Dec 31, 2004

Opening Shot

I am a fairly non-descript Indian citizen, living in the US of A as a permanent resident (aka green card holder). I cannot vote, but feel free, nay compelled, to rant and rave about the state of US politics. I eulogize constantly about India's unrestrained growth and the positive differences I perceive in people's attitudes and ambitions, but have as yet made no concrete efforts to shift back to my homeland. My M.O. for obtaining a good Karma is mainly to write a check at intervals to various causes/organizations, based on natural disasters, or the fact that a friend has taken the time and effort to put herself through the paces to be able to run 26 miles straight, purely on the strength of will power and Gatorade. (Oh, by the way, does the charity have 501 (c) (3) status ? Good.)

I read, see movies, attend concerts and recitals, occasionally travel and constantly watch people. I don't do a whole lot, but have a lot to say. I yearn to be a humble narrator. Thus came the decison, lost in the anonymity of the web, I will provide thoughts and rhetoric. It'll mostly be nonsense, but I hope that like the book of poems from where I stole my title, some hidden, perchance witty insight can be separated as wheat from chaffe (Just to make it clear though, the original Abol-Tabol has no chaffe, just all golden wheat ).

Thus, a blogger I am. Close my eyes, deep breath and I am on my way.

Nov 7, 2004

Election Awe

This is an old one I wrote around early November '04, sticking it up here for posterity..
The writing workshop group met at the back of the first floor of the library annex. We trooped in for a session the evening of November 1st, and realized that the room was designated to serve as a polling station for the local precinct the following day. As a resident without voting rights, this was my first look at the sanctimonious inner space of the temples of democracy.

The room is what you would expect to find tucked away in the depths of a public library, one that serves for the occasional meetings, or book sales. One of the pastel yellow side walls is dominated by a mural that represents Quincy as the City of Immigrants. On the portion of the wall that the mural does not encompass, a small plaque provides a flow chart, almost a design template, which the architects of the mural must have followed to focus their creativity. As one enters the room, a table against the near wall contains an assortment of items that I have now come to view as familiar accoutrements for the workshop sessions. There is a jug of cider, a wicker basket of stirrers and sugar packets, some deliciously fluffy pound cake and a box containing tea bags and collectible animal miniatures. A large officious wooden table sits along the side wall across from the mural. I imagined the voting official seated there, along with a few lawyers, greeting voters as they enter. On the table is an ominous black telephone, probably kept for the extremely undecided voter to call a life line.

That evening, the far wall was a forest of plastic. Voting stations, consisting of long spindly legs and three sides which created a little sheltered table, stood brilliantly backlit with halogen lamps. The back of each station contained a flyer with instructions on the voting procedure. The center of the room contained a box which looked like a mailbox lying on its side. Blue in color, it had numerous openings with latches and locks. One side had a slot which I assume would swallow the cast ballots. The seal above it, which I first thought to be the Commonwealths, turned out to be two sailboats on the bay with blue sky in the background. I see this picture often while kayaking, and thought it aptly symbolized Quincy.

In my minds eye, I can see the crowd arriving. The early morning voters, who want to strike the task off their list before starting out the day, come in briskly. They have ID cards and other formalities ready, and their voting is with a purpose. They feel strongly about their candidate, and achieve peace of mind by carrying on with life knowing that they have thrown their vote behind their principles. As time passes, people who vote out of peer pressure or are nagged into voting arrive in dribs and drabs. They are impatient. However, once the situation has boiled down to they and a slip of paper with numerous choices, there is much hesitancy, false starts and pondering. They look up to the ceiling; they look to the sides as if to guess the choices of their neighbors. Then, finally realizing that they have been standing there for ten minutes, they complete their choices in a furious flourish.

Late in the day, the crowd partly consists of the weary. These are people who were unable to vote before work but want to perform their civic duty, even it means trudging at the end of a hard day to the stations. The ties are loosened, eye-liners are slightly smudged, and the occasional coffee spill stains show on objects of clothing. The other section of the crowd consists of the target audience of the get-out-the-vote campaigns. As exit polls show fluctuating futures of the candidates, campaign workers, volunteers, and concerned citizens are getting their friends and acquaintances to turn out and seal the fate of the election. They show up in hybrid vehicles with tree hugging signs, they show up in pick-up trucks with “Kick Saddam’s butt” stickers. They come dressed in suits, in denim, in fatigues and in rainbow garb.

Since the mighty Soviet Union collapsed, and in its fall revealed that its might was more fiction than reality, the political climate in the United States has a world wide impact that greatly exceeds global warming. Eulogies about the global village not withstanding, this effect/ relationship has had some disastrous effects on a large percentage of Americans and a majority of the world population. Thus, I, along with the rest of the world, watched eagerly to see which way the winds blew in this election.

I remember the tension and suspense during the evening of the election. The news flashes reeling off decisions in battleground states and scorecards of the Senate and the House. The dead-heat, deadlock, even-steven poll results gave no indication of how things would end. Now, looking back a week after it’s all over, those moments seem very far away.

Adlai Stevenson had said “In America, anybody can be president. That's one of the risks you take”. That anybody could be President for a second term was a little beyond the comprehension of most people on the planet. Here’s what was beyond the comprehension of your humble narrator:
Why did the moral majority choose to ignore the pernicious elements of foreign (and domestic) policy and the shenanigans of major contractors in Iraq, and focus instead on sexual deviances of a minority group who primarily reside at the dead ends of highways such as I-95 and Route 6? (Come to think of it, were it not for the Golden Gate Bridge, the same could be said of San Francisco).
Does the moral majority truly care more about tax cuts and less about the loss of innocent lives?
What happened to the likes of Bill Buckley, who chose silent partisanship over intellectual conservatism?

The list is endless, so why go on. Here’s what I concluded. It appeared that there was a sudden determination that the Age of Enlightment was one gigantic mistake which should be corrected promptly, say in four more years? The beliefs of the period that led to the Revolutionary War, that separated church from state and led to formation of liberal Christian sects with beliefs in humanism and science seems to have been a referendum question on the national ballot. The result of that vote --- two thumbs down!!

In my minds eye, the plastic booths still glow from the halogen tubes. They are extinguished one by one, legs taken apart, packed into the case formed by folding the sides and leave the building as a pile of small suitcases. They will be back in a few years. What choices we will face then? How will we respond?

Oct 21, 2004

Red Sox Nation

From the archives, written after the Sox miraculously beat the Yankees to win the AL and in the process stirred something in my immigrant self:
To me, baseball has always been the Great American Mystery. I am aware of why it is a popular pastime, since more beers are drunk and hot dogs wolfed down at games I have attended, as opposed to minutes spent in actually watching the game. However, despite attending both a major and a minor league game at the stadium, nay, ball park (that's "paahk" as of yesterday!) I am still at a loss as to why pitchers don't bat, what fouls a ball, and why a "ball" becomes a "strike" just because the batter (obviously driven by ennui) decides to take a huge swing. I think to myself, what's up with those big goofy mitts? Up until earlier this week, I never knew that the term Grand Slam existed outside tennis and bridge. My routine involvement with baseball was restricted to the following:
• Nodding gravely in the company of denizens of the RSN during the inevitable post-season "wake". There were the usual share of gaffes, "Is Ortis starting the pitching tomorrow ?" but the good folks of Fenwayland merely smiled, and took pains to correct it, adding a small discourse on where this burly hitter stands while fielding.
• Amusement at the annual re-appearance of the "Reverse the Curse" graffiti on Storrow Drive, and at the innumerable discussion of the "bambino".
• Being aware that "Yankees suck" was as good an ice-breaker as any at a party.
A change was brought about, my friends, after the Sox won Game 4 in the ALS. The humiliating debacle (19-8) of Game 3, and the impending 4-0 sweep had rendered a mood sullener than usual around town, and to come back and win the next in a marathon session was the spark that set the fire blazing. Actually, no, it was merely the kindling. The spark was as follows:
I kept hearing the scores of Game 5 off and on since it began at around 5 PM. The 2-0 score at 7 PM made me brace myself for all the somber nodding I would have to perform the next day. At around 9 pm, my wife (that most unlikely of baseball fans) asked me what the score was. I switched on the telly to catch Bill Mueller tie the score at the bottom of the ninth. I kept the TV on, while trying to finish reading the Suskind article on Dubya in the NYT magazine. My eyes kept straying from this racy piece, and I continued watching inning after inning of masterful pitching by Wakefield, tension filled moments when Johnny slipped that easy bunt. The game, as they say, sucked me right in. After 5 hours of a grueling game (I'll admit I only watched the last 2 1/2), I felt somewhat like the 16 year old teen on a late hot night in June 1983, as the incredulous BBC commentator said "INDIA HAS WON THE WORLD CUP".. (lOkay, it wasn't quiet the same feeling, but then I am no longer a 16 year old teen but a 36 year old balding dude.
The other admission at this point is that I did not really watch any of the remaining games fully. However, just turning on the TV at night was reminiscent of walking in with the other 119,999 people into the Eden Gardens Cricket Grounds in Calcutta (that's Gah-dens, as of yesterday 8-). To be able to go to sleep in peace, knowing that it's 4 - zip at the bottom of the 6th. To slip into slumber, watching that Damon send yet another into the stands, and its 8-1 at the top of the 7th. Here again my wife, that most latent of fanatical baseball fans, would keep a firm grip on the clicker, and watch the game long past my departure to dreamland.
A fella told me recently that he watches sports since it represents "Reality TV" for him. He said the games (and back stories) have it all - drama, tension, fear factor, idols, trading spouses 8-).. I finally saw the logic behind his words. The legends behind this match-up are numerous and unforgettable. 1918, the Babe's piano in the lake, Billy Buckner, the inevitable meltdowns and all the other "curse" related legends. Then there are the game related tales -- the "no-other-team-came-back-from-3-down" statistic, the tethered tendon, the Bellhorn miracle homer, and the A-Rod riot police incident. This is all that is needed to transform a slow, uneventful activity by a bunch o' baccy chewin' buckeroos into an epic involving the Fellowship of the Ring. Yes, Frodo lives!!!!
A fan is thus born -- perhaps not the most enlightened fan, and one who will continue to make many baseball gaffes ("So how many steps does the pitcher usually run before throwing the ball?") but a fan nonetheless. I don't know what it is. Some attachment to Boston, maybe? I am not completely immobile yet, but my roots do feel a slight tug from that granite-gravel laced soil on which my house sits. Whatever it is, the thrill is back, at least good enough for a 36 year old who is not able to stay up much past midnight.

Go SOX!!!