Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sonnet XXXVI

When time indeed does stop would you look back
Pray tell, would you come back to pick the bones
Of ageing, aching, loveless, lonesome homes
That crumbled in your wake. I dust the stacks

That once held clocks of sand, imprisoned time.
I still sit by the hearth, and fan the flame
That once did burn in hearts, did love proclaim.
Now all that is is little more than rime.

Now time runs ragged all that's left of me
Now night is darker, darker still the dawn.
My mind's a smokey cauldron now wherein
I cook a brew of all that was, could be.
I've hung a lamp in case you chance upon
I've left the door ajar to let you in.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

कविता और फन (भाग द्वितीय)

How do I write a poem?
No big words, for starters,
Even if they sound right
For a bunch of lines 
Written too tight
Is so archaic.

How do I organise my poem?
No form you see,
This is 21st century
And we are freer than free
To gambol and romp
In abandon, in pomp
It's just a matter of a few hundred words splattered on the page across scores of lines afterall,
How do we get up if we don't fall?
(Oh that was a random imagery
Afterall, it is just poetry.)

Who do you write for?
That's a tough question,
And as a concession,
Let me say, it depends.
Somtimes,
You keep your audience in you mind
And leave a lot of you behind
At others,
It's what makes you feel
Oh yes, that you're the real deal

One final thing before I leave -
What do I write about?
Oh not again, these words I dread
And must tell you, with caution tread
For things are infinite
But if you will, and take my heed,
Could start with how your heart does bleed
At all things in this world unjust,
A shattered heart, some broken trust,
Of how this world has failed your lot.
You aritsts, poets, humans fraught
Must throw in some profanity
Or hit hard with some ugly truth
So frail, at ends of sanity
Afflicting old, infesting youth
And then that's there, a perfect piece
What some of them call poetry.

Monday, May 15, 2017

कविता और फन

कल रात काफी समय करवट बदलने के बाद
मैंने सोचा अपने विचारों को शब्दों में उतार दूँ
कुछ २-४ ख्याल ही थे,
सोचा कुछ मिनटों में काम ख़तम हो जाएगा
तो कंप्यूटर खोल लिखना चालू किया

की शर्मा, कविता काफी इल्यूसिव किसम की चीज़ है
बड़े बड़े कवियों ने इसकी व्याख्या करने की कोशिश तो की
पर कुछ ख़ास सफल नहीं हो पाए
तुम फिर किस खेत की मूली हो
माना की २-४ वर्कशॉप ले लीं तुमने
तकरीबन २०० लोगों की कविताओं को
बड़े रॉब से घटिया करार दे दिया

पर हो तो तुम भी एक नौकरीशुदा इंसान
जो रात के अँधेरे में लैपटॉप चला कर
सोशल मीडिया में बेतुकी पंक्तियाँ लिखता है
जिसकी प्रोफाइल की पहुंच कुल १५ लोगों तक है
और जो आज भी उस समय में अटका हुआ है
जब कविता लिख पाना एक फन माना जाता था

शर्मा, आगे बढ़ो!
हर लिखने वाला खुद को कवी बता रहा है
और फिर तुम तो काफी समय से लिख रहे हो
एक आध कविताएं कविता कहलाने लायक तो लिख ही दी होंगी
क्या पता तुम्हारा रुतबा ८ लाइक्स के आगे बढ़ जाए

मैं स्टेज की तरफ बढ़ रहा हूँ
नेपथ्य से आवाज़ आ रही है
की शर्मा जीत के आओगे लोगों का दिल

मुझसे पहले कई लोग आ चुके हैं
कुछ फेमस लोग, कुछ नए चेहरे,
कोई तारों की बाते कर रहा है
कोई समाजवादी नारे लगा रहा है
कोई तुकबंदी कर रहा है
तो कोई टोपिकल चीज़ों पर आर्ग्यूमेंट्स दे रहा है

मेरे पास कहने को १४ पंक्तियाँ हैं
शायद थोड़ी एब्स्ट्रैक्ट, थोड़ी डेन्स
एक बार किसी से कहा था
की कविताएं ऐसी नहीं होतीं
अच्छी बात है!

मेरी कविता का नाट्यांतरण नहीं हो सकता
ऐसा मुझे लगता है, सुनने वालों को नहीं
अच्छी बात है!

मेरे चेहरे पर एक नर्वस सी मुस्कुराहट है
अभी पिछले दिन किसी ने इसे आडम्बर कह दिया
मेरी कविता में मर्म नहीं है
और कहने का तरीके की तो बात न ही करें तो बेहतर
शर्मा क्या ख़ाक जीतेगा लोगों का दिल

कुछ इक्का दुक्का तालियों के बाद,
और १४ पंक्तियों के बाद
मुझे एहसास होता है
कि शर्मा दिल जीतने नहीं आया है
शर्मा लिखने क्या प्रयास करता है
शर्मा के पास फन है,
शर्मा फनकार नहीं!

विनम्रता से कुछ समीक्षा सुनने के बाद
मैं धन्यवाद दे कर वापस अपनी औकात पर आ जाता हूँ
शर्मा शब्दों का सम्मान करता है
और इंसानों का भी!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Shangri-La

My hand trembles
When I wake up to a sordid dream
And stinking morning breath
Of a fumbling lover,
Making her way through the mess
That my mind is.
I gently caress her face
Before announcing sternly
That I am many things but myself.

Between a beaming smile
And the rush of blood to my head
Meanders a set of pointy fingers,
Like a river
Charting its course across a rugged terrain,
Birthing a lore at every inflection.
I remind myself
In wistful melody,
Many things that the river carries

Between eyes opening dreamily,
And shutting,
Permanently,
With a muddied mind
I remind myself, 
That I am all things by myself,
And announce blearily,
I am many things but Poetry.
I am Kashmir.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Remembering.

I
"First love is only
A little foolishness
And a lot of curiosity."
G.B. Shaw

II
I can't seem to write about
How the setting sun also sets aflame
The hapless cirrus clouds, 
And a sinking heart.
Or, how the fireflies manage to hold themselves steady
In the cold shower of the moonlight.
Fortunately, two people, together,
Are much more than tired aphorisms.
But I can remember the scent of a touch.
Clear as the mountain air.
I can remember a voice.
"Can I come over to Bombay?"
I can't, though, remember the response.
Eight years
Is not the ideal time in a relationship
To try and lend some meaning to it.
Unfortunately, some things can only live as long.

III
A song bird flew past me.
Struggling with dispassion,
I sit brooding, with a cup of tea,
Trying to figure out the spectrum
Of emotions that accompany
The setting sun.
The flutter of its wings catches my attention.
Tiny as it was, the gust of air
The followed its flight
Startles me into an awakening.
I can almost sense a patient gaze
As it sings a tune all too familiar.
A swarm of memories
That had laid siege on my mind
For what felt as long
As the siege of Troy for Helen,
Finds a way past,
And invades an unsuspecting heart.
January 2015. “Bye bye, black bird.”


IV
When I started my day,
it was with a whiff of agitation
in an overbearing gust
of mistrust.
The hours spent at my desk,
Poring through emails that were more impersonal 

Than a pizza delivered for a living,
Slipped by,
Desperately,
Trying to catch my eye.
I was not looking for love,
But for the slightest of signs
That portended apathy.
That I failed is of little consequence.
Somewhere in those signatures,
I saw “Love, always.”
In the end
There is always something
For everyone to savour.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The magnificence of storytelling. And Cinema.

Disclaimer: Most of what will follow is a personal opinion, and does not amount to speaking for anyone else. Also, I can never do justice to whatever compelled me to write this in my capability as a writer.
When I was in my IXth Standard, I was asked to write an essay for the school magazine on Indian Cinema. That was a wonderful opportunity for me at that stage in my life — being asked to write for the school magazine in an ICSE curriculum school, and on cinema, nonetheless. This was at a time when I had next to zero interest in art. I lived in a small town, and did not have a computer back then, and as a corollary, had no access to the internet. We were not a family that went to theaters on weekends, and all cinema I knew then was whatever little I saw on Doordarshan, which largely meant Sunday evenings 4pm, electricity permitting. I still managed to read up some stuff from the Sunday Economic Times and speak to my parents for some insight into the industry. The magazine editors had asked for a very narrow scope: the remit was to focus on the first family of Bollywood. So yeah, I concocted something undistinguished, filled more with fact than opinion, and incomplete facts at that, and wrapped it up in bombast. Fortunately or otherwise, it got published and got me some fame.
Now after all these years, and after the little cinema I managed to watch in college and in Mumbai, I think I may have slightly more to think about what cinema means to me. A large part of it still remains TV driven — and we are in an age where kids may not know that Set Max used to show movies other than Sooryavansham or IPL, and that all Hindi movie channels use to broadcast movies written, directed and produced in Hindi language. But again, we make do with what we have — just the way we judge people. I am not particularly fond of going to the cinema hall for movies — I think they are very expensive for the kind of value they offer most often. And over time, my expectation from cinema has evolved in a manner that allows me to categorise a lot of it by the medium I think is most suited for my personal consumption. So without much ado, I make the grand opening statement: Cinema, according to me, is an amalgamation of a variety of human cultural traditions that manages to synthesize most modes of communication that mankind has ever used, and packages it with an intent to help us realise one of our strongest desires — to be able to live vicariously.
An avid cine-fan would have quoted a few movies or dialogues or whatever, here and there, to up the oomph, but my reader will have to make do with quotidian platitudes, and a tiring, pedestrian verbiage in the following sentences.
Amongst all traditions that we have carried as humans, there are a few that have transcended the boundaries drawn by shared identities. I think storytelling is the greatest of them all. Almost all of our collective memories are but accounts of events, real or myths. Generations upon generations have relied upon their predecessors for their knowledge and wisdom, and with bated breaths and mouths agape, listened in rapt attention to all the stories that were. It is, of course, another matter that these stories have kept changing with every generation, for each generation leaves the world a different place than it inhabits, but stories remain. Storytelling remains. In oral / aural form, in written form, or as visual culture. Legends are born out of storytelling. Gods are born out of storytelling. Well, at the crux of it, cinema is mostly story telling. I may be wrong, but for a lot of people, it is basically that — a plot that one can immerse oneself into.
All stories affect us, though in different measures. Some stories are considered better than some others, while some others are trashed. A part of our fascination with stories, and hence cinema, is that we tend to position our lives at a much lower pedestal that the life of the characters in the story. It is not hard to admit that most of our stories are not as colourful or as heroic or as romantic or as enthralling or as exciting as those of the characters in our stories. Even if they are, the grass is always greener on the other side. Even if they are, the denouement is hardly as satisfying or as joyful or as poignant or as poetic as we want it to be. You would notice that a lot of stories that do not have a definite conclusion are not really very well accepted (except by critics who may have their own reasons, but let’s not go there). We all want resolution, and most stories give it to us. There is a reason why there are terms like parallel cinema or art cinema, as a counterpoint to commercial or mainstream cinema.
So what constitutes a story? Characters and a premise. The premise can be as elaborate as a lifetime that bears testimony to an enormously large body of events, thus making it extremely alluring to the everyman because of its scope and ambition, and a gargantuan task for the raconteur to hold the narrative and the listener at the same time. On the other hand, a premise could be as little as a few minutes in the life of a character, thereby exacting as much effort and attention from the narrator as from the listener to be meaningful in the impact that it warrants, and strives to create. Characters are the fulcrum on which the premise rests. I would like to think that a premise metamorphoses boundlessly with the introduction of characters, not necessarily great in numbers, but great in the manner they are placed into the premise. The transformation is in many respects — the story changes in its urgency, the story changes in its magnitude, the story changes in its arc — the entire semiotics of the story changes with the introduction of characters.
A key element that makes a story compelling, beyond the premise and the characters, is the story teller himself. In my opinion, the role of a story teller is as much about choosing the material of the lever and the fulcrum, as it is about the positioning of the fulcrum and the ensuring the balance is maintained at all times. It takes a lot of skill to be a story teller. There is a reason why Modi sells while Rahul does not. At least that is what the perception is. A wily story teller has a method about his craft. Depending upon the premise and the characters, the story teller introduces various elements that first catch the attention of the listener and then hold it by the scruff — intrigue, drama, tension, wit, style and many more, depending upon the audience he wants to target. Often, the premise and the characters themselves manifest these very elements so that the act of story telling becomes minimal, thereby giving a natural glide path to the story and creating an immersive experience for the audience. Sometimes, we know very little about the characters and the plot and the story seems contrived, up until the point where everything goes helter-skelter, when we see that nudge and the plunge and then everything becomes clear. Sometimes, we don’t associate with the story, either because the premise is too complex for us to process as an audience in the limited time frame that we get, or because the characters do not seem fleshed out enough, or because everything is something that we have already seen / heard / lived. In all of the above, the craft of a story teller comes to the fore.
Cinema as a story telling medium brings so many other dimensions. It adds the visuals, the locales, the music, the faces, and so much more, to the extent that the whole package far exceeds the sum of the parts. It is something that one can immerse into, and come out of it a changed human being. There are wonderful things said about books, and novels, and poetry that are all perfectly valid. But I think somewhere in all of this (part nostalgia, part wistfulness), we tend to overlook the significance and the practicality of cinema. Reading takes a lot of effort, watching something not as much. Reading leaves a lot on the imagination of the reader, watching something not as much. You can argue which is good or which is bad, but there is no arguing that while a subjective element brings some amount of thoughtfulness, we are basically talking about a story, a plot. In its elemental form, a book or a novel or poem or cinema is just that — the premise, and the characters. To that extent, while it may be called lazy, I reckon a good reason why the tradition of storytelling has survived is because stories fascinate us; stories take us to another world; and all things said and done, more often than not, it is the end state and not the journey in the stories that matter to a lot of us. “So what?”, or “And then?” are questions that the listener seeks to find the answer to during the process of consuming a story. As enthralling as the journey is, there need to be events. There needs to be tension, and its subsequent resolution. This is not to say that there haven’t been stories where the journey in itself was the premise, but let’s admit, we are not as patient as often.
What cinema brings in addition to the novelty of a book / story is human beings who portray characters. There are innumerable stories immortalised by a crew unparalleled in its craft — right from the screen writers to the cinematographers to the editors to the sound artists to the make up artists to the directors and many more — many characters that have built a special place in out hearts, thanks in no small measure to the actors portraying them on screen. And this is where cinema sets itself apart from any other form of story telling. It allows a vision to be recreated in reality, to an almost exact from. It allows a story to be interpreted in multiple dimensions — from how the crew sees it, all with their own interpretations of the premise, to how the actors see it, with their interpretations of the characters. We have seen many instances where the same story is recounted, recreated and retold by many different sets of people, and each one of them has a different soul. Remember, cinema is a broadcasting medium, and the sheer nature of it renders it instantly important, placing it very high in the pantheons of story telling.
I decide to write this after watching 5 movies this weekend. Starting with Brahman Naman, The Hobbit — Battle of five armies, Dangerous Khiladi 2, The Dark Knight and Man from U.N.C.L.E. Each of these 5 movies are tremendous in what they want to depict. I am not writing a review, but I will try and figure out why I decided to write this essay, and what role did each of the aforementioned 5 movies played in that.
“Brahman Naman” is a classic example of a not so grand premise, turned into a raging 90 mins production by the sheer dynamism of screen play and extremely good acting. The characters are never spelt out like in most other pedestrian movies, but are built scene by scene into living caricatures. In all of 90 minutes, it lays bare the warp and woof of the socio-cultural fabric of the time it is set in, depicting the sense of social entitlement along with ironical references to both the characters in the movie as well as the audience it targets. A lot of Indian cinema today owes its success to larger than life characters and stupid plot lines. But there have always been movies about the everyman that compel us once in a while to look at ourselves and take stock of who we are. Naman is one of those which not only takes a totally plausible premise, but also takes actors who look the part, and deliver with great earnestness. Naman, for me, is a very potent illustration of the small things in life, an resounding affirmation of the fact the no story is not-good-enough, a compelling specimen of the synthesis of great music, great acting and superb editing, brought to the fore through the wonderful medium of cinema.**
I don’t think I would be able to add much on “Dangerous Khiladi 2”because this one of those Telugu movies dubbed in Hindi which essentially loses most of its original appeal and performance factor. Based on whatever movies I have seen, all dubbed mind you, I would like to believe that Allu Arjun is one of the biggest and most talented stars of his generation in Telugu Cinema. He has done many a movie well received by both the audience and the critics. Originally called “Iddarammayilatho”, Dangerous Khiladi 2 is may be the formulaic Telugu revenge rom-com movie. But does away with the normal routine of a Bhojpuri villain, locations in Andhra being passed off as Mumbai and some patriotic / family centric dialogues. Shot entirely in Spain and France, and believably so, the movie ups the game slightly with good camera work, above average music and decent action scenes. But yeah, the premise is nothing much to talk about, and the characters are not really carved out to the extent I would expect. Considering the target audience, I cannot complain. So this goes down as another entertainer, and not much more. The songs are catchy, so!
This should not come as a surprise, but every time I see a Tolkien movie on TV, I cannot not watch it. Whether it is the LOTR trilogy or the Hobbit movies. So this weekend, I saw some parts of “The Hobbit — The Battle of Five Armies”. There definitely has to be something about the way the stories are written which makes them so much of a fit to be converted to cinema. And of course, the brilliance of Peter Jackson in transforming the text into the visual medium. There is something about the LOTR and the Hobbit movies that I cannot seem to ignore. It may just be the emotional wave that they ride on, or the leitmotif in these movies, or the way they build their heroes for us, or perhaps as simple as the triumph of good over evil. Practically speaking, it is just that — a story where good eventually prevails, with all the usual trappings of distress, early success, extreme distress, hopelessness and then the final battle where good comes good. Among all emotions that are remotely positive, hope is the most powerful, and these movies are strongest examples of how we are all suckers for hope and happy endings. The Hobbit movies are not as dark in theme as the LOTR movies, but they still are very important in bringing across the the forces that dwell in the hearts of men. The background score in these movies tugs at so many strings in our hearts that I feel it alone would be sufficient in telling an entire story. From ominous horns to the deeply melancholic fiddle, to the rousing strings arrangement, everything just seems so perfect. The technical angle that movies bring to good stories may not work well for a lot of people, but for me, it creates an overall experience that works well to elevate average premises and lazy characters into a bang for your buck product. In case of Hobbit movies, obviously the premise and the characters are both as good as they would come! Some movies overwhelm by their scale in a manner where the audience comes out feeling a little confused about the movie — whether they should praise it because of its ambition or they should pan it because a lot of their time was wasted figuring out what it means! Hobbit movies are as grand and as ambitious, but they carry along the viewer in a manner that it does not appear that there are multiple, disparate elements in the movie which make it tick. Rather, the movies work like a charm. I would perhaps just say this: Tolkien movies are very important landmarks in cinematic history because of the manner in which they way they have managed to create a parallel universe; because of the way they have managed to evoke compassion for their characters in the audience.
“The Dark Knight” is a different animal altogether. So I will just give it a pass. Every scene, every dialogue, every note in the background score, just feels like a climax to me. The manner in which Nolan has crafted such an elaborate story, notwithstanding the fact that there is more human element in this movie than any other superhero movie (or any other movie in this genre) before or since, is just super fucking awesome.
“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” has Guy Ritchie written all over it. It is basically a smart, stylish movie, with a very very good looking star cast — all the ingredients of a good espionage film. I did not like Henry Cavill before I saw this movie, so I think there is some good work he put in there. While it is not difficult to spot that the movie does not have much of a premise, and it basically relies on the old-world charm and some slick action sequences that give you a feeling that the actors have all the time in the world while carrying out those scenes, I think the movie worked for me. There are some clever dialogues, but I am afraid they might get lost because of the director’s focus on trying to position this movie as a funnier, swinging counterpart to the rather louder (but subtler) and grimmer Bond movies.
So yeah, that was my two cents on why movies are really important cog in the wheel of storytelling. I am sure people have had their own experiences in movie watching, and that these movies may not have even featured on a lot of people’s watch list, but I think that’s what stories in general, and cinema as a package means to me.
**After writing this, I read the reviews, and well, they are note really glowing, partly because the critics cite numerous influences that the movie draws upon, and ultimately fails to live up to, and partly because they are critics. I am not writing this to signal a change in my opinion about the movie or to justify my point of view vs. that of the critics, but because it is important for me to mention that the movie comes across as an important milestone in Indian cinema where the benchmark for sex comedy is very low. I must also admit that throughout the movie, I thought more of it as a social commentary than as a sex comedy; I enjoyed those fleeting moments that make the movie worth every minute you wold spend more than I felt revulsion at some of the gags. I must confess that I have not seen any of the inspirations behind the movie, or any of Q’s earlier works, but that is precisely what I said about the importance of cinema as a broadcast medium. I am ready to see beyond some of the rather unintelligent / puerile (a word often used by critics in the movie's context), because the movie gives a glimpse of what lies beneath. The one drawback might have been the lack of real emotional quotient in the film, and again, this is where the role of the story teller becomes important. In our case, we got a package with the right intent, smartly gift wrapped, but may be with the hastily, but handcrafted nonetheless, put together content.

Absolution (IV)

On her way back, there is mist in her head. She is trying to fight her way out of it, peering through the droplets of thoughts that hang loosely inside her brain. Most times the mist serves her good, it gives her the will to look past everything nebulous, to make a good fist of all the chaos and put everything back in its rightful place. Sometimes though it breeds inaction in the hope that the sun will eventually shine through. And some days, that does not happen. Those are the days when she thinks her investment in the rather expensive apartment is indeed worthwhile. Today is not one of those days, but she still seeks the familiarity of her room. She pulls out her music player from her bag along with it, the key to her apartment. They key chain is The-Beatles-crossing-the-Abbey-Road picture. A genuine smile breaks out, in acknowledgement the comfort she seeks — both by the way of her music and her destination.
The bus journey takes inordinately long, but she is patient. She has Beatles for company and the occasional cityscape as food for thought. The taste of the breakfast and the conversation at breakfast still lingers in her mouth — the food laden with cheese, and the conversation desperately trying to camouflage its salt in the taste of the cheese. The Friday night dalliance was a first for her, but something she does not want to lend a lot of importance to. After a lot of ruminating, all without much outcome though, she thinks that propriety often leads to self-loathing. Knowledgeable as social media is, it rightfully shows a human being’s standing with universe in perspective, and she, as a result, has come to firmly believe that any amount of thought would still remain too insignificant in the grander scheme of things. So while she has drawn boundaries for herself, those boundaries are elastic. “Norwegian Wood” is a good reminder of that.
She gets a call from her parents; her face quickly replaces the scandal with nonchalance; she assures them that all is fine and she has finally employed a cook for her meals; reminds them about a Shimla vacation that is already 2 years due; casually mentions about her Kerala trip; chides her mom for tagging her in every Facebook post; jokes about eloping with a boyfriend; ends the call confirming that she will be home in a week. In between sentences, there is a small conversation about her marriage, which she dutifully partakes in. She is very fond of her parents, but with age, a certain degree of tiredness has set in in these conversations. Today was another going-through-the-motions, with the same questions, same answers and same jokes. “There is nothing you can know that isn’t known”, the Beatles sing to her, or to her parents on her behalf.
After about an hour, she reaches home. Heart is where the home is. She says a casual hello to her flatmate, gulps some wine to wash away the taste of cheese and locks herself in her room.
“I am home, thanks for the breakfast”, she texts him and goes off to sleep.
The last time she went out was yesterday, and before that, about three weeks ago. She likes to count herself among the connoisseurs of food and drink, has managed to get on to the invitee list of invite only parties, and seldom repeats restaurants. All these years, she has tried hard to “belong” there, and now has an ever growing sense of comfort at these places. She is going to place not-of-her-choice tonight.
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The last time he went out for dinner was yesterday, and before that, a long time back. The few friends he has prefer fine dining to his rather modest culinary preferences, and he often does not feel at home amongst the fancy crowd — he’d much rather be the lone patron there than be surrounded by stuffy silhouettes and pretty faces draped in exquisite sartorial elegance. And after all this, there is the small matter of expensive alcohol at fancy places and he can’t see a lot of value in dutching the bill. While he believes in table manners and politeness as a virtue in general, he finds it extremely unjustifiable when he has to bear the cost of alcohol. He’s going out tonight for a friend’s wedding reception at an upmarket place. For all that matters to him, there are likely to be familiar faces and he won’t be paying the bill.
The day has aged beautifully it would seem, and appears brightest at dusk. The tangerine streaks have raided the sky, stretching from one horizon to almost the other. It has gotten slightly windy, and the last puff of clouds is struggling to remain afloat. The city is lumbering back to life, shaking off its hangover, as the lazy calm outside his place starts turning into a din. He can already see the snaky traffic from his window, as he tries to weave past the snaky trails that the turn of events has sketched in his mind.
A most powerful way to think about misgivings is to not think at all, and the meekest response is self-loathing, the kind she would hate. After failing at avoiding a conversation he wanted to, and then failing in that conversation as well, it has not been a relaxing weekend for him. He tried to dust off the slight discomfort, but ended up with a broken mop. While the conversation may have ended, in letter, the way he wanted to, he has not been able to reconcile with the tone and the spirit of the it. He has indulged in self-loathing, which, in turn, has brought along a whole host of unforgiving memories from the past, only serving to pile up even more misery. He has called himself names, admonished himself through the day, and prayed to God to lay upon him a deserving punishment. By the end of it, and a short nap later, he is looking out of his window, wondering to himself about his flawed moral code, generalising that to all human beings, and then absolving himself of everything.
The clock strikes 19. He switches on the mobile internet and sees her message flash across.
“Great, have a nice day!”, he writes back.
He steps into the shower, as a waft of her perfume lingers on.

Absolution (III)

On her way back, there is mist in her head.
Today is Saturday, a day that allows her the luxury to go back to sleep at any time during the day with a misty head, and wake up with an even mistier one. Saturdays for her are an announcement of herself to herself. Most other days, she falls just short — sometimes her loudhailer is muffled by the hubbub outside and at other times, she just does not find herself. On Saturdays, by the design of her lifestyle, she remains protected from an ever interfering environment. Having lived most of her adult life alone, she does not mind solitude. A two bedroom apartment shared by two people, with one of them almost never home, is indeed a luxury in the city, but one she considers worthwhile of an investment. Speaking of the city, even after a couple of years here, she thinks she remains an outsider who, for some reason, the city does not want to espouse. On her part, she has tried internalising some of it, but has spat it out inadvertently. So at long last, she has made peace with it — acquiescing in her symbiotic relationship with the city. The confines of a Saturday have played a good part in it.
When she woke her up earlier in the day, it did not feel like a new day to her, but almost like a continuation of the previous evening. Only when he initiated a conversation did she realise it was indeed a new day, which was to some extent, evident in her response. While she was clothed the way she would be on any other morning when she woke up, she had an eyeful of another human being, which ought to raise alarms for her. There was an unassuming intruder in her personal space, and she was more than aware of it. However, she tried to conjure some levity through her response. What followed was an easy going conversation, and a habit (/ addiction) she is not particularly proud of. She has lapped up most things pop, and cigarette is the first among equals. Could it have been the “cigarette after sex?”, she wonders to herself, and instantly admonishes herself, both at how much of a sucker she has become for conformity and trying to be a part of pop culture herself, and at how long after sex could she still classify a cigarette as “cigarette after sex”. Last evening they had talked about this band called “Cigarettes After Sex”. Dream pop, niche, fishy, moot, questionable. A lot of time after that still feels dreamy, though.
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They’d gone out for breakfast together. Conversations can be any one of the four cells in an interesting vs. smooth matrix, and today has been laboured and uninteresting. The morning has mostly been don’t ask don’t tell. They have gone about their business after that cigarette, with the occasional chatter sprinkled like coffee powder on a cup of coffee that has been dispensed from the vending machine in a small town marriage party — as little and as inconsequential.
“This is not going smooth now, is it?” He tries to shake it off.
“I wouldn’t think so. We began well with our Saturday routines, and your pretentious music.” She is still trying hard to be funny.
“I appreciate you came over,” he sputters.
“You’ve thanked me once, and once is enough, don’t you think? Of course if there is some metaphorical sense that I am missing, now is time you unravel it. I am listening.” She looked at him with assuredness.
“No nothing much, I mean. Do you have something that you want to talk about?” He looks at her, and waves to the waiter at the cafe. She is returning his gaze. “Like, you know, may be some sense of where do you think the last night is in the overall scheme of things?”
“I don’t know. I guess I have not given it enough thought to bring it up in a conversation with you at this moment.” She looks around and nods in approval. “I love the place though. You never mentioned this before?”
“Fair enough.” He hunches his shoulders. “Yeah, the place is good, but I am not a regular patron. I prefer cooking my food at home,” he said, with a hint of arrogance in his tone. “I am ordering a bowl of muesli, with berries and honey. What do you want to have? They have some of the best sandwiches in town here.”
They order their meal. The place is not very crowded — it’s a small cafe, unusually lit up with natural light, and about 6 tables. The stereo is playing a some warm instrumental jazz. There are a few posters on the wall, mainly European landscapes, and small time artists.
“I have been meaning to talk to you about stuff that’s been going on, you know. Like, sit down and take a stock of where we are and how invested we are within each of our worlds.” He says, hesitantly.
“That is too complicated a sentence for me to even be responding to. So can we please not pretend to be all intellectual and solemn about stuff?” That was the first hint of frustration from her.
“This is not complicated or flowery, you know. I am an exponent of subtlety if I may, and you’d agree that conversations are best navigated when not viewed as black and white?” He had slowed down considerably by the time he ended, and his face wore an apologetic look.
“I think you were right. It is not going smooth,” she almost threw her hand in the air. “Look, I have known you for a reasonably long period of time. Can we not just shed this skin of propriety that we’ve been wearing all this while and be our true selves?” Whenever she gets agitated, words come out ever so measured, and ever so slowly from her mouth. “I understand, and totally respect, that some people like to be guarded, but I cannot bring myself to appreciate this tentativeness in the grab of circumspection.”
“No, of course, I mean, yes. I am not being a devious bastard with my questions. I was just trying to get a sense of, you know, if you are okay with things as they stand now.” There is a lot of honesty in the tone if this question.
“Yes, I am. Now can we act like grown ups and finish our breakfast, please?” There was sharp bite in her reply, which could have been an acknowledgement of her discomfiture.
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Of course as human being we always have to grapple with a moral dilemma, and so did they. It is one thing to talk about the manner in which we want to lead our lives, and significantly another to actually do so. This is not to say that it is a very difficult thing to walk the talk, but that it requires a lot of conviction and courage. The more righteous amongst us fancy believing that our choices are guided by an sense of individuality that arises from a certain code we subconsciously live by. More times than not, this righteous lot feels inhibited in the way it handles its desires. When faced with choices, our limitations as individuals driven mainly be desire become much stronger than our strengths that bear the wright of our convictions. Sometimes, we crumble. And it is not that we don’t think through the options we have and the choices we make when we crumble. Sometimes, we assume that everything is not that complicated as it is made out to be, and that eventually, all things will fall in place. While the latter definitely happens, and in the process, can bring about severe disruptions and dislocations, the former is only seldom consistent. Sometimes, our tendencies to make black and white out of grey leaves us undone.
He dropped her off to the bus station, with their bodies consciously trying to maintain distance. There is comparatively lesser traffic on the roads, almost relenting and making space for the two bodies. The buses are comparatively lighter on human sweat and odour on a Saturday. She prefers buses as the means of transport, since the city does not accommodate bicycles kindly enough, and buses bring with them a lot of strange faces, and most riddled with stories.
As a welcome change, she has a scandal on her face today.

Absolution (II)

The morning sun is not at its glorious best after being bullied by the clouds for at least 2 continuous days, but it musters some courage to take a peek at the city. Instead of the deliciously sharp orange shape it normally would take at another time, strutting above the horizon, it is a fuzzy something dragging itself up in sky. It is well past dawn but the air does not smell fresh. It is one of those sticky days where the early morning dreams are persuasive enough to render one straddling the boundary between consciousness and dreaminess, and tend to cling tightly enough to one’s memory so that when one wakes up, one remembers the characters and their faces but not the story.
He has woken up with a fuzzy, uncharacteristically noisy mind, and a dreamy awareness of the previous evening.
In perfect contrast, there is a lazy calm outside his place. The few vehicles on the road go about their business as silently as they can, without attempting to catch notice of anyone. The warmth of the sun just about manages to reach his bed where she sleeps, in the process lighting up the room more than what the need of the hour is. The twosome does not have the luxury of a functioning remote control for the air conditioning, so until one of them decides to get up to switch it on, the heat will continue to threaten the silence in the room. Silence is his home turf.
After much deliberation, he finally kisses her on the back of her neck. Softly. She does not seem to notice. He gets up from his bed just in time to switch off the alarm, and switches on the AC. And wakes her up. She greets him with a kiss. He smiles, nods, pulls away, and eventually returns the kiss, morning breath notwithstanding. Both acknowledge that, almost shamefully.
“What do you normally do on Saturday mornings?”
“I don’t wake up early enough to ever have to worry about it. Nobody wakes me up with a kiss, you know!” She nudges him.
“Okay!”
“Why do you wake up so early?”
“Well blame the sun for that. And I go for a run every morning, so that as well.”
“Did you go out today?”
“No. I thought it would be unbecoming of me to leave you all by yourself here. Plus, once in a while, I don’t mind lazing around either.”
“Thank me, you should.” She gets up from the bed and looks for a cigarette in her bag. “You don’t smoke, do you?” He watches her amble across the room to the window.
“You may want to dress yourself up in manner more fitting to the place you are stepping out onto?” He throws her his tee, which is sufficiently long.
“Why, thank you!” She laughs, puts the tee on, and by the end of it, manages to look even more desirable.
“Do you like western classical music? I want to show off my record player and some Bach records that I have”, he says with a hint of pride and loads of eagerness, and before she can even register this, leaps towards the almirah and starts setting it up.
The record player looks cheap, but still gives a vintage vibe like most things in his room—a classic three knob turntable in teak, now varnished, with some aluminium. Minimilastic. There is a cheap label near the tone knob, and when set up with the two old school wooden speaker boxes, the turntable looks rather stately. He pulls out his precious record collection, all of 13 LPs and 3 EPs, mostly Bollywood music, with a few western classical — Bach, Mehunin, Beethoven — and a couple of classic rock records. He thinks of going back on his word and playing some classic rock instead, but then decides, keeping in sync with the mood of the morning, that the music should bring some urgency or a sense of purpose or some action into the day, either showers or wind or something just enough to enliven the mood.
“No! I guess I don’t. But that’s the thing with these dead fuckers. However boring they might be, they are never bad. So yeah, I mean, go on. I wouldn’t mind a fancy something as a background score for some minutes in my life.” She shrugs, and lights up her cigarette, as the pops and hisses play out in the vinyl.
“Ta-ta-ta-TAA”
Beethoven, Symphony No 5 in C minor Op. 67. Composed when his deafness passed from incipient to its final stages, there is something about this piece that catches his imagination every times he listens to it. The urgency of the first four notes, leading into the majesty of the horns that follow — the energy never gives up in the first movement. The gentle oboe solo ultimately gives way to the massive coda in the first movement which feels like a pronouncement of some damning judgement upon a pathetic soul, or so it seems.
Up until the time she woke up, he was a pathetic soul.
Self loathing is a very powerful tool for commiseration for oneself. In fact, it is a matter of curiosity how the human mind functions in moments of self doubt, especially when it relates to the grey side of the moral compass. There are a lot of things people do that they would not be particularly proud of, and in hindsight, may avoid, but they still do. To reinforce their righteousness subsequently, they keep painting the grey in black, keep asking themselves if they did the right thing, and keep coming up with rationales that justify the choices they made. If that does not seem enough, they express their predicament to a few choicest friends who would more likely than not show solidarity. And by the end of it, it becomes like a positive spiral, if that is anything — you feel bad → you try to console yourself → if you fail, you express this wretched feeling to either the subject of your actions or a good friend → win their sympathy → feel better about the situation and yourself.
He still is a pathetic soul.
The conversation with her is a necessity, borne out of the fact that he could not let her sleep while he was awake. He walks over to her as the drama plays out on the LP.
“Thanks for coming over yesterday. You are always good company.” He maintains a certain distance from her.
“It’s okay”, she chirps. “I am not disappointed by your place and your music”, she says, pointing to the turntable. A stub and some ash is all that’s left of the cigarette by now.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Absolution (I)

Saturday mornings are generally not a thing of beauty. There is nothing much to celebrate except the small matter of some extra sleep, and there is not much to look forward to except an elongated period of solitude, and quietude. The clock is indisposed to help one feel normal — it either appears to be a participant in an equestrian sport, galloping towards an unforgiving noon before one even has a chance to awaken from a richly deserved slumber, or it decides to stall father time on its quest to subjugate all things humanly, thereby dilating every second that one chooses to stay awake to make a good fist of one’s contest with life. The day, as it passes one by, looks grimly at a face and decides that the tranquil state of affairs on the other end is an not an appropriate fitment in its grand scheme of things, and it gently nudges a mind into thinking the same. After all, there are few things as potent in transforming contentedness into existential dilemma as being pointed out by a passive onlooker that one isn’t utilising the life accorded to the one in any manner, significant or not.
While one cannot claim the universality of the above, one cannot contend its relevance either.
So while she lay asleep on their bed without a care in this world, the he was awake and restless, trying to piece a few things together, all the while hoping the seconds hand on the wall clock would at least move as many times a minute as he looked at the clock. One of the two people in the room was perhaps too short on expectations, and thus massively over-gratified on account of that previous night, while the other too consumed with matters outside of his bed to have ever given a solid consideration to the act itself. It could have been the thought of that definitively good-bye moment and the anxiety of life after that; it could have been a general mistrust arising out of the habit of his partner to exact passionate love-making on account of innumerable final good-byes; it could simply have been the result of at least three more dalliances earlier in the day. The lack of sleep was nothing new for him, but that he was awake in another’s company was not very comforting to him. This was a first at his place. All this while, it had always been an assertive “Your place!”
He is not a smoker, so when people talk about cigarette after sex, he gets confused, like he got confused last night. He is not very fond of alcohol either, so when people assume he lacks the fun / celebratory spirit, he loathes them. His room barely has belongings — he lives out of a suitcase most times, partly because he has shifted five times in five years, and does not want to spend a lot on his accommodation. There is a small almirah for a wardrobe and all things precious. The only furniture other than the bed is a reclining chair with plush leather upholstery. There is an abandoned gas stove in a desolate corner of what could be his kitchen area. The toilet is particularly clean, all things considered — he does not want surprise visits turning unpleasant. One of the three walls, which is also the differently coloured one, has the aforementioned clock — a tiny time keeper fully in sync with the overall aesthetic of the place. The same wall has a few hooks for his neat clothes, and a massive Led Zeppelin poster. It could once have been some shade of red. Everything else is white — the two other walls, the floor tiles, the bed sheet, the paint on the door. Except nothing really is white anymore. The chair is lined up against the french window, and the curtain is drawn to prevent voyeuristic pleasures to the neighbours.
He has been awake for one full hour. He has an urge of kissing her, but he has been resisting the same for over an hour now.
As she sleeps, and as time passes, it gets warmer in the room. In the month of August, Mumbai is not really hot. It is rather pleasant. The sky appears like a very dirty white duvet, and whenever the sun comes out, it is generally too timid. Today is no different, just a little warmer. She smells delicious, he recounts from the previous night, when she came along with him after work.
They had gone for a cheap dinner, and talked at length about their work places. It would be wrong to assume that they are dissatisfied with their jobs. He has a white collar job. She has a white collar job. Both have respectable salaries, and both have hobbies they pursue outside work. They have disparate tastes in music. He views anything mainstream with extreme prejudice. She views anything too niche with extreme prejudice. Led Zeppelin somehow manages to squeeze between their choices. He has high regard for well read people. She is content will people who seem to know most things about most things. He is not passionately into sports, but he wants to know what’s the state of affairs in cricket, football, tennis and, at times, Formula 1. She loves basketball, although she has never played on a court. She says she had a board and a net back at her house. The topic of conversation at their dinner was mostly music. Both were mistrustful of the other.
She turns on her side. He looks at her wistfully, shakes his head and goes back to thinking. Again. This time on his feet. He does not want to leave his place before she wakes up. He does not want her to stay after she does.
Conversations are best avoided on matters that matter significantly to the parties involved. It is best to not ask and not tell. It is better to sweep everything under the carpet, hoping that it will eat up all the dust, and when one day when you are shifting houses and trying to bundle the splattered bits of yourself in the room within the carpet, you hope you will not remember any of that residue. As ironical as it sounds, the carpet does really seem to eat up everything. The floor underneath remains as clean as it was when you moved in. But the carpet just feels heavier. And when you leave, you keep looking behind, unsure whether to be suspicious about the spotless floor, the heavier carpet or the lighter person that you leave. It is like knowing that all said and done, you cannot shed certain weight from the ecosystem that you become, and at the same time, becoming paranoid about the dust floats around. That once the dust settles on the floor, it will give away your secrets. To a chronicler who you might never know. It is not a comforting thought.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Mono No Aware: The “aah-ness” of things in general, life in particular

I have never been bothered much about the role words play in songs, especially anything non-Hindi/Bollywood. I have always tended to concentrate on the rhythm and melodies, and have thought of vocals as just another instrument that’s been layered over the soundtrack. That may not be the right way to look at it, but I think that allows me to appreciate each singer in a perspective that is quite separated from their abilities to come up with lyrics that inspire or move. Which is why when I first heard instrumental music, I kinda knew that this will stick with me for good. Of course, the taste has evolved, and I continue to listen to and appreciate music with vocals, but I think there has been a gradual shift in the aesthetic of the music that I want to listen to now.
A lot of what I appreciate now is something I can’t define. I used to hate people who said “I listen to anything that I like. No specific genre”, because that meant I could not judge the person’s musical taste, and I am judgmental in more ways than even I know of. Fortunately or unfortunately, I guess I am gravitating towards that end of the spectrum where you know you can’t define what kind of music you like, which also means I am judging myself heavily here. I like blues, rock-n-roll, rockabilly, country, folk-ish, rock, hard rock, metal, heavy metal, doom metal, symphonic metal (or whatever sub-genre you want to add) and many more genres and jargons. The latest amongst them is post rock, electronic, dream pop, trip hop. Shruti Sunderraman help me with more here. And then of course, anything that sounds good.
On one of these trips to explore music, I stumbled upon the American band Hammock. That was about a year ago. I ignored because I was still firmly wedded to Opeth. And then one day I heard “Maybe They Will Sing For Us Tomorrow”. The thing about post rock is that a lot of it is poetry - something that cannot be defined, but only be felt, like a visceral punch. Not only is it stellar music, but the bands choose their names, their album names and their song names in a manner that instantly transports me to a different landscape. While this is really noteworthy, it becomes even more interesting when all of this is harmonised - when the music evokes the exact same feeling as the name of the song. “Mono No Aware” is one such song. I will leave it to the reader to put in some effort and read what this phrase means. For the lazy ones like myself, it means the “aah-ness” of life, the pathos, and perhaps the sense of wonderment for transience. Janani Rajashekar, I am on the path to becoming a convert, but with slightly more significant things in mind than baby pigeons and pregnant cats.
This music, and I mean the new kinda stuff I talked about, has helped me look at the art form from a much broader perspective than I earlier used to. There are artists who produce significantly better output than the ones who manage to reach us comparatively easily. It is not easy for these rather not-so-popular, niche artists to wake up day in day out, and keep themselves motivated about doing something passionately, which eventually may not be sufficient to provide for their families. Peter Lindgren of Opeth did not find it easy and quit the band, amid other reasons. Good for him. But there are other young artists who are starting their journey into the infinite universe of music and its audience, and others who have been producing one stellar record after another, refusing to give into laziness and fan-pleasing ideology, fully cognisant that the critic community is more than eager to pounce on anything and everything in a way that may have a definitive impact on their careers. But they still continuously push the boundaries of what is music and who they are as artists, in the process, refusing to be written off or resting on what once was and who they once were.
And then I hear a lot of people, including myself, complaining about their day jobs and wistfully, almost romantically, speaking about their passions and interests. I am not philosopher and neither have I lived or seen enough to be speaking contemplatively about the profoundness of life. But with each passing day, including today when I listened to “Mono No Aware”, the realisation of “enjoy it while it lasts” keeps getting reinforced into my psyche. “It” being everything that goes into defining who I am, right from the tangible, headlong into the intangible. There are far too many complaints we have and as a result, too little time to appreciate all the good things that we encounter. And with that, I will note the usage of “I” and “we” interchangeably.
I may be wrong (and hence the analogies that I make after this may be absolutely pointless), but I think the natural state of the universe is darkness - there are events that lead to light, some of which we see after millions of years. I cannot recall what led to it, but in the same vein, I have this opinion that the natural state of emotions is indifference or nothingness. A lot of what we feel is cultivated as we keep discovering who we are, and what are immediate environment is or how it directly affects us, to begin with. A lot of events help us find our way through the millions of feelings or emotions that are there inside us, latent, waiting to be discovered, and I guarantee you, a lifetime may not be enough to explore each and every one of them, partly because of the analogue nature of emotions - however much we try and sample them, we always miss out. Now, extending the analogy further, there are infinite personalities within us that manifest on their own when our person is confronted with different possibilities. It follows that all of who we are may not see the light of the day in this lifetime, but we often desire to explore every bit of who we are. And for this to happen, we need to move on very quickly to things will help us find ourselves. They say are two ways of looking at a half full glass - half full or half empty. One may indefinitely keep brooding about the amount of liquid one missed out, or consume whatever one’s got and be content, or perhaps while in the process of consuming, also try and look for avenues to refill the glass with whatever quantity of liquid one manages to find on that quest. While the latter two are definitely constructive outcomes, the former is not. Nobody gains anything. That’s what I am talking about. This is nothing that you or I may have never ever thought of. But this is not about that, right!
From where I see, a lot of what’s going on in the world could be a result of the brooding over the half empty glass, and going to the extent of throwing the water away or throwing the glass away, both of which are a massive waste or effort and resources, both being meaningfully injurious, the second even more so. I cannot claim to understand or find a reason behind everything that is happening geo-politically or socio-culturally, but I am not comfortable with the way a lot these problems are being approached. I am not in a position to write detailed essays on these problems, for they are far too complex to be summarised, but let’s just say this - one loses out a lot of oneself when one refuses to see beyond the half empty glass; in the same way, a society / community loses a chance to discover itself /evolve from the literal and figurative rut that finds itself in, into something more meaningful that not only transcends the transience of everything that is world, but also manages to reach far and beyond in redefining what starts becoming consequential for it, if the society / community remains hinged on the emptiness of the glass.
This is not to say that a lot of these problems are not synthetic - in fact almost every single one of them is. We humans are a volatile breed. And we are fully aware. So while we know that we dislike our glasses half empty, we are unscrupulous when it comes to ensuring our glass is not half empty - when presented with the proverbial half empty glass, we somehow manage to steal from someone else, in the process, robbing that someone else of at least half a glass. What we tend to forget is that there happened to be a certain Newton who managed to postulate that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and in the case of humanity, the opposite reaction is more than equal - eent ka jawaab patthar se. We forget that while some of may be compromising in nature, others are not, which leads to spills, shattering glasses and suppressed identities.
The way we have tried to resolve these issues highlights that we are lacking in compassion, which beggars belief, or rendered inactive by the burden of past mistakes or expected future outcomes. In the process, there is a lot that suffers - humanity to say the least. The below is something that has almost moved me to tears.
This is a 5 year old boy, Omran Daqneesh, who was rescued from the rubble of a bombing site. There is no single culprit here. Only the victim. And Omran is more that just a victim. He looks stunned. He is gazing into nothingness as cameras around him whirr. He does not seem flustered, and is surprisingly calm for a 5 year old who is coated in soot, and is bleeding from the head. He looks at the cameras, and looks away. There is an frightening blank space in his eyes. He does not even have gratitude for his saviour. He seems to understand everything that’s going on, but is stunned to find himself as an active player in the scheme of things. And then suddenly, he feels the minor irritation of blood dripping from his forehead and trickling onto his face, disturbing his eyelids in the process. He blinks once, tries to get rid of the irritant, not realising what it is. He feels something hot. Or cold. I can’t even imagine. He feels something wet. He looks at his bloodied hand. There is that infinitesimal part of a second where he looks horrified. He does not know what to do. He seems flustered. But he breaks eye contact with his hand, looks away, and tries to wipe the blood on the chair.
I cannot even imagine to understand how Omran would have been feeling. I cannot even imagine to put myself in his shoes. I cannot even imagine to start saying that I am heartbroken. What I can say is that from the time I started watching the clip to the time it ended, there was smoke in my throat. Nothing else. I choked up. And this is not the clueyness that Tim Urban (Wait But Why) talks about. This is not imagination that fuels my feeling. This is something beyond description. This is visceral. Someone else broke Omran’s glass on his head, and we’re not even getting into whether it had anything in it at all. For all I know, Omran never had anything, not even the glass. Afterall, he is just 5 years old. Syria had become what it is today much earlier.
Mono No Aware. The pathos of things. The transience of Life. I have never felt more insignificant.