Thursday, April 14, 2011

The joy and the terror

He walked inside the office with trepidation. It was the first day of his internship. Though he had worked as a journalist earlier, the last year had dulled his working senses since all he had to do was wake up in the morning and dress up for the classes which were conducted a half mile from where he slept. It was one extended event, from sleep to study to lunch to back to room and there was no scope for gravitas, the kind that could easily envelop a situation such as this. He watched his movement. There was a gleaming edge to everything. Even the washroom was all five-star with self-working taps and elaborate flower arrangements. He seemed to have walked right into some Hollywood production. There was a studied silence to the place with people propped on their chairs, very serious-looking, and going about their work with what looked like calm precision but could as well be confused firefighting. He was smiling throughout. He wanted to charm but did not want to do so with his typical glibness. Better to let it spring from some deep certainty than smooth, on-the-spot delivery, he told himself. It was important to settle down. The tendency to rush -- in which he hoped that he would learn and absorb in spite of himself, not because -- would not work over the long term. Two months was sufficiently long term to try new mindsets and yet not long enough to drown in the misery of expectation. He was asked to deal with a young woman in HR and she guided him though the steps. Most of the day would pass in getting things to speed, a login id, an access card, the nick-nacks of modern office life. There was nothing special about anything yet the very sentiment that nestled at the heart of this edifice drove one to overtly practical, but also at some level meaningful, purpose. Books lined every desk since this was a publishing house. He picked up one as he walked around, waiting to be hand-held to the next step. It was “Engineering Mathematics-II” and contained lovable examples of differential equations. Those examples seemed to emanate from a more complete frame of life. When his eyes ran over the formulas of integration, they emerged from the book and settled into a sediment in his brain where the template for them was set in some joyous love for their existence. It was a joy no smaller than any he recognized. And it was there, inside him, rekindled at the sight of dy over dx. Books always made him happy, but this latest feeling was not one he had experienced in some time. Too much love for the arty, or artsy, as he liked to see it. Even this moment might get trapped in sentimentality if he was not careful. He focused on what Hardy meant when he defined his love for pure maths as something that may not be “useful”. An end in itself, it speaks, it does speak to one. But even as this was happening, he was contemplating wrapping this experience with the gift of foreknowledge that comes both before and after an event has brought its fruits. Expectation is an awesome emotion. He could sense the moment in its entirety, in its thoughtful intermingling of his desires for the day. As if to say, this stays and returns from time to time. But its return is written in its last act and each such moment, as will happen and has happened, will bring its own memory along. He turned the book’s pages. Example 1.8 prompted him to open his notebook and solve it. There was a dreamlike quality to the way his hand moved and he arrived at the answer as if by magic. There was no will or force. It was guided by what, he wondered. There was a curious coming together of the past, one’s love for it, respect, the notion that things are purer in hindsight and the rest of it. Sedimentation of knowledge, and the school building. Mrs Sood (she didn’t even teach him math) and her smiling face, the saree, and the trees, the water cooler, the staircase. Everything came together and settled on the curvy integral sign. He looked up and the room, bathed in yellow light from the lamps in the ceiling, was empty as it waited for its occupants to return from lunch. Suddenly he felt a rush of terror, a streak of white hot joy at how everything stays. Today and tomorrow. Now and for all time. Across space and time. He wanted to stop. He did not want to stop.

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