Archive for July, 2006

Life as we know it… sigh!!

Posted in Criticism, Philosophical, Published with tags , , , on July 25, 2006 by Tony Sebastian

Well there I was, in Bangalore, and quite inevitably in a CCD outlet, waiting for a rendezvous with a very close friend. I had been a little early and I had enough time to wonder, what made these coffee outlets so popular in this city? I looked through the menu and my heart sank. Kaapi Nirvana – winner of the silver medal at the Barista coffee championships, coffee for a mere 72 bucks (plus VAT of course)! Some quick math told me that would add up to around 25 cups of coffee in the IISc tea board. That was a little far fetched wasn’t it? Yet I had seen at least 50 CCDs in Bangalore in 2 days and always full of people. I looked around and concluded 65% of the people were there because it looked ‘cool’, 15% came there to score with chicks, 15% because it was convenient to have a chat there, may be 5% because they wanted coffee.

I realized the easiest way to make money would be to start a chain of coffee shops in a big city, give it a “cool” name, get some good demographics, play a little music, charge people in Dollars (that made it look cooler), give names to coffee like kalapila (kalapila in Malayalam means a mixture of noises) n give it a caption like ‘a boisterous blend of exorbitant flavours bound to satiate the coffee connoisseur’ or call it photocoffee – “picture perfect coffee that will leave a lasting image in your mind”, (I don’t know about the mind, but I definitely know it will on your wallet!), Charge them $2 or 3 per coffee… aah I would be rich in no time. To take advantage of man’s need to be cool was so easy. Now I know why Al Pacino, who plays the devil, in “The Devil’s Advocate”, says “vanity is my favourite sin”.

Before the devil could possess me and my vanity, my friend came in and unwrapped a huge bundle of “sorry”s for being late. We ordered cappuccino and mousse au chocolate (oh yes, how could I forget that, some dishes would have Italian and French names, that added to the “cool” factor like nothing else). She told me about how the bus got stuck in a traffic jam and how the girl sitting next to her had told that she studied in “Queen Am’s “college. Upon further enquiry, she got to know that the name of the college was actually “Maharani Lakshmi Ammani College for women” but obviously that name was modified because it wasn’t cool enough. Oh boy I should start the coffee shop right in front of that college!!

It was definitely there, the need to be cool, or may be the appreciation of artificiality. It is a fact, being factitious is in vogue. It was unconscious mostly, but it was there undoubtedly. We have lost our appreciation of nature, of flowers, of rainbows. As The Camerlengo says in “Angels and Demons” ‘our sunsets have been reduced to wavelengths and frequencies’. Take for instance an incident that happened in my lab one day. Thara held up a beaker with the most beautiful looking crystal I had seen. I was awestruck. I went to take a closer look. “It’s beautiful isn’t it? And it’s only water!” I stood looking at it unable to say anything, for true beauty always silenced you. Lokesh, the senior I liked best in the lab because he was very down to earth, and very helpful, came there and said. “It’s an impurity”. I turned to look at him. “Yes” he carried on “Raoult’s law of depression in freezing point. The area around the impurity froze before the water did.” IMPURITY- that’s what it was… not something stupendously beautiful, not a miracle of nature; but an impurity – and that coming from the mildest man in the group.

Let me tell you a couple more examples. My mom had an orchid garden till a while ago. One day she cut out a flawless spike of orchids and placed them in a vase in the living room. A neighbour, who walked in, stared at it in awe and remarked. “It looks so beautiful, tell me really it’s artificial isn’t it?” The last time I went to a park and was looking at a truly beautiful horizon, I heard a kid ask his dad “Daddy doesn’t it look beautiful? It looks like a painting!” Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way round???? Not anymore I guess.

There is a shop right across our house, hardly 10 metres of road separating both. On all my shopping chores I always used to run to and from the shop ever since I was a kid. I do it even now. On my way to the coffee shop that day, in a moment of nostalgia, I had run along the pavement, with my arms outstretched, the breeze blowing in my face. A group of people down the road were staring at me and laughing at the unbelievably dumb thing this 19 year old imbecile was doing. I guess one no longer has that freedom to run like that without being laughed at, except of course if he has scored a goal in a world cup or taken a wicket in a cricket match. Only then you were allowed to be happy, only then you could show it openly. For what is there to be so happy about a simple sunny day? A picture flashed before my eyes, a scene from friends, where Rachel calls Phoebe a cross between Kermit the frog and the six million dollar man because she runs ‘weird’, and is ashamed to go running with her anymore. I think what Phoebe tells Rachel should be a lesson to all of us,

she says “That’s okay Rachel. I’m not judging you; that’s just who you are (uptight). Me. I’m more free y’know? I run like I did when I was a kid, cause that’s the only way it’s fun. Y’know, I mean didn’t you ever run so fast you thought your legs were gonna fall off? Y’know, like when you were like running towards the swings or running away from Satan? (Rachel looks confused) The neighbor’s dog. “


If we sit down and reflect a moment we’ll know it’s true. If we sit down again and think a little more, we’ll find out that we can never do it.

Our order arrived at this point. I was a little frustrated because after two days in IISc, I hadn’t really started working on my project – nanoparticles. But then I saw the plate and smiled… there lying right in front, on my plate was my first encounter with a nanoparticle AKA mousse au chocolate (its only 50 bucks plus VAT mind you)… “Did you know Aarti got a 1510 in GRE? “My friend asked me. “Whoa she must be one helluva gal” I blurted out. I had never really met or talked to her, but I said she must be good, that is how much the system had corrupted me, all of us perhaps. For we were no different than convicts in jail, all of us were mere numbers. Your board exam score in 10th standard was your number for a while. Then it became your rank in the entrance exam, then it was your GPA in college, then your GRE score, and then later your salary – Your number the yardstick for how good you were.

I tried to put forward my preposterous theory to my friend. I asked her why we couldn’t be more relaxed and enjoy simple things in life. I remember quoting W.H. Davies too “what is life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare? “. She looked at me for a while. “I thought you wanted to make it big in life.” “I do”, I said “Well then leave the philosophy to others. We are already behind the race the way I see it. We use too much of bad English, we are a little too complacent already, when you are some big chap in a big company, you can’t sit slouched like that. Your company will fire you the next instant.” She went on with reasons, earnestly, sincerely, she was trying to help me…for lack of anything better to do I picked up the mousse… nearly… “Dude I prefer eating it with my hand too, but somewhere down the line you’ll have to use a fork and knife, you might as well start now.” She smiled “Leave Howard Roark et all to the books “I picked up my fork and knife. And I smiled. I didn’t know what to make of it all… but I smiled…The mousse may well leave my wallet and my stomach empty, but it gave me food for thought…something to feed my starving blog.