Places and Spaces

Van Gogh’s most famous painting is also one of my favourites. Living in New York, I have often been to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and to me Starry Night and Monet’s Waterlilies are the two cornerstones of the art there.

Of course, art curators and such are far more credible judges of the paintings than I am because my bar for art is something along the lines of “Oooooh! Pre-ttttty!”. But there’s something about Starry Night. It’s so magical. In a funny way, it’s the same feeling that I get when I look up at a clear, quiet night sky with twinkling stars and a blazing moon. The night isn’t stationary, it’s alive! And I think the night that Vincent painted is alive too.

When I saw the painting for the first time, I was surprised. I had no idea that the cypresses were a deep forest green with brown edges. Online, I just saw an unsightly dark patch that marred an otherwise pretty sky and never paid attention to the village below either.

My interest in Van Gogh was piqued by Doctor Who. Yes, an entirely unexpected source. For those of you who don’t know, The Doctor is a time traveller and is singularly amazing. Go watch him on Netflix!

Here’s a heartwarming scene from the end of the episode that really made me want to learn much more about this tormented genius.

The museum shown here is the Musée d’Orsay. It’s a beautiful museum and I prefer it to the Louvre, just like I like MoMA more than The Met. Before I had seen the paintings, I thought I liked the Starry Night Over the Rhone better than Starry Night and even tried hunting it down in Paris but when I finally saw it in Amsterdam I have to admit that it didn’t quite have the richness that Starry Night has. It’s a wonderfully mesmerizing painting in its own right of course!

Having drunk in the painting a lot more than when I watched that episode a few years ago, I divide it into three parts in my head.

  1. The sky.
    The eponymous starry night. The shining stars, the moon, swirls of blue. I love the swirls the best. So many hues of blue from the mountains right up to the inky sky! Have you ever seen a moon that shines so bright that you’re almost dazzled by it? Sometimes the moonlight streams in through my window creating a bright yellow patch against my black wall. It’s so bright that I look for an artificial source of light, like a street lamp.
  2. The village.
    Unlike the turbulent heavens above, the village is quiet and peaceful, like everyone is asleep. There isn’t a light at a window or a rustling leaf. It’s such a contrast to the sky!
  3. The cypresses.
    As I have said above, I didn’t like the trees when I saw the digital reproductions online, but in reality, seeing that paint on the canvas, it neatly ties together the village and the sky that are at odds with each other.

Now I’m taking the Modern Art & Ideas course on Coursera. Not that this is remotely useful to me professionally, but why should I be pigeonholed as an engineer? Just because I have a modicum of mathematical understanding doesn’t mean that I can’t be moved by art, literature, music, beauty and imagination. Which is why this TED talk never ceases to tickle my fancy.

The ridiculous distinction between the Arts and the Sciences annoys me to no end. We all have brains that appreciate patterns, whether in symbols or colours.


Books · World


See? I keep my promises.

At the risk of turning the world against me, I’m going to forge ahead to make the following statement.

I think Batman is a terrible superhero.

Here’s a man who has every advantage in the world and yet he squanders it away by pretending to be a millionaire playboy by day and a tights-donning vigilante by night who “beats up bad guys to teach them a lesson” instead of literally teaching them a lesson.

Yes, I mean the “correct”* use of the word literally.

Instead of slapping on an ineffective bandaid on the deep cracks of Gotham’s vicious underworld, with his money and position, Bruce Wayne could do some real good! Education is the key. Educate children before they become the poor, violent criminals that Batman beats up and you have a healthy, functional society.

And that’s why I think that the real superhero that children ought to be reading about is Malala Yousafzai. I haven’t yet finished reading the book for a detailed review of it yet, but so far, the youngest Nobel Prize winner’s story of fighting for education against all odds is incredibly inspiring.

The narrative so far flows easily and has a strong local flavour. It has the same simplicity as the Ruskin Bond stories that I loved reading growing up. To me, this reinforces the idea that the lives of Pakistanis and Indians, though miles apart are really quite the same. It isn’t that I believed differently; the two were one country only 60 years ago, but it’s still strangely exciting to know that we share some insignificant traditions such as eating with your right hand or the quirky dance of courtship that was the norm a generation or two ago.

The description of Swat as this picturesque, sequestered valley in Pakistan fits right in with my imagination of the majestic mountains of the Hindu Kush. Just look at this place! It’s breathtaking:


I hope that the world, or my life, whichever comes first, changes enough for me to be able to travel to this magical country.

*The definition of “literally” to mean an emphatic “figuratively” has been added to the dictionary.

Books · World

The United Kingdom


I absolutely adore Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries. There’s nothing like curling up with a good whodunnit or “cozy mysteries” as hers are sometimes called and trying to figure out the motive, means and murderer. I’m often right and that only adds to my enjoyment of her stories.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, this year I plan to read a book from every country in the world. I’m going to cheat and label my blazing through several Hercule Poirots in quick succession under “United Kingdom”. More than half my library consists of British literature so this is as far removed from my reading goals this year as it can possibly be but hey, is anyone protesting?

(Quiet, conscience!)

Didn’t think so.

My next book will be legit, I promise.



The new look is yellow!

To me, the colour of Van Gogh.

In the recent past, I have been very interested in modern art, impressionism and in particular, Vincent Van Gogh.

I think it all started when I watched Vincent and the Doctor a while ago.

It was a moving episode and I wanted to learn a lot more about this mad genius.

I eventually read a book on Van Gogh, which focussed on his paintings that are exquisite, went to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and gazed at the Starry Night, went to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and saw the Starry Night over the Rhone, watched some cool TED video* on Van Gogh and am currently reading the letters that he wrote. Somehow, it all makes Van Gogh seem very human and accessible. Like his art isn’t just for some wonderfully talented artist on the way to greatness but it’s for me too.

This year I intend to read a lot more and understand Vincent’s paintings better but also just enjoy them with an amateur eye and bask in the simple joy of seeing a vase of yellow sunflowers.

*Some cool TED video:

Books · World

The World in Books

In 2011 Ann Morgan set out on a journey to read a book from every country in the world. My friend NIT-WIT (that’s a story for another time) linked me to her TED Talk recently to I’d like to embark on the same journey with her and I agreed instantly!

This is what my current literary palate looks like:

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 6.44.40 PM

Like most people, my literary landscape is quite skewed and in today’s world this isn’t just provincial, it’s dangerous. It pains me to see politicians today viewing the world through their narrow-minded lenses and propagating their prejudices to the populace with a complete disregard for humanity and acceptance.

These misguided perceptions are apparent on the Internet. For example, some people seem to believe that Muslims pray to a “moon god” because many Islamic countries have adopted the moon as their official symbol. This is ridiculous on two counts:
1. Muslims, Christians and Jews (The Abrahamic religions) have essentially the same concept of “God”. “God” in Arabic is “Allah” and Arabic-speaking Christians often refer to God as “Allah”[1].
2. The moon-and-star was a motif of the Ottoman Empire. Since the Ottoman Empire was Muslim, the subsequent Islamic states adopted this symbol as “Islamic” – it doesn’t refer to their god.

Another example: Google, Ebay, Netflix, Paypal, Amazon and a host of other American companies seem to be incapable of grasping the multilingual nature of the rest of the world. In Switzerland, all these websites default to German when the official languages of the Swiss are German, French, Italian and Romansh. This is such a frustrating experience for the Swiss-French there because a lot of them don’t speak either German or English and the websites that are supposed to be “local” don’t meet the demand of the public. Another problem that could be rectified with a better understanding of the world. But until then, some Swiss are stuck using France’s websites or VPNs to access the content in their language of choice.

The misconceptions that people have about Indians deserves its own post altogether!

The point being that I have first-hand experience with people’s ignorance, and looking at my own literary landscape, I have swathes of untapped knowledge! This year, I shall rectify this grave oversight and hopefully when I return to address this topic in December 2016, I will be a better, richer, more cosmopolitan person.

And so here begins a quest to be a better citizen of the world who cannot be swayed by empty political rhetoric.

[1] The Christians who call God Allah, The Telegraph


The Start of a New Journey

new year

This is a momentous year for me. For the first time in my life I’m not a student. No one is looking out for me, I’m in charge of my own life.

New apartment, new job, moving in together – my online life just had to reflect my new, perhaps improved, life. I demurred from migrating to a better looking blog before now because I had so many posts on my old one, but it’s time to cast off the old and embrace the new. The metamorphosis is underway and I hope I emerge from the chrysalis successfully.

Old Blog:

I started a new blog on a whim in the middle of the night.