Monday, July 30, 2007

My Neighbor Again.

This time, he is out of the city visiting his newborn and his girlfriend. Hence I send him an email.

To: neighbor.
From: sunshine.

Dear neighbor,

I am shifting and I need to know what I should do with your laptop and mails. If you want, I can leave them with someone next door, or I can take them with me for the time being. Do let me know as soon as you can.

Seven days later, this was the reply I got.

To: sunshine.
From: neighbor.

Dear sunshine,

Sorry for delaying to respond. I just come back from vacation. By the way, CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR ENGAGEMENT !!that's a great news!. If you don't mind, I would like to leave my laptop and mails with you. I will tell when I go back to home.
Engagement? I did not think I had mentioned to him anywhere in the mail that I was getting engaged. I mean I did not even know that I was engaged. All I asked him was to tell me what should I do with his laptop. Much as I tried, I was unable to make a connection between the two. I scratched my head and tried looking for a hidden meaning, perhaps an encrypted message. Maybe he was trying to tell me something important and all I had to do was decode the arrangement of the alphabets. Where was he vacationing? Did he land up in the underworld? I scratched my head and chin until the people around me in the bus suspected that I was suffering from dandruff problems and wasn't taking a bath regularly. Congratulations on being engaged? It was like telling him, I like to eat red apples, and he replying back, congratulations on being pregnant. There could still be some relation between red apples and pregnancy, but what had my moving out got to do with being engaged?
It took the great brains of G to finally decipher the not-so-encrypted-and-yet-so-subtle message hidden in that single line. Like the starting lines of Austen's Pride and Prejudice (It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife), when a single girl in the city moves out, it is a universally acknowledged truth that she has acquired a boy friend and is moving in with him!
This logic explained a lot. Especially why he had taken a break from the school for 3 months and was diligently performing the duties of fatherhood. 
Oh, how it breaks my heart to clear his misconception now!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Nuggets In The Alleyways.

One of the many many things I like about this place is that you can lead a not-so-penurious student life without having to spend much. Our department is a huge seven storied building that runs almost across two bus stops. That means if u get down on a bus stop, get into the building, and start walking parallel to the road, then by the time you are at the other end of the building, you would have covered two bus stops. It took me almost 6 months to master the basic layout of the building, for it is further divided into wings from A through T. Longer buildings only mean longer corridors. And if you start walking through the corridor on any randomly chosen day, making the list of things people put there to give away for free, I am confident that you will end up with everything you thought you did not have.

It works like this. When a department or a lab does not need something anymore (which happens quite often), they just place it by the side of the corridor and paste a “FREE” sign. Sometimes, they needn’t even put that sign. A department gets extra money in its budget, and it decides to get rid of everything it has. And when I talk about free things, I do not mean that they are torn or tattered or not in a position to be used. These are things in absolutely perfect and usable condition.

While I am packing my bags these days, I am amazed at the innumerable number of things I have gleaned so far by just picking up things here and there in the corridors. Here, let me show you.

See this basket and table lamp that works perfectly fine. I had found it lying outside one of the departments. And see this jumbo-sized executive chair. For a long time, I could not decide which chair should I take.

And then you will find empty hard covered files, office supplies, and what not. I once collected a pack of 100 unused binder clips. This came with about 200 folders of different colors. There was once a coffee maker which I did not take. You can find anything from print papers to discarded tables, executive chairs, lampshades, picture frames, latex gloves, file holding racks, unused copies and pens, staplers, wicker baskets, computer accessories like keyboards and mouse, and anything you can name.

And then comes the best part- food. Did not have the time to cook and bring food? Your heart is craving for an afternoon snack? People here like to share things with others. So they simply get a pack of something and leave it outside the department door. So the next time you take a stroll, don’t be surprised to see a huge coconut and chocolate cake with a knife on it. Initially I used to wonder if these stuff are edible. After skepticism came the embarrassment of someone catching you stealing a big chunk of the cake. But this is not called stealing. People want to share food with you, even if they do not know you. This heightens especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas. So you can find cakes and cookies, salted peanuts and cashews, pretzels, cans of coke, cup cakes, pizzas, bottles of juice, chocolates and candies, and anything you can imagine.

What more, all the dozens of packing boxes I needed for packing came all from me and G exploring and hunting the corridors. And all this came without the guilt of feeling like a rag picker. For me, it is more like a treasure hunt where you can find anything depending on your luck. From food to office supplies to tables, swivel chairs, you just name it.

Who knows what more will I see as I keep exploring the corridors this way.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hunting vs. Renting.

What happens when you go crazy searching for a place, get a reasonably good deal, and the fellow insists you move in the next one week, else the place is gonna go away? You realize that the lease to your current place is yet to be over, and hence you decide to sub-lease it.

This is easier said than done. First, an ad needs to be put on Craigslist. Browsing through ads is different, putting one of your own is different. For you have to be that salesperson, trying to market the best of the features, trying to give an idea that if you didn’t end up getting this place, thy life is a waste !

So I put up a decent ad, hoping that someone would turn up in the next one week or so. Ever since, my phone has been ringing and ringing till I was afraid I would exhaust my free minutes for the month in the first week only (my phone company offers me 600 minutes of free talk time per month within the US, Monday through Friday, 7 AM to 9 PM. The other times are free as it is). On an average, there were 30 phone calls and 60 emails each day for three whole days, and about 10 would eventually turn up every day. And then I realized the plight of sales persons, who must go crazy repeating the same things about their products over and over again. It was a harrowing experience letting people in your place. But then, sunshine cannot help but notice the hilariousness in every situation. These are what some of the email looked like-

“Hi, I will give you a $100 extra if you reserve the place for me now itself"

“Hi, new to your contry, bad English no understand, please please please want your room” 

“Hi, I am new to the city and I don’t know my way around. Why don’t you come and pick me up from my address?"

“Hey, I am tired of living with this woman who lives with her boyfriend and five children, one of her, three of the boyfriend’s and one together. Please rescue me from this place”

And so on and so forth….

If the emails were so interesting, you could imagine how interesting the people would be. Some would jump around the place like monkeys, immediately pull off the blinds, look for accumulated dust at every nook and corner and give me a disapproving look, dig their head inside the washing machine to see how large it was, knock at every furniture to make sure they were made of solid wood, sit and jump on the bed to assess the mattress quality, turn on and off every switch and every faucet in the restroom, measure the room with a measuring tape, ask if people do drinks and drugs on the floor, walk around as if the place belonged to them, peep into every drawer, every cabinet, every nook and corner while I would pray that no unmentionable pieces of my clothing would fall out, and flush the toilet to make sure that it works properly. 

The more decent ones would be shy to explore a girl’s room, and would be uncomfortable even asking questions like who are the other people who live on the floor. Some come in groups and keep on whispering while some look here and there, see the kitchen and the restroom, and then go back to the main room to see the view outside and this cycle keeps repeating till you pick up your phone to make a false call and exclaim, “Oh honey, you are parked outside for dinner? Give me a moment and I’ll be right there”. Sometimes it feels like a breach of privacy letting others into your space, and sometimes when you look at a person and immediately dislike him, you wonder why you should let him live in the same place that you did. People who do not want the place for any reason will always tell you, “I will let you know later”, while people who like it will immediately want to do the paperwork. It is interesting to observe people and the way they act differently.

Anyway, lots of interesting experiences to share henceforth, for now starts the arduous task of packing. More later.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Orkut- Bringing Lost Ones Together.

Orkut has had a profound impact on everyone’s life, and this is clear from the amount of writing I do about it. Orkut got me back in touch with many of my school mates. These are not the friends I had last met during the board exams. These are my friends from the nursery to the pre-puberty era before I had changed cities. Got hold of one, and got hold of most of the others through him.

The first thing that came as a shock to me is the way they look now. The boys are men, and the girls are women. Even their baby brothers and sisters who were in kindergarten are young men and women now. Browsing through the pics in their albums is a journey down the memory lane. 13 years of no contact, and I suddenly see that though their faces look still the same, they have grown mustaches and beards, and are taller and broader now. It feels strange to see so many girls married and with their babies the size of what I must have seen them first. And this brings back hilarious memories back from my kindergarten days. For I have seen these prim and proper men and women 23 years back, their noses running and hair oily while they cried the whole day. I even remember what their moms and dads looked like. There was this guy from my first standard who was so prone to skin disease that no one would want to sit near him. Yet I saw his recent pic, all brawny and on a bike, with his status “committed” (I wonder if he still has bad skin). There was this topper from my class who was all lanky a good 4” shorter than I was. Yet he is a 6’2” tall, muscular man now. When I talked to him over the telephone after so many years, I was so thrilled to hear his deep husky voice, a far cry from his girly voice in school. 

The guy who was first caught writing a love letter to some heartthrob in the fifth grade is a married man now. The guy whose dad would drop him in a rusty Luna drives a car now. Most of them are either in Bangalore or in the US. Most women are married now (a further reminder of my misspent youth, ha ha) with kids, while men are no exception. I have seen these people crying, fighting, making a queue while going to the restroom, peeing in their pants, cheating in the exams, standing on the bench or kneeling down with hands crossed around their ears, digging their noses, wearing half trousers, pinching and boxing others, eating their food in an uncouth, messy way, flinging chalk pieces and paper rockets at others, getting their ears boxed by the teachers, writing horribly funny answers in the exams that the teacher would later read out, and failing and repeating classes. It is so surprising that even after so many years, I remember their handwritings vividly, and so many incidents otherwise eventually forgotten. I am amazed at the sheer number of details these guys remember of me. During conversations, horror stories of our teachers often come up. “Remember the dance teacher who used to target everyone’s butt with that long, thin cane of his?” “Remember the language teacher who used to scream?” “Remember the teacher from class 1 who used to box everyone’s ears?” I still remember the signatures of most of the teachers, and how delighted we would be to earn “good” and “excellent” remarks from them. Most of the teachers have retired or have shifted elsewhere now. Some local friends even say that the school building has been remodeled, repainted, and looks nothing like what it used to then. But for me, it is still the same school, the same teachers who are a decade and a half older than what I remember of them, and my friends in half trousers and frilly frocks. It is amazing how I remember different people for different reasons. A certain guy used to wear a red sweater that had two holes on the right side. A certain guy would always have a running nose. A certain guy would always sleep in class. A certain girl had lice-infested hair. A certain guy always wrote his name in reverse, reminding me of ohm and mho. Strangely, I have their images in my mind still wearing the school uniform and the house badges.

The guy who had failed in math runs his business now. I wonder if he would find it weird when I met him. For we know these little secrets of each other, like who had bitched about whom, who had called whom a donkey, and who had pinched whom. My friend was so surprised when I told him that I remembered him bringing samosa and sweets for tiffin everyday from Calcutta Sweets, which he would eventually feed the crows during the lunch breaks. Even he did not remember that.

Well, such is the journey down the memory lane, and the bouts of nostalgia. For a moment I close my eyes and I can see those same faces, the same classrooms, the same teachers, the same books and the same chapters, and the same commotion in school. And then I open my eyes and everyone is grown up, scattered, leading their own lives in different parts of the world. And I keep wondering that like me, do they ever think of the bygone days, the fun and frolic, the naughtiness and the fun of being a kid in school?


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Faux Pas.

I don’t know why it always happens to me.

My friend and I had met for dinner after a long long time. He is incidentally the guy who had volunteered to pick me up from the airport the first day I landed here. We were catching up on all the latest happenings in our lives. Since I had met him last, he had graduated from school, and got great job offers from the top places. Instead, he decided to be a faculty at the school and I was intrigued by his reasons. So while we ate our dinner, he explained to me his different options and why he did what he did.

“So congratulations then! It must feel great to be an assistant professor at the age of 30.”

Suddenly, the atmosphere got tensed while he stopped eating and looked at me. I failed to understand if I had said something inappropriate out of the blue. Naturally, I looked confused.

“Errr…. Did I say something wrong?”

He continued to give me that disgusted "ab main tere ko maar dalunga" (I'll kill you now) look while I debated whether I should ask him or just ignore his looks. I was thoroughly confused about the sudden tension in the atmosphere. I mean, we were having a great conversation until now.

Finally, he spoke.

“I am 27.”


Friday, July 20, 2007

Project “Ghar Dhoondo”

Sometimes I think that I just need the excitement of something new and eventful happening to keep me going. The excitement of project “Insect Feeding” hadn’t waned when I thought- “Let’s do something exciting again. Let me find a new place for myself”.

Though there was still some time for my lease to get over, this is particularly the time when the new session is about to start, new kids have, or will be swamping the campus, and every possible house in the city goes “For Rent”. Over dinner, me and my friend decided that we could give it a try and find an apartment to share. The logistics, budget, location preference and other stuff was soon decided (which was a surprise because we both agreed on the same things). However, she made it clear that she is not much into apartment hunting and with her job, she wouldn’t be able to devote much time to project “Ghar Dhoondo”. In other words, she gave me the complete carte blanche to go look at places, bargain, decide on deals, and then let her know. Good enough.

Now there are different ways in which one can find a place, and I think I did the thing in 3 major steps.

Step-1: Just Go Look !

Take a bus, or walk on foot to all the locations you want to stay in, look for “For Rent” signs, note down the location and the number, and then give them a call, make an appointment, and go see the place.

Easier said than done. I started with walking on foot around my area on a sunny Saturday morning, walking through as many streets and avenues as I could, jotting down every location, the corresponding phone number, and the color of the house (or any other identifying character). This done, I came home, put all the data into a spreadsheet, and started to call the people one by one.

Some answered, though most did not. This added a new column to the spreadsheet, checking every place that picked the phone. Some said they had already rented while some said places were still available. Some quoted exorbitant prices while some had such low prices to ask for that I soon started to wonder if the roof leaks or the landlord creates a ruckus coming home drunk every night. Some phone calls were never answered, even after subsequent follow ups, and they just remained voice mails for me.

All said and done, nothing much materialized from this method of home finding.

Though I had known about this site for quite some time now, it was only a matter of time for me to really appreciate what it was worth. For here, you could get everything under the sky- apartments, rented rooms, condos, houses to buy and sell, furniture, books, free stuff, boyfriends - you just name it. And it is free. What more, this was better than step 1 because I could look at the pictures beforehand, and even the rent, floor area, utilities, etc., and could make a proper appointment with someone over the phone or email before I ventured out.

I got so addicted to doing this that the first thing I would wake up in the morning, I would browse and see what new apartments have come up. I realized that an excel spreadsheet is not going to be enough anymore, so I actually made a large notebook of data written in different colors. And my records included the name of the person, address and phone number, rent, utilities, when and where to contact, what was the phone response, etc.

Browsing through places in the comfortable confines of my home was a different thing, going to the place and seeing was different. I would take the address, put it on google maps and get directions. What more, since I do not drive, I had to put the directions further in the local website to get an idea of what route of bus would take me there, how frequent is the bus, and when does it arrive. On more than one occasion, I have been stranded in a place because the bus did not arrive at the scheduled time. and though these places were a very good deal at a reasonable price, I instantly decided not to take it. The last thing I wanted was to be stranded in the middle of nowhere on the day of the exams because I missed the bus.

But then again, I would go gaga over the pictures of the apartments posted on craigslist.

On one occasion when I went to see a place which already had another occupant, I was greeted by a huge dog which, if on two legs, would be taller than I am. While I was trying not to feel nauseated with the typical dog-like smell in the house, the owner made it clear that we would have to share the space with the dog. They said, 

“Oh look how cute the dog is. (Cute? OMG!!!). And the dog will protect our homes. He won’t be in a leash. See how he smiles? See how he wants to make friends with you. Kiss me baby, kiss me….”

And suddenly the dog had taken out his huge, muscular tongue, licking the woman like a paintbrush. And the dog looked at me, showing its sharp, pointed teeth. The idea of those teeth digging into my flesh, or being woken out of my sleep in the morning being licked by a dog gave me nightmares. I instantly made some excuse.

“Ehh…(gulp).. you see, as a kid, I was bitten by a dog. Ever since, I am allergic to dogs”

And I had run out of the place and never looked back again.

This is one of those numerous incidents. At one place, they just kept the unit unlocked for open viewing so that anyone could come and see. It was eerie, entering a huge, dark apartment with your own voice echoing. Some apartments are occupied when you see them, which can lead to many an uncomfortable situation like bumping into discarded underwear while looking around. How many places did I see in all? 15? 20? Some places were so good, you would jump to take it the moment you saw it. But these places were more exorbitantly priced and on the outskirts of the campus. It would need a good deal of time to think over it. So I used to carry my Project House Finding notebook with me and jot down all the details, come home, and think over it.

It has also happened that I have called up the owners the next day to tell them I would go ahead with the place, only to be told that the place has already been rented. The last few days of house hunting has given me a dark tan and lots of blisters in my feet.


You go to a friend’s place. You like the place. Ask if there is vacancy. Call the manager. Ask the same. Grab the place if you like it.

This is a relatively easier method, since the hunting process is somewhat eliminated. You know the location, the price, and how the unit looks when it is furnished (since it is your friend’s place you see first). You can ask your friend directly about the hazards of living in the place. But then again, there might not be any vacancy at all.

Well, I still haven’t finalized on any place, but the hunting process has been immensely educative. You actually learn to keep data in order to be retrieved later (and believe me, that is a very important process), you find addresses on your own, you go and meet unknown people who have just been phone voices, you make sure there is nothing in the place you have been missing out on, and so on and so forth.

The search still continues, and sometimes I wish it would get over soon. But then, this would start this whole hassle of moving, buying new stuff, etc. Nevertheless, house hunting is an experience in itself.


Monday, July 16, 2007

A White-mare

It is amazing how the daily events of my life fuel the existence of my blog. Just when I think that there is nothing new to write for the next few days now, something unusual happens, and here I sit at my desk and type furiously.

I had just spent a Sunday afternoon talking to my folks for a couple of hours. For a change, dad remarked that I looked thinner and pale, my eyes somewhat sallow. Now this I would take as a compliment, given the way I have ballooned up the last few months. Even the air in the US has cholesterol. Stop eating, just keep breathing and still you will balloon up.

Post dinner, I ventured into the bathroom to brush. Now brushing is just one of those excuses for going in front of the wall length mirror, turning this way and that way, looking at myself first from the right, and then from the left. For a moment, I really thought that I had shed some weight. Then I bent closer to the mirror and looked into my face, I squinted a couple of times, displayed my teeth, made funny gestures, shot out my tongue, aimed a gunshot at my own self, and finally smiled into the mirror. I absentmindedly sifted my hands through my now shoulder length hair when I stopped dead in my tracks.

No !!!

I looked at it carefully. I changed angles to see if that was the reflection of the light on my head playing tricks with my mind.

No. No. No!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Smiling back at me from the mirror was a single strand of hair, proudly separated from the herd, looking at me and mocking me. It seemed to tell me that no matter whatever way I moved, it would still make its presence felt in my life, marring the charm of whatever few years of youth left in me.

For it was none other than a strand of white hair !!!

White hair. Yeah, you heard me right. A gleaming, shining strand of white hair that seemed to look whiter amidst the black ones. The more I shifted to let the light fall on my head, the more it gleamed. It mocked me, reminding me of my misspent youth. Still single, not likely to marry anytime soon. Where did I have place in my life for my whiting hair now?

Suddenly, a hundred scary images conjured in front of my eyes. Here I was at my own wedding, draped in a gorgeous red Manish Malhotra bridal outfit. The crowd looked mesmerized while suddenly, a kid out of nowhere comes running and tells me, “Auntie, Super Vasmol kesh kaala for you”. Auntie? Kesh kaala?

And then I see images of me trying to teach my kid say “ma” when she winks at me, gives me a naughty, toothless smile, and says, “Granny”.

And just like every good looking girl from Perizaad to Rimi Sen used to vanish from Uday Chopra’s dream bike in Dhoom, I saw my figurative tall, dark, handsome man disappear from the bike, to be replaced by an aging, old, withered man. White hair. White clothes. A white life. Aaarrgghhhh!!!

I tried to tell myself that perhaps it was a random case of a gene mutation in one single hair strand. Perhaps my liver wasn’t working very well. Or perhaps, my eyesight was going bad. It was none of them. For the white strand of hair kept gleaming and shining against the light, mocking me.

I carefully separated the rest of the strands of my hair and slowly plucked the white one, so as not to damage the rest. It reminded me of my summers during childhood when granny would give me ten paisa for every white hair I plucked off her head. The hair strand looked thicker than usual, and definitely de-pigmented and white. 

Now, I am in a fix. The more I lose sleep over the white hair issue, the more my hair turns white. It was just one single stray hair strand amid thousands. A statistically insignificant sample size for sure. But then again, I cannot think of anything else but that cursed, unlucky strand of white hair.

And I am just 25. Not married, still looking for someone from the same zip code, and definitely not on the lookout for a walking stick. Suddenly, I had images of these young kids vacating the seat for me the moment I got on the bus. I suddenly had this vision of getting discounts for senior citizens everywhere. And all this for a single strand of white hair. I am sure I am not looking up the mirror for the next few weeks now. Or maybe the next few years. What a whitemare, I mean a nightmare.


Saturday, July 14, 2007


My mom is a superb cook. I am sure everyone claims that, but still, my mom is a superb cook. My lunch box in class right from my school days till finishing college was one of the most sought after things. Even if there was nothing more than bread and vegetables at home, my mom would concoct something, perhaps a bread pulao, and everyone would be licking their fingers. In college picnics, we were usually expected to take charge of one dish each. So while people grabbed for the options like chicken or other things that are usually in greater demand than the rest, I would rest easy and let people take their pick. For even if mom had to cook dal chawal (pulses and rice), she would make it taste better than chicken. On so many occasions in college when I was meeting a professor have I come back in class only to see my crazy classmates greedily chomping on my food. No guilt, no apology, all they would do is roll their eyes and tell me, “But you were away and how long could we wait?” 

And then, close friends would usually come home on my birthday. My mom was not very supportive of me treating my friends out for lunch. She wanted to take the pain of cooking for everyone, and that too a multi-course meal along with appetizers, desserts, and whatever your heart desired. Birthday parties at homes were a rage. And so were other parties.

And then I left home and came here. One year now and I have just learnt to cook for myself and not have to throw the contents into the trash can. I make a good job of simple things like noodles or salads, boiled eggs, or simple chicken recipes. But it is nothing I could call friends over and exult in the glory of my culinary exploits.

Here, you have a concept called the potluck. It means that you bring whatever you want to a party. Sometimes, there are lists you sign up for. It could be appetizers, main course, dessert, whatever. Some people come to potlucks empty handed while some people bring cutlery and plastic plates and cups. No one really takes offense. The host organizes the rest of the food, and that’s about it.

I always avoid potlucks because I just do not know what to cook for a huge gang of people. Even if I put some effort and made something decent, it would break my heart to see the chicken tikka and the kebabs made by someone else vanish like hot cakes while my dish stood on the table uneaten, and every now and then people would smile politely and tell you, “Very nice food. How did you make it?”. I know how exactly your food tastes given what people say about it.

“Very well made” (polite smiles)…. Flop show.

“Very well made, hey gimme the recipe. Can I take some home?”- recipe hit!!!

So when the desi people here organized a potluck, I just made some excuse of not being able to come. How I missed my mom then. I could almost visualize mom undecided about what to make since she had so many things to make, and then the people chomping greedily on her keema curry or kaju chicken, licking their fingers as well as the plate. 

But then, G amma took things in her hand (did I tell you about how someone introduced me to someone else in a party as the girl who came to the US last year and has been adopted by G?). She asked me to go ahead and tell them that I’ll bring a preparation of pulses. I was surprised. Why was she putting in her time and effort? She asked me how many people were expected while I hesitated, “Errr… maybe 10. You sure you wanna do it?”

And she said, "Naan oru dharavai sonna nooru dharavai sonna maadhiri" in Tamil. (If I say it once, it’s akin to having said it a hundred times-courtesy Rajanikanth). On the D-day, I and my friend went ahead and collected that big box of the pulse preparation from her place. It smelled so yummy that I had to keep it at my friends place so that I do not finish half of it before I reached the party.

At the party, everyone had got their share of appetizers and deviled eggs, bhaji, kadhi, raita, gajar ka halwa, and pulao. I waited with bated breath till people started to eat. And then there were comments flooding like-

“Err… who made the daal?” 

“I got it. Is it good?”

“Good? It is great. Give us the recipe”.

Well, I could have boasted all about it, but the next time my friends landed at my place for a surprise dinner of daal, I’d be in trouble. So I told them the truth.

“Err…. I brought it, but G made it”.

“What? Your G amma again? How we envy you!!!!”

By the end of the dinner, there was almost half the quantity left. She had made too much. After dinner every one had packed boxes of leftovers to carry with them. And while collecting my box, I suppressed an amused smile finding my box licked clean and dry. Not a single bit of food was in there.

It reminded me so much of those birth day parties and my empty lunch box afterwards. Thanks you G. You saved my day. You made my day. You got me pot-lucky.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Tad Too Different.

When daily stuff in other places were going their way, I guess this country wanted to be different. So while people all over the world were going the leftists’ way, someone in this country must have suggested,

“Let us be different. Let us not be a part of the herd. Let us start driving our cars and buses the right way (puns, puns). The world walks wrong. Let us walk the right way too."

And it must have been then that someone did the ritualistic start of uprooting the steering wheel from the right side of the vehicle and implanting them on the left. That day onward, vehicles have moved on the right side of the road. People have walked on the right side of the road. And it is then that people like me have bumped into unsuspecting individuals coming from the opposite direction, and stood at the bus stop for long hours waiting for the bus at the wrong side of the road. Worse, people like me have gone off their mind seated in the front seat of the car and almost screaming aloud every time a huge truck from the opposite left came. But then, everyone drives and walks “right” here.

And then someone in the grocery store must have said something on these lines-

“Let us confuse the Indians, once again. Forget the meter-kilogram-second or the centimeter-gram-second systems from the unitary methods of our school text books. Let us stick to the FPS, or the foot-pound-second system. Since that day, milk has been sold in gallons, people like me have gained weight in pounds, and the daily temperature has been recorded in Fahrenheit. When I was growing up in India, the so called “amrican or foreign products” held a lot of appeal. I knew this particular brand of shampoo had to be American because unlike the ml/l concept in India, the measurements were printed in “oz.” However, the craze is gone, but not the confusion. I still get thoroughly confused in grocery stores, scratching my head and my chin frantically to figure out the least expensive brand of juice when I have to compare two different quantities with their respective prices. The unitary method calculator in my head goes beep, and then I am frantically trying to figure out how many ounces and how many gallons mean how many liters. In school, I always used to skip the sums in the physics text book using the FPS system of measurement so as not to confuse myself. But in grocery stores here, you cannot expect to ask the figurative shopkeeper, "What is the price of potatoes o' brother? Tell me in kilograms." You do all that in your head.

“Oh man, what a hot day today. The temperature has surely crossed hundred. What do you think?”

I was almost on the verge of spilling out my ignorance by exclaiming, “Hundred? Doesn’t pure water boil at hundred?” Frankly, I still haven’t figured out an easy way to convert degree Celsius to Fahrenheit and vice versa. All I know is that a kilogram is little more than two pounds, and every time the doctor asks me my weight, I calculate things in my head and give her an approximation. When cherries were selling for $10/10 pounds, I actually had to scratch my head in public to figure out how much would 500 gm cherries cost me.

Certainly not to mention that even after almost a year now, I still have difficulty identifying the dimes and the quarters and the cents. Even the bills are not color specific unlike in India, and every bill is green in color. What more, I have to live up t the realization now that Gandhi ji is no longer going to smile on my bills here.

Bill by the way is the American English for note. As in, currency.

And then someone else must have said, “Let us change the words to confuse these people some more”. So notes became bills, bills became checks, while checks remained checks. Lifts became elevators, bathrooms became restrooms, snaps became pictures or snapshots, lucky happenings became fortuitous events, coriander became cilantro, capsicum became bell peppers, and brinjals became eggplants (though they contain no egg). And here I thought that we were dealing only with one language “English” here.

After words came the turn for spellings. Some mathematician calculated that in reducing one alphabet approximately for each word, the entire nation could save 112.84 liters of ink and 56.73 hours of type time everyday. Children in school would learn to spell words at an approximation of 18.25% lesser time. So it all came down to the self while the concept of a “you” went missing. Colour became color, favour became favor, and so on. Every simultaneous repetition of the same alphabet became redundant, and MS word made sure that every time people like me typed, the screen was filled with red squiggles. 

Units changed, currency changed, words changed, and so did their meanings. Quantities changed, my weight changed, my accent changed (somewhat), and so did my perceptions. These days, it is almost impossible for me to identify anyone as uncle, aunty, bhaiya, bhabi, and so on. We all go on the first name basis. So many times have I been tempted to call my 70 year old advisor grandpa instead of John. The last time some junior emailed me from India for academic advice and started the email with “Dear Didi”, I almost had tears in my eyes. The “Good morning sir” became “Hi, howz it going?”, and the “may I come in” became “Hi, do you have a minute?” after the tap on the door. Doctors no longer asked you if you are married, they simple asked if you have an active sexual life. Biodata became resume while information like father's name and marital status became redundant in my resume. And I love the use of euphemisms here. Handicaps are physically challenged, madcaps are mentally challenged (just kidding), stupid people are dumb, dumb people are mute, the word rich is rightly substituted by the privileged and the affluent, and professors “encourage” students to finish the assignments instead of writing something like “You are required to do so and so, it is compulsory”.

The numbers and the percentages in exams are somewhat redundant here. It is all converted into grades. This way I could go on for hours, but then, right now I need to get my As and my Bs right. Naah, I don’t mean learning the alphabets afresh, but am referring to my grades for the upcoming exams.

A tad too much of learning, huh?


Sunday, July 08, 2007

Culinary Exploits…. Bits n Bites !!!

I was thinking of my culinary skill almost a year after leaving home. When I left home, I didn’t know how to cook. Not that I am any better now. But when you have people like G in your life, who always make sure they give you 4 days of food every time you visit them, you barely want to take the trouble of cooking. Eating mom’s food has heightened my taste buds to such an extent that it is very difficult to survive on my own cooking. Add to it the fact that I start to cook following a recipe, but at the middle of it I get so impatient that I just do things my own way to take a short cut, and then everything ends up in a mess.

My neighbor became extremely useful to me in these situations. Whenever I cooked something barely palatable, I would eat it. And when the food was utterly unpalatable, I'd present it well, garnish it, and knock on my neighbor’s door, telling him that I had cooked an Indian delicacy for him. I mean come on, the food was not rotten or fermenting, just badly cooked. Mom always said, do not waste food. 

Dad always told me that the best way to ensure good cooking is to take a lot of time and patience to fry the onions. Mom says that too many and too much of spices only ruin the food. However, I never learnt to cook back at home, and I still do not have much idea about what ingredients to put. But I have survived. I cook very rarely, but every cooking session has been like performing an experiment. There were disasters, there was excess or too little spices, and sometimes the food was damaged beyond repair. And yeah there were earth shattering accidental discoveries in the process. And then I would feel like Archimedes in the bath tub, basking in the glory of my own success.

Naah, I am not telling you any disastrous recipes here. But when I look back at my collection of pics from the last one year, I cannot help but smile at so many memories, disasters, failures, anger, frustration, and all for the lack of the knowledge of cooking. Here take a look-

This was the first time I had ever cooked. And you will roll on the floor laughing if I told you what this was. Obviously it had tasted too yucky to even go to my neighbor’s stomach. This is a disastrous attempt to cook pasta without sauce, the Indian way, where I went ahead and added lots of vegetables, and then most disastrously added one whole tablespoon of turmeric powder.
Lesson learnt- Never be generous with adding turmeric. And before Italians fall off the Leaning Tower and commit suicide, stop using pasta to make an Indian-style curry.

Then this is the mushroom curry that turned out to be relatively better.

Did you know that I could never make omelets without messing them up and ultimately ending up making scrambled eggs? Here they usually look like this.

But the only time, and the one and only time I managed not to mess it up, it looked like this.

This was when I made rice for the first time. I added lots of vegetables and mushrooms to it, and then went ahead and actually let the cooker whistle five times before I turned it off. Needless to say, it turned out to be more like the gooey liquid you’ll feed your newborn.

The bread pulao I once made tasted okay and looked like this.

And so did the noodles.

One thing I do a good job is of making salads. That is provided my mood is good and I am not too impatient to notice the size and shape of the vegetables I cut.

Once, I also made a fruit salad with lots of sweetened strawberry flavored yogurt, black grapes, apples, and chocolate sauce.

I love to make Maggi (instant noodles) with lots of vegetables thrown in. So much that the so called 2 minute dish takes me about an hour to cook.

The sweet and sour mushroom and baby corn curry I made once turned out to be very tasty.

But then, I messed up the chicken by trying to add sugar in order to make the onions brown, and throwing in so much of sugar in the process that it actually became more of a sweet dish.

But the egg curry I made was quite decent. Here take a look at the slits I made on the eggs to let the spices seep in.

And this is one of those nutritious “ready in 5 minutes” corn salad with lots of vegetables thrown in and served with a dash of lime.

My over ambitious plans of making fish curry resulted in frying the fish excessively and thus breaking it due to accidental injuries with the spatula till the fish was powdered into something I called a powdered fish salad. It tasted amazing, but there was no fish.

The Bengali potato curry (alu dum) in fact turned out to be very nice.

And so did the lemon and spicy chicken I made the other day.

If you have noticed, I always start cooking something that eventually turns out to be something else. And yeah, ask me about a particular dish, and I would not be able to tell you most of the ingredients or the actual measurements. I cook by instinct. And yeah, my food always looks much better than it tastes.

Well, that in a nutshell is my cooking exploits in this country. Only in these times you do remember how your mom had a hard time asking you to learn to cook. These days, I have an idea of what not to put where, though I still try to figure out what to add to what. And as usual if the food isn’t to my liking, my neighbor ends up eating it.

Still trying, still learning, in bits and bites.


Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Mystery Behind Green Snakes On Your Legs- Solved !!!!

One of the many things I remember about my granny is the fact that she used to be extremely fair and strong, and had bluish green veins all over her legs. As a kid, I would often touch the skin there with intrigue and exclaim- Wow, look at the snakes on your legs !

I do not know why am I being reminded of this today.

My job with the worms requires me to keep standing or walking in the lab for a good 5 hours a day, 7 days a week. I started to come home with my feet all swollen. I thought the problem would go away with time, but every morning started to be a pain for me when I would be in bed in so bad a state that even getting up would require huge amounts of determination.

People had their own interpretations and solutions to it. Some said that it was because I had gained weight in recent months. Some said that perhaps the fluids in my knees had gone dry and I should start taking glucosamine pills to lubricate it. Some said that it was perhaps juvenile arthritis. Some said that perhaps I was overworking while some said that it was perhaps because I did not have much physical activity. While the dumber ones visually diagnosed it to be filariasis, the wicked ones gave me those nasty “oh are you pregnant?” looks without saying a word (now you know why they call it paaon bhaari hona).

To get an expert opinion about what is happening, I went to the doctor. And despite years of studying human anatomy and physiology, there were so many things I learnt in my visit.

An external examination of my legs immediately revealed those green snakes my granny had. These are known as the varicose veins. These are located close to the skin, are more common in women, usually appear before 40, and get worse with age.

Since the veins in the legs have to return blood to the heart against the force of gravity, and they have no muscles (unlike arteries), the veins use the muscles of the legs to aid in this process. When the valves in the veins that ensure unidirectional blood flow stop functioning, the blood cannot reach up the heart and thus the blood accumulates and swell up the lower part of the body, especially the legs.

This can cause due to one or a combination of factors like pregnancy, excess weight, and standing for long hours. These are usually genetic. They cause intense swelling or cramps and heaviness in the legs. The initial stage can be treated by wearing special elastic stockings available in pharmacy stores, by making sure that you do not stand for long hours, and by consciously sleeping with your legs placed on a pile of pillows and by keeping your legs above the level of your heart when you are sitting. Physiotherapy also helps a lot. Complicated case diagnosis may include sclerotherapy, laser techniques, or surgery to remove the veins in worst cases.

Other steps to avoid aggravating the problem include avoiding crossing ones legs while sitting, exercising the calf muscles while sitting, and raising the legs higher than the level of the heart while resting. The point is not to let fluids accumulate in the legs.

These were quite interesting to know. First, I had no idea that only certain people have blue veins. Second, I had no idea that I had blue veins. And this has got nothing to do with having royal blood or blue blood, like granny used to joke. Initially, I hated the idea of accepting that something is wrong with me. But what the hell, if a machine has a defect, just need to go repair it.

So it is gonna be special stocking and as much of rest as possible for me for the next few weeks. For all those of you out there who have always wondered about those green lines snaking your feet, you now know what they are and what to do about it. And for all those who need to stand or sit in a position for long hours, try taking special care of your feet now.

Now I know why I hated going for movies and the idea of sitting cramped in a place for 3 hours and coming out with swollen legs. Now I know that I hated chemistry practical classes since I had to keep standing. I remember once I got the stool to rest my knees on, and the teacher was so offended that she indirectly hinted about the luxuries I was used to and how I should opt for humanities or commerce if I could not bear to stand in labs. My board exams and university exams always got my legs swollen, and so I always made it a point to prop up my legs on a chair while I wrote the exam. This has earned me so many nasty stares from ignorant teachers because raising your legs is a sign of disrespect apparently. I remember munching on biscuits during the 4 hour exams actually made an invigilator ask me not to do that. I had to tell her that I have gastric ulcer and not eating for 4 hours would only mean having to call an ambulance. Of course I exaggerated, but that was good enough to shut her up.

Anyway, on my way back from the doctor's, I met this acquaintance of mine who seemed all excited to share her health updates with me. She has been on her period, bleeding for 25 days now, and was debating about seeing the doctor.

“Do you know the doctor said she will do a pelvic exam. Andar haath daalte hain kya? Do they put the hand inside?”

The very lack of euphemism put me off.

“Yeah, but it isn’t painful. I got a routine pelvic done last week”.

“Oh man, I am still a virgin and what if they find this out and rupture my virginity in the process?”

“Naah”, she continued, “I asked my mom and she said that the bleeding will stop on its own. No need to do the pelvic exam”.

And thus she bid a goodbye and walked away.

I wasn't really sure what to say. Good that she left before I had to say something.

Anyway, you wonderful ladies out there with green veins, just take care, okay?


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Worming Up-II

Nothing is as exciting as taking up new challenges. The most difficult challenge for me was to overcome the fear of letting worms crawl all over your hands, and yet not drop them out of fear and injure them. These are the tobacco worms the department has been breeding for decades now. My challenge was to learn the art of doing it rightly in 5 days’ training, and yet not feel sick every time I entered the smelly breeding room.

No worms as a prize to guess that I went ahead and took up the job. The first day, I just followed the guy who was training me. And I had no freaking clue about what was happening. This is the same guy who says bok of inseks and botton (guess what, I think he calls his sexy wife ekki) and who has sternly written instructions all over the place in wrong English (e.g., please do not removed the machine). I was handed a checklist of some 50 things to do while he went around changing worm boxes, putting older ones into newer boxes, and categorizing them based on certain characteristics. If you happen to be in the biosciences or have little interest in insects, you will know that most insects have 4 life stages- egg, larva, pupa, and adult. These were the diagrams in the good old biology textbooks. The larval stage could further be divided into 3rd, 4th, and 5th instar stages.


My trainer has left for “botton” after training me to feed “insek” (he cannot say “S”, poor thing).

I start my job at 8 every morning, first categorizing the larvae into different boxes based on the presence or absence of eyes and the shape of the head (let me spare you the details).

Then, I take the adult worms from the previous days which are no longer feeding and put them in dry wooden blocks. You know that they are ready to go without food when they smack the food all around the cups and a thick black line appears on their back. Here see the difference for yourself.

Once put in blocks, they go without food and in a few days, they all reach the pupae stage with the brown covering that makes them look like cockroaches.

After a few days, when the pupae turn black and soft from being brown, they are left in the cages where they emerge into adult moths.

The adult moths live on sugar water, and lay eggs on the underside of the tobacco plant leaf.

These are attracted to light and hence every time you take the plant out of the cage, you need to switch off the lights and have to know your way in the darkness. Once the plants are taken out, eggs are collected by gentle scraping with the hand without damaging the leaves. There are two varieties of worms, the green ones and the black ones. These are the collected eggs.

Three days later, the eggs are made to hatch on a thin strip of food. The food is a special diet made with calculated amounts of vitamins and antibiotics, and smells ten times more horrible than fermented dosa dough. In the pic, moisture is being wiped off the surface of the food block to be cut into pieces.

When the eggs hatch into thin hairy beings on the strips of food, they look like this.

About 200 of them are put in small cups everyday and allowed to grow.

After a couple of days, they are transferred to a bigger cup, and the cycle is repeated again.

Look how the worms get a grip on the food and dig it out with their pointed jaws.

Sometimes, eggs hatch out into weird looking creatures. Naah, this is nor Surf Ki Safedi Lalita ji. It is just a whiter worm.


First, the sheer number of things intimidated me. There are 3 huge rooms filled with boxes like this and I had to know my way through them.

The second challenge was to put the larva into the dry box. These are extremely soft and the moment you hold them, they start wriggling their heads and butts. Yet you cannot drop them or squish them. This is how they looked. 

And this is how you put them into the dry blocks with your hands.

I remember how the guy asked me to use forceps to do that, and I was touched with his compassion for me. My hopes came crashing down when he dutifully informed me that he wants me to use the forceps because he doesn’t want me to injure the worms. When I put the worms into the boxes, they wriggle their heads and crawl out. Soon, I figured out a way to grip them softly by the neck and put their head facing downwards so that it was difficult for them to crawl out.

Learning and knowledge gained

I have learnt how to distinguish between a male and a female pupa looking for a tiny hole somewhere in the male pupa. Imagine the chaos holding a brown pupa which is wriggling itself furiously trying to locate a freaking hole.

It was a challenge to come to the lab every morning (even on the weekends) and not faint out of the smell and the trauma of dealing with these creepy crawly things. The initial few days were so bad that everything I ate smelt of them. I would step onto something and get startled, wondering if I had stepped on an insect. I would rummage through my bag for a pen and then back off immediately wondering if some of those insects have crawled into my bag. I killed so many insects by dropping them abruptly because they wriggled so much and I was too scared to touch them.

But eventually, things got better. Eventually, I stopped using the forceps and started to hold them with my hands. The way they crawl and cling to the skin gives you a very uncomfortable feeling. But at least they do not bite. I mean these are merely insects. Things could have been worse. I could be working in a lab full of white rats or sting rays, getting bitten by them every now and then. I could be working in a lab full of snakes. I could be working with the chimps, the monkeys, crocodiles or whatever. These are just tiny harmless insects.

Like I said, this job isn’t related to what I study. But one of the best things about the US is that one can learn anything one wants to. One could be waiting tables, feeding insects, or working as a car mechanic on the side. Even when you are a student from a different department, you could do so many things. You could work in the library, feed worms, take poetry classes, learn graphics designing, learn or teach languages, and so on. The opportunities are endless. You acquire newer skills, make new contacts, and get to do something different, even if that means dealing with wriggling, crawling green creatures.

I am so glad I didn’t chicken out the day I went to see what the training was like. And if you get my point, go take a break off your hectic work life and learn something new. Not only does it teach you a lot, but it also acquaints you with things you could never think of.

Let me know the next time you learnt something which was totally unrelated to what you are doing now.