Monday, December 19, 2005

Braggart No.1.

If you want to master the art of bragging, you should meet my kids. Specifically, the second and the third graders.With their innocent faces and smiles, they can even get away with murder. Given their imagination, it doesn't take them much time to come up with ridiculous stories.

A few excerpts from some of the recent conversations I had with them-

X: Ma’am, my dad has a red car.
Y: Ma’am, ma’am, my dad drives a biig Wagon R and an Indica.
Me: (feigning interest) Really?
Z: (almost shaking me from behind) Ma’am, my dad bought me a new car as a birthday gift. Not a toy car but a real big car.
X and Y turn pea-green with envy.

P: Ma’am, my brother was vomiting yesterday.
Q: Ma’am, my uncle had white white things (which I interpret to be foam maybe) coming out of his mouth before he died.
R: Ma’am, yesterday I cut my hands and there was “so many” blood.R showed me his injured hand, but I could only find a tiny spot that might as well have been a mosquito bite.

A: Ma’am, I am going to Bombay for my uncle’s wedding.
B: Ma’am, my dad will take me to foreign in the winter vacation.
Me: Really? How far is foreign?
B: Very far. One hour. You have to take an aeroplane.
D: Ma’am, my dad took me to aeroplane yesterday (whatever that meant!).

J: Ma’am, will you play cricket with me in the picnic?
K: (before I could answer) And football and beyblades with me? I have 2 beyblades.
L: I have 4 beyblades.

Ma’am, my dad is a doctor.
N: Ma’am, ma’am, my dad goes to hospital also.
Me: Children, look out of the bus. This is a very big hotel. It is called Taj Bengal.
P: (feigning a blase attitude) I have come here. But I did not like the food.
Q: I also. I also.
Whatever that meant.

Well, there are endless instances of senseless conversations like this. But I have to smile and feign surprise and listen to all that they have to say.

We were in the school bus, going for a picnic. These kids were their usual noisy self, with their my-dad-gave-me-this and my-dad-gave-me-that talk. The bus had just crossed Rabindra Sadan and was on its way to New Alipore when the endless stretches of greenery appeared at my right.

Me: Look children. This is the Calcutta race course.
I was just going to add that they can see the horses running here when a small boy screamed in excitement out of nowhere-

I know this place. My father and my grandfather come here to run in the fields every morning.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Golden Period.

If there has been a particular time in my life I have been the happiest, this is it. Sometimes, all this seems like a dream. School life ended years ago, taking away with it all the magic. College life was much harder, with competition, weird syllabus, weird questions,  and the inevitable “What Next?”. Same with university.

All this seems to have happened a whole lifetime of suffering ago. A job has changed it all. It has made me realize many a things about myself, and the people around me. People no longer take me for granted. Most importantly, I do not take me for granted any more.

I still think of the day I went for the interview, sitting uncomfortably among others. I kept telling myself that I had nothing to lose. The job has made me realize what is it that I want out of life. For more than being employed and earning, I realized what kind of work made me happy. I am sure working in a call center would earn me much more than I do now. Five of my cousins are already into it. But teaching is something that I immensely enjoy, so much that it seems effortless. The timings and the ambiance suits me fine. Correcting piles of copies can be draining at times. But I plan my questions well.

Also, when you are the youngest teacher, people always look after you. I have started socializing with the other teachers, and I like it. The occasional treats and the parties they throw feels good. I have the advantage of age. Children love teachers who wear bright clothes and teach enthusiastically instead of sitting on a chair and complaining. I discuss everything from Harry Potter to Beyblades with them.

My school gets over by 2 pm. I have all the time to myself after this. Sometimes I go to the library or go visit friends, maybe even go for a movie or lunch. But most of the time, I get back home, shower, and settle with a book till I fall asleep. Sometimes, I write. Unlike earlier, I do not have to burden my brains and study, go for tuition, or prepare notes. Sometimes, I pick up books from Gariahat, College Street, or Wellington market before heading home.

Life could not be better. Ma wakes me up every morning, makes me some coffee, and makes me lunch. The only thing I have to do is to get myself ready. Back home, my steaming hot dinner is always there on the table. The only thing I do is clean my room in the weekends. I can save up my salary and spend it whatever way I want to.

I have friends who are still putting in long hours to prep for the NET exams. I'm not going to write one, I know that. This job I have is a great one-year stint, perfect as a transition job. Hopefully, I will get into a good doctoral program in the US by next year. Until then, I have no responsibilities to cook, pay the bills, care for family, and raise children. The other teachers come here to work. It feels like I come here to picnic. I am saving up my salary for my dreams. And being with the kids at school is a great stress buster. The moment I get in class and start scribbling formula and equations, I forget my worries. I feel certain and more confident about myself. And even if things don’t work out in the US next year, I'll get a B.Ed.

This golden period might not last forever. But the fond memories definitely will. So I am trying to make the most out of it.

Time to get back in the arms of Morpheus. The God of Sleep. Good Night.


Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Very Special Feeling.

I got my first salary yesterday. I guess the first things in life are always special. First boy friend, first date, first salary. When I was out of school 6 years back, I started tutoring English to a young girl living close by. The first time I had held those 3 bills of 100 rupees each in my hand, I had felt that I was the richest person on earth. I had the same feeling when I signed the receipt and held my first salary check yesterday. What more, I am a taxpayer now!!

Late at night, I had held the salary envelope this way and that way, swaying it again and again in front of my eyes, just to make sure that all this was true. I have friends and classmates who still haven’t managed to get a job. I feel so fortunate that I did. Dad treated all of us to some great Chinese food in Gariahat. I know I should have treated them, but dad never lets me pay.

Have planned my Christmas vacations. Am taking a week off. Just got my tickets today. Am going Switzerland. Wanna come? Just kidding. Switzerland will have to wait for a while. May be until a few more "first times" happen. Like taking a plane for the first time. 


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Annual Function Day.

The last few weeks have been a very different kind of experience for me altogether. Everyday, I get to do a lot of “seemingly unimportant” stuff that I could not have done otherwise. I use the term “seemingly unimportant” because a lot of my so called over-achieving friends think that I am wasting my talents and skills with this job. They had the nerve to tell me a lot of things on my face. Like-

“You are meant for more meaningful jobs”.

“You must be kidding when you say your job is hectic. How can teaching be hectic?”.

“If you had to teach, you should have had a college or university in mind. Why a school?”

“Don’t you have ambition in life? A school teacher at last?”

I will not go into the other senseless remarks I keep hearing. I don’t even feel like explaining anything to anyone. The people who said this must have all studied in a school at some point of time. And my job is no sinecure. For, making a child understand the principles of Newton’s laws can be more difficult than making codes run in plush offices.

Well, I was a Ph.D applicant when I got this job. And I just love it now. I can be with kids all day. This might not be equivalent to participating in board meetings and making business deals, but to me, it means much more than that. I love the way kids wish me with a smile every morning, the way they cling to my sari while complaining about their friends, the way they give me chocolates and pens on their birthdays, the way they tell me- “ma’am, you are very sweet”, even if they don't mean it. I love the shine in their eyes when I play “quiz quiz” with them in the off periods. I love the way they give me their opinions when I ask them about the latest Harry Potter movie. The kids have accepted me as a part of their life. So though I teach in much higher classes, I sneak into other lower classes whenever I can.

But engineers and doctors and managers think that no job is more important than theirs, and their contribution to the society is way more than mine.

Tomorrow is the Annual Function Day. Today, the stage rehearsal was extremely tiring. Now don’t ask me what is so difficult in making a few kids sing and dance in rhythm. The kids are doing a great job. You should see them dressed as puppets and jokers and monkeys. Tomorrow, I am in charge of the green room. And that means trying my hand at another new job. I will have to dress them up and see to it that they have the proper make up. A good 300 kids. Can you imagine that?

Try telling me, what's so great in that?


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Screwed Up.

1. Load X Load Arm = Effort X Effort Arm.

Mechanical Advantage = Effort arm/Load arm.

I devoted a good 30 minutes to explain this basic funda about machines to Class VI. And at the end of those 30 minutes, I gave them this simple sum to do.

Effort = 200N, Load = 100N, Load Arm = 25cm, Effort Arm = ?; Mechanical Advantage = ?

28 out of 30 students got a zero. The rest two did it half correct and managed to get a 2.5 out of 5 marks each.

2. What is the sum total of the three angles in a triangle? I randomly picked up three students from Class V, and asked them this, half dreading that they would laugh at me for asking them such an easy question. The three answers are respectively, 30 degree, 70 degree, and 120 degree.

I was shocked beyond expression.

What more, I ask them why cannot a right angled triangle have two 90 degrees? To this, one of them says confidently, “Who said so? They can have two 90 degrees in special cases”.

If I were a student now, I would not even step in this school, forget about studying here. And if I had given such answers in my schools, I would have been thrown out of there.

3. While correcting one of the chemistry copies, I find a CD inside, with Bipasha Basu’s pic on it. As suspected, the CD contains stuff you would not normally see in a sixth grader's collection.

4. My computer is screwed up for the last seven days or so. There are problems that I am unable to interpret. Okay, I know this for sure that the Norton thing has stopped working and the machine is virus infected. Also, the printer cannot be installed for weird reasons. Last Sunday, the printer just stopped taking in papers, and kept on printing lines and lines of coded expletives. And the machine just shuts down on its own and restarts without notice.

We do have a person who is supposed to fix these problems, all the more because we need the computer everyday. And this man has been telling me for the last 5 days, “I am coming first thing tomorrow morning”. And mom is like, don’t be rude to him, he might have been busy somewhere.

5. My ankle swelling is getting worse day by day. I am absolutely clueless about where all this is leading. On top of that, I get this splitting headache ever since I corrected those physics papers.

6. My project guide calls me up to ask me where have I disappeared. Snippets of the conversation-

Where have you disappeared?

Sir, I think I told you I got a job.

Yes, yes, I know, but why do you need a job?

The same reason as you need one, I wanted to say.

Anyway, he spared me a reply, and asked me to come to the lab tomorrow. We need to discuss a few research projects.

But sir, my job? The timings just will not let me work in the lab anymore. I am dog tired by the time I come back.

Just come over after school tomorrow. We will see.

I know what is coming. My weekends and Christmas vacations are gonna be screwed. And I am not even gonna be paid for it. Are the full time scientists there dead? Don’t tell me that a lab as huge as this is banking solely on a freshly graduated student.

7. Snippets of an argument with mom as I come home from work-

So you are not going?

Of course not. I cannot even move my ankles.

Is this your excuse this time? Why do you let us down? You do not attend a single wedding. But the moment you friends make plans to meet, you jump and go. 

I hate these weddings. There is nothing good to do there but sit and stare at others. I am not going. I have been up and working since 5 am.

She left without saying goodbye. Yes, she did give me a nasty look as she left. Intuition tells me that she will not be on speaking terms with me for the next few days.

8. Amidst all this, a small pin pricks my finger while I am arranging a few papers. It was like an ant bite I might not even have noticed. But then, I press my finger hard, and there I see two drops of bright red fluid oozing out. Blood! God, this is the life saving fluid called blood! I am bleeding. The next instant, strange images come to my mind. My head reels. My vision gets blurred and my tummy feels light. I rush to the wash basin and throw up.

From headaches to unruly and dumb students to sarcastic mommy comments to being pressurized by the guide to virus infected computers to objectionable CD contents to the sight of blood, I have had enough for a day. Right now, I just want to go to sleep, and never wake up again.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Role Reversal.

Strange are the ways of life. 5 months back, I was bunking classes big time, and whatever little time I would be in class, I’d sit in the last bench and talk non-stop! 3 months back, I was burning the midnight oil, studying for the exams, and cursing the teachers big time.

And now, I am supposed to control a pack of naughty kids and make sure that they do not talk in class. I have to set questions for them they will not be very happy to answer. How can I ask the kids not to talk? Their senseless chatter should fill up the rooms, don’t you think? It is a crime to shut them up. Yet, thanks to our strict principal who must never have had a childhood, I have to scream at the kids (at least pretend to be angry) to please her. If I were the principal, I would do away with exams, do away with the school uniforms, and never try to stop them from talking or giggling senselessly. It only shows their innocence, something we adults lack completely.

My life has changed drastically the last few days in more ways than one.

The alarm goes off at 4 am everyday. And everyday, I shut it up and go back to sleep. And then, I have to get up to the melody of mom screaming at me, "The day they fire you for being late, you will realize”. Well, my circadian rhythm has still a long way to go for these drastic shifts. I have to take the bus by 6 am everyday. And that means wake up at least at 5. I cannot even dream of touching the cold waters then, let alone take a bath. So these days, I shower after 10 pm, and read a book till I fall asleep by 11.

I can’t bring myself to have food early in the morning. And once I am in school, I just do not have the time. And this means I don’t get to eat these days till say about 2-3 pm, but for the cups of coffee. You bet, my family doc is gonna be rich soon, the way I am aggravating my ulcer.

My school is nothing but an army as far as discipline is concerned. Teachers cannot color their hair (mine is not), and cannot wear jewelry ( I usually do not). But you cannot wear jeans, or skirts, not even the longer ones, or anything that is sleeveless or is not a salwar kameez or a sari. Even a short kurti will not do! And that means 70% of my wardrobe has already become redundant.

It is great to hear “Good morning ma’am” thousand times a day. I was so not very used to this, I’d initially turn around to check if that was me they were wishing.

Last year this time, I was interning at a state government environmental lab for 3 months. Running gas chromatographs. Doing hardcore research. Grim faced scientists running around all day. Not a noise but for the constant drone of sophisticated machines. Speckless labs that reminded you of Robin Cook novels or a Steven Spielberg movie. People talking in hushed tones all day.

But this place is so very different. You will go deaf with the amount of noise children make. I had always fancied teaching in a school and being surrounded with kids all day. But I had never expected it to materialize so soon. It is amazing, how even a “very good” you scribble on someone’s copy can make his day and earn you their toothless smiles. And I just love those “ma’am, he is tickling me, ma’am, he is pushing me” complaints.

Plenty of stories to recount, but it is already past ten, and I should try and get some sleep. Have a long day ahead. Just a funny incident before I sign off.......

I find two boys from the last bench whispering into each other’s ears. Distracted, I roll my eyes and ask in a feigned but stern tone, “What is it so interesting that you boys are discussing in class?”

One of them stands up, guiltily smiles a rather toothless smile, and says, “Ma’am, he is saying you are very cute.”

Well, if you expect me to be harsh to these kids after this, you might as well put a few stones where your heart beats. As for me, I just love the kids, and all the indiscipline, and all the noise that they create! Makes me feel alive.


Monday, November 14, 2005

A New Chapter.

Two weeks back, there was a job interview ad published in the newspaper. I naturally overlooked it. And my sis naturally found it. And my mom was naturally like....... when would you grow up and learn to read the newspaper properly? Why do you just skim through the headlines?

Four days back, they called me for the interview. My sis naturally got all the credit. And my mom naturally started calling up all the relatives, as if I had already got the job!

Two days back, I had the interview. The first job interview of my life. I screwed it big time. Okay, I din do that bad, but I wasn’t that good either. Sitting in a plush air conditioned office among some 25 other candidates, I felt like Shashi Kapoor in Deewar....plain, simple, middle class with loads of qualifications and degrees, yet jobless!

The first thing they told me is.....Oh, you don’t have a teachers training? They then said..... Oh, you don’t have the experience either? When it came to salary discussions, they bargained big time. I was very upset by the time I got back home. They had said they “might” get in touch with me after 4-5 days for a second round of interview. For all the diplomacy, they might as well have told me on my face that I had failed to impress them.

My phone rang the moment I reached home. Surely I must have left my phone or purse in a hurry. Strange, I had both with me.

You have been selected ma’am. Please be there Monday morning, 7-15 am sharp.

Was I imagining things? It was not yet 4-5 days. Did she call up the wrong person? Naturally, I was dumbstruck!

Today was my joining day. My first job. The first time I have signed in the school register as a teacher. For the first time, I was on the other side of the stage for the Children’s Day celebrations. For the first time, I sat in the teachers’ staff room instead of a classroom. And tomorrow, I’ll be teaching classes for the first time.

I am sure a lot many first times are gonna happen for the next few weeks. My mom has already made a list of the places I have to take her out for a treat, not to mention the number of movies I’ll have to take her to.

The job is very well timed. Just when I complete my masters, clear the GRE/TOEFL, finish off with the SOP and recommendation letters, and am just about to parcel everything, and am still wondering, “what next?”, I get the job.

Among the many things about this job, the best thing is that I can be surrounded with kids all day now! I am already looking forward to it.

School starts tomorrow morning 7-20 sharp! A good 1 hour 15 minutes from my home. Someone wake me up at 4 am sharp, please!


Wednesday, November 02, 2005

My First Baby.

I still have faint memories of that rainy Monday morning. Nobody had woken me up or made me ready to go to school. When I woke up, grandma told me that a holiday was declared in my school due to the rains. Rubbing my eyes, I asked where mom was. She said that she has been taken to the hospital. Dad was there too. And I have had a little sister now.

That was way back in the first grade. Later that day, I went to see mom and my new sister. It was still raining heavily. I don’t remember much, but for the fact that my sister was sleeping wrapped in a bundle of clothes. Everybody was talking about what a healthy baby she was born. Even with my mom suffering from jaundice during her pregnancy, she was born a good 4 kg plus, and was very tall for her age.

The birth of my sis proved to be more of a disappointment for me initially. She would sleep or weep all day, she would not smile or recognize me; she would not say funny things or talk to me. I had expected her to at least ask me my name and my school’s name, or share lunch and dinner with me. But she did none of those. So when she would be sleeping and no one was seeing me, I would silently sneak into the room, tickle her tiny feet, and wake her up. They would not even let me take her in my arms.

With time, dad told me that she was my own kid. I would have to take care of her in every way. And from that day, my sis became my responsibility. I would help mom bathe her and feed her, I would funnily dance to songs in order to amuse her. She was so strong, she would crawl up to me and take a fistful of my hair in her tiny hands and shake my head. But I would never cry or complain. She tore my books, puked on me, and scratched my face with her tiny nails. When I was in the fourth grade, she started going to school with me. So I fed her food, arranged her school bag and carried it with me, helped her do her homework (most of the times I would do it myself while she would play), and made sure that nobody bothered her in class. She was a real lazy baby who would never be ready on time. So I would help mom in getting her ready for school as well. And when we would be real late, I would carry her in my arms, with the school bags and all, and run all the way from the school gate to her class. Most of the days, I would get late for my assembly doing all this. I always treated her as my kid, my responsibility.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

I Am Beautifully Challenged.

It is one of the places where I spend the least time and money. It is one of the places that makes me feel as estranged as a student of history would feel in a class of bosons and fermions. No wonder, all I do is stupidly gawk at the people in amazement whenever I go there.

It is a Beauty Parlor.

As far as beauty awareness goes, the world has already entered the jet age while I am still marveling at the usefulness of the bullock cart. We fortunately have a dressing table at home. And every time I try on some make up, my mind gets discombobulated amidst the bottles of creams and lotions and face packs. I would not know one bottle from another. My mom and grand mom and my little sister know a hundred times more than I do.

Okay, I do have a fetish for soaps and shampoos. I wash my face and brush my teeth twice a day. I comb my hair and apply a little bit of liner under the eyes, not to mention some lip gloss. I even know the names of some internationally famous brands. But when it comes down to powders and lotions and mudpacks and lipsticks, I feel as lost as I would probably if I were on the moon.

I was recently at one such place, ready to get a new hair style. Not that the length of my hair would allow much scope for a variety of coiffure. And given the mad rush for the pujas, I could not even make an appointment the first day. So they asked me to come back the next day early in the morning. And here I thought that appointments were made only before meeting the CEOs.

Reluctantly, I went there the next morning. I was made to wait for almost an hour, since a huge crowd already needed to be attended to. So for 60 minutes, I waited there, trying to take in the flurry of activities going on besides me.

Two women as old as my grandma were half lying with some yellow face pack and slices of cucumber on their eyes. And for all the time I stayed, they remained that way, reminding me of Egyptian mummies.

A woman with waist length hair was having something like curd applied to her hair. It is later on that I learnt she was coloring her hair. And she was not coloring it white. It is the usual color of the paste.

In between, a young lady breezed in and asked, “Phesial ka kitna charge?” And her mom asked, “Hair color ka kitna aur henna ka kitna?” (Hair color ka Rs.1,000 and henna ka Rs.250). And just when I thought she was ready to make an about turn and never come back again, she agreed to color her hair. Half an hour later, I saw her sitting on a chair with 3 women attending to her; one at her feet immersed in scented water, revealing hairy calves, one filing her finger nails, and one attending to her hair. The daughter was besides her with the “phesial” stuff. Man, what a sight !

In the meantime, my turn finally came. The lady wrapped me with a dozen plastic sheets and asked me, “Kya karna hai? Hair highlighting? Henna? Facial? Manicure?”

I looked at my neat nails, my simple hands still sans those 8 diamonds, and said, “Just give me a simple, neat hair cut. I do not want the tresses falling on my eyes”.

She looked as if she had seen a ghost. It took her a good 10 minutes to give me what I needed. And all the while, she was like, yeh kijiye na, woh kijiye na, yeh lagaiye na, apne eyebrows thread kijiye na !

For the first time in 24 years, she made me thread my eyebrows. It hurt like hell, probably like the way it did when I broke my leg or had that wisdom tooth pulled out. So much for wisdom! She kept on hurting me, paining me, and she kept on urging me not to move. What did she think, was I a pachyderm not to feel the pain?

So that was 5 more minutes. And this makes it 10+5=15 minutes of grooming up. Just a 15 minutes compared to hours women spend at the beauty parlors. And she charged me some 143 rupees (all taxes included) for a 15 minutes job and an hour’s wait. No hair colors, no mud packs on the face and cucumbers on the eyes. Just a simple hair cut and a painful eyebrow thread.

After looking at me, mom said I looked like my cousin Oishi, a three and a half year old kid.

On my way back, I thought about how the world has progressed while I am still lagging behind. With these thoughts, I fiddled with my purse for some money for the bus fare. And there, I found a paper the lady at the beauty parlor had thrust in my hands with the cash receipt.

“10% discount on all services including bridal make up and hair coloring. Offer valid till 31st December.”

Well, I am not getting married this year. And I am not coloring my hair either. So maybe, I will not need those offers after all.

I rolled those papers into balls and threw them out of the window.

And till date, my eyebrows hurt.

Maybe I am one of those “beautifully challenged” people.


Tuesday, October 04, 2005

A Day In The Life Of A Metro Commuter.

Welcome to Calcutta Metro Railway. Calcutta Metro Railway aapka swagat karta hai. Kolkata Metro Railway aapnader shagoto janaye.

These are the pre-recorded welcome lines you will hear whenever you take the Kolkata metro from any of the terminal stations.

Specklessly clean paltforms and trains arriving exactly on time is what makes Kolkata metro. It is fast, safe, less time consuming and much more convenient. Spanning a length of about 17 km and 17 stations, you can connect south (Tollygunge) to north (Dum Dum) in just 33 minutes. The maximum permissible speed is 55km/hr and the average speed is about 30km/hr.

No, I am not using this post to advertise Kolkata metro. The Indian Railways still hasn’t paid me for that. This post is meant to delineate particular categories of people I find travelling in metro everyday. The typically funny categories. When you love to study people, you will be amazed to notice how much facial expressions and body language speaks about someone. And even if you have been regularly commuting like me for years, there will always be something new to see every time you take that train.

The Clan Of Milkha Singh.

If I am to direct a remake of the movie Daud or Run, I would cast them. The moment the sliding doors open, they will come jostling for seats and in the process, they will stamp on someone with arthritis, accidentally sit on other people's laps (well, almost) and collide head on with people trying to get down.

And then they are the ones who will come running down the stairs and wave to the motorman, even if the doors have been shut close. From the stairs to the ticket counters to the escalators and then to the train, they will run and collide with a dozen people. Not that they are the really busy people on whose shoulders lies the progress of India. They might be found sleeping in their offices and chatting for hours over cups of coffee. I wonder if they try doing their bit of physical exercise with this running act.

The Unenergetic, Sedentary Types.

Just opposite to the previous category, these are the ones (mainly women) ever in need of that one glass of Bournvita everyday to give them the necessary horsepower. They will sit on seats with legs spread apart and exactly keep a distance of 15cm from the sides. And they will pay no heed to the women who complain, “Shorey boshun”. And then you literally have to push them with your bums to close that 15cm gap.

Platform Mein Timepass

They loiter about in platforms for hours till the blue uniformed men come and drive them away. Some constantly spit pan and throw pan parag wrappers on the railway tracks. They will ask you the time despite the huge digital clock hanging prominently. And every two minutes, they will dangerously lean on the tracks to see if the train is coming.

The Deceptive Types.

These are the most dangerous category of people. For every 10 seconds, she will adjust her saree and rearrange her bag, as if she is just about to get down at the next station. And then she opens her side bag and brings out a hand bag, opens its zip, and all the while lures you into believing that she must be digging for her ticket inside ‘coz she has to get down. And then she brings out a hanky from the deepest recesses of her purse, stylishly wipes off the beads of sweat, careful not to damage her make up, drinks some water, and gives you a look that tells you she knew all the while that you thought she was ready to get off. For all that you know, she gets down at Dum Dum or Tollygunge (the two terminal stations), and leaves you standing and needing your own hanky all the while.

The Sleepyheads.

They do not get to sleep at home, thanks to cantankerous spouses and obstreperous children. So they catch up on all the sleep in the metro, sometimes even standing. And in this process, they invariably fall on other people and irritate them to the extent that people would want to stick a bamboo pole into their nostrils. Well, anything to wake them up. I wonder how they never miss the station they are supposed to get down at.

The Phoney Category.

No, they might not be phoney in the real sense. But all that they do in their metro sojourn is fiddle with their mobile phones, play games, send sms, and play ring tones, totally oblivious to everything happening around them.

“Blessed By Cupid” Types.

They are the oblivious lovebirds you find hidden behind the station pillars and in the vestibules. They will not take a seat even if they could. And you just have to see them trying to defy Newton’s first law of motion. For they would never hold on to the steel hand rails and would love to stumble on each other every time the motorman does the brakes.

The Gynophilous Variety.

Not that this word exists. But splitting it etymologically will give you gynos+philous = lover of women. Needless to say, they are men who prefer standing in front of the ladies seats and gawking at women. They will not mind being jostled by women in a crowded metro. Some of them would always prefer to sit on the ladies seats. And they just will not get up until and unless you stick your fingers into their nose, bend their head upwards, and show them the L-A-D-I-E-S sign printed in bold red. And then they will make a face as if they have done you a favor by vacating the seat, expecting you to be thankful to them for the rest of your life (and I am referring to those young men who do it on purpose).

The Adventurous Escalating Types.

They fear the escalators like anything. But they will never take the stairs. So on a busy morning, you will find them standing in front of the escalators, almost putting their right foot on it but pulling it back at the last moment. This will happen till the other commuters start yelling. And then, one of the braver ones would just hold their hand and drag them up. And in the meantime, I’d be scared shitless, wondering what if they lost balance and toppled over me? Apna to ram ram satya ho jaayega.

And I must not forget to mention those unruly children and jobless adults who while their time moving unnecessarily up and down the escalators while waiting for the train.

The Alices In Wonderlands.

They see the train entering the platform, the doors opening, and just when the doors begin to close, they make some stunts and hop in. And they sit comfortably in the metro while the doors open and then they suddenly jump off their seats and make a headway for the doors. No wonder I have seen office bags being stuck in between doors and slippers left behind on the platform while the owner manages to get into the train at the nick of time.

Ghar Grihasthi Waale Gregarious Behenjis.

They get on the train with trunks and suitcases and a bunch of children. And they will stumble and fall, unable to decide on where to sit. And then there are moms with school going kids who empty the kids’ school bags, take out the copies, discuss homework with the other moms, force their kid to eat the unfinished tiffin, and scream “jashna jashna” (don’t run around) while the kids would run around and punch each other. And they would discuss their mom-in-law and the daily khit pits at home. Not to mention how Qazi Taukeer manages to get junta’s vote every time, the latest updates on Jassi and Armaan, and how the k-bahus always manage to look so prim and proper.

Yeh Seat Sirf Mera Hai.

Think of a seat of 8 where 7 not so thin people are already sitting. So maybe a kid or a pet dog could barely fit in. And then a big, fat lady comes, scans the seats, and demands, “Shore Boshun” (make space for me). The other 7 twist and turn and make some space that will not even accommodate half her ass. Imagine a big fat lady sitting with a tithe of her ass touching the seat, and the rest of it hanging in mid air, cursing the rest 7. Well, anything to get that seat !


Monday, October 03, 2005

The Ten Things To Do This Pujas.

(Not necessarily in any order).
1. To unleash the Bengali in me and to learn to wear a sari the Bengali way.
2. To catch up on all the Bollywood movies I have missed out recently.
3. To finally start cleaning up the mess in my room.
4. To get loads of beauty naps.
5. To read all the books I have been collecting the last 5 years or so, with no time to read.
6. To gawk at all the good looking guys.
7. To promise not to say "no" to sweets for the 5 long days. Never mind if I have to diet for the rest of the year. Ma Durga would never want her children to diet during the pujas.
8. To go find myself that man who will give me those eight diamonds happily.
9. To go pandal hopping and watch lots of puja. I wasn't enthusiastic enough the last year. But this year will be different. So I will hop on to my bed, grab a bowl of pop corn, put on some good local channel like Star Anondo, and watch lots of pujas on the TV with grandma (Naah, you can't really convince me to go pandal hopping amidst all the crowd and commotion).
10. To finally cut down on chatting and blogging those 5 days of pujas.


Something Is In The Air....

I was shaken out of my slumber by the sounds of “ghanta” and “shankh” very early this morning. It was drizzling all night and the cold winds made me long to get back to my covers, cuddle the pillow close, and go back to sleep. As I tried to shake off the last remnants of sleep (I am a very early riser) and to bring my world into focus once again, I remember that Durga Puja is just a week away. Seems Ma Durga and her clan of Gods and Goddesses (and Mahisasura as well) are busy getting spruced up for the pujas.
The whole city seems to have suddenly come to life again. The scent of pujas is in the air. And I see it everywhere. I see it on the faces of people. I see it in the scaffolds of the still incomplete puja pandals. I see it in those craftsmen working diligently to add the final touches of paint on Ma Durga. For pujas is not just a 5 day event when you wear new clothes, gorge in kilos of sweets, and go pandal hopping. It’s emotional, and it's a celebration that starts weeks before and lingers like sweet nostalgia even when it is all over.

Kolkata is a city with a soul. I hardly liked it when I first came to live here 8 years back. But with time, the city grew on me. There is an undeniable magic, an aura that emanates, a feeling of being home that begins to grow on you with time. For a city is not merely impressive buildings and shopping malls and prospering industries. It is essentially the people.

And God knows I still get goosebumps at the sounds of the dhaak. It seems as if my blood rings and my soul sings to the drum beats. And you have to be a pretty insensitive pachyderm not to feel the magic suffusing the air when dhaakis play the dhaak (for the uninitiated, watch Parineeta).

Being a “Probashi Bangali” (one who is not born or brought up in Bengal), Durga Puja wasn’t any different to me than say Christmas, or Eid. I had seen Puja outside Bengal, and it meant all the same to me.... decorative pandals, people in new clothes, cultural functions, and loudspeakers honking with the recent hindi movie songs. So I could never comprehend why people said, “You have to be in Kolkata to get the real feel of the Pujas”.

But I got this real feel when I came to Kolkata. And from then on, I’ve waited each and every year for the pujas to come. Right now, the whole of me is awash with joyous anticipation. There is something in the air that drastically enlivens me. Though there are so many things I am equally scared of.

I am so scared of the Q factor. And these days, I find it everywhere. I see queues in metro station ticket counters, in front of shops, in restaurants, in pandals. I do not see the logic why people would like to stand in queues for hours to buy a pair of shoes or to get into a pandal. And the metro has never been more crowded. It is funny seeing people carrying half a dozen packets of clothes and sweets and what not. And even cranky children screaming out for attention or complaining husbands cannot deter the spirits of the Bengali woman on her shopping spree. I do not see people stinting and scrimping on their shopping budget. Every body seems to be basking in the imperial glory despite the financial strata they belong to.

I see the shops dazzling with lights and people, discount boards hung everywhere, food joints filled to capacity, thousands of people laughing and shopping and eating, the kids dancing and screaming around. I see the passion of the cheerful crowds, the warmth of being together, the joy of celebration, the pride in artistic expression. And I see the bacchanalia everyday, everywhere, on every face, be it a kid or a 70 year old. Every body seems to be thriving on buckets of Bournvita that gives them all the energy and enthusiasm for a celebration of this level. Even the bad weather during the last few years and the low pressure and the constant drizzling and water logged streets and traffic snarls has been unable to dampen the spirits of the Calcuttan.

And then you see love birds exchanging hushed glances and sheepish smiles. So many love relationships are made in the meeting grounds of Maddox Square by the grace of Goddess Durga every year. Never mind whether they make it to the altar or not. Sometimes, an innocuous fling is good enough a change from the dull, drab life, that leaves sweet memories for years to come.

On that note, happy puja.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

I Feel So Lost...

Good times, bad times... these are the toughest of times. Seems the US has gone bankrupt this year and has no fundings for international students. As Anurag Mathur claimed, the Americans will always be "inscrutable" for me. I wonder what's gone wrong. People have no financial aid, people are retiring, people have fully occupied labs, people want engineers, people want biomedical science graduates, people are on their sabbatical leave.......and mainly, people are not mailing back!

And some claim, "You have excellent academic credentials, but sorry, I have no lab space." Period. I wonder how the schools are still running and making business. Or is it that something is wrong in my field of specialisation? Undoubtedly this is a highly specialized area. But things can't be so bad. Even most Canadian schools have only an M.S. to offer and not a Ph.D as a terminal degree. Should I have gone for something more broad like ecology, biodiversity, maybe pharmacology? A little late to ponder upon.

So out of the 120 odd schools I mailed to (and that means a rough estimate of 600-700 mails), I can only bank on 5 schools now. Bank as in they will atleast read my application if I send one. The rest don't even seem interested.

It's scary... it sure is. Little did I imagine that things would be so bad. There has to be something fundamentally wrong with the situation. Thousands of students make it to the US every year. Something is definitely wrong somewhere.

Needless to say, I am stressed out. Scared. I feel so negative these days that I do not even dare to start on an SOP. I just can't sound negative in my SOP, things are already screwed up big time.

And the worst form of anticipation, the most tiring form of waiting one can do is what I am doing these days. What did they say about the results? August last week? And then September first week? Second week? Well, the latest date was today, Friday, September the 23rd. No news yet. Maybe next week. 

And then, people keep asking me the same questions. "When are you going to the US?" What am I to do? Take my score cards and mark sheets and hop on to the first plane available?

Its depressing, its scary. I am exhausting my finances day by day. Transcripts, stationery, books, couriers, every thing comes for a cost.

Sometimes I wonder if ambitions would be the cause of my nemesis. I am wasting the vital years of my life chasing the American Education dream. I feel so disillusioned. 

Its been months since I've had a bunch of friends to hang out with. Months since I've watched a decent movie. Months since I've wanted to sit by a lake and watch the water and the birds.

I am tired, I am scared, I feel desperately alone, I wonder how long will my finances sustain me. I still talk to people, I blog, But every thing is so mechanical these days. I get those blinding headaches almost everyday. Mornings greet me with the intense pain in my stomach I was so used to 4-5 years back. But doctors and medicines cannot cure ulcers, not unless you have a peaceful mind.

Maybe I need to take a break in life. I seriously do.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Score: 290

After GRE, TOEFL seemed like a cakewalk. I did not prepare at all, just did a few CDs, like kaplan, cambridge, and powerprep. But just doing the powerprep is more than enough, the kaplan CD is unnecessarily tough.

The LISTENING section was all that I was concerned about, since I am not much into English movies, in fact I hardly watch movies. Just do not doze off during the listening part, the one liners are more tough 'coz the conversations start and end even before you have had a chance to train your ears. The longer ones were cool. Keep your eyes glued to the comp as a lot of unfamiliar terms will be written down frequently. If a process is being discussed, try remembering it sequentially, as in, what happens after what.And yes, when you hear a conversation, you see two people on the screen. Most of the times, you would have seen the people concerned previously in the powerprep CD while practicing.

Remember that the conversations are different here, and do not try to recall what these people were talking about in the practice CD. This works as an instant distraction.

The STRUCTURE part was quite okay. Since time is not a constraint, recheck your answers before you have made the final click.

The COMPREHENSION was the most boring part, where you have 4 essays and 4 x 11 = 44 questions. But there is plenty of time, and there are no extra points for being the fastest one to complete them. So do not rush. The essays are just school level ones, unlike the GRE.

The WRITING part, nothing to worry about, I never expected an easy topic like this. Just hone your typing speed and keep typing

In GRE, just mentioning the names of the universities sufficed. Here, I had to mention the departments as well.

As usual, the secondary ID was needed.

Get plenty of sleep the previous night and just relax. Remember, its not half as tough as GRE is, and you can easily score full marks.

Good Luck.



Score: 1370

When you take a primary test, you know what are the sections you are good at and what are the sections you need to work really hard on. For me, maths was never a problem, but english needed a lot of effort. Due to a many exams going on simultaneously for me, all I could manage was about 3 months of consistent effort(about 1-2 hours everyday) and 1 month of concentrated effort(about 15-16 hours every day). But then again, this is the formula that worked for me, you have to decide your own formula based on the time and the resources you have.


Initially, I would always get a score of say 340 to 400. Soon I realised that I needed to master the vocabs first. For vocabs, Barrons is more than sufficient. I also used the book "WORD POWER MADE EASY" by Norman Lewis. Don't just learn words. Use them. Write stuff using the words you have learnt. Be aware of the roots of the words, it makes learning a lot more easier. I did this and many would be surprised to know that I completed the 50 word lists of Barrons in 7 days. Just 1 week. All because I just did not learn the words, I used them. Also, be aware of the nuances in word meanings. While a spendthrift always squanders money, a thrifty person is just the reverse. To be vindictive is to be revengeful, but to vindicate is to free from blame. Be very careful about the secondary meanings of words.

Take care of the words with more than one meanings.

Do not make me RESTIVE(restlessly impatient), you RESTIVE(obstinately resisting to move forward) man.

Gabbar's men BESIEGED(surround with armed forces) the village in Sholay, and the villagers BESIEGED(harassed with requests) Jai and Veeru to leave.Sounds ludicrous, huh? Never mind that, as long as you can remember each and every word

Remember, learning some odd 2.5k words is not a matter of joke, so you have to work on it.

Analogy, antonyms and sentence completions become a lot more easier when you know the words. And do not omit a particular answer choice if you do not know its meaning. In analogy, you have to know how to make connections between the pairs of words. But I'm sure you are aware of all this, so I'll skip this part.

The one thing that was always a problem for me was the RC. I never had the patience to look at the screen and get the meaning of everything. In my main exam, I had a real long passage and two short passages. The science essays were okay, but I always get lost when it is something on arts and the social sciences. So at the end of my first passage, I did not even know where all this was leading to, I was totally lost. Even the 5 answer choices were 5-6 lines each. So I just kept making educated guesses and moved on. I know that is where I lost my marks, but never mind that, 'coz time management is another thing. You just cannot pore over the RC part and not complete the entire test. Not that I am recommending you to make guesses, don't do it as long as you can handle RCs well.


Brush up your school level math. Of course the questions would not be that easy, but you need to get your basics right. Geometry, algebra and arithmetic was extremely easy for me. I got a lot of SD and y=mx+c types sums. There was also a data interpretation question that proved to be very time consuming. So rather than doing the sum, you should be able to just look at the answer choices and have an idea of what the answer possibly could be, and then confirm it. If I did each and every piece of calculation, I could not have completed it. This especially goes for calculating percentages and the value of fractions. All you need is a lot of practice.


My favourite section. I had not practised writing even a single essay prior to my exam. But i managed just fine. This is because I write a lot in general, in my blogs, personal diaries, and if you could develop this habit, nothing better. Some people ask me if they should rote learn a few topics and go for the exam. Trust me, that is the worst thing you can do. Just decide on your topic and get your brains storming for ideas and examples to write in your essays. The time allotted is a lot, I finished about 10 minutes early. And for the record, I wrote about 10 medium paragraphs in my essay and 7 quite well reasoned paragraphs in my argument. If you do not have the flair for writing, you cannot change in a month. All you can do is get into the habit of writing.

I was lucky to get a research section and not a repeat section. The test was too exhausting, and I did not have the enthusiasm to go for a repeat section. But then, its your luck that counts here, you can do nothing much about it.


There is no hard and fast rule regarding how much you should practice, the more, the better. Initially I would take 3 mock tests per week. In the last 2 weeks, I would take a test everyday. But then again, do not over do things.

I did my word list from Barrons and the Norman Lewis book. Apart from this, there are two websites I found very useful.

Ofcourse Barrons is sufficient. For me, it never really harmed to learn a few extra words.

Apart from this, I did a lot of test papers in the USEFI. I had totally completed books like the Princeton and Arco. And yes, the Big Book is an extremely good one. Regarding the CDs, I did each and everyone of them.....Powerprep, Arco, Cambridge, Rea, Petersons, Kaplan, you just name it. That went a long way in improvig my scores.

Keep a record of your scores to see how you are improving with time. In maths, I always used to get 770-780 from day 1, but verbals started pathetically for me. In the initial few weeks, I could not go beyond 1120-1140. Slowly, I picked up pace. I did quite well during the last few days, getting somewhere around 1360-1420. And my actual scores are pretty close. I always had some serious problems with the RC part and that's where things went wrong. Never mind that.


Just relax, get a good nights sleep, be in good shape and remember, you are at your best. Avoid last moment cramming and keep your cool. And do not forget to carry your secondary ID other than your passport and mail confirmation.

Good Luck.


Update a few weeks later:

My scores are here. Although not earth shattering, they are decent enough. GRE: 580 verbal, 790 quants, AWA/Essay section- 6.0. TOEFL (290, 6.0 in essay).

And I hope this qualifies me to give you some basic advice about handling the writing section. This post is mainly in response to the deluge of mails in my mailbox, every body wanting to know how did I tackle the writing section.

I did not even write a single practice essay from either sections prior to GRE/TOEFL. 

Just 2 solid tips. Build a strong vocabulary and start writing.

Read whatever you can lay your hands on, make note of any unfamiliar word you come across and look up the dictionary. Do not go about blindly learning words, USE THEM. Let some of your friends be people with an amazing vocabulary. 5 years back, I once invested my whole month's salary in buying myself a copy of the Oxford Dictionary. Till date, it’s been my best investment, and the most frequently used book in my study.

Get into the habit of writing NOW! In school, I was very average in English and my essays would never be read aloud in class. They were so unimpressive that I was once interrupted in the middle of my essay reading and asked to go back to my seat. However, I am sure that I have impressed my GRE/TOEFL essay readers this time.

Writing is a habit, an addiction. Start writing a diary or a blog. Read some good blogs everyday. It is all about how well you articulate your thoughts and put them into words. And there is always a social responsibility when you know that there are many people who invest their time reading your blogs, that makes you want to better your writing skills.

And these things would not just help you for your GRE. They will help you all your life.
Hope these few basic tips help. Any body with specific questions or problems in any of the sections, please feel free to write to me.

Good Luck.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi.....

This is the Vishwakarma Puja week. And here I am on the terrace, enjoying the lovely breeze, the dark gray rain clouds, and the sporadic drizzling. You should look at the sky stippled with thousands of those colorful kites!!! And a bunch of over enthusiastic boys on every terrace. Reminds me of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

And all I do is be a silent witness to the “Kite-Fight”. Because I’ve never learnt to fly a kite. Makes me long all the more to don my favourite floral tee shirt and faded denims, buy myself a few kites, and join the group.

Well, at 24, there are some 2400 things I want to try out. Age was never a factor, hesitancy was.

Like FLYING A KITE. There is something so very charming about flying a kite, that gives you a wild sense of freedom.

And WHISTLING IN MOVIE HALLS. Not a very lady like thing to do, I admit. In sixth grade, a guy in the last bench was caught and punished for whistling in Mrs.Ahmed's class. The culprit was me. I escaped ‘coz no body could suspect a girl doing that. But I am yet to learn those different techniques where you use your fingers to hold your lips.

Also, PLAYING FOOTBALL. My mom would get the shock of her life like Mrs.Bhamra in Bend It Like Beckham if she were to know this. Not that I am a sports fan. Just that playing football seems like a cool thing to do.

And learning MARTIAL ARTS. I’ve seriously been thinking of going for it for almost 10-12 years now. But I’m only gaining age and weight and dulling my reflexes day by day. 

And the GUITAR. One of the most romantic musical instruments according to me. Remember those guys in college who’d bunk classes and loiter around with a guitar, shamlessly drawing all the female attention? Carrying a guitar was a sure shot sign of being a cool dude and a compulsive flirt. 

Also, doing BHARAT BHRAMAN IN A MAALGADI. Well, people travel in trains and planes. But there is something about traveling in those open boxes of coal, lying on your back and watching the sky, the stars, the fields, and enjoying your freedom, with no idea about where the train is headed towards. All the better when you have eloped and have no baggage to carry.

And TRAVELLING IN A PLANE. I wonder if it is like in Hindi movies where you always get a seat beside the hero, and there would be great food and good looking air hostesses. When you wake up, you eventually find yourselves on the hero’s shoulders? Dad says travelling in planes is scary,  with bad weather and air pockets. Still, a little bit of filmy imagination never hurt anyone. I admit I still stare greedily at those blinking lights from the terrace and there is something so very beautiful, so very powerful about planes. 

And there are a hundred more things I can think of.... bunjee jumping, river rafting, skiing, going up a lighthouse (I've done it just once), etc. No wonder there are Hazaaron Khwaishien Aisi. Maybe I'll start with learning to whistle first.


Monday, September 12, 2005

Such Hirsuteness.

For the uninitiated, hirsuteness is the state of being hairy.

And a highly improbable event has occurred. I have decided to grow my hair.

Okay, people knowing me need not fall off their seats or stare agape as if the sun has just risen in the western sky. Yes, you heard me right, I am growing my hair. Naah! I am not getting married. And no, I’m not yet too bankrupt to be able to afford a hair cut.

I’ll give you a brief summary of the past 24 years as far as growing stuff on my head is concerned.

As a kid, I had very little hair and most people mistook me for a boy. Even in school, I couldn’t go beyond those really tiny ponytails. My faint memories of long hair go back to the fifth grade when mom would oil them and tie ribbons tightly after braiding them on two sides. They hung close to my ears all day and tickled me. And I am talking of something a little less than shoulder length hair.

And then one fine day, I chopped off my hair. Well, once when I was 3, I had unknowingly taken the pair of large orange scissors mom used to cut cloth with and chopped off the locks in a few bold blows. Every body was horrified. Thank God I hadn’t hurt my eyes.

But this time, the hairdresser did it with the assent of dad. And history was finally made. As my age in years increased, the length of my hair decreased. And I bettered my records with time.

Short hair was so very convenient to maintain. You could wash it regularly and still not catch a cold. You needed just 5 seconds to comb it if you were late for school. In fact, you could even sift your fingers through them and everything would be fine. No one could play a prank and pull your plaits in school. You wouldn’t tempt the guys to stick chewing gum on your long, beautiful hair. In school, you needed to oil them and tie them up with white ribbons. But short hair looked so very cool.

And you were all tagged a tomboy. So while girls naturally kept a distance, boys were easier to make friends with. Girls with long hair had the natural tendency to play hide and seek and pani denga while girls with short hair would usually go for volleyball and football. I saved my mom so much money on Lycil and Mediker by not bringing back head lice from school.

And those compliments you received made you go an extra step and chop off those locks further. “Hey, you look like Kajol in Dushman and Preity Zinta in Lakshya.” “Hey, you look like Priyanka Gandhi in a saree.” “Hey, are you planning to join the police force like Kiran Bedi?”

Naah, it was nothing but sheer laziness that made me hate oiling my hair and applying mehndi and eggs and what not. Short hair seemed so very convenient. You wouldn’t be spending hours before a party undecided about how to do your hair. You wouldn’t have to invest on those clips and fancy bands.

So from boys cut to wedge cut to mushroom cut to army cut to navy cut, my hair has seen it all.

My hair is naturally bouncy with a very faint brownish tinge that grows with exceptional speed. It is so thick that I’d have to trim it every month so that the tresses wouldn’t fall all over my eyes. People envy its thickness and the rate at which it grows. Even with the iron and chlorine infested water in this city, where I’ve seen people going bald even with scores of eggs and mehndi and reetha shikakais and tonics applied rigorously, my hair grows with minimum care and maintenance. It is like the joy of seeing a lush green garden when you’ve bought a house in the deserts. I just don’t worry about my mien... worry causes hair loss, you know!

4 times I’ve tried to grow my hair (unsuccessfully)! It’s always too much of a mess for me to handle. But now that I get my mind racing and calculate it, it’s almost been 5 months since I’ve had my last hair cut. The coiffeuse then had chopped it off so mercilessly that for weeks, I wasn’t able to show my face to any one. How I wanted to sue that lady! I’ve never entered her beauty parlor since then.

And then I had my exams for which I had no time to trim my hair. After the exams, it was the month end and I was suddenly broke and had no money to shape it. So I just let it grow.

And then one fine morning, I realized that I could make a tiny ponytail after 14 long years. I measured it and was glad that it had crossed the 15 cm mark. So I let it grow more. Tresses would fall on my eyes and ears and irritate the hell out of me. But suddenly the woman in me realized that if Susmita Sen and Dimple Kapadia could stand it, so could I. Suddenly, Kareena Aitraaz Kapoor and Aishwarya Devdas Rai appeared so cool to me. So I just shoved the pair of scissors inside the mattress and never visited the beauty parlor again.

At Present 

I look like a mess with hair all over my face. It is not exactly long enough to be tied up and not short enough to be let loose. It has given me such an unkempt and feral appearance. But suddenly I am in love with my hair, just like you suddenly fall in love with that guy next door you have hated all your childhood when he makes a reappearance in your life after spending 5 years in the Indian Army. I have to tie it up at home that makes me look so weird. And I balk at the prospect of putting eggs on it. Yuck! I have to oil it and comb it regularly now. I no more look like Priyanka Gandhi (as if I ever did!). But it is real fun to measure your tresses after a shower everyday. And those wet strands no more stand out like spikes as if I have been recently electrocuted. They rather cling to my shoulders.

People who haven’t seen me for months, please don’t be in for a shock when you do. I will give it a decent cut once when it is longer. Who knows, I might actually start looking prettier than I did in short hair. And then all those people who always claimed that “you will look so very better in long hair” and I argued can have their last laugh.

But knowing me and my impetuously impulsive nature, please don’t be disappointed if one fine morning I find those pair of scissors tucked inside the mattress again and go snip snip. I won’t ever be able to model for Pantene and Head & Shoulders, but I will at least get back my tomboy Romila Lakshya Dutt looks. Not to mention my freedom. So much for freedom from such chains, or should I say locks?


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Forgive and Forget....I Forget, You Forgive.

I think I have recently been diagnosed with some deadly disease. What do they call it in medical parlance? Senile Dementia? Yes, that's the word. I keep forgetting things that I wouldn't even dream of.

Last week, I met a junior from my school. She was a junior in college as well, and that means it's barely been 2 years since we lost touch. Given the way she screamed my name in her shrill voice, I'm sure all the auto wallahs and pan wallahs and pedestrians and bus drivers in Ballygunge already know my name. We smiled, hugged, talked for 20 minutes. And all the while, I kept wondering what was her name. I thought I could escape unscathed, until we exchanged phone numbers. While she typed and saved my name effortlessly, I kept wondering what should I name her. So when I tried to act smart and asked her...

"So what was your surname?",

all she gave me was her surname. Till date, her name has been saved as ????? [Surname] in my mobile.

Sometime back, dad came home with a friend of his.

"Hi dear, remember me?"

"Of course Uncle, dad often speaks about you.", I grinned as wide as a monkey.

But just between you and me, I had no clue about who he was. Of course I had seen him before, and since he talked to me as if he has changed my diapers when I was a kid, it was only natural for me to pretend as if he is that only uncle my dad lost in touch with in the last Kumbh Mela. Later on, when I told this to mom, she acted as if she had seen a ghost. For not only had he come to our place with his entire family, but he had also given me a ride to college on one occasion. Just imagine, me sitting in a man's car and then not even recognising him one year down the line.

The problem gets worse during Durga Pujas and weddings, when the entire community gets together for the celebrations. I see faces smiling at me and I smile back, still clueless about who they are. And they shock me again and again with their accurate knowledge about my current whereabouts.

To add insult to the injury, I ask my sister, "Who is this lady smiling at me?".

And my sister starts like a record player of the 60s, "Ah, don't you remember Mukherjee Aunty? Her husband works in the Telephone Department. Her son is a real hunk and her daughter is having an affair with XYZ guy who lives in ABC Apartments. They drive a blue car..........."

Well, I never remembered my sister getting a full time job at the FBI, but since she already knows so much, that must be where she is working these days.

"Okay, I'll start socialising and by this time the next year, I'll know all the Mukherjees and Banerjees and Chatterjees by name, their husband's professions, the name of their native village, the name of their maids, their telephone numbers, email ids, everything", that is what I keep telling myself every year, but the next year, it seems that the number of unknown faces smiling at me just doubles.

So when somebody smiles now, I stick to safer pleasantries.

If it is a kid, "Hi, how are you doing in school?"(A kid has to be in school inevitably).

If it is some uncle, "Hi, how is aunty?" and vice versa.(assuming most uncles come with aunties).

But people aren't fools. No wonder they call me ABC's sis or PQR's daughter who sticks a book under her nose all day. That is my identity in our locality till date, and I have no wish to extricate them out of their false notions.

And I have already forgotten the names of my school teachers and classmates. I have been to 3 schools in 14 years, but that is no excuse I guess.

And how can I forget birthdays? I mean how can I not forget remembering birthdays? A very close friend of mine emailed me with the last line saying..."In case you have forgotten, my b'day was 4 days back." Probably it was too late to send even a belated b'day card.

Another classmate whose b'day I thought was on the 2nd week of March (it was on 2nd March actually) hasn't forgiven me till date. Not only did she not wish me on my b'day, she even went to the extent of telling me later..... "Hey, how was the b'day card I mailed you?" The thing is, I received no birthday card.

What else, I called up a friend early morning to wish her, and she giggles back at me, informing me that "mera b'day to parso hai, but thanks for being the first one to wish me."

And there was a time when I remembered everybody's b'day... Kajol's b'day, SRK's b'day, my mausi's nanad's b'day, my project partner's boyfriend's b'day, our neighbour's pet's b'day, our doodh wallah's b'day. I wonder when did those ever active grey cells started degenerating and everything in life turned into a shade of grey. And you know what? I still drink Complan (Milo actually) and practise mental maths and eat fruits and do not indulge in alcohol and am even willing to drink karele ka juice blended with neem leaves. Anything to save those grey memory cells and get rid of this "scatterbrain" tag.

So friends, please empathize. I did not purposefully forget your birthday to insult you. I forgot, because I forgot. I am still recovering from learning 80 odd chapters for my masters and some 3,000 odd words for my GRE. I have responsibilities weighing down heavily on my shoulders. How much more can this brain take? Given the large number of people I know, every day would be someone's birthday. 

I turn to you in supplication, earnestly in need of your empathy.

And that reminds me, today is a close friend's b'day, and YES, I did wish her early morning (after my sister left me a note, reminding me of it).


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Five-and-a-half Hands Of Trouble.

They come in all colours and combinations. They can make you look like the belle of the ball. They can be made to look traditional, or rather sexy. They do not need seams and buttons and strings. You just have to hold it and go round and round and drape it. They can be worn on any occasion... be it the puja celebrations or the filmfare awards. They have made the whole world go gaga over Susmita Sen and Kajol. It is the Indian woman's answer to the West for minis and micro-minis and nano-minis ....the symbol of unparalled style and oomph!

For me, it is all of these, and a little more. I'll place it in the same pedestal as reptiles, physics, and cookery..... bugaboos.... things I've always been scared of. In my 24 years of existence, I can barely remember seven occasions in which I've actually had the nerve to wear a saree, the last time being the 5th of September, the day we were formally kicked out of the department (the departmental farewell). And the feel of it was as scary as it had been on the day of my tenth grade farewell when I'd put on another saree.

Well, this time I wouldn't have, had it not been the dress code of the day. I don't own a single saree in my wardrobe, let alone the other things that go with it. Mom was kind enough to lend me her green South Indian Silk that dad had got her from Chennai. Sister was good enough to let me wear her jewelry. Dressing up started 3 hours before I was to leave for college. It took me 3 pairs of hands and 2 hours of "standing like a statue" and "turning around and around" in front of the mirror to finally make the saree look decent enough on me. At the end of these 2 hours, I was all a bunch of nerves, and a bunch of safety pins precariously hidden in a hundred different places so that the saree firmly remained where it was.... on me.

And then, there was this volley of instructions from mom...

Do not walk fast like you always do.

Make sure that the aanchal doesn't come off.

Do not spill food on the saree (as if I would purposefully do it).

Do not get on crowded buses.

And do not take the cab. Single woman and all that (as if the cab driver was jobless enough to kidnap me at 10 am on a crowded street in Calcutta, just because I am wearing a sari).

Keep the jewelry in your hand bag and wear them once you reach the department (as if they were made of real diamonds).

Do not dance, or even tap your feet to any music.

Make sure that the aanchal doesn't touch the ground while you walk.

Give us a phone call once you reach college so that we know you have reached safely.

See that you avoid potholes and waterlogged streets.

Make sure that you give it to the dry cleaner once when you are done.

Surely she was more worried about the saree, a wedding anniversary gift, than me in a saree. She didn't think of what if I stumbled and fell down and hurt my shins or broke my bones. As long as the saree did not have to bear the brunt of my gustatory exploits or carrying myself carelessly on the roads, nothing mattered to her. Wish I had a husband to gift me expensive sarees and then I could have had the satisfaction of giving her the same instructions while I let her wear one of mine.

I and my saree, both reached safely to college. The saree stuck to me all day like a faithful puppy. I tried hard, but didn't spill biryani or ice cream. I took a bus and then a metro, but nobody stamped on it. And cab drivers didn't even bother to look at me at the bus stop, let alone kidnap me. The only cause of my angst was that I couldn't sit with my legs danging on the chairs like I usually do when the professor is not around. I could not play "catch me if you can" and "lock and key" in the classrooms. I could not get up on the desks and jump from them. I could not run my way up the stairs to the 4th floor, taking two steps at a time. I felt so hot and suffocated and clumsy, and I had to make sure that my lip gloss and hair was okay every 10 minutes. By the end of the day, all I wanted to do was to get into my old pair of shorts and tee shirt and jump off the bed and sofa.

I wonder what good does it do to keep dress codes like this. Why weren't the guys made to wear a dhoti? At least I wouldn't have to wear a sari for the next few years, and that's a relief. Perhaps I am a disgrace to the "Bharatiya Nari" concept after all.


Friday, September 02, 2005

A Few Pieces Of Coloured Paper....

Last week, we were as usual engaged in animated conversation over lunch when someone pointed out….

“Think of it. A few years down the line, we will have good jobs with better salaries to enjoy the best in life, but we will just not have the time or the company to enjoy them.”

The person who said this was one of my closest friends from college. The conversation was taking place over tandoori roti and chicken bharta with dollops of ghee in a cramped one and a half storied Sardarji’s hotel on Camac Street. The fan was all noise and no breeze, it was terribly sultry sans air conditioning, and the ceiling was so low that I had to stoop while walking lest I bump my head. 

One of the best things about student life is the way you learn to glean the best of everything despite your thrifty existence. I have been earning right from college. My meager salary earned by giving science and math tuition might not have paid the telephone and electricity bills at home, but was enough to cover my personal expenses- cell phone, bus and metro fares, college fees, etc., and still save up a little bit at the end of the month. It is a lot of fun, being charge of one's pocket and not be answerable to questions like, "And where have you been squandering money and why are you broke and insolvent at the end of every month?”. For even a thrifty existence could not let us lose out on the best in life.


Now “best” is a very relative and awfully deceptive word. If “best” for you means candle light dinners at Hyatt Regency, an evening rendezvous in Someplace Else, Sarkarr in Inox, and shopping at Pantaloons, then no. We never made it. Not with our money at least.

But we bunked classes and made it to the nearest cinema hall at least once a fortnight, even if the movie was horrible. We banked on rear stall seats more out of habit than unaffordability. And when people around us munched on pop corns and chips, we were more than happy sharing our tiffin boxes, the lunch mom made us, usually leather-stiff home made rotis, and potato curry. 

Then we constantly haggled over prices, even while buying a pair of ear rings. The only reason we frequented Pantaloons and Westside was to window shop and enjoy the air conditioning, gawking at those filthy rich guys whose dads worked in the World Bank and those super slim female models with colored hair, manicured hands, and pole-thin legs. There was something so artificial, so made up, yet so eye catching.

We never bothered to eat with spoons or forks. The sambar and the coconut chutney was more in demand than the masala dosa, just because it came free of cost. We would join 3-4 tables during those departmental treats. And before we would order anything, the bursar of the day would actually put his hand under the table and calculate the expense using his phone. Food needs to be treated with respect, and the misri, saunf, and tooth picks at the end of the treat as well. We would always have ice creams and cold drinks in some nearby pan wallah's shop so that we did not have to pay extra tax.

Unless it was a combined treat of 4-5 people, birth day treats would always be pizzas and pastries from Monginis. In fact, we discovered bliss when we discovered Khwaja's, a road side food joint near our college that served excellent biryani at the lowest price in that area. Even then, biryani was biryani, a dish fit for the moguls, and we would always go half plate with one piece of mutton and half a potato, all good enough to satisfy the need, if not the greed. And we loved the smell of it that would linger on our hands for hours ( that is why we never washed our hands with soap). All at a reasonable price of 20 rupees. And that extra pani puri was strangely tastier than the rest. Yet, we rarely suffered from stomach ailments. The only visible effects we ended up with were orange tongues hanging out after we had those orange sticks from Kwality, priced for the last 7 years at 5 rupees. 

We never hesitated travelling in crowded buses and local trains. We used the cab only when the total cab fare would atleast be 50p less than the individual bus fare. And this meant 5-6 friends huddled in a single cab.

We soon discovered a photocopy shop that gave us an additional 20% discount on the usual 50p/page rate for every 100 pages or more photocopied. Even then, we would not photocopy everything, but would wait all year for the exams and for the professors to divulge last minute suggestions. So the photocopying part always started a week prior to the exams.

Birthday gifts was always communal (the whole department chipping in for one gift) that was more practical and could be put to use. 

Everyone soon bought a cell phone for the simple reason that you could always greet friends anytime of the day with a missed call, something that came free of cost. A single missed call meant a "hi", a double meant "Call me up, I have important news to deliver".

And being the book lover that I am, it did not take me long to figure out places which rented books at the cheapest rates, and I did not mind travelling that extra bit to frequent those places. Somehow the torn, yellow pages and the derelict condition of the book had more appeal than the pristine books in Oxford Book Store in Park Street with 0% discount.

And then there was this thing about borrowing stuff from each other when one had an important function to attend. Somebody would have a precious set of Hyderabadi pearls while someone's brother had gifted her an expensive silk sari or a camera for Rakhi. No one hesitated to borrow or share ones valuables.... jewelery, sarees, watches, camera, anything. 

That is the kind of life we once had. We wouldn't hesitate attending seminars (and sleeping through them) just because the food was free. We tried not to develop enmity with each other, but even if we did, we made sure to gulp our ego during the exams. Prior to the exams, the entire syllabus would be distributed among friends. That meant whatever topic was assigned to me, I would not only make the best use of my resources to prepare notes, but would also make sure that the others had a photocopy of it as well.

We treated each other when we had a new born in the family or when our siblings passed the board exams or when someone acquired a boyfriend/girlfriend. And we stood with each other when there was a death in the family, a mishap, an illness, or even a break up.

Someday, we would be able to afford a movie at Inox with cheese pop corn. Someday, we would earn enough to afford diamonds and Gucci watches (original ones, not the fake that I bought from Delhi for 120 rupees), and branded clothes and shoes. Someday, we would not be able to decide on which brand of car to buy. But we will just not have the time to sit back with friends and relish endless hours of adda over cups of coffee. We might send each other expensive wedding gifts, but we will never have enough time to personally attend the weddings, even if we lived in the same city. Someday, we will have all the money, but not an ounce of time to sit and enjoy the goodies money could buy. Someday we will be able to afford expensive restaurants and party all night and drink the bar dry (without calculating the bill using a phone). But that will be to get rid of the loneliness and to face the travails of life sans the selfless shoulder of friends. The birthday treats, the first year excursion, the taste of Khwaja's biryani and homemade chocolate cake and the local train ride to Naihati, and everything else would be a blur, a series of nostalgic moments frozen in time. And the only remnants of these fond memories would be some 200-300 pictures I have amassed in an album over the last few years. Just a few pieces of colored paper, printed glossy and 3" X 5" 'coz that came the cheapest.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

What's so grand about a viva??

The Grand Viva. My last exam supposedly in this university.

What's so grand about a viva voce? Is it supposed to test the ambit of your knowledge, how much you know, or how much you could possibly not know? Was it a test of nerves? How unflappable one could be in the face of a dozen professors who shred you apart with questions that reflect more of their knowledge and less of mine? One of them was an expert in malarial parasitology, and whatever he asked could inevitably be traced back to those blood sucking arthropods. And how am i supposed to know the intricacies of sewage treatment as much as the expert would do? Unfortunately for me, I was on the other side of the table. I was the student. 

Being Roll Number 15 in a class of 16 thankfully gave me a 5-6 hours of wait time. I looked at my peers, their nervous expressions, the piles of books in their hands, and wondered how could people with so much of preparation still end up so nervous? I wondered where I'd measure up in terms of their efforts. The previous night, I'd spent hours composing and editing my new poem "Hope resides in foreign lands". It was about this girl who chases her dreams and ends up in Lisbon. Clearly, my heart was set on doing other things.

I didn't mean to doze off in the exam, but soon, I did. A night without sleep, the commotion and the nervous and constipated faces around me. I fell asleep in the waiting room even before I knew. As I drifted in and out of slumber, my friends anticipated that I was ill, and let me sleep in peace. When I woke up, there were still 4 people ahead of me in line. Still plenty of time to go.

One by one, I saw them come out of the slaughterhouse, some smiling, some cursing, and mostly on the verge of tears. I'd grown indifferent to all this over the years. Prior to any viva (this was my 15th one i guess), I felt no fear, no nervousness, no excitement---all I felt was a whole lot of nothing---so indifferent I'd made myself to these trivial feelings over the years. It was a test of nerves, and not a test of knowledge. There were always things one would forget. Just remember not to bite your nails, and not to look guilty. 

So I faced them, my head held high, with a confident, yet distant smile. There was the professor whose classes I'd never bothered to attend in two years. Not that I'd grudges against him, just that my mind wouldn't process all the garbage he taught (he taught sewage management).

To cut a long story short, I faced the volley of questions, making eye contact, and answering as well as my intellect would allow. Genetic erosion. Rural air pollution. NGOs involved in the Silent Valley Movement. Disposal measures of radioactive wastes. The fate of liquid radioactive wastes. Parthenium and its source and successful establishment in India. Biofuels and cervical cancer. GMO. Tiger projects and biosphere reserves. Silent spring. Small is beautiful. Environmental impact assessment and the sectors that needed clearance from the MoEF. Air toxics and noise pollution. Litigation. Ligation. Polymerase Chain Reaction. 

By the time it was over, I was one hell of a confused person. I was just glad that the ordeal was over. I wanted to do a ton of things- Clean my room, write some more, take a walk, talk to someone. But all I did was selfishly creep into my bed and sleep.

For this particular exam might have been over today, but I had greater exams ahead of me. GRE and TOEFL to name a few. And God knows, I needed the strength.