Pallav Agrawal

Author's details

Name: Pallav Agrawal
Date registered: June 1, 2011

Biography

Pallav is a poet, writer and engineer hailing from India. He has moved to the Bay Area to pursue a master in structural engineering at Stanford, and spends many sleepless nights thinking about what to write next. Some of his best stories and poems are featured in his blog, The Voice In Your Head. Contact Info: pagrawal@write-a-holic.com

Latest posts

  1. The Necklace — July 2, 2011
  2. Amelie — June 22, 2011
  3. Serendipity — June 19, 2011
  4. Die Bitch — June 10, 2011

Author's posts listings

Jul 02

The Necklace

This is not going to be a story, article, poem, speech, excerpt or any of the other literary contrivances that this blog has attained the notoriety of nurturing. Instead, for once, we are going to be more like other ‘normal’ blogs, where people express their thoughts and emotions in a very direct manner and not enveloped within morally upright and righteous tales conjured up for the purpose of creating the aberration of a scholarly delivery. Infact, the theme of the following meandering string of words is going to be simple..
“How to live the life that awaits us after we graduate”

I know it’s a very hackneyed topic and many a blogger blogs about it, year-after-quotidian-year, by getting all worked up and nostalgic about the fact that they are about to leave the place they spent four unforgettable years in. Well, don’t worry.. it’s gonna be nothing like that..
The reason I emphasize the uniqueness of this post is because it’s not going to have any of the standard elements of an about-to-leave-college-approaching-a-delayed-puberty-blog… viz.
  • Cheesy quotations from novels and movies (inarguably read & seen during this period)
  • Mention of crappy little insignificant incidents
  • Use of ‘hip’ words, smiles’ or textese in an attempt to connect with the audience
  • Sense of gratitude towards the four year period of seclusion/reclusion
  • And.. finally.. Nostalgia..

***

The world is a brutal place (No I haven’t faced its full brunt yet, but whatever little I have, has always pointed to this conclusion). Now when was the last time you heard that? Quite often, if I consider that you belong to the class of first generation engineers* in your family – and I  presume there are a lot of those – especially because, before the IT boom facilitated the creation of engineering colleges in even the remotest of locations, engineering was considered to be a highly technical and specialized major.
But the great rule of democracy didn’t spare this walk of life and now almost everybody can say that they are the proud owners.. oops.. parents/uncles/aunts/childhood neighbors of an engineer* from an obscure engineering college (Anyways, what’s in a name, it’s the pay-packet that you receive at the end of the four years which matters, isn’t it?).
So after digressing enough from the original topic as your patient (sometimes loyal) readership would allow, let me get back on track.
The world is a brutal place. What does this mean? It’s nothing like the idyllic and serene setting of your college. And to further impart lucidity to the statement, lets break it up into bullet points..
  • The world doesn’t give a damn about what you think.
  • The world doesn’t give a damn about your knowledge.
  • The world doesn’t give a damn about what you dream.
  • The world just doesn’t give a damn. Period.
Most people are used to being coaxed, apologized to, and basically getting things done pretty much the way they want them to be done. Which explains the frequent mass strikes, the rallies for taps that run dry, the languid daily routines, et al. It’s not entirely wrong to go about your own way, after all, it incubates ‘leadership skills’ inside us, something we can proudly flaunt while tearing apart our own friends in Group Discussions for a company. The moderator is quite impressed by the obvious ‘I’m-the-leader-of-my-pack’ attitude, isn’t he? Well, such is the widespread acceptance of this misconception that it has attained a hallowed state of being-obviously-wrong-but-presumed-to be-correct by popular opinion. And if at any instance you do acknowledge this fact, then scroll up a few lines and refresh your memory as to how much the world cares about you..
Done?
Great. Let’s move on.
The reason why the Human Resources heads are impressed is not because of the supposed tenacity and grit and valor shown while framing up inconsequential sentences in a bid to be proven the most outspoken and enlightened amongst the group. What they love is seeing a brutal dog-fight (which is actually banned in most countries. A-ha!), an earnest representation of the environment they themselves thrive in. The dog with the most brutal bite and highest moral flexibility is picked up by the dog pound. The entire point of this exceedingly verbose description of the brutal world was to tactfully state (read: so as to appear entirely in context with) the following point:
“The set of morals which we have followed all our lives, those which were so tenderly passed onto us by our loving parents, count for zilch in the outside world”
Oh I know what you must be saying in your heads.. this is such a pessimistic post, why am I even reading this.. well to tell you the truth, there were many a college lectures which you could have easily bunked without any repercussions, but yet you didn’t, for some unfathomable reason. Think of that unfathomable reason for an instance and carry on reading. I promise you will get your due…
Anyways, getting to the point stated above, that if our innate morals count for zilch, then what should be our code of conduct? We can’t behave like uncouth savages can we? So there is a need for a new set of carefully tweaked morals that make us adept at handling this brutal world. Sometimes need is the mother of invention. And sometimes there comes so powerful an invention, that it creates a need for itself to be adopted (as an example of which, you need not think beyond the mystical iPod). Whichever is the case here, you are the best judge of it. I won’t intervene. Seriously.
And without further ado, possibly causing anticipation (maybe even agony) here’s The Necklace. (Necklace?? It’s actually a poetic expression you see.. pearls of wisdom are strung onto a string of sentences.. anyways forget that..). I’d like to call it the three-Bs’. (It’s more hip.)
  • Believe in coincidences:
Einstein said “God doesn’t throw dice”. What he meant was nothing in this Universe is left to chance. Now just like Darth Vader said that every person has a bright side and a dark side, this overtly simplistic statement can be canonized into two connotations as well.
  1. Everything is predestined. Your life has been scripted by some unknown-all-knowing-force and you can’t change it. You just need to play your part as best as you can and then one fateful day, die.
  2. If you plan carefully enough, and give the subject matter enough sincere thought, you can actually put up a spectacular fireworks display with the dampest of squibs.
That said, the best thing you can do is to believe in coincidences. Illogical, irrational, unpredictable coincidences. Whenever something unexpected happens, think of it as an outcome of some mystical coincidence. Coincidence can be best defined, as the occurrence of two mutually conjoined events you hadn’t anticipated. Actuarial purists who swear by the laws of probability would argue that the number theory takes every possibility into consideration, hence ruling out any anomalies such as a ‘coincidence’. To further drive the point home, their predictions are backed by fundamental mathematics. Well, all I can say is, mathematically, one plus one equals two. It’s an irrefutable law of nature. Put one apple beside another apple and you have two apples. But put one apple beside an orange, and you have a fruit salad…
Not logical, isn’t it? Ditto for life.
  • Be the idiot:

Some wise guy once said “Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know”.

Meaning?? What our infinite hours of education have given us is only material knowledge. You can put it down in black and white (just like most teachers do so effectively via class-notes) and transfer it through this particular media only (once again like most of our teachers). But can you transfer that bit of ‘education’ to a layman or an eight year old without the aid of any tangible media? Can you utilize figments of your imagination to actually transfer an idea from one head to another? If yes, skip to the next ‘B’, and if not, you are no more educated than the man for whom the alphabet ‘A’ is just a queer assembly of three sticks. Quite a bitter pill to swallow ain’t it? That’s why the best thing to do is to swallow it immediately. The longer you keep rolling it around in your mouth, the greater the bitterness that would impinge your tongue.
Hence in many situations in life, it’s imperative to be the idiot (it’s actually harder and more rewarding than it sounds). You may feel being an idiot is the easiest job in the world. But beware, ‘idiot’ here doesn’t mean throwing your arms up with complete disregard for education. It’s all about highly selective idiocy.

Suppose you are completely oblivious about say.. Soccer. And you need to know about it for something important and deterministic. So you approach any self-professed soccer fanatic and chat him up. Somewhere in the conversation you throw up a highly contentious and debatable question like “Who was the greatest soccer player of all time? ”
(Now a bit of advice. This practice gives maximum benefits when carried out in a group of 3-4 people sharing a common interest, but who are at complete loggerheads with one another.)
Everyone will have their own opinion, and you have your own (preferably the most ostentatious and outlandish one). Everyone will ridicule your choice and try to prove theirs to be better than yours. That’s where being the complete and absolute idiot, and also making it obvious to others, helps so much. They will all give out statistics, achievements, awards etc. earned by their heroes to prove themselves to be above you, and in a few minutes, you will be inundated with information which would have taken you hours to gather, if you had opted to be the ‘smarty-pants’ instead.
As a fact, this is the quickest way to learn about anything. Be an idiot in front of a group of people knowledgeable enough in a particular field, and argue until they are getting ready to punch you in the face.
Plus, it’s mutually beneficial for everyone. You’re happy about the fact you collected the data expeditiously. The others would satisfy their bloated egos by thinking they bashed up an idiot real good.
Everybody gets the largest piece of the cake. Genius.
  • Be honest with your parents:
God (however omnipresent he’s supposed to be) couldn’t be everywhere, hence he created Mothers. Mothers had certain complicated issues in their heads. So He created Fathers to sort them out. And, sometimes, when mothers and fathers were together in congenial conditions, they created us. Hence, they passed a little piece of Gods’ purpose of creation onto us. But it’s human nature to forget. We conveniently forgot we were created for a purpose. And squandered away our existence in pursuit of illusive objects of status like a girl/boyfriend (or both.. whatever turns you on), a dream job, bank balance, and not to forget the most illusive of them all.. happiness!
“Oh this is just a load of bollocks.. who doesn’t want happiness in life and what’s wrong in being happy” you say?
I’ll tell you.
Picture this: You get a ‘dream’ job from campus. You work real hard. Get a raise. And consequentially the love of the person you admired. You rent a home. And a car. You marry. You are (supposedly) happy… but something is missing.
Now picture this: You screwed up at work. You are fired. Your boss won’t take you back. Neither your spouse. Nor your friends. Your cars’ mortgage is too much to pay and you sell your apartment off as compensation. Helpless and exasperated, you call your parents. They ask about your health, your job, what have you been eating, when would you be visiting, etc. You blatantly lie by saying you have taken a week off just so that you can be with them. Oblivious to the truth, they tidy up your childhood room, prepare plans for the magical week ahead, call in relatives from all corners. You show up with a suitcase and a laptop and say you have quit your job (obviously, which lunatic can fire the embodiment of sheer genius that is you). You cry in front of them. They cancel their own plans. Get you out of it. And just like they taught you how to walk so many years back, they get you back on your feet so that you can go far away to create a lucrative bubble for yourself once again. All they ask from you, their only unjust demand from you in return for all this is: “Whatever you do, please stay happy.”
Or: Havingnothing to lose anymore, you can now go out to do what you really wanted to do. Pursue your dream. Open a restaurant. Go look for Alaska (but stay away from poisoned plants a la Chris Mc.Candless.)
What I am emphasizing here is, how much our sustenance, our non-blood relationships, our bank-balance and yes, not to forget, how much our happiness depends upon whether we have a 9-5 job or not. All these things we pursued for so long can completely vanish the moment we are sacked. And maybe a lot of us realize this, which is actually the driving force behind people working their butts off at work so much. Come to think of it, how much is it worth? Is this acquired happiness more valuable than the inherent sense of satisfaction obtained by the assurance that whatever we do, however badly we screw up, there are at least two people who earnestly believe in us and are always there for us? Those two people happen to be our parents.
Lie to them as much as you want. You’ll reap what you sow.
***

That’s pretty much it. Accept it, denounce it or report abuse against it. Hardly matters. It’s entirely at your discretion. But, don’t just forget so easily about that brutish and nauseous feeling that overcame you while you were reading it.
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Jun 22

Amelie

In 3 words or less: Delectable, Quirky, Enchanting.

Interested? Read on:

Experimentalist cinema has its own distinct likability… and European movie makers have been pioneers in this specific genre. 8 ½ (Federico Fellini) would be an appropriate example of  movie in which the Director crafts a story about himself, his work and how hard it is to be a well-respected and marginally understood filmmaker. Amélie is yet another example of a movie in which the Director puts forth a lot of his own personality and little quirks, which make the entire experience all the more delightful… whether it be the extraordinarily spectacular sequence of Amélie’s Mom’s death, or the extremely specific likes and dislikes of the many individuals peppered around in the movie.

In all my knowledge, this is the only non-animated movie (barring Garfield) where a Cat’s likes and dislikes are showcased with significant interest… Which brings me to my first observation on the movie… it’s delectable and exotic, but you should have a refined palate to digest this exquisitely gourmet meal full of varying flavors ranging from the astounding to the perplexing to the downright weird. You can remark on the sanity of a man who collects torn up photographs from under the passport photo booths and makes an album out of them.. or about the artist who has made the same painting twelve times and still isn’t sure about how to draw the hands and expressions of a plain-old girl holding a plain-old cup.

And yet, you come across much more mundane characters like a guy smitten by a waitress, refusing to make any attempt of getting over her (what he does in the café every day is a whole another story) or, the man (Amélie’s Dad) who wants to travel the world but doesn’t, because of an inherent fear. What is most remarkable about the treatment of the subjects is that Monsieur Jeunet weighs their fears, aspirations, insecurities and well.. quirks (I’m becoming very aware of the over-usage and probable abuse of this word in this review) with the same balance. He looks at these personal attributes through the same lens and amazingly, makes us believe that any kind of irrational behavior, however socially acceptable it might be, is essentially.. a quirk (again!).

Since the movie is innately overdrawn and wildly imaginative, it often poses questions such as why was a particular scene necessary in the screenplay (like the number of Orgasms reaching their climax in the city of Paris at a particular instance in time) or how does a particular character, who remains unreferenced throughout the movie after the initial mention, contribute to the Fabulous Destiny of Amélie Poulain (this coincidentally is the exact translation of the French title of the movie.. mind you.. coincidentally). The only person who could answer this question is, sadly, no longer amongst us, although his work lives on through the ages and never fails to fascinate the children who come across it for the first time. Yes, I’m talking about Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) and his book “Through the looking glass, and what Alice found there”. I won’t be wrong in interpreting Amélie as a version of this book tailor made for adults… it has all the elements that would make any author who writes stories on wizards and flying dragons proud, although the issues dealt with here are anchored to reality (albeit its own) a lot more firmly. Add to that some amazing music by Yann Tiersen and you have an experiment that can’t possibly go wrong.

They say the true skill of an expert Swordsman, Pianist and Calligraphy Artist lies in their supple wrists. So why is it, that their skill is not attributed to their sharp minds and rather to an insignificant part of their body? It’s because the mind can create great compositions and plans, but you need extraordinary control on the hands which execute them. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to create a movie like Amélie without having that extraordinary control over the fragile nature of the protagonist’s fantasies. Projects like these have a tendency (and arguably a history) of becoming too fantastic for their own good, and eventually collapsing in on themselves due to the sheer burden of their self-created complexities. The remarkable thing about Amélie, is that instead of becoming an onerous and suicidal beast, it floats along like a butterfly, never failing to entertain or fascinate us by the whimsical path of its flight.

 


Enchanted?

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Jun 19

Serendipity

I was in love then.. and the air felt so different.. I used to stay up all night thinking about her, writing down crazy stuff and imagining how things would turn out when I express my feelings to her and she accepts.. but what if she doesn’t? Oh but she will.. didn’t the bunch of random things she did for me (which any human being would have done for one of their acquaintances ) like offering a Band-Aid when I fell from my bicycle or calling back saying sorry after seeing 7 missed calls from me, indicate that I meant something to her? Maybe something special too? And basically, if it didn’t, that could only mean two things.. either I am over-reading into things or.. she isn’t human..

So I forgot there was an activity such as sleeping or maybe even eating… frankly I didn’t even feel like sleeping… and at 4 a.m. in the morning I used to think that its late enough and lied down to rest my back on my bed.

But my mind… and my heart… never rested…

Restlessness is such a profound feeling…you can never truly experience it without falling in love… you might feel restless about your exam results, about your favorite team’s performance in a tournament, or maybe about what you will be holding in your hands after ripping open your Christmas presents… but you aren’t experiencing restlessness per se… because none of the outcomes are in your hands (the exam results might be, but I choose to think otherwise.)

In this case.. everything depends upon how you behave, how you dress in front of her, how you talk to her, how you treat her friends and her dog, how many questions you answer in class, and God knows what else… You keep fine-tuning all these little things, so that, in the one instance she looks at you during class, you aren’t found with your index finger inside your nostrils, poking away with perplexed fascination.

After half an hour of resting my back on my bed, I would give up, and go out for a walk or a jog, and I tell you, the air felt so different at that time of the day… The sun used to come out by the time I was on top of the partially constructed parking garage located right across the street from her house.. I used to sit in the same corner every day, that strategic spot which offered maximum visibility and minimum exposure. When the sun came out, I would start my day by peeking through the window into her sunlit room. She would get up, stretch a little, cuddle her dog, and after about 15 minutes, she would come out to jog. After she would go beyond the horizon of my sight, I went along my own separate way, back to home. I was always in a dilemma about whether or not I should join her on her jog. Wouldn’t that be a fantastic way of getting closer to her? Imagine commencing your day by meeting a person every morning.. How romantic a thought, it’s probably the precursor of being married.. The very thought just thrilled me.. but what kept me from doing so.. was this one question she might ask: why do I come to jog in her neighborhood when I live like 4 miles away. Until the time I came up with a good answer to that, I wasn’t revealing myself.

So I would jog back home, imagining all the while that I am jogging along with her, and kept imagining things that I would have said to her, if she were alongside me. But she was there, maybe not in person, so what? She was with me..

I smiled a lot those days, I sang a lot, and the sun seemed so much brighter then. The road on which I used to jog back was lined with trees on both sides.. I shouldn’t call them trees as theywere more stick figures than dense masses of foliage, but yet they seemed beautiful in their own scantiness.. They reminded me of myself: inadequate creatures always trying to grow taller and taller so that one day they could touch the Sun.. even though they knew they never could, they never stopped trying (as a kid I thought the trees were in love with the Sun.. what else can explain this amazing phenomena of something going against the mighty force of gravity and standing there high and tall for hundreds of years?).

The trees gave me motivation and every time I felt things were hopeless, I would turn to them for inspiration.

So after a lot of time had passed and I had fallen in and out of love with her a considerable number of times, I finally decided to express myself to her. To bare it all. When she came out to jog that morning, I joined her and she recognized me. She asked me how I was in the neighborhood even though I lived on the other side of town. I said I was visiting my grandparents, who lived nearby. We kept jogging, I started talking and I noticed something very odd: for someone who goes out jogging every day, she had pretty bad stamina. She started huffing and puffing in under half a mile and I found that pretty weird. She said she wanted to stop. We sat down on a thin patch of grass and she was noticeably out of breath. I asked her if she’d just started jogging recently, and she said that she went out to jog every morning.

To which I asked if she had any medical problems and she instantaneously spat back “It’s not a problem OK?”

She looked at me and noticed that I was visibly startled and she said (in a much repressed tone) “or at least I don’t think it is..”

“What’s wrong?” I asked

“Can I trust you with something? Please say yes..”

“Yea sure.. with absolutely anything.. I cross my heart and I..”

“It’s… this very weird feeling that I get.. every morning.. ”

.. And then she continued.. and it was the most heart-breaking thing I’ve ever heard in my life.. She said she had feelings for this girl who lived on the other side of her house.. and every morning she woke up and saw her sleeping, she would feel this strange attraction towards her.. and she would run away from her house and come to this deserted place where she would sit and cry and try to convince herself not to think about her..

I stopped paying attention to what she was saying after about 5 minutes.. The only thing going around in my head then, was the amazing irony that the very day I’d decided to reveal myself to her, she had revealed herself to me..

I gave her every inch of superficial concern and apathy I had and consoled her, saying it is very hard to deal with these feelings etc. I never talked to her after that day. I also became an atheist.

Quite amazingly, after many, many years, I met her a few days back on a running track near my house. We talked briefly and then went along our own ways. I noticed she has much better stamina now. Now I know, God exists and he has a wicked sense of humor. That girl she had feelings for is now my wife.

 

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Jun 10

Die Bitch

Have you ever loved a woman who turned out to be a black hearted vermin?

and seen her break your heart into multiple pieces, after you handed it to her on a platter?

and then, you collected all the pieces, stapled them together, and meekly submerged it in the tar of her love again?

 

Sometimes… she pierced it so hard, blood spat out like venom from a serpent’s fangs

and you plugged the holes with whatever you had, it hurt so much, and you wished you were stronger..

 

Eventually, you lost all but one fragment of hope, and all your gargantuan love hung off it perilously.

Once again, you wished, you were stronger..

 

Have you ever seen a man crying in a public bathroom, resting his head on the dirty mirror?

His fists are clenched and his shirt is stained, shoes undone and blood dripping off his arm

His tears have formed brown trails on the glass,  a squalid pool lies beneath them,

This guy has a relentless mortgage, you know. All his hope just drains down the toilet

 

Half his mind is contemplating suicide, the other half a public massacre,

He is angry at himself, but also enraged against humanity and what has become of this world,

He would literally give an arm and a leg for a bowl of cereal in his mother’s lap right now,

You wish you could go up to him and hand him a half-used crayon and say “its all right.”

And once again, you wished, you were stronger.

 

Have you noticed a stray dog in the streets of New York, licking an open wound?

You wonder if it licks the wound to heal it, or because it likes the taste of its own blood.

You can see its rabid skin, stretched around its brittle ribs, and foam seething off its mouth,

and after it’s done with the licking and gnawing, it looks up to the sky with hope,

and immediately thereafter pokes its nose into the drain to garner its daily dose of squalor.

You wonder why it looks at the sky, and what it hopes for, and then why it looks back into the drain,

and how hopelessly hopeless of a being it is,

and what does it (if it can) think every morning when it wakes up?

You feel like slapping the kid who troubles the dog and feeding his five-pound hamburger to it,

And, once again, you wished you were stronger.

 

For all of the sad and miserable people and beings that exist in the world, one thing stands true:

There is a way they can be happy again, there is a thing that could mend most, if not all.

But what about you, who won’t be happy even if you got the love of the fiendish woman you loved?

You know deep down that all the things you’ve lost in her pursuit weigh much more

than the joy you would get when you kiss her on a rainy evening, while walking under the same umbrella,

And you know  that her desensitizing smile can’t extirpate all the eternal sorrow that’s embedded in your heart,

that she will one day change her mind about you for someone with a tattoo and a circumcision,

and you wish with all you heart that you could stop submitting your soul the distress of her whimsical desires…

And, once again, you wished you were stronger.



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