A Warm Welcome

We went into Room 101, and I found I already had a roommate. There was a king size bed near me, and I saw two smaller beds: on the sofa (actually a ledge of the window made into a sofa for the room, with blankets and a pillow added to make that sofa into a bed), and one on the floor. They needed to keep as many people as possible in each room: they weren’t cheap. The Sec-Gen said we’d have more the next day. He repeated that there were restaurants below, and the other two organisers came up to the door for a moment. I don’t remember if they said anything. The Sec-Gen told us to rest, and to attend the orientation in the evening. There would be WiFi if we paid some money, and we decided to wait till we had more roommates. Then they left.

It turned out that my roommate was also from Kolkata, and on top of that, he’d been in the coach next to me on my train. He seemed to prefer English, though. He was a year younger. I don’t mean to connect those two thoughts. We decided to take the bed, since we were the first there. He let me take a shower first. I left my suitcase next to the bed, and implicitly laid claim to a small, round table next to it, and a wicker chair. I had three hangers, and there were more in the wardrobe, but I’d end up needing several. Anyway, I took my things (soap, razor, etc.) into the shower.

It was pleasant. I don’t think I’ve ever showered barefoot, but I couldn’t resist trying the stone floor. It took me a long time to get everything running, though – there were things to be turned and pulled. The city was really warm, as my friends had said, but warm water, at long last, was welcome. I apologised when I came out, but my roommate was as polite as ever. He went in, and I tried to figure out where to keep my things – a problem that would plague me for the next few days.

As always, the order of things escape me. I do remember taking a good look around while I was alone. It was a comfortable room. Outside, after parting the curtains next to the sofa, I saw the broad. busy, sunny street I’d crossed. There was a hill close by, on the other side of the road, at the end of a lane. I might as well say this now: Pune is a surprisingly hilly city. Living in the literal artesian well that is Kolkata, I found it remarkable how compound walls were built like stairs, or a room could have part of its floor a step below the rest of the floor. The Symbiosis campus itself was all about walking up and down as much as horizontally.

Now, as I recall, when my roommate came out, I said I was going to eat something, and he decided to busy himself with his laptop. I went down in my modest pyjamas to Papa Johns. Now, I know this casts me in a very plebeian light, but I’d never eaten at Papa Johns before. I went in, and it looked good enough. I had to pay first, then sit, and have my order brought to me – a method I found not unpleasant. I ordered a farm fresh pizza, I think; it was nice. After lunch, I went into the bright sunshine and had a look around. My room was directly above the restaurant, itself immediately left of the entrance to the hotel.

I guess I must have gone back up, after calling Ma. My roommate was sitting on his side of the bed, studying on his laptop. He’d been to several MUNs – ten, I think – and he was in the Nazi War Cabinet. They had to plan Operation Barbarossa.

I never could figure out where to put my stuff. I just set down my razor and soap on a small table, and my socks under it. I’d taken my laptop, but of course it wouldn’t start. I fiddled with the RAM, having brought my trusty screwdriver, but it wouldn’t open, so I just read on my phone.

The next thing I remember was getting dressed to attend the orientation (or call it what you will). I was in my dress shirt and trousers, the way most people remember me from my school days. The two of us went out and took a taxi – they look like autos in Kolkata, the way taxis all over India look. The Symbiosis campus was a few minutes’ ride up the road I’d followed earlier – past the Marriott this time.

When we got there, we couldn’t figure out which was the entrance, because we’d been told to be at one gate, but the security officer asked us to use the other one. But that was the wrong one, and then we went in through the other one when the Secretary-General met us. There was some sort of fiesta on campus, and I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like if that kind of thing happened back home. We walked past the multiracial and multicultural dancing students, to the canteen with a couple of young ladies, whom the good Sec-Gen introduced as fellow delegates and our neighbours at the hotel. The Sec-Gen bought tea for the four of us; I had a coffee. The canteen had a strange feature I don’t remember seeing before: a large part of the floor was a step down from the rest. This is how the hills are carved into Pune – even the rooms have them. My roommate went ahead to the orientation with the Sec-Gen, while I finished chatting up the ladies (let’s not call them girls, shall we?). I asked them if I owed the man a date; he’d payed my taxi fare and bought me coffee, all in the same day.

The orientation went as you’d expect. Some very fun people dressed in casual clothes explained MUNing. It was quite fun, actually. Towards the end, some guy with messy hair came in. I thought he was a delegate; turns out he was one of the coolest people I’d ever meet.

I remember leaving with the Sec-Gen, the ladies, my roommate, and the new guy. We went to a restaurant nearby, where there was supposed to be free WiFi. It was exactly like the low-key eateries you see all over India (including back home), and probably the humblest place I had  the good fortune to be for some time. We drew up chairs to one table and the Sec-Gen and the new guy – let’s call him ‘Messy’ – started giving us free advice on how to MUN. Eventually, we left and crossed the road to get taxis to go back. We all had rooms at the ‘acco’ – the Sahara Hotel. I was in a taxi with my roommate and Messy, and we took a little detour before going back.

Back at the hotel, I went to Messy’s room and met his roommates. Two of them were chairing, if I remember correctly. Very interesting people; value their privacy. I went by the girls’ (let’s call them ‘girls’ for convenience) room next, and helped the one in my committee a little with research by sharing data (something I rarely have to begin with). Let’s call her Pusheen; she was wearing shorts with Pusheen pictures. We’ll call her friend Palestine. They were from Mumbai; turns out it’s okay to call it ‘Bombay’. Palestine said she lived near the cinema in Coldplay’s Hymn for the Weekend video.

It’s been almost a year now, and my memory often fails me in a matter of hours. I think we went to dinner; I couldn’t find my roommate at first. I learnt it was harder to be Jain than vegan, because a Jain eats even fewer things. I made a racist joke that I think everyone liked.

We went back up to Messy’s room, and I know I felt fine. I asked him about how he got into MUNing, and I think he put on some music – he was some sort of music afficionado. Anyway, something about me made him walk me back to my room. Now, look. I know what I felt, and I’m sure I could see the floor straight. Messy insisted, anyway. I do not remember talking to the girls then, but I might have. My lapse in memory now is largely thanks, I repeat, to time. I changed and went to bed. This had been a day when I’d woken up at ten to five, where I normally do at around 7 or 8; I hadn’t slept since, and it had been a long day. I was abnormally tired, and it must have shown.

So in the dark room, I heard my roommate talking to the girls in the room opposite, and I thought I heard them referring to me. Must have seemed drunk when I wished them good night, I thought, and I sat up and got out in my shorts. I went over and told them I was fine, and added that Palestine was really cute.

Anyone who’s known me for a while knows I’m always close to irony, and sometimes, in unguarded moments, I can be a couple of layers of irony down. This was one of those times, I’d say, but it’s pretty hard to defend now. I was later told I was slurring my speech. Impossible, I maintain, but there you go.

And that was it for my first day in Pune. Good times.

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Happy Halloween!

While I don’t normally like to appropriate American traditions, I think Halloween has a sufficiently global character in the present. The NerdMeet pre-gig was certainly fun. Go look at the pictures on Facebook, and if you’re in Kolkata this winter, why don’t you come to the main event?

Yes, I have a lot of work to do – my Pune posts, for one thing. Today, however, I’ll take the opportunity to publish something I wrote a couple of years ago. I’d gotten into college a few months before, and had very recently made friends with Tirtha. A few weeks, I think, before the Pujo vacation started, I was going out through the smaller gate, and so was he, with a few of his classmates. They had a ‘little magazine’ called Slate, and I’d expressed interest in writing for them. Tirtha was on my left, and he put his arm on my shoulder and told me to write.

I revised Lovecraft – it had been a few months since I’d last read him – and wrote a poem after some time, one that I’d been looking forward to penning for months. I kept asking when he needed it, and all he said was I should write it. It was left unfinished for some time, and then completed (about 60-75%) in an afternoon; he’d given me a deadline suddenly, I think, and it was probably as late as January in the next year. Then the deadline was pushed back, and eventually, I made corrections to errors I hadn’t noticed. Much later, I remember making another edit, by which time I was probably nearing the end of First Year. Anyway, they eventually gave up publishing Slate, and my poem waited in Google Docs. I think this blog has gotten to the level where I can publish an old poem. Honestly, though, I’m quite surprised at how that (rather literal) purple passage turned out – it was written in a hurry that afternoon, and probably expressed deeply felt emotions, because I could never find better lines, or even wrap my head around how I’d written them. I find the poem’s title – the file name in Docs – is a little melodramatic, and a little childish, but it’s still fitting. So here it is – with no further modification – my verse tribute to H. P. Lovecraft.

The Apocalypse

I trembled as I glimpsed the pages
That pulled me through the terrible ages
Of Boston’s lanes, where whispers creep
And hideous ghoulish secrets sleep,
And crouching shades haunt basement rooms
And Pickman paints in graveyard glooms;
Of Arkham’s lanes and lonely streets
Where truth with monstrous legend meets,
And shuttered rooms and barren sites
Where witches dance on Sabbath nights,
And Ward calls things from distant space,
And West sews beasts with human face
That lurk in moors and shadowy slums
(As dark as ancient Afric drums
Beating in darkest jungles feared
For monstrous gods and apes revered),
And lanterns huddle near the tower
Where shadows wake at midnight hour,
And shanties leer at sea-washed lanes
Invaded by strange waves and mains,
And fog-veiled cliffs beside the moon
Hear the pale old ocean croon,
And unseen, forgotten courtyards lie
Behind the sprawling city’s eye
Where ruined temples dream of times
Before the distant, ghostly chimes
Stirred Unnameable graveyard mists
On hilltops where the corpse-tree twists,
And star-winds fly with autumn leaves
Around the lamplit gambrel eaves,
And eerie Aldebaran sends,
With Algol, his fell influence
To lightless wells in ashen fields
Where Hell its dark familiars yields,
And Briggs’ Hill Path, where country words
Aver that twilight howls are heard,
And moonstruck frogs and fireflies
Chant and dance for unseen eyes
In darkest swamps, and marshes bleak
Where nameless cults at midnight shriek;
Of rumour-shadowed Innsmouth’s shore
Where South Sea currents try the door
And gaping eyes and carvings weird
Hint at primal secrets feared
That hide in mansions – crumbling long –
While evil waves convey the song
Of sea-born things that croak his name
And Dagon for their father claim;
Or dying Dunwich’s dark old hills
Where devils flit like whippoorwills,
And fires call on Hallow’s night
To gods too hideous for the sight,
And doors are opened, veils are torn,
And demons in the womb are born;
Or of Vermont, where mountain springs
Babble of monstrous forest things
That buzz in dense untrodden wood
That in the farthest slopes have stood:
Such, as star-crazed natives knew
From haunted caves and hilltops flew,
And whisper in steep, unholy vales
Of ancient stones and sunless trails
And settlers in the forests drear –
Where more was heard than fits the ear
Of sanity – had feared the things
That cleave the aether on bat wings;
Or thence to Miskatonic’s books
(Too secret for chance mortal looks)
That tell of Sarnath’s fated fall
Before this age had learned to crawl –
Atlantis or that fabled land
Chronicled in Eibon’s hand,
(In the Old World, where witches wait
And hounds of shadow satiate
Their hunger, and where fears remain
In shivering hamlets in the rain),
Von Junzt’s findings, or the dread
Book of mad Abdul Alhazred
(That hints at star-born creatures lying
For aeons in strange dream, undying,
And nearby spaces where they prowl,
And the cold waste where demons howl):
He, who braved the desert trails
(Whispered in the bedouin tales)
And found the nameless city, dead
Ere Babylon had raised its head,
And crawled through burial catacombs
Where reptile mummies peer from tombs:
Such, as haunt our moonless dreams
When the windy desert screams;
Of darkest Egypt, where the Sphinx,
Of gods forgotten smiles and thinks
(Smiling with a face too old
For ancient mortals to behold),
As tunnels dark with prayers ring
Where strange, inhuman voices sing;
Of South Pacific isles unknown
Where ageless stones have nameless grown
Among the tribes whose furtive ways
Recall the immemorial days
Of elder gods and elder lore –
While secrets lap the silent shore,
And sacrifices to the deep
Are yelled to midnight waves that sleep,
Beneath which ancient beings survive
In nether gulfs where devils dive,
Or rise, and lead the dying men
Into their unhallowed den –
Or rise, when flooded depths regain
Their primal throne above the main:
Prehuman temples rear their heads
From dark, unfathomed ocean beds,
And Dagon’s mighty children sing
To their immortal priest and king;
Of prayers to chaotic forces
That hint at evil, primal sources
Surviving in the sabbath cries
In bloody rites before the eyes
Of idols carved beyond the dim
Interminable cosmos’ rim,
That hint at godless years and places –
Distant, rumoured, ocean spaces
That ancient races saw in dreams
(The nightmare city, that still gleams
In madmen’s visions, till the sea
Dissolve into eternity):
Where madness waits in heights malign
For alien stars that will align:
Great Cthulhu sends his dreams
On black wings to the cult that screams
The prophet’s name, till he return
And worlds destroy and nations burn;
Of Pnakotic scripts, recalling times,
In lavish lands in arid climes
Where deserts stretch, but once had been
Majestic beasts in glades serene,
And ancient minds had travelled down
From voids where sunless planets frown –
With limbs inhuman to compose
Cyclopean halls, that awfully rose
Among the stars and sunset clouds,
Now lost to time and shadowy shrouds –
Where lore of every age was kept,
While an older horror slept,
Before there came oblivious doom:
Where desert halls in moonlight loom;
Or of the vast Antarctic world
Where storms of white eternal whirled
In the cold waste unknown to man,
Uncharted since the world began,
Where sometimes, when the snows subside,
And buried mysteries cease to hide,
The unplumbed ice-sheets shew strange traces
Hinting at forgotten races,
And in the plateaus higher than
The highest mountains known to man,
Curious piles of ancient stone
(Such, as not by nature grown)
Suggest a race that once had been
The dwellers of the Pleistocene,
And in those alleys, silent, old,
Forgotten in the lifeless cold,
Crumbling carvings paint the birth
Of elder things that came to earth
On wings through voids of yawning space
And lighted on the barren face
Of Earth (and as the murals shew,
Amorphous horrors bred, that grow
Unseen in echoing tunnels dark
Where flightless birds careen and bark),
And monoliths, that ruined lie
Amid the whiteness, testify
To eons of forgotten time
Before the elder race sublime
Had dived to gulfs beneath the plain
Of ruin, where only rocks remain –
Or something more, if one surveys
The curious fog that rolls for days
In mountains blasphemously high,
Where even death has learned to die:
There, amid the barren grounds
(Where an eldritch piping sounds
On windy peaks, and shapes are seen
Where ancient caverns may have been –
Piping, piping, whistling, reeding,
Whistling, when the winds are speeding
Speeding, with a hungry haste,
Amidst the barren, lifeless waste),
The stones attest to earlier things
That ruled where now the piping rings,
Far above the highest peak
That human minds can dare to seek,
Where legends say the gods repaired
When men of olden days had dared
The slopes where stars and gods alight –
On Hatheg-Kla, or Thurai’s height
Or Celephaiis, Lerion,
Ngranek’s face on granite drawn –
Such legends recollecting, peering
Into rolling fog, still fearing,
The mists may part to vistas bold –
Demented, in the raging cold,
By eldritch piping in the snow
Arising from dread gulfs below
To those enormous heights and pits
Where eyes look down and madness sits –
Screaming madness holds its throne –
Shoggoths dance – the Pharos cone –
The bird – the colour – nightmares dire
Dancing to the demon lyre,
Hideous miles of horror high
Where sanity must scream and die;
And thence descending gently, where
The woods hold counsel with the air,
While golden sunshine sleepily breathes
On arbor glens and leafy wreaths,
And zoogs, like fabled fairies, flit
Around the boughs, where councils sit;
Or towns where sweet old forms reside
That through the dreamer’s memory glide,
In evening windows, lanes, and smells,
Even as smiling enchantment dwells
In purple hours and deepening hues
As the gibbous moon her song renews
In sweetheart tones that fill the skies
Where glorious marble towers rise
In cities fair with gorgeous domes
Where merchants call you to their homes
And scores of kittens delight in play
And eternities can pass away
As birds in groves of paradise
Sing madrigals to hills and skies;
Or thence on ships to lands of dream
Where underwater cities gleam,
Where pillars rise up from the deep,
Where city alleys secrets keep,
Where glowing fishes light the way,
Where fondest memory holds her sway,
Where petty sorrows never cried,
Where strange adventure never died,
Where gods with mortals mingle still,
Where man can go where man can will;
Thence beyond the ocean’s end,
Where horrors new the dream will rend;
Of children lost where zoogs were seen,
And fattened cats where men had been,
And skeletal cities on the moon
With shapeless bones and corpses strewn
By the Crawling Chaos, in Egypt named
As the ‘Black One’, and darkly famed –
The Hermes of the Outer Gods
Who rule in voids with demon rods –
And wolfish ghouls that stalk with eyes
Which fear-struck victims recognise,
And caves where man-like monsters lie,
And plains where faceless Night-Gaunts fly
Unspeaking as the night, and seize
Their trembling prey with rapid ease
And wing through distant mountain hollows
Where neither sound nor sunlight follows,
And beyond, the plateau yawns
Where neither hope nor sunlight dawns,
Beyond the quarries, beyond the way
Where horrid demons hunt for prey,
Hideous Leng with horror lies
Where no shantak-bird dare flies
But turns its titan wings before
Its frightful head had reached the shore,
And Leng extends in ancient shade
Where shapeless shapes are oft surveyed
Enacting rites that none will speak,
In reaches no man will dare to seek,
And whispers tell of ancient hearths
In stone huts, touching other earths
In indescribable gulfs and planes
Where the dreadful priest restrains
His visage in the yellow mask
Beneath which dread recesses bask;
Or thence, towards the titan high,
The cold behemoth, across the sky
As huge as worlds, or greater still,
Where awe and horror shrink to nil,
With Randolph that huge climb to take,
And seas, and stars, and worlds forsake
Leaving in the depths below
And higher up the heights to go;
Atop Kadath this climb to stall
And gaze on the magnificent hall
That looms like a dream above the world;
Then down from the summit with Carter hurled
Through endless leagues of reeling space
Where stars collide and comets race
And cosmic forces rend the air
And titan eyes like pulsars glare
Through gaping gulfs where old gods play
And worlds and eons, unthinking, sway
In yawning caves of endless night,
Falling through the howling light –
Beyond the vortices of matter
Where galactic corpses scatter,
Beyond the clouds, beyond the bounds,
Where demoniac piping sounds –
Titanic wings that beat the core!
Insane cacophony evermore!
The nightmares dancing in the cask!
The tattered robes! The pallid mask!
The madness swarming through the dark!
The Demon Sultan’s boundless arc!
Gods and black worlds in the mires!
Blindly piping demon lyres!
I closed the book; the things it shews
Strikes numb the reader, for he knows.

Border Tales II : The (Fl)Acid Trip

Why does Joy surprise me with every sentence? How is it that he writes so well that when I think I’ve seen what he has to say, I’m taken aback the next moment? How does his friend Kabir know where to put the perfect memes?
We’re lucky to read things this good.

The Explosive |?!|

It must have been the muffled hustle of rush hour, combined with laziness-inducing grogginess, that made the half-hour or so at the Sealdah canteen (yes, ‘restaurant’ would be putting it too charitably) seem like a blur. Not that the coffee we had did us any good. ‘Dishwater!’ one of us exclaimed, while the other passionately reminisced far better brews from establishments around town.  Neither of us knew what lay beyond Hasnabad, the last – and easternmost – station on the Calcutta suburban rail network. Except, of course, Bangladesh. Given that our previous trips were mostly smooth and hassle-free, it was natural that we expected this sojourn to the border to turn out likewise.

Until reality so rudely intervened…

When travelling to spitting distance of the Bangladesh border, kerb service is not to be expected. A touch of fearless decision making, a touch of spontaneity and a BUCKETLOAD of patience is…

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#pissforequality

I wrote about people who shared their pictures in #pissforequality. When the idea for this small essay came to me, I didn’t know it was all a hoax. I do now. But in my essay, I ask, what if it wasn’t?

I’m hoping this will get a conversation started; I’d especially like to know what my anti-feminist friends think.

Macbeth Postponed

I should probably have said this a long time ago. I’ve postponed my film, Macbeth, indefinitely. The play is cursed, and so was the film. My first Banquo couldn’t make it; my second Banquo was bedridden; Macbeth himself messed up his lines because of fatigue and, as we learned soon after, kidney stones. I was also to blame, of course, for not having a better schedule and a solid script. I apologise to no one in particular.

With any luck, this year will be productive.