Friday, December 22, 2006

Strength And Strategy.

I don't think one can survive without the other. And for the third S, that is “success”, one needs to have both.

It takes a lot, and who would know it better than I do? It's strange how you see things around you, but barely notice them. And then one fine day, on a sudden moment of realization, things change.

I saw tall and mighty figures crumble to dust in the face of opposition. I saw strength boiling down to nothingness in testing times. I thought I would grit my teeth hard, and resist it. I thought with time, I would develop nerves of steel and endure it. I thought I would stand like that pillar of strength who bowed down to nothing. I thought that with time, I would become superhuman. I thought one became successful by standing proud and upright during crises.

I thought wrong.

And then, in one of the video clips, I saw the undersea creatures. I saw how successfully the sea anemones withstood the undersea currents by swaying and dancing with them and by not opposing them. I saw how they attached themselves to a strong surface and kept bending to and swaying with time.

That was strategy.

By standing tall and erect and inflexible, they would cause their nemesis. But by swaying with difficult times, they made sure that they withstood the harshest forms of inclemency.

Beautiful.

I saw the tall and the strong eventually bend or break just because they tried to be taller and stronger. And then I saw these little things adapt themselves and thus thrive successfully.

And then, I knew. I just knew.

That to be successful in whatever you do, it is not just enough to have a goal and oodles of strength. You have to have a strategy as well. The right strategy. And sometimes, rather than resisting force and breaking in the process, it is better to take life as it comes, and sway to the harshness of testing times. Instead of resisting and breaking up in the process, I'd rather sway and take life as it comes.

That will be my survival strategy henceforth.

Pic taken from here.

sunshine.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Day To Write About.

This would perhaps be a long post, but bear with me. There are times when something happens, and it totally changes your perception of a place, or people around you. I am in such a state right now. It's barely been 12 hours since all this happened. But awake now, and still a little groggy from sedatives, it seems as if the entire morning happened eons ago.

In 12 hours, I had dealt with everything. Pain. Doctors. Cops. EKG. Injections. And much more. I woke up this morning with a deadly pain in my chest. It was strange, since I had eaten okay last night and got proper sleep too. Trying to ignore the pain, I focused on work. I had a couple of meetings, labs, papers to write, and everything else that would make you ignore your bodily discomfort. But my body made sure I did not. Even before I was out of bed, I knew it was serious. Every two minutes, I felt a sharp stab of pain right in the middle of my sternum that would last a few seconds. I tried breathing deep, I tried to get some fresh air, but the pain kept coming back like a cyclic rhythm. I felt that someone was stabbing me in the ribs every few minute.

My first step was to call up a few friends, who for some reason were not available on the phone. I called up someone, who immediately asked me to make an appointment at the campus medical center. Scared of doctors and shots, I thought that I would be okay in an hour or so, and there was no need to make an appointment. A few minutes later, I had keeled over in pain. 

I called up the clinic, and for the next 10 painful minutes of my life when I barely managed to keep my breathing okay, I explained to them my symptoms. I asked them if I could come over immediately.

I am sorry but you need to call the emergency first.

(I was recently told that anytime you face a crisis, see an accident, see fire, get attacked, get stuck inside a locked building, swallow something, anything, you dial three digits. Nine. One. One.)

The emergency? I couldn't believe it.

Yeah, we cannot risk anything happening to you on your way. We need the medic incident reports first. They need to get to your place first.

I was in a dilemma. I had never dialed those three digits before. Once you do, an entire team of ambulance, cops, and the fire department shows up at your doorstep in a minute. I had heard tales about their promptness. Today, I witnessed it.

Hello, there has been an emergency. Chest pains. This is my address.

20 seconds later, I heard the shrieks of the sirens. I did not even need to look out of the window. I had barely managed to open the door for them when four well built, uniformed men entered and asked if I had called. And then, a pair of strong hands inserted two tubes that connected to an oxygen cylinder into my nostrils. Another pair tied something strong on my left arm to check my blood pressure. The third pair was counting my pulse. And all this while, I was never even asked a single question.

When they thought that I was in a position to talk (I was always in a position to talk, just that they never let), they asked me about my discomfort symptoms and took copious notes. 10 minutes later, I was on my way to the clinic with S.

The clinic had some more actions in store. Temperature, blood pressure, and pulse (though these had already been done once earlier) later, I was asked for an EKG. An EKG? I thought an EKG was for elderly people who had massive cardiac arrests. I was told that an EKG would be done not because they thought I had a heart attack, but to make sure that everything was fine. So while I lay in the dimly lit room, small tubes attached with adhesives all over my chest, I felt graph sheets making graphs of my heartbeat. Thank God no one saw me that way. As expected, everything was fine with the EKG report.

Next, I was told to go get a blood test done for pylori infection. These are the bacteria that aggravate the digestive lining due to excess of acid secretion. I did not know this, they told me so. They always tell you what they are giving you and why are they doing that. Back in India, I remember going to the doctor for a simple fever when he would write some 3-4 medicines in a handwriting best read only by the pharmacist. I could never really understand if those squiggles were made intentionally so that no one understood them. I would later have to ask the pharmacist what medicines had to be taken when and how many times a day. Here, every instruction was labeled on the medicine vials. What more, you were told about everything that was being tested on you. I remember back in India I would ask my doctor what exactly was wrong with me, only to see an inscrutable "Why do you want to know? Are you the doctor or am I?" expression on his face. I had a right to know, and I could also distinguish my hepatocytes from my lymphocytes.

To cut a long story short, I was informed by a very patient doctor who wore braces on her teeth that the chest contained organs like the heart, lungs, the food pipe, and it could have been anything. An hour later, I was informed that it was an inflammation of the esophagus, which in layman's term meant that excess acid in my gut had caused inflammation of my food pipe in the chest area. Strangely, I was happy that someone took out the time to actually explain to me what was wrong with me. A needle was again pricked in my arm with utmost care, and when they were done, they nicely bandaged it up so as not to leave any evidence or mark (see pic). I was given a medicine to swallow that would act like a local anesthesia and numb my upper gut. Very interestingly, they actually explained to me that the medicine contained three different stuff, one of which would put me to sleep soon. I was given the medicines, visiting cards, and appointments to come back in a few days. Roughly four hours after I had entered the building complaining of pain, I walked out in the bright sun towards my department.

I had to inform the department that I was taking the rest of the day off and I would be working on my take home due this Friday from home.

Word had spread in the department about my illness and I was soon offered a chair and concerned looks as soon as I had reached there. My departmental secretary had already called the professor and rescheduled my take home to be handed over by Monday.

It was the finals week, and here I was sedated and ready to doze off. My department actually understood this and gave me the extra weekend to finish my exam.

This country never ceases to amaze me. As long as you are insured, being sick is nothing to be scared of. You get the best treatment. Every single symptom you complained of would be dutifully diagnosed. They would draw blood with utmost care. They would inform you about every medicine you take. You would walk out of the place more knowledgeable, and more aware of your body and your illness. The next time someone asked you what was written in the prescription, you wouldn't have that blank look on your face. People would even reschedule final exams. In India, you miss one single exam, and you repeat the entire year.

As I think about the day's experiences now, I can see every incident replaying in my mind. It was not nice to be in such pain for hours. But this incident has definitely made me understand this country a little better. I appreciate the way the doctors did everything meticulously, and followed protocol to make sure that things are fine. The way they explained to me the symptoms for every discomfort I had. The way my friend stayed with me like that silent support, giving her work a little less priority for the day. The way the professors showed concern, and other students emailed me ask if I was feeling better. Most importantly, I appreciate the flexibility in the education system where you are not penalized for things you have no control over.

In a nutshell, my perception about this country, the people here, and the way the system works has totally changed. With medication and sleep, I feel a lot better. Just that I wish I had taken note of how the machine made graphs based on the my thumping heart.

sunshine.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sound Justification?

Sometimes, we get so caught up with the rigmaroles of mundane life that we fail to notice the simple things right under our nose. When was the last time you got the highest in marks in class? Was it last semester? When was the last time you wrote the best essay and won accolades for you ideas? Last month? When was the last time you went to a night club and danced away? Last weekend? When was the last time you were reminded of your megalomaniac future plans and how much you want to earn in life? Last night?

And when was the last time you actually stopped on your way to class to admire the beauty of the lake and the ducks paddling in the water? When was the last time you stopped in your tracks to see what the slight noise of something behind the trees was all about? When was the last time you stopped to admire the blue sky, the different colors of birds, or simply the variations in the shapes and sizes of the clouds in the sky? When was the last time that you actually got rid of the rain jacket and drenched yourself in the rain, uncaring if you will catch a cold or if you will be able to make it to the class on time? When was the time you chased a butterfly, a duck, or a squirrel?

I know it is not right to go to a class late. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, and I was on my way to the class, heavy books in hand, concepts in my brain, and ambitious dreams in my eyes. And then, I sensed some movement near the tree trunk. I knew I should be ignoring it and make a move instead. And what did I do?

There are times like this when you don’t really feel guilty walking into a class late or cooking up some weird excuse to your friends for the delay. For more than what I have learnt sitting in the comfortable confines of closed walls, I have had my share of learning here.



















-

sunshine.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Nature Did It.



They said it rains a lot here. So what? As if it doesn’t rain in India. That’s what I thought.

You had to be here to know what the rains here are like. And they say this year has broken the record of the past many years. Unlike India, it doesn’t pour. It keeps drizzling all day. This has been the case for the last few weeks.

I guess people don’t really notice the rains here. Back in India if this were the case, everyday would be declared a rainy day and people would never go out for work. Here, I am expected to attend classes from 8 am three days a week. Well, I don’t remember seeing daylight anywhere before 7 am here. What more, I don't even need to look out to know if it's raining. The constant sounds of the angry slaps on my windowpane says it all.

The weather is such that you wish everyday was a holiday. You wish you could delve deeper into your sleeping bag and the alarm clock wouldn’t ring at all. You wish there was mom making hot and comforting food. But in the morning, all I survive on are milk and cereals.

I know that I signed up for this life. But then, I saw a very beautiful sight today. Remember Indian weddings where the groom's car is decorated allover with flowers? I have no clue what happens in American weddings. But on my way to school, I actually stopped in the rains to take out my camera and click this.




Who decorated it? Nature did it. Don’t you think it looks amazing?

sunshine.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Wisdom Strikes.



Earlier this evening, this is a moment captured from my room window where the moon shines bright in the faint glows of the sunlight-streaked sky.

It’s past midnight, and as I sit sleepless in my room, lonely and bereft of human company, with the only sounds coming from the music in my laptop, wisdom strikes.

I am turning into an insomniac. I know I must sleep, but I sit wide awake, unable to decide what to do. There have been a thousand different ideas puzzling me, confusing me. I know not what to do. Or perhaps, I do.

When insomnia hits, it’s better to sit with your books and study. You either end up learning your chapters, or you ultimately fall asleep.

This is my theory.

A brief hiatus before I rebound with more ideas, and more writings.

The first yawn is almost on its way. Eureka !!!

sunshine.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Look Hair, I'm Fine.

What happens when one fine morning, you open your mailbox and find an email where someone from the department you do not even know introduces herself and asks you out for coffee?

You feel good about it.

And what happens when you get another email from someone else from the department asking you out for lunch the following weekend?

You feel elated.

What happens when you get a few more of such emails with people asking you out for more coffee and lunches, people from the department whom you do not even know that well?

You tend to get suspicious.

Tracing back the origin and the reasons of the emails and then correlating it to what happened in your life that triggered those emails proved to be a task as difficult as solving murder mysteries in your mind while you read the detective novels.

It took the Sherlock Holmes in me a while to figure out what was happening.

A few weeks ago ….

When I moved to Seattle, I started losing a lot of hair. Every day, as I combed my hair, I found strands of hair everywhere. Despite the humidity and pollution in Calcutta, I hardly lost hair. I never applied curd and eggs on my head. I never made any effort to maintain my hair. Yet, nothing happened. Every time I went for the haircut, the hairdresser commented on the thick crop of hair I had.

And then, I moved to Seattle. I would be horrified to discover strands of hair in the shower everyday. I was unable to figure out a plausible explanation for this, since the weather suited me fine and I was eating and sleeping well. I was so excited in my initial few days here that I wasn’t even depressed or missing home. I was clueless about what was happening. I asked my friends if they faced the same problem and some of them admitted that they did. But they were mostly men. A young woman with a thick crop of hair and not suffering from any major illnesses or setbacks in life didn’t really fancy rubbing shoulders with such balding men.

So every morning, I looked into the mirror to see how much more of my forehead was showing. But beyond a point, I stopped worrying. I believed I was aggravating the hair loss problem more by worrying and losing sleep over it. Even at the current rate of hair loss, it would take me perhaps another 30 years before I had to think of a hair transplant. Soon, I forgot all about this and moved on.

But then, I met someone in my department who casually asked me if I got a new haircut. I told her that it was perhaps the loss of hair that made me look a little funny. The rest of the conversation from my side was more in jest. I told her how the US wasn’t treating my hair well, and that very soon, they would name me a bald eagle. I also told her that I couldn’t find a roommate and was living on my own (not that I had any issues with that, I was quite enjoying the space actually).

With some logic not quite clear to me, she put two and two together, and concluded that I am suffering from depression. She thought that the absence of social company in the form of roommates was adding to my depression.  Perhaps I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly. Perhaps I was missing home. And that’s why I was losing hair. I was perhaps on the verge of sinking into cause chronic depression. Some people who remained depressed often committed suicide or tried to harm themselves. Naturally, I was in desperate need for help, according to her of course.

This is how she interpreted the seemingly innocuous conversation of hair fall. So she immediately shot a group email to some of the older students, discussing my “situation” and telling them that I needed help. She feared that if left on my own, I’d end up with chronic depression. Maybe I needed some more time getting used to the place. Maybe I needed to hang around with people a little more.

I understood this after I read those emails the students wrote me. They told me how difficult the transition was, and how brave I was living away from home. My doubts were further confirmed when one day I accidentally bumped into one of them, and she admitted that an email was sent to many older students asking them to help me out. Everyone after that started asking me if I was fine, and if I needed help. So much for a joke that backfired on me!

Of course the person doesn’t know that I come from a place where competition is the way of life, starting right from primary school. Everything is a struggle. Even going to work on time, navigating the traffic is a struggle. People get used to standing in line and waiting for hours and still not have their work done. Buses get crowded, drivers swear, passengers grope or fistfight. And then there are floods and heat waves. Bomb blasts. Earthquakes.Political unrest. And people survive all that. People who write their exams better end up getting lesser marks than those whose mommies and daddies are influential. Answer papers get misplaced, never to be found again.

I myself have written the board exams with a fractured leg. I have qualified and interviewed at better universities, and was rejected solely because my university did not publish results on time. I have had my masters thesis copied word by word with the consent of the professor, because the person could not get her readings right. I have had my statement of purpose plagiarized too. And I have survived a lot worse than this. Yet, nothing depressed me.

And then, I come to the country I have always wanted to be in, and people assume that I am depressed. I am in love with Seattle. I love the weather, the people, the campus, the roads, the buses, and everything else. I no longer fear crowded buses or question my safety when I walk home from campus late at night. I am spoiled for choices. I have an assistantship, and I have health insurance for the first time in life. I am making new friends. Life couldn’t be better. Yet, someone thinks that I am depressed because I am losing a few strands of hair, and creates mayhem for me. Should I call this caring? Or a sign of being panic stricken? Perhaps these people haven’t seen what real struggle is.

Seriously, I am doing just fine. In fact, I am doing great in life. I just wish that my department would understand this.


sunshine.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Prick Me Baby One More Time.

I thought I should write about this before the pain somewhat eased. I am referring to the pain in my biceps. Words like injections and blood have always scared me. The sight of a tiger would perhaps not scare me as much as a sight of a syringe would. Only sheer mental strength prevents me from passing out every time I need a shot or a vaccination.  

My department thinks that international students are a depot of germs and diseases. Within a week of arriving here, I was handed a long list of vaccinations I was supposed to take at the department health clinic. Despite being immunized right from childhood, handing over all my previous health records, and being in the pink of health, I had to take more vaccines, including the TB test.

Suddenly images from the past vaccination and blood test experiences came flooding back. A clinic that smelled like chloroform and alcohol. Really ill patients. Babies crying. People with plasters and limb casts and wounds ready to be fomented. How I was dreading this. I remember when a friend was leaving the city and had asked me to help pack, they had accidentally slashed their hand while using the knife. Instead of being useful, I had fainted, and they were the ones sprinkling water on my face.

Being alone in a new country made the anticipation of pain and suffering worse. Doctors are liars. They always lie that injection shots feel like ant bites. Maybe I had excess bradykinin, the pain-causing factors in my body.

I was already half dead by the time I entered the immunization clinic. Full dead actually, half from all-day classes, and the other half from fear. What more, I had a meeting in the next 30 minutes, so I did not really have the time to sit back and cry. 

When I entered the clinic, I was a little taken aback by the ambience. There were no wailing babies or wounded patients. What amazed me even more was the fact that there was no stench of chloroform or blood. Okay, so this is how it is in America, I told myself. So health clinics here did not reek of suffering and death. Maybe the needles here did not pain that much either.

I was soon made to fill up a couple of forms and directed towards a semi-shielded cubicle. The lady attending me made me sit and asked me unusual questions. Was I allergic to things? Did I have anemia or a low blood pressure? Did I pass out at the sight of blood? Back in India, with the long queue waiting outside, nobody would actually bother to ask all this.

Soon a wicked idea popped up in my head. What if I scared her a bit, would she be a little more compassionate towards me? I made a very serious face and told her that I always passed out when I saw blood. And just when I was expecting the usual rebuff of being too old to feel pain or fear, she took me to one of the nearby beds and asked me to lie down. 

I saw some of the most amazing things that day. At every table, there were trays of candies and chocolates, and no two of them were the same. You could pick whatever you wanted, as many you liked. Like a child, I soon found my eyes raving at the sight of so many candies, undecided as to which one I should pick. When the lady asked me if I was scared, I told her that I was scared, so I preferred looking at the candy tray. She asked me how do I keep in touch with my family, and if it is very expensive to make phone calls or trips to India. And jut when I was starting to calculate my monthly phone bill, she pricked me hard.

Ouch…..


And we are through….

Oh, so soon?

Yeah. So how expensive is calling them up?

I was so engrossed looking at the candies and calculating figures in my head that the initial trauma of seeing someone approaching with a needle was gone. Later, no hairy guy rubbed my arm hard with a swab of Dettol-soaked cotton, making me sick with the smell of the antiseptic and the sight of that one drop of blood. The punctures were neatly sealed with band aids, making my arm looked like someone did patchwork.



For every vaccine that I got, I was given a handout of what I was vaccinated for and why. They made sure that no person was ignorant about why they were being vaccinated. And they gave me a complete handout for the dates when I’d have to go next. Very organized. I would even receive regular email updates whenever my vaccine dates were due.


Pricking me multiple times on the same arm hurt a lot. The Mantoux test was even more painful. But I don’t dread going there now. As long as I get to choose and take whatever candies I want to, I don’t really mind a little pricking here and there.

sunshine.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A Day When....

Everything went wrong. Well, almost everything.

I thought it would take me a long time to hate this place. But then, I got fever. Wednesday night, I came home with a slight temperature running. I wouldn’t have given it a second thought and gone back to doing the daily chores. Just that I soon found myself too tired to cook or study. I collapsed on the carpet.

I would have been that way had a friend not called. Something seemed wrong from my voice, and she insisted that I come over for dinner. She gave me a ride, cooked me dinner, gave me medicines, and offered her living room since I was too ill to get back home.

The next morning, I found myself feeling better. I waved her a goodbye and got back home. Since classes started a little late that day, I might have some time for a shower and a brunch.

The shower, I had. I still had some 40 minutes before classes started. I thought I’d rest a while, just lie down and listen to music so that I didn’t doze off.

And doze off, I did. When I woke up with a start and squinted at my wristwatch, I knew that the classes had just started about a minute back.

Shit !!!!

I couldn’t afford to miss classes because we had to make a small submission every week based on that day’s class. If you were absent, you couldn’t make the submission. No handouts were available online. I called up a friend to ask if she had reached class. She didn’t even pick up the phone.

Wearing my shoes and taking the keys with as little time as possible, I dashed for the door. From my home, I have to walk down a straight lane for a few minutes, and then wait for two signals to cross the road and then get to the bus stop. It’s like a “T” where I walk on the vertical line of the “T” to take the bus on the horizontal line. This means that even while I walk, I can see the buses running. 

And just when I thought I would cross the first signal and still make it on time, I saw the shuttle leaving. There was no way I could have done anything but helplessly see it go. This isn’t India where you wave at the bus from a distance and the bus stops in the middle of the road, never mind the honking cars behind. The next one was 15 minutes later.

It had been drizzling all morning. I made it to the bus stop fine. But Mr. Murphy had more drama in store. At least three different buses took me to the department from home. But none of them came. Other buses came and left. People at the bus stop came and left. And I just kept standing there. I had even forgotten my umbrella. Surely I looked like a drowned rat in trouble.

It is then that I felt the first few drops of tears trickle down my eyes. I wouldn’t have noticed it since it seamlessly mingled with the rain on my face. I will never forget that day when I kept hugging the wooden plank in the bus stop, waiting for the bus and weeping. I realized what it meant to be alone and a foreigner in a new country. 

Would I skip class and go home, and live with the burden of feeling like an irresponsible person because I had dozed off ?

I don’t know why but I kept waiting for the bus. The bus eventually came and I took it. By the time I reached my department, I was already 30 minutes late. The class was 50 minutes long, in one of those huge auditoriums where you entered from the front door and climbed the steps so that when you came in, everyone could see you. There was no escape from a back door. I was still debating if I should enter the auditorium. It felt humiliating.

I did. I must have been real desperate to make it that day. When I entered, I thought that a thousand eyes were on me, judging me. I wished I could turn into a whiff of smoke and merge into oblivion. But I did not. I crept in silently, wishing that people would not recognize me. This is one of those seminar classes that both the students and the faculty attend. 

And just when I’ve climbed a few steps and taken a vacant seat and settled in, I craned my neck to look to my left to see the Chair of our department and the head of this class look at me.

I wish that the ground had opened up and engulfed me. But nothing fortunate like that happened. 

I did attend the last leg of the lecture. But it is on that day that I realized how difficult life had become for me. Sometimes, you fail to appreciate your family and take everything for granted. You fight, you complain, you whine. I'm not saying that the role of my family is to be my alarm clock and my cook. I hated that my parents did not like me studying late at nights, objected to long phone conversations and frequent eating outs, and absolutely did not allow sleep overs. So I argued, rebelled, and left home. I realize that you need a family, not only to force you to do the right things at the right time, but also to give you that overall love and support that essentially forms the backbone of your well-being.

sunshine.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Baai Says Hi.

Yesterday, in one of those expectant moments when I check my mails, something unexpected happened. I got an email from our domestic help back in India. My sister was going through a few pics of mine I’d emailed when the sent her when the help saw the pictures and started to ask about me. So sister had an idea. She asked the help to leave me a message, and she would type it. The message (in Bengali) read like this:

Hi how are you? Do you cook there? I remember how you fought with your mother and never learnt to cook. What do you eat there? Do you work there? When will you come back? We missed you for the Pujas. Take good care of yourself.

Needless to say, I was touched. So many people have been privy to the fights I had with mom, refusing to learn to cook. Forget cooking, it was a Herculean task to make me de-clutter my room. Let’s say I preferred to find my things accessible, and cleaning the room meant I'd never be able to find my things again.

I’ve decided to write her a reply. I am not sure what would I write. It might look like this:

Dear Mashi,

Great to hear from you. You see, the things you try to avoid the most tend to get back to you with such vehemence. Life back at home was a bed of roses. You had seen how I’d come home from school, kick my shoes, throw away my bag and go to sleep. I had no worries about anything. I did not mind arguing with parents and going to bed on an empty stomach. If I got hungry at night, I could always make my nocturnal prowls to the kitchen. When Ma went for groceries, I gave her a long list of things I wanted to eat. All my friends agreed that my Ma cooked very well. My lunch box was always sought after by everyone in class, and sometimes vanished suspiciously. But I only ate, never cooked. I had some weird anxieties about the association between cooking and mediocrity. All the girls in class who were lining up to get hitched were practicing their cooking. I was not that girl, dying to get hitched and serve others. So I never learnt. I still enjoyed the home-made Christmas cake and tandoori chicken though. 

Not only cooking, Ma made sure that my clothes were washed and ironed while all I did was go to work everyday. I never bothered with the mundane household activities. I watched dad painstakingly clean window panes and my book shelf's glass pane. Yet I never offered to help, unless he asked me to. I ignored what he said, that there is no shame in doing one's work, especially the work for one's home. Doing your own work was gender-neutral. No matter what kind of a job one has, one should always do their own work. I always wondered why did he take so much time to polish his shoes until it shone bright, or got on a chair and cleaned the ceiling fans. 

And then I came here. I remember the first day G showed me how to use the microwave and the dishwasher. I was like, "Oh, do I have to cook now?" I soon realized that not only would I heat up milk and make my breakfast, but I had to clean the dishes too. 

And then, I got a real taste of life when I started to live on my own. No one cared that I used to live like a princess back at home. I was appalled at the amount of work I was supposed to do at home. Studying. Taking courses. Doing lab work. And then, cooking. Which meant planning ahead of time, and doing the grocery. Since I did not drive, I was dependent on G whenever she brought her car to the campus. But what would I buy?

I remember the first day G has taken me to Walmart and the Indian grocery store. We had walked aisle after aisle, G putting things in the cart that I would need (I had no idea). She chose the spices for me while I looked at the choices of ice cream flavors.

And then, I slowly started to cook. More like stir fry things in the beginning. That means I had to keep track of what was in the fridge, and what would get spoiled first, and plan my cooking accordingly. I had to plan things beforehand. I often missed the 8 am classes in the beginning, because it was too cold and there was no one to wake me up. I would shut the alarm off and go back to sleep. Everyday I woke up, the first question on my mind was, what do I eat now? I could not thrive on instant noodles and fruits. I had to learn to cook.

And then, there was this arduous job of cleaning up after cooking. This being a common kitchen, I could not leave the dirty dishes and flee. Soon, I was cooking, doing the dishes, and wiping off every drop of water with a paper towel. I sometimes cleaned the mess others made, so that I could cook. Then, there was things like washing clothes, cleaning the carpet, vacuuming, and keeping my room clean. I was no longer just a grad student. I was the cook, the washerwoman, the iron woman (pun unintended), and much more.   

There were times when I would come home tired, and doze off. And then, I would wake up hungry in the middle of the night with no food. So after midnight, I would cook, clean up, eat, and go back to sleep again. Since I had no time management skills, I solely survived on hot chocolate and instant noodles during the exams. 

Life here is so different than life back at home. This independence comes at a cost, and whether you are an aspiring nubile woman or not, everyone has to do their own work. These days, I have even learnt to pay rent and the other bills on time. I have a daily planner now. I no longer come home and kick off my shoes. If I need floor space to walk or space in my bed to sleep, the shoes and the clothes need to be put in their right place. If I forget to buy tomatoes, I survive without tomatoes for the entire week. Sudden midnight cravings do me no good if those things are not available at home. 

As I met more new friends, I got introduced to a new concept- The Potluck. My inability to cook well became a source of my embarrassment because the the few times, I showed up with ice creams and soda for potlucks. I remembered my parents telling me that there is no shame in cooking, or doing your own work. If you are not responsible for yourself, you cannot take responsibility of others. 

I have learnt so much since I started to live on my own. Too bad that I got my wisdom only after I lost my wisdom teeth.

sunshine.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Indecent Proposal.

So do you take a shower in the morning?

I was a little taken aback by the sudden intrusion of privacy. We were neighbors alright, and we worked in the same building. Yet what kind of a connection demanded an intimate question like this? For a moment, I wondered if I had body odor. Not that people ever complained I did. 

Well, yeah, I do.


Okhayi…good.


I wondered what was so good about it. We were walking together to take that bus to the department.


So are you going to take the shower again?

What?

Now? Would you?


Well, I don’t know. 

What was this guy up to? Irritation waned, and I had started to feel a little scared. Suddenly, the road ahead looked desolate. I could not wait to get to the bus stop.

You know what? I would be taking the shower. So you could take it with me, he offered suddenly.

My jaws dropped, and I stopped dead in my tracks. He did too. Why was the guy telling me all this in broad daylight, managing to look super cool and unperturbed? He was even smiling at me. He didn’t look drunk. He didn’t look stoned. Then what?

What did you just say?, I asked, trying hard not to lose my calm. Carefully, I squinted in the sun to look at his face as he repeated his offer again.

Would you take the shower with me?

I frowned as I read his lips. I wanted to give him the benefit of doubt. 


The what?

Shower? It was his turn to look confused now.



You mean? Please say it slowly?

Sh-aww-lle?



Did you say the s-h-u-t-t-l-e?, I asked slowly and carefully, reading his lips all the same. I even pointed to the bus stop a few steps away. You mean the white bus? The one that takes you to the medical center from the department?

Oh yeah yeah!. His face lit up. Would you take it with me?


Sure. Anytime.

With this, I heaved a sigh of relief. Accents can be funny. Asian accents, more so. 

Ever since, every morning we have been taking the shower together. The shuttle I mean.

sunshine.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ever Been To Jugarat?

As a student, there are lots of parties one could attend here. Welcome parties, potlucks, barbecues, international students' parties, Indian parties, departmental parties, you just name it. There were enough to make sure that my weekends were full, and some of my weekday evenings too.

That wasn’t so much good news for me. I guess I’m rather introverted, especially after evenings, when I like to retire with a book or a movie. Crowds intimidate me. Unknown faces do so more. Even if I was forced to attend a party, you’d find me at one corner, with a glass of water, watching the crowd from a distance. Sometimes, I get into a different mood and dance the night away. But that happens rarely. 

So here I was attending another of those parties arranged to welcome international students. I had gone there straight from my classes, and it’s just the white hat on my head (the one that I’d got from a dollar store) that distinguished me from my “jeans and tee shirt” student look. It was amazing how the other students, so young and from such distant countries found their way so easily here, laughing and dancing and making international friends. I was feeling utterly uncomfortable amid unknown faces. So I settled at one corner of the room, a glass of water in hand. There were beer and steaks and sandwiches too. But I had no appetite. 

I saw that girl from New Zealand who had long, Maggi-like hair, giving her a nice electrocuted look. I saw that mathematics student back from Siberia I’d met a few days back. And then there were these guys from Korea, and this pretty female from Sweden. I’d been introduced to them a few weeks back. I am not very good at remembering names. Indian names, maybe sometimes. Non-Indian names, no chance. I had strangely remembered that girl’s name who was from Sri Lanka, but I don't remember it anymore.


I guess I was never going to learn to go up to a group and introduce myself. People call it being a social outcast. I see it as intellectual lethargy. If everyone talked in a room, who’d listen?

So here I was lost in my thoughts when a girl came waving at me. She must have deciphered the SOS message on my face and came to give me company. Well, I could actually do with some company. Before this, I was talking to a good looking man from India. Okay, not really good looking, but it reminded me of someone. Weird lines of thought. There are some faces you remember, even if they do not fall into the typical “good looking” category. An engineering graduate from Ahmedabad, he was the only Indian I’d met so far.

So this girl comes up to me and introduces herself. As usual, I did not get her name. But I got it that she was from Spain and was a graduate student in engineering.

So wee-rrrrrr yu frrmm? 


India.

Oh wow. I love Indian food, she chimed enthusiastically.



Ah, yes. India is a great place.

Aww yeah, I know. I was there for a couple of months.

Really?

Yeah, I went for a 3 month project from my department. You know, I was mainly interested in topography analysis. With this, she went on to give me a detailed account of what she was doing there, most of which went as indigestible as the food here.


So where in India did you visit?, I asked.


She looked a little confused, looked up the ceiling, and said, ummm… this place on the west, very hot.


Rajasthan?

No…..Jugarat.

What?

Jugarat?


It took me a lot of effort to not laugh out loud. 


Well, do you know the place?, she asked me.


Of course. It’s Gujarat.


Jugarat?

Gujarat. Gu-ja-raaat.

Ju-ga-raat?

No, see it goes like this. Watch me do it. Gooo-ja-raaat.

Jooo-ga-raaat?

Gu. Gu. Say goooooooo. Gooo... as in Google?

Goooooo?

Yes, very good. Now say, gooo-ja-raat.

Jooo-ga-raaat.


Suddenly, the teacher in me took over and I was hell bent on making sure she said it the right way.


Common, let’s do it once more. Gu-ja-raat.

The poor girl seemed flustered. Ju-ga-raat?

Oh God, just forget it. I surely wasn’t going to spend this evening caught up between the gu-s and the joo-s. People around me would freak out. 

Gujarat, I said one last time.


Ju-jugarat.


Well, Jugarat is also fine. Just practice a few times in front of the mirror and I’m sure you’ll do better.


After exchanging a few more words which didn’t start with a G or a J, she went back to her crowd. I looked around and saw the good looking man from Ahmedabad. May be he could teach her how to pronounce it the right way. As if reading my mind, he turned to look at me. He smiled. I smiled back.

I hadn’t realized that my friend (the girl I’d come with) was back from socializing. She was sitting beside me, watching me smile at the guy from Ahmedabad.


So who is this young man you are smiling at?

What?, I was startled, not expecting to find her behind me.



This handsome man?


Oh, he? He is an engineer from Jugarat.

What???

Oops, I’m sorry. I mean he is from Gujarat. Ahmedabad.


My friend gave me the weirdest look. Was she eyeing me with a mixture of suspicion and pity?


Okay, that was just a slip of tongue.


You know, I really believe you are stressed. Jugarat? 


With this, she swayed back into the crowd, leaving me sitting alone with my water and wondering, Jugarat? How could I have said that?

sunshine.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

It's Been A Chraizy Week.

So how was the first week of classes? How did it feel to get back to student life after almost a year and a half? How was the transition from an Indian university to an American graduate school?

Truth be told, it’s confusing, and the sheer hard work expected of you was just “chraizy”. As you see, I am slowly picking up bits and pieces of the American accent. Never mind the fact that my facial expressions seem hilarious when I try it out in front of the mirror.

Comparisons do crop up, no matter what. And they said this was just the warm-up week. Well, the warm up was good enough to get my ass on fire. On day 1, we were given handouts for the entire schedule this quarter. Yeah, we run on a quarter basis, which meant a fresh session started every 3 months. I went through my handout to find everything there- the chapters to be taught, the required readings and reference work, additional links, text books, exam schedule, class test and home work schedule, email ids of the professor, every bit of information was there. A careful examination of the schedule confirmed that there would be at least 3 exams, a weekly test, and a couple of homework assignment and readings for each course every week. And I was taking four courses this quarter.

The system is pretty different from the place I came, where there were university exams once a year. This meant that you could sleep and take it easy for the first 11 months, and slog your butt off the last one month. That’s how we were used to, no matter how unscientific it was. And the course combination there was like eating at home. Mom would force you to have every course, starting with the bitter karela and ending with curd/yogurt. Everyone in a particular department throughout the university was studying the same courses, and writing the same exam year after year.

The system here works like a buffet. It was pretty confusing initially, when I was told to pick and choose my courses. Pick and choose? My professors back home would have had a heart attack if I told them that I didn’t take up the biophysics course because I hated physics. Having said that, you just couldn’t randomly pick and choose your courses. It took a lot of careful thinking and foresight to decide what you wanted and what you could leave. Every system has its pros and cons. There, at least you would not have to worry about what courses you took and if you were particularly suited for that. Here, you have to worry. For you don’t really want to spend an entire year taking random courses and realizing at the end that you were perhaps meant to do something different.

Another huge element of surprise was the teaching system here. Classes are held in auditoriums, professors use the mic, every class is video recorded so that if you happened to miss a particular class, you could watch the entire lecture online. The coursework, homework, and everything you needed to know was available online. It might sound pretty naïve of me to find this overwhelming, because I have never seen this before. You remained absent, you got the class notes photocopied, and studied on your own. Simple. I certainly don’t remember the last time I got home assignments in college.

Students went to class in shorts and running shoes. They openly ate and drank in class. They took the class notes on their laptops. They called the professors by the first names. Ask me how uncomfortable it is to call someone grandpa-like by their first name. Ask me how I cringed in embarrassment when the girl next to me kept dangling her legs and showing off thunder thighs, while I was covered almost from head to toe. Nobody cares. As long as you got your assignments done, no one cares.

Home assignments could be typed and printed or simply sent via email. Isn't it amazing? Every out-of-class communication with the professors and the TAs had to be done via email. When you are new to the system, you just can’t help but compare the stark contrasts. Courses here weren’t named, they were numbered. So if someone asked you, “Are you taking the 489 this quarter?”, it would mean he is asking you if you are taking the certain agronomics course that is offered this quarter by a certain Prof. Hogan. And you could easily go up to a 60-something professor and say, “Hi John, I had a quick question about the classes”. There is no concept of good morning sir, excuse me, may I kindly ask you something regarding the classes sir? There are certainly no sirs and madams here.

Perhaps the best part here are the facilities you get, including free printing and scanning and photocopying, library access till late nights, 24 hours of building access, and the library resources. Any graduate student here is allowed a maximum of 2100 books (unless someone makes a request on a particular book), allowed to be kept for the entire quarter. I can’t help but think of my CU days and the way we used to huddle on the two computers in the department, carefully avoiding the irritable woman who used to monitor if we were checking personal emails. And the money we spent on printing and photocopying, I am sure the shop owner would have made enough money to add an entire floor to his home.

The bottom line is- we are entitled to every facility available under the sun. And that includes a handsome graduate assistantship, medical insurance, and other facilities. We wouldn’t really be worrying if the pay check would arrive on time or if it would be possible to find certain reference materials in the library. Worst case if the libraries here don’t have it, they can ship it from any library on this side of the US within a week. You wouldn’t hesitate if you wanted to go to the department post-dinner and study. As long as you had the access codes to the restricted areas right, no one would question, or even notice your presence. You could get as many prints as you needed, and see entire lectures on the web. You needn’t even pay for bus travel provided you paid some $40 at the beginning of every quarter. And in case you were taking the shuttle to the medical college, even that wasn’t necessary. If you didn’t understand particular courses and needed to start afresh, you would always have teaching assistants whose duty was to make sure that you eventually understood things. For as much as they graded your performance, you graded their teaching abilities too. You weren’t expected to worry about anything that would hinder your education and learning here.

The only thing you were expected to do here is study, and study more, and study as much as you could. Laziness and irresponsibility have no excuse. Plagiarism and using unfair means is unacceptable. And underperformers have no place here. If you wanted to hang around in the place, you have to perform. You have to study and do your assignments on time. You have to follow the system. You have to compete with your fellow mates and outperform them. There is no place for mediocrity. You have to be an achiever. You have to run as if your ass was on fire, even if they called it the warm up week.

Having said all this, I better get ready for the assignments tomorrow. Looking forward to yet another “chraizy” week of running.

sunshine.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

720 Hours Of Learning.

It’s exactly been a month since I came here. Thirty days in a new country, with a whole new set of adjustments. Sometimes, it seems as if I’ve been here for ages. Sometimes, it all seems like a dream. I still remember that night when I landed here. My flight was delayed, my luggage hadn’t arrived, and I had no clue where was I headed for. I had just seen one picture of the guy who was to come to the airport. I had not even seen my host. I was tired, I was scared. When the guy dropped me off at my host’s place and drove away, I had felt like a drowned puppy discovered on a cold night and left at the doorstep of someone. And then, the kind human had taken care of me till I was strong enough to feel hunger or sleep.

The very next morning, G, my host had taken me around the house. The first lessons I got from her was how to use the faucets and the microwave. Faucets here seemed far more complicated than the ones back at home. I had never before used a microwave, and it was amazing how it could be used for everything, right from warming milk to cooking meat. Every little thing I saw amazed me. The first time she had taken me out, I had almost yelled in amazement, “Uui ma, so many foreigners!!” It had taken me some time to realize that I was the foreigner here, not them.

The next thing that had amazed me is the total absence of street dogs, cows, and lumps of cow dung trodden with bicycle tire marks. I had worn a new pair of shoes and when I came home, I was amazed to find the back of the shoes absolutely sans a speck of dirt or dust. As G rightly said, I was acting like a "dehati", overwhelmed with things around me. When I’d opened a bank account, I got a black tee shirt for free. Soon I realized that if you went to the right places, things like tee shirts and chocolates and candies and paper clips and letter holders and water bottles could be got free. I soon learnt that lifts were elevators, bathrooms were restrooms, notes were bills and bills were checks. I learnt that many words otherwise used normally are considered slang here. I learnt that pesticides were never “sprayed” and the car “dikky” was the trunk. I learnt that “Safeway” was a huge chain of store and “Subway” was a sandwich store. I learnt that the gas ovens were electrically heated. I learnt the difference between a credit card and a debit card. I learnt how not to hang up on voicemails but listen to the voice instructions and then leave a message as systematically and formally as possible. I learnt that when you inserted the key into a lock, you pulled the door towards yourself instead of pushing it. I learnt that there were specific “designated smoking sites” where one could smoke.



I learnt how to use a digicam, a laptop, and the coin-operated washing machine. I soon stopped getting shocked when they would tell me that the temperature outside was 65. For 65 was the temperature in Fahrenheit. I soon got used to a fresh set of units like mph, ounce, gallons, and pounds. I learnt not to confuse I 5 and I 90 with I 20, the former two being the interstate routes that intersected here. I learnt that you were supposed to change plates in a buffet every time you finished a course. There were days I’d keep waiting for the bus on the wrong side of the road, still used to seeing vehicles on the left. There were times I had dashed into people while walking on the left. Once, I had almost screamed out of shock when I saw a large vehicle approaching from the opposite end, thinking that G was wrongly driving on the right (I mean wrong) side. Soon, I learnt to figure out things by myself. I learnt that you crossed the road when you saw that white man and stopped when you saw the red hand. More importantly, I learnt that you must politely smile at the driver who stops his car to let you cross, even when the signals have changed. I learnt to read maps and find my way across the city. I learnt to transfer pics from the camera to the computer. I learnt how to use a memory stick. I was still using floppy disks not too long ago.




But most importantly, I learnt that it’s okay to ask for help. I learnt that it’s okay if you didn’t know something and even if you didn’t understand after repeated explanations, it’s okay to smile and apologize. I learnt that not all people know all things at all times and it’s okay to take your ignorance with a pinch of salt. I learnt that it’s okay to make a fool of yourself by fiddling with the faucets and getting drenched with the sudden outpour. I learnt that it’s okay to be clumsy with the elevator buttons or the door knobs. For more than people judging us, we end up judging ourselves most of the times. Most importantly, no wrong done was that wrong as long as it could be fixed with a smile or an apology.

If you could plot my learning curve for the last 25 years, taking the time on the x axis and the learning co-efficient on the y axis, you wouldn’t miss the sharp spike in my learning curve the last 720 hours.

sunshine.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Bad Food For Thought.

Back in India, I remember how mom used to urge me to learn to cook. She had tried every possibly strategy under the sun. She had tried to coax me with love, and then with anger. She had tried with emotional blackmailing as well. And the moment she did this, I would use fight or flight. There was something about the idea of cooking that used to scare me. What if I got burnt? What if the food was overcooked? What if I added certain spices and died of food poisoning? I used to be the black sheep in the family since both mom and dad are great cooks. That’s pretty much the picture back at home.

And then, I came here. I came to the land of opportunities. I came to the land of abundance. I came to the land where every small sized thing you order is still jumbo size by your standards. I remember the food I used to order initially, everything of the minimum possible quantity, and I used to end up taking more than half the food back home. I remember the stores where I was overwhelmed with the size of prawns and shrimps and potato chips packets. G, despite her classes, used to often bring me home cooked food (yeah, I know, shame on me). I came to this place where everything you wanted was cut and canned and ready to use. All you had to do is while your time in some nearby store, undecided whether the red bell peppers are better or the green ones. Bell peppers by the way mean capsicums. Egg plant isn’t a non-vegetarian plant produce, it’s our very own brinjal. Egg plant? How could an egg be a plant? And when G pointed to the cold storage racks and asked me to get her a packet of okra, I thought that okra was a Tamil word. Well, it isn’t. Okra means lady fingers.


Life so far here has been an immense learning experience. Let me not digress but rather stick to my culinary exploits here. On one hand we have the storage stuff. On the other, we have what I call the “pourage” stuff. You pour, you drink. Back at home, I remember how mom would fret that milk would turn rancid in the summers. I remember how she would peel, cut, dice, pulp, and perform the other verbs I wouldn’t even know. Here, there is no concept of boiling milk. There is no concept of making fruit juice or yogurt. You buy, you pour, you drink. Sounds cool, no?

What more, everything under the sun is available in flavors. I took a good 10 minutes to figure out whether I should take the strawberry flavored yogurt or the pina colada. I wondered if the Concorde grape juice tasted better or the passion fruit. Bell peppers were green, red, or yellow-orange. Potatoes were white or red. And the ones I thought were onions were actually jumbo-sized garlic.

I thought I had finally entered the land of the pizzas and the pastries and sushi and smoked salmons. I was constantly putting my connoisseurship to test, trying out on the Thai and the American food joints. When the department invited us for lunch, I was delighted. Mom, I told you I could do without learning to cook.

I was in for a surprise. The department hosted a grand lunch. There were so many trays of food that if you had your food from the first tray and started to walk, you’d feel hungry by the time you reached the last tray. And here starts the saga of how I got to make a complete fool of myself.

The food here wasn’t dal, chawal, naan, and dhokla. This was American food. It started with trays of fresh vegetables, uncut, uncooked. God knows how hard I’ve tried to stimulate my bovine instincts and enjoy the lettuce and the cabbage sans the green chilly or the lemons.

And then I didn’t even know half the fruits and the vegetables. I saw broccoli for the first time, the miniature version of mountain forests. Vegetables were to be followed by an array of sandwiches. I had a hard time figuring out which were the beefed, porked, hammed, or turkeyed. Everything other than chicken made me want to throw up. And chicken doesn't mean the cooked chicken curry from back home. Chicken here is eaten bland and boiled.


Post sandwich were packets of potato chips. Lunch looked like snacks. This was to be followed by varieties of something I mistook as white creamed pastries. So I cut out a large chunk of it. I was soon to discover my stupidity at the thought of having mistaken white cheese for pastries. And the dried raisins I thought were black olives actually.

So that was it- green leafy salads, sandwiches, pizzas, cheese, chips, egg-dipped cookies, cut fruits, and cans of beer and Coke. Where was the main course? Where were the fried rice and the reshmi kebabs and the fish fries and the dal makhanis and the gulab jamuns?

Seems every possible gastronomic nightmare I had started to come true. I would be unable to chomp on the pizzas that smelt of beef. There was no concept of curries, chutneys, and aachars. Soon I started to avoid the departmental lunches and dinners. I would no longer be allured by any seminar that announced “free pizzas and light refreshments”. The only good things I’ve had here so far are the chocolate pastries.

2 weeks of all this and soon I was only having the starters and the desserts in a meal. There was yet another lunch I had to attend and all I had were fruits and cookies that reeked of raw eggs. I had the appetite of an ant. I remember the day when I’d cried in relief when G had cooked simple chawal, dal fry, and south Indian vegetarian curry for me. It tasted like Heaven.

And then there was this Thai place I went to and since I didn’t know what was what, I ended up starting the meal with desserts. Well, this is because they had placed the desserts at the beginning and even that tasted like the sweetened and chocolatty version of Isabgol for curing constipation. You just couldn’t miss the constipated look on my face the moment I took a spoonful.

Also, let me tell you that the coffee here is bad. B-A-D. It’s strong, it’s bitter, and you’d add dozens of sugar cubes, yet you’d have the same constipated look on your face the moment you had a sip. The only good food I’ve had is in a Chinese food joint, where the food was somewhat “similar” to what I am used to having. Having said that, Chinese food here is in no way close to the Indo-Chinese food in Calcutta. Even the roadside "Gulmohar Chineez Hotel" in Calcutta serves better food.

One week of the terrible food and my digestive system went into the hibernating mode. Ask me how it feels like going to sleep on an empty stomach to wake up in the middle of the night and crave for paani puris, chicken rolls and dosas. So much for stubbornness and not learning how to cook.

I hope that the Americans aren't offended about how I found eating a nightmare here. I am just an outsider, with very different food habits. I remember how every time, I threw a tantrum when mom cooked bitter gourd or pumpkin curry. What I'd do to have it right now. 

sunshine.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Whoz Te Neighbor?

When I’d said a goodbye to G’s palatial home and landed up at my place, I had no clue about who my neighbors are. My floor was quite desolate, and I saw barely 2 people on a daily basis. Mostly Asians, they were unable to understand my English. Someone said, “I no engliss”, to which I exclaimed, “Oh, I know engliss too”, to correct my “engliss” just in time. A lady kept repeating the same thing I asked, mimicking me. So when I looked for the restroom lights, using my hands to gesture, “restroom, no switch?”, she mimicked me and repeated the same.

I occasionally met my eccentric neighbors in the common kitchen, not knowing what to do but smile. They smiled back too, and boiled noddles and pasta with funny smells. They used their chopsticks with great finesse. Here, I could not even use the dandiya sticks well. I felt lonely, unable to make even basic conversation. That'show the first few weeks went. I went to the department, came home, and went to sleep. Sometimes, I slept for 12 hours straight. My jetlag never left me, it seemed. I hardly met any Indians at the department. The accent others had alienated me. And so did stories of my classmates who spent their weekends fishing and canoeing. The most interesting thing I had come to doing in the weekends in India was watching Ramayana and Mahabharata on television. Certainly not doing "maach dhorte jawa" and "nouko chalate jawa".

I came home one evening, so tired that I did not know whether to cook or go to bed hungry. I climb ed up the stairs unenthused, taking the door key out of my pockets. I opened the doors and froze. 

You?

You?

What are you doing here?

What are you doing here?

I live here.

Me too.

What?

Yeah.

Me in 417.

Me in 418.

Really?

Yeah.
Looks like the Thai guy I had met in the department was my neighbor now. A few days back, I was chomping on my rubbery sandwich at the department orientation. He sat next to me and told me how bland he found American food. I always saw him studying in the library, while I was all up and about, excitedly going around Seattle and taking pictures. Now, the same guy was chopping cabbage in my kitchen.

I could not be more glad to find a familiar face.

sunshine.