BAR ITT 2

I read in a delightful book a few days ago about how particles of inspiration continuously zip through the universe; and how, by  some quirk of statistics, they make contact with susceptible minds. The results? Revelations in the murk of half-sleep about the benzene molecule being a carbonaceous hexagon; or the X-ray plate revealing the truth about a double helix; or the realisation that there exists an all-pervading force of attraction between any two bodies possessing mass (The legend goes that this particular particle was rather red, and rather tangible.). Things like that. Pretty important, I’d say.

Most are never hit- the book says- while a blessed few are hit once or twice in their lifetimes (And they go on to propound theories that change the world.). But the most unfortunate are those weird particle-magnets who, by some statistical bias, seem to get them all. Like me. When the first one hits, I work out an ingenious method to overcome the problem I was wrestling with. Then the second one hits and my mind, true to its impish nature, begins exploring the ways in which the subject of my project could be turned into a bomb. I work that out and am immediately hit by what could only be called a hailstorm of particles, and the resultant cerebral riot forces me to turn to my blog. Forgive me, netizens, polluting the internet allows me to preserve my sanity. But oh boy, a single particle can cause enough havoc sometimes.

“Looking happy today, Shaunak.”

“Eh?”

A rather reckless particle of inspiration had chosen that very moment to dive out of the ionosphere and straight into the right hemisphere of my brain, and was now happily splashing around trying to drown the other, more important, things- like the ITT I was about to start on in a few seconds, and the worries about whether my injured knee would start creaking again- with alliterated nicknames for Craig. (Sorry, mate. I’m ready to die on the next ride.)

“Rocket Raynes?”, the particle ventured.

” Sounds too much like Rocket Raccoon. Get the hell out of my head.”

“One. Two. Three. Go!”

“Who, me? Dammit!”

I pushed off, somehow managed to scrabble on to the saddle without any incidents, and fumbled the clip-in.

“Double dammit.”

I glanced down and realised that I had not started the GPS.

“Triple dammit!”

Gawd I despised untimely hits!

“Ripper Raynes?” the particle insisted.

“Oh, shut up.” I focused on Raghu, who had started before me and was now hammering away tucked in the TT position, about 300 metres ahead. I did not have TT bars, and wondered if I had enough power left after the injury to catch up with him.

“Craig the comet?”

“Stop trying.” I impatiently batted the particle away and focused on my cadence. It buzzed away to a corner of my mind and gave what it obviously thought was a menacing growl. If only it weren’t in falsetto…

 My legs were definitely weaker, but my heart was still just as strong. I decided to keep spinning at over 100 rpm and transfer the load to my aerobic engine, and prayed that the result would be the same.

I passed Kartikeya and was almost on to Raghu when Craig zipped past.

“Whaaaaa?”

“Crusher Craig?”  My nemesis was back. And it had a point.

“Yup, definitely. Well done.” I patted the particle. It purred, tried to take an affectionate bite out of my mental hand and melted away.

I heaved a sigh of relief and glanced at my GPS. 9.6 km, 165 BPM and 36 kmph. My knee seemed good. What if I went full-power now?

“Might as well. God mode: Engage.”

Finish line

I slumped back on the saddle and took another look at my data. 24.5 km, 175 BPM, 38.17 kmph and 97 rpm. And my knee didn’t hurt! 

Yep. I was happy. Definitely.



Ex libris

First day at college, I almost got into a fistfight with my new roommate. His offence: using a ballpoint pen as thick as my thumb to mark a page in one of my books. I was seventeen, headstrong and a little volatile. And my roomie, who is now a good friend, might as well have shoved the pen up my nose. Hard.

I was raised by a bibliophilic, no, bibliolatrous family that had grounded the four-year-old me for doodling in an old copy of Ukrainian Folk Tales. The shadows of that childhood trauma continue to haunt me, and I have been at war against defilers of books ever since.  Write in a book, and I’ll hit you with my death rays. Break its spine, and I’ll break yours. I am a zealot through and through. The physical form of a book is not to be violated in any way. I don’t care.

Or I did not care. Until I was lent this book by a friend who had just finished reading it.

cover

Although I never miss an opportunity to give her cartloads of horse manure about the state of her books, this is a lady whom I much respect and whose opinion I hold in very high regard; despite her lunchtime stories about how her labmate once dunked his very old and rare Bengali translation of the Russians in a pool of semisolid human excrement; and despite her, two minutes later, attempting to thrust under my still-mortified nose an old James Herriot that seemed to have narrowly escaped a wormhole while transporting its reader through space and time; simply because of two of her many redeeming qualities- her being considerably better-read than I, and her being someone who can truly take my writing apart. When she insisted that I should start with “Never do that to a book”, I had a prickly feeling of impending doom. If I knew her at all, she was about to have her revenge.

It took me five minutes to go through the essay. I sighed, went through it once again, put the book down, texted her that I hated her, and re-immersed myself into the elegant prose.

fadiman1

Eh? So we have taxonomic classifications, do we?

fadiman2

Grrrrr…

 

fadiman4

Well, she has a point there. Annotated books are interesting. I was forcefully reminded of Harry Potter’s copy of Advanced Potion-making in Half-blood Prince.

fadiman5

fadiman6

Mmm… some of the things she writes about makes my skin crawl, but Fadiman does manage to portray courtly love as something utterly devoid of life…

I have since been through six more of the essays in the book, and each one of them is a gem in its own right. I am no longer a zealot. I want to get intimate with this book. I want to circle the words I don’t know, to mark passages in it,  to write in it, even to argue with the author on the margins. It promises to be a lot of fun.

Limbering up

I nip into the washroom to give my reflection a quick but thorough scrutiny:

  1. Cheekbones: Prominent. (Ugh!)
  2. Tan lines: Why didn’t I wear something with longer sleeves? (Why!?? WHY!??)
  3. Waist: O! M! G! (I’m so dead!)

The phone vibrates.

“Coming! Coming!”

I sprint out of the exit terminal, stuff my not-at-all-sapient (sigh…) luggage into the boot, vaguely try to pull the sleeve of my tee down further, mutter an oath, suck in a rattling breath, and duck into the backseat.

One hour later…

“Arrey Mashi…, I eat enough for two people! Honestly! Pliss to be believing me!”

Ah, home sweet home!

Of the 25 years I have spent darkening this planet, the initial 16 passed in Burdwan, a small, quaint town around a hundred kilometres north of Kolkata. It’s a place of azure skies with fluffy clouds, verdant paddy fields, sparkling streams, ancient moss-stained mansions, and dark green marshlands dotted with morose old temples. The people are glib and suave, the vendors overly so. In fact, I would not be very surprised if there is a man somewhere feeling rather sheepish at this moment as he sits back and admires his purchase of the day: a dozen fluoro-green umbrellas, a honker for a Lamborghini and a nuclear submarine. I’m kidding about the submarine. It’s a loud and colourful town full of blustering madness, quite the opposite of what I enjoy being amidst; but I do like to come back here once in a while- because my parents live here, and because the sweets are succulent- and that is the root of half the problems in my life.

I own a fancy bicycle which I like to ride in and around Bangalore. I am a talentless twerp as a cyclist, as has been very generously and deliberately hammered into my psyche by people I am (un?)fortunate enough to call my friends, but I do enjoy riding my bike. It has brought me down to 64 kg from 80 (that’s where I had reached once upon a time, courtesy of the succulent sweets), my parents have made peace with their fate of having a son with cheekbones, and my uncles with the fact that their nephew will obstinately maintain for the rest of his life that he never wants to take after them, potbelly-wise. Inquisitions have been held, counselling sessions have commenced and have adjourned, promises have been made of debilitating and incurable diseases, and no amount of cajoling and threatening has been able to show me the errors of my ways so far. I like not looking like a chubby-cheeked Russian babushka. Deal with it.

The attempted brainwash and force-feed sessions aside, the visits are not that bad. I get to eat home food (heaven!) and to loaf around on the couch with the books and comics I grew up reading. It’s a peaceful life, mostly, except for the rare occasion when I take it into my head to take the traditional walk around the town. I have been told I would tire myself out, but the long legs and the base fitness of a road cyclist who frequently dares to race in the elite category have their unfair advantages.

Despite having grown up in the town, its sprawling maze of lanes and alleys and what passes for thoroughfares never ceases to amaze me. I stroll past the cool, shadowy university campus, through the corridors of the apparently deserted medical college, past the mouldering palace of the rajahs and under the Curzon Gate, towards my old school, and the river after that, wondering how it would be to bring my road bike here someday. I immediately decide I would have to be high on weed and liberal doses of coke with a dash of LSD thrown in to do that. Riding a road bike through that anarchic melange of pedestrians, steel bicycles, superbikes and electric ‘toto’ rickshaws, all rocketing around  without any apparent order or reason, promises to be a hair-raising experience. Well, no thanks, I’ll pass. The traffic here is an organism I never want to mess with.

I will not even talk about home food and the sweetshops lining the streets. It’s probably for the best that I don’t visit home so often.

This happens.

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Every. Damn. Time. Even when I have the BBCh Nandi Epic 100k coming up in three weeks. I come back to Bangalore cursing my sweet tooth, two weeks off the bike, 2 kg heavier and with my upper aerobic zones in tatters. Every. Damn. Time. So much for limbering up for the race.

But I DO need some time away from the lab once in a while. Ah, well, home is sweet home after all…

Jackpot!

cyclebabble

I was handed this book when I was loafing around my favourite bike shop last Sunday,  running a probing finger over my injured knee while keeping an wary eye out for a certain gormless kitten; and listening, I admit with some feigned contrition, to Mr. M grumbling about how my bike seemed fresh out of an oil-and-grime bath. It took me barely two minutes to go through the first piece, but when I had, I was smiling like a man who had just had a mystical revelation. I read it again, and again, and again. I caught myself memorising the passages, savouring the elegance of the images they conjured, and marveling at how they stirred the rider in me. Here was a man with passion, speaking to other men (and women) with passion, about how his heart lifts a little every time he swings his leg over his machine, “at a moment pregnant with possibility.”

So many possibilities… Indeed, so many possibilities.

“To set out on a bike is always to travel with the expectation of an encounter. We are not bound by the rules of public transport of politely pretending that our fellow passengers are invisible and that whatever temporary association binds us is purely a coincidence of direction and certainly not to be mistaken as a justification for social intercourse. Nor are we prisoners of the myth of invisibility of the private motorist, who feels impregnable in his (usually his) sound-system asociality, but is, in reality, a goldfish trapped in a bowl and a figure of pity and derision.”

James Randerson and Peter Walker (2012-08-13). Cyclebabble: Bloggers on biking (Kindle Locations 94-98). Guardian Books. Kindle Edition.

Ha!

“On a bike, stopped at a light, tourists ask us directions – because we know the topography of cities better than town planners, police officers and civil engineers. Better, even, than GoogleEarth, because we know contours and gradients too – we feel them in our legs.”

James Randerson and Peter Walker (2012-08-13). Cyclebabble: Bloggers on biking (Kindle Locations 98-100). Guardian Books. Kindle Edition.

And boy, does it feel good!

“And every few weeks, I run into someone I know. We ride the next mile together, annoying drivers by riding two abreast while we chat. A happy accident, this brief convergence of busy lives.”

James Randerson and Peter Walker (2012-08-13). Cyclebabble: Bloggers on biking (Kindle Locations 101-103). Guardian Books. Kindle Edition.

A smile, a nod, a wave, a shout in the middle of our intervals as we zip past a friend coming from the opposite direction… nothing like it, is there?

And then there’s this, meant especially for people like me who like their own company:

“But riding a bike is only incidentally social. Often, its finest hours are those spent alone, in that rare and desirable commodity of private communion with oneself: uncluttered by routine thought, just open to experience. It’s a gusty day, a sunny day; the leaves are turning, the blossom is coming out; a cold wind puts a ruddy burn on our cheeks, a summer breeze dries our perspiration. We experience the seasons, feel the weather in its fine detail of temperature, pressure, humidity, Beaufort scale, sun strength. Our senses are engaged, yet our minds set free to wander.”

James Randerson and Peter Walker (2012-08-13). Cyclebabble: Bloggers on biking (Kindle Locations 104-107). Guardian Books. Kindle Edition.

I ride out to train for races and rarely need to commute on a bike, but I feel you, Matt, I feel you. And damn, when would I write like you?

I will get on the rollers now. I missed my ride on account of an experiment today, and I must serve penance in my paincave.

Superpower

“Oh, he speaks, too??”

“You’re very quiet. Is something wrong?”

“He’s one arrogant smart-ass.”

As a man who is naturally shy and withdrawn, I get that a lot. One of the banes of existing in a society of boisterous extroverts in our brave new world, I suppose. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. They say the truth.

I write for fun, not really expecting any appreciation or praise. I know I have a long way to go, and there are people out there whose command of the English language is a gazillion times better than mine. But my heart does do some impressive cartwheels and pirouettes when I see one or two +1’s on the list of posts on my humble blog. “Ah, at least one person liked what I wrote!” Your +1, my friend, makes my day. 🙂

I could write a lot better if I received some criticism and comments, though. So, um, feel free, maybe? I have the rarest of the rare superpowers. I listen.

Old flame

I honestly have no idea how many books I have. I’m too lazy to count. Some books I hold very close to my heart (Yeah, I have one. Beats at the rate of 49 per minute!), some maybe I will pick up again some five years from this point of time, and some I have not the faintest idea how I could have bought, unless I had been intoxicated with alcohol or the blissful fumes of hashish! I’m joking about the hashish! And the alcohol.

Well the bottom-line of this rant is: I own too *add expletive* many books! I’m not very sure they have worked their magic on me. As a grumpy grad schooler, I still have those terrible moments when I seriously believe my brain growth somehow stopped at the age of 13. And quite frequently, too. The number of books I possess has not ceased to grow, however. My ‘wardrobe’, if you would be polite enough to call it so, is at the point of starting to overflow. I am a poor student. I don’t own a bookshelf.

Apparently, there are quite a lot of people with fully and admirably functioning CPUs who have faced, and continue to face the “bookshelf dilemma” (I love the way this lady writes. Pity her blog has had no entries in over a year now.). So, um, why not do the smart thing for once in my life?

My seniors say I looked like a lovesick idiot with that parcel from amazon.com. I suppose I might have.This would not be the first time; I am told that smile of mine lends me a rather unfocused and foolish look. The object it contained was, well, sleek.

   On came the 3G hotspot on my battered and sweat-stained Lumia 520, passkeys were entered, a connection to the swirling whirlpool of information promptly established. Aaaand I’m reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula now. The original. I admit I miss the musty aroma of the old copy dad has at home, the fragile feel of its age-browned pages; but I never knew how I had missed those small, warm flips my stomach used to do at the thought of returning to an unfinished story when I was younger. Until now. The fire is re-Kindled.

A caveman’s holiday: the plans

Wow! Someone +1’d that last post where I’d complained about people pretending I’m a lamppost! Do I have a regular follower? Cheers, mate!

There are roughly two weeks to go before my two-week holiday starts. I’m probably, definitely, absolutely, being selfish, but I don’t want to visit my parents this time. Going home would mean endless forced visits to the homes of relatives, endless interrogations about how my PhD is going (Ohmigod!!!) and when I would land a job (Soon! Soon! Now give me an effing break!), and whoosh would go in a puff of smoke any chance I had of dumping all the misery I’ve accumulated here. Being introverted is such a pain! (I need a hug!)

What am I going to do, then? Well…

Week 1:

A. Avoid all human contact (I AM A LAMPPOST!).

B. Ride. A lot. Like a hundred kilometers each day. I’m not the strongest rider out there, but I’m tough. I think. Or maybe it’s just the immortality of youth speaking. 😛

I have the routes charted out, with the bakeries marked with little pink hearts (kidding about the pink hearts.) and will be writing about them if all goes well.

C. Walk around Bangalore. I keep hearing about these prehistoric bookshops. It’d be great to visit them and be weird all by myself!

D. No science-shmience. I probably should have studied literature, or history, or engineering. Ah, crap!

E. Maybe sit quietly in a quiet corner of a cafe and read. The list’s grown long with all these Bengali writers I’ve been reading lately.

F. Write. Maybe. If in the mood. Unlikely. Or likely? Dunno.

Week 2:

Ditto as week 1, only point B involves my portable gymnasium (read resistance tubes) and point C happens in New Delhi. Would I be writing about Delhi? Maybe. Maybe not. Nobody reads the rubbish I spew anyway!

Next on the list: Get cracking at those final thesis requirements! Maybe being treated like a lamppost won’t smart so much after the holiday.

Loads of misery here…

I have a superpower. I excel at listening. But when my friend tried to chat me up on how what you read impacts how well you write, a couple of weeks ago, all that kept running through my head, to my abject horror, was “Maaf kar de bhai!! Mera dimag aur mat kha!”

One and a half years of headbanging over thesis work, combined with the departmental seminar and listening to the troubles of all those people, have elevated me to that level of misery where the mere sight of a human face has started to seem intolerable. It’s AHMAZING! There are manuscripts in queue, but no will to write them; experiments are planned, but executing them seems too much trouble; there’s no zeal to get out on the bike and train, no ardour to crunch weights in the gym, no will to read, none whatsoever to write, attempts to make new friends result in being treated like a lamppost, it’s all perfect! Juuuust perfect. I feel exactly like that lawyer who goes to live in an ancient mansion in Munger and falls in love with a ghost. It doesn’t end well. (Ref. Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay)

Heck I could use a holiday!

Old Flame (Contd.)

I was facebook-stalking a certain lady (10/10 would do it again. A fellow bookworm is a gem of a find! 🙂 ) when I came across a conversation debating the relative merits of the smells of old books and new ones. And BLAM! My authorly itch was set off again! I would tend to agree completely with that certain lady, having grown up among shelf upon shelf of dusty volumes myself. A book is not just the squiggles, more squiggles and even more of the black squiggles; the texture of the pages on your fingers, the musty aroma wafting into your nostrils, the warm weight of it- all add up to complete the experience.

But what do you do when the cupboard of your tiny hostel room threatens to overflow? Do you remain a stubborn purist, and pray for the damned souls roving the Stygian darkness of the electronic world? Or do you take a deep breath, loosen your muscles and take the plunge?

Well I took the plunge a couple of months ago. I found the water inviting; in fact so much so that it was only today that I realised that I have not ranted here in forever.

Amazon could not have chosen a better name for their product. My old flame has been Kindle-d into a roaring blaze in the last two months.  It is light, it is sleek, handles really well, and the use of electronic ink  and electronic paper tech in the display gives you the illusion of turning the pages of an actual, physical book! Too bad the 160 books in my pocket all smell the same!

end rant

P.S. Would love a critique if I do manage to work up the courage to share this on facebag. Aaand a book-chat and a reading-list suggestion would not be too bad, either.

There are plans to baby-talk about some of the science I have been trying to do as well.

Turbo time?

“The greater the suffering, the greater the pleasure. That is nature’s payback to riders for the homage they pay her by suffering. Velvet pillows, safari parks, sunglasses; people have become woolly mice. They still have bodies that can walk for five days and four nights through a desert of snow, without food, but they accept praise for having taken a one-hour bicycle ride. ‘Good for you’. Instead of expressing their gratitude for the rain by getting wet, people walk around with umbrellas. Nature is an old lady with few friends these days, and those who wish to make use of her charms, she rewards passionately.”

A beautiful paragraph, that. So true. And it made me feel so guilty for missing the training ride today. 

I have ridden through blinding heatwaves and crushing hailstorms. It’s not the physical suffering that bothers me. In fact, whenever an auto putters by, or a truck rumbles past, I give them a 20 second head start, put my head down, get on the drops, clench my abs, force myself to take slow, deep breaths and shoot after them like a bat out of hell. Man against machine, meat against metal. Often they get away, sometimes they don’t. A smouldering fire slowly seeps into my legs, a nagging, dull ache that demands to be felt. It can’t be blocked. It hurts. A lot. But I love it. Every bit of it. I’m an endorphin junkie through and through. 

What really bothers me is that I am required to share the road with a horde of multicoloured air-conditioned tin cans running on dinosaur juice, carrying obese woolly mice with alcohol oozing out of their ears (I exaggerate, but sometimes that is how it is.). I have seen Adi Kaul’s scars. Didn’t like the look of them. Heading out on the highway in the half-light of a cloud-covered, drizzly dawn is not the best of ideas.

 But I don’t want to lose the power that took so much pain and sacrifice to build. Time to get a turbo, perhaps?

I copied the opening paragraph from The Rider by Tim Krabbe. It is often said every cyclist worth their salt should read it. Follow this link for a review of the book and some pithy excerpts from it.