Albert Einstein

After class today, I sat and watched a documentary on Albert Einstein. To begin with, I still mumble when I pronounce his last name. I have never been much of a learner of physics matlab, I have never shown interest in understanding the workings of matter, mind or body. Whatever little I remember of the man is because of the English text book from my 9th std where we learnt about the genius and the eccentricity of Einstein. I remember the jokes he made, his smile and his hair. Basically I remember one picture. This picture:

Image Credits:
Image Credits:

In college last year, there was a one man play on the life and work of Albert Einstein. The stage was set with a black board, a table and a chair. I was a little curious here and enjoyed the performance a lot. Also, in many ways, the play broke down the many theories of Albert Einstein in simple English.

Ever since women beat the shit out of themselves in Olympics last year, I have grown to become very fascinated by what and how people dedicate their lives to and how they sustain this dedication through practice and discipline.

The BBC documentaries are always fun to watch. They humanize their subjects by taking us into their very lives – their rooms, work tables, documents. This makes them come alive and away from solid and unfeeling textbooks. So I watched today, an Albert Einstein poring over equations in his notebook and then another conducting his many thought experiments. For the first time, it feels like I have missed out on something valuable for not having paid attention in science classes. For two reasons:

  1. This Theory of Relativity thing is damn cool. I kept rewinding and forwarding at various points today to make sure I got it right. And at the end, even though it feels like I have learnt something, I won’t be able to explain it very well. I am still learning. But I know now that the reason Einstein is a genius is not only because he discovered/invented theories to understand the universe. But because he was able to explain these theories with working examples.
  2. What did Einstein and people like him have to work through their lifetime? He is passionately curious, is what he said. But how is one able to sustain this curiosity in the midst of all the other shit that life throws – love, money, power, jealousy, fame, career. Einstein had a lot of personal problems. He was married more than once, and these marriages were unhappy marriages, his son was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and he was a physicist occupying a prestigious office in 1939 Germany. Clearly the world was collapsing and being born all around him. How did he work through it all?

I am fascinated by the way people remove themselves from people-emotions-feelings related problems and just set to work, like nothing else matters.

This documentary on Shakespeare reintroduced me to Shakespeare’s world and I remember reading Romeo and Juliet and The Merry Wives of Windsor and wondering why I ever thought he was unreadable.

Good, good Friday today!

Coming to Sonnet 116

I sat in an Optional English class yesterday and wished I had been a better student. Since The Awakening, The Yellow Wallpaper, and The Husband Stitch, I have been all prose, less poetry. I have read these stories over and over again, imposed them on students every semester because the women who wrote them wrote them so unnervingly.

I read a Sharon Olds one day and thought that Sex without Love was beautiful– both the idea and the poem. I read Ramanujan another day and it rained. Sometimes poetry does what prose cannot do for me. And this is a discovery I made only a month ago.

P, S and I formed a poetry group, which means one whats app group was also created. P called it Bommali Beats and put up a Javed Akhtar dp. We’ve met only once so far. But when we did meet, we made chai, sat on the steps near the media lab and read Ramanujan.

We read poems about leaky taps in small marriage halls, about conjoose marwari businessmen who slipped coins under the mattress they sat on, and about barks that scratched the windows in unison. It was an interesting session. I came to read words beyond what they meant for me, in my regular prose world. I came to treat words with envy, with distance, and with an unfamiliar resistance to laziness.

I realized that I have been avoiding poetry for so long because I am afraid and lazy — it’s too much work to stay with words for so long. To stay with them until they become coherent meanings and patterns and eventually stories that bend and curve in ways that I do not understand. The rhythm and the line and the meter all go over my head. Because I prefer the freedom that words I read in prose throw at me. There’s so little to resist when I read prose. Not that it’s easy. Reading never is. But I am learning only now how both poetry and prose are so alike and so different at once.

Yesterday in class, AM did Sonnet 116. He sat at the table with nothing but a book and a pen. I felt intimidated and thrilled all at once. Of course he knew the poem by-heart. Long ago, when Titus had asked him how to teach a poem, AM told him to read it 20 times before teaching it. Titus returned the next day and said that the class didn’t go well. AM asked him how many times he had read it. Titus said 5 and received an almighty whack on his egg-head.

In school, they made us memorize poems. I had learnt to close my eyes and recite them without knowing what I was reciting, like the multiplication tables my mother made me by-heart, a wooden scale in her hand, her lips pursed tight.

We would get 5 marks in the English exams for reciting poems without mistake. I took an immediate aversion to it and failed, like so many others, to see that poems are meant for the ear, it’s how they sound more than anything else.

AM had made everybody write down the poem before they came to class– hand-write them. I copied mine from R who was sitting next to me. While I was writing it down, I remembered reading Sonnet 116 in M.A once and liking the first and last lines. I didn’t know what they meant; I just liked how they sounded. This was also the sonnet that Paris recites to Rory in Gilmore Girls just before their big AP test on Shakespeare.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

There’s such a thing as simply allowing the poem to take shape, to give it time, to give oneself time, to make sense of the poem – one word at a time, to read each line in isolation first and then in relation to the poem. I have never been able to do that. I am hurrying always, to get to the bottom of it all.

After yesterday’s class, I am learning ways to rediscover meanings. From what I was able to gather, poetry is as much resistance as it is interpretation– resistance to laziness, to conclusions, and sometimes to interpretations themselves. This is exciting. I have found a whole new way to learn.  Sometimes I wish I was studying EJP and not teaching it.