Father said
look my darling

there is a World outside
and inside
there are children being born
there is Death
miles away from you, my darling
just next door to you, my darling 

Father said
look my darling

this is Touch
this is human skin and voluntary action
my darling there is Death
Death of not even a stranger
Death of brothers and friends
there is a world that's yours
that you learn and make your own
which is also everyone else's
and if you die it dies as well
but also moves on and forget

Father said
look my darling

breath in and look
so many paths out there for you
you are skin and flesh and tears and time
maybe now you should become aware
of your frailty 

your fingertips and I
all burst with
Possibility

The Slums and the Cemetery

We go for a walk near mababa's very nice Golf Green flat - not heading anywhere in particular, just exploring. Surprisingly close by we reach slums, with tiny brick buildings huddled close together all around the shore of a large pond, cycle-rickshaws in long lines along the adjacent street. I stop to take a photograph over the water, through a length of huge concrete pipe, and the kids sitting on the next pipe along get very excited, crying 'camera!' and going on in rapid Bengali - while another three or four kids are scrambling to join them I get on with taking the picture I'd stopped for, then I take theirs as they grin and wave. They seem very pleased.

As we are setting off again another group of small children spot the camera and immediately clamour for their photograph to be taken too, posing together with great gusto - their cycle-rickshaw risks escaping in all the commotion. I like it when people actively want me to take street photos; I'm often too shy to ask. Everyone is very friendly, several people calling out 'Hello!' - I am plainly a curiosity, but apparently not an unwelcome one.

Down the road we reach another, much cleaner and better-maintained pond. It is fenced all around with razor wire to keep out the poor, but gratifyingly it is full of people who have hopped over the gates regardless. Three young men see us wondering how to get in, and direct us to the gate a little further on. It is locked though, and P is in a dress, so we leave it.

Just around the corner the kids with the cycle-rickshaw catch up, and stop us again. One of them jumps down, places his hands on his hips and grills me in quite good English - assertively, but not in a hostile way. Where am I from? I tell them I've come from Edinburgh, in Britain, but it's impossible to tell how much he understands. I suspect his English, however well-pronounced, may not stretch far beyond the few questions he asks us. What am I doing here? P explains in Bengali that I'm her husband, and he seems quite wrong-footed by this.

We keep on heading in the direction of the nearby cemetery, down a long street with next to no shade. It is not that hot, really - I've had much hotter days in Britain, let alone here - but the intense humidity makes it far harder to take. By the time we reach the cemetery gates I'm starting to feel slightly faint, and wondering if we should have turned back long ago. To our relief the cemetery is open, and after a few questions the guard waves us in.

There is nobody else inside - nobody alive and human, anyway. It is profoundly peaceful, overgrown enough but with clear, grassy paths. Nowhere here has felt so distant from the crowding bustle of human existence. In the shade of a big banyan tree which I can barely resist climbing, there are two benches and a very welcome water-pump. The water isn't safe to drink of course, certainly not for foreigners, but cooling down by wetting my limbs and face allows me to feel human again. We rest on the benches and wait for another big cloud to give us respite from the sun.

The graveyard is busy with other forms of life. Crows chase chipmunks, their sworn enemies, around trees, up and down. We see mynah birds, a flock of tiny, sparrow-like birds, a bright yellow one something like a budgie, and a pair of beautiful red-winged birds - perhaps kites? - which look something like a cross between crows and eagles and act like they're in love.

We leave the cemetery again by its only entrance, and decide to try following the roads around its other edge, hoping to find more shelter. These neighbourhoods are relatively prosperous, and it shows in their quietness, the bars over their windows, the manned parking spaces beneath each building. It's a short walk back to the slums though, and this time we take a short-cut right through them.

Again we are conscious of how much we stick out in this crowd, but nobody seems upset by our presence, and (to my mother-in-law's evident surprise when we tell her later) nobody asks us for money, or for anything more than a photograph. I am fascinated - not leeringly, I hope - by this glimpse into a lifestyle which is usually kept at such a distance from the affluent minority I generally interact with. Amazingly elaborate collections of wires deliver electricity to the masses, presumably illicitly. Some of the huts are made of wood or wicker, woven together, but most are built of bare bricks. In the narrow alleys between rows of huts, goats nibble leaves while kids and clothes are washed with buckets.

We are obviously greatly intriguing especially to the children, and when P asks one if we can get through the way we are going, we start to accumulate a great helpful crowd, showing the way ahead. They seem pleased by their collective mission, leading us quickly down the winding path through their home. We thank them all as we emerge at last just a few metres away from our marble-floored, blissfully air-conditioned flat. I hadn't even noticed these slums were here. I wonder if I will ever get used to this sort of juxtaposition.

Arriving in Kolkata- | A Raj Kumar Exhibition

So, here's what the situation is with me. I got out of university with a very decent degree and spent the next two years totally unable to find permanent work, watching my self-confidence and marketability as a job candidate both gradually eroding down to zero. Eventually, desperate to do something to fill the widening maw of empty time on my CV - and I believe this is the first time I've mentioned this on E2 - I decided to take a Master's degree in Computer Science at Hull. If I can't work, I might at least bulk up my academic achievements, yes? I had to scrape together pretty much all the cash I'd saved up from temping to cover it, but I felt it was worth it... I mean, I don't have much else to do with it, since I have fairly limited ambitions as regards the spending of large amounts of money. Anyway, I have been working on this for most of the past year, and... well, let me narrate this for you.

The project work I did on pathfinding optimisation has left much to be desired, mainly due to me mucking about on the internet playing games with pathfinding routines coded into them instead of studying the routines themselves. I also performed fairly badly on the first two exams because they covered weird abstract low-layer stuff of which I had no intuitive grasp and which I'd completely failed to follow in lectures. All of this, however, I wrote off as justifiable sacrifice because it was the topics for the third exam which I knew I could really ace.

I was walking from the library to the exam hall, fifteen minutes before the start time of the third exam, when I ran into my good friends Dan, Jim and Andy, coming in the opposite direction.

"Dude, where were you?"

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I called my tutor.

He told me that they had sent somebody to look for me, and rung my room phone and knocked on my door. I told him in turn that they hadn't found me because I had got up early that day, and spent the entire morning at the library, studying for that very exam. They had also rung my mobile number, which, again, had failed, because it was turned off, because I was, again, at the library, studying.

He asked me if I had been feeling ill on the day. No, I admitted, I had not. I had never felt more healthy, more prepared, more utterly on perfect form for an examination. I had simply not been there.

"Was there any justifiable reason why you could have missed the exam?"

EVERY SINGLE OTHER EXAM STARTED AT ONE-THIRTY. THIS ONE STARTED AT TEN. I DIDN'T READ THE TIMETABLE CAREFULLY ENOUGH.

"...Then I can't think of anything I could do. ...I know you weren't happy about your project work, but how did you think you did in the first two papers?"

My response to this question was to burst into tears and crumple up against a wall.

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That was a few months ago. I have now, today, received the results of my final appeal. The answer is: no, my failure stands. I have now lost all my money and a year of my life and the gap in my CV is now three years wide. I have to start over from nothing, AGAIN.

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Heh. Gotcha.

Who hasn't had this nightmare?

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