Monday, January 15, 2007

Snow Is Not Fun.

Deceptive are the ways of Bollywood movies. Flimsy chiffon saree clad women dancing in the snow made snow look like a lot of fun. Love birds throwing snow balls at each other. It's winter here, and it's already snowing. I have never seen snow outside movies. And this sub-zero temperature is not really making it a very pleasant experience. Have you ever touched your face on a cold night to suddenly realize that you can't feel your nose? You move your fingers down to your lips, your cheeks, and you cannot feel them either. Trust me, it is not a very good feeling. I hate winters. This is the first time that I'm experiencing such extreme winters, and I am not happy. 

  1. It snows here, a light rain of flakes for a couple of hours, and I keep praying- snow more, snow more. Yet it never snows enough to shut down school. No matter how cold it is, I have to go to school every morning. And you know how it feels walking in the snow? Try jutting your face inside the freezer (where you store meat and make ice). That is exactly what it feels like when you walk in the snow.
  2. The tank tops, strapped tops, even the colorful sleeved tops and tee shirts and the open sandals and chappals are gone. It's been weeks since I've shown anything more than my eyes and my nose. Sometimes I wear so many layers of clothes and am bent down with weight (if not with age) that I wonder if I'll ever recognize myself in the mirror.
  3. You don't really fancy attending 8:30 am classes three days a week. I have to burn the midnight oil at the library doing reference work, poring over books and journals. It usually gets late, and then, it's a nightmare walking up to the bus stop.
  4. How would you feel if you thought that while you are walking, some weird force of nature is getting your clothes damp and wet (It rains nine months of the year here)? No matter how many layers of clothes you wear, you always have a feeling that your clothes are soaking damp.
  5. I don't see faces on the streets anymore. All I can see are eyes and the nose.
  6. These are winters minus the steaming hot coffee, pakoras, and khichuri mom made while you spent a lazy evening reading a book. Now, even if I need a glass of water, I have to fetch it myself. 
  7. Do you know how many times I've tripped and slipped while walking in the snow? It's damp, it's slippery, and it's not that simple.
  8. You wait for the bus on a cold night when you see a couple approaching, holding hands and kissing and talking in each other's ears, totally oblivious to the cold. And there you keep waiting for the bus, thinking, "I wish!". 
  9. Cold or no cold, exams don't wait for anyone. Sun or no sun, I have to study, no matter how sleepy this weather makes me and how I long to get inside the blanket reading a novel. 
  10. Taking a shower, cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry, washing hands before eating, or anything that involves water becomes a painful chore. You try to remain as far from water as you can. You kinda become hydrophobic.
  1. It's too much to go out and socialize with friends.
  2. Most of your money is gone either buying winter clothes, or medicines for cold, cough, and fever. Not to mention the frozen fingers threatening to become gangrene infested, dry cheeks, and chapped lips.
  3. No matter how much you love the butter pecan ice creams and the pina colada yogurt, you can't eat them anymore.
  4. Every time you hit the chair, the car seat, or even the shit pot, you get microvolts of pulsating electricity passing through your frozen skin.
  5. Gym and working out? Forget it if that requires going out in the cold. You are so sluggish, you sleep and eat all day at home, put on weight, and then the next year you get even more bankrupt spending more money getting bigger clothes. Not to mention how you want to die when you see a well-toned person running in the cold.
    Well, what to say, sunshine needs sun, and most of the time there is no sun. A few hours more, and I'd reach the North Pole. Whatever little sunshine you have barely touches your skin; it's colorless and frozen most of the time.
    Snow looks good only in on National Geographic and in movies. In real life, it is a pain.
Pic taken from my apartment window. 


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Fighting For That Last Drop.

It was late by the time I got back from the lab. The cell cultures that I was transforming had somehow taken a lot of time and I had to grab a bite before I headed for the library. As usual, I had missed lunch. Not having a lot of time to cook, yet hungry enough to eat an elephant (and reluctant to eat out), I decided that it would be the best to rip open one of those packs of “ready to eats”, warm it, and gulp it with some toast and juice. I made a horizontal slit along the whole length of the silver packet and poured the entire contents into a bowl. I pressed as hard as I could with my fingers without making a mess. This done, I grabbed a bottle of drinking water nearby and poured just a few drops into the pack. I held together the sides of the packet and swirled it to clean the inner walls, making sure that nothing oozed out. Finally, I emptied whatever remained of the packet right into the bowl.

Wait, the last step was not written in the directions. Not that it was a childhood habit. It's just been three months since I have actually started to cook or warm food for myself. Where did I pick this habit then?

I thought hard. And then suddenly, I knew. I remember mom would do the same with the milk packets back at home. I had often seen her adding a few drops of water to the milk packets and swirl it, finally to add the last drops of water-milk mixture into the heating vessel. 

I thought hard about this habit of mine. Did everyone do it? Why was it that I refused to let go of the last bits of food? This wasn't wastage. Would I have done it had there been guests around? Why was it that after using almost 99% of the contents, that 1% mattered so much? Come to think of it, it took me only a few seconds to get that 99% out. But it took me a lot of time and energy and effort to get that last 1% out.

And then I realized that it was not so new a habit at all. Consciously or subconsciously, I had done similar things in the past. Like these:

1. Rupturing my nails in the process of taking the last bit out of the toothpaste from the tube, and then making a slit with a razor and using up the remnants at least for the next one week.

2.Adding a little water to the ready-to-eat packets to get the last of the gravy out.

    3. Licking off the inside walls of the Tastemaker in Maggi with fingers.
    4. As a kid, I used to lick off the salt from the potato chips packets. I still do when no one is looking. 

5. Licking off the chocolate from the wrapper while the actual chocolate is still in my hands.

  1. Adding a little water to that shampoo bottle for that last rinse when the contents are gonna be over.
7. Pouring juice or milk from cartons till the last drop, and then looking inside the carton to check if there is more, and finally keeping the carton upturned till the last few drops were gone.

  1. Scraping off the last remnants of dried up kheer or custard from the aluminum vessel. It tastes better than the actual kheer. 
  2. Using the pencil till it is too small to be gripped.
  3. Eating the last grain of rice, the last thread of noodles, or the last onions from the chilly chicken gravy at a restaurant, carefully manipulating the cutlery while making sure that no one is looking.
  4. Tapping off the last bits of powdery stuff from the sachets of health drink powders or powdered soups and cans of spices and salt.

    12. Using the soap till it is too thin to be held, and then trying to stick it with a new bar of soap so that nothing was wasted (The cycle is repeated for subsequent bars of soaps).
  1. Using the moist tissue paper to wipe off the face, throat, neck, and then use whatever moisture remains for the hands and legs. 
  2. Making the best of spoons to get the last bits from that bottle of jam or butter, that can of soup, that cup of yogurt, or that bottle of ginger garlic paste.

  1. Poising the can of condensed milk right over your tongue till the last drops are out.

  1. Drinking green coconut water (or Frooti) out of a straw till nothing but air was being drawn in. Then looking inside to see if there is any flesh remaining and scraping off the last remnants of coconut using the knife (I used to get frequent finger grazes doing this).

  1. Wondering if anything could be added to that moisturizing lotion bottle to be able to use the last drops of the lotion that sticks to the bottle (that is of course after you have spent quite some time poking your index finger into the bottle and getting out whatever lotion you could).
  2. Wondering after the lab experiment if the latex gloves, the Eppendorf tube tips, the petridishes, and the disposable pipettes could have been used again.

  1. Saving all the polythene packets, shoe boxes, paper bags, and pet jars carefully under the bed to be reused (even if that meant accumulating more junk).

  1. Swiping out the last remnants of the chocolate cake icing from the paper napkin.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Sense Of Belonging.

One of the many scary things about the new city is how I'd lose my way every now and then. When I arrived here, I was given a set of maps of all dimensions and sizes from the department. There were a couple of campus maps, departmental maps, and city maps as well. Yet I hardly realized their utility till I started to venture out on my own. The first day I was to make it to the orientation, I had taken directions to the department by someone. Yet the moment I stepped out of home, I was lost. I have a strange liaison with ill fate. If there is one right answer among a couple of wrong ones, I usually pick up all the wrong options first. It was a wintry morning and the moment I stepped out of home, I was supposed to decide whether to take a right, or a left, or to walk straight. I had confidently taken the left. When I realized after some futile minutes of walking that this was perhaps not the way, I had come back to where I had started, and then taken the straight road. Well, I had finally made it to the orientation a couple of minutes late, having finally taken the right one.

What's the big deal? You can always ask people.

That's what I thought initially. But this doesn't work in the US. There are no pan shops where you can ask for directions. There are no roadside shops or tea stalls where you can ask for help. There are no rickshaw pullers who will take you to the correct address. And people do not ask others for directions. They carry their own maps. Needless to say, they know how to read maps as well. That was not the case with me. Not initially at least. I had no idea how to read maps. Here, people drive from one corner of the country to another taking directions on the internet. And usually there are maps at all the major bus stops so that you can figure out where you are.

Yet I needn't even have ventured out to the city to have been lost. My campus was good enough. So huge is the campus that for weeks, I used to get lost on my way to the department. It was embarrassing asking people, since no one asks for help. They read maps and find their own way. Even when I finally started to read maps, one would see me all disoriented, a map in my left hand, me scratching my chin with my right hand, looking this way and that way. If I had to go to the right, chances were high that I would take the left. That is how I survived the first few weeks.

Then, I started to get to know the campus better. I made a note of all the bus routes that would run from my home to the department. It was embarrassing asking the bus driver every time if that particular bus would cross my department. On umpteenth occasions have I got late for class, having taken the wrong bus and realizing only a little too late. On umpteen occasions have I been lost in the maze that my department is, unable to figure out the alleys, the wings, and the corridors. Honestly, I felt so lost here. I know Calcutta so well that I would give others directions. And here early in the mornings, I would freeze in the cold, huffing and puffing, trying to figure out my way.

Eventually I managed to do fine. Eventually I managed to read maps and get on the correct bus routes. So here I was waiting for the bus one fine morning, exhaling hard intentionally to see the whiffs of water vapor go up when I saw a lady looking a little lost. She looked to the right, and then to the left, and then got pensive. She seemed a little lost, as if she was trying to figure her way out. She looked at me. I smiled. My eyebrows arched.

You need some help ma'am?, I blurted in my recently acquired American accent, only to realize a little late that I myself was unfamiliar with the city and could do with some help myself. 

Well, I am trying to figure out my way to the Downtown, she said.

Oh well, there is no direct bus for Downtown here. However, you can go straight, turn left, and keep walking till you reach the next bus stop, which is the "Khampus Porkway" (as they say "Campus Parkway" here). You can take 70, 71, 72, or 74 from there. They are quite frequent. Don't take 43, it'll take a long time before you reach there.

It seemed I said everything in a single breath, without realizing. The lady's face lit up, she smiled, thanked me, and went away. It is only then, standing alone in the bus stop, that I realized what I had just done.

I had just directed someone someplace.

I had just directed someone someplace in an unknown city.

And I had given the correct directions and the bus routes. The shortest one too.

Wow, having lost my way all this while, I had actually helped someone locate someplace in the city.

It was from that day that I developed a more intimate connection with the city. I started to notice the buildings and the roads a little better whenever I ventured out. And perhaps from that day, I subconsciously let go off my inhibitions and let the city welcome me.

I was no more a stranger here. I was now a part of it. I let a little bit of the city's soul reside in me. I felt a certain sense of belonging now.

It was not long before I figured out not just the correct roads to my campus, but the shortcuts, the trails, and the connectors that took me to my destination in a shorter time.