Sunday, October 22, 2006

Baai Says Hi.

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

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

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

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

Dear Mashi,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Indecent Proposal.

So do you take a shower in the morning?

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

Well, yeah, I do.


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

So are you going to take the shower again?


Now? Would you?

Well, I don’t know. 

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

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

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

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

Would you take the shower with me?

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

The what?

Shower? It was his turn to look confused now.

You mean? Please say it slowly?


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

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

Sure. Anytime.

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

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


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ever Been To Jugarat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So wee-rrrrrr yu frrmm? 


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

Ah, yes. India is a great place.

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


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

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

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





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

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

Of course. It’s Gujarat.


Gujarat. Gu-ja-raaat.


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

Gujarat, I said one last time.


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

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

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

So who is this young man you are smiling at?

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

This handsome man?

Oh, he? He is an engineer from Jugarat.


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

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

Okay, that was just a slip of tongue.

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

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


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

It's Been A Chraizy Week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

720 Hours Of Learning.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Bad Food For Thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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