Category Archives: The things that happen only to ME…
I frequently speak about the experience of being ‘taken to another place’ during so many of the concerts I have been to. That is because that is exactly what happens at these shows – more so considering they mean so much to me. This experience of being ‘taken to another place’ usually occurs during a particular song or a set of songs which may or may not have been the ones I was looking forward to. Sometimes it can be gradual, with me becoming aware of it only towards the later stages.
Last night was an exception. I was in a different place right from the beginning and all the way till the end. It was inevitable. Especially when the band is Sigur Ros and the show opens with Ny Batteri and closes with Popplagio.
I have always maintained that concerts cannot be truly reviewed. They need to be experienced. There are no exceptions and irrespective of your taste in music, the experience is always going to be more revealing than reading the most detailed of reviews. But if there is one thing I really wish I could accurately describe from last night’s Sigur Ros concert at the Starlight theater, it would have to be Jonsi Birgisson’s voice.
There is a certain other worldly feel to the Sigur Ros sound and much of that has to do with his vocals. The sadness in his voice is what gives it that other worldly feel. (Yes this means that I am not a fan of their ‘happy’ sounding songs such as Hoppipolla or Festival) Any Sigur Ros fan will attest to the sadness in the songs. But it is only when you hear that sadness in his voice Live that you truly begin to appreciate the depths of the band’s sound.
That sadness and melancholy I experienced last night – amplified by the starlit sky, the cold spring evening and the Live sound - was just so beautiful I did not want it to end. There have been times when I have listened to Ny Batteri in a depressed state of mind and actually cried in response. It is one of the saddest songs I have personally heard. So when Jonsi Birgisson practically opened the show with it, that haunting bass line and the sadness made me think.
It made me think how sad must someone be to be able to sing that song with that much emotional intensity, and mean it?
The rest of the concert was an exploration - seeking that state of mind which answered my question. My exploration was encouraged, aided and ultimately validated by the most beautiful sadness I have ever heard in my life. I think it was during Varud that I truly stopped resisting my descent into the dark depths of the answer I sought. The chilling climax to that song was finally brought to an end with the female backing vocalists taking over the outro chorus – and adding a new voice to the gloom in the process. The darkness encompassing Saeglopur and E-Bow showed me the path further forward (or down) to that answer. It appeared that the more I began to descend, the more I feared that the answer may be lying that much deeper.
Festival and Hoppipolla served as nothing more than temporary interruptions to my gradual but steady descent. Clearly the rest of the crowd were not on the same path as I was – especially considering how they cheered on for those ‘happy’ songs.
Meanwhile, I found that the more I closed my eyes and just let the voice speak to me, the faster I descended to my elusive answer. And so I just closed my eyes during Glosoli. And then the band started playing Popplagio – a long drawn out rendition that may not be the most depressing song on their catalog. But it was definitely the song that builds up to the most tumultuous climax one can imagine – a crescendo to the unknown. His searing vocals rising with every bar and taking me up with it. I was not sure where it was taking me but I went along anyway. The crescendo kept building up and up to dizzying levels of anticipation and wonder. And when it hit the zenith, it was the most intense, mind numbing, revealing and ultimately fulfilling experience I have had in the longest time.
Because you see, I had an epiphany when the crescendo peaked. The music and the sadness spoke to me then and it said: “It is OK not to be happy all the time. There is a certain joy in experiencing sadness too.” And that meant so much to me. It was like the most satisfying answer anyone had ever given me. I do not know if I found the answer I was looking for. But I definitely found the answer I needed to know.
This is why I crave to go to a lot of concerts. At home, they are just songs on an album. At a concert, they can be your journey to the unknown. Sigur Ros will always be remembered for taking me on the most fulfilling journey ever. The band members must be truly depressed individuals – and I hope they stay that way.
I have been tested this time. I will admit that. It had been a while since I was made to go through something that demanded more than what I had been able to offer previously. Things that change me fundamentally, things that help me appreciate the subtleties of my thoughts that much more. I am talking about things like the will power to see off persisting gloom, the determination to not let something overwhelm me. I am talking about faith in times of complete hopelessness, resilience in times of defeat, and self assurance in times of haunting solitude – it had been a while since I dealt with them.
But I have had to do it again. This time, the painful ordeal lasted for 4 months and had me go through a circle of emotions I never knew existed. Four months during which I tracked my graceful descent into the bottomless depths of melancholia. Four months during which I had no ownership over the state of my mind. Four months during which I came that much closer to accepting who I really am.
I think it must have been November when it really started because I remember I was happy in October. The degradation of the weather and the shrinking of the days were seemingly on a malicious yet purposeful loop. The numbers kept up too – falling steadily and offering no sign of ceasing. It might have all been gradual, like darkness creeping up on a cloudy day. But it was heading only one way and there was no end in sight. Lady winter had just made it clear that there was no point looking for the bottom. There was never going to be one.
Denial: This is not happening to me.
Anger: Endless snowfall.
Depression: I hear my 2 year old cousin speak to me for the first time. Broken hearts. The price I pay. Not hearing back for several weeks from….
Acceptance: There really is no end.
The acceptance brought with it a sense of gloomy calm. A calm that revealed and reveled in the futility of hope. And there was something strangely satisfying about it. It was almost like I belonged there. No complaints or unfulfilled desires. Just a peace that comes with the true acceptance of complete loss of control.
Take me wherever you go.
And now I no longer wish to know.
For if I knew where you went
I would want perhaps to be somewhere else.
I was now celebrating tragedy and depression. Knowing now that it is OK to do so provided a clarity that had avoided me all my life after being told otherwise by every living soul. My mind now wanted something more profound and so I went about looking to satisfy my new needs. I found respite in books and music. A couple of depressing books and some really depressing music got me digging deeper, exploring the realms of the newly discovered rooms in my mind. But this time I was not falling into the bottomless abyss. I was going in search of it.
During my search, I wondered what it really meant to be ‘comfortably numb’. I think I did feel it a few days ago. I remember I was watching the snow falling endlessly and aimlessly on the barren trees covering them with it, listening to Kreng, had just finished reading ‘Snow’, and was reminiscing about all the things that could have been in my life. And it was at that point when I just smiled. It was such a beautiful thing to think about. All the missed opportunities, lost relationships, friends who have moved on without me, unfulfilled dreams, uncertainty about the future, and about that call that never came – it was simply the most beautiful collection of thoughts I had all winter.
I was always told to be happy. But by trying to do so, I realized that I was just running away from that one thing that made me ‘comfortably numb’.
Now I know not to run at all.
Note: I had initially written a post describing my travails of the Iowa winter which was made to look like it was a ‘fun’ thing that I could simply just laugh about in hindsight. The weather is back in the 50’s this week and I was already feeling ‘happier’. But then today certain events got me back to a more introspective state and hence this version of my story.
So this post has been sitting in my draft box for quite a while now. And then after I read about this particular concerto-phile’s recap of her year in concerts, I just had to put forth my own recap. After all, I have her beat pretty damn good!
Living in Des Moines in Iowa, there are two ways to look at the ability to go to concerts. The more popular frame of reference, and one that is perhaps quite obvious too, involves noting the glaring lack of big name bands coming to town and instead choosing to go to any or all of the bigger cities around Des Moines – Chicago, Minneapolis, Omaha, Kansas City et al. It is almost like the bands just don’t SEE Iowa – they simply go around it. Now the other line of thinking essentially involves the ability to travel to ANY of these aforementioned bigger cities (and that too on a date of my convenience) to see most of the big acts that travel through the United States. Needless to say, I choose to classify myself under the latter category of people. And have I reaped my rewards or what?!!?
I have said this before but I will say it again.
When I want to go to a concert, the universe conspires with me to make it happen.
And again, I can only hope not to get jinxed by saying so. But in all seriousness, looking back to 2012, there is simply no other way of interpreting the sheer number AND quality of the concerts I went to. So here goes:
1. Puscifer in Omaha, NE: There is something about Maynard Keenan’s Live voice that can take you to a place you haven’t been before. I had seen him Live as A Perfect Circle in 2011 and I was haunted then. Puscifer was even better. The show itself was more like a theater play complete with props and filler videos showing Maynard Keenan as General Douche. It was clear that he wanted to do more than just sing. He wanted to teach. (Among the many memorable quotes, sample this: “Good aliens listen to Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears and the Glee soundtrack. Bad aliens listen to Tool!”) And the concert was handcrafted to help in that regard. I wrote 1 part of what was supposed to be a 2 part review back then. But clearly, no amount of reviewing can capture the calling of that haunting voice when you hear it Live. Add to that the most unlikeliest of scripting for a concert, and you probably already know you will be thinking about it for a long time to come.
2. George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic All Stars in Council Bluffs, IA: Funk has been something I discovered only in the past one year (and to this day, I cannot figure out why). Funkadelic, on the other hand, well – let’s just say I knew every single note of Maggot Brain. I have very fond memories, from back in undergrad, of being in a ‘higher’ state of mind and playing the song’s arpeggios on my acoustic and on an infinite loop. So what if Eddie Hazel is no more? Michael Hampton played the whole song note for note – 10 ft in front of me, and at a bar. But that was just the beginning. George Clinton maybe 71 years old, but the energy he shows on stage is more fitting for a 25 year old. Still singing with a respectable voice, he even smoked a joint on stage. Sir, You have my seal of approval! I am just glad that I got to see him live and in such an intimate setting before age (finally) takes over him.
3. Megadeth and Rob Zombie in Sioux City, IA: I had seen Megadeth once before in Bangalore, the most significant memory from which was the extremely horrible sound quality on stage. And I had vowed to watch them again if I ever got the chance to. I did get the opportunity and I did take it. Much closer to Dave Mustaine and the band this time around, I headbanged my way through Hangar 18, In My Darkest Hour, Holy Wars and much more. Redemption was indeed complete.
I have to admit I have not listened to much of Rob Zombie. But it barely mattered. That dude has a stage presence incomparable to any I have seen. Filled with massive and creepy robotic props, he lit the stage on fire – quite literally too! The pyrotechnics was phenomenal and I headbanged some more.
It had been a while since I had been to an outright loud metal concert and this will surely take care of that need for the near future. On a side note, I have to add that I had an extremely bad inflammation in my neck muscle as a result of all the headbanging. It took more than 6 months for the pain to reduce to manageable levels. The real awkward moment was when I had to explain the cause to the doctor.
4. Roger Waters at Wrigley Field in Chicago : What can I say? He was the first person I saw Live all the way back in 2002 in Bangalore in what was my first concert ever. And I had always fantasized about watching The Wall played Live with the same settings from the 1970s. I guess I really did indeed get to live out that fantasy. The simple fact of the matter is that The Wall just sounds too damn good in a stadium. This is not just something you will brag about when you are talking to your friends about concerts. This is the kind of stuff you tell your grandchildren about. This is the kind of stuff you can look back on and know that you made the right choices all your life to have ended up at Wrigley Field on June 8 2012.
In any case, I did recollect my full experience from the concert some time back and I am so glad I did it. (I still pride myself over the fact that I convinced my friend to cough up $300 for the ticket through a text message. Practically conned her into wiring me the money!)
5. Radiohead in Chicago: I had never been a fan of Radiohead (apart from Karma Police) for the longest time. Other than the result of a handful of friends strongly recommending the band to me, I somehow was never able to get into their music. Then something happened about a year ago when I went back to NITK to say hello to my undergrad Professors. I stayed over at my cousin’s hostel room and let us just say certain ‘completely natural’ things were consumed. It was at this point that my esteemed cousin (also the official slacker of NITK) told me he would play a song and wanted me to tell him how I felt. About 5 mins later, I am in a trance. The song has taken me places I had never been before. I particularly recollect this very strong and desperate feeling building inside me just wishing that the song wouldn’t end. But when it did end, I just asked my cousin which song it was. And to this day, I have a crystal clear memory of what he said, and more importantly, how he said it. He told me: “The song’s name is ‘How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found Again’”. It was almost like a revelation – like I had suddenly become aware of some arcane, hidden mysterious knowledge. It was probably in the way he said it, but for a moment, I believed that the song really possessed the secret of how to disappear completely and never be found again. And then, right at that very moment, I began to worship Radiohead.
So it was kind of ironic (to my cousin) when I learnt that Radiohead would be playing in Chicago the same weekend that Roger Waters was playing at Wrigley Field. A $15 ticket later, I found myself at Tinley Park with both my hands over my head, mouth open and staring in simple disbelief to the sheer profundity of the situation. There may not have been any natural substances this time around, but I perhaps didn’t need them. Thom Yorke’s voice is up there with all the best voices I have heard Live. And yes, he will take you places too! They played one of the longest setlists and I have a recording of the entire concert that I keep listening to even today. Another instance when I just wish it didn’t have to end.
6. Black Sabbath in Chicago: There are certain things that can make life worth living and help validate all those choices you have made all your life. The night I saw Black Sabbath at Lollapalooza will definitely rank high up on that list of things. To see the very people who have defined 2 generations of music, to whom so many many bands today owe their influences – to see them play all those songs right in front of you is a tremendous experience. Black Sabbath played EVERY single song that I wanted them to. Every one of them – including Snowblind and Fairies Wear Boots. Considering this was their ONLY show in North America after Toni got diagnosed with cancer, I just feel so blessed and fortunate to have been there. I might have already seen Ozzy at Ozzfest, but this is something I will tell my grandchildren and probably put it on my epitaph.
6. Grace Potter and The Nocturnals in Des Moines: If you like going to concerts, you must go to a Grace Potter show as a matter of general principle. This is irrespective of whether you like her music or if you have even heard of her at all. If Grace Potter and The Nocturnals are playing in your city, you simply MUST go! Yes it definitely helps if you like her music – a catchy and melodious blend of pop, rock and even some country – but you will love her shows nonetheless. I had seen her at Kansrocksas in 2011 for the first time ever and I didn’t even know who she was back then. And so when I learnt that she was coming to Des Moines, there was simply no way I was going to miss the show.
She played for over 2.5 hours, a setlist that included a Rolling Stones cover (because it was Mick Jagger’s birthday) and a Heart cover (Crazy on You). Her new album has more than a few songs co-written by Dan Auberbach (of The Black Keys) and when played Live, they can really get you in the groove! Add to that, Grace Potter’s passion and enthusiasm on stage along with her beautiful voice, and you have a concert experience worth remembering. In an interview just before the concert, she had remarked, “I play every concert like it is my last.” And she is not lying. Not by any stretch. There were periods during the show when it seemed that the audience let the music take a backseat and instead let her performance fill their experience. Her stage presence will rival any performer that has ever played at a concert. And those who have seen her Live will definitely attest to that.
That Grace Potter show by the river and overlooking downtown Des Moines is definitely among the top 5 concerts I have ever been to.
Special mention to Natalie Prass -the opening act for Grace Potter. Some of the best music I had heard in ages and definitely one of the best voices around right now. Must check it out.
7. Death Cab for Cutie in Des Moines: I just like Death Cab. There is no other way to put it. Simple, straightforward melodious alternative music with songs (almost exclusively) about breakups and troubled relationships. Ben Gibbard plays a good show and I was definitely happy to see so many of the songs I loved played Live at 80/35 music festival.
8. Mark Knopfler and Bob Dylan in Omaha: Simply put, I grew up with the music of Dire Straits. Mark Knopfler’s voice was synonymous with and perhaps the cause of my transition from death metal to more classic rock. And for the longest time, I have been troubled by the fact that I could not watch him Live when he came to play in Bangalore. Not to mention my good friends who did go to the concert have constantly reminded me of that ever since. I could not care less that Mark Knopfler was playing mainly his solo songs when I came to know about his concert in Omaha. I just had to see him Live to absolve myself of my past misdeeds. And really, you did not need to know any of his solo songs to let his voice mesmerize you. He still has that voice for sure – not changed one bit. And that was all that I needed to hear. A lot of my friends went to see him in the current tour and were disappointed that he only played ‘So Far Away’ from his Dire Straits catalog. But fact is, his solo songs are equally good and I am not sure if my friends were familiar with his solo work. In any case, I had a bonus thrown my way when I heard him play the intro to ‘Brothers in Arms’. Turns out, that was the only show in his entire tour (at least that I am aware of) wherein he played Brothers in Arms in addition to So Far Away – and I do not have any complaints about that!
And then came on Bob Dylan. Well, I knew his voice was shot and all that – but still, he was Bob Dylan. So I was looking forward to him playing as well. If Mark Knopfler’s voice had the ability to mesmerize you, Bob Dylan’s voice had the ability to give any death metal band’s vocalist a run for his money! No kidding – it was THAT bad. It was so bad that I could not even know which song he was singing. His songs were reminiscent of the Hindu priest conducting a ceremony – wherein his long and incomprehensible chanting is followed by a loud and prominent SWAAHA! at the end. I realized Dylan was playing one of my favorite songs - Tangled up in Blue – only about halfway through the song when I deciphered him speaking out the words “Tangled up in Blue”. His current concerts really are a disgrace to the legacy that he seeks to leave. So much so, I actually walked out of his concert before he was done. Even for the sake of it, I would not recommend anyone paying money to watch Bob Dylan live. Not anymore definitely.
So there you have it! A long post recollecting my best experiences from 2012. Without a doubt, I have a lot to look back upon and so I consider 2012 successful. I already have a nice run of concerts coming up for 2013. Already watched Grace Potter and the Nocturnals (AGAIN) Live in Des Moines. Upcoming are Omar Rodriguez’s new band Bosnian Rainbows, Fleetwood Mac, Steven Wilson and Sigur Ros. All tickets have been purchased and I am looking forward to these things like always. Maybe I will write a separate review for each of these this time around. Maybe.
I am writing this at the outset of having just finished watching all the available episodes of Breaking Bad. It has taken me close to 41 hours of my life to finish watching it, and I was able to complete it within 2-3 weeks. A thoroughly enjoyable show, and am glad that I made the decision to watch it – just like I have made the decision to watch countless other shows lasting for weeks or even months together over a long period of time. But this post is not about how much I like watching TV shows. On the other hand, it is about the inevitable side effects and the collateral damage that I have become all too familiar with over the years. Without an alternative, it is a choice that I am forced to make.
I have been watching TV shows on a marathon for more than 7 years now, spending weeks (if not months) of my life in the process. And it always starts with that one episode – the episode that goes by the name of ‘PILOT’. It is quite scary to think that something as innocuously named as ‘PILOT’, can in fact end up being the single biggest factor that can practically ruin your life for the foreseeable future. The Pilot is only one episode, and once you are done with the Pilot, you are inevitably looking at a few dozen more. Because you see, in the current age of NetFlix and torrents, it is always likely that you have the complete series at your disposal at any time of the day.
And so it begins. You watch the Pilot episode and you are all excited about the new series. You are probably watching it on your computer or perhaps streaming it from Netflix on your TV through that Blue-Ray player that you bought recently. There is nobody around to bother you or ask you any questions because you are likely to be single and/or surrounded by people with the same mentality and priorities. It is perhaps just early in the evening/night and you are yet to have your dinner – but it can wait, because you need to know what happens in the 2nd episode. And then you put on the 2nd episode. 45 minutes later, you have still not had your dinner and are perhaps feeling a little hungry. But it is nothing that you cannot suppress as you really want to watch that 3rd episode. And so on goes the 3rd episode. 45 minutes later you are already watching the 4th episode and before you know it, your brain has done the miraculous act of completely forgetting the existence of your hunger! Ultimately, when you do look at the watch, you realize it is somewhere between 2 and 3 AM and you need to wake up early in the morning to go to work or to attend some class. Fuck work and classes! Right?!? Well, turns out, NO. You realize you do not have an option with regard to not attending work or classes and so you retire to your bed, on an empty stomach and with the images of the TV show still lingering on in your aching head. It doesn’t take you long to get to REM sleep.
And so the cycle repeats the next day, the day after next and after that and it will not stop until you have finished all the seasons of that damn TV show! Weekends are invariably lost. If it is a good show, you just cannot stop watching it as a matter of principle. You will do whatever it humanely takes (and a little more) to get to the end of the show. You will perhaps even feel a solemn moment of pride and achievement when you finish watching the Series finale – you have invested so much time and effort into it after all.
And if it is a bad show and you have already gone through a full season, you will continue to watch it just because ‘you have already watched so much that you now just HAVE to know the truth’! The Sunk Cost Fallacy in all its glory! You will still do everything it takes to get to the end of the show and you will still have a sense a pride and achievement at the end of it. (Even if it is for unforgivable plots such as those found in LOST).
Just like a drug addict whose only purpose in life is to find that next shot, the only thing on your mind as one episode winds down, is to start watching the next episode. Nothing else matters at that point. Nothing.
In the process of watching all the seasons of a TV Show, several things and events take place with or without your knowledge. For starters, you are doing NOTHING else. Irrespective of whether any of your other activities would have been productive or not, fact remains that you do not end up doing any of those. These include reading books, cooking, paying your bills on time etc. Again, these are just for starters.
You then gradually become a loner. You don’t talk much to your friends and stop going out to meet them or hang out with other people in general. Even on that rare occasion when you do go out, the only thing on your mind is how much you’d rather be at home watching that next episode. People stop inviting you to hang out with them and that only reinforces your desire for more viewing time.
You stop having your food on time. You gradually stop cooking, or if you are living in a dorm, you stop visiting the dining place at the usual times. You are too lazy to get up and do anything about it so you begin to order pizzas. Pizzas and beer – there is always beer available at home. And so you are back on your reclining couch eating pizza directly from the box and gulping down that Budweiser bottle while you put on the next episode. Problem solved.
You become a slacker. You stop doing any form of exercise and instead start putting on weight. You go out of shape and don’t care much about it. Give it a few months of TV show viewing and you find yourself certified overweight.
There are also many intangibles and could haves involved in evaluating the potential loss of productivity of each individual. The amount of other enjoyable work that could have been accomplished during the same duration is always going to be of mammoth proportions – especially in hindsight. Perhaps you could have studied about 10% of all that time you spent watching those TV shows. Or maybe if you had invested a fraction of that time into learning that instrument, you would have probably mastered it by now. How about that trek that you had always planned but never got around to it because you were in the middle of some season? Or all those books that you could have read? How about that book you had always wanted to start writing? Forget a book, you could have written so many more blog posts.
All in all, there are umpteen productive habits that you could have developed and many more things that you could have completed during all those hours of watching TV shows. But this realization, unfortunately, comes about only in hindsight. It is always harmless fun to share with friends about how much time you have wasted watching the newly discovered TV show. But in reality, it really is about the could haves and would haves when it comes to all that wasted time.
Needless to say, much of this insight stems from personal experience (except, fortunately, the getting overweight part). Was I happy when I was watching all those shows? Most definitely! Am I happy to look back at all those wasted hours now while I wonder why I never did all those things that I had always wanted to do? Absolutely not. But I hope to learn from this and not repeat the same choices.
Perhaps I should start some kind of a TV Show Addicts Anonymous. Come to think of it, that might not be such a bad idea after all. Or maybe there will be a new TV Show with that idea! Can’t miss that one for sure!
NOTE: This post (and the next) is easily more than 2 months late. But figured it was something that had to be said before I forget. All pics courtesy my good friend who got conned into coming to the concert through a text message! Anyway, here goes:
At the risk of jinxing myself in the future, allow me to share with you a recent realization. It goes thus:
When I want to go to a concert, the universe conspires with me in helping me achieve that aim.
And so it has been for the past so many months, when I had the opportunity to watch a number of bands live. And so it was again a couple of months ago, when I was blessed to see two of the biggest acts in a span of 3 days: Roger Waters and Radiohead. Yes, you read that right – Roger Waters AND Radiohead, within 3 days.
I do not intend for this post to be a review of the concerts at all. Instead, I want to write down what this meant to me and how it made me feel. The Radiohead experience will be documented in the next post.
ROGER WATERS – THE WALL LIVE @ The Wrigley Stadium, Chicago
I had seen Roger Waters Live before, when he had come to Bangalore, India way back in 2002 – and when the music of Floyd had just begun to grow on me. I do remember that experience quite well but not vividly enough. That concert was good, but it was completely devoid of all the reasons a Floyd concert is known for – lighting, multimedia, props, the ‘wall’ et al. And so when I found out that Waters was planning to do the highly acclaimed The Wall tour for the second time all around the world, my plans just got made for me. (I also used my chicanery to convince a friend of mine to cough up $300 and to drive 2 hrs to give me company for this event! Turned out I could have easily conned her of that money!)
The Wall is really an album. Irrespective of how much more popular certain singles may have become over the decades, the complete essence of the work is revealed only when listened to as a complete single unit – not as a collection of discrete singles. And for those of you who know a little more of the history of this album, you will be aware of how Roger Waters initially did NOT prefer to play this album in stadiums. The irony, of course, was that The Wall sounded like it had been specifically made to be played Live in large stadiums. Over time, Waters did embrace the stadium experience and went back to them over and over again. And so it was, that he brought The Wall show to Wrigley Field in Chicago on the 8th of June 2012.
A lot of musicians – past and present- are capable of filling in entire stadiums and arenas during the peak of their careers. But so very few are capable of repeating that act 45 years into their music career – and very much in their twilight. Roger Waters is one of those few. And Wrigley field was indeed sold out with people of ALL ages – young and old – paying big bucks (I paid close to $300) to watch this one man play his magnum opus for possibly the last time ever. Waters has publicly stated that this could very well be his last tour, describing it as his ‘swan song’. And I was never going to miss that for anything in the world.
And like the album, my experience was something that can only be described as a whole, single unit – not as a collection of how I felt when each song was played. This happens only when a number of factors come together to take the whole experience to a whole new level: a place where you haven’t been before. And they were ALL there that night for sure. The huge and gigantic wall, the hypnotizing and jaw dropping art and multimedia projected on the wall, the massive surround sound speakers in full effect, Roger Water’s (surprisingly) crisp clear vocals singing with all the venom and purpose in the world, and not to forget the music itself – ALL came together in the right proportions and combinations to make this concert into an experience like none other.
But every such an experience has to have a peak – a point during which you transcend everything around you and break that invisible barrier into the realm of that higher state of mind; something that will make you look back at that experience one day and mark it as a reference point in your life. During the show, that point came with the words:
“Is there anybody out there?”
Sure, I might have heard it a thousand times before, and I for sure know every single note and bar on the song. But watching Roger Waters sing that same song live in that haunting setting, and watching one of the 3 stand-in guitarists (for Gilmour obviously) standing on top of the wall rip through that captivating guitar solo with note to note perfection, I realized that this song still has the ability to give me the jitters and make my hair stand on its end.
Special note on the stand-in guitarist at the top of the wall: he really did play the full solo NOTE for NOTE. No attempts at improvisations and no mess ups. And as far as I was concerned, I didn’t attempt to sing along to the song, and I realized not many around me were trying to either. I guess there are few songs you just don’t sing along to (and a few guitar solos you don’t improvise) - at a concert. You just shut the fuck up and experience it – and then feel blessed.
But in all seriousness, watching him perform on stage with the energy and passion of a 25 year old, I realized that all this had to mean something more to him than just a way to remind people around the world of the legacy that he leaves. And he did have something to say for sure. Interpreting The Wall album through a contemporary looking glass replete with references to today’s problems – the government, capitalism, religion and war- was always the idea and motivation behind this tour. (Waters himself has said this). And I have to admit, I was also thoroughly impressed with the clarity in his voice at this age (68?), and even while singing at a high pitch.
At the end of the day, I left Wrigley Field happy and thoroughly satisfied that I had experienced The Wall album the way it was meant to be – in a stadium, with surround sound, a massive wall, hypnotizing multimedia and the man who created it all.
Blessed I am indeed.
In what could be the next biggest development in the history of football, ABSOLUT Vodka and UEFA have announced that the winners of the upcoming EURO ’12 and UEFA Champions League ’12-’13 tournaments will play ABSOLUT Football – a new brand of football that nobody has ever seen so far. This announcement was made on UEFA’s website and was confirmed by a spokesman of the Pernord Ricard group which owns the ABSOLUT brand.
UEFA’s official website carried a new posting outlining the rationale behind the new legislation:
After an executive committee meeting of UEFA, it has been decided that the winners of EURO ’12 and Champions League ’12-’13 will be based on the ability of teams to play the ABSOLUT brand of football. The objective behind this decision is to provide fans and spectators all across the world the opportunity to watch the most entertaining brand of football ever played.
The UEFA executives concluded that all teams must raise their games to include more entertainment aspects into it. And, as currently, the most entertaining and exciting brand of football is considered to be Total football – born in the Netherlands and currently played by the likes of FC Barcelona - it was decided that in order to be fair to all teams, even those playing total football had to raise their games.
However, after further investigation by this fearless reporter, new sh*t has come to light. It appears that the UEFA executives had a very controversial motive behind this decision.
Most of them were unhappy that Chelsea FC won the UEFA Champions League, for apparently deploying negative (read extremely effective) tactics to secure wins against the likes of FC Barcelona and FC Bayern Munchen. Sources revealed that the members refused to consider the inability – of either Barcelona or Bayern Munich – to finish even 5% of all the chances that they created as a sign of the weaker team. This, as compared to Chelsea’s almost 100% finishing record, appears to have had no bearing on the executives.
One of the executives, who wished to remain anonymous justified the motive in the following way:
How can you have entertainment when all you are getting from Chelsea’s tactics is a scenario when one team is constantly on the verge of scoring the decisive goal and the other team is defending for its life – suffocating and frustrating the attacking team- only to provide the most dramatic finishes in the history of the game? That Barcelona game might have given people heart attacks. But then since Chelsea had deployed negative tactics, this simply cannot be considered entertaining, right?
In a related development, Websters dictionary publishers have agreed to use the above executive’s quote to explain the words ‘retard’ and ‘hypocrite’.
Johan Cruyff, one of the most vocal protesters of Chelsea’s tactics – and himself an ex-Barcelona player who was also involved in the development of Total football – had a few thoughts of his own:
What is the point in having all these different styles of football - from different leagues in different countries all across Europe – competing against each other in one tournament? Teams playing widely different tactics pitted against each other in a game of football is completely pointless! There simply cannot be any value in doing this! Everybody should try to play the same type of football – the type that is played at Ajax or Barcelona.
I don’t know how this ABSOLUT football will work but right now, the only way to win a tournament and deserve it is by playing total football. Every other style of play is inferior to Total football. Even if other styles of football aim to exploit the opposition’s weaknesses, or even if they culminate in the most exciting games ever played, those styles are still invalid and do not deserve to be rewarded!
This reporter initially suspected that Mr. Cruyff could have been stoned when he made the above quotes. Turns out, this is how Mr. Cruyff is.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Pernord Ricard group which owns the ABSOLUT brand shed more light on what this means to the company and also about how this is going to work.
ABSOLUT Vodka is proud to be associated with this new chapter in the history of football, where ABSOLUT Football makes Total football absolutely obsolete!
The methodology of playing ABSOLUT football, inevitably involves the consumption of copious amounts of ABSOLUT Vodka. Following this, the players take to the pitch and the game begins. However, once the game begins, this style of football will now require you to make use of the players of not only your own team, but also that of the opposition’s. The players will bounce the ball like a pin-ball machine and make it go towards goal.
We are absolutely confident that ABSOLUT football will provide the highest amount of entertainment in the game of football. Of course, the best way to enjoy a game of ABSOLUT football is to be absolutely drunk yourself with our Vodka! CHEERS!
Turns out, I have completed more than a year living in Des Moines, Iowa. Well, since my initial ramblings about Des Moines in my Des Moines 101 post about a year ago, I would say it has been an eventful time. For the most part, things have become progressively better and continue to do so. And without my own knowledge, I appear to have created some really beautiful memories to look back upon and smile about. Let’s see. Where do I start now?
1. How about Omaha? The city I grew to love and cherish. Turns out, within a few weeks after coming to Des Moines and setting up house in early March, I was sent to live in a hotel for the next 9 months till the end of the year! Well, thats pretty much how it worked out. I was sent out to work in the field and as a result, ended up staying at a hotel for 10-14 day stretches. My field work was at Council Bluffs, a small city in Iowa known for its casinos on the banks of the Missouri river. On the other side of the river is this city that really grew on me: Omaha, Nebraska.
It was a beautiful place indeed. Slightly larger than Des Moines, but still equally peaceful. A lot more places to visit and a lot more things to do – not the least of which is one of America’s largest zoos and a fairly impressive pedestrian bridge across the Missouri river. It was always a pleasure to walk the downtown area too- specifically in and around the Old Market square, a small area of a few blocks radiating a distinct European feel. Old records stores, microbreweries, handicraft shops, coffee stalls lining the sidewalk everywhere.
I had a fairly good time while I was out there. But perhaps, the best was saved for the last, when I had a truly wonderful time in the closing weeks with a friend I just happened to have met then. It was a memorable 11 days that we got to spend together, working in -15 deg C temperature outside during the day, and then having dinner at a rooftop restaurant overlooking downtown Omaha across the Missouri river. Those long conversations about books over coffee, jokes on geotech over beer, and walking the snow-laden roads of the Old Market Square when it was still snowing – these are perhaps the things that I will remember when someone asks me about my time out in the field. Great way to wind up my field work.
2. But perhaps my time out in the field will be remembered more for the gamut of cars that I had the opportunity to drive. I pretty much exhausted all that Hertz and Enterprise had to offer over the 9 months. The most memorable of those was driving the bright red Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger and the 2011 Dodge Charger. I am pretty sure I have almost every full size car I can probably think of. And for all that renting that my company did, I now have more than 2 weeks of free rentals with Hertz. Talk about a double edged sword (or its opposite!).
3. All the concerts I attended the past year. I don’t know where to start. Started with Jeff Beck at Minneapolis; Deep Purple (2nd time) in Chicago; Black Keys, Goo Goo Dolls, Michelle Branch, Korn and Disturbed in Council Bluffs; A Perfect Circle, STS9, Black Keys (again) and Muse at Kansrocksas in Kansas City; the Doobie Brothers at Elk County, WI; and Guns N Roses and Puscifer at Omaha. Those who know me very well are fully aware of my obsession with the whole concert experience. To me, it can appear that everything I do in life ultimately serves as a means to an end – the end being the concert experience. The past year’s concerts have been truly remarkable and I have been thoroughly satisfied. I now have a whole bunch of them lined up for the next few months!
4. All my travels. Perhaps THE most memorable times I have had in the past year – easily. I wasn’t even aware of the travel bug in me until I got my lazy ass out of the bed and decided to drive close to a 1000 miles in less than 24 hours! ( I am not sure I could do it again, but I maybe wrong). My vacations have been quite regular and remarkable.
It started off with me wanting to watch Jeff Beck live in Minneapolis on a Sunday. I bought tickets on Friday and set out on a long, roundabout trip to Minneapolis early Sunday morning – just by myself. Ended up going to La Crosse, Lake City, Red Wing and a whole bunch of other places I had absolutely no plan to visit – all on my way to Minneapolis. Reached the city at around 6 pm, watched the concert till 1030, headed back to Des Moines and reached home at 315 AM, and drove to Council Bluffs at 6AM! Close to 1000 miles it was and like I said, I am not sure if I could do that again! Great time nevertheless!
Then there was this trip to Missouri – again by myself. I had a week off at work and decided I needed a vacation. A truly beautiful and attractive state. I wrote about my trip in detail here. 4 days or so I spent there.
My trip to Wisconsin – that was really an on the fly vacation. Found out the Doobie Brothers were playing a concert in nearby Wisconsin. I decided to use that as an excuse to take another vacation. This time I had some company. A 3 day trip covering Madison, House on the Rocks, Lake Geneva and the concert itself. I could write pages about each place – seriously. Especially the House on the Rocks – a remarkable and surreal experience, you actually feel you are bending both space and time in there (AMERICAN GODS – ring a bell?). That last line is really not an exaggeration. The more your ignorance and unawareness about the place, the more you allow yourself to be captivated in the strangest way possible!
And then there was my trip to Yellowstone National Park, the Beartooth Highway and the Grand Tetons. I should shoot myself before I attempt to convey all that I felt and experienced during those 5 days in a small part of a post. I had been there in October last year. And today it stands as one of my proudest experiences in all my life! That is right. Note that I didn’t just say memorable or remarkable. I was left so much in awe of the whole experience, that I truly feel proud of it. Hard to think of anything else I could have possibly done that could have made me feel better than this. Maybe it had something to do with the exquisite and jaw dropping scenery; maybe it had something to do with racing a Chevrolet Camaro at 120 mph through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons; maybe it had something to do with the joy of discovering a barely known gem of a drive – the Beartooth Highway; or maybe it was a bit of everything. But damn me if I don’t get my lazy ass down to writing a whole post (or a bunch of posts) about those phenomenal few days in Montana and Wyoming!
5. My Vinyl collection. This has come as a real surprise to myself. I was never much of a collector of anything. But now I own and totally admire my still growing collection of about a 100 vinyl records. This is something I have come to have some real passion for and I take a lot of pleasure in buying and listening to these old records on my record player. How I came about this and my thoughts on the very idea of the vinyl really needs a more elaborate treatment but that really is another post in itself.
6. The Moment. It was maybe sometime in November last year. I was sitting in my home on my couch with a beer in hand, watching a movie. I paused the movie for a bit. Still sitting on the couch and still with the beer in my hand, I looked around. I saw that I had an apartment all for myself; I looked at my projector beaming a 10′ by 15′ image on the wall; I looked at the JBL 5.1 Home theater audio system; I saw my vinyl player and my sizeable collection; I saw my bass guitar and amp; then I looked at my camera and tripod lying in the corner; I saw my car parked outside my house; and then I thought:
Fuck me! I have everything I had EVER wanted to own in my entire life!
And right then, at that moment, was the strong feeling of having arrived somewhere. As much as I am not a believer in fate or destiny, I just knew, that at that very moment, I was perhaps exactly where I was supposed to be. I felt right in place.
And that was awesome.
In a bid to reinforce his image as the most clever minister in the ruling government (and as the official spokesperson for the Royal Family of India), Minister of Communications and Information Technology Kapil Sibal today came up with a new proposal which declared that only the religious people of the country have the right to feel offended. In a hurriedly called press conference, the minister read from his statement:
After ‘holding talks’ with the religious ‘heads and authorities’, we have come to a ‘consensus’ that only the religious people of this country will henceforth have the right to feel offended. Religious sentiments are something everyone should respect and nobody should offend. We just decided to take it a step further and draw the line there. So, conversely speaking, one cannot claim to be offended unless they are religious and their religious sentiments are involved.
Mr. Sibal clarified that he would be tabling this bill in the parliament in the next session and expected it to pass through with absolutely no objection.
We can expect for the first time this session, the opposition NOT to bring the proceedings to a halt. This is such a populist and secular bill that nobody will even dare to raise their voice against it! This will become a law by New Year!
The reporters were buzzing with questions and trying to make themselves heard. One eventually asked, “How is it fair to leave out non-believers and non-religious people out of their right to feel offended? Isn’t this blatant discrimination?”
To this, Mr. Sibal was quick to respond:
Well, I asked this question to all the religious heads and authorities too. And they pointed out that while religious people believe in something, irrespective of which God it is, non-religious people do not believe in anything at all! And so if they don’t believe in anything in the first place, then why would they ever feel offended at all? It seemed to make perfect sense to me. So I just agreed with them!
“But atheists and non-believers do believe in reason and this little thing called common f***ing sense! What are they supposed to do when religious people repeatedly say that the atheists are the most ignorant people on this planet? Not feel offended?”, yelled out one reporter.
Mr. Sibal seemed to consider this question with some weight. After a long pause, he replied enthusiastically,
That is the most intelligent question I have ever been asked! And the answer is in your question itself! Well, if you are a reasonable person with common sense, then only you are capable of understanding that other people – i.e the believers and religious people – need to have their right to freedom of speech and expression, right? And so since you can understand this, you are reasonable enough NOT to get upset about it!
On the other hand, have you ever tried reasoning with a religious person about different viewpoints? I mean, seriously, when has a religious person ever NOT gotten upset or angry or offended over ANYTHING you might have said that was contrary to his beliefs? I am sure that right now, at this moment, all of them want to smash my head to pieces because of what I just said – thus proving my very point!
So you see, the atheists and the non-believers are the only group of people who are even capable of not getting offended when others express different views. So if you are a reasonable person, you will NOT get offended if you are called the most ignorant person on this planet!
Of course, what this means is that you cannot ask the religious people to compromise on this and so it had to be the non-religious people!
There seemed to be a murmur of assent and agreement over what Mr. Sibal had just said. Even Mr. Sibal himself seemed to be in a state of sudden enlightenment trying to come to terms with what he had just said. After a brief pause, a reporter asked him, “So how do you intend to deal with the wide variety of cases that people usually tend to feel offended about?”
Kapil Sibal seemed to already have an answer ready for this:
Well, that is an easy question to answer. You see, the trick is to eventually attribute whatever is being said to be offensive to religion. Take for example, girls wearing skirts. Many find it ‘morally’ and ‘culturally’ offensive. But then once they say that their moral values and culture is derived from religion, they have a case and can now go ahead and feel legally offended! In fact, all those people claiming to be the ‘moral’ police will now be rechristened as ‘religiously-easily-offended’ police!
And when it comes to more indirect cases of feeling offended, well, just use your brains I suppose! Just find a way to relate whatever offended you to religion and Booyah! You can legally feel offended and pursue the person offending you in court! Of course, the Govt is going to use this ploy to prosecute anyone and everyone who has anything bad to say about the Royal family of India. We will always find a way to make it a religious thing! Have you seen Glenn Beck? Have you seen his ability to relate ANYTHING on this planet to the Nazis? That man has a talent! We will even go the extent of hiring him to exploit this law!
For the last question of the press conference, a journalist from an unknown newspaper stood up to ask, “So what about all the people who claim to be spiritual but NOT religious? Do they fall under the same category?”
Mr. Sibal appeared to get suddenly excited about the question.
Woah! These people are even more difficult to manage! Not only do they get offended with what is said, they also then double their efforts to force their beliefs upon you! They apparently believe that they have a spiritual obligation to save us all from the ignorant path we have taken! You really do not want to piss off those people for sure! So yes, they do come under this law. Thanks for asking this!
Later in the day Superstar Rajnikanth was asked what he would do if someone offended him. He replied,
Nobody has the balls.
When one begins to like and follow a particular sport, the first immediate, important and binding choice that he is forced to make is that of choosing a particular team to root for. Who you decide to root for, however, can and will go a long way in determining your mental state every weekend (and many mid-weeks) for the rest of your existence. Your expectations and aspirations will largely be a function of the team you decide to dedicate all your energy, passion and commitment to – week in week out – for the rest of your life. Not to forget how often you get to win the bragging rights or feel awesome watching THAT look on your friend’s face when his team loses (- very important)! Also to be kept in mind, is that there is strictly no jumping ship, and if you do jump ship, you will forever be treated as an outcast. So you see, making that one choice is perhaps as important , if not more, as choosing your life partner. Well, come to think of it, you can still change your life partner without being treated as an outcast! There is really little doubt that this one decision or choice really does go a long long way in dictating the level of happiness in your life.
When it comes to football (if you are in America, it is still football – the other game is Hand-Egg), the first tournament everyone talks about (and rightfully so) is the Barclays Premier League or the English Premier League – arguably the best league in the world, both in terms of quality of football AND the popularity. And when you first begin to watch the sport and realize you like it so much that you have begun to watch it week in and week out, you also understand that it is now time for you to pick a club to support. And one of the factors strongly influencing that choice is going to be – your friends circle.
Everyone likes to be accepted in their friends circle and nobody likes to be treated as the odd man out. And so, for the most part, any newcomer to the sport almost inevitably ends up choosing the team his friends have been supporting. This facilitates the newcomer to feel one among the crowd, allowing him to share the SAME feelings as the rest of his group – irrespective of whether the team wins or loses. And really, who doesn’t like to belong to a group with similar interests?
And when it comes to the BPL, there are really only so many teams you can support without subscribing to a higher risk of feeling crappy every weekend. As of today, those teams are Man Utd, Man City, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and to some extent Tottenham. Any other team and, as pointed out, you run the risk of feeling depressed every other weekend for the rest of your life. So unless you live in England and near one of those mid-table clubs, or your great great grandfather did, it is highly likely that your friends support one of those few above mentioned clubs. And so will you.
Back in the day when I started watching football regularly (it was early 2003), I was surrounded by people who either supported Arsenal or Manchester United. At that time I tried to find out which club I would perhaps enjoy supporting. During my subsequent conversations with those fans, one thing became fairly clear.
There are many ‘reasons’ that are provided by passionate and over-enthusiastic football fans as to why one should support the club THEY do.
If you spoke to a Manchester United fan, you would learn that he supports the club for its ‘rich history’, great players, great culture of ‘winning trophies’ and also because they had the greatest manager in the world – Sir Alex Ferguson. He will also make sure to point out that United is the only valid club to support – again, for the same reasons – and that other clubs have no history whatsoever. And that this fact, for some reason that is never really mentioned, automatically makes ALL other clubs ‘unfit’ to support. And if you look around, you will find every Tom, Dick and Harry mouthing off self righteous praises in favor of United, completely convinced that all other fans are not supporting a ‘real’ club. Oh! And of course, you will also be subjected to that inevitable chant: “Glory Glory Man United!”
Now if you spoke to an Arsenal fan, you would be subjected to this inevitable lecture on how Arsenal plays the best, most entertaining, free flowing, passing football in the league. And that Arsenal is the only club that follows the sacred philosophy of investing and developing youngsters from their teenage and moulding them into world class stars. You would also be told about a particular Frenchman by name Arsene Wenger and his affinity to get young French teenagers into his squad. You might even get the impression that Arsenal is the proverbial underdog trying to make it big with limited resources. (And in all fairness, it is true to an extent). The Arsenal fan essentially tries to convince you that even though Arsenal does not have the ‘habit’ of winning trophies, it is still the ONLY club fit for supporting because of the way the club is run.
At the end of the day, you have two sets of fans, each supporting either United or Arsenal – and who strongly JUSTIFY why they do so. In all honesty, I haven’t met a single fan so far of either club who has not told me WHY he supports them. And perhaps THAT was the reason I never really developed a liking to either of them. I just could not wrap my head around the idea of having to justify my choice of team to support.
And so, back in early 2003, I never really liked either team, which meant I took turns deciding which team I hated more – United or Arsenal. (In fact, I clearly recall an event back in my Pre-University years (in 2003) when I was asked to participate in a class march which would feature a flag of our own design. And due to the fact that there were more United fans than Arsenal fans in my class, it was decided that the class flag would more or less resemble the Manchester United symbol. When I got to know about this, I simply refused to participate in the march – as a matter of general principle). But I digress.
Going back to 2003, there was this bunch of young lads just going about their business trying to finish as high as possible in the table. A spot in the Champions League was considered to be the target to aim at. And they calmly secured 4th place and eventually did make it to the UCL. These lads wore blue shirts and shorts and they had never heard of anyone by name Roman Abromovich. And neither had I. They just seemed happy playing their football and to have qualified for the Champions League. These young lads played for Chelsea FC and I was just happy supporting them.
When I was asked why I chose to support Chelsea, I realized I didn’t really have an answer. But then, in just a few months time, I would learn that the answer would be forced down upon me – whether it was true or not. And it probably had to do with a certain Russian going by the name of Abromovich who decided to spend a small fortune in building the club.
Sure, along with a billionaire bank rolling the club came good players, managers and even trophies. But the package also inevitably came with a branding. And the branding said that ALL Chelsea fans were ‘the new breed’ who were in existence only because they have a billionaire bank rolling the club’s finances. And then suddenly I was pushed into the tricky situation of having to JUSTIFY why that was NOT true!
Since then, life as a Chelsea fan has been fairly interesting. The Russian has not left and so hasn’t the branding. Sure Manchester City fans now seem to have taken over the spotlight – but I am still told that I am not supporting a ‘REAL club’! There have been a lot of ups and downs but an eventful ride nonetheless.
In my next post, I intend to write about how it has been since. All the arguments about which club is better – both online and offline- along with all the memorable and forgettable moments I had to go through and the subsequent not-so-amicable ‘conversations’ with fans of other clubs. And also more on the short term and long term consequences of the branding. All that in my next post.
Till then, KTBFFH!
In a sensational and completely unexpected development, Alok Kumar, an unknown liberal thinking youth from Bangalore began his fast-unto-death OPPOSING Anna Hazare’s Lokpal Bill. The news of his fast, however, came out only after he had already entered the 2nd day as not many people knew him in the first place. In spite of the delayed discovery, people from all over the city are paying him a visit just to see why somebody would do something as strange as this when the entire country seemed to be protesting WITH Anna Hazare.
When quizzed by curious and bewildered reporters as to why he was fasting to OPPOSE the LokPal, a visibly weak and tired Alok managed to respond, “People don’t seem to understand what exactly is happening here. Everybody is under the misconception that creating this Lok Pal will solve all corruption problems. But what they don’t realize is that it is a big risk to give so much power to one institution and hope that it does its job.”
Alok’s point of view, he said, was inspired by reading many articles online by bloggers, columnists and authors who he considers as “liberal thinkers.”
“These are the people who have influenced my thinking. These people have the courage to go against popular opinion. They are not afraid to write on their blogs and websites about things which the majority of the population would disagree with. One should really read their articles and consider their points of view. It will help people to think in a more sensible and liberal way. “
Alok managed to give links to a few of the websites and blogs he was reading that he said were influencing him. (This, this, this, this and this) He also elaborated about his actual objective of fasting.
“I am right now doing a fast-unto-death primarily to stop the Lokpal bill from going through to become a law. We simply cannot have an all powerful organization dictating this country’s fate. If the Government yields to Anna’s demands, then I will continue to fast until I am actually dead.”
It appears that, with Anna beginning his fast a couple of days back, the country is witnessing its first ever Fast-unto-death Off! On one hand, we have a widely popular Gandhian who has been fighting for this bill to go through for many months and on the other hand, we have a relatively unknown new generation liberal thinker who is fasting to protest the very idea behind the bill. This is an extremely unique situation and curiosity is building as to how this is likely to all pan out. Is Alok going to get enough attention to make his fast actually count? Will people take notice of what Alok is doing and recall the bill? Or will Anna Hazare, with his Gandhian ideals and populist base, out-fast Alok and get his demands met?
This brings us to another interesting question. When is one considered to have ‘out-fasted’ the other? Is it considered a victory for the survivor if the other person dies out of hunger? Or is it considered a victory for the deceased as it gives him martyrdom prior to the fate of the survivor? Who will be considered as the morally more right person? The person who dies first or the person who survives to fast another day?
[Even as this piece is being written, the writer has learnt that Arnab Boguswami has already called in a debate panel to discuss (read force-his-own-opinion-on-everyone) the nuances of what appears to be a moral paradox. ]
When confronted with this dilemma, Alok carefully considered the argument and said, “Honestly, I do not know. We will just have to wait and see till one of us dies I suppose. In either case, Anna Hazare holds the cards because he has a lot of practice fasting. He has been doing that for years now. I am sure he has been putting in a lot of fasting days in order to be on top of his game for this current fast. On the other hand, I will have to make do with absolutely zero fasting practice. I might very well be the one to die first. Lets see.”
Many of the curious youth who have gathered outside his house to see what the fuss is all about admitted to now being terribly confused. Shyam Prasad, one of the onlookers who knew what was happening said, “I really don’t know what to think honestly. We the people have always supported people’s agenda when they have resorted to fasting to get their demands met. Whenever someone decides to fast, it is usually for some very noble reason. That is why we supported Anna. Now there is this Alok who also fully believes in his point of view that the Lok Pal will do more harm than good for the country. And so I am confused which side to take.”
It also appears that the social networking websites have caught scent of Alok’s hunger strike and is apparently making waves in it. One of the onlookers outside Alok’s house, Ram, said he was posting updates on his Facebook and Twitter profile telling all his friends about this new development. “I want to do my bit for the country. That is why I am conveying this important development to all my friends through Facebook and Twitter. I am fairly confident we can get Alok trending on Twitter in a short while. I have asked all my friends to RT my tweet about Alok. One of my friends already said that he will start an online petition to create more awareness and support for Alok” he said. Asked whether he believed in what Alok was fasting for, Ram replied, “I don’t really know the exact reason why he is doing it. But if somebody is fasting, there must be a very noble reason behind it. We supported Annaji when he fasted. We should not treat Alok any differently.”
In an even more sensational development later in the day, Gautham Nayar, another unknown youth – this time from Mumbai- has also started fasting! But this young man is now fasting not to oppose or support the Lokpal bill. In fact, this youth appears to be fasting in protest of Alok Kumar going on a fast!
“This is ridiculous!” Gautham said. “How can somebody just decide to have a certain opinion about something just because they read a good argument on some blog? People like Alok Kumar need to look at both sides of the story to see what exactly is happening. Beginning to fast before that is like using the Jump-to-conclusions mat. You just conclude the same as whatever argument you end up reading.”
Gautham admits that he hasn’t read the Lokpal bill and so does not know where he stands on it. “Once I read it I will know exactly where I stand. But so far, all I have read are the articles that criticize the Lokpal bill and Anna’s method of getting this done. And I can tell you this. What they have to say really forms a very persuasive argument. They have a lot of points which raise some serious concerns about the subtleties of the bill. People, the youth mainly, read these cogent arguments on all these blogs and websites and immediately conclude that this bill is a recipe for disaster.”
When asked to elaborate, he said, “One of the points that the writers make criticizing the whole support behind Anna Hazare is that for the most part, none of the supporters have actually read the bill, yet they voice unconditional support to it. And this is truly a serious concern. However, what I want to point out is this. There are many people who have read these critiques and framed their opinion based on that. Now, how many of THESE people have actually read the bill before deciding that it is set for doom? For all you know, what one may read in these blogs and websites may as well be a clear case of Confirmation Bias. For every point that these critics bring out which appears to spell doom, there is likely to be one which streamlines and expedites the way corruption is handled. But these writers may have consciously or sub-consciously ignored to include those bits in their critiques just to prove their pre-conceived point.”
“The large base of support for Anna Hazare and the Lokpal bill may be largely ignorant about the nuances of the bill. But the small percentage of the population who seem to feel superior to the rest for going against the stream are not doing any better either. They feel smug about having this opinion as it goes against the popular voice. And with the general perception that going against the stream is a cool thing to do, these youth appear to be jumping to conclusions without sufficient basis. All those who seem to think they know better than the others about the bill just because they have read some well written critiques of the bill online are nothing more than self righteous hypocrites, because all they themselves know about the bill are just these small pieces that only serve to prove their point.”
While Gautham was making all these points about why people should read the bill before framing an opinion, this reporter was still trying to figure out if Gautham was fasting in support of the bill or to oppose it. When confronted with the dilemma, Gautham responded, “I am not fasting for the bill at all. I am fasting to get Alok Kumar to stop fasting and actually read the damn bill! I am fasting to make everybody, both who support the bill and those who don’t, to actually READ and get to know exactly about what they are feeling so strongly.”
This reporter was still not satisfied as he wanted Gautham to take a clear black and white stand. He felt it was not good for journalism to run a story wherein there was no story of a person who had a passionate bias towards or against something. So Gautham was asked if he was against all these critics who write online. To this, Gautham replied, “Absolutely not. We need such critics who can show us one side of the story and it also helps the case for freedom of expression. However, looking at the bigger picture, these critics do not serve any real purpose at the end of the day.”
Hoping that Gautham was going to take a clear stand against something, the reporter asked him to elaborate on that. Gautham, who was getting more tired by explaining everything to this reporter than by his hunger, managed to go on.
“You have to look at what is happening. On one hand we have Anna Hazare, who, in his own (perhaps questionable) ways, is trying to help the country by helping the corruption issue. And he is actually getting something done here. There has never been such widespread protests against corruption in a long long time and he was pivotal in initiating it. He is helping (again, in his own ways) to frame a Lokpal bill which is not just an eyewash from the Govt. It may not be the perfect solution to the corruption issue. But if it wasn’t any effective at all, there perhaps wouldn’t be such hue and cry from the Govt opposing it and trying to make it an eyewash. This will go at least some distance in doing something against corruption.”
“On the other hand, we have these critics. They sit in their office or home chairs, comfortable, searching for new and important developments in the country. They read about it, think about it and then frame their own opinion and point of view about the situation. They are able to understand the nuances and subtleties of the situation, which would otherwise be easily overlooked. They are then able to articulate these ideas and messages very well in a coherent manner in their websites, blogs or columns. Many of these points of view go against popular voice and when other youth read this critique, they frame their opinion based on what these writers have conveyed. These writers and critics may have a lot of very valid points concerning the situation at hand and they may want to communicate these ideas to the general public so that they are aware of what is happening.”
“But in the end, none of this translates to any tangible action. All that transpires out of them writing about critical issues, either in favor or against, online and a whole bunch of youth reading it to frame an opinion is that they write about critical stuff and a whole bunch of youth frame their opinion based on that. Nothing else ever happens. Everybody involved in this online process wants to be in their comfort zone in front of a laptop and think. And they feel good about it and believe that it is a job well done. There is nothing actionable that ever comes out of these things. You have to ask yourself. At the end of the day, what is all this critique and writing, if nothing more than just pointless intellectual masturbation?”
This reporter finally felt he had a quote. And immediately left Gautham’s house.
After the news of Gautham’s fasting became public, the news media went hysterical. And retarded. Actually make that MORE retarded. Arnab Boguswami lost his ability to think while thinking about who among the 3 was the one he was to support in the upcoming force-my-opinion-down-your-throat show. It is understood that his IQ was so low that he could not even initially comprehend what was happening and who was doing what. And then when someone explained the whole moral ambiguity involved, he just lost his (diminished) ability to think.
Popular blogger Amit Varma, who writes on the India Uncut blog, responded to what Gautham had to say. “I don’t understand why Gautham is getting all upset about us criticizing the bill. This is about freedom of expression and criticism. That being said, I really need to get back to blogging. You know I used to write a lot before. Almost 4-5 posts daily. I myself do not know where I go nowadays. Someday I will keep my word when I say I will be blogging more regularly. Oh by the way, that is not a promise.”
The cops on the other hand held an hour long meeting and, after realizing that this involves too much thinking, have decided to turn a blind eye to all these fasts. Local circle inspectors of both places were too busy to be bothered with ideas such as moral ambiguity and paradox. One of them said, “I have not received any orders to detain him. And moreover, I really do not know what is lawful and what is not anymore. So please wait till somebody higher up gives me an order for something.”