Sunday, July 12, 2009

Guest post: Lyricism

I was permitted by N. to post his email in my blog. FYI, chocolate and poetry recommendations from N. are positively commendable. Read below.
So far, only you and omitted I can interest in poetry... It is always hit and miss of course, but that is fine, as long as some shimmer of interest is present. Perhaps what I send you in this email will leave you unmoved. That is fine. But it is strange how most anyone I talk to seems to perceive poetry as impenetrable, archaic, rusty, devoid of substance, and so on. But no. There are things which almost require the language of poetry. Sometimes also alcohol is required to, as you put it, tame soul's demons.

I know little about Heinrich Heine. Except that he was a so-called romantic poet. A lovely little poem (search for Der Asra):

This poem has a particularly interesting history in former Yugoslavia. It was translated to Serbian (call it Croatian or whatever) by Aleksa Šantić, a famous Serbian poet. It then found its real life in musical form, sung in the sevdalinka style all over the country. Of course, sevdalinka, a musical bastard of Turkish, Sephardic Jewish, and Slavic traditions, has nothing to do with German romanticism, which is precisely the beauty of this poem's infiltration into Balkans. It is hard to find a rendering which is as minimalist as I would like, but here is one of the best Bosnian sevdalinka singers:

It goes on. There was a band called Azra, I daresay the only band with an actual idea, in the 1980's in Yugoslavia. They were pretty much warning of what was to come, when things seemed dandy. Although the band's music was really "rock" , it began in a way as a sevdah band, inspired by that song, and named after it (Azra).

If one were to start somewhere in knowing and understanding what was Yugoslavia, Heine's poem wouldn't be a bad starting point. There is something really interesting about that.

Sevdalinka songs used to be sung in simple inns (called "kafana"), where you overwhelmed your demons with song, plum brandy, cigarettes, and maybe bean stew. These inns are, to my great sadness, disappearing. What is to replace them?


Friday, July 10, 2009

'Tis not just IIT

Flame me for speaking for my alma mater, but when it comes to brand name, there is nothing known as IIT. Instead there are IIT-K, IIT-M, IIT-Kgp...

First, the government wanted to create IITs and they did so. Now Miss M. Banerjee wants to create an IIT for the children of Indian Railway employees. All of them are so sold out by brand values, the buzzword, that they missed the entire point.

An IIT might be created by finding land, creating buildings, setting up infrastructure and finally invoking the coveted IIT Act which grants it the status. Other than the last step, it doesn't really seem any different than setting up any XYZ-IT. A globally recognised IIT brand is created not by the IIT act, but by vision and dedication and takes decades. India has other prestigious universities which have equivalent, if not more, charisma and prestige; only outshined by an infamous bureaucracy and political posters.

I am proud to be from IIT-K and I am also proud to be from RKM-Narendrapur. RKM-Narendrapur college was just recently granted autonomous status. Like IIT, RKM-Narendrapur has built a brand name over several decades.

Imitiation is the best form of flattery. But imitation can only take you so far.

Obligatory links for reference (the wiki pages have all the relevant links):

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

last time it bit me

Bummer! Went to donate blood today and was politely told that
Wait 3 years after completing treatment for malaria. Wait 12 months after returning from a trip to an area where malaria is found. Wait 3 years after living in a country or countries where malaria is found.
I didn't realise those stupid flying monsters of Dumdum could have such faaaaar-reaching effects. It will take more than the free T-shirt to cheer me up.

when god abandons ...

Elocution later. First, read this wonderful poem by Cavafy.
The god abandons Antony

When suddenly, at midnight, you hear
an invisible procession going by
with exquisite music, voices,
don’t mourn your luck that’s failing now,
work gone wrong, your plans
all proving deceptive—don’t mourn them uselessly.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
say goodbye to her, the Alexandria that is leaving.
Above all, don’t fool yourself, don’t say
it was a dream, your ears deceived you:
don’t degrade yourself with empty hopes like these.
As one long prepared, and graced with courage,
as is right for you who were given this kind of city,
go firmly to the window
and listen with deep emotion, but not
with the whining, the pleas of a coward;
listen—your final delectation—to the voices,
to the exquisite music of that strange procession,
and say goodbye to her, to the Alexandria you are losing.

- Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)
Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
Cavafy was an Greek poet in early 1900s. He abandoned the usual notions of
ideals and morality. This one, The God Abandons Antony, is remarkable on two fronts. First, the title ... N. made a remark when he pointed out this poem to me long time ago: "I mean, imagine, when even God, I mean, The God, when The God is abandoning him. The God is whom you reach out for when everyone else abandons you and now even Him ... Shocking!". Can't dispute. Shocking.

The second: the reason I oft visit this poem is the bold tone in which he puts forth his message. Quitting is inevitable - not always, but sometimes and then, it becomes only a matter of time. It takes strength to realise this and even more courage to accept it. Cavafy doesn't mince words in accepting this. He, however, suggests the reader (or Antony, if he could read future) to take the next step boldly and pitch death against his dignity, his identity, his Himself.

On the face of it, the poem is about ... (copied from
Anthony, in Cavafy's poem is, of course, Marcus Antonius, Cleopatra's lover. The poem refers to Plutarch's story (Read it) that, when Anthony was besieged in Alexandria by Octavian, the night before the city fell into enemy hands, he heard an invisible troupe leaving the city. He heard the sounds of instruments and voices making their way through the city. Then, he passed out; the god Bacchus (Dionysus), Antony's protector, was deserting him. It is obviously a poem with many layers of meaning; but, I see it as a poem / lesson on how someone must face a great loss (Alexandria being a symbol for a beloved city, woman, past glory, but, above all else, life itself). It is a beautiful lesson on how to face death.
The reader does not have to belive in God. This poem applies to more things in life than merely death. Atheist, mono-theist, poly-theist - does not matter; symbolise God as whatever or whomever one reaches out to when evvvry other shutter is down.

When there is nothing, what remains ? Abyss or Yourself ? Que sera sera.