pattinson or Taylor Lautner? (May or may not depend on your allegiance to Team Edward or Team Jacob.) Do NOT bring up Kristen Stewart's acting - she shows as much emotion as a wall of bricks. Emma Watson trumps her any day.


The only aspect where the movies score is with the music, that is, if Twihards manage to look past the romance. Featuring a repertoire of artists like Paramore, Christina Perri, Bruno Mars and Muse, the soundtrack has almost always garnered favourable reviews. Though I think the background score for HP is even better, especially when Alexandre Desplat composes. Interestingly, he also composed the score for New Moon. 

There's a lot more. I could give a lecture on this topic, but I don't want to turn into Professor Binns. Anyway, even with the overwhelming evidence that the Harry Potter beats Twilight hands down, if you still don't accept it, then.... no, I won't suck your blood. You'd better consult me and I'll try to take off the Imperius Curse that Stephenie Meyer has put on you.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Drabbling About Exams

Phew.

I finally managed to get the ghost called SSLC out of my house. Well, not completely, seeing that the results are to come in May. And looking back on ten (twelve?) years of slogging, I feel as if the weight of the sky has been lifted off my shoulders. And I'm bracing myself for the 'more to come' part.

However, I'm enjoying the present, before I'm packed off to Plus One this June. One full month of pure bliss: ice-creams and sleep. And of course, storybooks. My poor darlings have been neglected for a long time... and four new ones are waiting to be rescued from my mom's ultra-secure wardrobe.

Then back to the results in May, the subsequent hungama of admissions, blah, blah, blah.

Won't. Think. About. It.

Enough of the rambling. Now, the SSLC exams provided a lot of stuff for me to brood on like adults' general attitude towards the exams, how students face it and so on. My observations inspired me to write a few drabbles - really brief works of fiction (or in this case, fictionalized reality). This is my first attempt at 'drabbling' and I hope you like it.
 
Obsession
She had, until the eve of D-day, managed to keep her cool.

But then the phone wouldn't stop ringing. Even the doorbell. And as the number of posts on her Facebook wall skyrocketed, her heart raced.

Nosy neighbours. Relatives she didn't even know existed. The local greengrocer. She lost track of the number of "All the best!" she had received.

They meant well, she knew, but where were they during her 9th standard Annual Exams?

Competition
"My pens were blessed by the priest of the temple near my house!"
"Oh yeah? Mine was blessed at Mookambika."

As they fought over whose pen was more blessed, the bell rang. The question papers awaited them in the exam halls. The aura of blessing evaporated  from their faces in the sweltering heat.

Art
Art has no survival value, but rather it is one of the things which give value to survival. - C.S Lewis

Then, wasn't writing exams the opposite of art? It determined their survival in this madhouse of mark-obsessed parents, school managements and recruiters. It determined whether they'd be able to keep their sanity or lose it in the Labyrinth of career choices.

But it certainly, definitely, did not make surviving worthwhile.

Dilemma
Option A? Option B?

Must be B, seems logical! Even A seems possible. Choose B. Strike it off! A is the answer!
Her mind went back and forth between the choices like a clock's pendulum, even as the Titan watch on her hand ("You need to pace your writing, dear!") ticked away like a time bomb.

Exhausted
Her head was spinning in circles, triangles and cyclic quadrilaterals.

Formulas and proofs raced in her mind at the speed of light - no, that's physics, moron, focus on the question - and flowed through her veins instead of blood. Her hand was numb with writing out all that her mother had drilled into her head the past month.

Five minutes later she gave up the paper in relief, trying to gather the energy that had drained out of her in the past two and a half hours just like the blue ink out of her ball-point pen.

Post-mortem
Though the final bell had rung, their exam wasn't over. They had yet to cross examine what went wrong and what didn't. Where did the marks die and how? Analyze what led to the death, prepare a report and then present it to the all-powerful jury of two members - their parents.

But could a dead exam return to life?

Freedom
As soon as the bell rang, she ran.

She ran like the wind, scattering her worries and troubles away like fallen leaves. She left behind the hours of tensed revising, the 'tactics for saving time' lectures from her mother, the confidence-boosting quotes on the Post-Its, the countdown until this day.... the day she'd been waiting for. The last day.

Who said Independence day was August 15th???

Sacrifice
Her parents sacrificed their sleep. Her sister sacrificed her time for watching Phineas and Ferb. Her brother sacrificed his hobby of listening rock music at full volume. Her grandma even sacrificed her 24/7 ritual of nagging.

She, of course, took it for granted.

But when the housemaid braved a crippling backache and came on time so that she wouldn't have to write the exams on an empty stomach, her throat choked up in gratitude.


Identity
She wasn't her anymore.

She wasn't the apple of her parents' eyes. She wasn't that girl who'd read anything she got on her hands, be it a railway timetable or a torn newspaper. She wasn't the girl who loved country music. She wasn't the 'nerd' who watched quiz shows on TV, instead of the dragged-out soap operas.

She was the girl with a new identity: That girl with 9 A+ and an A.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Short Story: Carpe Diem

He watched as she walked down the aisle, the flair of her impeccable white gown swirling around her willowy frame.

They’d grown up together, the noisy, mischievous boy and the quiet, clumsy girl next door. While he was the older one, by a year – not a year! Just eight months! Her indignant voice rang in his head – they were best friends from the time they were in their diapers. The two of them were around each other so much that their names always flew of others’ tongues together. Like bread and butter. Table and chair.

Lily and Chris.

A three-year old Chris pulled the blankets up to his chin as his mother began the bedtime story. “In a land far, far away, there lived a very brave prince called Chris. He was a good person and all the people of his land loved him. One day, a messenger from another kingdom came to his palace. The messenger said, ‘My king requests the brave prince Chris to rescue his daughter, Princess…’”

His mother faltered as she tried to come up with a name for the princess.

"Lily! Princess Lily!” the toddler supplied his playmate’s name.

Smiling, his mother continued the story, narrating how Prince Chris set out on his horse, fought many beasts, killed a dragon, tamed evil spirits and finally defeated the wicked wizard who had kidnapped Princess Lily. “… The princess was brave as well – she did not cry even when she was all alone in the dark room. Prince Chris, amazed at her courage, asked her father permission to marry her… and the king happily agreed. And so, Prince Chris and Princess Lily lived joyfully ever after.”

“Mama”, little Chris asked, blinking, “So will I marry Lily?”

The amused mother’s peals of laughter pierced the silence of the night.


He was Lily’s knight in shining armour, standing by her even through the “girls-have-cooties” stage, defending her against all the playground bullies. She was his partner-in-crime while stealing chocolates from the refrigerator and pranking their mothers with plastic lizards.

As they left behind their dolls and action figures, they grew to be each others' personal diary and encyclopaedias of the others' likes and dislikes. They may have been like chalk and cheese – the popular guy and the wallflower – but to each other, they were books for kindergartners, easy to read and comprehend. Chris and Lily knew each other not like the back of their own hands, but much better than that.

But somewhere along the line, somehow, Lily became… mysterious. Chris panicked. He couldn’t understand what had gone wrong, why he could no longer read her like he used to. She still was the same old endearingly clumsy, bookish Lily – the only reason why he got his homework done, the one who went gaga over stories and poems, the girl who easily scored the highest marks and yet freaked out on the eve of exams – but something had changed.

Chris found himself mesmerized by the way her frizzy black hair wouldn’t stay put, the way her doe-like eyes shone when she talked about the newest book in the library. He began to notice how pretty her toothy grin was. It was as though his neurons were injected with caffeine whenever Lily was around; his senses went on high alert – he saw the little dimples on her cheek, he smelt her strawberry shampoo, he heard the echoes of her words…

… And he felt guilty. For the first time in his life, he’d kept secrets from his best friend. But he couldn’t do anything about it and contented himself with weaving fairytales around the two of them.

However, it took just a day to bring him crashing back to reality.

In a mad rush to catch the bus, his mom’s words went unheard. He was getting late for school, and there always was the evening, right?

There wasn’t.

Chris breathed in the nauseous smell of Dettol as he paced the hospital corridor, his despairing gaze flitting to the closed doors of the Emergency Unit. His mom wouldn’t go, not because of a damn truck that rammed into her car. Mother would put up a fight. She had to.

The agonizing wait for some news on his mother’s condition was put to an end fifteen minutes later by a doctor’s regretful announcement.

Chris relived the day his four-year-old self had been separated from his mother in a crowded park.

Now, at seventeen, he felt the same way – terrified, helpless and alone.


Acceptance was painful, but even more painful was letting go.

Chris managed to pick up the shards of his broken life and reassemble them, albeit different than earlier. But getting through even a single day seemed tougher than usual, and several times he was struck by the thought that he had often taken his mother for granted. How had she managed to find his school tie beneath his badminton racquets? How had she prepared his favourite fruit trifle? How had she found time to sew the buttons on his shirt when she had dozens of other work to do? And what had she said that morning? Why, oh why hadn’t he stopped to hear her out?

Through the sudden turn his life had taken, Lily became his rock, even more so than before. She quietly listened as he rambled about his mother and lent her shoulder so that he could cry out all his pain. With her by his side, he stumbled through Plus Two, the entrance exams and four years of slogging in Mechanical Engineering. And in the middle of all these, the butterflies in his stomach, which had vanished after his mother’s death, fluttered with increasing vigour whenever Lily was in vicinity.

Finally, steeling his nerves, he decided to confess.

Lily was in her garden, potting a new chrysanthemum plant. Even with her mud-caked hands and the streak of dirt, she looked beautiful, he thought. He stood at the gate, not realising that he was staring.

“Oh come on in, TISCO’s latest recruit. I won’t hug you and dirty your t-shirt... but congrats!”

He smiled and kneeled down beside her, helping her with the gardening. “Thanks. And no, I wasn’t worried about you sliming my brand new tee. It was more like being wary about that spade in your hand.”

Not a total lie, he reflected. After all, she could as well use it on him once he got off what was on his mind.

“I’m not that clumsy!” Lily protested, trying to brush her hair off her eyes without getting mud on it. Chris unconsciously leaned forward and swept her hair back. Her eyes held his like magnets to iron filings.

Come on, idiot, just three words! His mind screamed.

He’d spent the whole night in front of the mirror, practising what to say. But now that zero hour was here, the words lodged themselves in his suddenly dry throat, refusing to come out.

“Hello? Chris?” A concerned Lily snapped her fingers in front of his eyes, bringing him out of his reverie. “You zoned out a bit there. Are you tired? Go and rest, I can get this done on my own!”

Chris forced a smile and stormed back to his house, furious with himself.


And here he was on the altar, seven months after his botched attempt to confess his love for the girl who always had his heart. The day had unfolded like he had always imagined it to, except Lily had not tripped, but conducted herself with an uncharacteristic grace.

And except for the fact that he was the best man.

“Carpe diem, Chris, seize the day!”