Author Archive: Ankit

Some Thought Experiments

Its an utterly beautiful concept. And it provides so much insight into the nature of knowledge.

Suppose you are sitting in a car and the car is accelerating forward. What do you feel ? Well, a push backwards. Suppose the car is accelerating up. Now what do you feel ? A push downward. Now suppose that you cannot look out of the window of the car. Can you tell whether you are accelerating ? Yes, ofcourse by the push. But suppose you are out in the space with no gravity and you are accelerating at precisely 9.8 m/s^2 (the acceleration with which you fall on Earth). Now the big question. Can you differentiate between two possible situations ? Are you in an accelerating spaceship or are you just sitting on the surface of the Earth ? Well, the answer is no ! So how do you really differentiate between gravity and any other acceleration ?

Consider another situation. Suppose you are in a lift in a very tall building and the lift rope snaps. You start falling down. Will you be able to differentiate this situation compared to one where you are out in the gravity free space ? Well the answer is, to a high experimental degree, no. But everything is not lost and it is this small thing which is left, that defines gravity. Consider the lift example again and also consider that as soon as the rope snaps, you let go of two rocks which you were holding in each of your hands. What happens to the rocks as they fall down along with you and the lift. First of all, they will be stationary to your eyes since you are also falling down as fast as them. But wait ! Everything is falling towards a common center i.e. the center of the earth. So the rocks are not exactly following a parallel path but their paths are going to intersect if the lift somehow reaches the center of the Earth. Hence, if you could measure closely enough, you would notice the rocks coming towards each other extremely slowly. And herein lies the clue which gives the secret presence of gravity away ! Its funny in a certain way. To put it down in a fancy way, Gravity does not manifest itself uniquely by the act of the falling down of an object but by the act of apparent mutual attraction between two objects ! Would the situation be any different, if instead of rocks you had used gold blocks or wood or even electrons? Absolutely not. So in essence, everything irrespective of its material will follow the same curved path which is being followed by the rocks. Here is where Einstein took a big leap in imagination. Is the path of the rocks a property of space itself ? Is there no gravity ? Is it just the curved space which decides the path of the rocks and not some mysterious gravitation force ? In essence, is it just GEOMETRY ! And sure it was. The thought experiment which upstaged more than 200 years of the notion of Gravity.

So I am led to ask. All the knowledge is surely out there. Is it just begging a more insightful eye and a more daring imagination ?

A Suspended Animation ?

Now that I think of it, I have spent the last couple of years of my life in a sort of suspended animation, some kind of a make-believe, beautiful, intellectual world.

I have invented excuses for being transported into this other-world. I have more or less shunned the realization that a 'normal' life outside of my ideal world exists.

First it was chess. My obsession with the game although failed to see me grow into a better player, certainly made me scour its history and strategies and tactics and previous matches and players and their playing styles. During the 6 months of my wholehearted devotion towards the game, I read about half a dozen biographies notably those of Kasparov, Morphy (American player in the 1800s and considered to be the best ever), Capablanca (Cuban player famous for his aggresiveness). I read books about the various openings and attack styles employed in the game. I went through and replayed the moves of the famous games of the past. I ventured into an understanding of the way a machine plays the game differently than a human. In short, I must have 'wasted' almost 6 hours from my daily schedule for atleast 6 months straight.

Then it was poetry. As my interest began to grow in this utterly beautiful medium of human expression by my introduction to Ghalib's urdu poetry, I realized the silken genius with which the most eloquent minds spoke. After reading the works of Mir Taqi Mir, Ghalib, Afghani etc. I thought of giving Hindi poetry a try. I instantly became a fan of Harivanshrai Bachchan's prose and poetry and then went on to read many more brilliant writers like Dinkar, Neeraj, Mahadevi Verma, Gulzar etc. I started contributing to the hindi parts of wikipedia and also devoted a blog to writings especially in Hindi and Urdu. This passion has withstood the test of time and I am as engrossed in the field now as I ever was.

My latest craze is Audrey Hepburn, the beautiful actress and humanitarian who died in 1993! Without going into the details, I should just suffice to say that I have done little in the last 1 month apart from researching on her and watching her movies.

Is it wrong ? The way I tend ignore the real world ? I guess, to a rational eye, it is, but the fact remains that the real world is a drab place to live in. It lacks the melancholy beauty of poetry, the intellectual stimulation of chess and the intoxicating allure of those eyes. It does not appeal to the heart and for me, happiness does not lie in it. Nature is beautiful, physics is beautiful, artistic expression is beautiful but the daily chores of life are woefully insipid. They are just an inconvenience I have to live through.

The Ferry Rides

While discussing with a friend today about things unimportant and trivial, we happened to come across some old memories. Old college memories. He, of IIT Bombay with its panthers and crocodiles and snakes and crappy food and dingy hostels and fun life in general. I, of IIT Guwahati with its snakes and crocodiles and crappy food and fun life and those ferry rides across the Brahmaputra.

For the uninitiated, Brahmaputra is one of the most important and mighty rivers of the Indian subcontinent. Originating near Mount Kailash in Northern Himalayas, it traverses the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in North East India before joining the Bay of Bengal. Although to the general public, the river is known more for its depth, its flow, its width etc., for the students of IIT Guwahati first year, the river is known more for the notoriety which it showed when it so mercilessly separated the college from human civilization on the North.

The bus, which plied between our college and the city, although the prudent option, nevertheless, lacked the excitement of a ferry ride across the Brahmaputra. So more often than not, we used to cross the river on a boat. My old memories are especially vivid and dear of those days when the weather used to be overcast. I used to cycle my way from the college to the ferry ghat on the mud path which traversed through a thicket of coconut trees and adjoining straw huts like a snake in a forest. Especially during those rainy days, I relished the touch of the cold moisture laden air, the view of the distant cloud covered mountain tops, the smell of the slightly moistened earth indicating an impending downpour and the sound of chirping birds in the adjoining undergrowth.

The ticket for the ride used to cost about 1.5 rupees (about 3 cents!). The boat had wooden benches to sit and those were covered with a thick tin sheet on the top. I always used to sit on the top where it was open to fresh, cold air and vast, uninterrupted sights. It generally took about 20 minutes for the motorboat to cross the width of Brahmaputra. With the distant sights of shops and houses dotting the North Guwahati shore, the ferry ghat and miles and miles of green forests on the other shore, a faraway, lonely, majestic bridge, an isolated, slightly confused island in the middle of the river, birds trying to compete with the speed of the motorboat just above the water surface, the smell of rain hanging in the air, the taste of wet and dripping, subdued and afraid sunlight, the all pervading noise of complete silence, only broken incidently by the soft touch of cold air on my ears, I could not think of anything non-consequential like the struggles, sorrows and rewards life. I just used to curl up my legs and hold on to my jacket a bit more tightly to counter that ever penetrating cold. But my eyes were always looking into the distance, trying to absorb as much as possible.

A photographer's dilemma

Its not the latest news that the world is a cruel and a partial place to live but nowhere does this cruelity and this partiality manifests itself with more force than in the field of photography.

Consider an amateaur photographer, serenely proud of the latest Nikon digital SLR which shot a thousand dollars out of his bank account, a bit overwhelmed by the monstrous contraption that is his new gadget, but nevertheless, deriving hope from the impeccable scenery in front of him and from the confidence which he gained by reading all those reviews which told him that his newly bought camera takes the most amazingest of all photos.

He looks almost patronisingly at the helpless orange sun, the soon to be captured in a 3/2, infinity of the ocean, and those myriad colours which will soon be mercilessly decomposed into RGB. He cannot help but allow himself that smirk of pity which is the natural outcome on the face of a sadist professor when he recieves the answer sheet of the most hopeless student of the class. Confidently, he aims his camera towards the spectacle in the same way as the first German Panzer would have done against the helpless Polish army and prepares to shoot. And then it hits him. Is the focus right? What should I do with the exposure? The Aperture? The filters? The colour balance?

As he is ruminating over these technical sounding words, mother nature, in one of her infinite wisdoms, decides to give the proud snob a piece of her mind and starts pushing the sun down into the ocean at an ever accelerating pace. The photographer, now nervous, discovers the wisdom in the saying that "something is better than nothing" and arrives at the conclusion that "It is now or never". He selects some settings which he thinks will do justice to both the spectacle and his prodigious talent and clicks.

Back in his home, he shows his day's accomplishment to some of his friend's with the enthusiasm of a 5 year old showing off his new toys. He expects some "Ah so beautiful"s, some "How the hell"s and some jealous shuffles. An uneasy silence ensues. Is it approval? I am sure that they cannot find words to describe the beauty that I managed to capture in these photos. Or is it...? And then someone speaks up. "Its fine.".

Now I do not need to explain that "fine" is the cruelest of all human inventions. It never really intends what it means. You use it when you do not want to be rude. It is, on most occasions, the embodiment of total disapproval, just a nice way of saying "you do not have much future here son!". And our amateaur photographer, howsoever hopeless in photography, understands this innuendo perfectly, if not by his ability at detecting hidden meanings but surely by the utter hopeless despair with which the following words were spoken - "Its fine".

Beauty

And I moved my face closer, the rose petal, shimmering in the redness of health, bent near the edges like a child streching his arms after having woken up from a deep sleep, smelling of diving fragrance, filled most of my view. A lone dew-drop, lying confused on its silky skin, reflected my captivated presence on its silvery, transparent surface. As I moved my head a little sideways, the surface of the drop of liquid shone in the brilliance of a dazzling array of colours as it captured the might and the heat of sun in her humble existence. Queer, isn't it? The fact that something as small and insignificant as a drop of water is sufficient to express the complete beauty of something as harsh as the Sun. You can never realize that beauty by looking directly at it. It does not reflect from the surfaces of rivers and oceans. No amount of power can extract that miniscule colourful beauty from its severe heat and light. And yet. Give it the soft touch of the curves of a dew drop and it melts into a beautiful play of colours. As the wind picked up speed, the rose petal started quivering. The dew drop, now helpless and confused, tried to hold her spot against the inevitable but finally gave up and fell off on the ground below. And all that remained on the surface was a faint and intermittent streak of water.

I waited for some more time and when that streak also vanished into thin air, I decided to move on.

Vanity

Before writing anything I would like to mention that by writing this post, I am pretty much defeating the whole purpose of writing this post. I shall explain this statement at the end.

Recently, I abruptly deleted my Orkut account. People asked me the reason behind this sudden decision to which I replied that I just felt like it so I deleted the account. It was more an attempt to avoid further questions than anything else. In reality, the main reason behind this decision of mine was a growing sense of frustration on my part regarding how blatantly I wasted my time on Orkut. At this point I should make it clear that I never consider anything that I do, a timewaste, till it brings me some kind of pure, unadulterated pleasure. As an example, I have been spending atleast 6 hours daily, browsing for news, pictures, trivia etc. about Audrey Hepburn for the last 1 week but I do not think that it is a timewaste. I do not really care what others think as long as this activity makes me happy.

On the other hand, the problem with Orkut was that I was never able to devote any time to it without a sense of guilt. This guilt emanated from my subconscious realization that most of the things that I did on Orkut or that others do, conceal a veiled sense of vanity. The whole purpose of the site is to cash in on the most evil and most prevalent of all human shortcomings i.e. vanity. And this was precisely the argument which embarrased me, scolded me, jerked me and finally woke me up. I almost despised myself for falling into the trap. So I simply withdrew my account.

This brings me to my all important questions. Where does this vanity begin and where does it end ? How much of it should be acceptable before it gets vulgar and blatant ? In what forms does it reveal itself and finally, is it necessary for the existence of society ?

These are big philosophical questions and I would not dare go into their answers with my limited knowledge and understanding. The one thing I can say is that the fact that I want people to read this itself is a form of vanity which in effect defeats whatever I have been talking about. Maybe I will have to stop someday.

Audrey Hepburn

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever" said John Keats, and seldom has man spoken with such precision of observation and such truthful words. Audrey Hepburn certainly represents that beauty.

That joy manifests itself through those big, wide, innocent, endearing eyes. It hugs to the exquisitely carved features of her face and the perfection of her eyebrows. It drips through the urchinesque, naughty contours of her smile and the intoxicated curves of her hair. It breathes in the slenderness of her figure, in the fragility of her fingers, in the ivory perfection of her complexion and the graceness of her movements.

This admiration is not akin to that of a Julia Roberts, or Zeta Jones, or for that matter any other contemprory heroine. This admiration is akin to the admiration which arises when I see the myriad colours of the rainbow on the frail surface of a soap bubble. This admiration is mixed with the fear that, 'go too close' and the spectacle will vanish. Such a beauty can only survive in the safety of aloofness. It should not realise that I am watching. Like a butterfly on a flower. Like the quantum uncertainities.

And I keep watching, hoping that such works of perfect art should last forever even when I am aware that it is not possible. I hope against hope that those eyes will somehow, always retain their liquid brilliance. That that smile will never get polluted by those wretched wrinkles. That those plaits will keep shining in their silken luminiscence till eternity. I hope, but in vain as reality rears its ugly head. And then I look at her photograph again and for that one second, reality is thrown into oblivion. As they say: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever".

Train Journey

बीते हुये महीने में जब देश वापस गया था तो दिल्ली से देहरादून का सफर मैंने ट्रेन से किया था । फ्लाईट से जा सकता था लेकिन मैंने सोचा कि इतने दिन बीत गये हैं, उत्तर प्रदेश की गरमी का अनुभव ट्रेन से नहीं किया । इसी कारणवश स्लीपर का एक टिकट बुक कराया और बड़ी आशाओं के साथ सफर शुरू किया । स्लीपर में जाने का भी एक विशेष उद्देश्य था । आप तो जानते ही होंगे कि जो आनंद चलती हुई ट्रेन की खिड़की के पास बैठकर, खेतों, पेड़ों और मैदानों से छन कर आने वाली हवा की खुशबू और शीतलता महसूस करने में है, वो ए.सी के बंद डिब्बे की क्रत्रिम ठण्ड में नहीं है । जो संतोष स्लीपर की खिड़की के जंग लगे लाल लोहे की छड़ों पर सिर रखकर, एकटक आँखों से बाहर का नज़ारा ताकने में है, वो ए.सी के काँच के पीछे से बाहर कि मिथ्या रंगो से रंगी दुनिया देखने में नहीं है । जो खुशी बारिश के मौसम में खिड़की से हाथ बाहर निकाल कर पानी की गीली स्वच्छता अनुभव करने में है, वो ए.सी के शीशे पे बाहर की ओर पानी की बूंदों द्वारा बनाये, मिटाये जा रहे चित्रों को अंदर से छूने के प्रयत्न में नहीं है ।

लेकिन मेरा मन स्लीपर की खिड़की के संकीर्ण सुख से नहीं भरता है कभी । मुझे तो ट्रेन के खुले दरवाजे की स्वतंत्रता चाहिये । मुझे तो अपने सामने अथाह, अनंत, असीमित मैदान, अपने पैरों के नीचे भागती हुई ट्रेन का तीव्र कंपन, अपने कानों में पहियों के नीचे चीखती पटरियों का क्रंदन और इस मंज़र में स्थिरता बनाये रखने के लिये अपने दोनो हाथों में दरवाजे के दोनो तरफ लगी हुई लोहे की छड़ों का स्वाद चाहिये । इसीलिये मैं अपना आधे से ज्यादा सफ़र हमेशा दरवाज़े पे खड़े रहकर करता हूं ! ऐसे में बाहर शून्य निगाहों से देखते हुये ये मन ना जाने कितनी दुनियां घूम आता है । कितने सारे सवाल पूछता है । कितने सवालों का उत्तर देता है । लेकिन सब चुपचाप, आहिस्ता से क्योंकि जानता है कि कानो में गूंज रहे शोर ने जिस शांती को जन्म दिया है, आँखों के आगे से गुज़र रहे नजारों ने जिस अंधेरे को जन्म दिया है, उसकी क्षणभंगुरता केवल एक आवाज़ के इंतज़ार में है ।

ऐसे ही खड़े खड़े ना जाने कितने घण्टे निकाल दिये होंगे मैने । होश तब आया जब गाड़ी धीमे होने लगी । अभी तो कोई स्टेशन नहीं दिख रहा है फिर गाड़ी कैसे रुकने लगी ? तभी दूर सामने एक छोटा सा स्टेशन दिखाई पड़ा । पूर्वनियोजित स्टाप नहीं था तो मैने सोचा कि शायद कुछ खराबी आ गयी हो । करीब ५०० मीटर खिसकने के बाद गाड़ी मानो ऐसे रुकी जैसे सोमवार की सुबह पांचवी क्लास का कोई बच्चा स्कूल जाने के लिये उठता है । वही आलस, वही हतोत्साह, वही दर्द और उसी तरह रोना । मैने भी सोचा की क्यों ना बाहर उतरके कुछ खाने का प्रबंध किया जाये । स्टेशन पर कोई नहीं था । बल्कि स्टेशन खुद केवल १०० गज का होगा । उस समय ३ बज रहे थे तो मेरे खयाल से बाकी सहयात्री दोपहर की नींद पूरी कर रहे थे । मैं वहां लगी एक बेंच पे जाकर बैठ गया और इधर उधर नज़रें घुमाने लग गया । उस दिन गर्मी इतनी नहीं थी लेकिन धूल बहुत उड़ रही थी । हवा के इस वेग ने खेतों पर फैली हरितिमा में एक बहता स्थायित्ब पैदा कर दिया था । दूर दूर तक फैले सन्नाटे का शोर असहनीय था और इस कर्णभेदी चुप्पी को यदा कदा चीरती कुछ पंछियों की आवाज़ें । जहां तक नज़र दौड़ा रहा था, बस पेड़ों और फसलों की पत्तियों पर हसता हुआ सूरज दिख रहा था। धूल, हवा के साथ उड़ उड़ कर बालों में घुस रही थी और अकेले खड़े उदासीन पीपल के व्रक्ष को परेशान कर रही थी । दूर पीने के पानी के नल से टपक रही रसधार हवा के वेग के कारण अपना रास्ता छोड़ टेढ़ी हो चली थी और प्यासी धरती की त्रष्णा बुझा रही थी । रेल की पटरी इस तरफ भी असीमित, अकेले शून्य की ओर भागती दिख रही थी और उस तरफ़ भी, और इन दो अनंन्तताओं को विभाजित कर रही थी मेरी ट्रेन और यह छोटा सा स्टेशन । सीटी बजने पर मैं वापस अपनी सीट पे चला गया । आधा सफ़र लगभग हो गया था और बाकी आधा मुझे सोते हुये बिताना था ।

Snakes on a Plane

Well I admit it. Moved by my baser instincts, I WATCHED IT. I watched Snakes on a Plane. Not as a part of someone's birthday party but at a cost of 9 freaking dollars. And how do I feel? I have my head held high and am beaming with the smile of self-satisfaction. YES I DID IT AND I WILL DO IT AGAIN.

No matter how foolish the movie seems by its title, one thing is for sure. You have no idea HOW FOOLISH it is unless you have seen it. The only thing more foolish than the movie's premise could be two snakes, dressed in whites and replete with a hat, driving the plane with 10 more snakes serving as air hostesses. But I am not complaining. The movie promised ridiculousness and it broke all barriers of logic. The movie promised cheap thrills and frills and it will take another Ed Wood and the rest of his next life to beat the cheapness of the thrills in this movie. Quiet simply, the movie is so crappy, it has transcended its critics. Their collective expertise is overshadowed by the monstrous ridiculity of the movie. In fact, after the initial jolt, I began enjoying it. For someone like me who is a fan of bad (so bad its good type) cinema, this movie is the pinnacle of human achievement. As someone rightly said, "this movie is quiet simply, the best movie ever made about snakes on a plane!"

Ruksat

आज जब जुदा होने की बात आई,

यह समां इतना रंगीन क्यों हो गया,
मेरा महबूब कुछ ज़्यादा हसीन क्यों हो गया है ।

पानी पे चाँद इतना खुश क्यों लग रहा है,
बीता हुआ वक़्त आज इतना क्यों सुलग रहा है ।

हवाओं की ठण्डी थपकी में आज यह नरमी कैसी ?
रात की कोमल रोशनी में भला यह गरमी कैसी?

और तुम्हारे बारे में क्या कहूं ?

"रंगो, छंदों में समायेगी, किस तरह से इतनी सुंदरता ?"

आज इन आँखों में चांद की शरारत चमक रही है
जैसे कि कितने सारे राज़ इनकी गहराईयों से बाहर आने को बेताब हों
कितने सारे सवाल, कितने सारे किस्से इसकी गर्त में दफ़्न
दिल को कितना ज़्यादा भेद रहीं हैं यह आज
जैसे ना चाहते हुये भी बीते हुये खुशगवांर वक्त की दुहाई दे रहीं हों

और इन होठों पे एक अनसुनी, अनकही दास्ताँ है
मुस्कुराहट इनकी कैद से रहरहकर बाहर झाँक रही है,
जैसे एक डगमगाते हुये, भरे हुये पैमाने से मै की दो बूंदे गिरने को बेताब हों

इन अधखुले होठों पर इतना निमंत्रण क्यों है ?
इस दिल में बेवजह ही इतना कंपन क्यों है ?
इन आँखों के तीर मेरे दिल के पार हो रहे
मेरे सारे हौसले तेरे सामने बेकार हो रहे !

लेकिन ना जानते हुये भी कितनी स्वार्थी हो गयी हो तुम
तुम्हारे इस रूप ने इस कातिलाना मंज़र के साथ मिलके मेरे मन में हज़ार सवाल पैदा कर दिये हैं
इस जुदाई की सार्थकता के बारे में सोचने लग गया हूं।
तुम्हारे बगैर इस सफर की असहनीयता के बारे में सोचने लगा हूं
मैं कितना कमज़ोर, कितना बेचारा और तुम कितनी निष्ठुर, कितनी दूर ।

"इस पार प्रिये, मधु है तुम हो, उस पार न जाने क्या होगा

द्रग देख जहाँ तक पाते हैं, तम का सागर लहराता है
फिर भी उस पार खड़ा कोई, हम सबको खींच बुलाता है
मैं आज चला तुम आओगी, कल, परसों, सब संगी साथी
दुनिया रोती धोती रहती, जिसको जाना है जाता है
मेरा तो होता मन डगमग, तट पर ही के हलकोरों से
जब मैं एकाकी पहुंचूंगा, मझधार न जाने क्या होगा
इस पार प्रिये, मधु है तुम हो, उस पार न जाने क्या होगा"

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