Guldasta

A bouquet of flowers picked along the way ….

Jagjit Singh, 1941-2011 October 10, 2011

Filed under: Inspiration,nostalgia,poetry — gurdas @ :

Jagjit Singh in concert at Durham, NC. April 2009.

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“Jaggu-Chittu” was how we addressed the pair when in high school. Their music lifted our hearts, had us sing to our loves, and connected us to the mysterious. Chittu took her voice away after the loss of her son. And now, Jaggu is gone. I did not know him personally. Nor have I met him, though I did attend a concert 2 years ago. And yet this seems like a personal loss. In fact, my first personal great singer loss. Because the way I associate with Rafi, Kishore, and Jagjit is unlike any other singer, except maybe Lata and Asha but they are both alive. Rafi sahib passed away when I was learning the alphabets. Kishore da said goodbye when I was still a kid. And so their loss did not register the way this one did. My thoughts go back to that evening, some 15 years ago, when listening to the album Insight, I peeled a few layers off my ignorance.

अच्छी सांगत पा के संगी बदले रूप, जैसे मिल के आम से मीठी हो गयी धुप| (from the track Dohe in the album Insight)
Translation: In the company of the good, you acquire goodness. Just the way sunshine becomes sweet upon meeting the ripe mango.

जगजीत साहिब, आपने जिन शब्दों को आवाज़ दी, वोह हम हमेशा गुनगुनाते रहेंगे| ताकि आपकी अच्छी सांगत हमेशा साथ रहे|

Also see this previous post.

 

the joy of darkness November 18, 2010

Filed under: Children,India,Me,nostalgia — gurdas @ :

Mann Hall, third floor

Mann Hall, which houses the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering was plunged into “darkness” for a few hours today due to a transformer failure. In the two and a half years I have been here this is the first such incident. And it was tons of fun! No internet and spooky corridors. There was enough light in the corridors and rooms with windows while some of the inner rooms, like my office, did not. During my stay here, I have experienced Mann Hall every possible hour of the day. Some day I was here at 9 pm, another day at 1 am, and yet another day at 5 am. Yes, every one of those 24 hours. And I have never ever seen the corridors without man made light. Until today. It felt eerie for a moment, as if the building had been killed. But within no time, I was having fun, working in the dark, experiencing the corridors, or just chit chatting with fellow researchers about this “event”.

And my mind wandered to younger days in India when load shedding was a commonly heard phrase. It would be 8 pm and the young me would be reluctantly struggling with boring history texts when suddenly, poof!, we’d be thrown into darkness. In that split second following power outage, I know for sure, every child’s face was lit with joy. If our teeth had any irradiance it might have blinded our families, such was the total number of teeth flashing across the neighbourhood. With peals of laughter we’d spill into the streets outside and start playing. History was history and the present was running amok or hiding, depending on the game. We’d continue till power was restored and our mothers would call for us to come home. Exams were an exception because it meant studying under the flickering light of a lamp or a candle; we had battery operated electric lights only later.

City life is mostly artificial and insulates us from relishing the natural joys abound around us . So much so that we are bereft of the amazement that comes from looking at a star studded sky. “Lights out” restored some of that balance. And in those hours of darkness I had some of my brightest moments.

 

worth a watch March 14, 2010

Filed under: family,love,Me,nostalgia — gurdas @ :

my watch, since 1992

An ordinary watch made extraordinary by its survival. 18 years and counting.

I was all of 15 when my father gave me this Titan timepiece. Since then it has stayed on my wrist about 20 hours a day and 365 days a year. And it has not stopped for one single moment except when needing a battery, o-ring, or glass replacement.

I remember it cost a mere Rs. 450 ($10) or thereabouts. It has been my only wrist watch from the day it came into my life and I hope to maintain that till it ticks. The many years of wear has weathered it, just like me. Its steel body has scars and dents and the dial face has yellowed along the edges. I keep it clean by washing it under running tap water using soap and a toothbrush! Wonder how many people do that with their watch. I do.

Over the years, it has lost some of its water resistance and the display fogs when it is subjected to one of my cleaning sessions or rainfall. I am guessing it will last a few more years and will then rest in peace in my wardrobe.

To remind me of my loving father. And to remind me that the difference between ordinary and extraordinary is the ‘extra’ distance travelled.

 

Is – Was – Will Be November 14, 2009

Filed under: Inspiration,life,nature,nostalgia — gurdas @ :
Tags: , ,

“The COSMOS is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us – there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries” – Carl Sagan, Chapter 1, Cosmos

Cosmos

Carl Sagan's celebrated TV series and book - Cosmos

I saw the series on TV when I was all of 13. I sat wide eyed as Carl Sagan spoke poetically about the love of his life. About Life. About the Cosmos. About human endeavour and discovery. About curiosity and scientific exploration. I did not understand all he was saying. But my awe and amazement was unbound. My fate was sealed. I was to pursue a career that stays close to science.

CarlSagan_Cosmos_BackCover_small

Carl Sagan, photo scanned from the back cover of his book, Cosmos

 

19 years later nothing has changed. I am still as curious. I am still a wide eyed 13 year old boy watching in wonderment the magic that unfolds around me everyday. November 7 was Carl Sagan Day, and when my friend Jim posted this on his facebook profile, the idea germinated that we celebrate this extra-ordinary man’s life by sharing his vision. We were disappointed that we did not gather a crowd for the “trial” screening, but the pleasure of watching Episode 1 on a big screen was no less. And the Cosmos wanted to say “Hi!”, so the day brought what I believe to be one of the most momentous Cosmic events of my very brief lifetime. NASA announced that  LCROSS impact data indicates water on Moon.

We plan to establish a Carl Sagan society on campus, spread word to where enthusiasts could be (say the Physics department), and make this an annual event.

Carl Sagan said goodbye in December 1996, and as he would have liked to say, so returned star dust to where it came from.

 

run to you June 19, 2009

Filed under: family,love,Me,nostalgia — gurdas @ :

In a distant land, on a hot, dry day, my thoughts wander to younger years. I would return home from school around 3 pm, preoccupied with thoughts of playing. What would follow is a battle of wits between mother and me. She would like me to stay at home until the afternoon has mellowed and the Sun isn’t scorching hot. I was of the opinion that the Sun is too trivial a reason to stop me from playing. Usually mother had her way.

But sometimes I would cheat. Upon reaching home, I would slip my fingers into the crack between the window shutters, open the window, throw my school bag in, and run. The bag always landed on the bed mother used for sleeping, so she would wake up and shout after me “come back, it is too hot!” That 12 year old Gurdas could not have cared less. In fact, I’d be running as fast as my legs could go and probably be out of earshot by the time mother would wake up.

Today, I can hear her voice playing in my head and notice how much love there is. I wish my mother was around to scold me for that too is laden with love. She is old, her skin has wrinkled, and old age has settled in. But mother, this son of your is a kid who wants to hear your voice, feel your caress, plant a kiss, and get wrapped in a hug. And mother, June is still hot and I still want to run away. Only this time I want to run to you.

 

Kick it On! February 29, 2008

The year was 1985 and I was in the middle of my first crush. On a certain Ms. Rashmi, my 3rd grade Science teacher.

Sometime during those wonder years, we got our first television set. The brand, Televista, now dead for more than a decade, was a household name then. With a 20inch screen, Black&White capabilities, a blue tinted add-on screen to give some colour, and only one channel (state run Doordarshan), this marvel of technology made my home the evening watering hole for the neighbourhood.

8pm on Wednesdays were specially packed. That was when the great Indian song show “Chitrahar” was on air. Supriya, Sujata, Bantu, Pupoon, Guddi, Jhumri and just about everyone between 4 and 14 years and within 50meters of my house would assemble into a small 11feet by 11feet room. Limbs got crushed, clothes lost their shape and nobody cared who sat next to them. On days when Mom was feeling particularly happy, she would pass around those crispy crackers that slipped over a finger like a pipe. Each kid got exactly four, so that all fingers on an arm (except the thumb) got dressed in blue, green, yellow and red.

And there was one person in the room whose job was to kick hard. That person was me.

Now this TV of ours, Televista, developed a syndrome of blanking out without warning. Pop!, completely blank it went every once in a while. After it happened a few times, we discovered that kicking the legs of the table (which it sat upon) would invariably bring it back to life. The longer the duration since the last blank, the more kicks it needed. A thumb rule of 1 kick for every 10 minutes. So, if it blanked after 30 minutes of OK performance, all you needed to do was kick it hard 3 times in quick succession.

What a donkey it made of me. Standing there beside it, ready to kick whenever the screen blanked.

But as with all things children, the routine became a game. In the darkness one could hear shouts of “2 kicks!”,  “no only 1”. This put me under tremendous pressure. To salvage my honour I had to ensure I got the TV alive within the guestimated number of kicks. Over the first few weeks, the room developed a palpable tension from waiting for the next blankout. The TV grabbed as much mindspace as the programmes it displayed.

The game grew. Some of my friends started demanding for the “right to kick”. I acquiesced, reluctantly. I am sure that TV of ours gave back more than its value. It provided exercise, healthy competition, better footballers and real fun.

In all the fun, nobody gave a thought to the table. I am informed that the table stood the acid test of being kicked for about 2 years. After which we replaced the Televista.

Where is that table? I must say “thank you” to it.

 

The rebellion of 1994 October 16, 2007

“You cannot start a sentence with ‘but’ or ‘because'”, Mrs. Pandit said in a reprimanding tone as she stared me down.

“Yes, I can”, I said, half expecting to be thrown out of the English Language class. I proved her wrong and she acted hostile for the complete week.

The year was 1994 and my romance with the Queen’s language was at its peak; thanks to the delightful masterpiece “Modern English Usage” by Fowler. I was blind to everything else, including fear of getting into the bad books of the teacher I secretly revered. Mrs. Pandit and I had a strange chemistry. I was never absolutely sure we liked each other and yet at times we were falling short of breath expressing our admiration for the other. She disliked my guts and conspicuous rebellion of some of her language dictums. I disliked her ice-cool demeanour and almost invincible command of the language. I was stubborn, she was stern. Fireworks were guaranteed each time we crossed paths. And the class enjoyed it.

She knew the pride I took in my knowledge of some of the finer nuances of the language. I was embarrassingly bad in certain areas but endearingly elegant in others. My essays never got what, I believe, they deserved. However, once in a while she would write an encouraging remark to keep the rebel within limits. A classic example of carrot and stick approach. But she was good, really good. I hate admitting this, but back then, she was probably better than I.

We also connected outside school. Her elder son was my classmate in previous years so I would visit her house. She used to visit my immediate neighbour and once in while say hello to my parents. God, did I cringe when she did that! And what the hell were my parents doing making small conversation with a sworn enemy?

We parried, cut and medicated each other. Until one day I crossed the line.

I loved the last row of the class. Distant from authoritative teachers, full view of the class crowd and endless gossip on who is going around with whom, the upcoming football match and everything in-between. If there is Heaven on Earth, it had to be the last row of a classroom. That day Mrs. Pandit was spoon-feeding the class with her masterly understanding of Macbeth. While she droned incessantly, trying her best to get some sense into my classmates, I, with my buddies, was lost in ‘personal’ conversation. We did not hear the class going silent, nor did we see them turn and stare at us, some even giggling. Bloody perverts.

“Sunil, Sandeep, Gurdas!”, boomed Mrs. Pandit from beside the blackboard.

“Uh”, said all three of us, coming out of our intense whispered discussion of a certain ‘Miss’.

“It seems you’ll do not need my class”, she said more like a question which should not be answered.

But that was a crazy day and we were heady with spicy stories.

“Yes, we can do without this class”, one of us said. Which one I do not recall.

Followed by an uncomfortable silence as the weight of that sentence sunk into the room. Mrs. Pandit for a second appeared baffled and we could feel ourselves becoming terrified.

“OK, out you’ll go”, said Mrs. Pandit

We walked out with a smirk. We were shit scared but when you have rows and rows of girls waiting to see what happens, there is no option but to act like a man.

“Damn” we said the moment we were in the corridor and out of earshot.

The class ended in 25 eternal minutes and Mrs. Pandit walked out without even a glance at us. This was going to be nasty we thought. Our weekly timetable had the first period as English on four out of five days. The next day Mrs. Pandit walked in and immediately said “OK, out. And go straight to the Principal’s office. I have informed her of what happened yesterday and she would like to talk about it.”

We walked out, not exactly smiling this time. And went straight to the office of Mrs. Datar.

“So, is it true that you informed Mrs. Pandit of not needing to attend the Literature class”, purred a cool Mrs. Datar, clearly enjoying her morning at our expense.

“uh, hmmm Yes”, we said in unison as if that will allow for individual pardon.

“Fine then. Starting today, you are excused from the English class for literature and language until the end of this year”, said Mrs. Datar.

We looked at each other bewildered. That’s it? What kind of punishment is that? Will we get to appear the yearly exams? What of the board exams right after that?

“Your attendance will be marked and you will be allowed to take all exams as usual”, continued Mrs. Datar. What’s the deal with teachers and mothers? Can they hear us think?

We walked out of the Principal’s office hesitantly, unsure whether this was a victory or a defeat. And went straight to the boy’s toilet to relieve ourselves of the nervous mass collecting inside us. Only then did we speak our first words.

“Do you think they will call our parents?”, I asked, remembering that the enemy had sweet access to my camp.
“Let them call if they want”, said Sandeep. Sure! I thought looking at him with a grimace. He had parents who gave two hoots to authority. Mine looked at school like a temple.
“Boss, my dad will throw me out”, said Sunil, hardly audible. Was he choking on himself?
“You come and stay with me then”, said Sandeep, as if that were a real possibility.
“Ya sure. Out of class, out of house and staying with you. What next? We marry each other?”, replied Sunil, regaining some of his famed acerbic humour.

But nothing of that sort happened. To the contrary we made further enemies with our bold demands. The first period (remember was mostly English) begun at 8:20am. The library opened when it struck 8:40am on Mrs. Basu, the librarian’s, wristwatch. We made a case that we had nothing to do and the library should be made available so that we can utilize our time better. Like we really wanted to. An order was passed and the school library started opening at 8:20am, much to the displeasure of Mrs. Basu.

For the next 3months we did not attend any English class. But did keep up with Mrs. Pandit’s notes with help from our only true sympathizers, other backbenchers. All three of us did well in our exams. I excelled in English and topped my batch. But I never approached Mrs. Pandit with my feat, feeling somewhat shy and guilty. On the last day of school, she called out to me in the corridor and congratulated warmly on doing so well in her subject. I think I did not receive that compliment very graciously. Because I knew, if not for her firm guidance, I would never have come so far. And I knew that she knew this. But we did call peace and wished each other well in life.

As time passed I was left with only sweet memories of Mrs. Pandit and we kept in touch one way or the other. Last year (2006), when visiting my hometown, I called Mrs. Pandit and proposed we catch-up. She sounded eager and we fixed a rendezvous that I come down and pick her up from the school where she was vice-principal. I was there well before time, and we spent memorable hours chatting at her place over a cup of tea. She had aged and become more beautiful and earthly. And she thought I had grown into a peaceful, and loving person. I was flattered by that observation. My English teacher was still teaching me, about the language of life and love.

I never fully fathomed the above episode. Mrs. Datar was not known for her kindness and the ‘punishment’ she doled out that day in 1994 was unusual. What had transpired between Mrs. Pandit and Mrs. Datar for her to give us that strange punishment? I will never know. Maybe I will ask Mrs. Pandit when I next meet her.

Lately, Mrs. Pandit has become more visible with a blog and profile on Orkut. She writes moving poetry and “Eternity & other poems”, a compilation of her works, was published by Writers Workshop. The hardback volume is a beautiful maroon red cloth cover with gilded lettering and traditional geometric border. It has a special place in my bookshelf.