Happy new year

A cousin sent this poem on our whatsapp group.

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Shanta Shelke’s words have a way to touch your heart with their simplicity and elegance. This is my quick attempt to put her poetry in my own words, just so it can reach a wider audience.

which book which writer
what script and what language
an invisible hand that turns

the pages of time endless

the memory of the past year
summons fears in my heart
on this brand new page

will hope pierce through the dark?

with each roar of the wild sea
the sand sinks bit by bit
And yet to greet every new wave

the shore awaits with beauty and grit

as my words console me
my smile breaks down every tear
i stand here with my arms open
to welcome you, oh new year!
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Star Men

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Star studded ceiling of the Beckman auditorium

I love college towns – the university libraries, extension courses, public lectures and events, keep the student in me alive and young. So, right after I decided to move to Los Angeles for a job, I knew I wanted to live in Pasadena. With Caltech in picture, UCLA and USC were not even contenders 😉 That Pasadena was also an easy commute to work and generally a nice neighborhood to live in, was a convenient coincidence. I looked up Caltech’s public events and put the ones I liked on my calendar. Yesterday morning, when google reminded me that I was to attend a screening of a documentary called Star Men at the Beckman auditorium, I made a casual mental note of it. Little did I know how wonderful the evening would turn out to be!

Star Men, a documentary by Alison Rose featured four retired British astronomers – Donald Lynden-Bell, Roger Griffin, Neville “Nick” Woolf and Wallace Sargent , who are recreating a road trip they took decades ago. On the way, Rose asked them questions about life, universe and everything and obviously their answers were much more enlightening than 42! These gentlemen had a lot of stories to share. Story of a mother working housekeeping jobs and getting paid in books and encyclopedias so her children could learn and go to Oxford. Story of developing a liking for astronomy as a 5 year old, during the WWII blackouts when there was no light pollution. Story of curiosity, of picking a topic and reading about it as much and as fast as possible, without worrying about understanding, because slowly, the pieces would fall in place. They remembered their fear of failure, wondering if their work was worthy of the giant, beautiful telescopes they got to handle. They spoke with humility, saying that their work would steer itself, they were just pulling the oars. They talked about friendship – “Once you’ve done things like this, you know people like that for life”. They discussed death’s necessity to weed out old ideas, underlining how vital it is for human progress. They talked about science and math – about discovering equations, not inventing them. And they did it all with unmistakable British humor. These silver haired explorers, who have explored the universe primarily through light, took us on an inspiring, heartwarming  and thought provoking journey.

After being treated to such a fantastic documentary, imagine my delight to see two of these men – Donald and Nick get up from the audience and walk to the stage for a Q&A session. So spellbound were all of us in the audience, that it took us all a few minutes to be able to think of questions to ask. As I got up to stand in line to ask my question, I thought of Feynman. I have read some of his books and a few still sit on my book shelf waiting to be opened. I have also attempted listening to some of his lectures , although most of the physics was much too advanced for me. And every time I have encountered him via a book or a video, I have felt this regret of never being able to meet someone like him, in person. As I walked up to the microphone yesterday evening, I realized that I wouldn’t have that regret anymore.

I wasn’t surprised when in the documentary, Rose asked each of them about God. Couple of them had responses you would expect from scientists – atheist views, Buddhist views. The one I liked the most was Donald’s, that I’ll try to re-phrase here. “I pray”, he said, “not often, but from time to time, although the evidence is not very encouraging. I am a Christian and I do love some of our traditions. Some of them are so lovely!” This reminded me of a conversation I had with my father many years ago. I remember asking him why he did puja (the Hindu prayer ritual) everyday if he was an agnostic ?  “Well”, he had said, “Because it is quite beautiful, isn’t it? The colors of the flowers, the fragrance of the incense sticks, the light of the lamp!” 🙂 Yeah, it is as simple as that because beauty and rationality aren’t mutually exclusive!

Donald went on to say, “I think it is quite important that each of us spends some time away from the small lives we lead day to day, some time to think of bigger things. I find that time at church.” Yesterday evening, I found that time, in the company of these wonderful men as they brought down the universe to earth.

Beckman Auditorium, Caltech

Beckman Auditorium, Caltech

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Hey Mr Tambourine Man

It is a cold rainy November night and I just can’t sleep. I am down with a cold and may be the many cough drops I have eaten through out the day are keeping me wide awake. But I think it is more than that. I have fallen in a rabbit hole and lost my sense of time. Although I am currently excited about quite a few things, yesterday’s regrets and tomorrow’s anxiety have somehow taken over my sense of the present. I have tried to fight it all day. I cooked myself some comfort Indian food this morning. I entertained myself with multiple episodes of 30 Rock. I folded a new origami model and talked to a friend. I ordered take-out in the evening and finished few chapters of a book I have been meaning to read. But NOTHING has worked. Feels like I have been here before and vowed never to come back again. And yet here I am. Loss of energy? Inspiration? Optimism? I don’t have words to describe how this feels. But Bob Dylan does.

I wish I found a portal to travel back in time, just like Woody Allen’s Gil. I’d go back to Dylan’s Minneapolis days. A charming young Dylan clad in his bushy hair and black jacket, strolling on the Stone Arch bridge, playing his harmonica. Unbeknown to him, I’d silently follow behind. I’d readily go under the dancing spell of his music to be transformed, transported and inspired.

But since I can’t do that, I am listening to this song, which is probably my favorite Dylan song. It is a simple melody, beautifully written. And on a day when nothing has worked, it is working. The song itself has a strange calming effect and knowing that Dylan understands my current state of mind is very comforting. I don’t know who Dylan is referring to in the song, but he will always be my Tambourine man.

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My life in the ABBA way of things!

Trying to play and sing "I have a dream" about two years ago!

Trying to play and sing “I have a dream” about two years ago!

People were doing this on Facebook about 5-6 years ago. Yes, I am really late to the party! But, I was working late tonight listening to ABBA and I realized how great their songs are for this. It was quite an interesting exercise. A lot of Berkeley Haas applicants will be doing something similar this year! Anyway, here is what the exercise is – using only song names from *One Artist/Band*, cleverly answer these questions. Post as “My life in the *Band name* way of things!”

 

 

Pick Your Artist
ABBA

Are you a male or female?
I Am Just A Girl

Describe yourself:
Super Trouper

How do you feel:
I Have A Dream

Describe where you currently live:
Money Money Money

If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
Waterloo

Your favorite form of transportation:
Angel Eyes

Your best friend is:
Chiquitita

What’s the weather like:
Take A Chance On Me

Favorite time of day:
Ring Ring

If your life was a TV show, what would it be called:
She’s My Kind Of Girl

What is life to you:
Knowing Me, Knowing You

Your current relationship:
I Saw It In The Mirror

Breaking up:
Love Isn’t Easy

Looking for:
Another Town, Another Train

Your fear:
Disillusion

What is the best advice you have to give:
People Need Love

Thought for the Day:
Move On

How would I like to die:
Hasta Manana

My Motto:
Thank You For The Music

 

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The Night Alive – A review

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Conor McPherson’s “The Night Alive” is a play about darkness. The darkness that causes us to stumble, to lose our way. The darkness that disables us and makes us dependent. The darkness that makes us bitter and distances us from others. The darkness that makes us want to run away from facing our lives. And the darkness that sometimes consumes us and fills us up. But it is also a play about light. The light we seek and find in each other. The light of a mind that is slow and simple. The light of the memories of a time long forgotten.The light of the hopes we have for the future. And the light that awaits us at the end of the tunnel.

We meet the five characters as they are stumbling in the dark. Tommy, a man with an unsteady career as an odd-job guy, is divorced, distanced from his kids and seems to live an aimless life. Uncle Maurice has turned his guilt into fastidiousness and alcoholism. Aimee is a part-time prostitute who is trying to get away from Kenneth, her abusive boyfriend-cum-pimp. Kenneth is clearly having trouble dealing with his mind that is dark and lonely. Doc,Tommy’s slow-witted co-worker and my favorite character in the play, lives with his sister and is thrown out repeatedly by her boyfriend. The neglected state of Tommy’s room mirrors the messy lives the five characters lead.

And yet there is a beauty in this mess and the actors of the Hyde Park Theater under the able direction of Ken Webster, have portrayed it wonderfully. Tom Green finds the generosity in the irritable Maurice. There is a playful innocence in Aimee that Jessica Hughes slowly reveals. Joey Hood uncovers a genuinely troubled soul hidden under the satanic-evil mind. Ken Webster delicately handles the dualities in Tommy; a protector-cum-lover of Aimee and exploitative boss-cum-true friend of Doc. And finally the simplicity, brilliance and affectionate nature of the slow-witted Doc is captured so beautifully by Robert Fisher, I just wanted to get up and give him a big hug!

Two moments in the play stand out as examples of ethereal beauty on stage. One is when Doc, talks about a black hole. The words are like a scientific definition, but their placement in the play and the delivery makes them sound sublime and lyrical.  Another one is a magnificent vignette where Tommy, Aimee and Doc break into an impromptu dance to the radio playing Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. There was such positive energy flowing on stage that I am sure it brought a smile to everyone in the audience. The choice of the song couldn’t have been more apt. What is going on ? Aren’t we all wondering about that and trying to find our way through the darkness. But such is the power of great art that it enables you to see the light, whether in form of a dance or a song or a black hole definition!!

 

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A Bright New Boise : a brief review

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Each of us strives to find meaning in our lives; each of us has a different definition of what this meaning is. In Samuel D. Hunter’s “A Bright New Boise”, we meet five characters who are trying to solve the same existential questions that we all face, albeit in their own ways. Foul-mouthed Pauline (Rebecca Robinson), the store-manager who believes that the only important thing is to achieve real and tangible goals, is too busy trying to run the store effectively to have time for love, family or the Armageddon! Leroy (Chase Brewer), who is trying to shock people out of their routine and complacency with his provocative art, seems to have a confrontational “fuck the world”  attitude, but also has a warm and nurturing side to him. Alex (Nate Jackson), who is wary and not ready to connect with his father, is simply a lost teenager who is trying to make sense of the world around him. No wonder there are dark overtones to his character. Anna (Katie Kohler), a young self-conscious girl who likes to read books/stories with dramatic endings, is such a subtle combination of cynicism and hope, that you realize as the play progresses that she is not really as ditzy as she seems. And finally Will (Benjamin Summers), who is engulfed in the world of evangelism,  fights hard to get out of it and seeks atonement for his mistakes, both past and present, by connecting with his estranged son. You can see that the desperation he feels, both to stay with and move on from his religious convictions, is tearing him apart. “Now, now, now”, he says, waiting for the Armageddon that will end it all and restore the beauty and balance of the universe, and with his every “now”, I waited in desperation for a foolishly dramatic ending. But life just goes on, as wearily, gruesomely and painfully as ever. We are surrounded by odd people with odd ways to make their lives on our odd planet a little more tolerable. This trip to Boise, an eye opener on many different levels, attempts to unravel a few of these oddities. And Hyde Park Theater’s realistic set design (Mark Pickell), splendid acting and insightful direction (Ken Webster) ensures the success of that attempt.

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“A Bright New Boise” plays at Hyde Park Theater until October 25,2014.

Shows are Thur-Sat, 8 pm

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Top ten books that come to mind right now!

When a friend tagged me in a top ten books challenge, or the book bucket challenge ( as it is called on Facebook following the huge success of the ice bucket challenge) I wrote down the following ten books in my status. But as per her suggestion, when I tried writing a reason behind each entry, I couldn’t fit it in a few words. So I made a blog post out of it.The books are listed in no specific order. Here I go

Phantoms in the brain

This appears at the top of the list because this is my most recent read and I can’t stop talking about it. Aptly called the “Sherlock Holmes of Brain Science”, V.S.Ramachandran, the author has made this book as informative as a text-book and as engaging as fiction. Must read for popular science lovers.

Surely you are joking Mr.Feynman

I remember borrowing this book from a friend after a discussion we had about Feynman. I have to shamefully admit that I don’t think I ever returned it.  On the other hand, my brother claims that he actually bought it from a road-side used books stall. He could be right, because I have a feeling that I might be mistaking this book with “Tuesdays with Morrie”(probably because I read them around the same time ?). Either way, this book sits in my parents’ bookshelf in Pune reminding me of times when our young minds were eager to learn all we could about physics, mathematics, electronics and know more about the Feynmans of the world to find inspiration!

The Foundation Trilogy

My father told me about the wonderful universe of Asimov’s science fiction during one of our nightly family-dinner- discussions. Living so far away from home, those discussions, that covered a wide range of topics from science to cinema, are what I miss the most. I wish I could go back to those times again. Just like I wish I could read Asimov for the very first time and be spellbound, once again!

Vyakti ani Valli

I haven’t read much of Marathi literature, but I am glad I have read this book by P.L.Deshpande. What do I say about this author ? I just love him! But then again, who doesn’t ? The entire state of Maharashtra admired and adored this talented writer, comedian, musician, actor and director, who was an exceptional human being. The book is a series of character portrayals, with writing that is both humorous and poignant. That is probably what has prompted me to read it again and again.

Atlas Shrugged

When I read Fountain Head as a nineteen year old, I was taken by the story and the ideology outlined by the author. I loved the book, still do. Then I read Atlas Shrugged as a 25 year old, and I am glad that I took my time before I read it. As a work of fiction, I liked it much better than Fountain Head (except may be a few pages of monologues that were testing my patience). However my views about the author and her philosophy changed quite a bit. I went from unquestioning admiration to a mature combination of appreciation and criticism. I know this can be a topic of much debate, so I will leave it at that!

Perry Mason Novels

I inherited my love for reading mystery novels from my grandfather. Ajoba would bring home two novels at a time from the library and we would take alternate turns to read both the books. One summer, he repeatedly brought home Perry Mason novels and that is when my ever lasting love affair with this series by Erle Stanley Gardener began. As a young girl I dreamed of being Mason’s secretary, Della Street but with much more contribution in helping him solve his cases! Also, in my dreams, they were lovers 😉

Electronic Devices and Circuits

It was a big fat yellow book that I bought at the start of the semester. I remember wondering to myself if I was every going to read even a single page! But this book by Millman and Halkias is one of my top ten. Not because I read the entire book, because i didn’t. Not because I fully understood the principles outlined, because I didn’t. And not because I remember or use any of it now, because I don’t. This book has found its way to this list because this was the first technical book that I was happy to keep reading past many midnights! Amongst all the jugaads for submissions, month long studies to pass exams, bunking lectures and other shenanigans, this book gave me more “engineering joy” than anything else I ever did in my undergrad years!

Mahabharata

I have lost count of how many versions I have read and who their authors are. I have read it as a comic book(Amar Chitra Katha), as a textbook (I believe my school used it as one for Reading in 8th grade), as a part of R.K.Narayan’s Indian Epics Retold and as a character commentary (Yuganta by Irawati Karwe). As a kid I repeatedly devoured a series of Marathi books called “Bharatiya Upakatha”, loosely translated “Indian subplots”, that have all the sub-plots and sub-sub-plots related to Mahabharata. The characters their stories and their backstories are all so captivating, interesting, motivating, illuminating! There is so much fun to be had and so much to be learned by reading this great epic! I am both surprised and sad to see that it doesn’t make it to many/any top ten lists!

Lord of the Rings

I resisted reading fantasy for a long time. It was childish of me to think that it was too childish 😛 Well, while I still think that is true of some fantasy novels that I won’t mention here, it is certainly not true of this epic series by Tolkien. This features in my “stranded-on-an-island-wishlist” ! Love the movies by Peter Jackson too. I watch at least one of them on every flight to India!

Wuthering Heights

I don’t know how or why I landed my hands on this book at the public library. I don’t know what prompted me to pick it up and read it till the very end. And I don’t know why I liked it so much. The language was of course archaic. The narrative was coarse, disjointed and almost confused me at times. It underlined the wild and vulgar side of human nature. The story traveled a rough road but there was a soft rainbow waiting at the end. What can I say, I am a sucker for tragic love stories!

 

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