Theatre of Suicide

It’s not me who laughs
When the wind topples your hat
In the last gust of spring
Below the bridge of dreams

It’s not me who sings
When I see your shining ring
In the final rays of dusk
As I hear the ticking clock

It’s not me who lies
When they ask if she looks so nice
In a shimmering wedding gown
Before the sergeant clown

It’s not me who stands
When they see me aiming grand
At the bridegroom and the bride
In my theatre of suicide

Destiny

For every sigh of the wind that yearned to extinguish the candle’s flame, there was a vacuum, an emptiness between them that sucked in every hope of survival. In the darkest hour of the night when even the shadows crawled back to hide, the soft warmth of the candle burning away on a weather-beaten stump of a dead tree filled the forest with desperate hope. The morning was not far away. But will the candle last?

We must do what we are born to do, Mariana remembered the Colonel’s words. We must pay our debt to this world. With our gifts or with our lives. Do you not agree with me, little girl? Oh, it’s that face again. You rebellious child! The entire nation trembles at my voice but you doubt my words. My Maria, always against me. Why must you pain your poor grandfather’s heart? The Colonel would then carry her on his shoulders and together they would walk through the sunset by the sea. Mariana would stare far into the horizon until the sun had done what it was born everyday to do and she would feel sorry for him. One day I will set you free, she would quietly promise. Sipping the coconut water the Colonel would buy her, she would sit by the rocks towards the north of the beach, under the swaying coconut trees, with the salty wind rushing past their skins and gaze at the twinkling stars that slowly fill up their sky.

There was a moon once, the Colonel had told when he first showed her the sky. Big and white, she had guided mankind in darkness. The Colonel was not born when the moon was lost. She could never find any mention of it in any of the old books in her grandfather’s study and none of her friends had heard of the moon. Sometimes, she thought that the Colonel was just making it up. But on evenings like these when every fibre of her tiny being was charged with the rapturous sights of the glorious pebbles in the dark sky, she thought about the moon. The stars have been here longer than me or grandpa haven’t they? Maybe they miss her. To be so fair, so pure and so beautiful, she must have been very lonely. Maybe she did what she was born to do and we didn’t need her anymore. Now the moon’s gone and there’s no one to guide us in our night, the Colonel was talking to no one. He had begun to drink. We now plunder, we now kill…we are lost, oh Maria, we are lost! Wiping his tears he would take another swing. Mariana would sob quietly as she struggled to take the bottle away from him. There will be a moon again grandpa, I promise you, so please don’t cry. I will bring her back. I will make everything all right. I know Maria, my sweet Maria, I know it! We will get our country back from the butchers! They will pay for what they did to us! To you! Oh Maria, they will pay for my wife, my son..they will pay! Mariana, you are my moon, you are the moon of my world and no darkness can take that away from me! Yes grandpa, I will never leave you. Let’s go home now. It will be all right.

It would take her hours to help him back to their house at the south of the beach and then she would take out his coat, put him in his bed, pull out his shoes, unbutton a couple of buttons of his shirt and cover him with a blanket. She would light the candle, place it away from the half-open window and close the door. Standing by the open window of her room, she would gaze at the sky again, staring at the blackness where there was a moon once. And, in silence, she would cry. She was twelve when one evening she had lighted the candle and put the Colonel to sleep the same way she had always done. The next morning she found the candle spent and the Colonel never to wake up. She never cried again.

*

In the dusty haze of war where souls are lost and devils are made, the sight of a lone pair of fists ravaging through the entire western coastline was recounted ages hence, first as it is, and then as a myth that grew word after word, brick after brick, until it was no longer just an image, a story. It ceased to have a beginning, it ceased to have an end and in darkened valleys under starless skies, when shadows of the night lurked within waters shallow, forests quiet and weakened hearts, it became the moon in their sky. As newer generations walked their streets, they would find statues on every important square of the most beautiful and the most daring General on her exquisite mare, both of them ready to bring hell on..someone, with her piercing eyes gazing at their skies as if to tell them..something. They did not know her. The plaques in front of the statues had long been victims of weather and graffiti. Soon the statues too fell to the vicissitudes of time. As it is with legends that grow too large, they transcend from truth to myth and are slowly banished from the realms of possibility so ages hence they eventually rest within the distrustful memories of the older generations. A soldier was born to serve. A chicken was born to feed others. A candle was made to burn. The wind may sigh to extinguish the candle, to save it from ending itself, the candle too might not want to burn itself out today, but will the vacuum of the world allow that?

Beloved

Although it rains
When I am to say goodbye
Yet you who despaired
At every wail within every drop
Like a hundred lanterns that fall
A hundred empty sights
I am sure, you despair now.

Despair, because the sun is not out
And there are no roses
But a coffin, as strong as death
A headstone, as white as death
And I despair
Because there is no you
You, who is also taking me away.

But even though the sun
Should turn shy, and the lanterns
Should fall from the sky
Despair, you must not, nor
Mourn the snow over our love, but
Rest, my beloved, rest
For now.

For now, I shall sow, seeds in the dark
When the sun is out, in a time not so far
When for me it rains, there will a rose bloom
And with it in my shaking hands
To you, I shall come
Till then, my beloved
Rest.

 

A little bit of Toni Morrison and Pablo Neruda in there as well.

On Religion, Choices and Criticism

Credits: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
Credits: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

All issues involving Paris/religion are too sensitive and dense to talk about lightly. Lives have been lost; families are smaller, emptier. But there is one thing, I feel is right, to talk about: criticism of religion, since a lot is being said how it might have been unwise of Charlie Hebdo to do what they have been doing: criticising a religion.

My basic understanding (at this point in my life) is it is very wrong of us to criticise someone for things she didn’t choose. Like a person’s surname, her colour of skin, and the like. Things beyond her control. But a religion is very much something we have to chose for ourselves. In fact, we have to chose two things here:

  1. Whether to embrace religion.
  2. Whether to embrace ‘X’ religion.

A religion may well be, once you’ve chosen, the bedrock of your life. But so could a stray dog a lonely homeless person found on the streets and now gives her life some meaning be (or <insert your preferably grand scenario to assuage your offended-by-religion-being-compared-to-a-stray-dog heart>).

But tomorrow Mrs. M feels the dog to be a nuisance for the neighbourhood and very loudly badmouths the dog to her neighbour, which the entire neighbourhood hears. This comes to the attention of our homeless person. As it turns out, our homeless person doesn’t shoot down M, but tries to make the dog, her life’s one shining light, more acceptable.

There are two things of note here:

  1. The homeless person realising it is not unnatural for a fellow human to not value the dog as much as she does or speak of the dog as highly as she does. (Thus allowing freedom of opinion, free speech)
  2. The homeless person realising it is even possible for fellow humans to hate the dog she so loves. (Thus making use of Adam Smith’s ‘impartial spectator’ by putting herself in other’s shoes)

If a person cannot think this way, what that person needs, more than a religion, is a simple lesson in humanity and common sense. The important thing is to realise that choosing a religion or a dog to be the centre of your life doesn’t make them the right and perfect choices for you or everybody.

As Wittgenstein talks in his book On Certainty, it is very difficult to be absolutely “certain” about things we take for granted everyday. And we can only be certain, if at all, by eliminating all other possibilities. Where there is a choice, there is an alternate possibility. And even though our choice may seem to be the correct one at this moment, in the long run, it may well turn out to be a disaster (or may not). Moreover good and bad, right and wrong are all relative terms, never absolute. What is right for you (Wittgenstein whispers: Are you really sure it is right?) may not be right for the girl next to you and vice-versa. So how could a human who cannot figure the chain of hundreds of reactions her simplest choices trigger off until it is too late, whose choice of embracing religion and choice of embracing ‘X’ religion both have competing choices in atheism and other religions, respectively, can be so sure that her choice is absolutely (not relatively) correct? How can that religious person be so arrogant to feel offended by another human questioning and slandering her choice when that same religious person has the very same right to question and slander the choices made by her fellow human and it is nobody else’s fault but her that she chose not to exercise that right?

I’ll end my chain of thoughts here and let more famous people hog the limelight.

It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that.” As if that gives them certain rights. It’s no more… than a whine. It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. “I am offended by that.” Well, so fucking what? – Stephen Fry

To criticise a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous, but to criticise their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom. The freedom to criticise ideas, any ideas – even if they are sincerely held beliefs – is one of the fundamental freedoms of society. A law which attempts to say you can criticise and ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed. It all points to the promotion of the idea that there should be a right not to be offended. But in my view the right to offend is far more important than any right not to be offended. The right to ridicule is far more important to society than any right not to be ridiculed because one in my view represents openness – and the other represents oppression. – Rowan Atkinson

There are just no grounds for any person to be offended by any other person over anything, much less over a choice which practically begs criticism, as every choice warrants criticism. Simple as that.

Beauty Pageants, As Sanity Rests In Peace

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So a pretty lady wears some pretty clothes, puts on some pretty makeup, walks on a pretty dais, in a pretty manner and wins a pretty crown. She wins the crown because she was prettier than every other pretty lady, in everything every pretty lady there was asked to do. Now as I understand, there are two reasons for going through this. First, for a designer to showcase his/her talent in creating good clothing, he/she needs someone to flaunt his/her creation – a model. Second, to find the prettiest of all the pretty ladies in town, at least from among those who decided to be judged, this procedure is essential.

The thing is I have an issue with this setup. No, I have no problems with the first reason, since it’s the designer who wins the award and not the one flaunting it and neither would I mind if the model gets some credit because he/she did his/her job well. As long as the primary credit goes to the designer. People want to dress well and who am I to stand in between and point fingers? I don’t mind dressing well either. So that’s okay.

What I’m not comfortable with is the second reason – beauty pageants – someone winning something for having the best looking exterior. Also, since the earlier I make myself clear the better, I better be absolutely honest about it. I’m not just uncomfortable, I absolutely despise this arrangement. In my opinion, the very concept of a competition to choose the best looking human from either gender is one of the stupidest of the many ridiculous ideas cooked up by mankind over the course of many a stupid centuries. Absolute nonsense! That’s my central point. Now, now. Calm down. Be seated and let me explain myself.

Sure it’s not just beauty, the attitude and the confidence are also scrutinized. Fair enough. My question is, why? I mean, what for? The way I see, in our society, if we, as a society, recognize something about an individual – with informal appreciation or a formal honour – it almost always deals with something that benefits the society, or at least a part of the society. That something is called talent. And the said recognition comes when the said talent is put to use in a way that enriches the society, by any worthwhile amount.

Now let us talk about talent. Why? Because that is the key that unlocks the present issue. And because I have a very opportune quote gift-wrapped, with champagne, for this occasion.

“We can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.”

– Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

I may be a good dancer (I’m actually the worst. Ever.), you may be a great singer, the one beside you may be a great painter – each of those is a talent and that makes each one of us talented in some way. But why is it a talent? Because these qualities have the ability, the power, to enrich the society we live in. A good dance, a good song, a good painting – each has the ability to please an individual, the building block of the society, and enrich his/her daily life. Every individual has hobbies and your or my talents can enhance his/her life and consequently, the society.

But, as dear Madeleine once said, just because we are born with such talents doesn’t automatically make us worthy of appreciation. Unless we utilize our talents to enrich others’ lives, it is just not worth mentioning. And here is where my woes unfold. Being a good looking, or say, the best-looking human is not even a talent, no sir. What good are your good looks for me, my friend or the society? That won’t make me happy, fill my stomach, pay my rent or drive me around, now will it? You’re good-looking. That’s about it. End of story.

L’Engle and I don’t consider talented people worthy of appreciation if they don’t contribute to the society but here is a concept by the good human race to recognize, appreciate and adore fellows humans on something that is not even a talent, something that – except for pleasing the eyes for a bit – is perfectly useless. There are cameras, there’s video recordings, there’s live telecasts, huge money is spent, there are throngs of people, people of many ages, people from far and wide – all assembled together to gawk at something beautiful but practically useless. The sensual pleasure derived is too short-lived and superficial to call it a talent. It’s just something people are born with. Like a nose, two ears, two eyes and four limbs. Born a bit differently and not with any of their effort. Absolutely nothing to pride oneself on.

Yet this concept has continued, and will continue to thrive. Over the many talkative centuries, man has said many a great things about himself – he has always loved to talk about himself – and the most common bit of arrogance from his mouth has always been how intelligent and sensible he considers himself to be over every other being that breathes. But with each passing minute I spend on the planet where – the birth of a baby of royal parentage, the wedding in a family of unmatched fame and many a competitions devoted to fellow human’s appearance – all get a million times more attention and appreciation than a fight for freedom in some oppressed and forgotten land or the efforts of an anonymous scientist who spends his life creating a life-changing cure or an advanced piece of tech, I keep wishing we went back in time. Especially because I believe it is only going to get worse. Buckle-up.

2013 in Music: My Top 10 Albums of the Year

In this little piece, I have attempted to put forward a list of albums that I’ve loved the most out of the many albums that have come out this year. Loving an album is one thing but ranking them against another album which you love just as much is probably the hardest part in this business. Of the eleven albums I’ve listed here, I love all of them a lot. But where’s the fun if there’s no competition via an opinion? Therefore the rankings. I have given my customary disclaimer and now you can delve into the list. As always, good or bad, would love to hear all opinions. Happy new year!

Honorable Mention: In a Time Lapse

Artist: Ludovico Einaudi

Genre: Classical

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Breathtaking. There are artists that make you contemplate on things you never would have thought much about, that make you see the abyss of despair and the heights of glory like few other and then there’s Ludovico Einaudi, a man who is out to give you joy. There are many way to describe Einaudi, acclaimed and renowned that he is. But to me, it’s too much information, too much noise. At its pure undressed crux of matter, Ludovico Einaudi has always been a man devoted to give you pure and unbridled joy. And that’s what In a Time Lapse does.

It would sound a bit funny if I proclaim that this may well be Einaudi’s most fulfilling work yet but I would proclaim the very same. Because it is. Many times in his studio pieces, a bit of dullness used to creep into his creations as the album grew. Not this time. He seems to have done away with such pieces and instead focused on polished perfection. With violins ever so beautifully complementing his kingly piano work and the album continuously tiptoeing into various recesses of your mind, this is an album that is impossible to stop once you’ve started playing. A joyous beauty.

Recommended.

10. Evil Friends

Artist: Portugal. The Man

Genre: Psychedelic, Progressive

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Could it be we got lost in the summer?
I know, you know, that it’s over
But you’re still there
Treading water.

Most addictive start I’ve had to an album of 2013, after Sigur Rós’ Brennisteinn. And as they say, morning shows the day. This is PTM’s eighth studio album but it might as well have been their third, an album number where artists and bands usually create their most fresh as well as polished work – such is this album’s magnificence.

The album, before you’ve caught your breath after Plastic Soldiers, marches into Creep In a T-Shirt. This one is catchy as well and very joyous and free-spirited. By this time, you are fully hooked. Danger Mouse’s inputs for Evil Friends has obviously been bang on target. One by one PTM pile on beauty and imagination through lots of rock, pop, psychedelic and electronica. The variety of thought and content throughout the record is simply breathtaking. A splendid splendid album.

Recommended.

09. Origins

Artist: God Is An Astronaut

Genre: Post-rock

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God Is An Astronaut is probably my favourite post-rock band by some distance. It’s my go-to band when I’m in the mood for some of this genre. It’s been like that for years now. So every GIAA release is a pretty big deal for me. What was most surprising for me with Origins is the induction of synth elements into their repertoire. Initially I wasn’t too keen into it but by the time I was done with the album, I totally got what they did and why. I’m not sure if they will retain it for future releases but for this particular album, it seemed appropriate. It dealt with science fiction. And such music just felt right. What’s great is it falls right inside the ballpark of music GIAA specialize in so it wasn’t a very stark change. It’s just an addition and if it persists, an evolution.

The album is majestic. The concept of the album is very well elucidated though their trademark brand of music with a picture of humanity in an era too far ahead of our own very well painted. The tracks aren’t too long or too short. Just about enough to convey a segment of the story and quickly, we’re onto the next segment. It’s like fast-paced blood-pulsating futuristic sci-fi, except, through music. And it’s brilliant. Transmissions, Spiral Code and Red Moon Lagoon are particularly great.

Recommended.

08. Reflektor

Artist: Arcade Fire

Genre: Indie, Art Rock, Disco

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As it starts, it sounds like a cross between The National (minus the baritone) and an electronic music group. The Arcade Fire album that I cherish the most is of course The Suburbs – a masterpiece. Compared to that album maybe just “You Already Know” comes close, in style. But bravely enough, they have moved on. Point is if it’s for the better or the worse. Clearly it’s been for something really good, if not better. (Sorry, how do you better The Suburbs? Just how?) And when I say something good, I mean it. It’s different but no less iconic than The Suburbs. They have picked a central theme (reflectors) and have woven a web with it, around it, around you and around me. It’s like an all-night seventies’ disco with reflectors instead of exits. You are not allowed to exit once you’ve entered their disco and thankfully, you don’t feel the need to. And just when you think of calling it off (which happens almost never except maybe as the album nears its end), you walk into a reflector, have a hard look at yourself in disbelief of your insanity and walk right back to the centre of the maddening engrossing frenzy and the disco goes on into the night. Beware, this album is an addiction.

Personally, I still haven’t gotten much into “Awful Sound” and “It’s Never Over” and it is those two I meant to refer to when I said you might think of exiting the disco midway. But apart from those momentary lapses of sanity, there’s not a single negative you can put your finger on. It’s brilliant, vintage and beautiful. Some tracks are genius (We Exist, Normal Person), some are catchy (Here Comes The Night Time, You Already Know) and the rest are plain classy indie.

Highly recommended.

07. Trouble Will Find Me

Artist: The National

Genre: Indie, Post-Punk

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More than class and beauty, The National have always been an enigma. Like an unsolved puzzle you want to solve, to put aside your work and get ready to solve and somehow between trying to figure them out and sitting in amazement one hour after, you are just never able to fully solve. Maybe that’s their charm that keeps testing you and pulling you back again and again. That and the sheer genius of every single of the songs and albums. Trouble Will Find Me is just another marvellous feather in their much decorated cap fedora. If you are familiar with their previous works, you don’t need an explanation about this one, not because of the obvious reason that you know how good they are but because this is just like how they are. Classic National. To the uninitiated, first rule of listening to these guys, just like I’d advise regarding listening to The Cure, is to pore properly into their lyrics. That’s their specialty, their unique brand of magic that separates them from all petty musicians of the world. Poignant and piercing lyrics delivered right into the centre of your heart through the dagger of Matt Berninger’s timeless baritone. It’s hard to pick a favourite because they are all so good but I’d like to point Graceless for special attention because it’s the one I come back to again and again. An all-round perfect and satisfying album, one that you can play in loop while you forget about the world.

Highly recommended.

06. Ghost on Ghost

Artist: Iron & Wine

Genre: Indie, Folk, Jazz, Blues

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More than being pleased or outraged, I was stunned by Ghost on Ghost. With every track I was getting past, my disbelief grew into amazement and by the time I was done with the album, I was positively stunned. If I had to bow before any musician this year for being brave, it is Samuel Beam. And he wasn’t just brave but unbelievably successful. He had built a world of solitude within austere walls and inside these walls, he and his fans had long been warm and comfortable. Many big bands spend their entire lifespan within similar walls of their own brand of music. Yet only a few curious and brave musicians dare to explore beyond their comfort zone. For Samuel Beam, it was more of a necessity. He says his last two albums contained an anxious tension he wanted to move away from. And he did. Unshackling himself from the melancholy and the gloom, the sober and the quietude, he lets himself soar like never before into an indie sky littered ever so casually with jazzy clouds. He soars further and he breathes the blues in. A bit further and there’s a bit of obvious Sam Beam folk and even R&B in the air. And it’s a very relaxed day under a joyous sky. The sun is bright, the clouds are smiling and I’m lying down on this Samuel Beam Sunday in a Samuel Beam beach, casually flicking through these Samuel Beam songs, being happy with myself and life. Basically Samuel Beam has killed it. He has killed me and he has owned music with this masterpiece, his genius.

In my opinion, this album is right up there with his very best and more importantly and amazingly, it is the polar opposite of his very best works. Highly recommended.

05. Spaces

Artist: Nils Frahm

Genre: Contemporary Classical

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Nils Frahm’s Spaces is not a brand new LP since it contains both old and new stuff nor is it a live album per se although it does contain live recordings of his performances in different spaces. It’s somewhere in between all of them and wherever it is, it’s perhaps a really beautiful space. And that’s what album is about, exploring various spaces.

For a quick grasp of Spaces, although unwise advice in more ways than one, one might try the 4-odd minute Hammers. It won’t disappoint you because it’s beautiful. But why would you do that? Instead, if time is of the essence in making up your mind on whether or not to give it a try but at the same time you are prepared to have the best possible peek into Nils Frahm’s Spaces, you should look for something more. His 17-odd minute masterpiece – For – Peter – Toilet Brushes – More is just that track. Either way, by this time, I’m hoping you are hooked with Spaces. Lucky for you, this album is so much more than those two. With a total one hour and sixteen minutes of contemplative, engaging and downright mesmerizing music that can set the day’s tone in the soothing quietude of early morn or lift the day’s pains in the arms of a haunting night, Nils Frahm has yet again created a masterpiece for the soul.

Highly recommended.

04. The Raven That Refused To Sing (and other stories)

Artist: Steven Wilson

Genre: Progressive, Prog Rock

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Few things sadden me more than the lack of new Porcupine Tree albums and while I love almost everything Steven Wilson creates, I take every non-Porcupine Tree release of his with a sigh, knowing the wait just got that much longer. The only non-Porcupine Tree creation that I’ve loved like a Porcupine Tree album was Insurgentes. So when the year began with *another* Steven Wilson album, I was lukewarm towards it.

Until I was blown away.

Luminol, The Holy Drinker, The Watchmaker – three jam tracks that exemplify what Steven Wilson’s progressive style is all about although not what the album is all about because the album has both progressive presence with these long jam tracks but also Wilson’s song-oriented prog ballad presence with the shorter ones. It’s like watching Steven Wilson juggle six balls of two different colours and he does that with flying colours.

The concept of the album lies in ghost stories. Wilson has cited the 19th century ghost stories as literary influences. The bass-heavy jazz fusion opener Luminol captivates the listener with the long jam, waving in and out with macabre lyrics. It is followed by Drive Home which is the ballad-y side of Wilson at work. It’s pretty good though you feel you want to have more of those sensuous jams. Before long, the wish is granted. The Holy Drinker is perhaps the best track of this album and one of Steven Wilson’s all-time bests. With a myriad of instruments used ever so liberally and all the energy poured into this ever so profusely, with lyrics so dark and the jams so stark, there really was no other alternative. It is the song of the album. Then comes, again, a ballad-y counterpart, The Pin Drop. Again, quite pretty but I really love those jams. Enter, The Watchmaker. This is perhaps the track, from the viewpoint of the nature of the album, which is the most complete – balanced perfectly by the tranquility and the gravity of prog music – all the while unfurling a very Poe-like saga of a watchmaker murdering his wife. And then comes the finale – The Raven That Refused To Sing. This is perhaps the only ballad-y track that doesn’t make you yearn for the jams. In fact, you feel sad while listening to it, even though it has been a journey of death and horror, it still was a beautiful one. And Wilson is now waving a silent goodbye. It’s over. What an album.

Highly recommended.

03. Memorial

Artist: Russian Circles

Genre: Post-Metal

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It starts with what seems like an eulogy for loss and loss is what I feel the central theme of this album is. Deficit unfolds with a crushing punch as if with a singular motive to project before you a godforsaken world at its end. It reminds me of scenes from Viggo Mortensen’s The Road. Their ability to create such rich textures for the imagination is strong as ever and with every ensuing track they seem to build on their seemingly unsurpassable pieces of pure untouchable and unforgettable art.

1777 is quite simply and deservedly, the best song of this album. Drums welcome you and lead you to guitars and bass and just as you get familiar with your surroundings, they thrust upon you, for an engrossing seven and half minutes, a world full of loss, and towards its end, resignation. It’s so morose and sad it’s beautiful. Nothing that follows is as great as 1777 and there isn’t a need to. They have picked a central theme, an emotion, a space in your mind and they have set about building a Russian Circles theme park in it. Where Deficit and 1777 intend to blow you away with your sudden realization of life-changing loss, a sober and melancholic beauty like Cheyenne intends to wash away all your fears into the lake of eternal gloom and make you accept your doom. Burial is angry. It is where you and Russian Circles become one and seem to object together against all the sorrows of the world but in fact they are just moving you further closer to death. Ethel is more like an ode for afterlife, with the music in it suggesting a peaceful heaven. It’s too beautiful to be about loss and death. Which means Russian Circles have successfully killed you. Lebaron is about you, in heaven, contemplating on your life before the afterlife and trying to make sense of everything that transpired. That angers you, gets your blood racing and this is reflected in the rocky elements of this piece. This brings us (me, you and Russian Circles) to the final piece of the saga – the Chelsea Wolfe-featuring Memorial. As Lebaron suggested, even in afterlife you couldn’t find peace and this song sets about to give you just that. The voice of Wolfe brings about the beautiful finality of the story as an angel touches your forehead and puts you into eternal restful sleep. The angel sheds a tear as she puts a rugged stone in the garden of Eden, your memorial.

Best post-metal album of the year. Highly recommended.

02. Kveikur

Artist: Sigur Rós

Genre: Ambient, Post-Rock, Dream-Pop

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The grandest album to come out all year and arguably the most other-worldly. It’s trademark Sigur Rós. The moment I plugged my iPod in, pulled the volume full up and Brennisteinn started, there were goosebumps. Lots of them. It was like the last minute of the last march of the last king of Planet Kveikur as he is about to fight the baddest demon of all skies, a battle he has no chance of winning, and the whole wide universe is watching with bated breath. Grander than the grandest scene. The next moment I pulled out my iPod, an hour had passed, Ofbirta had just ended, I had regained my senses and was just transported back to Planet Earth. Since then, again and again have I travelled across space to worlds whose language I understand not but I don’t feel like I don’t understand those worlds. Those are worlds that have been very much my home ever since Sigur Rós created them this year. Something tells me they will forever be.

I don’t have much else to say because such is their music. Kveikur is not just an album, it’s an experience. Highly recommended.

01. Oblivion Hymns

Artist: Hammock

Genre: Ambient, Post-Rock

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This was an album I’d been waiting for months. There is no bottom to my love for Hammock. No end. It just goes on and on. So obviously I had been desperately waiting for this album. The wait was both exciting and somewhat frightening. Frightening? I’m not joking. Expectations can be tedious. An album that you would have loved had you listened to it right after you listened to another one of their albums, might not feel the same if there is an added baggage of escalated expectations pulling it down. The longer the wait, the more mythical the band became for me and thus the stratospheric heights of expectations. Finally the day did arrive and I was left speechless. This is not a phrase I’m using to say how good the album was, no sir. I was honestly unable to speak for a while. Heard the album again, and again, and yet again. At the fifth time did I open my mouth and let out a gasp or a cry of joy, I’m not sure which. But I was surely smiling. It was raining outside and I was standing in the balcony and smiling at the skies and the clouds. They had managed to account for my ludicrous expectations and had brought out a package so alien and yet so humane, it really was beyond mere words. Probably why they rarely use words to convey their thoughts. An unnecessary and obsolete medium of conveying emotions of such grandeur and grace. Hammock are beyond all that.

The album starts off just like the names of the first and second tracks say. In fact, the whole album pans out just like the title of each track, in the order of each track. It’s a story. And like most stories, there are various ways to interpret it. My senses can see two possible stories here. The grander version would be the birth and death of the universe. The humane version would be the birth and death of man. Both begin in oblivion and end in oblivion. And these are hymns for every stage of that journey.

You do not remember about the time you were born. It’s just blurry and foggy. The first few months of your childhood are the same, foggy. All this while, your heart has been the most alive it has ever been and will probably ever be. Full of hope and careless wonder at everyone and everything. Then a time comes when you are face to face with the realities of life and within you there is an explosion. It’s quiet but powerful. The pieces of your mind are all in contradiction, in confusion. They float through this empty world which is like a valley with no echo, no answers. You are absent, lost, shored against the ruins, drowning in all directions. Time passes. And then one day, you begin to see pieces of answers everywhere. But there is still no solution and you’re still stuck in the middle of nowhere. Whatever hope you had left or had arisen recently becomes your undoing, it kills you inside even more, becomes your loss. At the end, you are defeated by life (the lyrics of Tres Dominé) but you accept this defeat (the tone of Tres Dominé). You once again return back to oblivion.

Contemplative, sensuous and perfectly ambient – my album of the year.

A Mask Behind A Mask

I turned around and started walking back. It was over. Bullet by bullet, drop by drop, it was over. In the end, I wouldn’t say I was surprised, or sad. I always knew this was coming. I knew it when I woke up this morning and I knew it when I was woken up, five days back. They didn’t need to convince me. I was ready.

It was five in the morning. The sky was still dark. They were apologetic for waking me up so early. I courteously invited them in and made them feel at home. As they were pulling down the blinds, I made them some coffee. They sat down in the living room. They were three people but there wasn’t any chatter. The air was tense. I put the coffee tray in the middle and sat down in front of them. They seemed edgy, probably unsure of where to start. I could tell. They were looking at each other and then to me, shifting uncomfortably in their seats. I tried to break the silence with some small talk about the weather but there was no response. Nobody was willing to start. There was only one way left. I had made them wait enough. “I’ll do it. You can count on me,” I said, staring straight into their eyes. It was enough to calm every atom of the room. The creases in their forehead relaxed and they touched their coffee for the first time. We then talked lightly about many things, from the weather, the rising prices to football and Che Guevara.

After a few minutes, one of them received a call. He didn’t answer it but looked at the other two, who nodded in response. They all got up at once. One of them stepped forward, put a .40 on the table and swiftly stepped back. One by one, they shook my hands. I walked them out of the door. Within seconds, they had disappeared. As I closed the door, the sun was ready to rise.

I had been feeling weaker every morning since that day. I would wake up sweating with a weird feeling that I was talking in my sleep. The nightmares had started again. It was like I had travelled five years back in time. I had never been able to sleep well since but with help over the years, I had managed to repress my nightmares. But since that morning, it had all come pouring out with added pain. But I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t angry. I was satisfied. I needed this pain, these nightmares. They gave me strength, purpose, direction. They were all I had been left with since that fateful day and they were all I needed now. Without the pain, I was left a hollow numb shell, wearing a mask for the world. Today was the strongest I had felt in years.

I had already canvassed the place three times. There were sensors everywhere. Carrying weapons was futile. I had planted my .40 just as they finished scanning the place yesterday. I made my way in and retrieved it. But carrying it till I was near the stage was the hard part. I had to pass another sensor and from here on out, there were snipers and cameras everywhere. They were here too, those three people. They and ten of their people, camouflaged within the crowd, waiting to step in in case my knees gave way. Their organization was too big, too strong. One way or the other, things were to happen today. It was up to me to do it my way. For those I serve… and for those I loved.

I knocked the patrolling guard unconscious, drugged him, hid him in one of the empty rooms down the hall and took his uniform. He still didn’t have the clearance to where I had to be but it wasn’t too far. I repeated the procedure with two more security officers whose absence wouldn’t be immediately revealing, hiding them in places where no one would go immediately looking and I was set. I only needed a minute.

Almost the entire audience had already gathered and more people were still coming to their allotted seats. I walked along with two of the dignitaries pretending to show them to their seats, once their identities were verified. I knew those names. I was waiting for them. They were seated on the second row. I was finally there. I looked around me. I could finally see it all. It was time.

The president was standing right in front me, waving to the audience. My hand reached for my holster. My commanding officer was standing right beside the president. As was his deputy. I nodded to my commanding officer and he nodded back. This exchange didn’t escape the deputy’s attention as he gave me a look full of horror, betrayal and disgust rolled into one raging stare, took his gun out and aimed at the president. He was the only one of those ten men I didn’t know about. It was their leverage and their trump card. It had to be someone really close. Now that I knew, it was showtime.

One to his chest – a nimble turn behind – one each to the heads of those three men and two more to those suave gentlemen sitting behind them. Six down, four to go. I spent two seconds standing at one spot. The snipers just missed me as I made a run into the mayhem of the crowd. They couldn’t risk shooting at me now. I was safe. But the president wasn’t. The four of them had split up and were moving in on the president. It was then that I saw his face. He was there too, among those four. Five years since I last saw him. Five years since I’ve been expecting, planning, waiting. Finally.

I didn’t need to be in the crowd anymore. It was all or nothing. Two more shots, two more down. He and the other guy were still gaining on the president from either sides. They were well camouflaged. I was in the open and under fire from the snipers again. The snipers, they couldn’t have known about me. Nobody could. That was the only way. I ran to the stage, zig-zagging my way through, aiming at those two. I got the other one as I got one from the snipers on my leg. I had come too far to slow down now. He was within shooting distance. I jumped on to the stage as I got another one on my shoulder. We were face to face. I could see his eyes. He had no idea who I was, what he meant to me. As I raised my gun to rip a hole in his heart, I got another one on my other leg. It didn’t matter. I pulled the trigger, he fell.

I turned around and started walking back. Hellfire blazed through the sky, from all corners, upon me. It was over. Bullet by bullet, drop by drop, it was over. In the end, I wouldn’t say I was surprised, or sad. I always knew this was coming. I knew it when I woke up this morning and I knew it when I was woken up, five years back. They didn’t need to convince me. I was ready. It was time to go home.

The God That Never Was

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It’s been five years now. How time flies! But does it really? Maybe for some. Maybe for you, maybe for me. Yet somewhere today, in a dimly lit room, sits a mother holding her child’s photograph. Cobwebs litter the walls and corners. The door makes a creaking noise as a lonely wind brushes past it and tiptoes through the house. The window was open. She rises up with a sigh and walks over to it, dragging her feet through a layer of dust. The whole room seems forgotten. There’s dust on the study-table and spiders climbing through the curtains. Nothing seems to have been touched in months, years. Nothing, except for that photograph. It doesn’t seem to have a speck of dust anywhere. But it’s wrinkled and soft..and wet. She closes the window shut, turns the dim light off and sits alone in the darkness, clutching the photograph close to her chest. For some, time stands still.

“Do you believe in God?” “Of course, mother. Why wouldn’t I?” “Good boy. May He bless you with all the happiness in the world.” “God is great.” “God is great.”

I don’t have many regrets from the life that I’ve spent, the life that I was gifted. There are ups and downs, no doubt and a couple of things aside, there isn’t much that I’d like to change about the last 22 years of my life. Yet, as the days have rolled by, there were things, thoughts that began knocking on my mind’s door when I least expected them to. Things I wasn’t sure were in my mind to begin with. With every year and every knock, the door was getting weaker, the knocks were getting heavier, louder. Yet I resolutely held my own, pushing the thoughts aside and living yet another day. Maybe I didn’t like the idea of losing to my own thoughts or maybe I was scared of what might happen if I let those thoughts in. Maybe. I thought it was just easier to postpone the decision for another day. Years rolled by, things stayed calm and the knocks altogether stopped. Life went on as before. Then one fine day, five years back, there came an avalanche, a tsunami. The door was destroyed, ripped to shreds. And the mind just stood there open, naked. The eyes finally saw.

There is no God. We’re on our own. We’re all we have. It’s scary. It should be. It’s a scary world out there. But you have to admit, it’s also strangely uplifting, freeing.

I was never given an option. I never knew there was an option. It has always been like that. Me, my family, my friends (give or take) ..and God. It was like the Avogadro number, or the Planck’s constant. Or any other constant for that matter. To question God’s existence was to question the beliefs of those who brought you into this world and who brought them into this world, and so on. And I wasn’t a man big enough to do that. I’m still not a big enough man nor will I ever be a big enough man to question the beliefs of said people. But however strong the base is, there are things in the world that can still shatter the strong but false foundations.

I remember waking up early. It was a holiday I think. I’ve forgotten why. Maybe for an exam or something. Or maybe I just skipped school that day. Everyone else was still asleep. Eyes half-closed, I dragged myself to answer the bell. The newspaper guy had tossed the paper and left. I loved to read the paper so I sat down on the sofa. The front page was filled with news about the Mumbai terror attacks. The police and the forces were still trying to rescue the hostages. That was all me and my family watched the previous day. Mother and sister prayed all the time. I think everybody everywhere did. So did I. It was horrific. God had to do something.

Mother must’ve heard the bell. She too woke up minutes later and without a look or a word, she straightaway headed to the living room, switched on the television, muted the news channel and sat down. I knew she had started praying again. I don’t think she ever stopped praying. Feeling a bit guilty, I began praying again. Browsing through the paper, my eyes fell on a story resigned to the footnote. It was about a little girl and her little brother. A woman found them wandering through the Mumbai station, holding each other’s hand, searching for their mother. In the middle of the gunfire, the stampede, the madness. She brought them to her home. It’s been three days now. The kids are still waiting for their mother. The woman who found them breaks down before the journalists. The door in my mind was ripped apart. The foundations were shattered. From that moment, I stopped praying.

They said a lot of things. That God is good. That everything happens for a reason. They talked about karma. About sharing the bad in life with the good. That there’s spring after winter. But there wasn’t a single reason in the whole wide world of God I could find that would make him do what he did to those kids. Innocent souls now ravaged for life. No karma, no heaven, no hell can explain the brutality of this tragedy. What harm could souls as young and as pure as them ever do to deserve that? The God, the caring father of his billion children, the protector of the universe, what good is he if he can’t look after his own children? No father will turn a blind eye to the travails of his children. Where was he when two little kids were snatched away from their mother, left to fend for themselves, wandering alone in the pits of hell? If God exists, then he probably doesn’t give a damn. And that contradicts the definition of God, the caring parent who quite simply has to give a damn. Ergo, God doesn’t exist.

It was a simple thing, in the end. I probably always knew it in the back of my mind. The back of my mind? Ah, yes. Those knocks on the door. They were always there. But I ignored them. I was too scared to imagine a world without God. Without a watchful protector looking after me and those I love. I needed a wake-up call so severe to open my mind, my eyes. But I can imagine it now. Many people still can’t. And that’s all right. Lucky are the ones who die knowing there’s a God. It’s a sad thing, but they are lucky. If they’ve done good in life, they would believe they’ve booked the tickets to heaven. If not, at least they know where they’re going. To those who know better, it’s a strange world. There is no heaven, there is no hell. This is all they have.

If there are any regrets about the life that I’ve lived, this is one of them. That a part of these beautiful years, a part that was as quiet, as close and as sure as my shadow, was a lie. But there are no more knocks, no more doubts. There’s a new foundation. Maybe on lonely, turbulent shores but it’s a true foundation. It will hold, come what may. Because that’s all there is.

But the world is neither just nor unjust
It’s just us trying to feel that there’s some sense in it
No, the world is neither just nor unjust
And though going young
So much undone
Is a tragedy for everyone

It doesn’t speak a plan or any secret thing
No unseen sign or untold truth in anything…
But living on in others, in memories and dreams
Is not enough
You want everything
Another world where the sun always shines
And the birds always sing
Always sing…

Robert Smith was right.

Spaceman

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This too shall has passed.

 

In the nostalgic concert halls of a timeless Wankhede, amidst the weary melee of misty-eyed adoration sweeping every blade of grass in the land, a little God crooned a bewitching swansong as he took his final steps within the hallowed corridors of ancient brilliance, walked past the sepia-toned gates of history and vanished into the enchanted chambers of peerless immortality. The sands have finally slipped through our hands. The clocks have finally stopped ticking. The birds have finally stopped chirping. The music has finally stopped playing. In this eerie quiet amidst this madding chaos, the sun, it seems, has finally set.

There is no way of softening the blow. There are no royal cushions to soothe the pain or mystical concoctions to make us forget the unforgettable. It will stare at us forever and it is staring at us right now. Sachin Tendulkar has retired. Life, whether you walk in space, win a million dollar lottery or discover an endless supply of bubble-wrap, will still be a poorer place tomorrow. Unless a benevolent soul gifts the world a functioning time machine or a wandering soul chances upon the fountain of youth, come tomorrow, what are we then left with? Before walking past that door, what, if anything, has Sachin left behind?

Memories? Yes, memories. Printed onto the back of our minds with the sort of tattoo ink that, even if you cross the seven seas, take a dip in the Bermuda Triangle and come back to rid the world of hunger, poverty and pop music, is never erased. Those kinds of memories.

“Another world, where the birds always sing

Another world, where the sun always shines

Another world, where nothing ever dies…”

It’s been, what, 25 years? I feel like I’ve been watching Sachin forever. Well, I’m only 22. The entirety of my life then. It’s been a journey so long and so complete that there is a real danger of losing yourself in its memory. It is better than reality. It is sweeter than reality. This journey with Sachin, following even from a thousand miles away, is still closer than reality. Every single moment spent with him, in all these years – in a life running in parallel to our lives, is one to cherish. There is not a single blemish, a single disappointment, a single letdown. If there really is a workaholic God who had his hands full for the whole week, we now know what he did on the seventh day. We have ended up with one of the most beautifully written scripts the divine ink could write. It’s a surreal story which has been carved so artistically, so flawlessly and one which is now resigned to an alternate reality – guarded within the meadows of our memories. If Robert Smith really did believe in a world where the birds always sing, this is it.

But is that all? Just a panorama of striking images that caress you, excite you and then smother you and your very soul? Is everything that Sachin has done in all these years now resigned to dusty old tapes and an engaging mind full of joyous sorrow and melodious nostalgia? Are the monumental feats of this tiny man, like most other athletes of the land, really that limited in their wider significance?

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the moon and hoisted the American flag where no human had ever set foot, much less hoist a flag or take a walk, it was an era-defining moment. More than it being a matter of a record, it was a symbol, a statement. The pride of a nation. The victory of human persistence. The power of a human dream. Of a lonely march into an unknown land, of inventing the uninvented, of discovering the undiscovered. It was a marker, a line in the sand.

And that’s precisely what Sachin did. This is not to say Indians are without imagination, without dreams. We too had drawn lines in the sand. But what Sachin did was walk a hundred steps ahead of our line and draw a bunch of new lines in faraway lands. Every time we built a little house and tried to be satisfied, Sachin would go out and build us a house ten times bigger, fully-furnished, with a garden at the back, a car on the front and a beach on the side. And he would do it alone, without a hint of annoyance, pain or regret but with that youthful smile forever glued to his face. We were almost spineless, spoilt kids and he was our big brother. He never believed in taking from us, but just giving, and then giving some more.

For a change we didn’t have to make people remember the days that people had stopped remembering, the days when our land was called the golden bird, the days of Aryabhatta’s zero, of Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel, of Satyajit Ray’s movies, of Dhyan Chand’s hockey or the year of ’83 – to make our chest swell with stale pride. For once, we could actually point at our present, raise our collar, puff our chest and walk out of the room with our heads held high. As we began growing as a nation in the nineties, with every statement that shouted and spit at us our inferiority, we could fall back on Sachin, take his cue, take all blows and then punch one back. This little boy took us by our finger and showed us a new way, a new land. Every time we fixed our boundaries and built walls around it, he would rush out of his crease and shatter all walls. “Don’t do that. There are no boundaries. Come, I’ll show you.” And again, he’ll patiently take us by our finger. That’s how he was.

Has he left behind anything other than memories? I believe we both now have the answer. He has left behind what only the likes of legendary presidents, era-shaping musicians, monumental freedom-fighters and the bravest of soldiers manage to leave behind. A legacy. The achievement of touching the lives of a billion people for a quarter of a century. With humility, dignity and unflinching national pride. Of inspiring a generation of a country and many more throughout the world. Of being the man every single one of his countrymen looks up to with eyes watering with adoration and chests choking with pride. Of being the man whose every single word could calm a billion or make a billion revolt. Of being the man for whom even the most hardened rivals throughout the land would unite and cheer as one. When it came to Sachin, there never were two ways about it. He was absolute. A single umbrella for the whole nation to take shelter under. A cult hero.

At the end of the day, all a soul wants is to be happy. For 24 years, he has strived for just that. Pleasing the fans of the game. Pleasing his countrymen. God? No. Not God. Not Superman. After 24 years of attempting the impossible in lands where no Indian, nay no man has ever been, making a billion swell with pride, making a billion strive for better, making a billion dream, it leaves us with no doubt. He’s our Spaceman. That’s his legacy.

So long, cricket.

Another Sachin Tendulkar century against Australia.

And Those That Remain

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There I stood on the dilapidated bridge, leaning against the rails in monotonous slumber, gazing at the old river run along in perennial hurry. It was a slow morning. Nothing seemed to move other than water. Not even time. The weather was drenched in sorrows of its own. The rains wouldn’t stop. It never did. It was raining yesterday as well. I remember it clearly. The cyclone that ravaged our town and left it in ashes. Even though I probably slept last night like I’ll never wake up and I somehow feel a little tired, I do remember everything, every tiny detail. After all, it was just yesterday.

Dear old Martha of the Mary Inn couldn’t survive it, nor could her two little grand-kids. It was terrible. I still remember Martha’s face, half-alive, half-dead from making her way back from beneath the river, even at her age, and stepping out of the water only to find the cold corpses of little Sam and Cindy in front of her, littering the shore. She couldn’t fight anymore. There was no reason to, not anymore. She fell right there.

Brother James had lost his wife Lily to the cyclone earlier that day but he kept on trying his best to save anyone he could. He was wailing inside, I could feel it, but he never showed it. All the folks ever saw was that compassionate smile sewn to his face, a painful mask to hide the untold misery eating his very soul away from within. But there was no time to dwell on that, to dwell on emotions. They didn’t matter. Not right now. People needed to be helped, to be saved. And brother James kept running from one end of the town to another all day long.

There were the couple who lived next door to us, the lovable Smiths. Only last month had they celebrated their 50th marriage anniversary. Both me and my wife Sarah were invited to their little get-together. Robert Smith was usually a stoic man who wouldn’t let anyone have the faintest glimpse of what he felt and Samantha Smith was the exact opposite, always full of words, warmth and kindness. Sarah loved Samantha and I respected Robert. But that night was something else. We got to see a different shade of Robert, a shade neither me nor Sarah had ever seen before. He was open, happy and full of words for his lovely wife. And Samantha was the star that lit up that evening. Their love of half-a-century was still as strong and as magical as ever.

Later that night, Sarah would playfully nag me to give her a similar night 45 years later. “I deserve it Will,” she’d whisper and smile. We were just 5 years married and for us to see love like the Smiths’ had was overwhelming and fulfilling. Now Samantha was sitting just ahead of the corpses of Sam, Cindy and old Martha, beside Robert, clutching his cold, dead hands. Without tears and without words. A broken, hollow shadow of the joyful being she once was. Sarah would’ve broken down to see what I saw. I’m glad she never had to see Samantha like that. Or Robert. Or Cindy. Or Sam. Or any of them.

It was already evening as I stood on the bridge reminiscing about yesterday. The rains still hadn’t stopped. The sky was as dead as ever. I began to walk back the familiar path to home. The old cemetery fell on the left of my path. I made my way in. I walked past the flowers gracing the tombstones of Martha, Sam, Cindy, Robert, Lily, the Bishops, the Winchesters and uncle Henry. And there she was, Sarah, resting peacefully. Away from all the death and grief. Away from the gloom and dark that always disturbed her. I looked nowhere else, moved nowhere else. My eyes fell on the writing in front of me.

Here lies Sarah Wordsworth, a loving wife and a worthy friend.

Indeed she was.

29.10.1999.

The birds were making their way back to their homes. It was almost dark now. I wished Sarah goodbye and traced my way back to the gates and onto the road. A little girl and her father were walking just ahead of me. They looked happy and cheerful.

I’m glad it didn’t rain today, daddy. We wouldn’t have been able to go see the fair today if it rained! I’m so happy! It was amazing!

I’m pleased for you dear. Now keep your eyes on the road and let’s get home before it’s too late. Your mother must be very worried.

But daddy we’ll be here next year as well right? Bonnie and Rose kept saying the 2014 fair would be even better. All my friends would be here daddy, I want to be here. Please daddy?!

Okay okay, we’ll think about it but hurry along now!

Okay!

They walked ahead of me and melted into the ubiquitous darkness. I just stood there, frozen. The feet wouldn’t move forward. I walked back to Sarah. I walked a step forward and stood in front of the grave beside hers that, somehow, I hadn’t noticed before. My knees gave way.

Here lies William Wordsworth, loving husband, loyal friend and a valiant warrior. Sacrificed himself to save his fellow men.

29.10.1999.

I smiled as I lay down on the ground, looking up at the starry skies. Taking a gulp of the fresh evening air in, I closed my eyes and opened them again.

I was standing on the old bridge. It seemed a slow morning. I slept well last night but I was still oddly tired. And it was raining. Just like yesterday..