Saturday, September 28, 2013

Poem of the Week - 'Gunga Din' by Rudyard Kipling

Hi there. As a new contributor to this blog (broken in, as it were, by Steam/real-life friend Comrade_Bazarov) I thought that my first action should be to compose an entry in its most reliable segment, the intermittent Poem of the Week, and make my addition to this misleading sobriquet. In doing so I will doubtlessly earn your Internet trust.

Like many poems that matter, at least to me, this one comes with a story. Maybe several stories.  I bought the anthology of Kipling's collected verse, a fairly cheap, commonplace edition, at an upscale establishment called the Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles, buying the Kipling, a collection of Shaw's plays, and the Barenaked Ladies album Gordon as spoken-word artists performed in the building's central enclosure (pretentious, like all spoken-word/slam poetry, but not unentertaining at times - and who am I to scoff at the notion that people might want to hear the stream-of-consciousness detritus of a stranger's brain) while enjoying an odd excursion out with my ex-girlfriend of the time. It was in a weird moment where we were transitioning explicitly out of relationship mode and into friendship, and not cleanly. Snappishness on both sides.

The anthology sat on my end table, as I took one or two poems a night before going to sleep. But, as you might not know, Kipling was horrendously prolific, and I slowed several hundred pages into the 700-page behemoth. That's what happens with writing on a set schedule.

Anyway, in one of the darker moments of my life, I didn't pass my first oral examination, and the possibility of that happening became apparent mid-exam. I'd been reading "Gunga Din" off and on while studying, trying to commit it to memory, and as I waited in the hallway, interminably, as I waited for my committee's decision, knowing that it lay in great doubt, being nervous and in great despair, I recited the poem to myself as a tool to eat time and ward off anxiety.

Several months later, waiting in that hallway again, during a much shorter wait, I recited the poem correctly, end-to-end, for the first time.


You may talk o' gin and beer
When you're quartered safe out 'ere
And you're sent in penny-fights and Aldershot it;
But when it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water
An' you'll lick the bloomin' boots of 'im that's got it.
Now in Injia's sunny clime
Where I used to spend my time
A'servin' of 'er Majesty the Queen,
Of all them blackfaced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din.
     He was "Din! Din! Din!
  You limpin' lump o' brick-dust, Gunga Din!
     "Hi, slippy hitherao!
     Water, get it! Panee lao,
  You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din."

The uniform 'e wore
Was nothing much before
An' rather less than 'alf of that behind.
For a piece o' twisty rag
An' a goatskin water-bag
Was all the field equipment 'e could find.
When the sweatin' troop-train lay
In a sidin' through the day,
Where the 'eat would make your bloomin' eyebrows crawl,
We shouted "Harry by!"
Till our throats were bricky-dry,
Then we wopped 'im 'cause 'e couldn't serve us all. 
     It was "Din! Din! Din!
  You 'eathen, where the mischief 'ave you been?
     You put some juldee in it,
     Or I'll marrow you this minute
  If you don't fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!"

'E would do t an' carry one
Till the longest day was done;
An' 'e didn't seem to know the use o' fear.
If we charged or broke or cut,
You could bet your bloomin' nut,
'E'd be waitin' fifty paces right flank rear.
With 'is mussick on his back,
'E would skip with our attack,
An' watch us till the bugles made "Retire",
An' for all 'is dirty 'ide
'E was white, clear white, inside
When 'e went to tend the wounded under fire.
     It was "Din! Din! Din!
With the bullets kickin' dust-spots on the green.
     When the cartridges ran out,
     You could here the front-ranks shout,
"Hi, ammunition-mules an' Gunga Din!"

I shan't forgit the night
When I dropped behind the fight
With a bullet where my belt-plate should 'a' been.
I was chokin' mad with thirst
An' the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin', gruntin' Gunga Din.
'E lifted up my 'ead,
An' he plugged me where I bled,
An' 'e guv me 'arf-a-pint o' water green.
It was crawlin' an' it stunk,
But of all the drinks I've drunk,
I'm gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.
     It was "Din! Din! Din!
  'Ere's a beggar with a bullet through 'is spleen;
    'E's chawing on the ground,
    an' 'e's kickin' all around,
  For Fawd's sake git the water, Gunga Din!"

'E carried me away,
To where a dooli lay,
An' a bullet come an' drilled the beggar clean.
'E put me safe inside,
An' just before 'e died,
"I 'ope you liked your drink," sez Gunga Din.
So I'll meet 'im later on,
At the place where 'e is gone-
Where it's always double drill and no canteen.
'E'll be squattin' on the coals,
Givin' drink to poor damned souls,
An' I'll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!
      Yes, Din! Din! Din!
  You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
     Though I've belted you and flayed you,
     By the livin' Gawd that made you,
  You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Holy 100 grand hits Batman!

When the three of us started this blog to occupy a tiny blip-sized island in the vast limitless ocean that is the internet, our intent was to mostly write anything that came to our minds. The very first few posts on the blog were incredibly random (cats , heavy duty medical ethics, food recipes) but over time life happened and people began to move on. We are at a point now when I am the only one left but even then, my output has been dismally low in the last year and a half.

No matter though. Seems like the internet did not forget this humble little corner. Slowly and steadily (like that stupid tortoise from that stupid fable - God I hated that boring tale) the visitors kept coming, mainly to the post about hallucinations and ping-pong balls (here let me do some more gratuitous plugging and link you there), a post I wrote up mostly out of sheer boredom and desire to be wacky.

The blog stat counter officially crossed the 100,000 mark today. Now when you consider that even sites at the low end of the popularity spectrum still get hits in the several thousands every day, this number is nothing. But I think for a venture that grew out of some idle chit-chat three years ago it's more than what I (or the other two contributors, if they are still reading this) could have expected. I will be partying like a freshman at his first frat party tonight, that's for sure. This is an occasion for a bacchanalian revelry of epic proportions.

So keep checking in every now and then because the mission here at UG has been, and will always be, sacrificing our well-being for your entertainment. I promise you that when I bike back home today with the wind rushing pleasantly into my face, a day's worth of mouse brain work behind me, I will think of nothing but that (actually I will be thinking of eating dinner, but hey your entertainment will still be on my list. Somewhere). 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The sensation that is Johnny Manziel

Let's take some time to talk some college football. Now normally I wouldn't even dream of devoting precious blog space to the mediocre world of college sports, but every now and then something happens that forces me to make an exception. This is one of those occasions.

If you are a rare individual who (for some bizarre unfathomable reason) is not acquainted with this person phenom Johnny Manziel, here's a quick recap: he stormed the world of college football (and subsequently our collective psyches) with his dazzling on-field exploits last season. As a redshirted freshman (i.e. he is technically a sophomore who sat out his first year), he went on to win the Heisman trophy, an award that despite having not much predictive value does a reasonably good job of identifying good college players. All cool? I am feeling bubbly today, so let me throw in a Manziel highlights package for ya:

You will notice this dude has a remarkable ability to escape the vicious clutches of multiple defenders and still throw explosive touchdown passes that leave you salivating for more action. Pretty soon the lore of Johnny took off. He attempted (and I believe succeeded) in getting his nickname trademarked - "Johnny Football". Don't we all wish we were blessed with such an awesome nickname?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Poem of the week - 'Digging' by Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney, perhaps the most important Irish poet after Yeats, passed away recently. Heaney won the literature nobel prize in 1995. His translation of the Old English epic 'Beowulf' was widely lauded. I hadn't read any of his poetry until recently, when a friend of the blog emailed me this gem. Thought I would share it here.

Here's Seamus Heaney with the beautiful, gritty 'Digging':

by Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds
Bends low, comes up twenty years away
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.