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.