Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Shitty Conversation.

Conversation with Ma and Grandma...

Hey mom. Hey Grandma. What's up? Got a missed call. Sorry I was in the bathroom.

Ma: Yeah, I guessed that your phone was elsewhere.

Uh, no. My phone was with me.

Ma: What? You carry your phone to the bathroom?

Yes of course. It’s just that I had the mp3 player plugged into my ears, so I didn’t hear the phone ringing. 

Ma: You carry the mp3 player to the restroom too?

Of course. But not everyday though. Most of the days when I have to go to the lab in the morning, I don’t get the time to listen to music this way. Usually, things are so rushed in the mornings that I have to grab a bite in the restroom itself.

Ma: Whattt !! You eat in the restroom too?

Only when I wake up late and have to hurry.

Ma: Unbelievable! Do you eat bananas and drink water and milk every day?

Yes of course!

Ma: Bathe in warm water, okay?

Sure, I do. Whenever I bathe, that is.

Ma: Now don’t tell me that you don’t bathe daily.

Well, US is a cold country you see. And a busy one as well. Weekends are the only times I get to take a bath in leisure.

Ma: Is there anything else? You take your personal belongings to the restroom, you eat in the restroom, and you do not bathe everyday. Do you sleep and do homework in the restroom too?

Grandma, from behind: Relax! She is just pulling your leg. 

You see, my grandma totally gets it. 


Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Myth.

I was going through the Vegas pics when so many memories of this gentleman (gentle?) (man?) I met six months back came flashing. He is G's brother, and I am sure that as G and her mom are reading this post, they are looking for a broom, a ladle, anything to hit me on the head.

But I, dear readers, must write this post, because truth needs to be said. My apologies to G and her mom. 

When I was told one fine morning that her bro (lets us call him A-MYTH) from Singapore was visiting her for 3 months, my heart had leaped a beat at the prospect of meeting a tall, dark, handsome man at the airport. An overdose of reading sappy romantic novels, you see. Very subtly I had asked G the “So how junior he is to you?” question casually just to make sure that he wasn’t a fresh-out-of-high-school guy. 

Age calculation and everything done, I had cleaned my place for the first time he and G were to come over. He looked and talked fine (in fact he barely spoke the first time), but what the heck, we had 3 more months to get to know each other.

I was soon to revise my opinion.

Because for the next 3 months, he did everything (and I stress on the word EVERYTHING) to get on my nerves. 

How would you feel when the entire family is driving to Mount Rainier on a lovely morning, nicely sipping our milkshakes with Tamil music going full blast when the guy, sitting beside me at the back seat of the car, suddenly screams out- Aaiyyo- what is that thing protruding out? Alarmed, I look below to see him pointing at my belly. Aaiyyo- you have a huge paunch !!!

And suddenly everyone in the car goes into a fit of laughter.

That was the day I wish I had been a polyglot (one who speaks different languages), for I’d have used my entire vocabulary in all the languages I knew to give him an assorted collection of expletives.
And then with time, I was to discover so many eccentricities in him. Post-lunch while everyone was hurriedly wearing shoes and G was impatiently honking her car to signal us to leave, this chap would take his own sweet time, swaying his hips while he carried his half finished lunch in the car. Worse, after a heavy meal when no one would have space to eat anything, this chap would take a heaped spoon of gooey black Dabur-Chyawanprash lookalike substance (that he claimed would increase his appetite) and would be happily licking off the spoon and dangling his shorts-clad legs in the car.

This guy is a kitchen ninja. Though he cooks really well, it is a pain to assist him in the kitchen. He will give you the tiniest of the onions to chop and the soggiest of coriander leaves to peel. He made me chop the nastiest of onions for a picnic lunch, only to be told later that the onions were needed for dinner the next day. He christened me into a South Indian version of a name (like calling Ambar-Hambar) and ever since that is what I’ve been called by G and her entire family, friends, and friends of friends. What more, the moment I told G that some guy had a crush on me, I got a message (publicly) from A-myth the next day, asking me how my lover is doing.

Perhaps I had the worse time with him in Vegas. What else do you say to a guy who goes to sleep early setting his alarm clock at weird times like 3am, never really wakes up at 3am to study, and then screams his guts out the entire day that we didn’t wake him up on purpose and have put his career in jeopardy? He would keep deadlines hanging till the last moment and unable to complete them on time, he would send us on our guilt trips making statements like – You guys have stalled my career. In Vegas, every time he spotted a building, a fountain, a store, a mall, even a tree, or a cow, he would ask me to take a pic of him with the thing. And the moment I was about to click, he would make a somersault and ask me to halt, go remove his jacket and keep it on the floor, arrange his hair, look here and there, and then would flash his Kodak smile and let me click. What more, he would make specifications like- “Take the pic from my face to my knees only”, as if he was some celebrity and I was the cameraman. Every time I took a pic in Vegas, he would take away my camera from me and take a similar pic, telling me on my face that he didn’t trust my photographic skills. He would pick up the most complicated of meals in food joints. What more, he would take immense pleasure in describing gory details about how people ate anything from pigs testicles to snake livers back in his place till we would be on the verge of throwing up our meals. And of all the times when we would be hurrying to get a cab to catch the flight on time and have just checked out of the hotel and are on the streets, he will need to go find the restroom. Where are the coconut trees and the lamp posts when you needed them the most?

In a language in which even romantic words seem like dogfights to me (remember, Tamil teriyaad- I know no Tamil), he would incessantly argue with G, mindless of the fact that at least if he argued in English, I’d be able to understand the conversation and would know that he is not bitching about me. I remember how he incessantly kept arguing with me that he was a 6 feet something while I told him that I didn’t think he was a hair more than 5’10”. And forgiving him for all his follies when he went back to Chennai when I was expecting some great feedback to his parents about me, he went home and told his mom that he has never seen a girl who eats and sleeps more than I do.

Well well, I could keep complaining about him for hours now, and I am sure the next time I self-invited myself to G’s place (since she won’t invite me again after reading this), she will surreptitiously mix her cat food in my dinner, or put her cat in my bed while I am asleep. But then, truth, like the extra pounds on anyone's paunch, cannot be hidden. And all said and done, A-Myth will always remain a myth to me.


Sunday, May 13, 2007

It happened to me.

Ever seen nightmares and then woken up in the morning happy to be alive and realize that it was just a nightmare? And what when you wake up one fine morning to realize that the reality is much worse than the nightmare?

For one of the strategies I picked up from my engineering friends despite my non-engineering background was the fact that one was supposed to attack lessons the day before the exams. I know it is nothing to be proud of, but that is the way it works. It wasn’t that I’d touch my lessons only the evening before my exams. I would make notes (and I proudly claim, I make some very good notes), collect materials, highlight the important stuff, and keep everything ready. But the day prior to the exams was meant for cramming. 

Of course every time I have written an exam, I have pledged that henceforth I am never going to cram last moment again. But laziness afflicts me. 7 days before the exams, I knew I had a week to prepare. 6 days before, I knew it was too early to touch my notes. 5 days before, I thought that I would anyway forget stuff so early, so it is better that like buying vegetables, I did the job of cramming FRESH. 4 days to go, and work started in my lab at such a spree that I had time for nothing else. 2 days to go, and my prof from another course wanted me to rewrite a paper. And then, there was just a day before the exams.

But then again, when you work with living systems in the lab, cells do not grow at your convenience, and there are always instances when you have to rush to the lab or get things redone, despite the time and situation. The day before the exams, I had to go to the lab to work on my cells. Work continued till evening and by the time I came home, I knew I had no time to study for the exams. Once I reached home, I actually made a mental time frame. 5 minutes and I am done with checking my mails. 15 minutes to change and shower. 10 more minutes to heat and eat my dinner. 5 more minutes to make coffee. Things were going fine, just that I wish I could crash instead of studying after a hard day. Looking at the watch that showed me 8:30pm, I decided that a 90 minute nap would do me good to recharge my batteries. The night was going to be crucial. So I set my alarm to wake me up at 10 pm, and went to sleep. A quick mental calculation told me that I would still have 15 hours for the exam, and 8 lectures to cram. I should be fine.

So I closed my eyes, trying to sleep for a while. The alarm clock lay beside me. Purposefully, I slept on the sleeping bag, lest the comforts of the bed make it more difficult for me to wake up. And then, slowly, I was ensconced in the arms of Morpheus, the sleep God.

The next thing that happens is that I wake up to admire the faint shades of blue in the sky. What a beautiful morning, I think scrubbing my eyes as I look through the glass windows, twisting in my sleeping bag. What time is it? I rummage through my stuff for my wrist watch and squint at it- 5am? A little early in the morning to wake up. But wait! What day it is? Wasn’t I supposed to wake up the previous night and study? Holy shit !!

I was too confused, and past caring if the alarm didn’t go off or did I not wake up. I got myself an extra 7 hours of sleep instead of studying for the exams. For a brief moment, I wondered if I could complete the preparations at all and appear for the exams. And then there was this inexplicable thing, the fighter instinct that makes you struggle to breathe, the survival instinct that doesn’t let you give up, that told me that I could do it. I didn’t dare to eat, or drink that day. I approximately had 7 hours, and 8 lectures to cram. 

Thankfully I had my self made notes that made things a little easier for me (perhaps). And for the next 7 hours, I studied with an intensity I have seldom seen in me. My brain wasn’t an organ anymore, it was a huge sponge that soaked in all the information that poured in. It is amazing how we desperately seek survival strategies in times of stress.

For I remember how I crammed rote information. There was a gamut of effects to describe when exposed to a particular pesticide that would have taken me eons to remember. But suddenly, I found connections, made words using their first alphabets, arranged them in a sequence and learnt them. Here take a look at this-

Vitamin “A” depletion.


“C”ardiac dysfunction.

“D”eregulation of lipid metabolism.

“E”nergy impairment.

I somehow managed to arrange these parameters in alphabetical order. I arranged words, found weird connections, visually imagined the radicals screwing up the organs in a certain process to cause cell death, and compared to mechanisms of cell injury and cell death to accidents and fatal accidents. Good mechanisms and bad mechanisms were compared to love making and molestation. I couldn’t possibly explain the ways I found to remember what I learnt. And those have been the worst 7 hours of my life. But somehow I managed to cram and revise and re-revise before the exams. I remember buying myself just a bottle of juice from the wending machine so that I had my blood glucose levels high and didn’t faint in the course of writing the exam. And of course the whole 7 hours of sleep the previous night had recharged my batteries enough to improve my concentration.
My only 2 concerns were to get all the known questions in the exam and to be able to remember everything. That I did. I hope I did well in that too. But this incident would remain etched forever as the nightmare that happened to me in real life. If you ask me, it was a traumatic experience to wake up on the day of the exams, having overslept and still not prepared a bit. It would only have been God and something inexplicable that made me remember all those stuff in so short a time.

Study in advance! Don't procrastinate!

Make sure the alarm clock is not screwed up. 

If needed, ask someone to wake you up and kick your ass every time you dozed off.

And stop believing that the more ahead of time you learn, the more ahead of time you forget.


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sweet Revenge

When I first arrived in the US, I used to be amused seeing everyone walking with their hands inside the hoodies (jacket pockets), two wires emerging out of their ears and vanishing somewhere in the pockets. I always wondered how did the walkmans or the CD players here looked, especially given the fact that I never really spotted something huge and rectangular peeping out. Soon, the dehati in me was to find out that there were no walkmans or CD players, these were ipods and mp3 players, slim rectangles about one index finger in length, 4 cm in breath, and perhaps half a match box high.

Soon, I found the Greek Gods and Goddesses in the gym using those stuff as they worked out. For a lazy person who could make up excuses ranging from karwa chauth to shivratri to not to go to the gym, I told myself that it was un-cool not to carry an ipod to the gym, so when I have enough money to afford one, I shall start working out. Soon, G was engaged in her favorite pastime, looking for deals on the net, and soon, I was the proud owner of an mp3 player. My first mp3 player. 

Buying something is easier than learning to use it. For a person who is as tech challenged as I am, I was too scared to open the packaging without G being around. So for the first few days, my mp3 player lay unopened and neatly packed beside the photo of Goddess Kali, the same photo dad had given me while leaving home and had asked me to keep on my study table and bow in front of at least once a day. Well, it was fun standing by the study table post shower and bowing first to Goddess Kali, and then to my new toy, something I was too scared to start handling on my own.

And then, the toy was taken to G in her office, and instead of explaining me how to use it, she started to make fun of me, asking me to go figure out things myself. Frankly, I did not even know how to charge it with this USB post on my laptop, until I was told to use the extension cord. G, I hope I got it right.

G must have taken pity on me, for she promised me that she would download some of the popular songs for me for a start. You see, I still do not know, despite her curt instructions, how to use Google and download songs for free.

So I was overjoyed that the devil had finally decided to meet me half way, stop laughing at me, and download some songs for me. Here, songs for you – was what she said sweetly, winking at me.

Uh-uh, so soon? Why thank you !!!!- I had exclaimed with all my innocence.

I did feel grateful, and all excited that I would finally get to use my toy. I wish I had broken a coconut on the floor and smeared some red vermilion on my mp3 player, just so that no “buri nazar” made it play song backwards or in an alien language. I made a mental note of getting it as a gift for someone on my next trip to India.

I would never know how I figured out the tiny buttons. I must have just guessed and pressed all of them, not knowing how to play, rewind, or fast forward songs. I was waiting for the bus on my way to the lab. I had hours of mundane lab work ahead. Alas, I’d finally get to hear some music while I performed the arduous task of running gels and buffering solutions.

I sat at my desk all excited, pressing every button on my toy, not really knowing which was the play button. Well, I must have hit it at some point, for suddenly there was loud, clear music. The best quality of music I have heard in a while. Silently in my head, I screamed- Sunshine goes Ammmmerrricannn.

It was some English rap music I was not familiar with. Well, since G told me these are the latest and the most happening songs, these must have been good. For a person who has no idea of non-hindi music, I did not even know if it was pop or hard rock I’d be listening to.

The first few seconds of heavenly music filled up my senses. Expecting some English song soon, I was surprised to hear a male voice singing words I had no clue about. Must be a really cool song. So I tapped my toe and rocked my head to the opening lines of the so called latest English music-

Macchham macchham macchhaam de…
Pucchhaam pucchhaamm puchcham de….
Sararara pararara
Manja sanja ganja linja tonja manja jaja jaja

Errr….. was this English rock? I rocked my head harder to understand the music.

Di di di, jaga jyoti jyoti jyoti.

Why did it remind me of jag ka jyoti (light of the universe)?

Sensing something is wrong, I got to the next song. And then…… Shit! G had downloaded all the Tamil songs for me. I quickly flipped through the other songs. These had to be songs in Tamil. The reason? Every song I listened to reminded me of mustached and half dhoti-clad men, and buxom women from the soap Suryaaaaaaaaaaaa Suryaaaaaaaaaaa. I did not need to know Tamil to identify the language G abused her pati parmeshwar (hubby dearest) in.
So all day in the lab, I have been listening to songs I wouldn’t know a word about. 

As a protest, I refused to turn the damn player off and listen to my type of songs from or Every time someone passes by, I rock my head even more to show that I am thoroughly enjoying my music. And snippets of all I’ve been able to make out is-

Ada ada ada asa dada istyle
Dadada seri pada vistyle
Gada gada gada ada ada istyle

Kumpava Aambal aambal
Munnadayo Mavval mavval
Vaji vaji vaji in jeevan sivaji

Why did most sentences end with the word maadi? 

I know, this is a ploy of G to make me listen to Tamil songs all day. By the end of the day, I did pick up little bits of Tamil after all. I wanted to ask, 

Aadi paavi ari o kyun tuney mera peecha maadi?

And that needs no translation.


Friday, May 04, 2007

Meet The (G)Host.

Every time I talk to my dear old grandma back home, she says something that makes me smile at her naivete. For her, the US is nothing more than a country where the so called “bhalo chele meye” (good children) go to make a career and return once in two years with chocolates, wearing weird clothes. She, much to my amusement, thinks that women in the US are exceptionally modern, wearing denims and speaking in English, no matter how old they are.

The last time I called her up (that was when I told her for perhaps the millionth time that I can hear her fine, she doesn't have to scream her lungs out just because I was calling from across the other end of the globe), she instructed me, rightfully with her age and wisdom- I don't want to see you turn out to be an American when I see you next.

After I hung up, I wondered for quite some time what she meant. May be she was referring to something on the lines of short clothes and changed (or utter lack of) mannerisms that maligned our so called rich culture. Was I turning out to be American at all? I was shocked to hear my inner voice tell me-

No, but may be, you are turning to be a South Indian.

What ! What did you say? A South Indian?

I'll introduce you to someone very close to me, someone I befriended in Seattle, who is now like family. My only family in this new country. G, the lady who hosted me during my initial days.

And almost turned me into a quasi-South Indian.

G is amazing. I had only corresponded with her via emails before I came here. I would never know why I was expecting a buxom lady with traditional looks, waist-length hair weighed down by chameli flowers, wearing a bright yellow Kanjeevaram saree and tons of jewelery. My first surprise (rather, shock) came on meeting a cool chick with the most un-traditional ways. Coming from a family where we usually dress up for visitors, I was a little uncomfortable to see a woman wearing shorts, and be cool about it. Okay, now that was months ago. 

Soon, I was to find out so many other qualities that only increased her coefficient of “coolness” in my eyes. We soon became good friends. She called me names and teased me of my “dehatiness” (rustic nature), getting used to the ways of the country. Her husband, a decent, God-fearing man with fearful, angry looks and a thick mustache, dutifully informed me that if I hung around with G, my home would soon look like a garage, shopping for stuff I'll never really need. She has turned me into a shopaholic. I'll soon be sleeping on the streets, not only due to lack of money, but also due to lack of space in my room.

And thus I was introduced to the world of a South Indian couple in the US. Soon, I learned to chomp on the dosas, idlis, rasam, sambar, some preparation she calls the South Indian reduction, tamarind rice, and the coconut chutneys with relish. The weekends at her place would mean listening to the incessant melodrama of South Indian television on her TV (something she spends quite a bit of money on), with buxom women in gaudy sarees stealing babies and thick-mustached men wearing half lungis and speaking a language I was light years away from understanding. The characters in these soaps speak a lot of accented English, especially when they are fighting over paternity issues and property rights. Every time I heard that man screaming Surryyyaaaaaaaaaaa Suryyaaaaaaaaaaa (as if this is the last time he is singing), I would be reminded of the Surya bulbs and Surya tubes. Soon I started to recognize the latest South Indian tunes, thanks to the fact that G subjects me to the torture of listening to Tamil songs every time she is driving. I would never know what these words meant, but they seem to be words out of popular songs- Vaaji Vaaji Shivaji (I thought it was Bhaaji Bhaaji), Unnale Unnale, Aambal Aambal (God knows what they meant, and why every word is repeated twice). My name was soon abbreviated to a more South Indianized one. Though I understand little Tamil, I soon learned that one had to say “Serri” and shake the head before keeping down the phone, and there were other words like Adi Paawi, Vyanda Vyanda, Rhomba Rhomba, and Kunjam Kunjam (again, the repetitive words).

Perhaps the rudest shock came to me when I started to witness these guys screaming at each other. Nothing serious, they do that every day. They call each other names which when translated mean pigs and buffaloes. And G tells me that this is their way of lovey-dovey conversation. Imagine my plight being the helpless girl hiding under the dining table when these guys scream at each other in a language I couldn't understand. Later, when I asked her- What were you guys fighting about?, she would coolly reply- Fighting? We were just talking to each other. The most difficult tasks around her husband include getting him in a picture frame, taking him to a mall, or making him smile. He could talk about work and cricket for hours, without even realizing that the ladies at the back seat of the car were snoring. And G could shop for hours, never really getting tired of sales and discounts and outlet malls. She once told me to accompany her to the Burlington Coat Factory to which I made the mistake of asking her innocuously if we needed to buy something from there. The menacing look she gave me after that (which when translated into words meant, silly girl, do we go shopping only when we need something?) was enough to give me the message. And yes, the silliest thing according to her that I have ever told her is the fact that pati is parmeshwar (the husband is God), and it is wrong to call him names that belong to the four-legged bovines and canines.

My next shock came when I was informed that her mom too is an avid reader of my blogs, and she had thus passed the link to the other members of the family. I was stumped, not knowing what to say. Soon, the amount of appreciation I got from the blog-readers in her family compensated for everything.

And thus started my first ever association with a South Indian family, their ways, their cuisine, their language, even the foul language, and the way they fought and screamed at each other. It is strange how we live in different corners of the world without even knowing who will next become an essential part of our life. So much so that the last time I was on the phone with mom, she remarked that I have developed a mild South Indian accent, and before hanging up she told me something to which I replied- Serri. She couldn't understand if I was asking for a Sari or a glass of Sherry.

And thus started my South Indianization in the US. My introduction to the world of kootus and kozambus, half-lungis and veshtis, mustached men, and women on TV who could better be punching each other at the WWF.