Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bereft

I have just been abruptly and inexplicably abandoned: my labptop remains unblinkingly, stubbornly black, and my flash drive (the one I refer to as my "mangal sutra": its significance obvious at being compared to a woman's dependence on her marriage) is corrupt, all the information and files perversely curdled to gibberish.

I have always been aware of my dependency on my electronics, but it was an awareness that was comfortably obscure, vague, like a balloon payment due a couple of decades in the future. In my defense, however, I do back up everything: on my computer and my flash drive, which, everyone tells me, is practically indestructible. Of course, like my present apocalypse would avouch, nothing, absolutely nothing is ague proof, and if the universe decides one is to be without back ups or blankets or roofs, no amount of pre-planning, insurance policies, savings, or technological know-how can abate destiny.

This week has been a lesson in humility and patience. I have been trying to come to terms with the fact that I shall have to re-create my universe: all my courses, all my notes, all my assignments, even all the poetry and a couple of short stories I've been writing for the past few months, all is lost.

If my father were here, he'd tell me not to worry, that the original blueprint is still intact, in my head! However, right now, my brain is so numbed it cannot approach the thought of my loss without commanding my knees to feel weak, my shoulders to melt, my extremeties to turn cold, and eyes to leak.

The question, then, is, should I go back to a pre-lapsarian age of keeping paper back-ups, every comma, every phrase securely penciled in before the day ends? I remember my student days. I had several of those huge pothis, the Books that businessmen open during Diwali, with kum kum and an invocation to Ganesh, the kind that are hard-bound in red cloth, the seams stitched firmly with strong thread.

Those tomes were my hard drives, my back ups, and they, being too heavy, lived on my bed side table.

When I immigrated, of course, I had to leave the pothis behind, along with my problematic, enviromentally unfriendly dependence on paper. Like all immigrants, I have been very proud of my adaptability to new ways of working, writing, and saving. In fact, I am afraid I might have boasted my intent of weaning myself off the need for hard copies in not too distant past.

This hubris, of course, is the reason why such a disaster has visited me and left me thus bereft.

As I sit here, at a borrowed machine, surrounded by my primary sources, re-creating presentations and notes I shall need for next week's classes, I mourn for my pothis, for an age that has long passed into memory, when nothing could be completely destroyed or lost, and my relationship with the written word was organic and real.

However, I also know that the pre-lapsarian age I mourn for was fraught with incomprehension at my hurried notes, rubbed off and otherwise illegible writing, and having to scroll through many, many heavy pages for a bit of information since those tomes had no search function.

I also know that while it might be cumbersome to re-create all my work, once re-created, it shall be more prolific, legible, organized, and accessible to me. Besides, making these presentations reminds me of how much I enjoyed making them in the first place and keeps me from being atrophied.

For my creative work that is lost irretrievably, I go back to the undying truth that all that is born has to die; losing those poems and short stories should remind me that once out of my being, they don't belong to me but to the universe, which has, rightfully, swallowed them. But the lost pieces feel to me like lost children, and even though I know I am not the first who has lost them, and that not all children who are concieved get to be born, I still rage at the injustice of having to give them up before their time.

Going back to the drawing board is both necessary and inevitable, and I do understand that. However, every time I have to make that journey, I get a little more lost on the way.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Notes From Trekkies' Quadrant

Most of my friends are taken aback when they find out that I am a Star Trek junkie.

I consume them all, beginning with when Captain Kirk was in captain, on to the Next Generation, Voyager, Deep Space 9, and now, Enterprise. I know most characters well enough to provide a personality analysis without much notice; I know what makes their space ships go, and what a big deal it would be if they were to be forced to eject their warp cores. I think it quaint that the characters are trying to break the warp 5 barrier with Enterprise NX in the sub-series set in the 22nd century, when Enterprise NCC 1701-D of the 24th century is easily capable of warp 9! The various quadrants of Universe are also familiar to me, and I have a very clear understanding of the space-time continuum, the laws that govern it, as well as the ways of The Continuum and its inhabitants, a realm beyond space and time.

What I don't understand is my friends' and family's amazement at my obsession. My obsession has always been, and continues to be a story well told, a truthful depiction of the human condition, and themes that all epics address: the nature and exploration of the self, idea of a journey that changes the universe, grappling with varying concepts of possible and immediate realities, the uncomfortable inevitability of death and its meaning, the grey, fluid areas of ideals and morality, and constitutions of the sacred and the monstrous.

I remain intrigued with the race of humanoids Captain Picard meets, whose language is purely metaphoric, so the universal translator falls short, only able to translate vocabulary and basic syntax. At the conclusion of this episode, the protagonist feels compelled to turn to neglected and all-but-forgotten epics, with corner-stone archetypes and metaphors.

It is easy to empathize with the Voyager and its crew, lost in the Delta quadrant with no way of finding their way back home to the Alpha quadrant. An accidental moment condemns the crew to a seemingly endless quest for home in a journey that is precarious and existential at the same time. Throughout that series, there is an unmistakable strain of loss, longing, and nostalgia that all travelers and immigrants feel, the very strain that resonates with us when we try to map the oceans with Odysseus and his crew, or wander through the Dandaka Vana with Rama, Sita and Laxman.

The very delicate balance between dignified, sensible tolerance and unseemly interference needed to maintain some order on Deep Space 9 is very relevant in the contemporary world. The station, perched on edge of a wormhole, rare because it is stable in both, Alpha and Gamma quadrants that it connects, bubbles with activity and strife, a melting pot of races, species, and life-forms that pass through it constantly. What happens here is an external, crystallized, symbolic version of the conflicts that have haunted our race since before recorded history.

Our deep set fears of being reduced to non-humanized automatons whose individual consciousness is stripped away, who are assimilated to fit into comfortable cubby holes, can be recognized in the Borg that hunt all the species, a common enemy. The idea of the Borg explores one of the most contemporary issues, a theme that seems to have displaced divine weaponry in present day tales, the relationship between humanity and technology. On the one hand, there is the obscene assimilation of the Borg, who countenance no differences, and on the other hand, we are presented with the ideal of such a relationship in the character of Data, a figure which forces us to closely re-examine what exactly it is that makes us human, or even organic!

I dedicate this entry to the same idea I have dedicated my blog to: the story that tells of us, that outlasts our little lives and helps define us in relation to the ever-expanding world that we find ourselves in.

In a nutshell, then, Star Trek embodies two quintessential, timeless, unchanging wishes we all have: to boldly explore the new, and to live long and prosper.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Being Off

Summer is a barren season for me.

I usually have time off from work, and during the hectic, mad days just before this break, I have plans, concrete, substantial plans about what should be accomplished during the break. My father used to say that a holiday is not necessarily time off, but time to change the nature of work for a short while. So dutifully, I prioritize projects, categorize chores, even establish a time table. I also imagine the rest of my colleagues and students doing the same. By the end of this week, I had thought to be able to have a definite body of finished work, precipitated pearls that would vouch for my industrious nature and self-motivation.

But inevitably, like every Summer, I have nothing. Literally, the past week, I have measured out my life in coffee spoons and cat feedings.

I find I have lost the week to day dreaming, missing my child until I thought my entrails would spill out if I got up, sleeping very little, chatting online, reading, and watching episodes of Star Trek checked out from the public library. I didn't leave the house and forgot dates and days. I don't even remember the passage from 8:30am to 2pm. It has also been raining constantly, so the light outside has only heightened this atmosphere.

I went to the beach, once, during the week, hoping to catch the moon rise. But everything was a singular non-color, and the dimensions were all wrong. I couldn't see the horizon: the heavy, iron of the ocean had blended perfectly with the low swamp of the sky. There were no waves crashing against the sand; instead, the water lapped lethargically against itself. I didn't stay for long, since I can take a cosmic hint: it wasn't a good week for the beach.

I read that some of my friends have been doing yard work, catching up on syllabi, fixing up their house, visiting exotic locales, meeting each other for coffee and lunches, while I have beamed off the planet, orbiting Facebook like a lost asteroid.

However, I also know I need this staring-into-space time. Too often, I think, we forget to just be, get swallowed up in the intense busyness of finding work to justify our existence, to earn our keep. This blog belongs to one of those islands of liminal time, where nothing happens, because nothing is allowed to happen. This week, I don't believe is wasted time, since meaningful time wouldn't be exist if there were no time without meaning.

In an ideal world meaning and its opposite would be perfectly balanced. In other words, people would work only for half their waking hours. I sincerely believe that a deliberate denial of constant work is essential for meaningful, productive schedules.

There needs to be a non-definition to one's days, designations, even self-hood. I fantasize that's what vacations and break times were constructed for. However, sometimes, even on vacations, I find myself trying to cram in as much sight-seeing, things-to-do as I possibly can, which exhausts the spirit more than the body. So much of me gets used up, I am surprised I can spill out of the bed the following mornings, and mercury-like, run sporadically through another day, viscous and undefinable. This kind of vacation fails to do its work, and I find myself snatching my staring-into-space time while at my desk at work, or at the stove, cooking.

The week has been a chthonic time, twilight terrain, liminal space. It has been pregnant with possibilities: every hour, I had a wide array of choices, and I chose nothing, leaving the hour intact and unbroken. After a time of stasis like this, a time of hectic schedules follows, beginning with the end of 4th of July, and I know I won't get another break until next Summer.

The very mention of a specific day, date, and number signifies the end of my Dream. I am afraid it might be time to notice that the rains have stopped, the sun is high, the horizon very clear. I shall dislodge the cat and light a votive in my little temple-shrine; the day has begun.
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