Monday, February 20, 2006

The Jupiter String Quartet Concert

I am about as far from being a musical instrument enthusiast as Proxima Centauri is from the earth. In fact banging my big toe against the leg of a piano (and almost fracturing it in the process) has been my most intimate encounter with an instrument of any kind. By a quirk of fate, a professor of a friend of mine living in Babcock (Let's call her M) gave her two tickets to a string quartet concert. Note that she wasn't any great fan of musical instruments either. Since the tickets were 27 bucks apiece and both of us are not the type to spend that kind of money on concerts, we thought we would make best use of this opportunity.

We find our way to the Theatre and to our delight our seats were front-row center stage seats. Congratulating myself for having brought my camera along I think I'm going to get some great pictures. The stage was set up and the program was about to start. After looking all around and seeing that no one had bought a camera along, I very hesitantly took a picture of the stage after turning the flash off. That was the only picture I got that night, because the very next minute an announcement was made about "photography of any kind" being prohibited.

I was initially worried about displaying my abysmal ignorance of music to M but much to my delight I found that I might even be considered a musical maestro when compared to her. The names 'Mozart' and 'Beethoven' on the agenda did not strike a chord in her head. Not even after I hinted 'Moonlight Sonata'. Chuckling in glee I relaxed while she looked at me with great respect not knowing how little I knew myself.

The artistes walk in and there is a pin-drop silence. The kind of silence that produces a dull ringing noise in your ears. It was hard to believe that a crowd of several hundred could be that silent. After a bow, the artistes take their respective seats and begin the first piece. It was a Mozart composition. After concentrating intensely for 20 minutes, I find my eyes begin to close. But I control myself. "Nirmal", I tell myself.. "this is going to be your first and last concert. Enjoy it to the fullest." All of a sudden, everyone in the audience started clapping and that was when we realized that the piece had ended. The second piece by one Frenchman "Henri Dutilleux" was a little better in that it didn't put me to sleep. But perhaps that was because I had stopped focussing on the music itself and had immersed myself in observing the movements and funny expressions made by the artistes.

Strangely, unlike Hollywood movies, this concert had an intermission. We do not know what the elite audience discussed about the performance of the artistes during the break but some excerpts of the conversation between M and me follow:

M: So.. what did you think?
Me: Hmm.. It was a different experience.. I kinda dozed off for a few minutes during the first piece though. Did you like it?
M: Oh.. yeah.. It was interesting.. Did you notice the strange facial expressions the artistes were making.
Me: Yeah.. I could hardly prevent myself from laughing. I got used to it after some time though. M(pssst): The guy in the middle was cute na..
Me(sarcastically): Oh really..
M: Yes.. And I liked the way he made way for the girl before leaving.
Me: I would do that too..
M: hehe haha.. hoo hoo..
Me (ominously): Are you saying I wouldn't?
M: Well.. let's put it this way.. I would have believed you if you hadn't let the door bang into my face on our way in.
Me (sheepishly): Oh that.. it was a genuine mistake.. I forgot you were coming in after me.
M (sarcastically): Well given the fact that I didn't go ahead of you and the fact that we came together I must have been behind you right?
Me (grumbling): Well.. I must've been thinking of something else.. Never mind.. Did you notice the girl at the extreme right?
M (suspiciously): Yes.. she was cute.. and her dress was awesome too.. what about her?
Me (softly): Did you notice how her calf muscles moved while she was playing?
M: No.. I had better things to do..
Me: Like watch the guy in the center I presume.
M (haughtily) : Exactly..

... and so the conversation went.. Not exactly a discussion of the remarkable performance we had just witnessed. The intermission was longer than we expected and we cracked jokes in Hindi about the artistes having dinner.

Soon afterwards the troupe entered and began playing the last piece of the day. It was a piece by 'Beethoven' and having read some very inspiring anecdotes about him, I resolved to listen carefully to this final composition. In fact I sshhhhhed 'M' and said very importantly "Beethoven", "Beethoven" like he was my good old friend. Luckily for me the composition was truly wonderful. Something that even amateurs could enjoy. The climax of the piece was especially breathtaking with the artistes reaching a crescendo of sorts.

All in all a memorable evening...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

My vacation

Now that I am done with cribbing, let us move on to happier things. This past winter break was one of the most pleasant vacations I have ever had. Loads of travelling, loads of good food, loads of shopping, loads of movies, loads of get-togethers. In fact the only thing missing in that list is probably 'loads of sleeping' but then one can't get loads of everything and still get the sleep one wants... ;-). I wonder why my sis finds this so hard to understand.. grr.

Some pictures follow..

I took this picture of Downtown Washington DC standing right in the middle of the road after the pedestrian signal had changed. Luckily, I wasn't arrested.. I was honked at a couple of times though..

The Capitol Building

The White House was the least impressive of all the architecture in DC. I wasn't even tempted to take a peek inside though they were allowing visitors on the day we were there.

The Lincoln Memorial

The Washington Monument

Both the Lincoln Memorial and the Washinton monument were breathtakingly beautiful.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Blog updates

1) Atleast for this semester this blog will be more of a tool to keep in touch with friends than to entertain readers. I guess I am chasing away readers by saying this but it can't be helped. For now it will have to be this or nothing.

2) In case you haven't noticed, the christmas tree has been edited out of the background image to improve readability. Thank you Camphor, for photoshopping the image! :-).

3) I was listed under the humor category on Indibloggers. I have reverted back to the personal category because that is what this blog is and will be. (Having a single digit rank on the Humor bloglist was kinda tempting a couple of months back.. hehe)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A damn shame

I don't normally crib much on my blog and it is unfortunate that my first post of this calendar year should be a criticism of practices, specifically university practices and even more specifically, departmental practices.

The best thing about America is freedom. Freedom to do whatever you want to without caring much about what the people around you think. Freedom to tell your prof that you want to visit your girlfriend instead of lying about being sick and visiting her anyway. Freedom to tell your boss that you can't make it at the time he proposed because you've committed yourself to some other task however trivial it may be. Freedom to wear a daring dress and not get ogled at. Freedom to wear a cap similar to Jughead's and not get weird looks.

I have experienced this freedom to the fullest for over one and a half years now and it just about made up for being so far from home. For the first time when I least expected it, I found opposition and surprisingly it was from my own department. All for a course I was interested in doing. To cut a long story short.. I wanted to do a 3 credit course well suited to my field of research offered by the Electrical and Computer Engineering(ECE) department. This course was open to all graduate students. Seeing no problem I proceeded to register for the course but when I confirmed with my department I was told that I could take the course but would not get any credits for it. I was stupefied. Why the hell would I want to take a semester long course without receiving any credit for it? I was still not mad though. I just assumed there must be a logical reason for their opposition.

It was only later that the true reasons behind this opposition were brought to my attention and it makes me see RED. It appears that at the end of every year the Dean of the University gets a detailed statistical analysis of registration trends. Funds are allocated to a department based on the number of students registering for courses within that department. This makes sense alright but not at the cost of not letting a student do what he/she wants to do, especially if the course is interdisciplinary. The fact that I was refused credits because my department wants me to be in the "Computer Science" section of the pie-chart presented to the Dean and not in the "ECE" section is irritating to say the least.

I AM NOT A NUMBER NOR DO I WANT TO BE ONE. I am human and I don't care if I exist on their pie charts or not. All I know is- I haven't been able to do what I want to. Clearly departmental politics in some form or the other are omnipresent.