Saturday, July 19, 2008

Top Five

Here at National Law School, one of the time-honoured traditions of giving students of the First Year a hard time is to make them draw up an impromptu "Top Five" list, usually of their most attractive batchmates of the opposite gender. I thought that I'd apply the same template to myself in listing my "Top Five"...songs of all time.

My thoughts have their genesis in a lovely backseat cab conversation I shared last night. So, for that limited purpose, this entry is quite a dedication.

In no particular order:

1. "The Girl In The Dirty Shirt" (Oasis, Be Here Now, 1997).

"If I may be so bold that I just say something
Come and make me my day
The clouds around your soul
Don't gather there for nothing
But I can chase them all away
Why d'you need a reason for to feel happy
Or shining for the rest of the world
Give me just a smile and would you make it snappy
Get your shit together girl

You got a feeling lost inside
It just won't let you go
Your life is sneaking up behind
It just won't let you go
No it just won't let you go
Guess what I'm trying to say

Is would you maybe, come dancing with me
'Cos to me it doesn't matter
If your hopes and dreams are shattered
When you say something you make me believe
In the girl who wears a dirty shirt
She knows exactly what she's worth
She knows exactly what she's worth to me..."


2. "She Talks to Angels" (The Black Crowes, Shake Your Money Maker, 1990).

""She never mentions the word addiction
In certain company
She'll tell you she's an orphan
After you meet her family

She paints her eyes as black as night, now
Pulls those shades down tight
Yeah, she gives a smile when the pain comes
The pain's going to make everything alright

Says she talks to angels
They call her out by her name
She talks to angels
Says they call her out by her name..."


3. "She's A Superstar" (The Verve, Verve EP, 1992).

"Here she comes
Seven suns
A burning flame
She got my love
Got my head
But It 's all the same
She climbed so high
I don't know why
High, on her own
And I know
She's in the air
And I don't want it to go
I can breathe the air
But I don't want it to go..."


4. "Drops Of Jupiter" (Train, Drops Of Jupiter, 2001).

"Now that she's back in the atmosphere
With Drops of Jupiter in her hair

She acts like summer and walks like rain
Reminds me that there's time to change

Since the return from her stay on the moon
She listens like spring and she talks like June

Tell me, did you sail across the sun
Did you make it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded
And that heaven is overrated

Tell me, did you fall for a shooting star
One without a permanent scar
And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there..."


I'd probably put "Drops Of Jupiter" at my all-time Number 1 and I'm unsettled enough about the others to not "rate" them at all. Suffice to say that "She's A Superstar" still gives me goosebumps everytime I hear it, "The Girl In The Dirty Shirt" can lift me at the worst of times and "She Talks To Angels" pulls at strings of indescribable emotion.

Notice how two songs are by bands coming from the 1990's Britpop tradition while the other two are by rough, gritty, funk/rock-oriented Southern U.S. bands. Notice also that this list, similar to several "Top Five" conversations, has petered out without reaching is expected conclusion and search for a fifth.

Notice, lastly, how all my four favourite songs are crafted around the central idea of the abstract, third-person "She."

As I said in the cab last night, "It's not as if you're singing to her...you're singing about her instead."

Kay Berry, Inc. v. Taylor Gifts, Inc. 421 F. 3d 199

"If tears could build a stairway
And memories a lane
I'd walk right up to heaven
And bring you home again."

It's funny what kinds of things can hit you when you're studying the Law Relating to Intellectual Property Rights.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Viva La Vida or Coldplay’s SOTSOG?

For those who are into British rock music, the title already tells you what I'm going to talk about. For those who are not, we'll get to SOTSOG soon enough.
I've just finished listening to Coldplay's fourth studio album, the impossibly titled Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends. Coldplay have always insisted that their albums be named after a particular track on that respective record. Hence, Parachutes, A Rush of Blood to the Head and X&Y. The story goes that this time, they were unsure about which one track to name the album after, so they picked two!
Unfortunately, VLV is more than just painful to spell out entirely; it is, in many ways, a difficult listen as well. This is what convinces me that the parallel I'm about to make is an accurate one. I think that Coldplay's musical progression in the new millennium has been a near-as-dammit replica of Oasis' musical progression in the 1990s. This is the parallel that I will look to explore.
Oasis burst onto the music scene with the epochal Definitely Maybe in 1994 and, as Liam Gallagher would subsequently so succinctly summarize, "We’re the sound of five lads from Manchester who go on stage and fuckin' 'ave it." Definitely Maybe remains most fans' touchstone in terms of defining who Oasis are—straight up rock-and-roll that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and dares you not to get involved. There's something about the relentless chiming of Noel Gallagher's guitar and piledriving forcefield created by Tony McCarroll's (and later Alan White's) drumming that captures the mood of the 1990s, even at a distance of fourteen years. Definitely Maybe is also significant because in the repeated reincarnations of Oasis, what with numerous changes in the band's lineup, it is the one album that has served as the basic frame of reference for the band itself—from all-time live favourites to the unchallengeable influence Definitely Maybe has had on later Oasis albums.
In a peculiar way, the same can be said of Coldplay's Parachutes as well. While it would be difficult to argue that Berryman/Buckland/Martin/Champion make a type of song similar to Oasis, the fans' touchstone argument holds equally strongly here as well. Parachutes proved to be a critical success in 2000 because it was different, it was tight and the lads who created the music were overwhelmingly genuine, if not entirely lovable. Add to that the fact that Coldplay's all-time live favourites list has not be significantly altered post-Parachutes and that there are definite traces of Parachutes in "Life in Technicolor" and "Reign of Love" (both on VLV, recorded eight years after the album), it would be difficult not to see "Yellow" as Coldplay's "Live Forever" or "Shiver" as Coldplay's "Supersonic."
1995 was a great year for British music, (What's the Story) Morning Glory? was born. Three things about the album stand out. One, there is an overwhelming consistency in the album, in terms of the fact that (from a fan's perspective) every song is absolutely brilliant, to the point where, if someone had, pre-1997, said that there is no such thing as a bad Oasis song, they wouldn’t be far off the truth. Two, Morning Glory is a vertical step up from Definitely Maybe in terms of the maturity of Noel’s songwriting, the quality of music overall and in terms of the band's growing awareness, skill and popularity as a live act. Three, Morning Glory is the album that, to most ordinary people, is the summation of all of Oasis' best work, like a putative Greatest Hits album. This is also indicative of the fact that it was only after Morning Glory that Oasis were finally, indelibly imprinted on the global music lover’s psyche.
I feel extremely tempted to Ctrl C + Ctrl V the above paragraph because that is exactly what I think A Rush of Blood to the Head did for Coldplay. Same consistently brilliant music in every corner of the album, same vertical step up in songwriting, same growth in popularity as a live act (fed in no small part by Chris Martin disappearing into the crowd for extended lengths of time, much like Bono in his heyday). And yes, if you were to make a popular choice "Best of Coldplay" album, the Rush of Blood presence on that album would rival Arjun Singh’s caste/OBC reservation blueprint (sorry, I just had to do that). And while it is unfair to compare the two bands, since they have peaked in undeniably different times, for every "Wonderwall", "Don’t Look Back in Anger", "Champagne Supernova", "Some Might Say" and "She’s Electric", there is a corresponding "The Scientist", "In My Place", "Clocks", "Politik" and "Amsterdam."
To understand why Be Here Now was such a big disappointment and effectively sounded the death-knell for the Britpop movement despite having sold eleven million copies to date (to put it into perspective, that is about as many copies as Rush of Blood has sold), you have to understand what Oasis were in 1997. Almost like Noel Gallagher walking up to you and, with the air of a principal who has summoned to his office a group of errant schoolboys caught smoking in the toilet (or Vince McMahon to anyone challenging his authority in WWE), saying, "Let me remind you of exactly who the hell I am." Oasis were the biggest thing ever. Millions of albums sold globally, America broken with an imperious swagger and with an ease reminiscent of U2's The Joshua Tree ten years earlier, Beatles comparisons, tabloid spreads, magazine covers, Knebworth 1996 (which held a seven-year record for the biggest outdoor concert in British history, until surpassed, at the same venue, by Robbie Williams—"that fat dancer from Take That"), Noel's walkout on the American tour and the band's triumphant return, "I hope Damon Albarn (of Blur) catches AIDS and dies" and so much more. People weren't just expecting BHN to be a roaring success, they were expecting something absolutely mega. As Liam would later rue, "I still think it's a great album—it's just that it isn't Morning Glory." Well, honestly (and I have every reason to believe that this isn't exactly an isolated opinion), it isn't even that great an album. It's too long, it's too loud and there isn't a single second through seventy-two minutes of that album when Liam isn't singing that thirty guitar parts aren't being injected into the song (this is actually true of "My Big Mouth"). Oasis weren't even asked to cut it down, nobody dared. And initial hysteria took "D'You Know What I Mean" (which, stripped to its basics, is actually a lovely song) and "All Around the World" to UK #1. The first of these songs is 7:41, the other—the longest single to ever hit UK #1—is no less than 9:18, with a two-minute reprise at the end. Oasis would win the album sale "Battle of Britpop" against Blur (who released a single on the same day as "D'You Know What I Mean") but it was never going to be enough to rescue a reputation that, in my opinion, it took five years (and the arrival of Heathen Chemistry) to nurture back to health.
Much the same can be said of Coldplay's X&Y and the hype created around it, ever since Coldplay took a hiatus following an astonishingly good live show at Sydney in 2003. June 2005’s X&Y was billed to be a next big thing of BHN proportions. The kinder critics still maintain that X&Y signals a change in direction, towards a more obtuse, spacey The Verve-like sound. While it is a generalization that deserves some recognition, especially in the light of VLV and while "A Message" and "'Til Kingdom Come" are unloved children in a way similar to what "Don't Go Away" was to BHN, the only honest reaction to X&Y is one of bitter disappointment. Again, the songs are too long, too loud, have instruments that you know four boys from London can't possibly pull off in front of a live audience (try listening to "Low", for example) and there is an extreme poverty in songwriting, especially considering what we know Berryman/Buckland/Martin/Champion are capable of. Again, eight million in global sales is not, in any way, indicative of the album's merit, for many people now just buy Coldplay albums because it is Coldplay (this is something they now share with U2, whose 2004 release How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb achieved insane global success with minimal promotion, outside of the first single "Vertigo." In terms of musical aptitude, though, barring Will Champion, none of the others can compete with the force that is Clayton/Mullen/Edge/Bono). More than anything else, the sense of disappointment with X&Y stems from a frustration at the lack of originality, either in sound or in presentation. "Talk" is effectively Kraftwerk's song, "'Til Kingdom Come" is Johnny Cash's and "Speed of Sound" is a blatant rip-off of Coldplay's own Grammy-winning "Clocks." The Twisted Logic World Tour which Coldplay embarked on post-X&Y met with a lukewarm response as well and towards the end, I think, there was enormous relief that the ordeal was over. And perhaps also a realization that the next album had to be much, much better.
This realization hit Oasis as well, in the aftermath of BHN. Noel promptly disowned the album, a stance that continues to this day—2006’s nineteen song Stop The Clocks compilation doesn't contain a single song from the BHN era. Far from being knocked for a loop, the band put out Standing On The Shoulder Of Giants inside three years—a gritty, technically complex, demanding album, that you could feel stretching Noel’s songwriting (this was also their first album with a Liam-written song—"Little James", for his newborn son). The end-product is a curious mix of excessively psychedelic (I don't care how clich├ęd that sounds), out-of-this-world guitar riffs (try Noel's solo in "Gas Panic!"), some incredibly genuine stuff (cue "Where Did It All Go Wrong?", one of my all-time favourites) and some absolute rubbish ("I Can See A Liar").
The parallel to VLV could not be clearer. There are songs that fall into all three categories—the psychedelic ("Life In Technicolor", "Lovers In Japan", "Violet Hill"), the genuine ("Cemeteries of London", "Lost!"), the rubbish ("42", "Viva La Vida"). In fact, VLV is Coldplay’s SOTSOG purely because everything on the album falls neatly into one of the above three categories. Even Chris Martin's deliberate shunning of his much-acclaimed yet often whining falsetto is eerily reminiscent of Liam spurning his equally acclaimed yet equally irritating nose-and-throat singing style in favour of a much more conservative, grounded voice.
Call it growing pains, teething problems or whatever else, I find the new Coldplay extremely curious and more than a little risky. At least with Oasis' SOTSOG, there was some semblance of returning to the rock-and-roll formula (the return would eventually materialize in the brilliant Heathen Chemistry—for my money, as good as Morning Glory, if not better). But with Coldplay, VLV goes further away from the tried and tested formula and even a partial return to the soft complexity of Parachutes or the emotive brilliance of Rush of Blood now seems difficult. True, there are songs on VLV that grow on you, but, not surprisingly, those are the songs that you know, after the first couple of listens, are the best songs on the album anyway. Also, the decision-making has evidently gone awry because the two singles released so far—"Violet Hill" and "Viva La Vida"—are among the weakest songs on the album. This is a mistake they made with "What If" on X&Y as well, but at least then, they had an admitted understanding that picking singles is about choosing those songs that represent the true character of the album and to that extent, perhaps even "Speed of Sound" as the first single of X&Y was justifiable. However, by the same logic, neither "Violet Hill" nor "Viva La Vida" is the best way to introduce audiences to this particular product.
"I wanted us to make a record that we could die happy after making," said Chris Martin, prior to the worldwide release of VLV. However, it isn’t the return to the circa-2002 Coldplay that many people expected and, as such, with this album being very much Coldplay's SOTSOG and with touring for this album likely to keep them on the road well into 2009, it should be a while before they're in the studio again. And when they are, I, for one, will be fascinated to see how close they come to putting out their version of Heathen Chemistry.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Eighth Time Lucky

I

It had been an incredible two hours. She'd got me to tell her things my grandmother had said about my father, she'd got me sing along to GnR's "November Rain" and, impossibly, she'd got me not to care that there was a Ferrari one-two in the offing.

"That's five-one," she reminded me.
"Yes, it is," I said, without really knowing what she meant.

II

It wasn't the fact that I would've been dancing off the charts on a blood-alcohol meter at that point in time. It wasn't the fact that I'd probably sprinted a hundred yards and back in next to no time. It wasn't even the fact that I'd been to the restroom and splashed my face with water, in order to remind myself to keep it real. It was just that I knew that I hadn't had this much fun in a long, long time.

"Can I make it six-one?" I asked, speculatively.
She smiled.
"See, now that wasn't really six-one," she said, reading my mind, "that was more like five-two."

III

I waited for a second, maybe two. In that sliver of a moment, I was flooded with feelings. It wasn't something I'd been expecting at all. I was afraid I was going to end up being embarrassed by a show of emotion. I was afraid I was going to ruin a perfect day. I was afraid because I hadn't felt like this in ages.

"Can I try again?" I asked, more in hope than in expectation.
She smiled again, compellingly.
An instant later, I knew I'd remember it forever.

IV
For so long, I'd believed that I wasn't a natural at reacting to situations. That I wasn't capable of realising the specialness of a moment even if it slapped me in the face. That I wasn't ever going to show anyone who meant anything to me, that I could be everything they wanted me to be.

"I love you," I said, softly, reassuringly.
I meant it as much to myself as I did to her.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be

There goes that resolution.

After having solemnly vowed not to go a calendar month without posting something...I just did. It's not even as if it's a particularly cheerful time to break the duck but I find myself caught in the middle of an all-pervasive writing rut and a rare moment of (dare I say it?) self-doubt, so I'm really only doing this in the hope that since words don't seem to be flowing academically, words may at least flow generally, in life.

I'm going to write about my favourite professional wrestler of all time--Bret "The Hitman" Hart. The sudden motivation actually finds its origins in some late night Facebooking where I chanced upon (and subsequently posted a link to) Hart's autobiography released in Canada last fall. I believe the book is scheduled for a mid-2008 release in the US and I, for one, am hoping that it actually does fulfil its promise eventually and finds its way to "a bookstore near you." I've read the first few pages by way of a free excerpt online and though he appears to have a huge ego while writing (something I sympathise with entirely anyway), I think it's about as unique an account of professional wrestling for that period of time as you're likely to get from anyone in the business.

There's so much to write about Bret Hart. I'll confess that none of what I'm about to write will be unbiased in any way, shape or form. I absolutely loved him as a wrestler and I genuinely believe in the goodness of the guy, which is a claim I can't make for literally dozens of other wrestlers who I've seen as much of and have had gimmicks a thousand times better than his. More important that that, he was a true influence on me while I was growing up and during his babyface run through most of the 1990s in WWF, he did more to benefit the general reputation of wrestling in a wide variety of people's eyes--everyone from the Parents Television Council in the US to my parents.

Bret started his wrestling career in the infamous wrestling "dungeon" which his father Stu built as a training ground for his wrestling promotion, Stampede. In fact, across the rosters of all major wrestling promotions in the 1990s, you could draw a clear line in terms of technical wrestling ability and ring general-ship among those who came from Stu Hart's dungeon and those who'd been trained elsewhere, including prestigious territories at the time, such as the CWA in Memphis. It is in the dungeon ("where screams of pain were as much a part of the scenery as the furniture") that Bret Hart the wrestler was born. And he didn't have it easy at all, just because it was his father's promotion--he was one of Stu and Martha's thirteen kids and, in Stampede, when his dad asked him to step aside, to do a job or lose a title to another man, there isn't one recorded complaint that Bret ever made. In fact, his introduction to the professional wrestling scene was far from dramatic in terms of impact and it was only when he began to consistently team with brother-in-law Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart (who, incidentally, shares a birthday with yours truly), that he started to be recognised as one of North America's best tag team wrestlers. Opportunities began to open up and with Davey Boy Smith and brother Owen Hart (both of whom were to die so young and so tragically) joining the mainstream American wrestling scene as well, the four jumped ship to Vince McMahon Jr.'s WWF in the early 1990s.

It was here that Bret's wrestling character was given a push, with a King of the Ring victory and a controversial Royal Rumble finish involving Lex Luger being major highlights. He also engaged Owen in a memorable match during the same time as well, which he cleanly lost. The brother vs. brother rivalry is something that the then conservative wrestling community had never imagined would be popular but the Hart brothers shattered that myth and it was extremely ironic that it would be credibility issues with respect to how far the envelope should actually be pushed when it comes to character development that would be a huge factor in Bret's departure for WCW in 1997. By the mid-1990s, Bret was the WWF's talisman and very evidently its best wrestler. This despite the fact that he didn't have much of a character--in fact, the only time that there was a discernable overtone to what he did in the ring and in interviews was his pro-Canada stance during the Hart Foundation angle. Indeed, for most of his stint in the public wrestling eye, his ring attire was modeled on the modern punk movement, he initially even referred to himself and The Anvil as "The Pink and Black Attack", which, going by current gimmick standards in wrestling, would be distinctly weak if not entirely laughable.

But none of that seemed to matter, because he was just that good in the ring. I've never seen a style like his and I doubt I ever will. There are so many Bret Hart matches I can recall where the only thing that would seem to keep him alive would be his will to survive. One particular match against Davey Boy Smith is charred into my memory as being the first time I ever saw a wrestler bleed in the ring. Bret was cut open outside the ring when his head bounced off the ringpost and he got up from that and had a hell of a match despite that bump. I'm not going to insult your intelligence by telling you that there was a direct causal connection between the impact with the post and the three inch gully across the front of his skull but that match continued for ten minutes after that and the fact that it didn't suffer quality-wise at all was a tribute to the man and his ability in the ring. And unlike other top-card main-eventers of that time (read Shawn Michaels), his offensive moveset did not only consist of crossbody/kip-up/inverted atomic drop/body slam/elbow off the top/superkick. Bret Hart could win matches in so many ways and the fact that he won most of his matches with the sharpshooter only served to enhance the potency of that particular weapon. I was more than a little disappointed in later years when notable wrestlers such as The Rock and Chris Benoit used the sharpshooter to great practical benefit. The sharpshooter was Bret Hart's and it should've been left that way.

There is a sense of genuineness about Bret Hart that is embedded in my mind that is hard to explain. His character was always willing to go that extra mile for the fans, whether it be giving advice to people on a write-in show about how to eat right in order to become a wrestler or his trademark gesture of giving his eye-shades to a kid sitting at ringside--a tradition carried into the modern day by superstars such as The Hurricane, Rey Mysterio and (in a weirdly sexual way) Val Venis. It wasn't just that. He was believable as a character as well. When Bret Hart said something, you'd believe it. Even when he promised to beat the Undertaker at Summerslam 1997 and agreed that if he lost, he'd never wrestle in the US again. Jim Ross who was interviewing him at the time tried to reason with him and begged him to reconsider: "you're wrestling the Undertaker!" and Bret would say, "yes I know I'm wrestling the Undertaker." He'd given his word. He won the match. It was that simple.

Any piece on Bret Hart would be incomplete without a mention of the Montreal Screwjob and I've talked about this over and over and over again with a variety of people and I've analysed what happened that night thousands of times. My (admittedly biased) take on the situation is this: you don't do that to a guy like Bret Hart. You just don't. And if he "punched Vince right in the fucking mouth", well, then, Vince deserved to be punched "right in the fucking mouth." It is from this moment on, I fear, that Bret was never the same. He had been created to have an industry centre around him and he went to WCW at a time when there was a philosophy of back-stabbing rampant among an overpopulated roster of has-been's and under-achievers. The loss of Owen and his blatant under-utilization at WCW were possibly the two biggest reasons why he suffered so much mentally during his time there and the fact that he was still able to consistently steal the show (I recall in particular a bout between Benoit and him for the vacant WCW Heavyweight Championship which was so good it was untrue) despite such mediocre treatment and a less-than-respectful fan response only went to prove how much better he was than the rest of that company. And try as I might, I simply cannot forgive Bill Goldberg for that kick that effectively ended Bret Hart's career. And it's not just about the irony of him having been put out of wrestling despite never injuring anyone who'd ever been in the ring with him--it's about the fact that Bret had always been able to make a match so good that it would raise the stock of both its participants. Think back to Austin's face turn at Wrestlemania after he passed out due to blood loss and exhaustion. The biggest moment in his career came when he was unconscious. Think back to Shawn Michaels winning the Iron Man Match also at Wrestlemania (I loved how they promoted that match) in sudden death overtime with two superkicks. The reason Shawn Michaels achieved his "boyhood dream" is because the man in the ring with him was big enough as a human being not just to forget their locker room fight from the previous summer but to be willing to lose at Wrestlemania so that "The Showstopper" could have his time in the sun. That speaks volumes. Oh, and by the way, for the statistically inclined, Bret Hart is 3-0 against Goldberg, responsible for half of the singles defeats ever sustained by Goldberg in his career.

Since his retirement in October 2000, there have been major pitfalls as well, not least the stroke in 2002 that paralysed him, which, thankfully, he has recovered from almost completely. It was also incredibly classy of him to accept his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame two Wrestlemanias ago, even though his no-show at the PPV itself was completely understandable. He was also right inasmuch as a Hall of Fame honour by any other wrestling promotion would mean more to him than Vince's grudging acceptance ever will. I've also realised while writing this that I really need to get my hands on that autobiography. However, before I do that, there also has to be an appropriate ending to this heartfelt (if somewhat inconsistently written) tribute. So here it is:

To Bret "The Hitman" Hart, the man who made wrestling REAL to me.

Truly, the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ajit Namoor

This is a short story I wrote about six years ago, during the vacations between Class IX and Class X. I found it recently while cleaning the house, buried deep in an old, old diary. I read it again and couldn't resist laying it down one more time. Pardon the pulpishness of the writing and also remember that I wrote this when I was 14.

Here goes.


I started my lunch with food on my table and Maths on my mind. Having been singled out for attention in Mr. Thomas’ Maths class was hardly reason to celebrate.
“Mr. Ghosh,” he had whispered into my ear, “I want that problem solved by the end of recess or else…”
It was the kind of whisper I was likely to remember.
However, it wasn’t Mr. Thomas making good on his Marlon Brando-like threat that concerned me, I was wondering whether Ajit Namoor would turn up.
Last night, I had been pleasantly surprised by a familiar, chirpy voice over the phone.
“Ghosh, you old bugger, how are you?”
Well, to cut a long story short and to clean up the language (a lot), he basically said that he’d be rejoining the school and would meet me in the canteen the next day. Now I sat there wondering if Ajit would actually turn up or if he had indulged in some long distance leg-pulling from East London, where he had spent the better part of the last eighteen months.
“Ahem,” someone tapped me on the shoulder, “may I sit here?”
Ajit Namoor.
“Hi Ajit,” I said with surprise, “how have you been?”
I looked at him and he looked back at me, smiling. Goodness, how he had changed! He had shrunk so far that it seemed that two of him could fit into his wheelchair. I shook his hand and stared at the crinkly, shriveled hand that he put in my palm. He had weakened considerably.
Not that you would know.
His voice was still full of energy, his brain working in overdrive, trying to put the wheels of the next prank in motion. The feel-good feeling was enhanced by the wide-eyed innocent smile that perpetually played on his lips. Not only was he as entertaining as ever but his intelligence too, seemed to have sharpened.
That was one reason why I loved being around him—he was genuinely bright and one could engage him in an animated conversation about almost any topic under the sun. He was also, I found, the person I most closely connected with mentally. Apart from the fact that he supported West Ham United. Poor soul! There was nothing discernable in his demeanour that had changed, apart from a Cockney twinge to his accent.
Sitting in the lunch hall, we chatted about times past, warmly recalling old experiences, our shared triumphs and sorrows. The time between us just melted away. There was something else about him that hadn’t changed—his appetite. Always a connoisseur, he munched away at his lunch with that dreamy look of contentment in his eyes, as if he had found heaven. Despite the canteen’s usually miserable offerings, I, too, found the food pretty good. Time sure did fly while we were having fun.
Till the bell rang.
“…And thus,” Ajit added with a flourish, “I believe that it’s criminal to accuse the guy for the deaths of people in a terrorist attack. I mean, we don’t sue the Wright brothers for a plane crash, do we?”
“I can’t argue with that,” I conceded. It was impossible.
“I guess time’s up,” he said, with emptiness in his voice.
“I guess so,” I said, feeling the same emptiness. “Call me sometime,” I said, as he wheeled away.
“By the way,” he added, his voice trailing, “if you divide your little equation by √2, you’ll find it reduces to a simple bi-quadratic expression.”

A crippling road accident. Leukaemia. And he braved through it all.
The conversation I have written of was the last I had with my dear friend Ajit Namoor. He lost his ten year battle with leukaemia a few days later.
But the one thing that astounded me about him and the thing that remains my first thought when I think of him was his smile. All his misfortunes had left him at death’s door. He had been handed a death sentence but he refused to accept it.
Instead, he lived his life with a grace and positive attitude that was an inspiration to all those around him. In all the time that I knew him, not once did I see him depressed. Never. That, quite possibly, is the best compliment I can pay him.
Whenever I raised the uncomfortable topic of his brittle health, he always expressed his fervent desire to live till he was a hundred. Well, in the hearts and minds of all those lives he touched, he will live far, far beyond a hundred.
Ajit, my dear friend, thanks for the memories.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Rat Race Version 1.0

Before I begin, I'd like to state that in the months during which this blog has seen less action than a monk on a vow of celibacy, there have been two significant developments that have contributed to these words being put before your eyes today.

One is my new-found appreciation of the value of the strategic capitalisation of letters of the alphabet that contributes a significant, if small, increment to the viewing ease (notice that I say 'viewing' and not 'reading') of continuous paragraphs of text such as this. The other is a little something called a New Year's resolution. Admittedly, it's not much of a resolution to agree to commit sufficient time to come up with one blog entry a month but I do happen to believe that what I write will be better than a lot of crap that I've read at comparable fora, so there's an implied, if somewhat self-indulgent guarantee of quality, in addition to the aforementioned regularity. Which is more than I can say of any such half-assed promise I've ever made.

The issue I'm dealing with now is of the expectations I have from the recruitment process at National Law School. Mention, however, is necessary of the fact that the subject-matter isn't entirely of my choosing, in fact, this entry is quite a dedication. There's probably only one person in the world who has understood what I meant by that, which is how I'd like it to be.

In terms of time spent, I am a month into the second half of my life here at law school (and quite a half-time interval it was, I gather) which would ordinarily be sufficient cause for a quiet reminisce, a nice dinner somewhere or liberal doses of alcohol, depending on what kind of crowd you fit in with. Un/fortunately, it has also heightened the objectives of most people regarding why they came here to begin with and what with some fairly outrageous training contract carrots that it may be assumed will be dangled in front of us twelve months from now, several people, some noticeably, some even more noticeably have embarked on poorly concealed campaigns of CV-building and/or CGPA assaults on the top-end of class (I exempt myself from neither category, for the current purposes.)

I've thought about these happenings a lot of late and it has significantly influenced what I think the recruitment process should be about. Going solely by the fact that the title would be terribly cool, I'm going to call these "Ego's Ten Commandments":

1. Thou shalt have free and fair elections.
You're deciding/significantly impacting the future of the entire class. Let people be given the chance to elect someone to the recruitment committee who they think will best represent interests.

2. Thou shalt not impose any open disclosure bullshit.
Letting people hold offers and then have to make a decision is infinitely better than forcing them only to act upon offers either on a first-come-first-serve or a if-you-break-it-you-buy-it basis. In either of these situations, open disclosure doesn't raise potential salaries, it raises potential rivalries.

3. Thou shalt let the firms decide.
Recruiters come to recruit because they think they will have access to everyone who is going to pass out with a degree. Artificially restricting their market to people to eliminate people already considering other offers would be a little unfair in that sense. They come to recruit thinking that they are gaining the chance to approach the best in the country. Why disappoint them?

4. Thou shalt learn from thy predecessors' mistakes.
There will be a LOT of them. Trust me.

5. Thou shalt love thy neighbour.
Or best friend. Or girlfriend. Or roommate. Or whoever else it is who wants your job. Please be happy for other people. They've been good enough to get where they are after (what will be) the better part of five years. Or at least known how to crack an interview.

6. Thou shalt emphasise brevity in representation.
Everything from meetings to showcauses to CV writing should be laden with the value that there are many ways of saying things. The quicker they are said, the quicker we can all get what we want and cut.

7. Thou shalt not cheat.
It's the worst way of representing yourself to the outside world. What have you learnt if, on a list of "selected and relevant" achievements/activities, all you're doing is lying or putting down something that you know, hand-on-heart, you didn't work for/is not true? Someone who didn't have much of a CV once told me, "Anyone who has a CV longer than two pages is faffing." Inadvertantly, he'd said everything.

8. Thou shalt act mature.
It's a matter of pride, if nothing else. To the employers, it gives an impression of professionalism and focused attention. To batchmates, it offers a chance to perhaps rethink some hastily-made
judgements and take back some uncharitable things said. To juniors, it sets an example of how it should be done. Not the worst thing in the world.

9. Thou shalt, at a holistic level, believe that everything will be alright.
We are in a position which a lot of people our age only dream of. And while angst is so prominent here that it's cool, there's a lot of solace as also actual truth to be found in the fact that there's enough out there for everyone to consider themselves successful, without pulling this one's confirmation letter or abusing that one for taking an opposing stance at a recruitment meeting.

10. Lastly, (and this one may be the most important of all) under no circumstances shalt my better-known roommate be right about anything.

I have spoken.

I've always wanted to say that.

I'm not sure if there's a point to this story but I'm going to tell it again.

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India
I've been wilfully caught up in the self-defeating quest to get to know myself for years. I've never expected anything beneficial to result from such a quest. I tend to evoke extremely polarised reactions from people I get to know in passing. Consequently, only those people who know me inside-out would honestly claim that I'm a person who's just "alright." It's not a coincidence that the description I've laid out above has no fewer than, title included, eleven references to me (make that twelve). I'm affectionately referred to as "Ego." I think that last statement might have given away a tad too much. Welcome Aboard.

IHTRTRS ke pichle episode mein aapne dekha...

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