Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Over a cuppa coffee (not with KJo though), I thought-
What chemistry had biochemistry brought into my life? Mugging up the equations and formulae, being able to recognize and draw the structure of every amino acid, as if it would help me make better shrimps. The prof expected me to eat biochemistry, sleep biochemistry, dream biochemistry, and to permanently sleep with the text book as a pillow. Even if I did that, I would never bring myself to like biochemistry. I felt no bonding with it.

Wait, what did I say? Bonding? B-O-N-D-I-N-G? Carbon bonding? Nitrogen bonding? Oxygen bonding? Valence states? Bonding? Bonding? Thinking of bonding over a cup of coffee?


Paper and pen. Here I go. Scribble scribble. Scratch scratch head. God, I felt like a scientist at work.



Here I go-


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

One-Two-Three-Start !!!

This weekend, I went to my FIRST dandiya night in life. Many of my friends did not believe that it was my first time. They were as surprised as they were when I went to watch Bourne Ultimatum with them and dozed off midway. 

"What’s the big deal?”, I asked. You guys aren’t from Gujarat, are you?

“Gujarat or not, dandiya dancing is the cool thing to do”, came the reply.

Which made sense. Thanks to the K-serials and the KJo genre of entertainment, being a Gujarati or a Punjabi was definitely the cool thing.

So I went to the dandiya, more out of curiosity than the desire to shake a leg. Given how and where I was brought up, asking permission for staying out late and shaking a leg to the dandiya was not eve an option. That dandiya stick would have broken on my back, given the perception of late-night dandiyas. 

But this isn't Kolkata, and I did not need permission anymore. So donning my best clothes, here I was on my first dandiya dance floor.

If you asked me to describe the scene in one word, the word would be COLORFUL ! In a huge room, men and women with colorful, ethnic clothes were dancing their way around. Little children looked even more cute in their mini ghagras and cholis, jumping to the beats of music. People were dancing in concentric circles, the two inner ones for garba and the two outer ones with the sticks. 

I grew up watching Chitrahaar, where occasionally, Amitabh Bachchan would dance to the tune of “Hey naam re, sabse badaa tera naam, o sherawali” donning a piece of cloth on his forehead. Bollywood glamorized dandiya even more with time. And I thought, it's easy. Just clap your hands or clap the sticks to the beat.

So the first time I saw these people on the dance floor, I was like, "Look, I'm on the sets of Hum dil de chuke sanam!" Picking those steps were harder than I thought.  So I stuck to the simpler 6 beat and 8 beat movements of the garba. Still, I injured fingers, stepped on toes, bumped into people behind me, and confused the rights from the lefts. It was fun, but it was chaotic! I even saw a few White people who had donned their ethnic clothes perfectly and danced away without a care in the world. Wonder what took me 25 years to get here.

We kept dancing in circles till by head spun and reeled and all the faces floated above me. The floor was wooden, and it hurt. The same steps, 1-2-3-1-2-3 and the same dance became monotonous. The DJ played some awfully slow number after heightening the mood. So we formed a group and the moment the beats picked up speed, we started to dance Bhangra amid a room full of dandiya people. It was so much fun! Sticks in hand and our legs alternatively floating mid air, we were jumping to the beats of hayo rabba.

Three hours of dancing and I was done for the day. Even after 3 days, I am still limping, thanks to the wooden floors. “Coming the next time?”- someone asked me. Sure. But this time, I’d like to sit and watch people dance, and revel in the festivity. Unless of course I pick up the steps of Dholi Taro in the meantime.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Heart Is Where The Home Is.

A few weeks back, a friend had thrown a grand party at his place to get us introduced to his fiancée who was visiting him. When I say grand, I do mean “Grand”. There was the most delectable food to choose from, free flow of wine, and rounds of poker and video games to play later. There was every kind of great food you could stuff your stomach with, and even more. After food and drinks, everyone settled to their choice of games or simply chatted and idled lazily. I was all sleepy and groggy eyed, and no matter how good the evening had been, I realized that all I wanted to do was go home and sleep. Yet none of the people were in the mood to leave, and I needed a ride back home. Not wanting to be a party pooper, I kept staring wide-eyed, unable to sleep, yet not quite active to participate. The hostess must have noticed this, for she soon started to stuff cushions under my head. Yet no matter how comfortable she tried to make me, all I wanted to do was to GO HOME. And I had never been more glad to be home.

Yeah, I am one of those people who have to get home by the end of the day. It’s not that I return to a house full of kids playing around, laughter, noise, or a significant one. Most of the times I talk to the bare walls. But no matter where I am, I want to get home at the end of the day.

There have been times when we were shopping all day and after that, G would insist me to have food with them and stay back. Yet no matter how much I wanted to, I would always find myself catching the last bus home. Another friend of mine has this posh condo on the 26th floor that overlooks the Elliott Bay on one side and the panoramic view of the city on the other side. Yet no matter how I swoon over my friend's place, I want to get back home.

I was staying at G’s place when my new home was not quite done, and I had merely dropped by my new place to keep some stuff. And suddenly something occurred to me and I knew that I was home. The place was unfurnished then, there was this one dim light and carpets on the floor. Yet the moment I was there, I decided to call G and let her know that I wouldn’t be home. Because I WAS HOME. I had cooked Maggi out of the one packet I could dig out, and had slept on the carpet. Yet the comfort in the knowledge of being home was unparalleled.

I don’t mean to demean my friends’ hospitality and warmth. They have great houses and the best hospitality to provide me, and I am immensely thankful for that. Yet no matter what, home is where I want to be at the end of the day. Familiar bed, familiar rooms, things familiar to touch and smell and see. Most of the times my room looks like Hurricane Katrina has struck it. And then when I can’t take the mess anymore, I spend hours cleaning up the place spic and span. Yet my familiar pillow, familiar blanket, familiar stuff has an extraordinary appeal to it. There have been times when I have hated to be the party pooper when everyone else wanted to stay back. I was once in the middle of an amazing party where an astronaut had brought his powerful telescope and everyone was having a great time watching the Jupiter and the craters on the moon. Yet the first opportunity, I slipped out and was given a ride home.

The point is, no matter where I am throughout the day, my home is where I want to get back at the end of the day. The familiarity, the joy of having one’s place surpasses any feeling of alienation or loneliness. They say the home is where the heart is. For me, my heart is where my home is.


Monday, October 22, 2007

Thought For The Day.

“The more complex our lives get, the more the simpler things make sense.”


Back in school (classes 3-4 to perhaps 8), we had the concept of a “Thought for the day”. During the morning/post-lunch assemblies, a student from an assigned class would come up on the stage and say a “Thought for the day” (TFTD), with a hurried thank you. Most of the times, the TFTD would be said with such hurry that the crowd standing at the end wouldn’t even understand. The TFTD thing was not just restricted to the mass congregations. The monitor/class leader of the class had the duty to assign specific people to write out on the blackboard the date, the subject to be taught (in that particular period), the total number of students, the number of absentees, along with a beautifully written TFTD in different colors of chalk. While no one but the teacher or the class monitor writing out the names of the miscreants who talked or made mischief in class were allowed to touch the chalk and the duster, it was an honor to have the right to use a part of the board (a little part though) to decorate and write things.

Apart from that, the class was divided into 4 houses of four colors and each house took turns to make charts out of white paper that would be hung on the walls. While most of them were the diagrams of the plant and animal cells, the pulleys, the map of India, the solar system, or the pictures of historical figures cut and pasted, some of these charts had different proverbs and saying written on them. It was during the chart making sessions that the artistic boy/girl of the class was in great demand, and like many people who “outsourced” talents, I would make my dad spend sleepless nights making charts of plant cells and trees and scenic beauties to get that extra bit of credit apart from the amount I got for being a diligent, non-troublesome student.

However, I must admit that most of these TFTDs never made much sense to me. Even if I understood what it meant, I would often fail to see the meaning in the broader picture of things. I once saw a board hanging with “Time is Money” carved artistically into it. I kept wondering how time could be money till after many years when I started to realize the value of time, not just while making it to an appointment or submitting a deadline, but in the broader context of things. “Honesty is the best policy” was another very common TFTD. Then there were the ones like “Talk less, work more”, “Speech is silver, silence is golden”, “God helps those who helps themselves”, etc. I once got hold of a new TFTD from some magazine which was far different from the usual ones, and while I understood nothing of the meaning, I had proudly scribbled the TFTD on the blackboard while struggling with the correct spellings of “possessor” in “Ambition destroys its possessor”. I was in the 4th class then, and even pronouncing the last word has been a pain, let alone spell it right or even understand it. The teacher had looked at the board impressed and had asked me if I had written that. I had beamed in pride. Its just that I never really understood the meaning of it.

Thoughts… thoughts for the days. Thoughts for life. It is after years that the meanings of those TFTDs scribbled on the board or on large white chart papers began to make sense. And it was amazing how the simpler the thought was, the more profound it had its impact on life. “Talk less work more”. There was a time I never realized why were the teachers in class hell bent on making us talk less, or work more. It is now, in the age of telephones and freedom that I realize how important those lines are. I am not belittling the importance of speech, but if you calculated the number of hours you spent on the phone, or even talked about inconsequential stuff, you’d be surprised how much more time you could have spent working. For once, I consciously started keeping a tab on the number of hours I spend on the phone talking about inconsequential stuff, and consciously made an effort to talk to people only when it was absolutely necessary. I was amazed how I breezed through the whole day almost without the need to talk. That day when I accidentally left the phone in the lab, I was so relieved in a way because I didn't have to answer phone calls or itch to call people. I'm sure I could do with a 60% reduction of words I spoke everyday.

Another TFTD that had a powerful impact on me was, “God helps those who help themselves”. Let me not get into the conflict of the debatable issue of the existence of God, but assuming that there was God, I strongly agree that you can see through any situation simply by being proactive in what you do, and by not letting yourself be carried away with the confusions and options of life. Why is it that I can’t study and remember one whole chapter for a month, but come exams, and I can easily finish off 10 chapters in 5 days? This is what I call “helping myself”.

“Live and let live”, “Respect your elders”, “Greenery is the best scenery”, “Make hay while the sun shines”, “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”, “Time is money”, “Silence is golden”, “Work hard”, there are hundreds of these simple sentences popping up in my mind now, simple words that didn’t make sense then, but that will determine what I become (or do not become) in life. And as I reiterate the importance of time and the necessity to talk less and work more, I hope I would live up to the resolutions of spending fewer hours on the phone, stalking people on Orkut, sleeping a little less, being less bothered about inconsequential stuff like who married whom and who broke up with whom, and being more focused towards the things I am good at. Like I said-

“The more complex our lives get, the more the simpler things make sense.”

Oh, the joy of coming up with a self-created TFTD. 


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Leave That System Alone.

Last week, I heard someone mutter a certain expletive. It’s not that I had heard it for the first time, but it was one of those whose meanings I never understood. After much coaxing and cajoling and telling him how laidback I was, he finally told me the meaning. And that got me thinking. Most of the expletives have two meanings to it, an inherent meaning, and a more often meant or "prachalit" meaning. Like, “screw you” didn’t really mean I wanted to screw you, it could rather mean you are the last person on planet Earth I would want to screw. 

And this got me thinking about the number of expletives in any language. I wondered why 99% of the swear words I knew either alluded to either the whole or parts of the reproductive system, or to the act of having sex?

Fuck, screw, klpd, the different sub-families of swear words ending with ch**, b***, jh*****, the list is inexhaustible.

I would think the power of the reproductive system has been historically acknowledged and worshiped. Then why don’t we say “I care eyes/liver/throat about you” instead of “I care balls about you”? Why can’t brains rot instead of testicles rotting? How is the reproductive system any different from say, the olfactory system? Or is it because the lower we want to get (in terms of words), the lower in the anatomy we have to go? 

What is this big deal about the reproductive system anyway? You are born, you breathe, eat, live, sleep, and just as normally you reproduce. Just like your heart pumps blood and aids in circulation, your sex organs help you in reproduction. Why then do matters of intelligence lie embedded in the brain, matters of emotion and affection stem from the heart, while all the filthy swear words you hear are concentrated in the reproductive system? Our fucked up imaginations needn’t really be fucked up all the time. For there are better ways to describe filth than alluding to the act of procreation and to the system where from we have sprung. 


Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Neither the fever, nor the sneezing ceased the last few days. Nose blocked, taste buds redundant, appetite missing, the last thing I wanted to do was to scratch my head over what to feed my empty stomach that would be fast to cook as well as good to eat. And I knew exactly what I wanted to eat. 

My association with Maggi dates back to early childhood. Eating Maggi was never really a tradition in the family, unless you had fever and did not want the usual rice and lentils and curry. The day after my 5th birthday, I was diagnosed with jaundice. I was thrilled to bits when dad had bought me 40 packs of Maggi from the wholesaler. Those were the days when you bought 10 packs and got one of those cars free, the ones akin to Hotwheels that you’d push backwards and watch it zoom with speed. I still have those cars back at home.

Maggi costed four rupees back then. When I left India, I think it was somewhere close to rupees 12. Over the last few decades, prices jumped multiple times, new flavors were introduced (we had only Chicken and Masala back then), and so were multiple packs of twos, fours, and sixes. The taste and the quantity went down a bit too, but who cares? It is Maggi after all. One look at the yellow packet with the pic of the yummy noodles, and fever be darned. Whoever had this concept of instant noodles, it defied the concept that tasty food was time consuming and difficult to make. Boil some water, throw some vegetables, throw the noodles, put 90% of the taste maker (you keep the 10% to later dip your fingers into and lick from), boil it, and here it goes. With time, I devised newer concepts to make it yummier. I realized that adding a few drops of oil to the water prevents the noodles from sticking. Throw in some vegetables, salt, and pepper to prevent drowning in guilt. Add some extra water if you have a sore throat and want some extra soup. Put a little garam masala powder for an added flavor. I am sure there are people like me who never cease to experiment with Maggi.

At school, mom always packed me proper food for lunch. Roti. Parathe. Curry. Vegetable fried rice. Yet I envied those friends whose moms packed them Maggi, which by then would have gone cold and gooey. I would look greedily at those friends whose moms had no time to cook proper food, and just boiled a pack of instant noodles for them.

Maggi is to instant noodles what Cadburys is to chocolates. There have been competitors, other brands, better deals. Top Ramen, cup noodles. Yet nothing has ever tasted quite like Maggi. Occasional Maggi dinners were like treats for me and my sister. And while I finished off my meal within minutes, I would constantly eye my sister's dinner and tell her, “I think you are full. I think you are done”. She used to be a slow eater, and after an hour when she could eat no more, I would still hungrily finish off leftovers from her plate, all licked clean and dry. Since Maggi dinners were only occasional, I dreamt of earning a lot someday and buying all the packets of Maggi that I could afford, eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

The craziness left me, but the effect remained to such an extent that every time I visit the Indian stores here (which is quite far and I need a ride to get there), I sniff and hoard on Maggi. No tomato, I love only the chicken and the masala flavors. Have fever? Boil a maggi. Have exams the next day and no time to cook? Boil a maggi. Craving for some Chinese food but you neither have the usual noodles nor meat? Put lots of vinegar and soy sauce and make a psedu-Chinese dinner with Maggi. Not feeling like eating rice or roti? Eat a maggi. Such is the extent to which Maggi is used in my kitchen.

The water has boiled and my dinner is ready. Fever is not that bad a thing after all, provided you get to have Maggi.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Kitchen Legacies.

A legacy is anything handed down to us from the past. No, I don’t yet have anything substantially materialistic enough handed down by my ancestors, but for extremely large feet for a woman and spectacled eyes. But as I look at my kitchen, I can see all those habits of the women-cestors of the family that were handed down to me as legacies and never really left me. And legacies though they are, they did more harm than good, making sure that they lived with me like bad habits and cluttered my space. But not anymore.

Take for example the advent of the polythene age in India. You go get some vegetables from the market and that would be handed over to you in a polythene bag. Go to a saree shop and you’ll be given stuff in a “plastic packet”. Be it eatables or wear-ables or any and many of those umpteenth number of “ables”, the practice of buying stuff ensures that you soon accumulate mounds of these bags, packets, thongas (not thongs), wrappers, and what not. I have seen my granny neatly fold them very geometrically and store them in all those places of the house where you didn’t even know there were places. It could be lying dormant between the mattress and the frame of the bed, and the more people used the bed, the more the creases got ironed out. It could be in those storerooms, a luxury which was found in houses from the days of yore. It could be stored just about in any place, over the storage space near the kitchen’s ceilings, or hiding in the corner between the kitchen jars. And just when you needed to carry something, gift something, or even throw something, the women-cestors in our house always had the perfect packet to give you, of the right shape, the right size, and sometimes also the color of your choice. Your mom had made you tiffin in school (a luxury I no longer have) and she realized that it was some curry that, if not sealed properly, would soon stamp its presence on the entire contents of school bag. And there like an engineer at work, she will wrap my entire tiffin box, once horizontally and then vertically, once clockwise and then anticlockwise, and secure it with half a dozen rubber bands so that even if you were planning to bring the daal water you feed kids, it would not spill. Isn’t it amazing?

Well, that was the way it worked. If you wanted your share of amusement on a lazy afternoon, you could just skim through the contents of the thonga, which could contain anything from answer scripts to love letters. We were always taught to unwrap birthday gifts carefully, not as a mark of respect but to ensure that the wrapping paper could be reused for another occasion. Just turn the mattress for an occasional cleaning and you could see these valuable neatly packed and poring their heads out- polythene bags, birthday wrappers, and sheets of all sizes.

Then the kitchen underwent a transformation and got its more sophisticated look. The storage spaces got covered with wooden planks, looking more graceful with a sheet of sunmica. The concept of kitchen cabinets started to emerge. You no longer had to keep your pots and pans and spices open to the scrutiny of everyone’s eyes. You could step into any kitchen and just see the cooking oven and a few other electrical gadgets, other things being hidden in tastefully built cabinets. And like every other thing that found its place into the kitchen cabinet, the packets and the thongas did too. One entire drawer allocated to these plastic and polythene bags. If you were a guest who was carrying back something from our home and needed a packet for that, granny would proudly open the hugest drawer for storing these bags, put her hand into the so called accumulated treasures, and dig out one bag that would be just the right size to carry your stuff. 

When I went on a home cleaning spree one fine morning, I discovered to my horror that there were more packets and storage bags than there were things in my house. I tried to reason with myself that perhaps I could use these bags to dispose off the garbage. But hey wait a minute, didn’t I spend a couple of dollars buying two huge boxes of garbage bags from Walmart? I realized that I had even stored the packet they gave me for carrying the box containing the garbage disposing bags, so that I could reuse it. There were paper bags, plastic bags, little used ziplock pouches, and wrapping papers peeping everywhere. I’d cluttered my home with legacies handed down to me. So I stood there for what seemed like eons, having a conversation with myself, till the proverbial glass chamber that contained me shattered into pieces and I extended my hands, breaking free of this legacy. Granny, mom, I am breaking free. I told them that I am getting rid of all the packets and the bags and the stuff that I THINK I will need someday, and then keep thinking of the day when my thoughts would be reality and I will really need to use those. I kept some 5-6 really good, sturdy, or fancy looking packets (old habits die hard, you see), and threw away the rest. You wouldn’t believe, I made some 4-5 rounds to the garbage bin, and by the end of it, my home looked as if half its contents were gone. The voices of my women-cestors kept looming over my head for this blasphemy- that one day you will realize what a mistake you made when your neighbor comes to ask you for a fistful of rice or a couple of potatoes and you will not have a single packet you could use to give it to them. But who cares, my neighbor is rich enough to afford rice and potatoes and I’d rather keep my house uncluttered than make it into a storehouse of those storage things in the hope that someday someone would need the huge plastic bag I had got while buying kitchen napkins from Costco. No. No more. Not anymore.