Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Apartment photos

I took photos of my current apartment. For my family (read: caring dearling ma) to see, but if you get high on this sort of stuff ...
http://cs-people.bu.edu/dbera/photos/31 St Lukes %237 (current apt)/

You can pretty much see how austere and boring my lifestyle is. Oh ... you don't get to see the southern wall of my bedroom; it has the closet, a map of Kolkata, my camera (you can see the black bag) and some ... ahem ... wall writings capturing my thoughts. The green book on my table is Saint Joan by G.B.Shaw. After Sarat Chandra, this is my next foray into feminism classics. I don't know if Saint Joan is considered a feminist play but the strength in character of Joan of Arc, her spirit, her resolute stand against the society fascinated me the first time I read about her.

Ignore the musings on the whiteboard, they contain everything from heresy to phone numbers. You don't see stockpiles of research papers and books because whatever few I have, I have them in the office; in general, I have become used to reading of off the screen (and the trees ... I am sympathetic towards them). Math is like music ... happens in my mind =).

The two printouts are poems - one Chharpatra by Sukanta and the other Adios by yours humbly - both mean a lot to me hence they get to be up there. The south wall also contains a Monet (waterlily series). The other two pictures you see are by Dali, my favourite painter of this ... err... last century. His symbolism and surrealist subjects engross me more than anyone else's.

You don't see my bike because I left it at my office the previous evening. It sleeps in the corridor. My kitchen used to be more colourful ... but I have lost interest in cooking these days (hint: don't crash in untold - there really is nothing in the fridge).

There is space for one or two in my apartment ... as you can see, so feel free to stop by. Also, I don't have any use for the old issues of Desh, so you can have them too ... (you didn't get it) ... for FREE !

Thursday, February 19, 2009

crossing roads

Traffic in Delhi will stop at all junctions for 20 seconds every once in a while so that hapless pedestrians can walk across the road instead of waiting for the magnanimity of the traffic constable in the signal cage on the sidewalk or darting through a metallic slipstream risking life and limb.
I am sure all of this is going to fall in deaf ears.

I distincly remember I was defiant as I was once approaching the Ultadanga-Hudco crossing with my darling mom, this was about an year ago when I was in Kolkata. A pedantic empathy for following civic rules made me defiant. Elsewhere I would be just a good samaritan doing stuff the right way; but this is Kolkata my dear friend.

The conventional wisdom suggests the following simple steps to cross such intersections without significant loss of body parts.

1) Spot a physically permissible gap to pass. A valid intersection would be ok but a barrier with a bent rod is equally fine.

2) You cry, pray and beg ... there is no guarantee of life on these streets, but pray so that all the approacing drivers are asked by a divine angel to slow down.

3) Wait ... till they slow down. No point in waiting for the traffic light ... if you happen to be at a crossing ... because it won't ever turn green. After all, on the road it is all about cars; they cost money and ferry men with money.

4) Use your skills of pedastrial jugglery and rush to the other end. The person behind the wheel will inevitably slow down a bit, due to mercy or awe but you can postpone that debate for later. A swindling lane of rapidly changing but varying thickness will emerge between the cars ... think yourself as water, the cars as stones and the sidewalk ahead as salvation. RUN!

This is not hard to master; of course we, the children of this city, learn this trick as a toddler.

5) Make a routine check if you are ok ... if you have time ... otherwise postpone it for the late-night contemplation.

Ma wanted to cross the road just as everyone else does. I wanted to cross the road just as everywhere else it is done. Hudco crossing is one of main entry to EMBypass from north Cal and is extremely well-equipped to fight a mini warfare - traffic lights, guards, guard cages, walkie-talkies, sergeants with scary noisy bikes. An extensive distributed algorithm, enhanced by the wisdom of the traffic guards, makes sure that traffic flows like a smoothie at every juncture. Which amounts to, no more than a 5 min delay at the red light. The incoming and outgoing flanks are too complicated to allow anything better, but cars come in, wait and then eventually go out.

Did I just say "cars eventually go out" ? Right ... this elaborate system ensures smooth flow of traffic, which in the dictionary of Kolkata police (Indian police ? (*)) means vehicles. No bikes please, 4 or more wheels (3 wheeler autos are beyond indictment).

I refused to cross the street like everyone else, hold ma's hand strongly and waited for the signal ... either the one on the post or the one with a pair of legs - really anything would be fine. So we waited ... Buses are not supposed to stop at the crossing. Not a damn for the law but they abide by the sergeant's stare. They don't technically stop but by an immaculate display of acrobatics and timing, manage to fill a completely empty bus. This everytime reminds me of the Olympics relay race; a fraction of a second late and you could be either left stranded on the street or under the wheels. It is really a mystery how everything works. Makes me wonder if we are really programs in some Matrix ?!

So we kept waiting ... There is usually a rule for changing the traffic lights. There is a pattern, and eventually, yes ... theoretically eventually, the light would change to green. Should change to green. I felt like screaming after a while. Could change to green. Doesn't the traffic guard see pedastrians waiting to cross the road ? Forget rules, where hast thou sympathy begone ?

Blah ... after waiting for nearly ... (drum roll beating) 20 minutes, I gave up. I had to give up. I invoked my last rule to break rules in emergency. All kinds of car lanes opened up and I was looking for a magician to change me into a sleek car, any brand is fine.

You see... we are born jaywalkers but even when we try to follow rules, there is so little help from the institution that we are forced back into our slums of disrule. Disobedience is in our blood, our forefathers used that in the pre-1947 days. It will take more than 20 minutes to change the mindset but is anyone even willing to abet ?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sleeping pill ... The Cardigans

How can someone fall asleep while listening to The Cardigans. Granted, they may not have the best pop albums in the world, but they are anything but lullabies. Don't you agree ... you, with the pirate hat ? Apparently K. specifically used some album of them to go to sleep. What a gem of a homosapien!

Anyway, I have developed a special fondness for some of their songs. They manage to pacify some of my neurons, the rogue ones.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

City of "boi"

From When a poet minds traffic (The Telegraph),
“The literary history of Calcutta is as old as the Battle of Plassey. The city has nurtured three languages, English, Hindi and Bengali. Sir William Thackeray was born in Calcutta, Rudyard Kipling wrote here. Both the National Anthem of India and the national song were written by writers here,” said Shankar, to establish the city’s literary heritage.
“In this city call girls carry half-read novels in their handbags, women of pleasure discuss Sarat Chandra in red light areas and indulgent policemen allow a drunken poet to control traffic,” he said with a smile.
This is just one of the million reasons why I, you and every Bangali by spriti (not ab-initio), should be in Kolkata (Calcutta earlier ... and actually pronounced as Kolkata even before the name change happened).

It couldn't be more true. Often mistaken as my modesty, which is surprising because I take particular care to dispel that myth, I attribute my poetry writing skills to simply being born of Bangali parents, in Kolkata. It is really as simple as that. That I am inclined towards art and literature would be a banal assertion, me being born and brought up in Kolkata, but sadly non-Bangalis often do not appreciate this trait among us.

Writing prose and poems was a commonplace affair in my school (and in other similar schools). It was given its due appreciation but the person was not coronated as the next Tagore. Those not quite apt with this amazing invention known as pen, found their creative outlet in a more verbal form, recititation, debate, jam, extempore speeches ... there was creativity even in the way our inner voice found its outlet. The aroma of literature percolated early in our lives and found its way deep into our heart, maybe also brain.

Throw in books to these intellectually hungry kids and you get a city where bus passengers talk about why should wife get custody of the child in Shankhini (a novel in a leading magazine). A lot many of the College Street boi dokans are in fact their own publishing houses ... maybe publishing a few not-quite read books. Yet they publish and don't perish - there are always niche readers for all kind of subjects. Little magazines to us were like garage bands in 50's USA. Shoestring budget, yet thriving with bang among bongs.

I understand reading is not quite an impressive habit to acquire these days, but for our generation ... do generation switch that rapidly ... we used to read a lot. Just by sheer coincidence, I was reading Prajapati (Samaresh Basu) when my pals were hiding Shobha De in their school bags. Bengali books were just cheaper and easily accessible ... there was a never a waiting list. The English ones I could lay my hands on ... they would be finished within a few nights ... they had to be ... there was always such a huge line waiting. It is really unfortunate I had read only a couple of Hindi books (wait ... did I ? I can't seem to recall ...).

The pujabarshiki craze actually got even the book-neutral to flip through the pages of some special issue that came out just before the Durga Puja - our "national" festival. The other significant craze was The Kolkata Book Fair. I have missed the last 10 years which shall be duly recovered in the coming years. Of course, no commentary about Bangla literary activity is complete without the mention of the bi-monthly periodical Desh. I read it (yes ... I subscribe to the magazine even in this country) cover to cover and you have to read the letters from the readers to realise that Bangla literature is not following dodo, not yet.

This is the city of literature... a city of books... a city of fine arts... it is only befitting that Kolkata becomes a City of Literature.

Online bangla movies

This is a public service announcement.

contains a huge list of online bangla movies (havn't checked if the links at all work). Watch them in good faith i.e. since this is all sub-legal, promise to contribute back to the dying bangla movie industry. Better than just being a voracious consumer.

The list starts off with movies by our Mahanayak but there is a larger list down below. Please scroll down ... your effort will be duly rewarded.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Best at worst

You can say the pizza is good when you eat it even though you are not hungry. Alike, you can say a movie is good when it can elevate your mood from the lowest to the best, or at least above normal.

That did not quite happen when I was watching Bicycle Thieves. But judge not the movie by this inefficacy; by cosmic grace I am currently passing the worst moments of my life ... broken beyond repair. Moving the cursor back on the movie, it is the best movie I have seen so far.

I was alternately fading into my own thoughts (I am not sure I can use the word "thoughts", it is more like oblivion) and the movie. Thankfully the movie was in Italian with English subtitles which made the alternations pretty quick. The plot of the movie would not require more than 5 lines when written. It is the credit of the scriptwriter and the director (well... the auteur) to create a remarkable 90 minute unfolding of a drama taking place in the common man's Rome in the post-war era. Think of the impact it created on my mind when I, amazed by the acting of the little boy, looked up online only to find all of the actors were completely unprofessional. It has be the director.

The moments I was with the movie, I was this pensive socialist sitting with a brush and trying to decide exactly where to starting painting a new world. I later learned it is a neorealist movie ... I think I should find other neorealist movies and watch all of them - they are so simple made yet so powerful in effect.

Friday, February 6, 2009

I Proposed

I Heard "Yes" !
Others heard "Yay!"

It was supposed to happen several weeks ago but my preparations were not ready. I could have waited for 1 more week to hit 14th but sometimes the black numbers on a calendar make no more sense than ant trails.

Now that this is over ... I have to plan the messy details. I am feeling tired ... feel the honeymoon is already over.

PS: Since you are sooo curious, my thesis proposal title is "New lower bound technique for constant depth quantum circuits"

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I was having a hard time concentrating myself since I woke up today. So when I was told about the Japanese Film Series 2009 at BU, I knew I had to be there tonight for the first movie. I somehow have to catch up the with proposal presentation but I doubt I would have gotten anything worthwhile accomplished in those 2 hours.

As I hinted, today was the first movie - Rikyu. Overall nice movie. It started with the message that this movie is about the conflict of art and politics ... and that was the sublime focus of the effort. The ending scene showed the revered tea master Rikyu walking away to court ritual suicide - I liked the way it was shot.

Like most people, especially of south Asian origin, I have great respect for the Japanese race. Apart from their sincerity and confidence there is one thing which I particularly like about them. Their respect towards everything that commands it. From the mighty steel structures to the stylish details - the actually take time and effort to appreciate the beauty in everything. Watching them, in person or in movie, is a learning experience of the oft-misquoted "beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder".

About the movie though, I am sure I have no qualification to make any technical judgement but I felt the movie was marred by its editing. As I said before, the movie tried to balance art and the harshness of Japanese lords (think 16th century). In fact, the main Lord was a comic character and he acted nicely. But serious editing issues ruined most of the artistic moments. Just when the mood for a particular scene was setting it, then the scene would cut. And there were several short takes which did not at all fit into the flow. The acting was good and the movie ... oh it was about a famous tea master and his ambitous comic warlord ... was well directed to show the Japanese way of life that I describe above.

Next week, it's a Kurosawa film that I have not seen. I plan to watch it too.