Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Superheroes - I

I'd always known I was a superhero. Thing is though, I didn't come with a manual, so it'd been a struggle trying to discover my particular powers.

Now I haven't tried jumping off the roof of my building ala Shaktiman. I did debate it with myself though. Realised the odds were high that the flight path mightn't pan out as planned. That said, I have made other efforts. I have an hour-long video, taken on the front porch, of myself leaning slightly forward, an arm outstretched over my head. I'd decided to record this in the event that take-off was achieved... The tape today rests in my basement, marked "Attempt 1".

Of course, flight and levitation aren't the only markers of a superhero. I've dabbled in web slinging and getting really angry, in weather-bending and elasticising my limbs. The results have all sadly been dodgy.

I've had a gaggle of exotic creatures bite and sting me, have spent nights in particle accelerators and nuclear plants, but my powers have remained dormant.

Until yesterday.

I was in a taxi, making my way to a downtown meeting during rush hour. My cabbie was making exceptional time through traffic and I got to my destination well before I needed to. The meeting was a short one, and when I stepped back out onto the street, I found the cab driver still parked where I'd left him. He was sifting his beard through his fingers, furrowed brows and all.

...to be continued...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My rain run


I saw two remarkable old men today. I'd have been content to just appreciate the mental postcard they presented, but they'd decided they were going to be written about today.

It was at a parkette, not far from home. They sat on a bench, a chess set between them.

I'd stepped out for a run, my route carefully mapped so that I could take in all the greenery this part of the city had to offer. It was overcast for most of the day, and I could've won good money betting it'd rain as soon as I left home. That's just how it works with me and the weatherman.

Anyhoo, I made my way past these quaint houses, not the sort with the manicured lawns - these were more the wild creepers, vines, stout tree-types. Sort of like dragon-boating through kerala's canopied backwaters.

I stopped near this parkette to catch my breath and wipe the water off my glasses when I realised the sun'd come out. The men must've only just gotten there. They had their set-up laid out, and white had moved to e4. Suddenly the man in the hat looked up and said "Hey, yknow who I like? That Gibbins. He's a heck of a guy."

The other gentleman stuck out his left hand and knocked the hat off his friend's head. "Gibbins is dead."

I picked up the hat for the first gentleman and saw a grin escape his face. I knew then that they hadn't thought out the script for their little show beyond that point, so I thanked them and jogged back the way I came. Good run today.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Key

I'd gotten home last evening and in the daze that follows from two hours on Toronto's public transit system, walked through the front door and onto my sofa, putting my feet up.

I think it was James Joyce that wrote about this family man, who worked long hours at an oppresive factory to feed his family. He'd squeeze his large feet into shoes that were two sizes too small. It increased the agony immeasurably in the heat of the factory. But when he got home at a late hour (when the night had grown thin), sheer relief would course through him as he took off the shoes. It seemed to set the world back into its orbit.

I felt much the same.

This morning though, just as I was about to step out to work, I realised I was missing the keys to my apartment. I'd let myself in with these keys a few short hours ago, so I knew they had to be in the apartment somewhere. I searched all the usual spots but didn't find anything. The short of it is that I spent a good quarter-hour turning everything upside down, but the key was nowhere to be found.

It was really early, around sunrise actually, that I was scrambling for these keys. The keys to the apartment were lost in the apartment itself. And while I wasn't on anything, the situation seemed to be crying out for a metaphor.

Matryoshka doll? no, perhaps more like a white dwarf collapsing on itself...almost, but not really.

And I milked the extrapolations for all they were worth. The situation grew maniacally dire when I tried to see it as a bystander from the outside would. Here, the very means to enter (the key to the apartment) was swallowed by the thing needing to be entered. There was a blackness to it all. And tiny beads of sweat formed on my forehead.

The starkness threatened to envelop my work day before it had even begun, when I suddenly decided to pick up an obtuse third cushion from the sofa. And there it was. Shiny, gleaming, just a little shy, but overall beautiful in that early morning haze that wafted into the living room.

The story closed on itself. I had the cool key in my palm, and dawn's mist flowed in through the windows to chill the back of my neck.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Staccato love

I'd planned to write a post called 'Yesterday' in this space. I promise to get around to it soon.

For now, here's a short film called Staccato Love. It's based on an incident that happened in Calcutta.

The boy loved her, and what's not to love? She's classical in her sensibilities and rasta in style. She cooks like a chef's daughter (in that she doesn't) and wears outlandishly bookish glasses. She's painted a tattoo onto the small of her back, so she can scrub it off the day she's outgrown it. She can't see a thing through those glasses she wears. And she can sing. [Scrap that. She likes to sing, but can't].
She didn't need to be beautiful, not for him, nor for the film, but if you've already seen her in your head, you can decide for yourself.

The boy - he wore this and he looked like that. He spoke soft somethings in a gravelly voice, and could whip out a kurta-jhola ensemble from his gym-bag anytime the going got smart. He liked to read and ride, knew monet from manet, impressionism from post, but in some ways, he was a mushroom. There was a lot of surface and not as much beneath.

He loved her sharply though. He'd probably seen all the right movies about love. His idea of love was conservative, its expression liberal. They'd met first at a library or maybe at a lounge. She looked hard at him where he sat, and he grew immediately uncomfortable. His breathing turned clunky when she walked over and stood in front of him, hands on her hips. She then simply raised an eyebrow at him. It stripped him naked. He'd had on his 'thinker' look, eyes vacant, hoping he looked smarter than he was. She of course felt sorry for him, which is why she walked over.

And even as she walked his way, he was hoping she'd be unsmart, or at least taken, so he wouldn't have to worry about keeping from falling in love. Something about long-distance pheromones that'd already begun their magic. But then she spoke, and the voice was perfect, the tone, the notes, the lilt, the cadence. As though in an instant he was back in his mother's womb, and all the right sounds made their way into his subconscious. [I'm hoping this Freudian angle on love is legit]

The love grew wildly. [I can't graph it]. It hit him from nowhere and swept him away, but for her, there was a logic to her love. It's the sum of a hundred different components, like a jigsaw puzzle.

The elements that constitute love trooped in on cue. For her, these were (chronologically) that base maternal need to right a man, that the man in question was the moldable sort, that he loved her unabashedly, how old-fashioned he could be, and that he validated her eccentricities by being the properer of the two. I suspect this is as deep as one needs to get to engender love. If not, throw in a love for the same style of theatre, and perhaps a divine connection in the stars as well.

I think Love is a binary condition. There's no in-between state. Atleast that's how all of my romantic movies are going to be. Digital. No, I make bad joke. My vision of love is that when it's there, it's end-of-the-earth absolute.

And that's how it was here. So when he didn't pick up his phone today, Tuesday, she was concerned. She turned worried when she tried him 10 minutes later with the same result. She realised then why this script introduced her in the present and him in the past tense.

An older voice answered on the tenth try. 'Yes, hi...This phone's been lying here for some time now. I didn't know what to do when I heard it ring all those times.'
'That's right, there has been an accident here. By the tracks. The area's been cordoned off.'
'This is the Sealdah station.'

It took her a half-hour to get there. Barefoot, and indecently dressed for the time of night. She wanted to see the body, but nobody'd let her. It was neither procedure nor a pretty sight. She pleaded with the police and then followed them to the autopsy centre. She'd heard whispers of 'suicide' back on the platform.

She sits stoic through the night. I'm not sure how she doesn't break down and into little pieces. I think she's in shock, but that's taking away from her. Maybe she's reflecting...by breaking down and into little pieces the love that's been taken away from her.

I let a week pass. Her folks keep a judicious eye on her, dusting off the kid-gloves. But one never knows what to do at a time like this. If only she'd speak, vent, rant, rave, .. cry. She spends an afternoon getting her hair straightened. The next day, she's laughing with the neighbour's little boy, and the day after that, she's feeding her grandpa at the hospital.

She's hung herself from the fan today. She knows better than to look forward to a reunion with him. She knows her parents will be inconsolable. She knows she needed to be there to look after them. She knows she isn't solving anything, that she's only being selfish. Then why?

Blame it on that absolute, end-of-the-earth love.

The film finishes here, leaving close to no questions unanswered. In the film format, I'd stretch out the staccato part of their love more. It's an ideal picture I have of the emotion. Like a tap dance sawaal-jawaab. When two people share quick exchanges that are witty, spontaneous, exciting. Like a little switch flipping on and off rapidly. On-off-on-off-on-off. Binary.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tomorrow

I'd left off on my future shock series of posts at a point where I hypothesized that the future may be predictable. The idea behind the posts was only to introduce the concepts related to that school of thought (determinism, that Demon thing etc).

That said, the first concept that could do with some clarity is what might happen when the Demon acts to change the future she's foreseen. There was a movie about this sort of thing, called Next, starring Nicholas Cage. Anyyyways... The paradox that immediately plays out is very simply this:

The demon foresees being hit by a car at a spot x, at a time (t+t1) in the immediate future. Being averse to the whole car-accident thing, she steps to one side at the exact moment, and in so doing, avoids being hit by the car. The future she'd seen is no longer true. In fact, what's to say it was true in the first place?

Two points about this scenario:
1) It's not quite as damaging as the grandfather paradox (where if you were able to travel back in time and defertilize your gramps, you wouldn't be born...and so wouldn't have been able to go back in time) because this construct interferes with the concept of time travel, but as a thought experiment, you're atleast able to go so far back as to visit your gramps before you begin the defertilization ritual.

--> Read the post above - "Yesterday"

2) What if the demon did not act to change the future and did indeed get hit by the car? Then the future she saw at time t was correct. This means that for any value of t, the future at t+t1 for an incremental value of t1, is a series of possibilities (she could've been hit, she could've avoided being hit, etc) rather than being a pre-defined path.

On point #2

As good a time as any to make reference to the concept of unitarity (wiki: "the sum of probabilities of all possible outcomes of any event is always 1. This is necessary for the theory to be consistent.") This simply means that the future must occur, or that time will continue its march, much like the flawed 2nd law of thermodynamics.

Consider then that our demon, Billie, has an evil twin sister, Jean. In our movie (surely there's a movie? atrocities like Cage's Next or Denzel Washington's Déjà Vu can't be our only mainstream tributes to Q.physics), where Billie is pitted against Jean, this clash will result either in a fantastic series of near-death escapes for both or the driest movie since wall-e. These extremes (near-death escapes or nothing interesting happening) follow from the concept of unitarity, but warrant a longer discussion than in the scope of this post.

The chance that Billie or Jean has of foreseeing a future that will happen have dropped to 50-50. If there are more such demons, each interfering with events they've foreseen, the chance that the future seen by any of the other demons will unfold drops further. That then reduces my fascination with Laplace Demons. If all they're able to do is make a guess about what might happen in the future, they're doing no better than us non-demons.

About determinism then: It seems that if at a time t we begin to observe the past (say an event at a time t-t1), all that happened was truly the result of what went before it. The past is definitely deterministic. The future though is an infinite number of possibilities. We can change it by doing what we will. We'll reap what we sow, and our will remains free. Amen.

P.S. Apologies for the Billie Jean angle. It was that or the cross-dressing siblings, Eleanor and Rigby.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Rhythmspeak

What this post isn't: Examples of rhythm in nature, a treatise on how life parallels rhythm or how rhythm is where music began

What it is: An appreciation of rhythm

Take a metronome pulsing at a fair clip. Add a second metronome that beats at half the speed, synced with the first and you have your basic 4/4 going. Turn this system on and leave it by a kettle of water on medium heat. Come back in 6 minutes and look at how the bubbles in the boiling water react to the sound.

Fine, so there's no relation...but there could've been.