Apologies for the sluggishness this month. I got busy with a grant application to a federal agency under the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This type of writing is not fun. You have to sound very assured and gung-ho about your research but that’s not how you feel inside. That is why grant writing and writing for technical publications can never have the same tension that writing of the personal kind has. The term “personal” is to be interpreted in the broadest sense: I do not mean writing about oneself, but writing honestly about topics and themes one feels deeply about.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been planning two pieces. The first is about the dogs, both pets and strays, I came to know while living in Nagpur for five years. We lived in a third floor flat and our place had four balconies. I could observe neighborhood dogs closely early in the morning when I was supposed to be studying. I became familiar with two generations of dogs; there are many small stories I want to weave together and tell.
The second is about my first year of college in Tiruchirapalli -- at the Regional Engineering College (now National Institute of Technology). The experience was special. By design, regional engineering colleges are meant to bring together students from the local state and students from all parts of India. So we had representation from every state. We had people of all complexions: there was an incredibly fair guy from Kashmir, and my austere and studious roommate for the first year was very black . All the major languages of India could be heard in the corridors of hostels. It was my first lesson in diversity.
These are going to be long pieces. It will take me a while to write them, and maybe in the process, I’ll get bored and distracted, as so often happens. But my hunch is something will materialize. Pardon the lethargy meanwhile.
Since this is a post without much direction, I have the license to ramble a bit. Let me share with you a poem I wrote in my third year of college. I was a prolific poet then and spammed online bulletin boards with my work: early indication that I would become a blogger. This is a dark poem, very cheesy: it expresses my rage against deforestation. Keep in mind, before you nitpick about my very "black and white" view, that I was 18 or 19 then!
The wood-cutter and the woodpecker
Chunk! Chunk! goes the woodcutter's axe;
Peck! Peck! attacks the woodpecker.
When the two pairs of eyes met,
there ensued a conversation:
"Why, dear man, do you cut the tree?" the pecker asks;
"For the same reason that you peck the tree."
"Your answer does not satisfy; it puzzles me."
"A living exists for us because of this tree;
you pick insects and thus subsist
while I sell timber and get money."
"But does not the tree die
as the axe hacks the bark away?
Does not the squirrel flee
to another tree miles away?
Do not the eggs break on falling
much to the mother-bird's dismay?"
"True - but for the living of one
another has to succumb.
It is this rule of survival
that we experience every day.
Woodpecker, do you not eat
insects embedded in the bark of trees?
do you not kill them?
impale them with your pointed beak?
Talk not of my cruelty;
think of your own shame."
Shocked by what had been said,
the woodpecker withdrew.
Lashed at by man's vicious tongue
decieved by his sincere talk
and cloaked in guilt and shame,
it never ate insects again;
and of hunger died one day.
Today, in the forest, there remain only stubs
of the trees the axe brutally cut.
All the woodpeckers have died of shame;
all the squirrels have run away;
and all the birds have flown away.
Today, in the forest, remains barren land,
in the middle of which wooden houses stand.