Sunday, May 17, 2009

Break in blogging

My condition is a bit like the guy in the strip above, so this blog will not be updated for a few days for obvious reasons. Wish me luck!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Where nothing can go wrong...

… something will. Or so says a variation of Murphy’s Law.

This weekend I was tied down with an exam. The exam had been provided to the students in the form of a Word document, and we had two days to complete it and upload our solutions. It is really no use explaining to the uninitiated the agony of applying a 5x5 median filter manually on an 8x8 image matrix. To complicate matters, after a while, you realize you made a mistake and go backtracking again. And this was only one of ten problems.

Anyway, after working furiously throughout Saturday morning, evening and night, I finally managed to tackle nine out of the ten problems by lunch time yesterday. When I called home and told my parents that I was nearly done and I had until midnight to submit the answers, my father had a note of caution in his voice.

“Don’t wait till midnight to submit it.” He said, “You never know what happens. Maybe there will be a power grid failure tonight, or an Internet shutdown. Better finish it up early.”

“Don’t worry.” I assured him, “If there’s a power failure I have my 9-cell laptop battery fully charged. I can even go to a friend’s house or to the university in the worst case. And if there is a power or Internet failure in the university as well, they will surely revise the due date, so don’t you worry.”

I had a late lunch, and then seeing the fine weather, decided to go out in the garden to take a few pictures. It had been raining everyday for a week and that, combined with the predicament of sitting with an exam over the weekend had depressed me. I had brought my camera and cell phone with me down to the kitchen, but my keys were still in my room. First I thought I would run upstairs and get them. Then I remembered there was a bunch of spare keys lying in the kitchen that we always use to open the kitchen door from the inside. I just picked up the bunch of keys and walked out of the kitchen door, slamming it behind me.

Immediately, something inside me asked me to try the keys. You may call it sixth sense. I prefer to say I am psychic in hindsight. The trial proved what I always knew in my heart: the key wouldn’t open the kitchen door from the outside. I was locked outside my house.

I was locked outside without my wallet which contains my money, my ID and my train ticket, without any warm clothing which I would probably need in the evening, and the only person who had a duplicate key, my landlord, was away in Boston for the weekend. But all these were no problems at all – I still had my friend’s house half a mile away where I could spend the night in the worst case. My biggest problem was that my laptop with the nine solved problems was lying on my kitchen table, and I had to get in somehow to retrieve them and upload them before midnight.

I looked at the keys in my hand again, cursing myself for assuming that a key which opens the door from the inside will open it from the outside as well. There were four keys, nearly similar. I tried them on the kitchen door, front door, the living room door, the hall door and even the garage door (what good that would have done is beyond me). Nothing worked. I tried forcing one of the doors to see if the lock would give, but in vain. I wonder if someone saw me doing all this. Then I methodically tried the windows; all were closed. Maybe a month earlier opening a window from the outside and entering would have been a breeze, but now new double-paned windows with new latches have been installed all over the house and they wouldn’t budge.

I had almost run out of ideas when I remembered that I was still to try a small door in the back of the house. I had skipped it earlier because there was a bumble-bee sitting beside the keyhole and it had chased me away as soon as I got close. So I went to this back door which opens into the entrance to the basement next to our kitchen. Thankfully one of the keys in my bunch opened that door and I heaved a sigh of relief as I found myself in familiar territory once more. I can’t remember the last time when I have been so scared in my life.

The moral of the story: Never assume that if a key opens a door from the inside it will work from the outside as well. This is the USA and anything can happen here (on an unrelated note, I bought two light bulbs last week to find that the holders in the US were of different sizes – another assumption gone wrong). And also, never underestimate Murphy’s Law. Even where nothing can go wrong, something most definitely will.

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Poet's Age

A few months ago, my friend Abhijit sent me the following lines by Rabindrananth Tagore:
Sabaar aami samaanboyeshi je
Chule aamaar jatoi dhoruk paak.
He wanted me to find out the whole poem and send it to him if possible. With my very limited knowledge of Tagore's poetry, the first thing that I did (after Googling for the lines, of course) was to search the first-line-index at the end of Tagore's Sanchayita, with the assumption that these lines were the first two lines of the poem. I failed to find it. Then I mailed the lines to my father one night, casually mentioning that my friend was in no hurry and he could take his time finding it out.

And the next morning, I woke up to find a mail from my father, saying that the poem is called "Kobir Boyes" (The Poet's Age) and it was part of the book called Kshanika. The given lines are actually the last lines of the poem, and the first lines of the poem are

Orey kobi sandhya hoye elo,
Keshe tomar dhorechhe je pak.
Bosey bosey urdhopaney cheye
Shuntechho ki parokaler dak?
Now I was so impressed by my father's random-access memory of Tagore's poems that I felt interested to read the poem myself. This time, since I knew the first lines, I was able to find it in Sanchayita. I liked it immensely, and instantly decided to translate it, not only because I had to give it to my friend, but also to publish here. It was easier said than done, though, and after several months of racking my brains over rhyming synonyms of certain words, I present the final version below, on the occasion of the poet's 148th birth anniversary today. I do not like certain lines myself, and I'll be changing the translation if I think of something better.

The Poet's Age

By Rabindranath Tagore

O poet, the day’s end is near,

                White hairs adorn your brow---

Looking heavenwards do you hear

                The next world call you now?

The poet says, the day is near its end,

                But my tired body continues to hear,

For a voice that may still call my name

                From the little village over there.

If under the bakul trees here

                Young lovers happen to meet,

Two pairs of eyes wish to join

                With music appropriate---

Who will give words to their thoughts

                And play them on the veena’s strings,

If sitting on the shores of this world

                I count just the next world’s things?


The Evening Star rose and went down,

                Pyres went out on the river bed,

The yellow coloured waning crescent moon

                Peeks out at the forest’s edge,

In the empty yard of the ruined house

                Now howls the gathered fox-pack---

If at such a time one who left home

                Comes here to spend the night awake,

If he raises his head with folded arms

      Looks at the stars beyond the clouds,

Wants to knock softly at life

      With a sleepy song devoid of sound ---

With the secrets of this universe

      Who will put in words in his mind

If I sit in my home by myself

      And think of being free from mankind?


It is true that my hair is turning white,

      You are bothered by its colour? But why?

I’m of the same age as the young

      And the old men who live nearby.

Someone’s lips hold a simple smile

      Someone has a smile in each eye.

Someone’s tears of grief spill over

      Someone’s tears in their mind dry,

Some live in their homes quietly

      In the world some drive out loud,

Some are sad for their lonely homes

      Some lose their way in the crowd---

All those people keep calling me still,

        Where’s time for the next world’s call?

My hair may have turned grey to white

But I’m of the same age as all.

(Translated by Sugata Banerji)