End of Summer, Beginning of Memories

Today is Labor Day, a US federal holiday with a significance similar to May Day in India. But for many of us here including me it is the symbolic end of the summer season.The past 3 months have been amazing with beautiful, long, sunny days translating to a steady pace of research work, many weekends of hiking & traveling and also a good amount of lazing around. All of this was topped by a long-due holiday back home to India in August. Now, September is here and summer is gone. The wooly sweaters will soon be out and the Fall colors will come out blazing.

Summer in Cape Cod, MA
As I reflect on the time gone past during this transition period, I realize how many memories I have made this summer which will hopefully keep me going till the next one arrives. Speaking of memories, it is very easy to undermine their importance. I, for one look at it as a source of inspiration, something I can learn from and also something which keeps me grounded to my roots by reminding me of my starting point. It is also a kind of comfort zone where my restless mind can take a holiday of it’s own whenever it wants to. All I need to do is close my eyes and drift away into it.  While dreaming and being caged in memories is definitely not the solution to the problems of the present and might even be detrimental to moving on to better things in the future; they can serve as a constant reminder to the simple pleasures of life which are otherwise conveniently lost in the complicated, busy lives we lead. Good times with family and friends make you realize that at any point of time in your life even when everything falls apart you will still have these people by your side. In this context, the phrase ‘Carpe Diem’ can also be considered apt. It is imperative that we seize the day, live every moment to the fullest because no one knows what lies ahead tomorrow or when that tomorrow will come. I am fully aware that the lines above may seem like another cliched paraphrase of life’s lessons dished out all over again. But somehow these things I had only read about or being told by others all my life suddenly makes so much more sense now when I am experiencing it myself.

Personally, I have always tried to do/say whatever I have really felt like doing without thinking twice about it because the alternative to such an approach usually has the burden of regret tagging along. Trust me, the regret of not having made the most of a moment in the past is very painful. Everyone who has seen ‘Inception’ knows one of the things that hurts Leonardo Di Caprio is the fact that in the last few moments when he was leaving his home, he could only get a glimpse of his children’s backs not their faces. He wishes he had atleast one more moment to change that scenario and later it is this thought of completing this unfinished memory which drives him to the end.

Still from the movie 'Inception' in context

Although in this example, the regret he had about not seeing his kids faces was more because of circumstances beyond his control and not his own choice, the idea I wish to convey is the pain regret can inflict on a soul which is already troubled and lonely otherwise.

Anyway, as many of you may have guessed already, a lot of the stuff I have said in this post stems from recent personal experiences of mine back home in India coupled with a slight bit of homesickness. I am hoping this phase passes soon and research work keeps my mind steadily occupied as the Fall approaches. Cheers to a great Summer 2011, good times & offcourse memories 🙂 .

Nikhil

Reunion of the 'gang' after a year

Parents & Bro

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An ode to New York

This post has for long been overdue. I am sure people who know me well also know how insanely obsessed I am with New York City. For starters, I do not live in NYC but in Troy, a small college-town 2 hrs north. Yet, whenever the grip of gradschool work loosens even a slight bit, I relocate myself to the Big Apple for a short while. Infact I would like to believe that I am not a tourist anymore thanks to my countless visits here. But despite that, the City has always unfailingly had something new to offer everytime I return.

A picture of Downtown Manhattan & the Brooklyn Bridge taken from the Brooklyn Pier

 There is something in the air here I suppose. There are very few places in the world where the ‘Brownian motion’ of humanity can be perfectly seen and this is definitely one of them. Every person here is a ‘type’ and the city is like one big theater where everyone is on display. Personally for me, this is the closest I feel to home i.e. Bombay in its myriad aspects with the risk of using the cliched statement of Bombay being India’s NYC to justify the same. The subway, the swarms of people moving briskly on the streets, their indifference to their neighbours, a melting pot of virtually every known race in the world along with their culture, cuisine and lastly the grandiose skyline all truly project what I would consider the ‘Capital of the World’ . Merely walking on the street for 5 mins here will be the biggest learning experience any man can have.

With all this eulogizing, I agree that the City has it’s share of problems too. Infact, someone rightly said ” New York has always been going to hell but somehow never gets there ” . The light from Times Square doesn’t exactly glow throughout the city and I have been to places which are ‘dirty’  or rather unfortunate by American standards. But despite that, the City continues to amaze me just like a child fascinated by a new fairytale everytime. I sign off from this post after wrapping up yet another jaunt to NYC hoping I will be back sooner or later.

Cheers,

Nikhil

P.S. These tunes always help me get in the perfect NYC groove 🙂

Tom’s Diner

I am sitting in the morning at the diner on the corner

There’s a woman on the outside looking inside, does she see me?

No she does not really see me cause she sees her own reflection

Once upon a time before the rain began…I finish up my coffee. It’s time to catch the train.

Incase you didn’t figure this out already, these are the lyrics of the famous song ‘Tom’s Diner’ by Suzanne Vega , one of the greatest songwriters & singers alive today. This song is undoubtedly her best work till date; originally released as an acapella but later remixed to gain widespread commercial success (was infact featured innumerable times on MTV in the ’90s ).

This song basically is an account of a person who stops at a place called Tom’s diner for a cup of coffee. This place is very much real and is on the corner of 112th St-Broadway in New York City now as Tom’s Restaurant. It is very famous as the exterior of the Monk’s Cafe in the long running sitcom Seinfeld. Now, what is the reason I am writing a post on this place or song ? Two big reasons actually !!

It is an amazing coincidence that I got to watch Suzanne Vega perform yesterday just a week after I had stopped at Tom’s Diner for pancakes & a pistachio shake at 4 AM on a very rainy morning (just like the song except for the coffee instead of the shake 🙂 ). Tom’s Diner is 3 streets away from my friend’s apartment in Manhattan and in all my three trips previously to the city, I have always walked past it but this time my curiosity got the better of me & I finally visited this place. Not once but twice. And needless to say,both the times were amazing.Infact here is a picture I took of this place in September ’10.

People generally have to say this about Tom’s Diner- a warm and pleasant ambience which not only makes you feel very comfortable and settled-in but gets your mind thinking about distant, profound subjects while sipping over a coffee or relishing a good bagel. I couldn’t agree more when I walked in the first time one chilly winter evening all alone tired from a walk with my camera in Central Park. There was definitely something about this place. Something I could not describe in words justifiably.

Whatever the reason was, it certainly was not because it was the subject of Suzanne Vega’s hit song or because of Seinfeld.  I only regret not having heard Vega’s song then because when I finally did hear her sing the same song yesterday, it eerily felt awesome that I had literally ‘lived’ the song. Besides this song, she performed a musical play she composed with Kay Matschullat for Broadway this coming April named ‘Carson McCullers talks about love’. The setting was perfect for such a performance. In a small, ‘intimate’ theater in Troy where she enraptured the audience with a story of love, hatred and deceit magically expressed in the form of a conversation between a couple with interjecting musical layers. This was my first experience of musical theater and the fact that I was on a seat 3 rows away from Suzanne Vega, the pianist and the guitarist only made it better.

With a voice like raw honey and beauty which was supremely graceful, she absolutely swept me off my feet. For an hour when she sang, I could feel an inner silence overwhelm my mind and I forgot every worry, every sorrow  instead to absorb the music and the feelings wrapped within it streaming outward from a radiant Suzanne onstage. In my own words she has both Audrey Hepburn’s grace & Regina Spektor’s eclectic ‘folksy’ music going for her 🙂 . If my post even got you slightly curious about Vega check her out on Youtube on the following links.

“Caramel” : Vega’s sensuous best & my fav. of the lot  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-1mIOBbKi0

“Tom’s Diner” original version : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z66rDVkaK4w&feature=related

As for a Suzanne-smitten me, I shall try my best to catch her next in April on Broadway.

Cheers

Nikhil B.

A New Beginning

A beginning is only the start of a journey to another beginning

It’s been almost a month since I set foot in the US. I am now settled in my new home and have almost completely tuned myself to the pace of life here. The place I live in, Troy is an awesome place. Maybe not as lively as Bombay or NYC but definitely a conducive environment for life in graduate school 🙂 . The sheer power of absolute independence here is overwhelming but at the same time can get a little worrisome. I am now responsible for everything I do from laundry, groceries shopping, paying up bills on time and offcourse cooking my own meals while juggling a hectic schedule at gradschool.  The summer here surprised me by being almost as relentless as the average Indian summer but most people here tell me to literally “enjoy the sun while it shines” because winters are awfully long and severe in Troy.

I live in an apartment just across the campus and it’s a very convenient 2 min walk to my department. RPI’s campus is breathtakingly beautiful with a mix of Gothic-style and neo-classical architecture punctuated by lush-green lawns and neatly lined sidewalks. Classes have already begun in full-swing and I usually have a busy week with lot of classes to attend as well as to TA. Being the only Indian in this year’s graduate class of Materials Science & Engg. made it slightly difficult to get used to the academic surroundings and break the ice with people around but in just a matter of 2 weeks, I now feel at home here. It feels really good and sometimes even unreal to be in the company of some great professors known worldwide for their research and peers who are graduates from universities like Carnegie Mellon, Purdue, Rose-Hulman, Columbia etc. I guess this calls for me to work really hard so that I might live upto such high standards.

Lastly, life here (atleast upto now 😛 ) isn’t all about classes and research. Friday evenings have now become synonymous with beer binges which include darts, beer pong, pool and some good, greasy food :).  There are a  lot of hiking trails in the Adirondack Mountains nearby which I plan to explore in the coming weeks. And just before I sign off, in all probability, I will be seeing Porcupine Tree Live in Radio City Music Hall, NYC in 3 weeks \m/: a way of redeeming myself in style after having missed them foolishly at Mood Indigo in Bombay last year  :P.

Cheers,

Nikhil

Goodbye India

Not the best time to make a return to Blogosphere. Minutes before I leave home for the airport on my way to the USA for grad school.Hopefully a change in location and atmosphere will bring about a change in my attitude towards this blog too, which I confess has been one of utmost lethargy in the past 3-4 months post-VNIT.

I have been immensely lucky to have met every single dear friend of mine (insti, school and others) in this summer vacation. This post is a final goodbye  to Tyrant, Deng, Potnis, Kotecha, Sush, Nandy, Amit, Kiran, Suri, KP, Sharma etc. etc. etc. and offcourse my dear blogmates Suchi, Aggie, Sharan :).

The next time I post something, I promise it would be a well-constructed blog with the only difference being that I would be scripting it from the other side of the world 🙂 .

Cheers and \m/ forever

I, Ibn Battuta

Long Long time since I blogged- 2 whole months infact 😐 . I blame final-sem lethargy primarily for this and secondly the fact that I have been traveling way too much during this period. While the usual Chennai trips [for project wrk etc.] kept happening every 20 days, I managed to make a cursory visit back home and also a one-dayer in Hyderabad for a black metal gig [ returning hours before my GATE exam 🙂 ] . And lastly, the greatest trip ov all- GOA again with the best ov friends. In sum, I guess I have clocked a record 12300 kms by train travel. Had there been be a ‘miles’-collecting and redeeming system similar to the airlines even in our railways, I am sure I would have hit some jackpot :).

For those who don’t know, Ibn Battuta was a Moroccan traveller who travelled a staggering 75000 miles, way more than his nearest contemporary- Marco Polo. My assumption at me being a Ibn Battuta of sorts might be a little pretentious, I agree. Each of these trips have been characterised by a total carefreeness, traveling in a light and minimalistic way and absolutely no worries about anything at any place. I wonder if ever in the future, I would be able to travel in this manner because a natural fallout of added responsibilities ( in job, grad school etc. ) would be fewer holidays and loads of more work. Anyway, I have decided to put a temporary hold on my plans for other jaunts and decided to spend my last month in insti. ‘peacefully’ immersed in project work and senti-farewell parties :).

And now that I’m back , I promise I am here to stay in blogosphere for good :).

Twenty One

Finally 21, and legally able to do everything I’ve been doing since 18

I’m turning 21 and that’s a big step for me. Adulthood has now kicked in my door and its startling eyes are staring me right in the face. I can’t say exactly what it is that makes the 21st year radically different from the 20th year. Somehow, it just feels much older and wiser :P. I guess I have done a lot of maturing this year though, so in a way it makes some sense.

I got my first job (at Indian Oil Corp. Ltd.) in August this past year and I definitely didn’t expect it so soon. Thanks to an extended run of my very good luck , I received an admit for graduate studies from the University of Pennsylvania a week back. And though I am really not sure as to which school I would be attending post-VNIT, my dream of making it to an Ivy League school has finally come true. It is inevitable that I would be leaving my second home( VNIT ) in a few months time and bid goodbye to all that was familiar and dear to me for a long time.  So, while one part( the 20 year old :P) of me wishes not to leave the insti. and my best friends, another part( the budding 21 year  old) of me reminds me of the responsibility-ridden life in a new land ahead. A sad realization that this is the maximum carefree fun I am ever going to have in my life until probably in my old age post retirement :P.

Anyway, looking at the glass as half full rather than half empty, 21 ushers in a whole new range of things I can now enjoy. I am now ‘officially’ entitled to booze in most states of India and ( considering the party animal I am ) rock every pub in town :D. Not to forget the fact that I can now legally marry. All that’s missing however is a willing bride :P.

So, there I go. 20 turning 21. I thank my parents, God and my wonderful friends for everything I have today. Let’s hope the next 21 years are just as productive and wonderful as these 21 have been.

Cheers !!