Bookmarks of bygone memories

I find bookmarks very handy and I use them extensively. My bookmark toolbar is filled with links and folders. From ‘Reading list’ to ‘Data Science notes’, I often refer to many useful folders in the toolbar. One-click and you’re there. So convenient! Now, these bookmarks are not only there in our browsers. They have an active presence in our daily life. I will talk about a few of them.

Songs are essentially one of the most prominent bookmarks of life. The FIFA world cup (2022) was going on a few days back and someone was playing the world cup classic song ‘Wavin’ Flag’. Almost instantaneously and involuntarily when I heard the song, my mind went back to 2010. I was in 9th standard, and during the world cup, I had just gulped a 1 rupee coin. It all flashed in front of me. Felt like it happened yesterday.

A good friend of mine (who is also a good pen pal) had sent me an old song by an Indian band called Raeth in 2018/2019. This song used to be the quintessential breakup song for the generation before ours. It is called ‘Bhula do’. Now, I would listen to my maternal uncle (who is 10 years older than me) play this song and many other Bengali rock songs while growing up. Later I had totally forgotten about this song and others. Then my friend one day sent this masterpiece, and since then I have restarted listening to not only this one but all those Bengali rock and pop songs that I used to listen to when I was a child. I haven’t stopped since. Here is the song, in case anyone wants to give it a try:

I can go on about songs for an hour or two. But let’s move on to something else: scent. It is hard to write about them like that. Probably Gulzar, Jaun Elia or Pablo Neruda can, but it is a tough job for me. But they follow the association rule very strongly. You come across a random fragrance and you suddenly remember the last time when you were touched by it. The scent doesn’t have to be of a person but it can be of various things. And boy oh boy, they trigger the past memories very quickly and abruptly.

Yesterday, after the office, I found another bookmark. Scent or songs are something that knowingly or unknowingly I have always acknowledged but this is something that I have never ever thought of: Facebook. There was a time, before its timely (?) death when Facebook used to be the centre of everything! Cheesy long romantic posts, school-college dramas, football-related brawls, trolling – it had everything.

I was going through my own timeline and randomly searched some of my friends’ names there. And man! It felt like we had shared almost everything that we used to do on Facebook. FB has a great feature where it gives a throwback ‘On this day’, they are also pretty good when it comes to bookmarks. I often cringe seeing my post and often smile. But that’s what it is, a great feature. It also serves as a great reminder of how much life has changed. There were so many people with whom I used to interact a lot, but now I have no idea about their whereabouts. Even some of my college mates are there on that list. Especially two of them. Since leaving the college, I have made several attempts to reconnect with them, but it has been totally futile.

This is the property of these bookmarks I guess. They trigger old memories. But not all of them bring happiness.

Mihajlovic and the purpose of life

Imagine you’ve been diagnosed with a deadly disease. What would you do? How would you like to spend your time? Frankly, I don’t know. I have never given this a thought. But I do know that I would not want to spend it working a full-time job. The job that I have.

Sinisa Mihajlovic, an ex-Serbian footballer and a Serie A legend died yesterday (16th December 2022) following complications of leukaemia. Almost 3.5 years back he first announced that he had this disease. At that time, he was the manager of Bologna FC. He continued to manage them even after being ill for almost 3 years. This is something that I have failed to wrap my head around. This act no doubt portrays his character and professionalism. Still, I fail to comprehend why anyone who probably has nothing to achieve particularly from a job in a familiar domain, will continue to do it even in a situation like this. More than the physical pain, I have so many questions about the psychological part.

One reason why someone would continue to do what they have been doing even in this situation is simple. You know you will come around very soon. You know you’re far stronger than the disease that is engulfing you. You will eventually beat it and come out with flying colours. The other reason is more abstract.

After a certain point, one should find the purpose of their life. This purpose, of course, will change over time. Your purpose at 25 might not be the same as when you’re 40 or when you were 18. Many people in the industry take breaks from what they are currently doing to find this purpose. A break for a month, 3 months or even a year. And then there are many who don’t tie the purpose of their lives with the job they’re doing. They have other priorities. The sense of fulfilment comes from there.

If someone truly finds a purpose, taking the steps in life becomes really easy. I really don’t know what governed Sinisa. But, I do know, the football world lost a top-class professional. Ciao, Sinisa.

Leaving with some of his best goals in Serie A.

The science in poetry

One of the things that define science is how universal it is. It is essentially the observation of nature to some huge extent. Sure, there are perspectives in many scientific findings. Even, science teaches us about perspectives. But the universal property is quite innate to science. Ricky Gervais eloquently summed it up in this video:

What he says is:

You see, if we take something like any fiction, any holy book, and any other fiction and destroyed it, in a thousand years time that wouldn’t come back just as it was. Whereas if we took every science book and every fact and destroyed them all, in a thousand years they’d all be back, because all the same tests would be the same result.

This is quite thought-provoking and he is spot on with it. Even if you delete all the scientific books, the scientific truths won’t change. Force will always be equal to mass times the acceleration. Speed will always be equal to distance divided by the time taken to travel the same. They are universal truths. Now, this got me thinking about poetry and the science in it.

A large part of poetry involves correlating one’s feelings with natural objects. Be it Pablo Neruda’s “And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture” or Javed Akhtar’s “Kabhi yun bhi to naram mulaayam thandi havaayen..jab ghar se tumhaare guzaren, tumhaari khushboo churaayen…mere ghar le aayen” (Eng: Sometimes this should happen..when this soft tender cool breeze passes your house, it steals your fragrance and brings it to my house..). All the great poets have used nature and natural phenomena as the object of writing. My hypothesis is this: Even if we destroy all the books of poems, we will have similar things coming back to us. Nature won’t change. The rivers will continue to flow. The wind will have its fragrance. And the poets, with their pensive hearts, will observe and write about them.

This all came to my mind on a fine evening when I was coming back from the office while humming a Beatles song: You never gave me your money. There is a line in that song that goes: “Oh, that magic feeling… Nowhere to go, nowhere to go…”. Now, this has a striking resemblance with a line from Rabindranath Tagore’s poem “Dui Bigha Jomi” (My little plot of land): “I consoled myself: God has decided not to confine me to this small plot of land; Perhaps I am fated to roam far and wide and end up in some distant strand.” They are eerily similar in a sense. And the chances of the Fab Four not coming across Tagore’s Dui Bigha Jomi is also high. Then how is the similarity? It is because (IMO) poetry captures these universal feelings of the human race. And these feelings will stay the same as long as there is this universe. As long as there is nature. And that’s the reason, I believe, even if you destroy everything, there might well be another Neruda in the future who will write: “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees…” or something in that line.

Does the ending matter?

I was watching the Wong Kar-wai classic “In the mood for love” again and when this famous scene came up, my mind immediately went to a different place. I started thinking about a blog post I read a while back and even saved it in my notes.

“Today I chanced across a photographer’s profile on Instagram, whose entire body of work centred on artistically blurred images. No not random shaky ones. A subject and surrounding, all blurred around the edges, separate and yet intertwined by an inseparable bond. Much like the mind and the heart. Much like abrupt beginnings and endings. All rolled in one, yet separate and yet again, together. A beautiful mess. After all, isn’t that what life’s supposed to be?”

This coupled with the endings of “In the mood for love” prompted an important question for me: Does the ending matter?

There is a great Ted Talk on how Math helps us understand the world better. I strongly relate to this idea and often, I try to correlate different things in life with Mathematics. Wrote a similar blog post more than a year back.

Now coming back to the topic. In simulation theory, we have two types of models: discrete and continuous. In short, for discrete models, the state variable changes a countable number of times, whereas, for continuous simulation, the state variable changes every moment following some conditions. I used to think that life is like a long continuous event where the change happens in every moment. But lately, I have been thinking, that it is more like the summation of several discrete events.

Significant changes in the state variables (life events) direct our lives. More than the slow continuous changes, it is the abrupt changes that help us take a path. It can be the moment where one may decide to change the course of a career, end a relationship, or start something new. These points in the lifetime will act as the pivotal points where the system changes its course. And for these discrete events, the endings don’t really matter.

More than the end point of a particular discrete event of life, what matters more is the state trajectory (which is a function of time) it follows while that event was simulated. If that has an uphill trajectory for most of the part, and the ending condition is provided by the designer (that it is not forced by any external events), then endings shouldn’t really matter much.

And in this way, I feel the movie is special. The designers (Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow) put the ending condition of their simulation models. There were no external forces that directed it like most other movies. The model ran its course. They started something without realizing the end. But in the end, the end didn’t matter. Truly a masterpiece.

The clouds of our lives

A few days back, during a mere Uber ride, I was thinking about the clouds. Yes, the clouds. Have you ever wondered about them? Clouds are everywhere. They are ever-present. Be it the scorching May or the overcast August or even the wintry December. Whenever you’ll look at the sky, you’ll notice them. But there is a strange thing about them. We see the clouds, we notice the clouds but we only acknowledge their presence when it rains. At least most of the time this is the case.

I was thinking about the striking similarity between this phenomenon and another one in our mortal life. We come across so many people in our daily life. If you keep the count then it will be in lakhs. Among these lakhs, only very few touch us in a way that we can never forget about them. We often find something very unique, something very pure about them that always stays with us. Often we don’t meet these ‘clouds’ in our life ever again. But somehow we remember their essence in our life. Sometimes on a mundane day, these ‘clouds’ float around and we suddenly remember ‘that day’ or ‘that moment’ when once it rained.

At this point of time, I suddenly came back to reality by the murmuring voice of Mark Knopfler coming from my earphones:

“And you still refuse to be traced

Seems to me such a waste

And every victory has a taste that’s bittersweet

And it’s your face I’m looking for on every street”

I smiled a bit under my mask. I felt at peace.