Thursday, 25 September 2014

Are You Obsolete?

Welcome to a world where novelty is the new obsolete , fast is the new slow, more is the new less and unconventional is the new usual. A world where every new trend is a benchmark in itself, where the word novelty is a misnomer and where you will find yourself an outdated person unless you are faster than the fastest.

“AS-400? You mean like COBOL and CL? That green and black screen ? Your life is doomed dude! Get out of there as soon as you can !” I looked visibly defeated as a senior colleague of mine tagged the technology allocated to me as ----
“O.B.S.O.L.E.T.E. Its over. You want to save your career? Then bolt! Or one day the Java guys will swallow up your jobs like sharks gulp down little goldfishes and don’t even realize it.” I mustered some courage and enquired about a technology I had been given in another MNC. “ I can sympathize with you.” The pompous looking person with two years of experience said to me as if in mock sympathy. “You have some rotten luck... Mainframes? India does not have companies that can afford to buy those smoking hot mega machines , which,sadly, are not so hot anymore.” On hearing these final words of his, I was sure that my career was over before it had even started. I consoled myself somehow saying that at least I have a job, while all the time avoiding to think about those of my friends who were well-placed and many others pursuing higher studies.
As I crossed the road to enter my office building, I was about to punch my access card into the premises when a voice shook me from my reverie.
“Hey Aashi!”
“Oh hi Meeta! What are you doing here?”
“I am joining today. WOW! We will be together after such a long time! Its like a dream come true !” Meeta gushed. 
My spirits rose. As a matter of habit , I blurted out, “Which technology did you get?” Meeta pulled a long face and said ,”Java yaar.” 
“What is there to yaaaar about in this? Java is cool.” I shot back , stung.  She fired away, “There are so many Java pros today . Every second person is a Java person you know. There is cut throat competition.” It struck me that once upon a time, it was said that every second person was an engineer. Today, every second person is a Java pro. Are people growing up faster now? ‘You cleared the competition babe. That’s why you are here. I am not even in the competition.’ I thought bitterly, not able to bring myself to tell her about my “OBSOLETE“ technology.
As if Meeta had read my thoughts , she said .”Java is like OBSOLETE you know. It’s the age of python programmers.“
“Yeah I know. You can swap variables in a single line, something for which you required at least three lines in C”, I replied. And I am far behind C. I am slightly above the assembly level that tells the computer how to add 2 and 2. My thoughts had gone down a bitter lane. Waving my new-found-old friend goodbye, I walked towards my workstation, stomping and muttering under my breath. I fished my tiffin from my bag, ready to pounce. As my office buddies fell hungrily on each other’s food, stories were exchanged and gossip floated about. “Jinping is a clever son of a biscuit. The NaMo-Jinping alliance is a thing to watch out for! ” someone piped in.
"I thought the name was Abe. Shinzo Abe.” I don’t know why I had decided to show off my GK all of a sudden.
That someone laughed at me. “The Japan PM has visited and gone. Its old news Aashi. Its Xi Jingping now. Which age are you living in?”
Yeah, I live in an age of black and green screens, an age of no backspaces and no backups. I thought sarcastically.
Someone else picked a new thread. “Did you hear what happened to Mani?”
“She came half an hour late right?” It was certainly not my day and yet, I had no hold on my tongue.
“Babe, she came late last week . Yesterday, she was caught talking to her boyfriend for half an hour on her Cisco phone. Her manager sits on the same floor . You are turning obsolete, babe.”
That word was getting on my nerves now.


I packed up to leave for home, my mind ringing with the word OB-SOL-ETE.
It was as if the "Secret" had come into operation. “Nice phone!” a fellow colleague complimented me. “Thanks! I bought it two days ago”, I smiled, happy for the first time during the day . Then he said again, “Although Motorola has stopped selling MotoG. You could have bought MotoG2 . It came out 4 days ago. MotoG is obsolete compared to MotoG2.” 
My temper had been on the surface all day and now it had reached boiling point. I somehow brought it down, calming myself , telling myself that the word was probably jinxed and it was just a bad day.
But perhaps it was not about the day at all or about the word. Perhaps it was about the era that we are living in . Things become obsolete as soon as they are invented. Phones age before they can celebrate their first birthday. Age is cracking its whip on us faster than ever. Not even Botox and liposuction seem to be able to put a fullstop or comma to it. It seems even the best technologies are failing. The more technologies we invent to make things last ,the faster they are replaced by newer technologies that claim to outlive their predecessors.
After dinner I sat down to write an application that dad wanted for some bank purpose. When he saw me writing, Dad said, “Are you fond of doing double work? Why don’t you just type out the letter? Writing on paper is like...obsolete!”

That was the final stroke . I said ”Yes dad ! Didn't you know my middle name is obsolete? ,” and I started penning down my woes on a piece of paper. Obsolete that I am.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

The Aria

The beauty of music, the contentment that results from having stuffed yourself with food, the adda golpo that accompanies every get together- all these things and much much more characterize the bengali spirit. Every now and then, the music, art and dance in me rear their heads and my Bengali roots clutch at my heart. I know Durga Puja is a month away. But the singer in me has started humming dhaaner khete and ekla cholo re. For all the Bongs out there!

The oppressive heat of the morning had given way to a light soothing breeze in the twilight hours. The evening was graduating to a black moonless night. Sudipto breathed a deep draught of the night air. It was quiet around him. He cherished the tranquillity. It was one of the few things he didn’t miss about Kolkata. Although, if asked to choose between the Delhi kerfuffle and the Kolkata hullabaloo, he would gladly take the latter. He picked his guitar from the car and strolled ahead. The breeze whipped his face and sent a wave of contentment through him. He took easy strides across the grass, wanting to take his slippers off and walk barefoot on the sward which gleamed emerald in the night. It did not matter to him that a thousand-plus crowd awaited his songs; he sang only because he wanted to.
The stage was crowded with a dozen people hovering about, trying to get things right. Some way behind him, his bandmates were hauling all the instruments out of the SUV, that had been sent to receive them. Sudipto wandered off to an area away from the stage and came across clusters of people chatting away. Gleeful sounds of laughter, giggles and banter reached his ears. As he came closer, he could hear the phrases that he was accustomed to, in his hometown. 
Hay-bee laagchhish(Looking great!)”, he heard a changda chhele compliment another chhora. It was weird that all the sounds and voices sounded the same to him. It was as if all bengalis had the same voice, the same tone. You would feel as if the woman saying “ki re (what’s up?)or “khaisis? (Had any food?)might just be your mother or sister. In case of his mother, it was not really valid. He saw Maa everywhere. If there was one thing in life that he regretted not doing, it was not taking his mom along with him when he left home. Leaving home had not been difficult for him except that his mother’s crying face had haunted every song of his. He decided to leave on a spur of the moment. It came to him naturally. He never accepted any circumstance that obstructed him from doing what he liked to do. And what he liked to do was to immerse himself in music and let go. Music was his religion and his instruments were his oblations.


The audience consisted of two kinds of people-those interested in the band and those interested in the idea of entertainment. A precious few were seated patiently on the front rows. Most of the others were torn between commenting on the politics of the country, discussing the cultural complications of being probaashi (immigrants) bangaalis, ogling at the designer sarees, inquiring about the impending saree melas and...indulging in the favorite bengali pastime- FOOD, all in capitals. Everyone save those precious few, had their mouths full, either with gossip or with kathi roll, ghugni, puchka, biryani or jhaal muri.
Sudipto plonked down on the grass, some distance away from the crux of the crowd. Although he was not someone to be noticed easily since he could easily pass off as a rundown college guy with an old guitar, he still preferred solitude. He squatted cross-legged as if he was about to play the sitar. And his fingers brushed the strings of his guitar, creating tunes his mind liked the most. He looked at his band mates who were being given kingly treatment by the managers. Sudipto abhorred the fakeness of it. He hated the obsequious treatment he would receive whenever he went anywhere as part of his band. He hated the yawning gap in the behavior towards Sud, as he was called by his fans, and Sudipto. He saw Taposh at the forefront of the band, discussing something with a person in a two-piece suit.
Sudipto averted his eyes. He couldn’t understand why it was so bitter between Taposh and himself. He just couldn’t remember when such a rift had arisen. Taposh had always been the hoity-toity guy, the boss, the one with the lead, the one with all the contacts. However, Sudipto was the public face of the band- Sud, as he was fondly called by the people around him. Taposh did not envy this. He did not mind Sudipto hogging the limelight. What bothered Taposh was the fact that Sudipto did not accept him as the boss. He, Taposh, bagged the contracts, drew the schedules for practice and made the arrangements. He was the one who had led the band to fame, who had got the members together, who had found Sud via a common friend and convinced him to join the band. Was Sud grateful to Taposh for introducing him to the world of lucre? It did not really matter to Sudipto. He would have survived on two square meals a day, by taking classes or singing in hotels. He sang because it was his chosen religion. He did not follow any rules. He missed a lot of rehearsals. He cancelled commitments at the last moment. Yet, Taposh persisted with him. Whether it was out of companionship or to keep the band intact, no one knew or cared. All that was apparent was that Taposh and Sud were nearly always at loggerheads. And the bad guy usually was Sudipto.
As Sud mulled over his relationship with his fellow band mate, he felt some auditory aberration. The vibration was not just of his instruments but of a foreign nature. Before he knew it, his hand fished his cellphone out of his pocket. It was time for his show. “Aashchhi (coming)”, Sud spoke into the phone and started moving towards the backstage area.
“Check. Check 1-2-3-check-check.”
“Tone down the guitar a little.”
“Amp up the keyboard.”
Sud had come into his own now. The testing had to be perfect. The sound quality should be just right. Else, he would leave the stage as he had done twice before. This was one of the few matters on which Taposh and he were on the same page.
Sud started humming a Rabindra sangeet song. His melodious baritone tugged at the audience’s hearts and in an instant, all the attention was riveted on him. He, then stopped abruptly and went on with the checking procedure imperiously. The audience, freed from the spell, went back to adda, golpo (chat) and khawa-dawa (grub and nosh).
Finally, the sound was in order and the drums were in place. The members had taken their positions and the audience waited with bated breath. They were scheduled to start with the first song of their latest album.
However, Sud suddenly had an urge to go traditional. He wanted to start with a Rabindra sangeet. He hardly listened to Taposh’s protests that it would upturn their planned circuit. He felt that this was the song-the only song that should be sung that night at the opening of their performance. Before the rest of the band had come to terms with the unexpected change, Sud had closed his eyes and begun with his soothing mesmerizing rich voice-
Graam chhada oi raanga maather pauth Aamaar Maun Bhulaayye Re...”               
(The reddish soil leading away from my village makes my mind wander...)
There was pin-drop silence among the audience. Sud never failed to deliver, never failed to bewilder, never failed to make people fall in love with him. He sang as if to each one, personally; there was a special touch to his singing, as if he physically touched those who listened to his voice. He always sang for himself. All the same, he sang to each one of those who listened to his silver tones.
Taposh played the flute, his second instrument, apart from the drums. The others contributed to the melange in such a way that there was no telling who was singing what. When the song came to a close, there was a resounding applause from the audience as if they were trying valiantly to arouse themselves from the Sud spell.
Soon enough, a new song poured forth from Sudipto’s voice box. It was a soulful one, from their own album- “Beginning from the End”. The Sud spell had everyone in a grip again and Taposh momentarily forgot the issues between them, delving into their music comradeship and revelling in their heavenly synergy. Maybe that is why he put up with Sud. For this duet that united them the way nothing could.
The medley went on for a good half hour with the audience up in a dance. Bengalis don’t need much encouragement for either music or dance. They are literally M.A.D. ; music, art and dance reside in their blood. The audience seemed drunk with music. Sud started with the final song of the night. He looked ahead at the gyrating audience, at the black night, at his alter ego. Taposh was drunk in the music too. His locks had come loose from the rubber band he had used to hold them in place. Sudipto wondered about what he had put the people he loved through. He had hurt his mother, never listened to his father,struck up quarrels with his only friend in the world-Taposh. He had let down people. Even though he had never meant to. He was not made for relationships. Of any sort. He was made for his music. He began and ended with his music. Sud knew what his last song would be.
Shedin dujone...dule chhinu bone...
(Remember that day when the two of us played on the swing in the woods…?)

Ekhon amar bela nahi aar, bohibo ekaki biroher bhar-
Bandhinu je rakhi porane tomar she rakhi khulo na khulo na...

(I do not have much time left now. Its time for me to carry the burden of my solitude.
Do not forget the bond I share with you, the band of friendship we tied with our souls. )  

And then, at the final syllable, all the sounds ceased. His guilt had evaporated. His feelings were mere shadows. Nothing was real now. Nothing but his music.
He saw everyone rushing hither and thither. But he felt still. Oddly still. He couldn’t hear anything. Everything was as if on mute. The movements of the people surrounding him had also slowed down. He felt light, weightless. He looked down. And there it was, Sudipto Basu lying spread-eagled on the stage, his hands clutching his guitar.