Monday, March 30, 2009

Vis Comica





When I was a child, one of the things that captivated me the most were comic books. And frankly I would be lying if I said that I don't read them any more because I still haven't gotten over them. It has been one of the most gratifying relationships, the one between a child and a comic.
Frankly I wasn't the kind of kid who hung around his buddies playing hide and seek very much. My world instead revolved around the latest exploits of Asterix the Gaul and the adventures of the boy reporter Tintin.
My dad says that's how I got my glasses in the first place. But I don't mind, its been worth it.
Vis Comica in Latin, literally translates into the power of comedy or rather the sense of humour.
As a kid I had one of the largest comic collections ranging from Archies, Tintin, Calvin and Hobbes, Asterix, you name it. And I would spend many a rainy evening feverishly following their exploits and exploding in peals of laughter.
The association with comic books has precious little to do with age or for that matter maturity. Just because you are older doesn't mean that you are not entitled to some mirth time and again. Besides the creators of some of the worlds most famous comic books are adults, some like Hergé continued creating Tintin scripts well into his seventies.
Sometimes, people of late are so concerned with their outward appearances that they eschew the very humour from within their lives.
Frankly I do not give a damn. What is the point of giving up one of the things that bring a smile to your face now and then? Life can be at times far to dreary sometimes, and there is nothing like your favourite character to brighten your day.
And truth be told I learnt more from comic books than I did from school.
Many a narrow minded individual consider comics to be a collection of mindless comedy suited for the likes of six year olds. But in reality if you wish to probe within they are actually quite witty (for those who understand the concept of wit).
As far as knowledge is concerned, take Tintin for instance, in the comic "Explorers of the Moon", Hergé had scripted an idea for a moon rocket a decade before the America launched the Apollo mission. The blue print had striking similarities to the design of the Apollo 11 rocket and even explained the principle of nuclear fission.
While on the other hand, reading Asterix I got curious about Julius Caesar, Cleopatra and the Gaulish race that once occupied what is now know modern France.
Oh and moreover the comics used some of the most eloquent words from the English vocabulary. Ask your snooty relative who says comics are for kids what the words anacoluthon, corsair and harlequin mean (courtesy of Captain Haddock and his colourful vocabulary).
So basically I learnt science, history and reinforced my knowledge of English as a child, which is something those god awful teachers back at school could never do.
Its always easy to dismiss something as ridiculous and immature without having to actually go through its contents. Nevertheless mark my words, they are way better than the stuff they show on television of late.
I have a great deal of gratitude to comic books. There cannot be a better way to enforce knowledge and humour within a child (or an adult for that matter).
Even as a medical student I have not given up on them and frankly neither will I do so when I reach seventy. Like I said, age has precious little to do with it.
And to those who still follow the exploits of your favourite comic characters I urge you on to continue to do so. Never mind the snooty glances from your friends and your colleagues.
May the sense of comedy prevail.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Night at the Theatre


Its rather seldom that I focus a blog on the happenings on my day to day life, figuring there's nothing really intriguing about the ongoings of a medical student. But nevertheless, I thought that I would dedicate this post, along with the pictures I took at recent visit by me and my friends to St.Petersburg's Mikhailovsky theatre, to watch the famed Swan Lake Ballet.
One of the things that one must do when in Russia, is to watch the Swan Lake Ballet, either in St.Petersburg (Russia's cultural capital), or Moscow.
Now there are only a select few theatres in the two cities that house the famed troupe which perform across Europe. And frankly, if you have had a chance to visit St.Petersburg, it would be just awful if you didn't see the ballet, for which it is so renowned for.
Frankly, its up to you so as to what part of Russian culture you would like to absorb. Being a bit of a geek myself, I usually prefer to haunt theatres and the famed Hermitage Museum.

Truth be told, I have never attended a ballet before, and its something that someone oughtn't watch on television, because the first thing one would do (including myself), would be to change the channel.
There is a certain magic to being present in person in the theatre, in the presence of a live orchestra, people around you dressed in their very best, and the atmosphere charged with anticipation.
My friend suggested I need to get something formal to wear since we would be sitting in the front row. And since the one thing I despise the most is shopping for clothes, I grudgingly mowed my way to the mall.
It seems I needed a suite, and frankly my knowledge in formal attire being abysmal, I was totally perplexed. Fortunately I swamped the responsibility of finding the right suite, to a salesgirl at the mall. (Its a good thing that women have such good taste).

We reached the theatre at 7.00pm and noticed that the place was getting jam packed with an assortment of Americans, British and Russians.
We managed to find our seats just in the nick of time though.
The Ballet was composed of three acts and four scenes,basically revolving around the story of how a Prince Siegfried, falls in love with a maiden who for the remainder of the day is transformed into a swan by an evil sorcerer. The sorcerer has thus turned numerous girls into swans. Only true love and fidelity can break the spell and free the swan princess and her companions.
However the prince is deceived into loving a maiden who resembles the swan princess, and unto whom vows eternal love and fidelity.
As a consequence the prince is full of remorse since he could not save the swan princess. Only by sacrificing his life, can he prove his love to the swan princess and break the evil spell.
In the end both the prince and the swan princess give up their lives in the 'Swan Lake', and thus their love overcomes death itself.
Disney once made an animation called the Swan Princess based on the ballet.
Either ways it was a wonderful experience. The fluidity and the agility of the dancers was amazing. And I had no idea where the three hours went.
I would be booking tickets to see the ballet yet again next month as well as a visit to an Italian Opera.

If ever you have an opportunity to visit Petersburg or Moscow, make it a point to visit the Ballet. It will certainly be worth your while.
PS: Do carry some food of your own, because the prices at the "snack counter" are atrocious.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Winter's Last Battle


One of the most peculiar things about living in Saint Petersburg is the dramatic seasonal variation. As April approaches, the evenings get longer and longer, finally culminating into the phenomenon called "white nights". Where the sun doesn't set all day or rather all night, and the city is lit up throughout the summer.
As Spring approaches, I saw something quite unique on my way to class today. Normally being quite oblivious to all the things in and about me, I wouldn't have considered it, but of late since melancholy has got a grip on me, I saw and felt the last battle of winter.
It was snowing profusely this morning, but at the same time, the temperature wasn't really ideal for snowfall, being above zero.
As the snow fell, it immediately melted causing a really annoying slushy environment.
But nevertheless as I waded through the icy muddy ground, I realised something. Spring is around the corner. And yet, winter seems to be unrelenting in its departure. Almost as if it is deliberately holding off the final moments before it must go away forever. It didn't seem to let go the branches of the tall trees or the paths on which it lay for so long.
It just kept snowing and snowing, knowing well that its futile to resist the coming of the next season. It just didn't seem to give up.
But we all know, as cruel time can be, winter must bid adieu one final day.

I somehow felt the same pang of dismay when I looked upon the fading season. Like the current season, for me and most of my friends, our academic lives are about to culminate in graduation soon.
While it is a joyous occasion, one cannot simply let go six years of our lives we spent together in Petersburg. For me, it is the last winter in Petersburg. For I know well, that I shan't ever see it again. For a new season begins in my life as well. Somehow, as the months fade away, like the winter, I seem to be holding on in futility, the thoughts and emotions that have so linked me to this city for the past six years.

Time is a rather cruel entity. It indeed waits for no one. Yet most of us, knowing this all to well, seem to be holding out in vain, hoping against hope that time will stay still, and everything around us will remain the same always.
And in doing so, we are constantly in battle with time, knowing all too well that we are not going to be the victors.
Like the fading winter, I too seem unwilling to accept the change that is going to come about me.
And like the fading winter, I too am clinging on in vain, hoping that time shall stay still, and we shall remain young and carefree forever.
Its not the future responsibility that bothers me.
What bothers me is the severance of the numerous bonds that I have painstakingly made over the past six years.
An era is almost over, and I don't even have a clue so as to where the years went.
I never realised that the day would actually come, where I have to bid goodbye to this fair city, and the people with whom I have lived with for so long. None of us can stall the inevitable, but I suppose that doesn't make us stop trying.
Such is fate.
Dasvidanya my dear comrade, General Winter.
Maybe by some quirk of fate our paths shall cross again, but until then, I bid you farewell.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Faith versus Fact



In my previous post I had basically stated how man's misinterpretations of faith have lead to some of the worst crimes humanity has ever seen. And as a consequence faith is therefore seen as a vestigial entity that has no place in today's modern society.
Faith is seen as many as a product of human insecurity and fear. Fear of the big guy upstairs who will unleash his wrath upon those who disobey him.
Anthropologically speaking, not many have been able to point out so as to how the evolution of faith occurred in the first place.
Did the developing cortex stimulate the sudden surge of abstract thinking? Did the hyperactive neurotransmitters begin to stimulate a new process of imaginative beliefs?
But if it was mere imagination, then why would one fall prey to ones own world of make believe in the first place?
The key to our origin continues to remain shrouded in myths, hypotheses and theories.
Without absolute concrete evidence.
I have never been a fan of the theory of spontaneous creation. It seems like "presto" instant humans.
Though Darwin's theory of evolution seems as a plausible explanation to the origin of man, it remains a theory. Not fact.
Evolution isn't something that we see occurring before our very eyes.
The humans who have co existed with other species have not mentioned even a trace of evolutionary activity over the span of thousands of years.
Scientists tried to recreate the conditions of the primordial earth in the laboratories to create life from scratch. But all they could manage to come up with were a soup of amino acids (building blocks of DNA), but not life.
So what creates life? The life that we all see in and around us. Its everywhere. From the insignificant microbes and the sentient trees to the elephants and whales. I suppose that's something we have yet to figure out.

So that makes me wonder. Is having faith in a higher wiser entity really so bad?
I suppose it all finally boils down to the fact that seeing is believing.
Its always easy to disregard and discredit something that cannot be proven or for that matter seen.

When Marco Polo returned to Italy after his adventures in the east, people regarded him as a liar because of the "tall tales" he spoke of the eastern civilizations. But ironically they were true.
So there goes the dictum of what you cannot see cannot exist.

The thing about God or for that matter any spiritual experience for that matter, is that the so called experience remains legitimate only for a select few.
Now science can deem it as some sort of a delusion, hallucination or mass hypnosis, or their favourite word...coincidence, thus its almost impossible to convince a non believer.
I suppose in that case the best option would be to live and let live. Respect others for their beliefs or disbeliefs.
You cannot knock belief and acceptance onto another human if he is unwilling. Reason is something that dawns upon someone slowly and steadily. You cannot enforce it.

Its only in the past 2000 years or so that science and faith have formed an eternal rift. While science accuses faith of luring man into false beliefs, faith accuses science of degrading the morale value within society.
If one looks back in time, you had Hellenistic Greece making advances in philosophy, mathematics and physics. Mayan South America making advances in astronomy(their Mayan calender remains up to date with the current eclipses and transits), ancient Egypt and their advances in medicine and Vedic India and their advances in surgery, theology, metaphysics and Ayurveda.
Faith never stood in the way of scientific progress then and neither did the ancient scientists criticize the worship of Zeus, Isis or Shiva.
It went hand in hand.

Science cannot be deemed unnecessary since it forms the core of our everyday lives.
Faith cannot be deemed redundant since it is faith people turn to seek solace when times are rough, and when you need a spiritual shoulder to lean on. Of course its a pity some corrupt men have used faith to terrorize the masses.
But in conclusion, those who choose to believe and those who choose to disbelieve are free to do so on their own accord.
But one things for sure, the least we can do is be human and learn to respect each other for whatever they believe in.
I dont know whether that will get you a first class ticket to heaven. But at least you will have the reputation of being a first rate human on earth.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Divine Retribution

I once read this article in the news about how some girl in Afghanistan had acid thrown on her face because she dared to go to school. It was something I believe the local Clerics considered to be sacrilegious. That incident served as a warning to all the girls in the area, that they ought to stay at home for the sake of their own safety.
Not to mention the attacks on women in the Kashmir valley who were attacked by local religious fanatics because they wore jeans.
Science has always held utter contempt for religion, because to them religion has always been seen as means to enslave and confine man within a sphere of fear, insecurity and guilt.
Throughout the ages numerous wars have been waged across the globe on account of religious differences.
In true terms, there has never been any triumph of faith. What has triumphed instead is might. The might of the military. Like the numerous crusades and the inquisitions which have plagued humanity for centuries.
The crusades, holy war, inquisitions and jihads serve as a grim reminder so as to how a faith actually spread.
It wasn't the open embrace of God by the devout. Rather it was the might of the sword and the instillment of fear within the masses that lead to the birth of a new faith.
It has always been so. For history is a witness.
Its ironic, since majority of the religions that have been propagated by war and persecution claim that their God is kind and merciful.
I suppose it is an odd way of putting things.
I really wonder then, so as to why must the followers of a merciful and an understanding God be so merciless in the way they chose to protect Him by throwing acid on defenseless women.
Whenever such people persecute the weak and the innocent they claim to carry out divine justice.

When any rational man of science sees fellow human beings killing and persecuting each other in the name of an entity called God(possibly the product of somebody's extremely fertile imagination), something no one can see nor feel, I cannot blame them to think that all religion is absolute nonsense.
And there's no way I can possibly convince a man of science that faith isint actually that bad.

The sands of time have erased from the minds of the people all memory of how their ancestors were tortured in the past to accept the faith they follow today.
I have no interest in raking up old issues, but nevertheless, todays so called defenders of faith seem to behave the same way their ruthless ancestors did to spread the word of God.

Does God really need numerous madmen to defend His honor? If so, then God must be one of the most weakest beings in existence where, something as trivial as improper attire can shake the very foundations of His realm.
Its a strange and sad little world we live in. Where there is little regard for humane conduct. The spirit though born free, it is rendered as a prisoner of rigid laws and rules.
No wonder people have started to hate the very aspect of faith.
Why wouldn't they? For what is there to gain from something that wont allow you to live normally, without being reminded at every instance that one small deviation of faith will send you straight to hell?

But all I can tell is this. Irrespective of the macabre picture of God painted by some of the leading faiths of today, I choose to follow faith as I see it best. Not on the grounds of force or ignorance, but on the grounds of the firm belief that God is no way the tyrannical monster people portray God to be. Its something I suppose you can realize on your own. Because its not God who brings upon misery upon others, its man and his ridiculous interpretation of God.
I suppose in the heavens above, God must be looking down upon us and wondering, "when will these humans learn to tolerate one another and set apart their differences?. How often must I come down and knock sense into them?...."sigh"...a Gods work is never done."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Entropy

A sense of change is in the air. Theres a good deal of revolutionary activity going on about in India. Indians have once again proved how they can rise and defend our great nation by securing our morales and ideals.
A great deal of people know well enough about the ruckus created by numerous local brigades of men who are hell bent on preserving the dignity of the women in our country even if it means they must bash them senseless (so that the women see sense) in pubs.
I suppose they went home proud knowing that they have saved the nation yet again from the evil clutches of western decadence.
But I don't think they did a good enough job, because in return for their noble labor they received a parcel of pink undergarments by evil, corrupt women who are literally asking for some more head banging.

Theres a sea of change in the realm of Indian television as well. Thanks to a new digital satellite provider I now can see almost 200 channels in excellent quality. Hmmm.....now theres a lot of options. Lets see...
Theres some 50 or so channels with fast paced melodrama, intense boohooing, and mind numbing twists which the average human being cant possibly comprehend. Dead sons come back alive, dead villains were just pretending to be dead, plus theres an immortal grandmother who looks as though she was born old and destined to remain eternally old throughout the series which spans a time line of almost 100 years.
Then theres 20 or so "music" channels which seem to show everything except music. Theres the cheeky VJ with a bad accent and a hairdo that would give Cher a complex, conducting absolutely inspired interviews with some of the film industry's best star offspring. I just cannot wait to know what is Blah Blah Kapoor's favorite flavor of ice cream soda. Gosh.....!
Then there is this show which attracts every freak from India, who are carefully scrutinized by a judge who barks ineligible drivel like a rabid dog, finally zeroing on a select group of contestants who earn the privilege of driving around on a motorbike across the country, bitch about their friends on camera and talk about how some hot girl dumped them.
Then of course we have at least 50 "entertainment" channels which showcase awesome reality shows kinda like the one with the motorbike, only slightly different which involve a group of almost famous people caged together in a house who also bitch, back stab and try their level best to get noticed by hurling insults at each other.
The remaining 80 channels comprise of mixture of news channels who claim to have found the footprints of a demigod in a farm, a dozen or so religious channels which have amazing babas with great bodily agility who make Michael Jackson look like an amature, movie channels who have successfully broad casted the same movie for the umpteenth time and educational channels like the history channel which showcase hour long ads of the amazing weight reducing sauna belt. Theres nothing like quality entertainment now, is there?

Apart from that India has found its own ingenious ways of getting people laid off during the international recession.
Local vegetable sellers, grocers in small towns have lost their jobs to big commercial shopping malls where you may buy everything under the sun. Never mind the fact that the cabbage is rotting and the T shirt you bought at the sale has shrunk to half its size after the first wash, at least you need not haggle with the small scale vegetable seller who has the audacity of selling you fresh vegetables for 1 rupee more than the shopping mall. Moreover all you need to do is travel 10-15 kilometers from your home to buy everything under one roof. Simple as that. No more getting cheated for a few rupees by the local grocer who lives a stones throw away from your house.
Now thats progress.

It has been six years since I have left India. Sarcasm apart, every time I visit, the sort of change my country is going through leaves me absolutely dumbfounded. In thermodynamics, Entropy is defined as the tendency of a system that is left to itself to descend into chaos.
All aspects in nature descend from order to disorder.
I fear that the sort of change going on about within Indian society will leave the masses more ignorant and ill informed than they previously were. And such a change is occurring at a rapid pace.
Who knows. Perhaps in the future, the women will be forced to remain in homes for good so that their "dignity" remains unscathed. Reality television might depict people killing each other for sport like the times in gladiatorial Rome(anything for TRP's). And the rate of crime will sky rocket due to the numerous people rendered jobless on account of large sprawling shopping malls.
I thought progress was something that took the masses ahead, rather than push them further into the abyss. So much for modernization. I suppose I'd rather live in the simple times of the stone age rather than subject myself to the charades of our current age.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Runaway Muse


Of late for some strange reason, I haven't been able to think of a single topic to write. I know all too well that ideal creativity is something that ought to flow constantly from within. But nevertheless I feel of late as if the stream of thought has dried up. Its a good thing that my bread and butter are not dependent upon what I write, but nevertheless, it irks me to a good degree that I cannot think of a single worthwhile thing to write about.
I really envy those who lead lives in constant motion. Those who's lives are constantly enriched with new sights and sounds. Like for instance a journalist or a photographer. Or even an entrepreneur of some sort. I'll bet they'll have a good deal in plenty to write home about.
Theres not much adventure in the life of a student. And a medical student to boot. The same dismal routine of going for class, coming back, shopping, cooking etc. (did I mention studying?)
Some say if your life doesn't have adventure, one must go ahead and make that adventure happen.
I suppose thats easier said than done. I always considered philosophy as a poor mans soup. Its rather easy for some wise guy to mouth off fancy quotations without having to physically experience the sort of ordeal the person opposite him suffers.
Theres always a philosopher amongst us. You know the sort. The sort of bloke who has his head in the clouds, seldom caring to bother about the real trials and tribulations that plague those amongst him.
But nevertheless, its rather an awful feeling not being able to think or create something because you feel positively uninspired and insipid.
Inspiration is the key.
One ought to draw it from all that one sees and experiences around him.
But of late, somehow everything around me feels bland and unimpressive. Perhaps its the monotony of the routine that we follow day in and day out.
Sort of a "ho hum" feeling.
Creativity is the sort of thing that needs to be constantly replenished with new ideas and opinions. Its the sort of thing that maintains a constant train of thought.
I don't know what could possibly account for the fact that I do not seem the least bit inspired of late.
In ancient times, Muses were considered to be the guardian spirits that constantly gave inspiration to poets and authors and artists. It was they who constantly provoked men of art to churn out masterpieces.
I suppose my Muse must have packed up her bags and gone off on vacation somewhere. Or perhaps she has found some other bloke who is in need of her services. I suppose the Muses don't care much for fidelity.
Either ways I am bereft of creative thought.
Perhaps I ought wait patiently for her to return. And give me back the creative impulse that has been lost to me.
Since patience is such a God awful virtue!