Friday, October 27, 2006

To The Hotel California

On a dark, desert highway, cool wind in my hair…

Our final school exams were over, and we were all now officially grown up. Some of us were headed for colleges in the United States, others would remain in India. We would be heading in different directions – engineering, medical, commerce, arts, law or whatever else. And so we needed a chance to celebrate.

I’ve always been a bit of a coward at trying things, you know. Not in the conventional sense because I’m not afraid of mice or bullies or any of those things. Just afraid of trying new things, new habits and such like. Not very keen on venturing beyond ‘familiar territory’. That’s why I’ve never been out with my friends too often. I’ve always just been slightly afraid of landing myself in trouble. They booze, and they fag. Some of them have experimented. I’m better out of it, I’ve always thought to myself.

But now we were all drifting away - neighbours, friends and confidantes of several years. So I decided to break a few personal rules. I mean, if not with my best friends, then who with?

So we went out one night. A small pub in the outskirts was chosen for my initiation. Plenty of room anytime you go there, they said.

And I was thinking to myself, this could be heaven or this could be hell…

It was as they said, not too big and not too crowded. The lights were dimmed. The air was thick with the smoke, wafting lazily across, confident of its dominion of this empire. The smells of different liquors, all yet unidentifiable to me, blended in to concoct a heady and dizzying atmosphere within the four walls.

We walked over to the bar, and sat up on the stools; they were at their ease, while I sat gingerly, tingling within myself, muddled between my shivers of hesitation and the forced determination which wanted me to not back down yet again.

The bartender brought us our drinks. There was some furtive whispering amongst my friends. The bartender was called again, and asked to bring the ‘other stuff’ too.

Guys, don’t you think we’re going a bit too far now?

Relax bro. You’re with friends. We wont let anything happen to you.

Our drinks came back to us. I looked at it closely. It was colourless, almost like water. Except for the bubbles shooting up from the bottom, and the feel of a viscous presence that came from it.

We counted in unison to 3, and banged the glasses loudly together, laughing all the while. We drank it in one long shot.

Such a lovely place, such a lovely face…

The morning after was a daze. I couldn’t remember anything from the last night. It seemed good to not remember. Just the memory of happiness that I got from thinking of that night was sufficient. I wanted to go again.

I went back with friends again the next time. And just as before, I didn’t remember anything the day after. Nothing except the sure feeling of happiness. It was like my own periods of blissful amnesia. The next day would be a fresh battle, with the remains of the previous day wiped away in the night. There was no fretting, no need to think of studies or exams or peer pressure. And we were all together in it, weren’t we? For our own reasons or for the same.

Some dance to remember, some dance to forget.

We experimented later on. It was more of an adventure to do that, than just plain drinking. I’d heard the world ‘bliss’ innumerable times before in my life. Now I could say I knew what it meant. The world was a daze; its problems were insignificant. The world itself was insignificant. All that mattered was you. And you were blissful. Unaware, uncaring, and free. Time went on, with frequent visits turning into daily trips.

And still those voices are calling from far away. Wake you up in the middle of the night, just to hear them say…

I never knew I was this deep in it, till the night before the semester examinations. Like every other student who gave a damn, I’d been studying night and day for the past three weeks. I had not stepped outdoors for food, paid any social calls, or even gone to the pub. And the night before the examinations, I couldn’t sleep.

At first I thought it was the tension of the examinations, and I forced myself to sleeping. But the feeling of restlessness and constant nagging came back again and again night after night. It fought me constantly, catching me sometimes when I was off my guard. I’d quash it then indiscriminately, chiding myself for being unnecessarily nervous. Then suddenly one night I saw what it was. I needed my drink.

So I went back for it. As I sat on my now familiar stool, and ordered the ‘usual’, I felt a knot loosen in me. The same feeling of quiet peace and ignorant bliss returned, even stronger and better than I had expected it to be.

I woke up the next morning and above and over everything else, the one thought that involuntarily emerged to consume me said – I’m addicted. It took me a few moments to realize what I was saying. I was still half-asleep, and my head ached of course from the previous night. Then when it finally sunk in, I didn’t how to react. It can’t be, I thought. Not me. How can it be me? I don’t do this. And even if I am starting to get addicted to this, I can get out if I try. Its me after all. I don’t get into such things. It cant be me.

Bring your alibis…We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.

I forbid myself from going back. Every night, I fought the urge. I will stay clean henceforth, I said to myself. I bought books on it, and every lifestyle magazine. But I couldn’t read any of them. Drugs and alcohol kill you from the inside, they said. They consume you, leaving behind nothing but a mere remnant of what was once inside.

It made me feel unclean. How could I read it? I felt sick of myself. I felt repulsed whenever I looked at the mirror. I grew more and more restless every day. And surely I couldn’t tell anyone. How could I tell them? It disgusted me as it is. What would their reactions be like?

Stab it with their steely knives, but they just cant kill the beast…

Days went by, and I fell deeper in my darkness. I couldn’t quell the desire. How could I get out of it? What could I possibly do? I’d lost the energy to fight on. I couldn’t bear to face another day. There was only one solution I could see. My one path. To forget it all. To wake up the next day and not need to remember anything past. It was all I could do, to preserve my sanity. What else can I do?

I went back. I sat again in my old stool. The bartender came up to me. He brought with him my old order. I saw it in his eyes. He was just doing his job I could see, and he said nothing. I picked up my drink, and began to drain it. The familiar calm returned. I looked around me, at the others. They too came back everyday. Against their will, against their better selves, they came.

You can check out any time you like,

But you can never leave!


Note: The work above is of pure fiction. My tribute to the greatest song ever.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

When Boredom Strikes

I'm bored and lethargic today. I woke up late, having spent the major portion of last night trying to shoot down terrorists at CounterStrike (which is about the only effective use freshies put their laptops to). And ever since I went to sleep afterwards, I haven’t really quite woken up per se. There is no concrete reason as to why I am bored, no fundamental cause or root or raison d'ĂȘtre or , to explain how I got to be so lazy on a blessedly rare MIT holiday. But I am.

Weeks upon endless weeks of incessant classes have taken their toll on us freshies. And personally, I’ve never had to climb up any roads to get to class. Yet this I now do every morning with half my breakfast in one hand.

I’m sitting here and hoping to clear this mud of lethargy in a burst-fire of spontaneous words and sentences out of the top of my head. I shall write of boredom, of its many hidden perils, of cabbages and of kings. And I shall write of my redemption from my lethargy, just as I was about to succumb to it one day. Boredom is a very strange little state of mind. For myself, I've noticed I'm only bored when the weather is hot, humid and unbearable. The hot day, the sun beating me down with rays of heated light, seems to last forever. Time is ethereally slow. No wind blows, although leaves do a jig once in a while, when a breeze whisks by me through the window. Everything outside is tinted yellow in the sun. Its all horribly constant. You just look out of the window vacantly with the perennial feeling that nothing is going to change. This heat, this sun, these conditions, will last forever. That’s how it was that fateful day. I flash back.

I was bored, I was lethargic and I had been lying around doing nothing for an eternity. Just sending a holiday down the drain. I stared vacantly above me and at my dead arms and legs. I did nothing, and I wanted nothing. I was at peace, lying there in a cocooned state of mind; in an unemotional and senseless existence. I could lie like this forever, I thought. But after a while, the ceiling fan’s rotation started to get to me.

I reached out for my iPod. And Greenday came into my playlist. I got up and started to take a walk around the hostel. I walk a lonely road, the only one that I have ever known. I listened to it as I walked the ‘lonely road’ from my room to the stairway on the other side of the corridor. Then back. My feet stepped in tandem with the bass guitar in the background, and I mused over how right this guy was, and how it’s only me and I walk alone. I even looked over my shoulder once in a while to check, but since I was half-indoors there really wasn’t much scope for a shadow to walk beside me. That somewhat spoilt the unreality in my head.

Anyway. On with my tale. I almost always lose myself in songs. U2’s music can completely overcome you if you just close your eyes and drown yourself in the sounds. I wouldn’t advise you to walk while you're doing this. It carries the risk of your hitting the side of the door to your room, left only slightly ajar by your gracious roommate as he ran for the bathroom. Allow my experience to shield you. I had a 5 second blackout. I tottered on my feet and rested myself against the wall. Then cursed him before lazily giving it up.

And that’s when the monsters of boredom – they who lurk unsuspected and camouflaged in guises of sudden sincerity and goodboyness - came for me.

I entered my room. I was still feeling lethargic and tired of everything. What could I do? No one else was in the room. So no one to talk to. What to do? I came across my desk. And on it was my EM book. Why does that name sound significant? What is it I had to do? The Engineering Mechanics assignment due next week? So?

I began to walk away from it, but once you make eye-contact with it, you cannot move. They get you like that. Should I do it now, when I have nothing else to do? Yes….maybe I should. Finish it early, so I can be on top of my studies. My senses were so numbed by the constant inactivity, that I didn’t shrink back in horror as I sat down on my chair. My hands came up slowly and began to stretch towards the EM book. Here I was, violating sacred MIT laws and doing an assignment before time, and I didn’t recoil in disgust! Its better than doing nothing. As I thought these blasphemies, the remnants of resilience inside me shuddered at the abominably low levels I had stooped to. But I couldn’t do anything else. A drowsy numbness pained my sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk, or a double period of Environmental Studies I had gone through. I reached for the assignment.

In vivid slow motion, I closed in on my book. The door behind me burst open, and I turned reflexively. The bright light outside flooded in. I looked in awe as it bent around a thin silhouetted figure and I shrunk back from the vision I was witnessing. My hands came up to shield me from the brilliance. The figure moved forward.

“We’re playing CS again. Wanna join in?”

“My saviour!”

And so I was delivered from evil. But the EM Assignment lies in a corner of the room, forgotten yet not eliminated. I shall tackle it someday. For now, it waits silently and patiently, in the shadows, for its time.

Note: Sorry about the extraordinary delay. I will be a bit more regular henceforth.