I haven’t been able to write in the last few days. I had planned to initially write about a topic I had been contemplating for a while, but I am tired today. Instead, I will write reviews for the two events I had attended this week.

Peter Jackson has written fan-fiction almost worse than any of the offerings on fanfiction.net, with his latest Hobbit. I had been aghast when I had watched the previous film. Thankfully, that had prepared me for this one. He has managed to outdo Rajnikanth, in the realm of fantasy.

I got what I had expected – Galadriel-Gandalf romance (no, really), creepy Galadriel (that truly was scary), orcs with backstory (Tamil film script adapted?), mad Thorin (mad Thorin is mad), recursive Sauron (there is a Sauron inside a Sauron inside a Sauron inside a Sauron).

I got things I hadn’t expected – puppet Wraiths dangling before recursive Sauron, Elrond in scarlet (long, long ago, before he had been Elrond, he had been a Queen of the Desert), sand worms (why not throw Dune into it as well?), cool Saruman (dapper with his staff, really).

Lord of the Rings had excellent acting. This didn’t, except for Freeman who did a remarkable Bilbo.

Thranduil was worth the ticket, and the rest of it, because he is just so cool. Legolas takes down oliphaunts, skates down on a shield over men and orcs, rides horses backwards, rides bats and trolls (while killing them), shoots arrows from a besieged tower, and does a lot of other cool stuff throughout, but his father comes on an elk and steals the glory. On an elk. Anybody on an elk should have looked ridiculous. He doesn’t. How does he even?

I was sorry to see the Dwarf-Elf romance (again). Why? Why? I can forgive Galadriel/Gandalf, but not this.

I hope the Tolkien estate won’t let Jackson play with the Silmarillion. I shudder to think what he might make of that.

There was more gore in this film than the others, I think.

There is a prolonged fight sequence between Thorin and the orc with the backstory. It doesn’t hold a candle to the fight sequences in LOTR.

The best part was when Bilbo reached the Shire, at the end of his adventure. The verdant greenery, the cleanliness and the wholesome feel of the place was a refreshing change after the grim, dirty environs of Laketown, orc strongholds and the dark halls of the Lonely Mountain.

Cate Blanchett can still scare the life out of people all these years later. She shouted the halls down in Elizabeth. She has only improved with time. Poor Sauron.

~~~

I had been planning to go to the San Francisco Symphony on Thursday. Commuter traffic and a mishap ensured that I didn’t. I made it today. Oh, dear Lord, was it ever worth braving the traffic!

Handel’s Saul is my favourite of his sacred works. His Messiah is, however, remarkable on its own merits. And today, when we rose as one for the magnificent Hallelujah chorus, it struck me hard why it is so revered.

Enjoyment of the music is secular, perhaps, but the spirituality of it pervades the entire composition. This is sacred music, composed by a man who believed (if not in the liturgy, in the morals of the religion). It is music as glorious as this that lulls me into wishing fiercely that the God this was composed for existed. It is all grand, and it is all grandly wrong.

I have an aversion towards sopranos, but today’s soprano had a voice to rival an angel’s. So pure, so heavenly.

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~~~

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Among my acquaintances is a lovely person full of virtues, except for this unfortunate tendency towards raving – the good becomes splendid and the bad becomes good when she speaks of it. We tease her about it. She huffs and raves on. I suppose we’d all like to be as positive and upbeat as she is, someday.

One of her latest raves to a mutual friend was about her ex, and how he is doing splendidly well, and how he she thinks all of that is due to her involvement. Now this is very likely to be true. She is possessed of so many virtues that anyone would be improved by being in her company.

“He is now thinking seriously of doing GATE. He will do research after that and become a professor! If I hadn’t been there, he’d have just continued being the lazy bugger he had been until then!” she said.

Our friend was content to let it be. Then Rave starts the preach, “Unlike you, I put the welfare of my partner about mine and try to help them reach their destiny.”

“Destiny?”

“It was my ex’s destiny to teach!” Rave explains. “You see, you are too involved in your own goals to actually set them aside for your partner. So your future partner isn’t going to reach the best place he can. This is why you can’t attract good men!”

Pat comes the answer, “If we are comparing exes, mine is a roboticist that makes self-driving cars.”

Rave puts two and two together, is utterly shaken, and says goodbye.

~~~

This is a world where sexuality is such a mess. It needn’t be so complicated. It needn’t be a place where tolerance means that you get to ask inane questions as ‘Are you sure it isn’t a passing phase?’, ‘You just haven’t met the right man yet.’, and ‘Lucky you! You get double the opportunities.’

‘Double the opportunities’ is what bothers me the most, because of the sheer falseness of it.

Let us think through this: Be there 100 people in a town: 50 men and 50 women. All are unattached and looking for partners. Someone who is attracted to both sexes walk into the town. Their opportunities are restricted to the 50 of the opposite sex until they have some indication that someone of the same sex is interested.

There are other matters. Homosexuals prefer homosexuals for long-term attachments, because in today’s society chances are that someone attracted to both sexes would leave behind a partner of the same sex for a partner of the opposite sex (due to the rewards – marriage, recognition, privileges, progeny, social mobility).

A man can be in college and want to fuck the Hollywood actress of the moment. That doesn’t translate to opportunity most of the time, unless you skew the odds in your favour through dubious or unacceptable means. Women in India can be (and are) attracted to their cricketeers and film stars (and politicians), and almost all of that does not translate to opportunity. Attraction and opportunity are not the same.

The double opportunity theory is wrong (though it would be nice if it wasn’t).

~~~

On Thanksgiving Day, I embarked on a road trip to Santa Barbara along the Pacific Coast Highway (California Highway 1). I had spent hours on TripAdvisor worrying over the drive itself (fast and careless drivers? mud-slides? rock-slides?). After spending the eve of the trip in indecisive agony, I woke up on Thanksgiving morning, and set out pale and worried. I had a travelling companion, though I still had to drive the route myself since only one of us had the license.

I needn’t have worried. Once we left Los Gatos, and started our way towards Santa Cruz and Capitola, it was glorious. There were meadows on either side, hillocks brown and green, the mild morning sun, and unusually low traffic. Soon, we were zipping past Monterey and the yatches parked neat in the Del Monte Harbour, following the Pacific blue beckoning us forth.

We reached our first stop, the quaint and wonderful Carmel-by-the-sea, right in time for brunch. Parallel parking on Ocean lane (aptly named, for it goes down to the waters from the hilltop) was a time-consuming operation. I should practise this arcane art more in San Francisco. Very few shops were open, since it was Thanksgiving Day. We hunted around and found a mediocre eatery that served omlettes. We were none too impressed, but we were glad to have found something open, gratefully ate our meals, and lingered awhile in Carmel.

From Carmel, we made our way to Big Sur. Highway 1 now hugged the coast. It wound its way across the land, between cliff and ocean, snaking across the Bixby Bridge, overwhelming us with the blazing blue of the waters beside. Up and up we went, until we reached Nepenthe. We lingered at Nepenthe, enjoying the lovely views from their decks. I enjoyed a very good latte at the cafe there. It was decaf, since I don’t mix driving and coffee. The views were beautiful, and in the foreground there was a little girl with butterfly wings prancing around.

From Nepenthe, it was a beautiful drive, down Big Sur, by the cliffs of the Los Padres National Forest. It was a slow drive too. On the left was the mountain, and on the right the ocean and the sun. My eyes watered because of how bright the waters and the sun were. There was no respite until much later in the drive. It was beautiful, but painful. We went past the Lighthouse, on its own rock, looking across the Pacific. I was relieved to be back on more straight roads.

And then there were seals! Elephant seals were sunning themselves, frolicking, and lazing around by the beaches of San Simeon. We walked along a trail that took us closer to the coves where the seals were holding court. They are big! And make snore-snore noises.

We had not been back on the road long before my alert companion asked me to pull over. By the beaches of San Luis Obispo, we saw the sunset – a perfect sunset over the Pacific. The sickle moon was already high up in the sky, waiting for the sun to leave.

We went on, and finally reached Morro Bay. Morro Rock stood there, shrouded by twilight and mist. I wondered about the volcano that it ‘plugged’ and wondered if it was difficult to sail into the harbour on foggy days.

We tried to stop at Avila Beach, but the restaurant we wished to eat at was closed for Thanksgiving. So on we went, until Santa Maria. We grabbed a bite at a Mexican supermarket there. I charged myself with vitamin water. Then onwards we drove to Santa Barbara. We reached there at around eight in the night. My companion went to great lengths to get us food, since everything seemed to be closed for Thanksgiving. We ended up with yummy takeaway from a Chinese place.

We did the touristy things. We went to the beach, the wharf, ate taffy, watched a sunset and visited the Mission. KNN recommended a great vegetarian place that had delicious lasagna. We went to a Thai place that served Sake. We went to this Pizza place on State Street that served gluten-free and other trend-of-the-day pizzas.

The Mission brought back memories of my Catholic school-days, treasured deeply.

We returned today, by the less picturesque but still remarkable 101 (acres and acres of vineyards), until Salinas. At Salinas, we ate at this Italian place which served a great cheese plate. I tried an eggnog latte at the local coffee-shop (Friends don’t let friends drink Starbucks, they said), and was disappointed by the taste. It was too sweet.

After that, we took the California 1 back, through fog and rain. It was a beautiful drive, made less so by the two accidents that we chanced upon near Santa Cruz. We reached home after a detour through Campbell.

700 miles in all, and I still haven’t found my muse. I didn’t find it in the blue of the Pacific, the verdant green of the forests, the country-side cloaked in fog, or in the old bells of the Mission. I feel stifled. I feel as if I don’t still have a good place to write.

~~~

The cardinal and I are two minions with free time on our hands even in the midst of the reckless rush towards the January deadline.

Today, he had the bright idea of telling me what he knew about Japanese culture. It was all illuminating, until he had the bright idea of introducing me to Niconico, the Youtube of Japan (in his words). Gamely, I opened a tab on my desktop, and reached here: http://www.nicovideo.jp. He suggested that we go to the Science and Tech section. We expected to see mag-levs and robots. We saw soft porn instead. Quickly, we closed the tab, incredulously discussed how this conflation could have happened, and went back to our daily grind with ROS.

That should have been the end of it. It wasn’t. Our much-beleaguered and dearly beloved sys-admin came by, frowning, having heard from the people who look at logs, and asked us what we had been up to. It went downhill from there.

I think we’ll keep our jobs. Hopefully.

~~~

I work for a car-manufacturer. I own a car that is not made by the manufacturer. I park discreetly at the far corner of the parking lot when senior management visits.

~~~

Saw the KNN trio. Little N is an absolute ball of cuteness. Big N is half of Big N 2013. Strange, slimming and wonderful are the joys of parenthood. K is as gorgeous and gracious as I remembered her from times past.

KNN is one of my favourite Machine Learning algorithms.

~~~

It has been rainy this week. This reminds me of a particular monsoon when I had watched episodes of Xena. I loved the woman.

“You unchained my heart,” she tells Hercules.

“You unchained mine!” I tell the TV.

~~~

I have done so many things in the time-span between last November and today.

Snow! I was blue, and shivering, and rambunctiously indulging the creation and launch of snowballs, giggling in glee. I walked across the bridge over the pond at Atlantic Station, towards the cafe, awed by the snow – the snow falling, the snow on the ground, the snow on my fingers, the snow on my black coat, the snow on the tree branches. I spent considerable amount of time gazing through the tall windows of the apartment at the snow carpeting the ground and lining the roofs. Georgia Tech had days off, which was an added bonus, given how rare it is for them to give days off.

Ice-skating! Given how little I ventured out from my daily path, the rink set up in Atlantic Station over the December holidays provided a lovely interlude. I wish that I had been less hampered by my fracture. I would have indulged more.

Graduation! I graduated (finally) in December. My old lab-mates would raise an eyebrow (or two) at the finally, but I was so very relieved to leave. The games to gain funding and the publish-or-perish mentality had not suited me. I found it difficult to believe that these were the most worthwhile things I could do. I am very glad to have left.

The Odyssey of a job search. It had been hell. I am grateful to those who helped me retain a semblance of sanity and perseverance during those dark days. As a side-note, this is a very good reason to not choose the degree I chose, unless you have a plan B.

Financial crisis. It was terrible. I am grateful to those who made sure I wasn’t homeless and starving. Also, I should remember the bankers who were understanding enough to waive fees and reschedule payment dates.

A job that I didn’t like very much. My tolerance for things I don’t like is very low. I had feared I’d not be able to perform at such a job. I learnt otherwise. I learnt a great many things. They were a startup full of creative and enthusiastic people and I learned that I liked things slower. They gave me a lot of free rein. I got to pick my interns, bring them aboard, work with them, learn from them and mentor them. Two of them decided to pursue a machine-learning grad-school program. At the end of their internship, I was so happy to write letters of recommendation for them. Brilliant kids.

A job that I like tremendously, but stress over fearing that I am not doing anything much that is valuable. I haven’t learned to handle this yet.

A professor, who taught me the magic of Kalman, died in May. I admired him greatly.

My brother is in his last year of undergraduate college.

Loans! I stress so over them. My father tells me they are a part of the salaried man’s life. My mother tells me not to stress and that it will be sorted out eventually. I am very worried.

Mises! The days of the job search were terrible. My life had little in it. Human Action is the only fond memory from those days. I used to sit on the boulder by the pond, wrapped in a shawl, Human Action on my lap, and a cup of coffee warm held in my hands. Spring blossoms were strewn across those pages, I remember, and I had to carefully remove them before turning a page.

A car accident. This was on Alma, and I rue the hour when I decided to take the Alma. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. I learned a new word – totalled.

I have lost all my wisdom teeth. I feel less wise, though no more young.

Back to LJ after a long hiatus! I am so, so very happy to be back amongst people who were instrumental in motivating me to write.

A car! She is the curviest, prettiest car I have seen. She has taken me faithfully up and down the 101 for three or more months. She has given me confidence in my driving skills. I had been unwilling to drive at night before, since my eyes water when the glare from the lights of other vehicles is intense. I am not sure that I am a better driver now, but I am a less stressed one. I think driving up and down the streets of San Francisco has contributed. I drove across the Golden Gate through the fog! It was a magical experience.

I went for my first late-night show alone. It was at the Symphony when the LSO had come over, and I was stuck in traffic at some unholy hour of the night in San Francisco. I felt very adult after that.

A new David Bowie album! Isn’t he the best?

I took my first selfie today.

I had my first smoothie last week.

I see you see me. When I think upon the past, I realize I have changed quite a lot, and that there are few aspects that I miss from the ‘I’ then.

I should get back to my Nano. The straight, straightforward story seems to have been hijacked by Pelops. This requires attention.

If asked what my greatest accomplishment was, I would say that it was learning Malayalam.

My parents were educated in English-medium schools, had little to no exposure to the written word in Malayalam. My mother’s spoken Malayalam was melodious. She has lost none of the Thrissur accent of her forefathers. It was also completely at odds with what the written word was about.

I ended up in a school-system that required us to learn Malayalam a lot (the epics, the poetry, the grammar – the works). I was singularly unfortunate. Being Catholic required you to do school catechism classes that were taught in Malayalam. I scraped through to high-school, and found out to my dismay that I had to do well in three papers – Malayalam I (the literature), Malayalam II (the essays, the critiques) and Catechism. I rued my lot. Most everyone in my batch spent time learning Mathematics and Science. I spent my time learning Malayalam.

I despised the language. I had no reason to like it, after all. My English was fluent. It was, I knew, the only language that I required. Each time I was bullied by teachers or fellow-students regarding my incompetency in Malayalam, I revelled in fantasies of getting away from it one day, and finally taking heart in the fact that my competency in English would grant me the last victory. Getting away required doing well in the subject though. I needed to know how to write in that blasted language, I realised, if only to have sufficient marks to get through the boards and have a chance at the better higher-secondary schools. So I set to it with grimness. I read the epics, I read the newspaper editorials of Mathrubhumi and I read Aashan-Ulloor-Vallathol with solemnity suitable to one approaching the gallows. I saw no beauty in any of it. I was determined to do well. Thinking back, I was more disciplined as a teenager than I am now. When I set my mind to something then, I usually managed to get it done through sheer perseverance. I made progress, slowly, and my skills at writing in Malayalam improved enough to give me hope that I might not face utter rout in the board-exams. It was nowhere near what I wanted, though.

The hyacinth spoke Malayalam well. Her accent was coarse and nothing close to the melody of my mother’s Thrissur accent, but her skills at writing in Malayalam outstripped that of most everyone I knew then. As our involvement increased, I began to find another reason to learn the blasted language. The first letter I received was in Malayalam. The next one was in Malayalam too. And the one after that. I couldn’t bear to be outdone by her. So I set myself the task of crafting replies more beautiful. I cheated, most of the time. I wrote in English and translated that into Malayalam painstakingly. The end was stilted prose that the Victorians would have balked at.

Time went by. The boards were a few weeks away. I had resigned all hopes of doing any better in the Malayalam papers. Grimly, I played catch-up with the other subjects, cursing Ezhuthachan all the while. I had spent most of my school-life trying to learn that language. Now school-life was drawing to a close, and I had drawn no nearer to Malayalam’s secrets.

Then the hyacinth read out Verukal to me. I was transported, through the writer’s verses, to look at a land old and beautiful, through the lens of a language that was as exact as Sanskrit and as expressive as Tamil.

I did horribly well in my Malayalam board exams, buoyed by the transcendental experience of having Malayalam fed to me in a story of decay related by a voice well-loved. I have written more in Malayalam voluntarily after that, though I haven’t had any good reason to. I remember a lot (vahnisanthapthalohastaambubindunabanguram, marthyajanman kshanaprabhaachanchalam). I have a rather good-looking hand-writing when it comes to writing in the script. I remember waking up from dreams, months after the board-exams were over, trying reassure myself that it was all over and that I would not have to put up with the perpetual worry that scoring poorly in the language would hold me back from going to a better place.

That was all long ago. Learning Malayalam did not grant me much in life. Knowing English has been highly useful.

I don’t plan to have do anything with Kunchan Nambiar’s convoluted poetry in the future. I wonder if I will forget it though.

I was driving back from work today. My usual channel on the FM is KDFC. Today, the channel was playing Gershwin’s piano concerto that I dislike a lot. I felt compelled to fiddle with the radio channels. I ended up on a channel that was playing Aerosmith’s Ragdoll.

I had loved the song back in school. It was an unexpected traipse back in time. The women had been lovely, luscious, and sensual. Yum!

At the next stop signal, I quickly brought up the other tramp song (the best of them all) – Bowie’s Rebel Rebel. In that one, Bowie is lovely, luscious, and sensual. He still remains all of that, inexplicably. Yum! He wears heels better than any woman ever has.

Pansexuality makes me think of goats. I don’t like goats. That might have been easier.

As it goes, the truth is different, and hot tramps weren’t what I fell in love with, and I am a bird on a wire.

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