Thursday, July 10, 2008

Confessions of a Comic Book Nerd-I

Posting after a very long time, I can't make the excuse that I was out of the country and busy, that I was stressed with college admissions, or that I had no access to the Internet, because all those are patently excuses, and what it really was, was the cussed laziness that has plagued me all my life. So without apologizing, I will start with the blog post that I've been meaning to write for the last three years that I've had a blog. In fact, my very third post of all was about this. Though the aforementioned laziness had prevented me from carrying it further as I'd hoped.

So here's one of the things I've been obsessed about for so long: Graphic Novels. Call them comic books as if that's an insult, call them juvenile, call them lowbrow; but you're wrong. Because graphic novels feature some of the best writers, the most different and most freethinking ideas, storylines and artwork in contemporary fiction.(And nonfiction). And to people who love both art and literature, graphic novels are a brilliant amalgam of the two, the writing bolstered through the fantastic artwork, and the art speaking through the wonderfully written stories.

Now, I know what most people have issues with is the 'Superhero' genre-but hey, that's where comic books evolved from, and it was a novel idea in its time, and deserves some respect. I personally don't see anything wrong with a bit of fantasizing and hero-worship, in fact I'm guilty of both, having been in love with Superman for a long time. The fact is, comic book writers possess some of the most off-beat, unusual and mesmerizing imaginations, and the expression that the free flowing medium of a graphic novel gives them often results in literally mind blowing creations. All hail the comic-book nerds!
Which is why I am going to fulfill a long running wish of mine, and write a whole miniseries (in the best graphic novel tradition :) ) on graphic novels and comic books I have loved. And as a parting shot-when novels first came out, it was considered common and lowbrow to read them. Sounds familiar?

Of course, I would ideally start with Superman, being the typical obsessed fan, but I think the books that got me started should glean a bit of precedence. So here comes: Tintin!

Look at snowy's face-he's always facing tintin!

I was nine or so when I discovered my uncle's collection of the tintin books. He had them ALL. And he could see, even at that young age, that I would never amount to anything more than a boring and compulsive reader, so he promptly gave them to me. And I fell in love with Tintin, his tuft of hair, his faithful Snowy, Captain Haddock the irascible seaman (who can forget
billions of blue blistering barnacles?), the beautifully hard-of-hearing Professor Calculus , the bumbling spoonerism-prone detectives with a 'p' and without, diabolical Rastapopoulos, Mitsuhirato and Muller..I could go on and on. Tintin is a beautifully drawn and written character…parallel to the superheroes that came later-except for his unassuming nature that isn't remotely dark or morbid-in fact, he's an everyman who is also a hero. Add to that selfless (think Tintin in Tibet, one of the best graphic novels ever), fearless (think The Black Island and him going there alone- in fact he's always fearless), and intelligent. Batman without the angst.
And as for Herge-what spare drawings, what detail, what topics. He was years ahead of anyone else. Syldavia and Borduria? The Picaros? The moon landing? Jules Verne would have been proud of the last.
Oh and if you want to say anything like "it was a racist series", don't do it on my blog, please. I've heard it before; detractors flock to try and topple the great, and so do pseudo-intellectuals. But this series is very close to my heart, and Herge, dear old man, didn't mean any harm when he used popular perceptions of that age (just like Christie didn't). So, rather, go read Tintin in Tibet and The Blue Lotus and scrutinize them for any racism.
You won't find any.
And ten points if you get this: what was the name of the ship on which Tintin first met captain Haddock? No, don't Google it :)
(I also recommend Herge's Jo, Zette and Jocko. Very entertaining, though nowhere near as brilliant as Tintin. The eastern Raja in Valley of the Cobras is hilarious, though.)

From Tintin, I moved to Asterix.
Oh, I just love these guys.

The uncle again had a plentiful supply (they're mine now as well), and I had a voracious appetite for reading. I identify with Obelix in this regard(the great hole in his stomach that no amount of food ever fills). Asterix is the perfect wisecracking, brave and self-deprecating hero; and Dogmatix is simply a dear. In fact, the names in themselves make up most of the pleasure of this delightful series…and the satire and subtle lampooning in the adventures sneaks up on you-the endnotes, particularly, have a habit of punching you in the solar plexus and doubling you up with laughter, hours after you read them. Asterix the Gaul is my personal favourite. And Goscinny and Uderzo are the kind of comic book authors I talked about before- imaginative, subversive, brilliant.

I think I'll read both these series over again for the zillionth time…isn't life wonderful that I can?
And then i'll write the next installment.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

It's All About Planning Ahead

I'm sneaking out some time between the rocking back and forth and memorising and the anxiety driven eating binges to bring you this post on the Board Exams. Straight from the horse's mouth, as it were. While the horse (metaphor for the Boards) is slowly chewing me up like unpalatable dried up oats.
So between mouthfuls, I am going to dish out some Board advice.
There are really only two ways to ace the Boards for sure. You can go for either Plan A or Plan B.

PLAN A. The Cut Me And I’ll Bleed Plan

Before the Boards:
As soon as possible: Practice writing in beautiful cursive, with (i) flourishes (ii) curly underlines and (iii) bold, italic, underline, shadow and other effects in Microsoft Word. Time yourself to do it very fast. Everyone knows the prettiness of the paper is the most important thing.

A year ago: Start calling up the Board hotlines. And the newspaper and radio people. Also Star Ananda, who will broadcast anything. Tell them and anyone else who will listen that Board stress is killing you. Be very graphic. Get a blog, and write lots of ddmp, or deep dark morbid poetry, sending everyone the link. (If you can’t get morbid enough, get it off the Sunday Statesman). Make sure you’re well known as the nutcase who’ll jump off a building if the exams go badly.

A month ago: Study only seemingly irrelevant things like chapter headings and the exact phrasing of formulae and theorems. Practice writing only and precisely 60 word and 100 word answers; don’t bother about content. The Board allots the most marks for things like that.

During the Exam:
Wherever you find a suitable question, insert a line about how exam stress is killing today’s children, and how a recent study has proved that they’re losing hair at an alarming rate. Then tear out a clump of yours and strew it about on the page. Fold it in carefully.

Don’t forget to get your name in somewhere. It’s illegal, but by that time every examiner will know your name, if you’ve gone public properly, and no one will want to risk the aforementioned jumping-off-a-building stunt. (Look at how the gaaonwalo meekly relented to Dharmendra in Sholay.)

Try not to think of the shambles you’ve made of your life in the past year. Oh, and buy huge dark shades and a cap with a low brim for when you go out.

OR, you could try plan B.

PLAN B: The KickAss–est Plan Ever

As soon as possible: Go to the gym. Learn karate or tae-kwon-do, if you’re frail. Or learn to handle a knife like the Italians. Watch mafia and kidnapping movies and learn up the threats. You’ll need these skills more than brains or (yawn) perseverance.

A year ago: Start research about the Board paper distributing system. Find out the pattern of the fictitious roll numbers, and where your set will go. If possible, infiltrate a family member, not too close to be traced back to you, into the CBSE hierarchy.

A month ago: Pester your teacher until she tells you your exam center. Threaten her if necessary. Every night, bribe the guards and sneak in there. Calculate your seat very precisely (or some more bribing, later, might work to get the seat you want). Buy one of those newfangled Ultraviolet pens from Fancy Market or wherever, and write down all the formulae and facts and dates and other slippery things on the desk. It’ll be quite invisible.

Two weeks ago: Grab hold of the nearest engineering student, and make them give up all their cheat codes and tricks. (I’m telling you, these guys are the goods.) Also threaten the best student in class until she agrees to be your cheat partner.

Use the UV light provided on the back of the pen to look up anything you’re stuck on from your desk. Be generous-share with the person sitting beside you. (Or she might sneak to the invigilator.)
Keep your little knife handy. Whatever she might have promised, the class topper might not want to help at the last minute.
Fill your paper with religious symbols. It can’t hurt, and a superstitious examiner might totally fall for it. Alternatively, draw omens next to each page mark.

This is the most important part-since you’ve found out where your paper’s going, and have hopefully got an inside contact, and can handle knives like Ramon Zarate and threaten like Batman, I don’t think I need to tell you what to do. Anyway, it would probably make me an accessory after the fact. Whatever that's supposed to mean.

(Oh, and there is another way, which is to study hard throughout the year, but success is as yet unproven, usually very rare, and it’s all very unpredictable. I don’t really know how it’s done so I shouldn't comment, but even if I did, I wouldn’t recommend it at all.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I need a Larissos.

Anyone who has an old house (and loves every inch of it) will know, dust and mess do not a home make. Which is why the dear old things have to be cleaned out from roof to ground floor every once in a while. (In our case, once every 50 years). And who is it that performs this expurgation? The daughters of the house, that’s who. In this case, one daughter, the others being responsible and working (yeah, right).

It’s lucky that I like cleaning. Especially when it’s deciding which books to keep and which to donate when the piles start reaching the ceiling. (I can spend hours in our attic-thakurghor, covered in ages-old dust, rooting for that one book I know I’d seen here a year ago.) But also cleaning in general. I love wiping a dirty glass pane with Colin and seeing it sparkle-it’s like modern alchemy. I feel so powerful. And I have also been known to stun my friends by saying, “Hey, want to come over? We’ll clean the old bookcases together!”

But this house is beyond me. I’ll tell you why. Picture an old, old townhouse in Bhowanipur, with paint that peels off no matter how many times you paint over- like an old woman who can’t be bothered to pull up her sari’s pallu when it keeps falling off. Inside, there are four floors and one attic with every inch of space crammed with old and new furniture-juxtaposed together terribly, hundreds of occasional and end tables we occasionally fall over, moth eaten carpets, rugs, cushions, madurs, once-ornamental vases and curios that have long given up trying to look young and pretty, hundreds of clocks that never go, one grandmother clock that ding-dongs whenever it feels like it, and one grandmother, bless her heart, who never throws anything away.

And books. Did I mention books? It’s accepted that old houses have old books, collected over the years. Our books, on the other hand, seem to have been collected since Gutenberg packed a printing press into his vacation gear. Every floor has them teeteringly balanced, on chairs, on the aforementioned occasional and end tables, on the TV, the DVD player, the computers, the almirahs, the beds of course, and on the seat of our exercise bike.(Which no one can use anymore because where do the books go?; so we’re all getting fatter and fatter.) We have Readers’ Digest Condensed books, four fat ones each year, from the 1950s. We have all the mandatory moth-attracting Encyclopaedias, the Historian’s History of the World, the Everyman’s Library, and so many political and spiritual books that Attila The Hun would be reformed if he read them all, leave alone Munnabhai. (Not that you would know it to look at them, they’re all coated with dust and look like rows of black ledgers.) Add to this my personal mountain of books, accumulated over the years, a lifetime’s worth of begging, whining, and coaxing.
And all this, who has to make into a magazine centerfold before New Years’, when the cousin’s Big Fat Bengali Wedding (Ashirbad, really) will happen? I do. And by magazine I mean ‘Good Housekeeping’, not ‘Ancient Ruins of India’.
And I swear, if I do it, on my matrimonial ad goes “Can do anything, including clean the Aegean Stables.”
Sucks to you, Hercules.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

I'm not bored, but Priyanka tagged me, and I'm more conscientous about tags than I am about my very-near exams, so I think I'll do this tag. I like tags.

Rules:1. Put your MP3 player on shuffle
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. You must write the name of the song no matter what. No cheating!

Satisfaction - The Rolling Stones ( "I can't get no satisfaction"-so no, it's not okay.)

Wooden Heart- Elvis Presley (Great.As if I wasn't single enough already.)

Take My Breath Away- Berlin (What? Just guy, please. ew.)

High-James Blunt (You're right Priyanka, this IS intuitive, HOW did my iPod know??)

18 till i die – Bryan Adams (HAHA. I'll have to die before 11th August next year, then.)

sajnaa aa bhi jaa-some metallic-voiced woman. (Oh My God. I didn't even know i had this on the iPod.But HOW apt. i'm getting creeped out now.)

Salvation - Cranberries (More like damnation.)

Sunshine–John Denver (Haha. They'll be pleased. Nice dutiful iPod their daughter's got.)

Manic Monday-Bangles (Yep, especially every Sunday.)

WHAT IS 2+2?
Heaven Is A Place On Earth – Belinda Carslile (2+2 makes heaven a place on earth. If only it weren't Unplottable.)

Witchy Woman– Eagles (I'm sure some unnamed people would agree.)

All You Need Is Love-Beatles (And not from just anyone, okay?)

Walk Of Life -Dire Straits (I always did like Johnny.)

Another Brick In The Wall-Pink Floyd (*thunderstruck*)

Your Heart Is An Empty Room–Death Cab or Cutie (And I'm looking for a place to rent.)

Run Like Hell-Pink Floyd (What?? Is this an otherworld warning? What did I DO?)

Woh Shaam Kuch Ajeeb Thi– Lata (Yeh shaam bhi ajeeb hai? *apprehensive look*)

In The Shadows– The Rasmus ("i'll be waiting/I'll be watching" ?This is getting seriously scary.)

Knocking on Heaven's Door-Bob Dylan (And do they open for me? Not a chance in hell, they don't.)

Fidelity–Regina Spektor (No, really. I don't even have anyone to betray.)

Come Undone - Duran Duran (Haha. And so they do. Like a muffler I once knitted.)

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun- Cyndi Lauper.(Good that it's not Untitled by Simple Plan)

So there. My iPod seems to have more AI than Apple fitted it out with, which is slightly unnerving. I tag anyone who reads this and thinks my iPod isn't prescient and I cheated.
And I have a messy post coming up, so stay tuned. Tuned? haha. haha. (I like bad jokes, okay?) Goodnight.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Callisto Debacle

First of all, I was on a forced hiatus for two months because of this post and my recalcitrant scanner. But i think you'll agree it needed the pictures.
Speaking of the artwork, it's by my fabulous friend Inam, (I.M. in the comic), who draws divinely, and has a flair for pinning down expressions. In a crazy moment of masochism, we made her draw it up for the school magazine. Luckily no one really believed it. Any scanning defects are mine...the original drawings are much better. (What do you think?)
Out of the 'Powerbluff Girls' (give us a break, we were young) mentioned, AC is me (Anasua Chatterjee), SC is Sreerupa my partner-in-crimes-in-which-we-get-caught and I don't think I should tell you about anyone else.

So here it is. The one incident I should never have mentioned to anyone, ever, is now coming out.
I blame my younger years for this. Ever since I was in fifth grade, I think, I've been sent off to fests and competitions all over the place. Fests no one went to, fests everyone went to, fests no one in their right mind would send me of all people to. I won some, lost most, but what i really lost was the ability to say no. I also lost any prudence i might have once had.

So, when the school rep bulldozed me and my friends (each one as suprememly crazy as I was) into-hold your breath-SINGING on stage for the Callisto Western Music event, we didn't think much of it. After all, we'd had a band in middle school, and even sang for Teacher's Day once.Of course, we conveniently forgot the carefully blank faces and strained smiles the teachers had had as we'd serenaded them.
We sang a few lines or so for practice over the next five days. (Whyever did stars need practice, anyway.) Most of the time we talked over how cool we'd look on stage, and what we'd wear for the cover picture of our first album. And we quite forgot that we didn't have a single instrument. None of us played ANYthing except D, who played the synthesiser.Intermittently.

This could be a public-interest ad about the evils of overconfidenceYou get the picture.As D-Daycame closer (D stands for disaster here), we panicked a bit. D (here, the keyboard-playing friend, not disaster) had no time to learn to play the tunes-so we figured out a brilliant solution.She didn't need to play any tune, she could just turn the knob to 'bass drum' and bang on it in time! We'd get along just fine.SO that was settled.Next were the songs. We chose them two days or so before the fest. They were..
1.Winds of change by the Scorpions. No, we weren't crazy, we actually thought we could pull it off on stage.The song that nobody should try to sing except in a bathroom, we, ninth graders, decided to perform, whistling and all.
2.At the beginning, OST Anastasia(the animated movie). It was a nice song, and we were kids, and we thought it would be cute. Yeah, except it wasn't.
3.If You Wanna Be My Lover by the Spice Girls. Concession to age-and besides, we wanted to dance on stage. At first no one realised it was us, so they cheered the school like crazy. And slunk away later after the debacle.
I think the point at which we realised the massacre that was going to happen was when we heard a girl from another school, pratt memorial i think, sing 'la bamba' in this fabulous, throaty, christina aguilera voice. And then we were on stage.
You bet something's wrong. This was AN's solo, the song from Pocahontas.
There were masses of ready-to-heckle teenagers everywhere. We took the mikes off the stands and moved forward. And then we sang. it took them a full five minutes before they realised it wasn't comic relief, these girls were actually participating. but before they could get to throwing anything, something else happened.

The music-if you call banging on a synthesizer music-stopped as if someone had mercifully yanked the cord out. As it happens, it had fallen out. We gamely started again.
Now the audience rebelled.
They screamed at the massacre we made of 'Winds of Change'. They groaned through 'At the Beginning'. And when we got to 'If You Wanna Be My Lover' they shrieked 'NO!' every time. They stood on chairs and roared fiercely in tandem. They tried to storm the stage. But you can't see anything from the stage because of the spotlights on you, so we sang and danced happily on, in oblivion.
My contacts always itch when i'm nervous, and the others had left their glasses backstage.
Sreerupa tripping over her laces, cannoning into me.

When the song ended, we did our 'signature' finger-waggling-at-the-audience move and jumped off the stage.
And then offstage, when we realised the enormity of the disaster, I don't think we've ever been more crushed in all our years of onstage humiliation.
The rep let us down, too. And she'd pushed us into this in the first place.A joke, indeed! Of course, it was one...

Running for our lives.
We had envisaged being snuck out the back door because of people wanting to get to us; but to get autographs, not to cause us bodily harm. Lugging the huge synthesizer between us, we ran for cover. And swore we'd never do that again.
Now if this were a college essay, i'd conclude by saying that from this episode, i learnt a hard lesson, namely stick within your limits; and learnt it well. But this is not a college essay, and so I feel free to disclose that we were on stage only months later. Doing what? Yes, singing. 'Phir Dhoom' this time, but with the same reactions from the audience.
But then that's another story.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Birthday Blues

I'm writing this with about an hour to go before my eighteenth birthday. I will not even start on how much that's freaking me out, what with reaching the end of childhood without having changed the world an iota, being a useless lump upon the careworn soulders of the proletariat and a chronic time waster and what not. What I will do, is whine about other things.
I was just looking over my first post, almost exactly two years ago, where I started out by saying,"I’m a sixteen year old girl from Kolkata" (which was totally untrue, because i wouldn't have been sixteen till another month, and that was NOT a good start-but then this blog is now loads of fun for me, so i guess 'making a good start' is just rubbish), and went on about Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince, which had just released-I remember liking Snape even then. So one of the things that haven't changed is that I still love Harry's world, and have never felt the need to turn up my nose at it.

Detour- I should go full circle by talking about Deathly Hallows a bit, as this blog started out with Half Blood Prince. I think it was wonderful; any issues i might have had I forgave her because of Snape, and except the epilogue I think it was a great end to the series. I have a soft spot for Harry puttar, having grown up with him, almost to the day.I got the first harry potter as my eleventh birthday gift, when we were both eleven. And I'm just glad I got to see and love something people worldwide went crazy about, like the earlier generation had Star Wars and Floyd.

So then. Back to what has changed.
1.I think I'm older. Yes, I know I'm technically older, and no thanks for reminding me, but I also think that I've grown a bit more tactful and a tiny bit less juvenile. Of course that might be because my "Be nice to me, I'm this little kid with great big sappy eyes" act probably won't work anymore. I mean, who falls for that in an 18 year old.

2.I'm definitely prettier. I don't know how, but it happened, and you won't hear any complaints from me. (And to think I never really believed in the Ugly Duckling Story. I mean, swan babies -cygnets?-can't be ugly, surely?)

3. I'm more social. I can even do small talk. It's hard, but I manage. Maybe being transferred to a new section away from the friends I'd had forever did it, but I can carry on a conversation with a strange person for much longer than two seconds now. (On good days I might even manage a minute.) And I am NOT letting go of my friends EVER, not even if I'm in Potoldanga and they're in Botswana, because I've missed them like anything ever since I we were rudely separated by fate, masquerading as Ma'am Narula.(Don't give me hell about this guys, I'm not responsible for what I admit under the influence of birthday blues.)

4.I still eat like the Empress of Blandings. Nothing's changed there.And I still pay for my own food.Which brings me to the next thing:

5. I'm still single. And I'm eighteen, and while pure as the driven snow was nice till now, it's not going to be that way when I'm twenty; and i highly doubt i'll have found anyone by then. there is NO one even on the horizon.I am doomed to spinsterhood.

6.I've found out what i want to do. Being a physicist might not be that easy, but it's the only thing that gets me excited, and as any kind of excitement is sorely absent from my life, I will go for it. And if I get the Nobel, your comments to this might well have helped me, so be nice.

7. I've managed to stay away from both conformity and also nonconformity just for the sake of it.I mean, I like Death Cab and Tracy Chapman, but I also like Harry Potter, Enid Blyton, and a lot of catchy film songs. As Anne says, if you have a nice nose (and i do, especially as it's quite pimple-free at the moment), it's a shame to turn it up and spoil it.

So I see it's turning 12:00 on me as I was rambling on about noses for an hour, so i think i'm 18 in..let's see...five minutes more? I think I'll wish myself a Happy Birthday and hope I get through tomorrow all right.
there are 5 seconds's done. i'm 18.
I'm going to bed. good night.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Millisecond Math

[This was written for flamebird' online magazine, and is reproduced here because priyanka said she needed another post(which makes me feel wanted, a bit), and i already had this written. Exams sneaked up on me again, and I will probably be failing this time, so please, no best of lucks.]

The one subject most people have real trouble with in school is math. Whether it's the way it's taught, with no emphasis on understanding and application, or whether it's the confidence-demolishing teachers and exams, a lot of people I know are afraid of the subject to the extent that they let it affect their choice of later studies. But the fact remains that math is just another language with its own grammar and a surfeit of logic; and as Feynman said, it's the language in which nature speaks.
It's also the one language which the human mind is programmed to understand from birth. Every sense organ of our bodies is a delicately tuned receiver of mathematical data for the brain; which in turn does an unbelievable amount of math to present us with, say, the correct picture of Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Le Grande Jatte with its innumerable dots, or to show us this printed page.
And everyone's brain does it, not just Einstein's or that belonging to the smartest kid in the class.
So then. Here’s a wow problem I came across in Halliday Resnick the other day. Very interesting.
What happens when you hear something? The sound goes in your ears; the brain interprets it, blah blah, yes. But how does your brain know which direction it’s coming from?
One clue it uses is the time delay, which we’ll call Δt, between the arrival of the sound at the ear closer to the source, and the arrival at the farther ear.
Here, when the wavefront (the wave) reaches your right ear(very originally named R here) it still has the distance d to travel before it reaches your left ear (yes, that is the one named L).

Some basic high school trig tells us that this distance is Dsinθ, where D is the separation between your ears (directly proportional to your fatheadedness). Using the basic equation, time=distance/speed, we get:
Δt= d/v = Dsinθ/v (where v is the speed of sound, in air)
And then, the brain does some millisecond algebra and comes out with
θ=sin-1 (vΔt/D). And, based on the measured value of Δt, a lifetime of experience which gives v, and the obvious knowledge of D, the brain computes the angle θ and tells you instantly which corner of the room your friend’s screeching at you from. And all this in a few milliseconds, to enable you to duck the textbook she throws at you.
(There’s some interesting extra info in Halliday about what happens in water, where the brain’s confused about v, but you can look that up yourself.)

The same thing happens when you see something, walk, talk, or do anything at all. The brain’s very good at math. And so are you. After all, it’s your brain. And if you’re having any problems, it’s either the way you were taught, or the fact that unlike the brain, you don’t practice enough. Whichever it is, there is no such thing as a ‘mathematical brain’ unless that refers to every brain in the world. Each of us is good at math, and we can all understand the language in which nature speaks. Marks are only about what formulae you can memorize and remember on exam day. The real test is when you hear a car radio two cars away in the traffic jam and can instantly tell where it’s coming from, and that it’s unmistakably Elvis singing. The rest is just putting down on paper what you can already do in your head.