Friday, February 27, 2009

Mother's music, radio milk.

Being up into the wee hours of the night is awesome.

No two ways about it. Don't care how you got here, who you fought, who you killed, what pills you took that are lethal if you fall asleep post-ingestion. Fact remains, staying up, without wasting the beauty of all this dark on an assignment or project is... Lovely. Awesome, even. A word which is subtly falling out of favour, if you think about it. Script writers have panned it too frequently, and one senses its demise into the Word Graveyard. A grim place, the WG, containing hoary old timers such as "bodacious", an adjective which went out of fashion in '94, and -strangely- has nothing to do with Queen Boadicea. If it did, it would've probably survived. But I digress.

So yes, late-night/pre-dawn is still a magike time. Tis the only time when both dreams and nostalgia co-exist and correlate in perfect rhythm. And the music! Criminy! 1:19am, at least in this country, is the only time you find yourself capable of opening up the oldest version of Winamp you have stored on your 'puter, and putting together a list that you haven't listened to in a decade and a half.

Admit it-- if you were born in the early 80's, your go-to music still remains late 70's through to the mid-90's, with perhaps a few anachronistic numbers thrown in. This latter bit, of course, is a gesture: you tossing your head, exclaiming "Faugh! I am not yours completely, Good Sir" in the general direction of the powerful yet gentle golem called Memory who sits at your side, in the rocking chair that survives now only in your head.

N.B-- No clue why my present self uses Tudor English while communicating with my past self.

Growing up on FM daytime radio in Muscat, circa '95, all I heard was Foreigner. Roxette. The Stones. Eagles, and after the Eagles, Don Henley. Sting. Springsteen. And then, there was dad's collection he would put on in the evening, just before bed time. Him and I sitting on the couch, me falling asleep, him nursing a night-cap.

Some Glen Miller. Some Billie Holiday. Stairway to Heaven, on Zeppelin 4. Dark Side of the Moon. Roger Whittaker, live in concert. An Andrew Lloyd Webber collection, some Bruce Hornsby; José Feliciano covering 'Light my Fire'. Dionne Warwick, that 1985 production that had her only billboard hit 'That's what friends are for', though dad and I preferred 'whispers in the dark'. Tracy Chapman- Mountains o' things. Joni Mitchell, the 'chalkman in the rain' album.

When we moved to India, and I started staying up later with my own music, the tracks changed. And then came the Great Fall: torn, then badly healed ligaments kept me at home for about 5 months, during which time all I had was my Winamp, my angst, and a valiant pair of Bose speakers.

My mother was raised Catholic. What that means is, she spent those 5 months tuned into my music and my err, pain. Every song I played conveyed a message to her. I suppose playing 'Englishman in New York' on repeat would give away the fact it had become a personal anthem to anyone, but what was interesting was it didn't just stop with just the obvious. When I listened to Travis, she listened to Travis. And Pearl Jam. And Eurythmics. And System of a Down, fighting the need to mutter a prayer on my behalf all the while.

Mum never stopped listening from then on, in fact. Dad would only sit in if it was music he recognized. Can't blame him; after a time, you only want things that are comfortable to surround your senses with.

Hence long lost play lists, on outmoded software, at 1:44am.

My favourite times though, was when mum was left in the company of the music system alone, while I busied myself inside with the computer and dad was out. She would sneak a CD or tape on-- Harry Belafonte, Simon & Garfunkel or Clayderman, even. Mum loves piano music. And when the electricity failed, which was often, she would put a chair out in the balcony, and hum softly. My brother and I would sneak glances at her during these times, listening whether the sound came in digital surround or acapella-- don't think we understood what we were seeing then, just sensed its importance.

See, comfort music, like comfort food, is the music you grew up with. Which is why nothing makes me smile like Peter, Paul & Mary's 'Puff the Magic Dragon'. This is when names and lyrics suddenly turn up like names to faces in old photographs you had begun to believe didn't belong to the same life you lead now. And suddenly, you're right there. Right there. Scrawling down lyrics in the back of note books, forward-winding the tape to just the right spot so that when you flipped it and pressed play, the right song would come on. A-Ha's 'hunting high and low', Boys II Men's cover of 'Yesterday'. It didn't feel like pop music back then. 'I wanna know what love is' had this gosphel-soul sound in its chorus, and when that Norwegian-looking lead singer belted out those impossibly high notes in 'Take on me' you believed in love that linked souls across lifetimes and space-time continuums. Rocking out to 'You give love (a bad name)' with a fat yellow sharpie for a mic was fuckin' real, you put your heart and soul into it, grooving to that great bass line Jhnn-chh-jhn-chh-Jhnn-Jjhnn-jhnnn after the opening chorus. And when the Scorpions came on?


Man, I had my first spiritual revelations to 'Send me an Angel'. 'Winds of Change' reminds me till this day that the most awesome --aw fuck it, bodacious even-- thing to ever happen to me at age 9 was being told that my uncle was one of the artists chosen to paint on what was left of the Berlin Wall. And just like that-- it doesn't matter anymore, what words were exchanged, what silences were left to hang in the air like hungry gulls, whose heartbreak, which loss, who doesn't matter anymore and how redemption will ever be found.

These are the moments that never fit into Twitter, nor a status msg. This is where you come back, to find a years younger version of you, writing their name inside E. Nesbit books, playing at pirates after school (Tej, this thought is for you), getting their best friend to cut and style their hair, holding "dance parties" in their room by creating a disco using a much-maligned desk-lamp, pieces of coloured glaze paper, numerous casettes and a busted up portable tape deck, swearing that life could only get more awesome.

Doesn't matter if it's true now, or not. Because an hour or so later at 2:48am, 'You can't always get what you want' has just got to the funky keys and chorus big finish, and you realize that it is in these memories, kept coal-fire-live by sound bytes, that the best part of you still survives.

I call that a bargain, the best I ever had.

Huzzah for hairy legs!

For, if we are to believe Daniel W. Drezner, long skirts are back in fashion again. As are angry old men, chubby models, church going and piggy banks.

Peruse the man's writing at Foreign Policy magazine, here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

# 345 on your 'Things to Do': Learn Game Theory from an M.I.T professor during your lunch break.

You will need about an hour, a dependable internet connection, and more than just passing curiosity.

The lectures made available courtesy Academic Earth are not your average Google or Youtube posts. They go far beyond the informative yet easy comprehensible TED videos as well: do not access Academic Earth if you are looking to be entertained alone. Visit the website if you are one of those folk who have always wanted the lesson, just not the visa fees and application package.

Academic Earth is a depository of lecture videos on the classics: Astronomy, Engineering, Economics, History, Philosophy, Psychology and Religion are just some of the covered subjects. Slate Magazine has a great article on this remarkable endeavor, here.

My one gripe is the limited list of participating universities: One hopes this project opens up to valuable lectures from other universities, Ivy or otherwise, though I don't want to imagine the sort of snafus the selection committee would run into while selecting one professor's discourse over another. Not quite sure how "international" the scope of this project is either-- the tag line does state "thousands of video lectures from the world's top scholars", but there is very little of the rest of the world involved, at least at this stage. We shall call it room for development, then.

Personally, I believe this is one of the best things that could happen vis-à-vis Web 2.0 and associated bleargh, because it's an attempt to chip away at the exclusivity aura that surrounds the act of enrolling in classes where such subjects are discussed, at such depth. This means you and I don't have to sell two organs and our first born to get inputs on String Theory, or the contributing factors to the Middle East Crisis. This also means, learning at one's own pace. Does this change how education has worked till now? Perhaps, but only if such projects become more popular.

Of course, there's that old donkey to the pond adage. The creation of Academic Earth does not necessarily mean that knowledge levels of any particular demographic can be affected significantly, yet.

But heck, for late night web trawlers with a hunger for what is as yet unlearned and brain-space fueled by caffeine & a distaste for the daily news?
Aye. Exactly.
Ping me later, I'll be browsing the Social Entrepreneurship section.

Bhangra on daytime t.v.

Gotta love the 81st Oscars.

Finally, despite the usual camera tactics (Brangelia angles as Anniston was on stage, et al) it was a terrific show with lovely segues and a celebration of the Musical's return. Viva Jackman! Lovely seeing Jerry Lewis on stage, and Penelope Cruz's acceptance speech was the essence of honesty and beautiful humility. Nuts to what the papers say, I liked the Best Actress award transition.

What was and is horrifying, however inevitable, were the reactions of daytime American talk show hosts and anchors. Granted, Boyle's project swept 8 out of 10 awards it was nominated for, but ad hoc Bollywood boogieing sessions? In studio, roping in every crew member and intern, arming them with gold swathes of cloth and ordering them to jig side to side energetically on pain of death? Seriously?


Considering daytime shows tend to hire longships-full of midget "research people" to drag up the most popular memes of the day and/or previous night, one could have wished that the fact bollywood dance sequences have been a part of Hollywood for a while now could have been recognized. It aint new, bub. Remember Bollywood/Hollywood? The Guru? The Love Guru? The ending credits scene from 40 year old virgin? Namesake? Bride and--*shivers*-- Prejudice?

When Reliance's expansion into movie production in the U.S. was first announced, articles were scarce. This piece from the WSJ however, did a good job discussing Indian-U.S movie collaborations.

What is amusing is the huge row in certain circles over the title of Boyle's movie. Granted, movies are often the basis for the creation of most stereotypes the world over, BUT-- the movie is Slumdog Millionaire. Not Attleboro's Gandhi. And Boyle has previously directed Trainspotting & The Beach, not Ben Hur, or Schindler's List. Give the entire crew a break: it's a movie made to entertain. But if only to battle all possible stereotypes the movie might give rise to, read and pass on this: huzzah for the NYTimes!

N.B-- Ahem. Hadn't realized this nomenclature had become established. Though in my defense, had never heard the term "Asian Indian" before. Hm. Shall stick to checking off "Other" on all them enrollment forms.

Oh aye--

Jai Ho, bitches.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Day of Origin post

24 years doesn't feel like much time, though it should. I guess the persnickety old fool was right, youth *is* wasted on the young, to a certain extent, though in all honesty I doubt I could've spent all these years any better than I did.

The concern remains of course, for the years ahead.

I maintain that I've been blessed in terms of visions, as well as wisdom out of the mouths of friends and occasionally the radio: everything, including spam from [Yes, I signed up for a free offer. Yes, I know you did as well] has pointed to making life choices-- remembering what's important, remembering what I set out to do, and realizing now is the time for all those plans and dreams to come together.

Overall feeling of the day? Gratitude.

My ideal birthday soiree [once the book comes out and there are funds generated for such] would be a big band swing orchestra, a ballroom, champagne and good whiskey, and everyone dressed up like it's the 1920s. Everything will be beautiful and bright. Old friends and enemies would laugh at and with each other. Our grandparents would all be alive and present, as would our children. Someone would sing "At Last", and I think I know who. We'd pick flowers from all the center-pieces and cluster-bomb each other. And at 12, we all lose our footwear and run down to sands and the sea [of course this would be a tropical place, you kiddin' me?] and laugh around fires, under stars, passing around bottles and stories.
It will be perfect.

For tonight, I'll be happy with some Cao Ila, and Sinatra singing the songs he does best. Soft lighting, watching through the window as the town here struggles with and then sleeps, exhausted and deep, under the blanketing snow.

A final thought: midst visions of the goddess and the best advice I have ever received in my life, the past few days also gave me words that have finally laid to rest every lingering doubt I've had about my mish-mashed, ad hoc, msafiri/sub-altern/post-colonial/post-its/post-modern/post-box identity. Hail Jarmusch, you and your kind.