Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sound Justification?

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

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

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

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



Monday, November 13, 2006

Nature Did It.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Wisdom Strikes.

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

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

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

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

This is my theory.

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

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


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Look Hair, I'm Fine.

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

You feel good about it.

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

You feel elated.

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

You tend to get suspicious.

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

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

A few weeks ago ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Prick Me Baby One More Time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


And we are through….

Oh, so soon?

Yeah. So how expensive is calling them up?

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

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

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


Friday, November 03, 2006

A Day When....

Everything went wrong. Well, almost everything.

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

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

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

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

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

Shit !!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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