Thursday, November 7, 2013

Brick Lane

"Forgotten energy may hold these persons fast in memory, but they would hardly have any ground left under them and even their legs would have already turned to smoke."

~~ Franz Kafka, Diaries; Sunday, 19th July, 1910~~

Abstractions. Coherent, sensible, logical progression
Of intangible notions. Naive realism of the infallibility
Of observationally unverifiable postulations; his one brick lane.
A road oft walked; dark corners reek of conversancy,
As reluctant leaves shed to cover schizophrenic foot prints,
Metaphysical tears seep in through the cracks in the sidewalks of sanity.
His one brick lane.

Silent night. Searing joy of passive pain;
Insomnia. Phantasmagoric loss of illusory patterns
Conjectured in a nebulous mind. 
A necessity born out of cultivated forlornness. Or
An imposition of the subliminal cognisance? Irrelevant.
This conversant numbness. Overshadows.
Abstractions. His one brick lane.

Coincidence. Of necessity begotten a fancied muse,
Labored weakness begets unsolicited weary. Ineluctible.
Comprehensibility unhindered, unfaltered fallibility.
Abstractions dissolve in silence.
His one brick lane.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Why I Still Do What I Do

Exactly 20 months later, I am back at Changi Airport, SIngapore. And it brings back so many memories!! It seems like only yesterday that I was flying to Auckland, a city I had no idea how deeply I will get entwined with, a little nervous, a little apprehensive, and overwhelmingly curious about what lay ahead! What followed was, without the shadow of a doubt, the happiest 14 months of my life. In more than one way, New Zealand, and Auckland in particular, was to become that one great factor that would rip me out of the rut I had been in for almost seven years. As cheesy as it might sound, Auckland, in all its majesty and serenity literally brought me back from the brink. I had wandered to the very edge of sanity, and in more than a few ways blurred the line that divides lunacy and sanity. And looking back, I am more than certain that had I not come to Auckland, perhaps I would have crossed over to the dark side of the moon. I owe it all to a lovely city and its wonderful people. But most of all, I owe it to Parag, Martha, Maria, Denis, Cam, Jonathan, Ruth, and Jim for being the angels that they were to the emotionally immature and unstable post-adoloscent 26 year-old that I was. And then, of course, there was Jason Brown. In so many ways, all that I am, all that I will ever be, I will owe it all to Jason Brown. And then there was S.A., the most mesmerizing woman I will ever meet. I have no words to describe the impact she had on me, the countless ways she made me so much better than I could have ever been. Losing her was the most difficult thing I have ever had to cope with, and I am not sure I really have 'coped' with it, or that I really ever will. But she did teach me to bear burdens, smile at the face of adversity, and to keep moving, if nothing else. "I never cry", she used to say during our long walks down Grafton Village; "I am a little runaway. Daddy's girl gone bad", she would proclaim, puffing out her sixth or seventh continuous cigarette. Somehow, I can almost hear her say those words even now, with that ever so sublime hint of rebelliousness spiking up that enormous reservoir of patience and elegance that was so characteristic of her Irish-Scottish descent. And so she was, a little runaway- daddy's little girl who left home at 15, took her 12 year-old sister with her, and managed to provide for both of them from her early teens. When I first met her, smoking in a dark corner outside that UoA building, she was working two shifts and pursuing a research degree in one of the most obscure and abstract branches of the philosophy of mind, language and mathematics. We really didn't see much of each other during the daytimes, what with her either working or writing her thesis, and me working in the field. Moving in together did not change that much either. She was still gone most of the day, leaving me to feed her cat, clean the dishes, plan my PhD and stroll the streets. She would often return past midnight, fatigued beyond description. We would have some coffee, go for a walk for an hour or two. Then back at her place, she would get back to writing her thesis, while I spent a little time doing the ledger and updating the accounts, paying bills online, and then go to bed while she was still working. I rarely ever found her in bed in the morning. By the time I woke up, her side would be neatly cleaned, folded and tucked. She was gone again. That was our routine. There was very little in the way of actual physical company. We never talked about the future. I did not bring it up because I did not know what mine held. For her part, I suppose she did not have the luxury to 'dream' about the future. She was paying for her and her sister's education, which in NZ is not exactly cheap. She never complained, though. Never wanted assurances, commitments or explanations. She was too self-sufficient to need any. I had none to give, even if I wanted to. Towards the end of my time in Auckland, she grew a little quiet. We still went for our walks, still lived in the same house, ate on the same table, slept in the same bed. But she had become more passively curious about my time in Australia. She would often wonder why I, the consummate theoretician, was going to an experimental school? But she always ended those conversations with a smile, "You realize I would still kick your butt, theoretically". Those were about the only times I remember seeing her in a light mood. She would burst out in laughter as she explained why direct realist experimental evidence will never replace abstract theories. For my part, I loved to listen to her laugh. Academically, I agreed with her theoretical position, but also had a curiosity about the experimental side of it. She had none, albeit she understood more about experimenting than most empiricists I know. But she said she understood why I had to leave. She did not want me to take up a menial job in Auckland, she would say. But she wished we had more time left, and she had less work to do. Moving to Australia was just not possible for her then. "But hey, I can drop in anytime you are on vacation, because I don't need a visa to go to OZ", she would try to cheer me up. But next morning, she would be gone before I opened my eyes, again. A harsh reminder of the hard life she lived. Towards the end, she lost so much weight that her already slim body looked nearly skeletal. She was thinking of switching to part-time study and taking up another job. I did my part to try and dissuade her. So did her sister who promised she can take care of herself. And then, just like that I was gone. And a short four months later, so would she. Looking back, perhaps I was a little selfish. Once again, I had put my own ambitions ahead of other more pressing matters. Would things have been different had I stayed back and taken a job at Marlow's? The thought keeps me awake at nights. Her sister still calls every week. Ritually. Assures me that it was not my burden to bear in the first place. But that doesn't help. Especially given that I already bear too much burden. I bear so much of the burdens that I don't want to. Why didn't I choose to bear the burden that would have at least made me happy? Because that's the one thing I am not- happy. I suppose there are no definite answers to these issues. There is only some retrospective satisfaction to be gained from the sad logic that in order to have straddled with them, at one point we must have been a part of them. It's the only faint excuse of a logic that keeps the thread of sanity from snapping. But, even still, those last five months in Auckland are very dear to me. The memories keep me on my feet, even as they slowly break me, a little bit every day.

I miss her so much.

Sitting here, at the Singapore Airport, it chills my spine to think how things might have turned out had I not come to Auckland, had I gone  back to EFLU. It was just a little more than a year, the time I had in Auckland, and yet it seems almost impossible now that there is a very large part of my life when I knew nothing of Auckland. And it seems even more improbable that I would have ever not come to Auckland. Isn't it strange, how things turn out to be? Butterfly effect, they call it. You can't help but be amazed, when you really think about it, at how much impact a single turn of events can have, at what chain of developments might be set in motion through a single moment's whimsical action! It was a whimsical action, of course, when I applied to the University of Auckland almost three years back. I did not expect to hear from them. But hear I did. And now, here I sit, at Singapore, again, marvelling at all that has come to be. So much I have that I have gained, and so much that I have lost, and through it all how a single woman,through her life and death, has guided me out of the pit I had put myself in. Some people come in to your life to stay, but never really mean that much to you. Some just pass through, without noticing or being noticed. And then there are those who blow in like the cool west wind, ruffle the pages of your old diary, make a mess of your hair, blow a refreshing breath into your very being, and then, as suddenly as they had appeared, they disappear. Leaving you to wonder whether they only came to make that difference in your life, and having made the difference simply ceased to be? I am not a believer in fate, or fortune. But it does seem to me, that Carl Sagan's profound words of wisdom, "We are way for the Universe to realize itself", have so much more to it than you can ever imagine. I do believe that the most important people in your life come because you really truly needed them. Not because you wanted them. I suppose, then, that the coming is to be cherished, and not so much the loss mourned. For while the people may be gone, the impact they have on your life live on through you as testimony to the kind of people they were. Some have asked, given how close S.A. and I were, how and why I go about my usual academic pursuits so soon after such a loss? Well, I do it because I owe it to her. Not out of a misguided sense of gaining some academic achievement to cover up the gaping hole in my life. There are none that can, and I have given up 'hope' a very long time back, and I live my life one day at a time. I do it because I must. To not will be an insult to all she had helped me learn, so very patiently, over so many sleepless nights. Even now, when I get through my Confirmation of Candidature in less than two months when most take six, when I successfully handle three different projects simultaneously with two of the most famous academics in the world, quit smoking and give up alcohol all by myself, the most important lessons I learned remain the ones I learned from a slim, blonde, Scottish-Irish Kiwi woman, with a penchant for smoking and rebelling against authority. For what I learned from her, I was not taught.

I sit at the Singapore Airport rapt in thought, and in the background the lounge speakers of the Hard Rock Cafe start playing Grateful Dead's famous 1964 title: "What a long strange trip it's been"! How proper! How utterly, painfully proper! And what lies ahead? For once, I am not unwilling to go the distance to figure out.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Lowland: First Impressions of Jhumpa Lahiri's Most Powerful Narrative Till Date.

"Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
 Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
 Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
 Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees [...]"

"Strange fruits" by Billie Holliday! The famous African-Americar singer once said it made her physiologically "sick", every time she had to perform it on NPR. It also happens to be the favorite song of one the main characters in the book (I won't give out any spoilers, don't worry!), so I thought we could begin on that note!

 Actions, and inactions, that we choose to indulge in affect lives beyond our wildest imaginations, and what happens today, sometimes, continue to affect people who may be yet unborn. Beginning in the background of a tumultuous '60s India, Jhumpa Lahiri traces the course of two lives, at once intimately connected and yet separated by continents and oceans. In what is undoubtedly Lahiri's most devastatingly powerful narrative till date, the reader is invited to follow the lives of Udayan and Subhash, from the streets of Kolkata dipped in the bloody Naxalite Revolution to the equally upheaving counterculture current in the '60s Rhode Island. A master storyteller, Lahiri draws uncanny parallels between the Naxalite movement in Bengal and Kerala, an unfortunately violent leftist uprising, and the counterculture movement that tried to reshape American history in a very different and non-violent way. Lahiri's pen, both political and personal, and at once "dipped in red, white and blue" (as the NYT puts it, rather sycophantically) and yet screaming of her diasporic heritage, will shock readers with the artistic detail of her depiction of how two essentially stagnant societies, so very far apart from each other, react so very similarly, especially with their unfathomable fear of what they failed to understand and in the spontaneity of the resultant violence, to an entire generation that seemed to be asking all the right questions to all the wrong people. The radical atmosphere of the 60s serve as the unmistakeable background for Lahiri's semi-historical novel, but her keen observation of the magnitude of the effect that organised socio-political oppressions have on human lives, and how reactions to the past continue to haunt generations born long after a revolution has been relegated to mere footnotes in a history textbook, is both harrowingly beautiful and devastatingly unnerving. In fact, the insightful reader would be almost able to see a shadow of Noam Chomsky's (named in person in the narrative) toothy smile slowly forming as one progresses through the chapters, as Lahiri slowly but steadily deconstructs the notions of 'love', 'family', 'heritage', 'inheritance, 'migration', 'motherhood', 'nationality' and most importantly 'the normal and the acceptable'. The Lowland  is, undoubtedly, one of the most insightful novels of recent years, and personally I will go so far as to put it on the same shelf as The God of Small Things and The Catcher in The Rye. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Case Against Psychology : A Short Rant

Simply put, the problem with psychology lies in its "dark corridor', as the nobel laureate Richard Feynman used to call it- an inherently dogmatic and extremely non-scientific obsession with a vaguely defined, ill-conceived, and poorly formalised notion of 'the normal'. Some would argue that the post-Chomskyan revolution, post-Cognitive era psychology has matured and outgrown the pettiness that was the hallmark of the field in the early twentieth century. But a close examination of the so called 'scientific contributions' of psychology, most of which are not remotely scientific to say the least, would reveal a very disheartening state of affairs. It has been said of Psychology, Cognitive Science and Neuroscience that there are only two ways of making a name for yourself in these fields: you either ally yourself with Noam Chomsky, or you join that group of would-be debunkers who thrive on the 'what if'-ambition of someday falsifying Chomskyan theories. The latter group has a long history of producing immensely talented individuals who have all been relegated to mere footnotes in the chapter documenting the golden era of cognitivist research into the mind-brain dichotomy simply because of a misguided and egotistical obsession with disproving Chomsky, in spite of the numerous apparent advantages of Chomskyan theories, not the least of which involve an inherent compatibility with Occam's Razor and a very high rating on the 'economy' scale. The trend started, of course, with the vengeful followers of the disgraced B.F Skinner, and sadly enough Psychology has fallen prey to a sort of empty empiricism/empiricity more and more with the passing years as these ex-Skinnerians have flocked to the field and attempted to hide their old affiliations with an unnecessary obsession with the laboratory, creating badly conceived pseudo-scientific empirical methods with more free variables than can be accounted for even in any of the hard sciences, hoping to find a counter-point to something based purely on common sense, in the dusty corners of the laboratory. A hilariously misguided attempt, to say the least, but it also makes one ponder the implications that the lack of an overarching theory has on a discipline, and the kind of dangerous precedence that can be set when practitioners of a supposedly scientific field of inquiry either deliberately overlook the need to, or consistently fail to place their research in a broader historical context of the kind of intellectual tradition that has contributed to 'the structure of scientific revolution', as Thomas Kuhn would put it. The converse, of course, is a hallmark of Chomskyan theories. Over the years, Noam Chomsky, has taken great efforts to place his theories in a broad historical context, and gone to great details in outlining the nature and historical development of the romantic-rationalist tradition in which he has attempted to construct much of his theories, and all of his linguistic theories. In reading Chomsky's opinions and his theories regarding the nature of I-Language, the Language Faculty (both broad and narrow), the mind-brain dichotomy, the nature of acquisition and the ever-present Plato's Problem, a clear connection can be observed descending from Aristotle, Plato, Rene Descartes, through Charles Darwin, Ernst Myers and all the way down to the modern day evolutionists such as Richard Dawkins. This gradual historical evolution of a rationalist theory, profoundly lacking in Psychology, is of course the hallmark of Cartesian Linguistics. In fact, so much so that on that fateful evening in 1966 when Noam Chomsky addressed the crowd at Princeton University, a crowd composed primarily of Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Philosophers, Mathematicians and post-Structuralist linguists, fifteen minutes into his most famous lecture the convener had to ask him to re-schedule for a three day 'training workshop' because the content proved too difficult for the gathered crowd, as none other than the grand old man of American Biology, Ernst Myers, himself documents in his biography. This very confounding phenomenon, pervasive throughout the history of Psychology, that represents either the effects of the lack of an unifying abstract theory or an unwillingness on part of the practitioners to cope with the painful process of deconstruction, an essential part of formulating an overarching theory that has been undergone in all the sciences (Physics in the 15th century, Chemistry in the 18th, and Biology in the 16th century), so far as I understand it (although which is truer than the other, I cannot tell), has led Psychology down the dark path of 'empiricity'. In fact,'empiricity' might even be the key word to this whole discussion. A careful examination of the methodologies abundant in Psychological research is immediately terrifying in its complete lack of, and an even more frightening unawareness of, the distinction between 'Scientificity' and 'Empiricity', to use romantic, naive-realist, analytic philosophical terminology. The distinction is quite simple, as with most things that pose complex questions, and does not require the employment of complex logical-mathematical formulae and polysyllabic terminologies, but only of everyday common sense. 'Scientificity' implies a necessarily skeptical questioning of the Universe and its structuring, and a deliberate and even labored attempt to gather rational, logical, and empirical evidence for one's beliefs, with any two of the three qualifiers filling-in for the third in the case of unavailability of evidence representing the latter. Examples abound in the hardest of all Science- Physics. Much of what we know, understand and marvel about, about the structure of the Universe that our pale blue dot of a planet is placed in, comes from the extremely complex, and unnervingly abstract, branch of theoretical Physics- Cosmology. Cosmology employs observational and direct realist empirical evidence only as a last yardstick for any theory, the unavailability of which is only taken to imply a 'momentary' confound which can be accounted for by the internal logical consistency of the theory itself, granted, of course, non-circularity of arguments. Notice the profound elegance of such a theoretical position- while utmost importance is attached to  direct realist, observational evidence, even more than any other type of evidence perhaps, it is still acknowledged that such conclusive evidence may yet prove elusive, not because they do not exist but because of the limitations placed upon us by the very nature of the type of being we are. The Drake Equation, used to calculate the probability of making contact with Extra-Terrestrial Life Form,  the fulcrum of NASA's SETI program, is a golden example of such necessary abstractions. In fact, as has been standard in Astrophysics, Astronomy, Cosmology, and to a slightly lesser extent in advanced Quantum Mechanics, logically consistent theories based on rationalistdeductionist reasoning are taken to be the default, or to use a linguistic term, the unmarked state-of-affairs. And for good reasons- there can be no observational, direct realist, evidence for Black Holes, or Worm Holes, or why Entropy must never break the speed of light. And yet, to dispute the existence of Black Holes on those grounds is akin to disputing Evolution because one cannot walk into the San Francisco City Zoo and witness a chimpanzee stand up, shed its fur, pull on a pair of Levis and walk out a homo sapien. Theories, in the hard sciences, are formed to account for the default, countering which amounts to making extraordinary claims which, as Carl Sagan so eloquently put it, requires extraordinary evidence. In fact, that statement (in its more elaborate quantifying form), now known as The Sagan Standard, is the yardstick employed by The Norwegian Academy of Science to determine the scientific validity of novel experimental claims. And Psychology, unfortunately, more than any other field of study, consistently fails to live up to The Sagan Standard. Perhaps, over the years, this has led to some sort of antipathy  among Psychologists towards Cartesian Linguistics. That would, of course, explain why most of the unsubstantiated criticism of Cartesian Linguistics stem from Psycholinguistic circles. It is not a new trend, however. The death of Universal Grammar has been predicted many many times before. And Noam Chomsky, now in his ninth decade, has a long history of outmanoeuvring and outlasting his opponents. I am not saying that Noam Chomsky cannot be wrong. Anybody could be wrong. We could all be wrong about the pink unicorn. But for the time being, in light of the nature of the arguments that have been supplied against Chomskyan theories in general, my money is on Avram Noam Chomsky.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Michael Leisher's Song

It's the words that a warrior once held close,
It's the words that a warrior once said he chose...
It's the words of a warrior… so listen close;
My family, my friends, my whole world gone,
Everything I knew proved to be wrong.
And it is so true when they sing that song;
Everything that you do comes back ten folds home.
A product of a bad life, and a bad land,
Can only make one thing;
And that's a broken man.
What I have become,
People can not understand.
They just sneer at the little muthafuka,
With a messed up plan.
Either way it goes, there's a lot of prisons now;
You gotta expect, if you slip you're prison bound.
Attached at the wrists with a chrome bracelet;
Surrounded by officers talking their shit.
It's a risk that we take, it's a price that we pay;
But you need to realize they will never go away;
'Coz there's always gonna be somebody standing in your way;
Walking with the undertaker, ready to take your place.
It's the words of a warrior, yeah;
It's the words that a warrior once said he chose...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Postcards from Padfoot-2: The Return of 'It'

It came knocking again. After over an year's hiatus. Right when things were looking up, and he was beginning to get hopeful that he will never see him, it, again. It took him completely by surprise, and he hardly had the time to realise what was about to strike. One moment he was strolling in the backyard of his suburban Sydney apartment, smoking a marlboro, and the very next everything seemed to stretch impulsively away from him and the universe went elastic. He could feel all the blood in his body rushing to his head, the vein in his temple throbbing, and that familiar smell of a heady sense of purpose. He could feel every muscle in his chest contract and relax rhythmically, and almost count the extremely controlled and deep breathing. He was strangely conscious of how exactly and accurately aware of his environment he had become in the few seconds that had elapsed since it struck. He saw the tiny thing scoot past him and right under the door out of the corner of his eyes. His fists were clenched so hard he could feel his nails digging into his palm as his knuckles went white. Even in the 11-low of late Autumn Sydney his forehead was covered in sweat, and he could feel the cold trickle of sweat climbing down his spine. He tried to control the shivering of his arms. He hoped, prayed, that the tiny little thing was safely inside, behind the wooden door. It was costing him every bit of resolve he could master to stop giving in to what he knew so well he, it, wanted. It would be so easy just to give in. Let it take over. Let it feast, one more time. Let it take care of all the memories of all the shades of grey- lies, insults, humiliations, betrayals, mockeries. It would be so easy to channel all of it into it.  He knew how good it is at cleansing with crimson. But he promised himself, last time. He promised he will never let it take control again. Things are broken inside. Some damages can only be painted over. Never healed. There is a monster inside. Begging for a kill. He thought he had it under control. It  had let him be for over an year. But he was wrong, he now thought. It was only that dear old city keeping it at bay. He had said this before- he cannot exactly put this into writing, or even put it in words, but there was something strange, beautifully and serenely so, about that city that soothed and calmed his nerves. Its grey skies, drizzling horizons and year long cold breeze put something very ancient and very elemental inside him to a deep slumber. Even as he recollected all these, he could almost feel the cool year-long rain of the city he unwillingly left behind drenching his hair, as he walked up the sloping S*m***s St., up towards The Village. But here, in the sun-kissed, dry Sydney desert, things are a lot different. Amid the bulls and bears of the megapolis, it yearns to be freed. There is no poetry here. No muse. There are only hot shots, and big timers. No country for dreamers or poets, this. In the land of the Heroes and the Villains, the Beast will not be denied.

Monday, March 4, 2013


As the eighth year drifts in,
The seven gone by, sighs.
Melancholy drips from the eyes,
In faces turned to ghosts.
Held steadfast in the mind,
By memories of long abandoned dreams.
Empty nests, forgotten lays, faded tunes
And mockingbirds gone away.  
Lingering doubts, drifitng nostalgia,
Uncertain amnesia,
Can memories lie?
Or do the threads of an old life,
Knit patterns all too familiar,
And color the days
With used dye?

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Endless shades of grey,
Timeless, drift in a reverie
Spanning the horizon.
Reflections. A nebulous mind
Rapt in an unfathomable haze.
Overwhelmed by conversancy
With unacquainted overtures,
Strays through nothingness.
Under the ageless canopy,
Time trawls on to eternity.
And endless shades of grey,
Hover around a perceived lunacy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hey You

[Note:- This one is, obviously, inspired by Pink Floyd's legendary song. I was sitting in the balcony of Grafton Oaks, watching the sun go down, sipping from my mug and reading Jack Keruac's classic On the Roads, pondering over my muse, when this came to me. I was not too sure about it, but I felt the thought could be worth something. Anyway, this one is for S.A., whose many idiosyncrasies have so enamored me, and whose words, the rare few that were sent my way, inspired more poesy in me than most things I have encountered in my life. Here's to you, S****! ]

Prologue: "You know how I said I never cry? Well, this was the last straw."

Hey You!
Out there in your home
Sitting lonely
Humming songs
Do you remember me?
Hey You!
Walking by the street
Where we had to meet
Do you ever miss me?
Hey You!
Do you happen to think of old times?
Would you care?
I am leaving home…