VERSE| THE WOODEN BENCH

We have all, at some time or another been overwhelmed, overpowered, bested by our grief, anxiety and wretchedness. At those times, some of us have also been lucky enough to have that one place where we have, for a while, found some degree of quietude and peace. This is a tribute to those secret little places and spaces of comfort and healing in our lives.

There is this wooden bench I like
It’s not fancy; quite the common type.
Cloaked in by the dappled canopy
Of a gracefully pirouetting Mara tree,
It sits in the park like a dear old friend
It’s well-worn embrace ever welcoming.
A young couple walks up, caught in the grips of wrath
Love is lost; it’s the wretched aftermath;
Words are exchanged until the fury’s spent
Frustration - Anxiety - Sadness - Silence.
Then they sit down on the wooden bench ...
Gradually, muscles relax and nerves untense.
Even if it is a passing interlude,
Loads are lightened; hearts are soothed.

Wild flowers grow lushly around its feet
Bobbing bright heads to Earth’s vital beat.
The bench sits there like a quiet friend
It’s well-worn seat ever welcoming.
A man sits down in a state of unease
Holding on to his hat in an errant breeze.
He picks up his phone and looks at the screen;
The unlit glass reflects the tranquil scene ...
He looks up and around him his brow somewhat eased
Fleeting albeit, he’s found his moment of peace.

Songful birds and their terrestrial friends
Roam warbling and chittering around the bench;
Hoping for a serendipitously fallen treat
They browse busily around the seat.
A wheelchair-bound man looks up at an overcast sky;
His female companion already has water in her eyes.
They sit side by side in worlds of their own
Reminisnce weighs heavy of days that are gone ...
A mynah trills as a light drizzle falls
And a sweet petrichor briefly dispels the pall.
The man looks at her, takes her hand and she smiles
For now they’re alright; tomorrow is still a while.

I too have sat in Nature’s restoring arms
On that bench where she weaves her alchemical charms.
I too have unburdened my hopes and my fears
I too have laid my bursting heart bare;
And I have heard her soothing murmurs
That have quietened my deepest despair.
I’ve looked into her soft eyes from that corner in the park
For a time, my soul too has emerged from the dark;
The clouds have parted; the sun has shone through
And I’ve breathed more easily, sitting on that wooden pew.

VERSE| SOLITUDE

I wrote this old world ditty when I was around 16 years old.  Introverted and a lover of words, this was a fitting tribute to my world then.
The funny thing is that of the little poetry I wrote as a teenager, this is the only piece I remember by heart. The rest I have committed to a well worn, dog eared diary which once I get home to Karachi, I will also reproduce here. If nothing else, I (and anyone else who feels intrepid and fancifully armed!) can reflect on my eccentric adolescent mind when re-reading the mostly quirky, sometimes pained, sometimes euphoric pieces that I wrote.
O Solitude, thou art to me
A silent, wholesome company.
When of the world of beings I tire,
To thee for solace I retire.

Each moment that I spend with thee
In thy wholesome company
Retrieves for me my peace of mind
Worries and cares are left behind.

And the world itself begins to seeem
A place where is upheld one’s own regime;
And the heart is filled with serenity
In thy wholesome company.

FILM PICKINS| STAR TREK – VOYAGER (1995 – 2001)

The crew with hearts of gold pressed latinum and the luck of the devil!

My trek across the galaxy that began with Star Trek, Deep Space 9 (DS-9), has continued with the constant state of high adventure of the Voyager. Although I’m still traversing the Delta quadrant with the intrepid crew in the middle of season 6, the glimmers of home in the alpha quadrant seem brighter with each episode. And after almost 150 episodes, I feel like I can put some pixel energy behind the cause of the on-screen Voyager effort.

Straight off, I have to get this little confession off my terran, earth-bound chest: the Voyager despite its majestic galavanting across uncharted space, just doesn’t warm the cockles of the heart as DS-9 did. The fact that DS-9 was a space station and therefore some semblance of “solid ground” where the inter-galactic shenanigans took place, could have been the magic bullet; or it could just be the quirky wholesomeness of all its alien characters. Either way, my sojourn with Voyager has seen its fair share of hoping for a quick photonic catapult to Earth, which would also gracefully allow me to wormhole out of a few episodes! And when frustration with the elusive Caretaker and his speed devil of an invention becomes over-powering enough for me to pull the plug on the whole thing, a fabulous little episode or two come along and I continue to fondly persevere through yet another ST-Voyager cloaked pandemic evening.

All the main characters of Voyager appear to be doppelgängers of the primary DS-9 crew: Tom Paris is fashioned after our endearingly narcisstic Dr. Bashir; B’ellana Torres, like Kira, is as fiery as she is compassionate; Harry Kim is the youthful avatar of Chief O’ Brian; Tuvok is as painfully forthright as Odo and carries himself with the same idiosycratic panache of one who is obliged in his professional capacity, to deal tolerantly with the rabble around him; Neelix is like a glorified Rom, compassionate and wise under a jocular exterior; the good doctor is a combination personality imbibing traits from across the spectrum while holographically catalysing the episodes where the usual flesh and blood would put a quick (and gruesome!) end to the story. With his cool temperament, Chakotay is the Jadzia Dax of Voyager, bringing that essential equilibrium and balance to the management equation. Seven of Nine is definitely the embodiment of many an adolescent male’s fantasy: beautiful, robotic and not shy. Captain Janeway though makes a much better captain than her DS-9 counterpart. That husky voice and the southern drawl combined with her peculiar professional maternity quite nicely clinches the part.

Other Deep Space Distillations:

-The staff quarters are like 5-star hotel suites, roomy with panoramic views of the stars and any number of cosmic aurora borealis. The experience is further authenticated with the complimentary chocolates (read: replicators!) and floral arrangements from across the galaxy.

-Many of the episodes are tear jerkers in their overload of drama and emotions. I admit to having wiped a tear or 3 at the fag ends of an unusually large number of episodes! (I did put it down to PMS the first few times but the Voyager and I have been steady roommates through the last 5 weeks and the lachrymal glands continue to keep pace).

-There is little to no chemistry between Torres and Paris, except maybe of the phonetic kind regarding their last names. The directors did well to keep that relationship nuanced rather than giving it an all-out screen presence. However, Seven of Nine’s largely unemotional “Borgness” and the Captain’s authoritarian maternal aura were spot on; permanent/ deep-seated love interests would have detracted from the believability of their characters.

-The little red thread that goes through most of the Voyager episodes is the almost fable-like quality of its various plot lines. Social issues across a wide gamut are sometimes playfully and sometimes poignantly portrayed. From wars, to parenting, to AI/ holographic rights and ethics, to sexism and racism, the intergalactic heart is mostly in the right place, even if human ethnocentricity does come across from time to time. (After all, as far as we know, the audience species for the series is one: Earthly and humanoid!)

-Since the DS-9 and Voyager productions overlapped for over 4 years, there was a fair amount of character trading as the same actors embodied various species and personalities aboard the 2 galactic strongholds. A few noteworthy examples are Tony Todd who was Worf’s brother and an older Jake Sisko in DS9, was also an alpha hirogen in Voyager; J.G.Hertzler who played General Martok on DS-9, was also a johnny-come-lately, well-meaning hirogen in Voyager; and Jeffery Combs who played Weyoun and the relentless Ferengi, Brunt in DS-9, continued to be the wringer of inter-galactic skill and strength in Voyager as Penk, the insidious organizer of galactic gladiatorial competitions.

I have about 40 episodes to go before Voyager reaches home or arrives at the fate sketched for it by her creators. And I still have to see a heart-warmer akin to the Vic Fontaine episodes of DS-9. The Voyager crew, however, does make ample use of their holodecks to recreate 19th and 20th century European utopias such as they are/ were. And so, between leisurely trips to Sandreine’s in scintillating Paris, and Fair Haven in old world Ireland, the crew and I are calling upon all our Netflix binge prowess to go a-tripping across the last 30,000 light years or so to the final finish.

Will I be embarking on another Star Trek sojourn after this? Unlikely until Discovery puts forth new material.

Until then, live long and prosper and while you’re at it, stay safe and be kind to one another.

Read my blogpost FILM PICKINS | STAR TREK- DEEP SPACE 9 here: https://theroamingdesi.org/2021/01/22/film-pickins-star-trek-deep-space-9/

FILM PICKINS| STAR TREK – DEEP SPACE 9 (1993 – 1999)

It was slow I admit, the glimmerings of a connection with the ST-DS9* characters and their Deep Space shenanigans. But by season 2, I had developed a mild fondness for the Captain and his Federation crew. And by season 4, the affection I felt for the space Station denizens was deep-rooted and personal. By season 5, I was already forlornly anticipating the end of the series and feeling at odds with the rest of the Netflix science fiction repertoire.

That is not to say that i was blinded to the obvious shortcomings of the production; they just became tenderly blurred as the characters became increasingly larger than life. I still remember cringing slightly during season 1 and wondering for the 347th time why i felt such a compelling commitment to see every series through, dubious and otherwise, that I’ve embarked on. Here’s what I remember even as I dredge up the memories from the practical, unemotional series-bingeing depths of my mind:

The characters were more than a tad over-dramatic – Captain Sisko often comes across as a stand up comic endearingly poking fun at would-be space bigwigs; while the good Doctor Bashir appears so entranced by his own look, feel and sound that one would be forgiven for mistaking him for the English, Space version of a Doogie Howser impersonator. Major Kira (Colonel now!) is relentless in her adolescent knee jerk outbursts of anger, vengeance and the insatiable need to be the biggest bully in the Alpha quadrant…. nah… all Space. Then there are the dated special effects: the barely camouflaged fluorescent primary coloured lights blinking on 24th century tricorders and control panels; the landing/ disembarkation pads which look like ponderous railway tunnels; the defiant, brave little ships in space, dithering ever so slightly against their starry backdrop – trembling reminders of their actual minuscule size and mass; the phasers and other laser weapons put to shame by the contents of aisle 15 in Toys ‘r’ Us. But…. like i said, i had to laboriously dig up these first and not so lasting impressions.

What I do remember effortlessly is the superb characterisation of Quark the quintessential Ferengi who’d grown a heart and a bit of a conscience over the course of the 7 seasons; Garak who was as devious and resourceful as he was genteel and intrepid; Dukat the bipolar Cardsassian who fought a war of conscience for most of the 7 seasons, finally relenting with a Bajoran bow and a twisted flourish to his dark side; Weyoun, the Gamma quadrant clone who was as duplicitous as he was “god-fearing”; and of course Vic Fontaine, a holographic throwback to the 1960s Las Vegas rat pack style entertainment who was as good a singer as he was a psychothera-pal for the DS9 crew. All in all, the alien characters of DS9 delivered a far superior performance to that of their human counterparts.

The piece de resistance of the series however, is definitely its ability to take its viewers on a compelling, emotional journey into the lives of its main characters. The cloak and dagger plots set a million light years away from earth still took place in what was essentially a little town with its very own set of the good, the bad and the alien. And that was ultimately what made the series so memorable.

Other Deep Space Distillations:

-The mainstream ethics/ moral compass portrayed by the Federation of planets, while being lofty and aspirational by our boorish 21st century standards, was still shown to be insidiously riddled with intrigue and deception; its Section 31 dutifully and covertly performing all its ungallant business. I suppose some things are so hard-wired into our psyche, a basic distrust of anyone different from ourselves being at the top of that list, that no amount of evolution and sophistication can wring it out of our DNA.

-America, as is customary across the Hollywood universe, bravely endeavoured to save the day or lead from the front. And so unremarkably, Uncle Sam continued to fill in most of the shoes of the DS9 and the Federation nawabs*.

-I discovered a new-found love for Frank Sinatra’s soulful crooning. I’ve had his vocal jazz and swing numbers on quick recall on my phone for the last fortnight. Vic’s repository of the legendary tunes pulls at all the heart strings!

-The MC at Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony sounded eerily like Worf, the Klingon!

I watched the last show of the last season last night. A net total of 176 episodes viewed, imbibed and psychoanalysed nostalgically during the last 4 weeks. Almost made me forget we’re in the middle of a pandemic as I traversed through space and time with the crew and the citizens of Deep space 9/ Terek Nor.

I leave you with a nostalgic old Sinatra refrain sung by DS9’s own Vic Fontaine, just because it’s such a lovely old song and even half a millennium on, it resonated richly, poignantly, on a space station somewhere in our cosmos.

*ST-DS9: Star Trek – Deep Space 9

*Nawab: a male title which literally means Viceroy; the female equivalent is “Begum” or “Nawab Begum”. The primary duty of a Nawab was to uphold the sovereignty of the Mughal emperor along with the administration of a certain province. In modern times, it is often used to denote men of power.

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