Sunday, September 23, 2007

Three Quarks for Muster Mark

In which Ludwig is reminded of food and music by an unlikely book that SpaceBar showed him

We used to live in a first floor hostel room that, through a brace of ashoka trees and over a rusty phalanx of forgotten bicycles, looked down at an eatery judiciously named Quark. Judicious because Quark is the kind of name that carefully attenuated to be simultaneously cool and geeky enough to appeal to a wide cross-section of the student populace.

The fare at Quark was mixed. Variations on the "oily gobs of semolina with shreds of vegetables and meat" theme were passed off as products of Szechuan and Manchuria. Vanilla ice-cream was cheerfully and sometimes inevitably (given Madras temperatures and power cuts) melted, optimistically christened "milk shake" and peddled for a princely Rs. 10. The menu was written on a whiteboard, and some of us went there just to find out what spelling they'd used today ("Kobe Manjuriyan - Rs. 15").

The piece de resistance of the cordon bleu experience, as it were, was the delicious kheema porotta. The porottas were of the excellent Mallu variety, and for the connoisseurs amongst our readers, enough said. The kheema was fine grained, spicy, in generous quantities (enough to warrant an extra porotta) and quite sexy. In hindsight, one fervently hopes that the meat came off some traditional ungulate, or at least an herbivorous quadruped. Who is to say?

When the thing was cooked, one of the waiters would put on his best American accent and announce loudly, "Khhheemmmaa porrotttaa, exxxtrraaa porrrotttaaa!!!". And as his shriek died in the prosopis plants that infested the place, you could swagger up to the counter, and everyone would know you were spending big money tonight.

Quark had a "fountain Pepsi" machine. Remember those things? It is reasonable to suspect that a number of people patronized Quark because they were mesmerized by this hissing-panting consul-general of liberalization and globalization in the midst of our customary squalor. If the Starship Enterprise had landed in the hostel quadrangle and Captain Kirk had invited us to play at the battle bridge we couldn't have been happier. For 5 seconds while the plastic cup filled up and the beaded bubbles started winking at the brim, we were on an American campus.

Dining was al fresco. This is another way of saying the management couldn't be bothered with putting up any kind of roof over our heads or providing any furniture. Which was just as well. The future has come to pass, and a recent visit threw the "advantages" of progress into Stark Relief. Shudder. Instead we had trees, and a bunch of cubical and cylindrical concrete blocks, sturdy specimens that had survived the rigours of destructive testing in the structures lab, now living out their retirement respectably as stools and tables.

The management were also proud purveyors of the sketchiest selection of Hindi and Tamil "chartbusters" of the mid-nineties. They'd rigged up an elementary stereo and loudspeaker system that pelted us with scratchy (yet loud!) versions of such classics is main maal gaadi hoon tu dhakka lagaa, subah ko leti hai, shaam ko leti hai, and sarkai liyo khatiyaa, jaadaa laage.

But those were also the days when Kaadhalan and Rangeela were young, and Gulabi and Bombay were around the corner. And how was one to concentrate on the intricacies of the serendipity element or fathom the thought process behind Terzaghi's theses, when coffee, cigarettes and conversation punctuated by urvasi, urvasi or beat in my heart beckoned?

Perhaps Quark was a metaphor for a campus and a country in transition. The hep name, the unorthodox fare, and the English-speaking wait staff were all harbingers of the fifteen kazillion such eateries that dot metro India today. The Hawaii chappals, crap music, ersatz sundaes and the makeshift seating harkened back to something altogether less complicated.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fapjprid - An Experiment in Collaborative Verse

In which Ludwig dredges up a almost forgotten work of art from the depths of his hard disk

In the Spring of 1998 we were young and restless. We had more or less just decanted off the Air India 747 at JFK and wended our circuitous way to Amherst, MA. We had successfully negotiated one semester at grad school via masterful inactivity, learned how to prevent the fire alarm from going off when cooking Indian food (wet towel, duct tape), stuck our tongue out at falling snowflakes, and located the closest desi store (Hartford, CT - unless you counted sketchy tinned stuff peddled by our kin from Kamboja on Route 9 in Hadley, MA). We had done our first road trip in the freezing winter of '97, gawked at the stupid ball falling at Times Square, "gambled" (20$!) at the Taj Mahal (misguided nostalgic patriotism) in Atlantic City, and survived close encounters of the wetting pants kind with a number of semis during the course of an icy January night somewhere between Pittsburgh, PA and Hartford, CT.

In short, to sum it up, we were feeling rather content. The s. was on the t. and the l., having astutely observed the advent of Spring, was airborne. As the sun's rays crept into long frozen nooks and crannies of the land and the thaw set in and life sprung anew, like so many gorgeous toadstools after a monsoon, a quantity of undergrad women had begun to appear on the lawns of Puffton Village. Whatever fill-in-the-blanks (umm...unfill-the-unblanks, rather) they left to the imagination could easily be filled in by referring to certain reliable textual and online resources.

Such was the nature of the space-time continuum that Spring, and Ludwig's creative juices were raring to go. Certain sundered but unforgotten friends were contacted, the talk turned to matters of days gone by, and of long and utterly pointless conversations under the Tarams tree, at the dead of night, in a miasma of cigarette smoke, under the influence of several "cup sp. coffees". Three friends decided to try and see if they could recreate some of that insanity.

Thus was born the idea of writing a "chain mail poem". We set to with gusto, and the entire saga follows without major changes. This masterpiece was actually on the web at one point and then removed, but is now emerging after a shelved existence of 7 years.

NOTE: The way to read this poem is to read a line, and then refer to the corresponding footnote (if any). Think of the footnotes as running commentary. It will help immensely if you think of the authors as three 20 year old geeks from a certain kind of institute, possibly suffering from a touch of insanity. If you, in fact, were acquainted with the authors during they time they spent on campus, you will have no need to imagine the insanity, you would've seen first-hand demonstrations. Also remember that this was written in 1998.


This poem was written by three of the weirdest, coolest guys I know, Deski, Prosh and Ludwig. If one of them ever asks you, "How big is spider?", "Some spiders eat birds." would probably be the right thing to say. You get the idea.

It's a really interesting poem, especially if you know the details about its evolution. Click on the line numbers to jump to explanations for the line.


The three of us had long contemplated writing nonsense verse. We thought that it would not be too difficult, because this is almost the exact pattern into which our conversations used to fall most of the time.

The interesting thing about this work is that we rotated lines so that each one of us would pen (or rather key) every third line. Ergo Deski wrote lines 1, 4, 7 etc., Prosh wrote lines 2, 5, 8 etc. and I chipped in with 3, 6, 9 etc. The entire poem was written over e-mail during the spring of 1998. Sometimes we would dash off several lines a day. Sometimes it would be a week and several death threats later that one of us would set the ball rolling again.

There are, of course, several pretentious things about Fapjprid like the deliberate creation of new words a-la-Jabberwocky and the references to other great works of yore (Grond ring a bell?). But what the hell, it was great fun and the result isn't too bad.

I have attempted to provide an glossary of sorts and explanations for several features, atleast from the lines I wrote. I'm waiting for the other guys to tell me what they were thinking of so that I can present a complete picture.

The Poem

  1. The fapjprid sang a merry tune, a-walking thro' the glade,
  2. In one hand she had her rolling pin, and in the other two her spade
  3. The fourth was digging thrimungles, her beak was hammering Gronds
  4. She hopped upon her only foot, and squawked "My pant's too long."

  5. With a tear, and a chokgling cry did the pants take to the air,
  6. The fapjprid's endless wailing, was more than they could bear.
  7. I'm off to find my better half, the jirwoc's suit of gold.
  8. Or perhaps I should meet a sage, or a thimble which is bold."

  9. O'er Dorkil Mountain they went, they dived into the Ecsta Sea
10. A soggy and untimely end...alas, nor sweet nor savour-y
11. The oysters sleeping below on their heads got quite a shock,
12. And, out of shame, the fapjprid took to wearing a frock.

13. All clad anew in purple hue, she sallied forth once more.
14. (But ask her not about her pants, about 'em she's still quite sore !)
15. Ere she came to Dorkil Mountain, she met a jirwoc fierce,
16. She turned not pale, a horn of ale gave she to him. Said "cheers!".

17. The knavish ale, laced with poison fierce, at once took its toll,
18. Laid the jirwoc flat, that was that, and skyward rose his soul.
19. She stood on land, saw soul in sky and pants in sea, and laughed
20. And all at once found her head knocked off by a shy B'zaft.

21. But glory be to bark and tree, like a Phoenix she arose,
22. Our twice born friend that cannot end s'long as Ecsta Sea flows,
23. Lingering on like a fermenting wound that reeks of rotting fish,
24. Unharmed, unscathed, unmarked, unchained, no scar or blemish.

25. "Adventure" gumphed the fapjprid "is verily what I need
26. Thrimungles 'n Gronds are rather nice, tho I hate aniseed."
27. She passed o'er Dorkil Mount and came to the edge of Tijus wood,
28. Where three roads forked and a doleful sign read "Go which way you would"

29. Searching in the trees nearby, she caught a four faced coin,
30. One face said head, one said tail, the others were hair and groin.
31. Up spun the coin and landed on her forty 'leventh toe
32. Silence followed, the head then said "Them wood's the way to go!"

33. So she grit her feet and set her teeth and plunged down Middle Way,
34. ("But fapjprids have beak and foot, pray explain!" you may say
35. The reason's simple - 'tis a feat indeed to be fleet with one foot.
36. Ere she'd taken twenty steps, her cerebellum went ka-put.)

37. No matter that...ere long she met a consanguineous har
38. The eyes on his patch made him look really quite bizzare.
39. He was striped, which was odd, for he most surely wasn't a tiger,
40. He twirled his legs, beamed at an X, and went to raid her Geiger.

41. The fapjprid, outraged at this attack on her modesty,
42. Threw a thrimungle at that har which was nobbut lusty
43. "Das har dass war" exploded white and turned into a spider
44. A cutlass in one hand, the others with tankards of cider.

45. Tis' with tender heart and moist eye that we come to this final scene,
46. The sword puts end to jolly breast, alas, God save the bilious spleen,
47. And what of the spider? A more ill-fated creature I have yet to meet,
48. End of tale of jirwoc and ale, and linger thoughts of thrimungles sweet.


1. Deski writes the first line. The word fapjprid is obtained by hitting keys at random. We contemplate changing the name to something more pronounceable, but later decide against altering what Fate has ordained. Not only do we use poetic license in creating the word, but we agree to give you, Gentle Reader, the linguistic license to pronounce it as you will. This makes fapjprid the first of its kind in the English language.

2. Here we begin to get an idea about the anatomy of this curious creature. We also learn its sex...or so we think.

3. This is the first line I wrote. Another hand is added to an already well-limbed f. and a beak is thrown in for good measure. Grond is the hammer of Melkor in the Silmarillion and also the name given to the battering ram that the Lord of the Nazgul directs against the gates of Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings. My Tolkien fetish makes itself evident in the early stages. What a beak the fapjprid must have to hammer Gronds of any sort...

4. To make matters worse for a fapjprid that is in imminent danger of turning into an octopus, Deski proceeds to give it a foot and pants. Though we are unaware at this moment, this foot will go on to play another, more controversial role in the future.

5. Chokgling, Prosh? Perhaps this is a vague reference that Prosh's subconscious has dredged up, to the Chokkalingam who sells aananda maNakkam outside Guindy railway station, Madras, India?

7. The jirowc now gate crashes the party...

9. Another pathetic attempt by yours truly to introduce new things into the poem. Ecsta Sea is actually a solution of LSD in water, which is why everyone wants to dive into it.

11. The oysters are a veiled tribute to Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and the Carpenter. We are all great fans of Do-do Dodgson and we salute the master.

12. At this point, the fapjprid is clearly confused about its sexuality. It started off being a "she", went on to wear pants, and now is ashamed (in spite of being a "she") to wear a frock? Or else, to retain sanity, one could imagine the fapjprid joining the clergy (frock, capisce?) to overcome the shame it felt.

18. This line is of no particular significance, except that my friend Sujit was peering over my shoulder when I typed it, and he expressed amazement at my great poetic skills.

19. This is really where the fapjprid loses it. It must have been a fairly traumatizing and existential moment. To see your clothes (your outside) and your soul (your inside) leave you, you must be a pretty mean sort of thing in the first place. A hitherto absent philosophical spin is added to the poem.

20. In what he claims is the humanitarian thing to do, Prosh does away with our wonderful creation with a single stroke of a "shy B'zaft". Me and Deski are outraged. Things were just beginning to look good for f. A war of e-mails erupts.

21. In desperate attempt to keep the insanity going, I resurrect the fapjprid from doom. Arthur Conan Doyle needed a whole story to bring Holmes back from the dead, we achieve it in one line with a classical allusion.

22. Deski lends his support to my efforts to revive our protagonist.

23. Prosh reluctantly comes around to our way of thinking. He expresses his disgust with the state of affairs in an eloquent and olfactorily stimulating line.

24. Secretly overjoyed that Prosh is back, I pen this inspirational line. My way of saying, "Prosh, friend! We forgive you!".

27. I decide to immortalize Sujit for complimenting my poetical genius by reversing his name and sticking it into the poem. 6 years later, the guy in the purple jacket who knows this fact, wins the Saarang main quiz in a tiebreak and Rs. 10,000 and is deified in Indian quizzing circles. Abraham Thomas is relegated to a footnote.

28. A nice pun there from Deski...How much wood would a fapjprid prid if a fapjrid could and would prid wood?

29. Prosh has a party on Friday which involves inhalation, injection and drinking of several classified substances. He wakes up at four in the evening on Saturday and writes this line, which is probably an accurate portrayal of his state of mind.

30. I toss tempestuously in bed for a night, trying to come up with a polite word that rhymes with coin. Next day, under duress and out of sheer desperation, I decide to go ahead with groin. I am burnt in effigy in Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN - home of Deski and Prosh.

31. More anatomical complications...

33. I make a cardinal error in referring to the fapjprid's "feet". Remember, the fapjprid as originally conceived has just the one foot (line 4)? Deski sends me e-mail with a few choice abuses that are popular in the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Rim of the Eastern Spiral Arm of the galaxy. A reference to Buddhism, to add more philosophical color.

34. Deski attempts to salvage factual integrity by the ancient method of posing rhetorical questions to an imaginary audience, in brackets.

35. Prosh comes up with this perfect riposite to Deski's question. Somehow, we agree to agree that the matter has sorted itself out.

36. In a fit of shame, I kill the fapjprid, in German.

37. Deski decides to ignore my efforts and introduces a har into the scheme of things. A har is something me and Deski conjured up while chatting over the web. I am no longer sure about what it is. It must have been a pretty neat concept.

38. Now we know what the "patch" on the har looks like.

39. I add stripes to the har. This line too (like line 11) is a veiled reference to The Walrus and the Carpenter. The tiger causes problems. I receive hate mail from Deski enquiring of me, "How the $%@& do you expect me to find a word that rhymes with tiger, you $%^$^&&)(!*@^%#%$?" A detailed description, too obscene and violent to be recorded here, of his plans for my body follows. I buy a ticket for Timbuctoo, Mali and spend a week lying low and enjoy sub-Saharan Africa.

40. Deski, smart young chap that he is, finally does come up with a rhyming word. Life goes on.

42. Nobbut is how someone from Yorkshire would say "Nothing but". I picked this tidbit up from James Herriot's stories. A thrimungle turns out to be some sort of throwable object, like a paper weight or a ball. An error of omission occurs when I do not refer to >The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it being line 42 and all that...

43. Deski exhibits his German skills and we also see the beginnings of his arachnomania.

44. Prosh continues to display the effects of substance abuse.

45. We agree that there can be too much of a good thing and decide to put an end to things. This time its all very civil. I am particularly keen on stopping at this point because it will mean that all of us will have written the same number of lines and more significantly, I will have the last word!

47. Prosh joins Deski on the spider bandwagon. Its a good thing we have agreed to stop, or else this might end up looking like a cobweb.

48. A nice sentimental line to end it all.