You know you are a chemist when…

… the advertisement displayed on a blog you frequent is this:

you know you are a chemist_v2

I am a chemist.

 

Advertisements

On imagination

1.

I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways, to ingratiate ourselves with birds, to enlist the confidences of madmen.

— J. G. Ballard

+++

What is the good of curbing sensuality, shaping the intellect, securing the supremacy of reason? Imagination lies in wait as the most powerful enemy.

— Goethe

2.

I have been thinking of imagination with reference to two movies. The first is the 1993 Tamil heist movie Thiruda Thiruda. It’s been a long time since I saw the movie, and the plot itself is a little iffy in my mind. But what set off this particular train of thought was the sequence in this caper story when the movie’s two protagonists – two burglars – along with the woman they save from committing suicide, get their hands on a big loot. Their joy on being in possession of such money is portrayed as a song. Vairamuthu’s mettle as a lyricist shines through here as the trio gush on screen about what they want from this newly-acquired money. This song is proof of what splendid magic human imagination is capable of.  Please have a listen.

I tried to translate the lyrics into English with my working knowledge of Tamil, and I knew I was coming up short. These are after all thoughts of wanting a brand new earth, a new sky everyday, twin moons, colourful twinkling stars and flowers that speak that I am attempting to constrain. That said, here are the concluding two paragraphs of the song in English, knowing all too well that I have taken away the beauty of the original. This translation is to show you some more of the things this trio desires.

panjap pasi poakka vaeNdum
paalaivanam pookka vaeNdum
saandhdhi saandhdhi endRa sanggeedham
sugam aendhdhi aendhdhi vandhdhu vizha vaeNdum

Want famine and hunger to go away
Want deserts to bloom
Want a song that is peace
to come flitting with its carriage of happiness

poanavai ada poagattum
vandhdhavai ini vaazhattum
thaesathin ellai koadugaL avai theerattum
theyvangaL indhdha maNNilae vandhdhu vaazhattum

Let bygones be bygones
Let that which is here, live
Let the boundaries of nations fade away
Let the gods descend to live on this earth

3.

I am often reminded of that scene from The Italian Job (2003) when Mark Wahlberg, Edward Norton and the entire gang is standing atop the Alps celebrating their successful heist, discussing what they would do with their share of the loot. Everyone has plans for things to do with their money, except for Norton’s character. It’s another thing that he betrays his gang, but when he does get to live the big life, his house has the exact things his friends had dreamt of.

Here’s the scene that unfolds atop the Alps.

Left Ear (Mos Def): So come on, gentlemen, shopping list. Who’s doing what? Spare no dirty details.

John (Donald Sutherland): Come on, guys. Take a lesson from an old man. Don’t spend it. Invest.

Left Ear: In what?

John: In gold.

Left Ear: What are you getting, Rob?

Handsome Rob (Jason Statham): Ah, I don’t know. There’s a lot of things you can get with a lot of money. You know, I’m just thinking about naked girls in leather seats.

Left Ear: Obviously. See?

Handsome Rob: Suppose I’ll get the Aston-Martin Vanquish. There’s not a lot a girl won’t do in the passenger seat of one of those things.

Lyle (Seth Green): I’m gonna get a NAD T-770 digital decoder with a seventy-watt amp and and Burr Brown DAC’s.

Left Ear: [at a loss] Yeah…

Lyle: It’s a big stereo. Speakers so loud, they blow women’s clothes off.

Handsome Rob: Now you’re talking!

Left Ear: Thirty-five million dollars, you can’t get more creative than that, man? I’m going to Andalusia. The south of Spain. Right over there. [points] Get me a big house, get me a library full of first editions, get a room for my shoes… What about you, Steve?

Steve Bendel (Edward Norton): I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet.

Left Ear: You haven’t decided yet? Come on, man. Is it the mountain air? Just —

Steve: I liked what you said. I’ll take one of each of yours.

Left Ear: [Laughs] Well here’s to two of everything for Steve!

Much later in the movie, when the team is planning their revenge on Norton, here’s what Wahlberg’s character says to Norton’s. I find it very, very telling and symptomatic of what’s missing and what’s wrong with life in general.

You’ve got no imagination. You couldn’t even decide what to do with all that money, so you had to buy what everybody else wanted.

Sometimes I wonder if the predicaments we go and entrench ourselves in are the result of a woeful lack of imagination. Stay real, they say. But do we even know what is reality?

4.

A few years back I was attempting to write a story. And as would be expected, I kept losing track of what I wanted my story to do over the course of the writing. I don’t seem to remember why, but to steer the story forward, I kept telling myself: Put in a monkey there. That was a supremely genius move. Not! Predictably, the monkey pranced around with my characters and a lot of fun was had. And not surprisingly, the story only remains in my head till date. The monkey was just all over the place. Maybe if I can refurbish a purpose for that monkey, I can have that story move from my head on to paper. Maybe. Does that mean Icarus should have been told what the Sun would do to his wax wings?

PS. A synthesis of thoughts old and new, some from my old blog, repurposed for this post.


Reading can be dangerous. Nay, fatal.

Warning: This post contains hideous little-known secrets (redundancy is fun). Read at your own risk.

Going crazy on a Monday like every other day? Well, not any more. Read on, and you’ll finally find the courage (protip: look behind the sofa) to self-administer a full frontal lobotomy.

Mark Twain once famously said: Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint. A prescient man, Twain. But it’s not just the so called health books. Any book can prove fatal. Think: paper cuts. Ouch! Or even think of two-thousand page tomes classified as handbooks. You just have to drop (up) one accidentally on your head. And the rest will be an admixture of mangled anatomy and sad irony.

Read this. (Again, at your own risk.) The author here recounts several anecdotes confirming the dangerousness of reading. As you begin, you’ll see how The Brothers Karamazov is capable of inflicting more than just spiritual injury. And do have a look (or two, or ten) at the cartoon accompanying the article. Here it is for your viewing pleasure. Have a gander. And while you are at it, have a goose as well.

readingisdangerous.jpg

And finally, here’s a cautionary poem by Barbara Hamby titled Reading Can Kill You. Decide for yourself if she is half or quarter or three-fourths kidding.

Curiosity killed the cat, they say. I am beginning to wonder if Curiosity is a book.

So. The proof as you can see has long migrated from the pudding, and now rests squarely in this post. Like a wise person once said, the moral of Snow White is never eat apples.

(Originally written on 1 September, 2013.)


Do you have humanity?

That titular question.

Turns out one needs to have humanity to sign up to receive newsletters from a certain site. In the days of yore (hah!) it used to be enough that one be a human to get newsletters, but times evidently, are a-changin’!

I was on the trail of a newsletter earlier in the day, when the following popped up, making me chuckle.

They have lofty ideals. 😉

Made me think of this real exchange from many moons ago.

Q: How big is your heart?
A: If it were any bigger, I’d risk getting canonised.

And oh, yes, my humanity is now machine-confirmed.


Kafka Dreams

Then:

The enlightened Hobbes.

Now:

The freelance writer.


Gallimaufry

Not Gaiman,
not Gulzar,
not Galileo –
for this G post.

But a gallimaufry.

A gamboling,
gallivanting mind
is game
only
to gyrate to distant strains of
gobbledygook.


The house we are building

I wrote the following for International Women’s Day this year.


8 March, 2017

The house we are building

Dear women,

Today is the International Women’s Day. The campaign theme for the year is Be Bold For Change. The United Nations decrees Planet 50-50 by 2030 as the day’s theme in 2017. The UN is focusing on the changing world of work, and exhorts everyone to strive towards gender equality in our workplaces to ensure sustainable development.

You are reading this letter on the internet. While that might give some pointers to a data analyst vis-à-vis your social background if she were keen on it, it however does point me towards two absolute certainties about you. One, today you will be submerged in statistics about gender disparity the world over. And two, today you will be torpedoed with messages on social media greeting you on International Women’s Day. The former, a sad stark reality of the times we live in, and the latter, well, just a stark reality of the times we live in. I am not about to wield statistics or cheer for women power online, but what I am about to do is talk to you about two things very pertinent on this International Women’s Day. No, I am no Oprah. But yes, I have a voice. And yes, I struggled hard to find my voice. And yes, goodness knows, I could do with a universe-sized dollop of #BeBoldForChange myself.

So, here goes. Second thing, first: at your workplace, try and help other women help themselves. You can stretch the truth all the way from here to Finland (well, to be fair, I hear a lot of good things about the country, but you know the stretching is just figurative), but the fact remains that we live in a patriarchal society. Sadly, our workplaces do not function in an alternate universe; we are smack-dab in the centre of a gender-inequal workplace. The icing on the high-calorie cake: professional rivalry. This, as a matter of fact, is good if it remains healthy, letting everyone grow, taking the organisation forward. But then, there’s a blink-and-you’ll-pay-through-your-nose thin line between the healthy and sick variant of professional rivalry. Perhaps you know when you cross over to the ugly side, perhaps you do not; but either way, it is ugly. On this day, take a little time off for a real conversation with yourself. Are you on the ugly side of the professional rivalry spectrum? Will you choose to be led by your light within, or by the situation you find yourself in? Your light is stronger than the darkness surrounding you. Allow it to do its work. And the work it does is called: shine.

First thing, second: The aforesaid light. It’s the opposite of the blackest of black holes. Reaching that light is how you find yourself. It takes a lifetime of real work and honesty with self. More importantly, it also takes a disabusement of the 2:00 am genius thought that you need a self-administered lobotomy. But thankfully you know the lifetime of such genius thoughts. It isn’t easy finding and helping yourself. But it is possible, and entirely essential. Until you know who you are, nothing you do for others will likely have any real impact. This International Women’s Day, be bold, and jump into the recesses of your mind and work towards embracing your deepest truths. It is this change that we as educated, empathetic women first need to make.

Yes, there is a growing ire among many of us. The plight of women in many places remains pathetic and this one day out of the 365 to contemplate our place in the society appears downright hypocritical. But here’s how I see it. We are building a house, and for whatever reasons the only thing the house does is crumble down. Do we just stand by ruing the quandary, or do we re-assess and plan the building process better? The choice is entirely ours. What are we going to bequeath to our daughters and granddaughters – a sturdy house to live in, or a long list of excuses the house couldn’t be built? More importantly, what are we going to show to our sons and grandsons? Scars of abuse? Or, bruises begotten through bold acts of change?

Sometime back, I read Anne Waldman, the poet, describe Cole Swensen’s poetry thus: Swensen’s poetry documents a penetrating intellectus—light of the mind—by turns fragile, incandescent, transcendent.

Read that line again. Ask yourself: What are you going to do with your intellectus – your light of the mind?

Thank you for reading!

I am but one among you, who falters and rises. Again and again.