Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sartorial Irony

I was going through my old picture album where though astoundingly out of fashion, I still manage to look much thinner and younger. Truth be told, I would give anything to get back to that figure I had in India though mom used to make me eat right and work out even then. American food just ruined my system, and this lifestyle got me all out of shape and out of discipline. And herein lies the irony. In India, I had almost no money, lived in a conservative society, and lived with family with no access to the so called fashionable clothes. Now that I have the money and access to fashionable clothes and live in a society where I don’t have to answer to anyone about what I wear, I no longer have the figure to carry it.

This is one of the many things I have been procrastinating (along with buying that suitcase), but it’s high time I did something about the way I look now and the way I feel about myself. Am scared to call it a new year resolution because they usually remain till the first week after new year, but something needs to be done.


A Suitcase In Time Saves –

Long long post with no promised anticlimactic end-

I am almost done with my packing for my trip to California tomorrow, though the weather predicts snow for the next many many hours, and the websites tell me dismal stories of flights getting cancelled and the airport being a pile of people and luggage going amuck. My friend predicts that I might not be able to make the trip at all, which though heartbreaking will not kill me. This week I took a lesson out of a small chapter and finally went shopping and got myself a nice red carry on suitcase. Given that the process was neither expensive not a time consuming ordeal, I wondered why I waited 2 years to do this.

Bringing those huge 2 suitcases from India like everyone does, I did not end up buying extra luggage for myself here. For the first few months, it was the conversion bug in my head, converting from USD to INR and deciding to get the suitcase on my next trip to India. The next few months, there was not much travelling to do, and then I got myself a big-hearted roommate to beg and borrow from and never had to look back to buy one again. I mean, it’s not every month that one travels, and it makes more sense to borrow than buy. Or that’s what I told myself.

My roommate became my ex-roommate, but old habits didn’t die. I planned a trip to Philadelphia, and asked her to come over for dinner. Dinner invitation would have stood anyway, suitcase or no suitcase, but I nevertheless asked her to get hers, and she willingly obliged. But there was a glitch. The suitcase had seen years of travel and was beginning to demand some servicing. One zip doesn’t function, but the other one works perfect- or so she said. The suitcase looked healthy and sturdy otherwise, I had 20 more hours before my flight took off, and what’s this not wanting to travel with a one-zip functioning suitcase? I should be fine.

And I was fine, during the entire course of my trip. The suitcase happily served me, carried the dozens of clothes I never ended up wearing, the bottles of perfumes I carried as gifts, and more. Happy, I started to shop there, now that all the gifts were given and there was so much space. I ended up going for a wine tasting tour, and ended up buying bottles of wine for the dinners I occasionally throw. This was after I located a store that sold women’s clothes for cheap, and had accumulated a loot of winter coats and jackets and what not. Wallet wise I wasn’t loaded anymore, but suitcase-wise, I was. Happy and satisfied with my loot, I started to pack on my way back.

Things were fine during the packing as well. The next morning, just before setting for the airport, I remembered that I had not packed my stockings, and unzipped the one-zip suitcase one final time to put in my stockings and make sure all was fine. And Mr. Murphy lurking in the corner like he always does, I watched with horror the only functional zip ripping itself apart, leaving my jaws as open with shock as the suitcase was.

I had 20 minutes to leave home, which was not enough time to buy myself another suitcase. This reduced my decision making and acting time to about 10 minutes, where I either had the option of trying to fix the zip, or unpack everything, take what I need the most in the small spare bag I was carrying, and catch that flight I knew was not going to be late today, of all the days when I needed that extra time. No prizes for guessing, wine bottles were discarded along with the other things I thought I could never part with. Every little thing I hated to part with that came out of that suitcase, I asked myself if I would carry it with me if my plane burst into pieces in the sky and I was falling downward into the ocean.

Finally, a lot of my stuff was discarded, and I carried whatever I could carry in that extra bag I had the sense to bring with me. I landed safe and sound, sans the one-zipped suitcase. My initial feeling of sorry changed to benign irritation when I called up my ex-roommate to apologize for her loss (of her suitcase), to be told that it was an old suitcase anyway and it would have collapsed any day. Perhaps she was trying to make me feel better and less guilty by sounding casual, but then, hey, the collapse happened while it was with me, and I had to leave more than half my loot behind me.

With time, I realized that my anger was well found, but was being hurled at the wrong person. I was the one guilty, procrastinating to take charge and buy myself a suitcase. It wasn’t the money, if I had the money to make cross country trips I also had the money to but myself a little bag. It wasn’t even about time, I waste my time enough everyday, the time I could spend organizing my life. It was just plain, unreasonable, baseless procrastination.

And it was just not about the suitcase. I soon made a list of all the things I had been procrastinating doing in life, not because of the lack of money or power or time or resources, but because sometime in life, I just decided to be plain lazy and procrastinate without reason. I am trying to work on those. But no, I am not showing you the list.

Tomorrow if snowing stops and my flight takes off, I’ll be eating my dinner in California. And now, I am the proud owner of a lovely looking gorgeous red suitcase that took me 2 years to buy, but still hasn’t made even the minutest of the dents in my pocket. It wasn’t the suitcase or the time or the money that was the problem. It was just me.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

White Winter

This year my winter is out of a Christmas greeting card. It has been snowing here non-stop, and I haven’t seen even one-tenth of this much snow the last 2 winters. In India, snow used to look very romantic in movies, with skinny women wearing flimsy clothes and jumping around. It looked so much fun making snowballs and hurling them at each other. But reality as always is far from the surreal. In reality, I haven’t seen myself wearing nice clothes and jumping around throwing snowballs at people and listening to Christmas carols while sipping coffee and eating chicken pakora in the evenings. Thanks to the snowstorm prediction before hand, I have brought tons of office work home, and am almost on the verge of having boils and sores in you-know-where, sitting on the couch all day and working on the laptop.

2 days back, we finally decided to get adventurous and venture to office, not just because we had work to bring home, but also because the weather seemed better. But this was 2 days back. On our way to office, we decided to stop at the nearby park and have some fun. Office was soon forgotten and we were jumping around and playing in the snow. Fresh snow being powdery, it is so much fun jumping on it, but equally painful and slippery to walk on it once it has melted and become sleet. And of course for all those people who always told me to learn to drive and buy a car, isn’t it great not having to clean up the car in the biting cold first thing in the morning?

Snow seemed fun and exciting initially, but now I am bored to death at home, working. I want to have a normal life again, be able to go out and meet people, walk around the streets, do grocery, have something other than chicken stew and hot chocolate, and finally, see something around me other than white. Yesterday I was looking out of my window, feeling low and depressed for some reason, and ironically craving for sunshine when I saw this very old couple holding hands and wading their way through the snow. I felt like an old person, sitting at home and watching the world go around me, too lazy and too cold to venture outside.

I think I have had enough of the snow. I have sent snow pictures home. I have stayed for days at home, wiling the snow to go away. I have had my share of white this year. And hence sunshine must set out, to California if nowhere else, just to get that sunshine and warmth again. I am done with my hibernation. I must set out to seek the sun.


Saturday, December 20, 2008


A little late for posting this, but better late than never. I usually spend my thanksgiving holidays out of town. I choose a place I have never been to, plan a long and elaborate holiday, usually meeting up friends in the process, and that brought me to Philadelphia this Thanksgiving.

While growing up, I have had a fascination for checking out countries in the atlas. Vicarious travelling I call it, I have often felt great looking up countries and wanting to visit them someday. Due to a protected upbringing, we were never allowed to venture out on our own. I, for one, have never visited any of the metropolitan cities, unless you want to count one single solitary 3 day trip to Delhi to write an entrance exam I never made it to. No, I have never been to the so called cool places- Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Pune, Mysore, just name it.

15 years later, the habit remains, the atlas being replaced by google maps. Now that I am on my own, I have made it a point to visit as many cities (and countries) as I can. So I looked up the map and decided on a city I had never visited before.

The trip was great, especially because I was also meeting up a couple of friends there. Also, the good thing about the east coast is the connectivity. You will be able to travel so many cities taking a train or hopping on to a greyhound bus, unlike the west coast where you must must absolutely must have a car and where I can only think of 2-3 major cities spanning the entire west coast, maybe a couple more once you reach California. So along with the Philly trip, I also made it to a couple more places nearby. Princeton was one of them.

However, I was soon to make a self-discovery. I realized that I can never live in a small town, greenery and scenery and all. A recluse by nature though I might be, I have to see people, hear noises, the hustle and bustle of daily life to stimulate me. Princeton was great with its beauty and charming little houses, but I would be bored to death if I was stranded there for life. Philly on the other hand was amazing, with tall buildings and a happening downtown and the people and the music and the bridges and museums and all. It’s a city by the water, something that gives you additional things to see like the boats and bridges. Also, this city has a rich history. I am not much into history and museums and things which are long gone, but it was fascinating nevertheless.

I also realized that every city has a flavor and a charm of its own. After living here for 2 years, I thought I would never like to live in another city. Now I change my mind. I think I would like to live in a place like Philadelphia, never mind people calling it old and dirty and chaotic. Sometimes a city grows on you, and sometimes you get certain vibes about a city. Spending 3 days is not time enough to make a judgment, I agree, but I still think I would like to live in a place like Philadelphia any day. The streets, the buildings, the people, the shops, the universities I visited like U Penn and Drexel, the oldness of it had something in it I really liked. Maybe I’d really like it if I were to live here someday. Who knows?


Friday, December 05, 2008


We Bengalis are infamous in bringing up all the potty topics at the dining table. Ask anyone how conversations at the table usually involuntarily lead to the potty habits till someone puts a conscious stop to it. So we were on the thanksgiving dining table at my friends place in Philly. She had invited a couple more people including a certain doctor. The whole chicken roast was amazingly done with salmon stuffed inside its belly, which is already reason enough for any vegetarian to gross out. I had never eaten a whole chicken before, and amidst greedily gobbling it up, the biologist in me took over while I examined the body parts of the chicken with intrigue.

I sucked on to a juicy bone while I remarked about how during our undergraduate studies, bone identification was a major portion of our practical training. Thus we were taught how to identify the different bones of the pigeon, rat, frog, and even snake. Trying to appear cool amidst a bunch of engineers and theoretical physicists, I remarked how one could identify certain bones by locating certain holes in certain regions of the bone. My engineer friends looked fascinated.

I was sucking on to another piece of flesh when my physicist friend had faint remembrances of her biology lessons she took the last time in high school, more than a decade ago. Nostalgic about smelly bio labs and indecipherable terms like troglodytes, she suddenly got very excited about an obscure term she remembered back from school a long lifetime ago.

“Foramen magnum. Wasn’t that the word we studied? Do you remember where it is located?”

To which, I cast her smug glance. Of course every biologist knew where the foramen magnum was.

My right hand and my mouth half filled with food, I gestured and patted the back of my head. I was expecting adulating glances, given my profound knowledge in biology. To stress my point, I said in a Korean accent, partly due to all the food in my mouth, “Brain”.

I thought people were impressed. They were. There was just one seemingly insignificant voice from the far corner of the table that remarked with all seriousness, “Not the brain. It is the skull”.
Of course it is a sacrilege to confuse the brain with the skull for a doctor.

Now you know why I have a thing for doctors.


Monday, November 24, 2008


Earlier this evening, a strange realization hit me. It has been more than 2 years and 2 months ever since I have come here, and not once have I visited home. It's not that this was news to me, but as it started to sink in, I was engulfed in a train of thoughts. Before I came here, I had never left home, not even to live in hostels or visit relatives in other cities, and once I left home, I never went back. During the end of the first year, as I was planning a trip in the summer, I ran out of funding and had to spend the entire quarter running around and knocking doors of professors trying to help me earn and sustain myself. Soon, a visit to India became a distant dream. During the end of the second year, I contemplated another visit during summer. This time, my greatly venerable academic advisor threatened to not sign my thesis unless I finished certain chunks of the project. These chunks happened to be bigger than the iceberg that hit Titanic, and soon all my plans of visiting home had sunk. Eventually she did sign my thesis, and I am all free now, but I got into this thing called OPT where people tell you horror stories about how other people they know tried leaving the country and were never let in again. No one of course knows who these people are, but everyone knows another person with a sad story like this. Needless to say, visiting home is not an option anymore. not at least for the next one year till my OPT ends.

My passport looks pristine and spotless, with not a single stamp every since the last one was put at the LA airport. Every year, I see people excitedly pack and leave to visit homes, taking pounds of American chocolates and expensive perfumes back for people home. I see these same people come back after weeks carrying pounds of Indian goodies like puffed rice, jaggery, and sweets. They animatedly discuss the latest developments they witnessed in India. People are attending weddings, convocations, and anniversaries. I on the other hand am celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving.

I wonder if my parents will look older and grayer when I see them next. I wonder how much has the price of goods increased ever since I left India. I wonder if the walls adjoining our building have the same graffiti of vote for CPM scribbled all over as they always were. I wonder if the maid tells the same old stories about the same old people she works for to my mom. The kids from our community must be in high school now. Suddenly, everything is vivid and clear to me, the font of the letters painted on the letterbox with the name of my dad, the different music it played every time someone hit the doorbell, and the familiar sounds of the vendors selling stuff outside the apartment. I wonder how much of it has changed.

Sorry for the extremely sentimental post. As usual, I am just thinking aloud.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

What I like about job life

Is the fact that I put in 8 hours of hard work everyday and I am done for the day. I can listen to my favorite songs on my way without thinking of the assignments that need to be completed. I can plan anything after office, be it coming home and settling for a quiet evening cooking and watching TV, or choosing to go shopping or partying with friends. I need not feel guilty about study hours or early bed times. As long as I plan my work hours well, I don’t have to bring home work.

I have lived both the lives, the life of a student and that of a professional. I cannot comment on which is better, as each comes with their own set of freedom and limitations. True, it feels great to solve a research problem after months of brain work, but it also feels great to leave your brains in office at the end of the day and take out more time to pursue your interests. Both these situations of course stand true as long as there is no third commitment that takes up your time, like kids, marriage, or even a demanding relationship.

And the other thing I like about job life is that I can actually go to office empty handed. No longer do I need to carry the burden of a laptop, heavy books to be returned to the library, or tons of notes you printed but are never going to read.

Plus it does boost your confidence, adjusting to a new work culture and earning more money.

Solvency, no huge backpacks to carry and no more backaches, getting rid of those tattered jeans and dressing up in formals every day, and coming home to watch movies and read books, or just choosing to do nothing, that’s work life for me.


PS: I have been gently reprimanded for not replying to blog comments. I am guilty as charged, and henceforth, I’ll make an honest effort to correct it. It’s just that … anyway, never mind…


I am the lowest form of my species. No matter how much I want it, it is futile for me to dream of rubbing shoulders with the successful. Self-discipline is a concept I can conjure up in my mind, and that’s about it. Neither do I give enough attention to how I start my day, nor do I have the time to care about what I eat and drink. Every time I tell myself I am doing that 30 minute workout and I don’t, I feel myself a couple of pounds heavier. Will I ever be able to take care of an entire family some day? I need to do things in a hurry, and screw them. She is gone, and I know she left on time. I read somewhere that if you did not complete one half of the day’s work by 10 am, you were at a risk of leaving the other half undone. Here it is almost that time and I have barely started. My promises are all false, especially the ones I make to myself, because no matter what, I will never be able to keep them. The alarm clock will do its job, but without any use. Perhaps I should be embarrassed of keeping an alarm clock at all. Tomorrow, I say tomorrow would be different, that tomorrow will be full of hopes and bright promises, of changes and improvements, but that tomorrow never comes. Why do I do this to myself, I know not. I know not if I deserve to do this to myself. But I can only hope that tomorrow is different. O God, give me a chance more. I promise, tomorrow would be different.

Exactly my guilt laden thoughts every time I oversleep, wake up late, and miss the 7am bus. There is something heavenly about shutting up the alarm and going back to sleep, promising yourself that it’s just five more minutes.

Just that five minutes are never five minutes.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Supper With Sunshine

Monday mornings are lazy mornings, with the weekend lethargy still suffused into you and the mind not being able to clear up despite consuming galloons of coffee. On a dreary such Monday morning, I switched on my office computer, not expecting a lot of fun during the week ahead. As I punched in my password, I looked far out of the window, hoping for a rainbow, a snowfall, or something remarkable to happen. Talking about remarkableness, the password clicked, and I told myself like I always do – “You’ve got mail”.

Skimming through the email subject lines brought my attention to a certain email that forms the basis of this post. A few lines of introduction about the person, and I was wondering does this guy need feedback about his GRE preparation, or is writing about the list of schools he has selected, and seeks my opinion even though his specialization is something totally different like robotics (I often get such emails)? A few more lines and I was wondering does this guy need a favor from someone big shot I know? An extremely respectful but lengthy email got me thinking while skimming through- “What does this guy want after all?”

Well, it seems that he is a regular reader of my blog, is visiting town for some official work, and wanted to meet up. Meet up fine, but to ensure credibility so that I do not misunderstand his honest efforts as that of someone wanting to make franship, he had the foresight to send me his resume, website, his research interests, picture galleries, and a couple more details. The only things missing were names of references I could call up and verify the existence of the reader. Phew ! So much for a meeting.

My readers know that I have never met a blog reader except that one time when we ended up becoming inseparable buddies, and we proudly continue to do so. Otherwise, I have never met any of my readers in person, not as a rule, but more because no one has asked me to. So influenced by Koffee with Karan, will there be supper with sunshine? Will sunshine agree to meet this reader who is visiting her city? Will the reader treat her as a blog writer, or will be able to see beyond her writings as a human in flesh and blood? Will he come with preconceived notions and half formed expectations, wanting to find such and such thing in the person whose writings he is familiar with? Or can they meet as two individuals, and not as a blogger and a reader?

Time will say.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Halloween Weekend

In here, people spend one day a year indulging themselves and their other like-minded friends fancy dressing on the streets, in office, at homes. You walk down the streets on Halloween and you would see people of all age and shape dressed up. I have seen people dressed as trash cans, fruits and vegetables, science fiction characters, and what not. The lady at the front door in office sat in her witch costume, mink coat, and the black magic wand the whole day. Ever imagined our parents going to offices dressed as Hanuman and Gadaadhaari Bhim? This country is crazy.

I have done two unique things this Halloween. Three in fact. One, much to the disappointment of my friends, I did not indulge my time and money picking up a Halloween costume. My friends reiterated again and again how un-cool and un-sporty I am, but I refused to give in to the temptation and spend $50 going to a party dressed up like a spider pig. Two, I carved a pumpkin for the first time. Again, I resisted and did not want to. But people around me sat on floors with pumpkins and dozen knives all around them, unleashing their creative self and carving out figures on pumpkins. It did feel weird at first, carving out the hard cover and then putting your hand inside to scoop out the gooey mass from within. But once the insides of the pumpkin was clean, I was free to carve designs the way I wanted to. Since it was Diwali weekend as well, I carved diyas all over the pumpkin before placing a lit candle inside. My hands smelled like pumpkins for days despite all the soaping, reminding me of this term in Bengali "kumro-potash" with God knows what meaning. During this time of the year when pumpkin is harvested, people use pumpkins in all kinds of food, even in desserts and in Starbucks coffee ! Been years since I have had 2 very tasty Bengali dishes made of pumpkins- kumror chokka (curry made with cubed pumpkin) and kumro fool bhaja (pumpkin flowers fried in besan).

Third, I spent an entire 12 hours with friends watching horror movies. I am not at all into horror movies. But my friends wanted to spend Halloween watching horror movies, and there it goes. The descent wasn’t liked much by my friends for all the blood and gore. However, I found it interesting that they should make a film about 5 women trapped inside a cave with no way to get out. I would seriously feel claustrophobic watching them crawl inside the caves. The concept was very interesting. I don’t care about the other two movies, but the last movie Shutter was just amazing. Every moment of it chilled me to the core. It’s about a photographer who takes pictures of his girlfriend during her graduation, only to find a pattern of shadow in every snapshot, and therein the story unfolds. I have been traumatized for days now, thinking of every scene of the movie. It’s worse when you don’t have another living soul in the house. Truth be told, my mind has been playing tricks, and I have been shit scared even going to the bathroom. Anyway, the movie Shutter is a must watch, really. The Thai version, and not the American version.

So there goes the story of my Halloween weekend.


Thursday, October 30, 2008


I am about to complete my first week of office tomorrow. While at school, I always thought that having a job would give me enough time to come home, cook, watch TV, read books, and write blogs. In summation, it would give me ample time to do the things I like. Alas, things have not been that way. In the last few days, I have not been able to write one single blog, despite being all excited about office. I’m targeting the weekend, but with Halloween and post-Diwali celebrations and a dozen other things in my social calendar, who knows? But why have things been so hectic suddenly? Here it is why-

1. I still belong to the category of one of those extinct species who cannot drive.
2. Getting to my workplace requires a combination of changing 3 buses and walking for a good 30 minutes, each way.
3. Other than an eight hour working day, I spend half of that time commuting to and fro. Go do the math.
4. The first bus I take is at 6:30 am. The sky sees light only after 7:30 am here. What else do you expect when you live so close to the North Pole and that too during winter?
5. My office is just 20 miles away from my home.

Till now, I have been trying to catch up on my sleep zzzzing in the bus. But no amount of zzzzzzzing seems enough. Let’s see how things turn out in the long run.



Monday, October 27, 2008

Another New Chapter

The book of my life is at the point where a 2 year old chapter ends, and a new one begins. I have been whining forever about my never ending thesis and my ever demanding advisor. I frankly underestimated the time and effort it takes to write a good thesis, no matter how many blogs you have written your entire life. I have been going through every facet of frustration a student faces, the usual highs and lows in energy levels, a feeling of undecided indecisiveness, never earning enough for the pocket nor doing enough work to satisfy the intellect, and so on. But last Friday, I finally finished my thesis for once and forever. It took me three months and more than hundred pages of writing. But finally I am done.

And while the country is lamenting about the receding economy and people around me are struggling to find a job, I got my first job in the US (touchwood). I remember how excited I was when I got my first job 3 years back. I remember how everyday at the end of the day I would write a little post about what happened at school. There will not be such posts as I am not teaching in a school this time and have no fun stories to tell about the little ones. In fact this transition from one phase to the next is a little scary for me. But I hope that with time, I will have a lot many things to write about my new job. For a start, I spent the 2 years here listening to scary stories about job interviews, about how people tried finding jobs for months even after their scintillating achievements in life, about how they got one offer after a dozen rejects. I always thought it would take me a lifetime before I found a single job. And here I was talking to someone and here I went and interviewed and here I got the job- the only one I interviewed for, believe it or not. No matter how much my life is screwed up in certain aspects, I have been very fortunate with my education and my work history (touchwood again). And so here I am, after an entire day’s shopping of formal office wear, having packed my lunch for tomorrow and decided on what to wear so that I don’t have to rush first thing in the morning, counting my blessings and finishing this post before the new chapter of my life begins.

Tomorrow will be different. I know it.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008


When I cleared my thesis defense a few months back, I had thought – “Boy, that was simple. I can now write my thesis in two days”. Two indeed it was, but weeks that it took me to write it. That’s good too, thought I, as I clicked on the “pay now” button for my flight tickets for a week-long vacation in New York. The vacation never happened. Two months later, my advisor is still kicking my ass, making changes to my thesis. So here goes the equation: 2 hours to defend it, 2 week to write it, and 2 months to edit it.

Now this 2 month thing is an exceptional situation, or more of an equation imbalance with my advisor. I mean, who edits a thesis for 2 months, making me labor my ass off even on weekends? But my hate-post for my advisor would be written another day. However, as I am finishing up my process of writing my thesis, I realize that there indeed is a list of at least a dozen things one cannot write a thesis without. If you have been there, you know what I am talking about. If you haven’t, you will soon be.

1. Caffeine- It sometimes helps you not to fall asleep on your keyboard, but there is also something glamorous about walking the department corridor at 1 in the morning, a coffee cup in one hand, your satchel on the other shoulder, while you walk in slow motion with the other prowling night owls in the department. Not being a coffee person, I use it more for my image boost.

2. Ready made food- Maggi might seem as a mass of squirming caterpillars otherwise, but there is nothing more conveniently made and slurped on while meeting deadlines. Nothing beats the soups and sushi and spring rolls from Trader Joe’s. I have survived for weeks with my pantry stored like a bomb shelter with readymade food.

3. Eveready friends who will be willing to hear your whining at any time of the day (or night). Believe me, when you are done typing a hundred pages and have had it enough, you can do with an empathetic shoulder.

4. A post-thesis fun plan. It gives you lots of incentive to push yourself. Plan a trip to the Bahamas or the Hawaii. Keep aside a thousand dollars for your post-thesis fun shopping. You probably won’t be able to carry out these plans (unless you have a sugar daddy sponsoring you). This is just to trick you into working harder.

5. Lots of suddenly built rapport with the advisor. You suddenly want to call/email your advisor and end with a “thank you for everything you have done for me”, remember her birthday, send her a box full of Haldiram’s sweets on her anniversary, make her a dabba full of the best Indian curry your mommy taught you back at home, and remind her everyday how she is more important for you than your boy friend. This might still not save you from the onslaught of her making you write a hundred extra pages, but is still a good disaster contingency plan if you can tap on her more humane side this way.

6. Super skills with MS Office- I think I don’t just deserve a degree in whatever field in am in, but also a degree in MS Office from Mr. Gates. Never before have I known how to wade my way so smoothly through track changes, formatting, and Endnote data input. Don’t balk if I tell you it took me three whole days just to format my thesis and present it the way the school wants to read it, and I am still not done. Schools tend to be picky about small things like the page number being on top right and not bottom centered, following the same font type and size throughout, and leaving a margin accurate to three decimal places.

7. Throw away all the comfortable bedding, pillows, things that make you sleep. Instead, use your bedding and comforters to cushion your room wall(s). After months of hard work when your advisor ruthlessly chops off your favorite segments in the thesis, you want something to thunk your head against.

8. Plenty of change of clothes and lots of deodorants. There will be days at a stretch when you won’t be going home but would be working in that underground cubbyhole they call the computer lab.

9. Meditation classes with half a watermelon sitting on your head every day. There are times when you will be so close to snapping at your advisor, but will still have to smile your way through the process subserviently and keep your cool.

10. Lists. Lists of sections to finish. Lists of sections completed. Lists of diagrams and tables to include that no one cares about. List of people to thank in that acknowledgement section no one is going to read. List of reasons why you hate your advisor. List of introspective thoughts on why you don’t think you want to come back to school again. Write it down. Trust me, it is therapeutic.

11. A deaf ear. Soon, you will get used to words like “No, you haven’t”, “How come you can’t”, and “This won’t”. You will be made to feel as if you were born stupid. Just learn to gulp your ego with everything that goes down the throat, take the advice you think is useful, and dispose the rest of it.

12. The ability to laugh at the unfair side of things. You will be made to do things that you consider unnecessary and catering more to the whims of your advisor. You will be told things where you would want to scream back, “No, this is not the way it is”. But remember to choose your battles and fight those you think you can win. You need those approval signatures at the end of the day, and if that means working for an extra few weeks or repeating some experiments or rewriting entire segments, you might still want to get it done with and never look back again. Handle it with humor, handle it with wit, handle it with sarcasm, whatever it takes to motivate you to GET IT DONE ! Remember, there are far better things in life waiting for you once you are finished.

Like my acknowledgement reads, dripping with sarcasm,

“This thesis would have been finished long back without your positive input, interference or distractions- but wouldn’t have looked the same as it does today”.

If only I had the nerve to show it to her.


Monday, October 13, 2008

Bombay Time- The Review

I am finished reading my second novel written by Thrity Umrigar, and boy, what a novel. The story in itself is a montage of short stories, each chapter describing a different character. The complexity of human psyche and the influence of social circumstances are beautifully depicted through the characters. It took me a long time to finish it (all the more because I am a slow reader), but it was worth every page turned.

For people interested, this is a story of a small Parsi community living in Bombay, the way they have led their lives, their idiosyncrasies, and so on. This is a collection of stories of ordinary people, people who have basked in the glory and learnt to live with the sorrows. No spoilers, but you may like giving this a try.

This is her second book I have read (review of first book is here), and though it is great to know about a community whose only representation for me has been a Parsi man wearing his traditional clothes standing amongst a Hindu priest, a Muslim, and a Sikh with the caption “We are Indians” in my social studies book, the general trend of always reading about the Parsi community can sometimes get a little monotonous. When you like the way someone writes, especially with all the vivid descriptions and the depth and detail that is so very typical of the writer, you don’t always want to read about a particular theme of writing. I would definitely like to explore some of the writer’s non-Parsi writings in the future.

If you have recently read a book you liked, do let me know. This is how we build our database and knowledge of books. Or anything for that matter.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Be-car Ki Baq-Baq

Seldom have I met a student completely happy with her advisor, who doesn’t feel that her advisor has been unfair at some point of time. Every one of us have been there when we felt that our advisor was unnecessarily demanding, pushing and pressurizing, setting deadlines too ambitious to meet, ignorant of the fact that school life was about some work and some play, never mind the proportion of each. Be assured that I have felt the same way too. I have had an advisor who sets last moment deadlines, is capable of completely changing the focus of a project, and is not very famous for her communication skills with me. In short, she has never been “fair” and “lovely” to me. But this is not a rant post about the “100 different reasons why your advisor sucks”. There have been times when I have reached that stage where I wanted to be done with school and never see my advisor again, never mind the sagacity of this statement. I have told myself – “Three more months and I will be done. Two. One.”

I have been in one of those moods of late. Blogging has suffered, and I have not felt motivated enough to write. You don’t want to spend days writing and framing ideas and making posters and presentations and then writing again, and then your advisor disapproving stuff and you editing and writing again. You get the picture, right? Depressed. Irritated. Highly unmotivated.

It is at this time that I noticed my advisor giving me rides back home. Earlier it used to be when we were meeting deadlines and had stayed back in the lab late enough to decide between walking home or not going home at all. My advisor has happily dropped me home at 12 in the morning, asking me to be on time the next day in the lab. However I was clueless about why she would volunteer dropping me home at 6 in the evening these days. It happened the first day. The second day. And it kept happening. I often wanted to tell her that I was fine taking the bus home, that I looked forward to meeting that good looking man with spikes in the bus on his way back from office, but she was relentless to the extent that I started to doubt if she was going to change the focus of the project again and was doing the kind deed out of guilt.

Curious about her sudden philanthropic gesture, I finally asked her indirectly if the detour and the traffic snarl back home doesn’t inconvenience her. To which she surprised me, like she always does. She was quick to answer that writing a thesis is a very difficult time, frustrating and energy consuming, and she wanted me to feel supported during this process. She mentioned that it’s a stressful phase to go through, and she was doing her bit in making me feel connected and supported. Even if that meant taking a 30 minute detour and dropping me home so that I didn’t have to wait for the bus at the end of the day.

Needless to say, I was flabbergasted, unable to understand why I did not see the sensitive side of her before. I know she is still going to kick my ass and set unnecessary deadlines and put my peace of mind in jeopardy. But I am glad that she realizes the stress she puts me through, and is willing to meet me halfway – to the parking lot from where she can take her car and drop me home.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Talk Less Walk More

Happens to be an incorrect statement. I'll tell you why. I've grown up reading these lines neatly written on classroom walls and being recited in school assemblies again and again. And I tried implementing it as well. Constantly worried over my ever-increasing girth, thanks to the sweet n sugary lifestyle the U.S. has to offer, I have been meaning to start walking again. Walking it had to be, since trying to run and ending up huffing and puffing like a puppy with its tongue hanging out was not going to add much to my coolness factor. I mean, look at the people around me, who can walk for miles and during anytime of the day. Their designer sportswear, well toned muscles, and single-minded determination always put me to shame. Here I was adding pounds to myself by the day, waiting for an auspicious occasion when I could start working out. Anyway, the episode about my unsuccessful attempts of getting back in shape is better ranted on another day.

So I discovered this lake with a surrounding trail, a lovely place to spend time, walk, and work out. Soon I convinced another man-friend to partner me. I don't think I have ever done anything ambitious without some aid, and though I was not really banking on the testosterone-proximity to fuel my incentives of shaping myself up, I thought I could do with some company. My man-friend agreed, and we were soon on the paved hall-of-fame pathway where several brawny men, sexy figured women, their puppies, and other lesser mortals have jogged and walked and huffed and puffed before us. This of course happened to us a couple of months ago.

I never really did finish one whole lap, despite my teeth-gritting efforts. I tried on several occasions to walk the whole length of the lake, but halfway through the process, I would be out of breath, bored, suffer from disturbing bowel movements, be on the verge of a blackout, and would have to stop and retract. My man-friend was soon lost amidst the volley of other friends who had been promised company during rigorous gymming or working out session from me, with unfulfilled promises and lost friendship. The lake trail had just seemed too long for me to complete one lap of walk without running into considerable risk of sunstrokes, hormonal dysfunction, or nervous breakdowns. Never again did I return to the lake with my jogging gear, running shoes, or my man-friend.

A few days back, I get an email from a woman friend for a brief reunion and an evening spent catching up. The venue soon turned out to be the same lake. So we meet there after months, amidst the same joggers, skaters, and their pets, who must have hopefully forgotten me by now. My friend suggested a brief walk by the water, and even before we know, we start to discuss about everything under the sun. We spent a short time discussing international politics and game theory, but soon the discussion shifted to more girly issues plaguing the world, like clothes and shoes, perfumes and lingerie, waistlines and the ever-scaling hemlines, men and the women in these men’s lives, dates and crushes, cheesy soaps and food channels, about pedicures and cantankerous women friends and men for whom we still sigh like a furnace even after we are decades past the teenage. And even before we ran out of topics of discussion, I had completed my first ever round of walking around the lake.

There were no concerns of physical unfitness, lack of incentive, or lethargy the first time I had tried walking with my man-friend. It’s just that my man-friend turned out to be more focused, and did not give me enough verbal stimulation and girly topics to rant and rave about while we were burning calories. So the next time I am hiking the neighborhood hill, I know whom to go with now. And yeah, the saying henceforth should be talk more walk more. Or better still, talk girly, walk more.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

2 Years Of US

This week I complete 2 years of my stay in the US. It’s amazing how so much has happened over the last 2 years. I had landed here in the middle of the night, all ready to fall apart. My initial few memories of the US were long winding freeway roads, and buildings and flyovers that looked all brown and grey in the darkness. And now that I look at my own pictures 2 years back, my mood turns different shades of grey. It is amazing how thin and young and naïve I looked then. These 2 years I haven’t visited home even once, and my parents already think I am one of those who fly away never wanting to return again.

Looking back, I think I have had a good 2 years. I visited 10 out of 50 states, got to see a lot of new places one would mostly see in Discovery channels or Yash Chopra movies, collected dozens of fridge magnets, made many friends, put on pounds and lost my original shape, and acquired experiences of all kinds. I finally tasted sushi and saw the Statue of Liberty, visited Stanford and went to the first night club, wrote my first scientific paper and got my first paycheck in dollars. I’ll never know how my life would have been had I stayed back, but I don’t think I want to know. I made my own choices and have stuck to them so far. Regarding achievements, that too shall happen soon. My conviction is that more scientific papers would be written and more conferences attended, more magnets would be collected till I am forced to buy a bigger fridge, and more things would be discovered in life. But this shall remain a lesson forever, that time and age and experience makes you more independent and accountable for your actions, and that if there is that little voice in you that tells you to leave the safer shores and your comfort zone and set for an unknown journey, then despite these clichéd lines, NOW is the time to sail towards the unknown.

It’s been a great country to live in, and though I still miss my folks, the place I grew up in and the way of life I was used to, this is home now.


Monday, September 08, 2008

Humor Me

Someone asked me the other day about the kind of emotion I associate best with. I gave it quite some thought, and realized that humor is what suits me the best. Genre of humor- elements of wit, sarcasm, puns, satire, banter, irony, and wisecracks are what I like the best. Be it in my readings or in my writings, I love to get multiple meanings out of a word or phrase. I love to observe people and situations and look for humor even in the most challenging situations. There is this person inside me that loves to kibitz non-stop, with playful banters hurled at me and the people around me. Among the stuff I read, I love those that bring out a cruel, yet realistic portrayal of the nature of the humankind or that of society and circumstances. Even during dealing with personal crises, I have realized that finding the humor in the situation takes the load off it. Be it dealing with heartbreaks or dealing with abusive relationships, be it difficult employers or non-accommodating neighbors, there is only so much humor you can find in every situation gone wrong, every bus missed when in hurry, every professing-undying-love man gone astray, every movie ill-directed, every science project gone haywire, every nosy neighbor asking you about your love life, every moment spent in uncertainty, and every rejection faced in life. Like they say, it’s easier to be serious, but difficult to be humorous. Needless to say, a good sense of humor is a big turn on, not the cheesy, slapstick, eager-to-impress kind, but the one that reflects depth of thoughts and observation. It makes dealing with hardships easier. It is therapeutic. Word play and turning words to ones advantage is the weapon of the intelligent and the cogent. So the next time you read a post making fun of people, situations, or even me, you know where I am coming from.

Let me know the next time you read a book, see a movie, or face a situation that has my kind of humor in it.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Holiday Homework

Remember the 2 month long summer holidays when the teachers wouldn’t let us be in peace? On the last day of the school, they would write documentaries on the blackboard that we were expected to dutifully copy in our school diaries, and then more dutifully and diligently complete in the next two months. Yes, I am talking about holiday homework, the assignments we were supposed to do amidst swinging from the trees with cousins visiting their maternal grandparents, and between eating mangoes during breakfast, lunch, and dinner? The teachers themselves would heave a sigh of relief because for the next two months, there would be no caning students, correcting piles of copies, and screaming at the miscreants who did not do their homework on time or confused themselves with the spelling of their and there. However, the poor students were expected to study everyday during holidays, the holiday homework ranging from one page of cursive handwriting daily, practicing five arithmetic sums everyday, doing a social studies project on the diverse food crops grown in India, and copying experimental diagrams of photosynthesis and refraction phenomenon from the science text books. Summer holidays were like being offered a huge bowl of yummy, deep brown fried gulab jamuns with one tiny fly dead and sticky on the sugar syrup of one of the janums. You could accept the huge bowl and eat as much as you like on the condition that you identified the fly on the correct jamun, clicked your fingers hard to get rid of the gooey mush that was once a fly, and devour the rest of the gulab jamuns without complaining. Summer holidays were meant to be for fun, for playing with neighbors and cousins without having to look at the clock, for not being in the strict schedule of coming back home at 6pm, washing the mud off your hand and feet, and start doing sums on algebra while mom shoved a huge glass of steaming milk with Horlicks under your nose. Most teachers tend to forget that they too were children once, or rather, they do remember that they were children once, remember vividly what sadists their own teachers had been and how they had spent their childhood doing holiday homework every summer, and thus had to pass the baton onto the next generation. I haven’t met a single teacher who would come to class on the last day before vacation started and would write something like this on the blackboard- “No holiday homework for you children ! Enjoy your summer and your childhood while it lasts.” Even the art and craft teacher had to give us homework of sticking ice cream spoons and making figures out of them, most of which the parents finished before the day school reopened.

Anyway, I just realized that it has been more than a decade since I was subjected to the torture of doing holiday homework during the summer vacations. So in order to relive those childhood days, I decided to think of some homework, and then to assign that to myself on the last day of the summer quarter, before the summer break started. So I went up to my newly acquired possession, my whiteboard looking all clean and pristine, and pretended as if I was the teacher. I took one of the marker pens and wrote this-

Holiday Homework- Summer of 2008

Go to the IMDB website.

Print the names of the top 250 movies, and then another list of top 50 movies based on genre (comedy, romance, drama, horror, etc.)

Go to the university website for the library page.

Look for the available dvds of the movies acquired from the list.

Place an order for the movies.

Watch them.

Every time you finish a movie, check off the movie’s name in the list.

Lot studied and miles already walked on the path of being an intellectual. Its summer time, and it is movie time now. Correction, it is fun time now, be it in whatever way.

Reliving the homework-free childhood I never really lived.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Scribble Scrabble

I am a huge supporter of the concept of birthday gifts. I love the idea of personally choosing something for someone knowing his/her tastes, wrapping it all up in colorful paper, and then watching the birthday person excitedly ripping open the box to discover the gift. Why others, I often give myself a birthday gift. For me, gifts are more utilitarian than anything else. So I asked myself what I wanted this year. Soft toys, I was too old for while clothes, not unless I was shifting to a place with a bigger closet. Cosmetics don’t fascinate me and books, I have plenty. However, this year, I gifted myself the perfect thing I have been looking for a while now.

The day before my birthday, I got myself a pristine white board, 4ft by 3 ft in dimension with an eraser and 5 different colors of marker pens. It was a great deal that was bought home amidst much fanfare, and soon it was attached to the wall in my bedroom. Ever since that day I have been happily scribbling on the walls. I make grocery lists, I make lists of the things I love and the things I hate, lists of movies I have seen and the movies I want to see. Any random thought that crosses my mind is on the board before I forget it. What more, I now strategize situations by drawing a flowchart. It is amazing how problem solving takes a different dimension once you have written it all out in front of you. At home, I am often seen humming to myself and happily scribbling ideas on the board. Under different circumstances, I would have liked to acknowledge that the ideas scribbled on the board puts me on the same pedestal of great scientists like Einstein and Newton, whose home walls were probably scribbled with complex mathematical equations, integration squiggles, and geometric diagrams. But my board endures simpler things like grocery lists and the list of bills I need to pay by the end of the month.

It doesn’t matter whether you write complex equations or make grocery lists on the board. It doesn’t matter whether you want to portray yourself as a great scientist in the making, or simply a confused person with scrambled up thoughts on the board. Just the concept of having a space to scribble uninhibitedly without being noticed or judged feels amazing. Do try it !


Monday, August 18, 2008

Write Aid

The summer quarter being the least demanding one at school, people do all sorts of things here. Some pack their bags and go home, while some take a break and tour around the world. Some take on internships in California and treble their income while some choose to chill out and do nothing at all. I wish I had the luxury to do at least one of these, but as usual I have been working my ass off, finishing off my coursework and catering to the whims and fancy of my adviser and yada yada yada. So I decided that I would do one little thing for myself in the summer, something I really like to do, kind of a self-treat for my hard work. I started to browse through the websites to see what was happening around me, and that was when I found the perfect treat for myself.

I joined a fiction writing class. It wasn’t that I had ample time or my wallet was overflowing with cash. But I thought the happiness I’d get by joining this class I wouldn’t find the same happiness keeping 100 dollars in my bag and opening the bag and finding the money there every day. So for the last one month, I go to these classes, set a time frame when I will not think about work and just learn what I really like to learn. I have borrowed a lot of fiction writing books from the library, and though I know I don’t have enough time to finish off all the books this summer, the joy of possessing them far outweighs the joy of reading through all of them. I am in a small group that meets somewhat infrequently to share our stories. And though I barely have things to share most of the time, I like to sit with them or think about their ideas later on. With my schedule, blogging is the only writing time I can offer myself right now. But the course has still been worthwhile, just because I had wanted to do this for a while now, and more importantly, there are no judgmental remarks or predetermined pressure to perform. Sometimes with the stressful life and all that, we all need to take a break and spend some time doing things on our own, things we love. And now that I look back, despite the work load and everything, I think I’ve had a nicer summer.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Happiness Index In Shopping Malls

Shopping is a necessary evil. Necessary, you know why, but evil, I’ll tell you why. I was at the mall yesterday, trying to buy formal clothes for my defense, when I made an interesting observation. The mall was filled with pictures and life-size cutouts of models who belonged to a different planet altogether. These models had sparkly white teeth and the most flawless smiles. They wore clothes that seemed to have been stitched on their bodies from their naked scratch to fit to perfection. They had their hair in the most suitable of styles, combed in just the way it should be. They had the best of figures, the perfect six packs and abs, as if they spent their entire days running on treadmills and lifting weights, without a hint of tiredness on their faces, of sweat or signs of fatigue. I looked at their figures, then looked at myself in the mirror, and thought- May no man ever want me if I don’t have a figure like that. They lived in the perfect houses, with not a stain on the walls. The orange juice they drank looked delicious. The cushions and the couches and the bedspreads looked all right. They smiled as if the world revolved around them and whatever product they were trying to sell. The women did not have wrinkles or dark circles under their eyes. They did not have any marks or blemishes on their skins, even if due to a childhood bicycling accident. They had happiness and joy written all over their faces. They wore the best of clothes, carried the best of accessories, and always knew what would go with what. None of them had birthmarks or flabby thighs, or bore the evidence of puppy fat or stretch marks under their skin. Everyone seemed so happy, as if they have never known what it means to cry and to feel sad and sorry and upset. The lady, who poses for a pair of shoes, focuses on a particular spot on the wall, smiling into nowhere, and had you not recognized the name of the company, you wouldn’t know if she was trying to sell us shoes or her happiness at owning those shoes. I look at the two models acting as husband and wife posing for another product, and I know that they have never had fights and arguments. They probably start their day happily going to the gym, exchange love notes and romantic telephone calls all day in office, go for candlelit dinners every evening and go to sleep in each other’s arms without bickering or fighting. Even the background showed me a home where every single thing was in its place. It seems that these people have never had disappointments, breakups, or failures in life. They never scratch themselves or are caught digging their noses at their off-guard moments or burp. I imagine myself buying one of the products these people are selling, and wonder if I’ll start looking as happy and as glamorous as they do. But I’ve realized that compared to them, I am still poor and ugly and miserable and cross with life. Rarely have these products- perfumes, diamond jewelry, high heeled shoes and watches and whatever I’ve seen in a shopping mall has ever given me flawless smiles and luscious lips and a figure to die for.

My point is, if it is a surreal world out there, or the creative imagination of Utopia, I don’t know how it fits into my real world of ugliness, imperfections, miseries and heartbreaks. And if that is the case, I don’t see why I should be lured into a fantasy world to spend more and more money and want things half of which I will never need and none of which will put me into such a fantasy world.

By the way, I finally bought a formal skirt and jacket along with formal shoes and 2 pairs of stockings. I further got a formal pair of earrings and a handbag too. And all this at a whooping time frame of an hour and a half. All I did was focus on what I absolutely needed, and stayed away from these smiling faces alluring me to buy sexy lingerie and designer dresses that I know I am not going to need at the moment.


Saturday, August 09, 2008

First Buy

The other day, I was wondering about the first time I made a dollar transaction in the US. In other words, what was the first thing I bought in the US? It was the day after I had landed here. My first (and my longest) flight did not prepare me for the basic hazards of travelling in compressed, dry, and closed compartments for hours, and I had left my cosmetics behind for fear of unwarranted security harassment. I had not taken into account how cold and dry it would be inside the airplane, and how it could affect my lips. I had barely crossed Mumbai when my lips started to get dry, itch, and irritate. I tried taking sips of water to keep them moist, but that only increased my frequency of restroom visits, much to the chagrin of my fellow passengers. My lips just got worse with every passing hour. By the time I had landed here, I could barely smile at the friend who had come to pick me up, or at G (my host). My lips were sore and bleeding, and looked as if some monstrous insect from Africa had hatched out of the eggs inside my lips. The next day when I went to visit my department for the first time and introductions were made, I could only exchange hugs, but not smiles. It was then I knew why people talked about stiff upper lips.

Anyway, G decided to relieve me of my miseries of severely chapped and bleeding lips, and took me to the nearest Walgreens store. It was my first time in a store as well, and just the sheer variety and quantity of things neatly arranged in aisles amazed me. There were so many choices for something as simple as lip balm that I did not know what to choose.

“Hmm…. Seems like you will need quite some quantity”, G remarked at the sight of my battered lips. I spotted this big jar of petroleum jelly, debating whether to buy it when G read my mind and told me that store brands were cheaper. The jar alone weighed 368 grams, and I wondered if I would need that amount. $3.49 each, it said, or 2 for $5.

I had barely been in the US for 10 hours and before I knew it, the consumer bug had bitten me. It was the phenomenon of buying in bulk whether I needed that much or not, just because it came much cheaper. And right there, I fell into the trap. The first thing I bought in the US was 2 jars of petroleum jelly, costing me $5 and weighing 736 grams in all. “Good buy”- G had remarked.

It has been 2 years, and I am still struggling to finish off the first jar. I can’t get rid of it, not just for the sake of old memories, but for the fact that there is so much of it all remaining to be used. And every time I go to a shop and see cute little chapsticks and lip balms of different flavors, I resist the temptation to buy them, just because I want to finish off these monstrous sized things first. It’s no longer a matter of wasting something worth 5 bucks, it is a matter of wasting half a kilo of petroleum jelly.

My first buy in dollars- 750 grams worth petroleum jelly ! God knows what I was thinking.


Friday, August 08, 2008

White Space

I gifted myself a white board on my birthday- a pristine white space measuring 4 feet by 3 feet. I even threw in five marker pens of different colors and an eraser. And I have never been happier. For ever since, I have been scribbling and scribbling. Now, I have someplace to scribble my thoughts, my anguish, my dreams, my little achievements, and my confusions, make lists- grocery lists, hate lists, to-do lists, lists of blogs to write, movies to watch, even a list of my dreams. It is amazing how simple things look when you put them down in writing. Every day after I am back from work, I am all enthused, scribbling whatever comes to my mind. It is therapeutic. It helps me in cogent thinking. It brings me innate happiness. And all this at a very affordable price. I am glad that after two damaged shipments from an online shopping website, all returned, I finally found more than what I wanted in one of the offices of downtown. And the writer in me is scribbling ever since. I just wish a little bit of patience and wait gave me everything that I wished for thus.

It is amazing how little things in life bring you such great joy. Even a little rectangle of white space that symbolizes my personal space, creativity, and freedom of thoughts.


The Space Between Us- Review

I am again at the completion of another great book. I call it great for various reasons. Do you know how I heard of this book? My physiotherapist remarked one fine morning how everyone was so rich in India. Not knowing what she meant, I looked confused. She remarked that everyone in India could afford maids, something she found fascinating. She told me that she was recently reading this book that explored the relationship of a maid with her mistress, and that was enough to kindle my interest. Fortunately, a copy of the book was available at the library. And ever since, I have found a reason to come home early, or not to whine about long distance bus rides.

This is a story unique in many ways. First, it explores the dynamics of a poor, old maid with her mistress, the bonding they share, and the reminder of the fact that although belonging to starkly different strata of the society, their lives were similar in many aspects. Relationship abuse, mistrust created by blood relations, learning to live in acceptance (or denial), and the remarkable ability to put the past beyond oneself and move on. Each of their lives amazed the other- Sera, the rich Parsi woman, and Bhima, her maid servant. The plot is unique, and so is the style of writing. It is not a feminist book where the reader is put into a set of woven circumstances that makes them end up being misandrists (man haters). It is a book about the struggle to keep up with human relationships, and the way in which bonding becomes bondage.

I liked the plot. And I liked the style of writing- detailed, observant, with a lot of comparisons and adjectives, idioms and metaphors. It is a nice peep into the world of Parsis, the little words they use (like "deekra"), the things they eat, their ways of life, even the common names they have (like Dinaz). If you read at the pace that I do, it is definitely a long novel. But it is a great read nevertheless.

The ending disappointed me a bit, not because it was badly written, but because I was expecting a different ending. However, after putting some thought into it, I realized that it was the most practical ending possible under the circumstances. It’s just that I was wrongly expecting a nice, romantic, happy fairy tale ending to it. But the end is as real as the real world is, beautifully depicting human emotions and how they guide us into action. Nothing more to be said, go find a copy and read it for yourself, I’m sure you will like it. By the way, I am wondering- is any of my blog reader Parsi?

The space between us- by Thrity Umrigar


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Home Truths

Of the many obsessions I am blessed with, this is one of them. I know, the word shopping is usually associated with women, and as a decently earning woman of the capitalistic society, one would expect me to be involved in frequent shopping sprees. But I associate shopping for dresses, jewelry, perfumes, etc. with oodles of indecision and discomfort, not quite interested in spending all the time and energy deciding what to buy, and then what to buy next that goes with the first one, and so on. Seems weird, but I once went shopping with 3 other men, and when we were done, all 3 emerged with packets and bags in both hands while all I carried was a soda can in my hand. In fact mornings are bad times for me because I might as well sleep the few minutes I spend deciding on what to wear for the day. Frankly I could wear my pair of jeans and a tee shirt for days, but then the questioning glances I get are disconcerting, to say the least. Waiting for the bus, I have envied doctors who can prance around in their scrubs and not worry about what they were wearing underneath. I am one of those people who support the concept of uniforms, just because it requires too much thought and effort to be un-uniform, to decide what to wear each day, and then decide on the accessories, the shoes, the bags, the nail polish, and the ear rings that go with it. But then again, I digress here.

I am into a different kind of shopping, a kind that barely requires any money. I am addicted to this site craigslist.org to the extent that I spent quite some time everyday browsing through stuff there. My obsession in particular lies in looking for houses and apartments, although I am very well settled in my current coordinates and do not wish to subject myself to the hassles of changing houses unless I am moving out of the city. So what? It is so much fun looking at the different houses on rent, the locations they are in, their rent, the lighting, the doors and windows, the décor. I derive an immense amount of vicarious pleasure going through the house ads, wishing I lived by the lake or lived in that house overlooking downtown. Well wishers have often commented on the lunacy of the situation. But then, if people can spend hours in a shop looking for a particular shade of orange they are rarely going to wear, what is the big deal about seeing houses I won’t live in? I think this habit stems back from childhood when those expensive, glossy paged Inside Outside magazines dad brought home featured the homes of the affluent. While owning and maintaining a home like that needed time, money, taste, and a lot of other things, sifting through them required almost nothing. And now that is what I do, sift through these homes in the city just for kicks. One good thing about this is that I have a fairly good idea about the cost of renting apartments- studios, one or multi bedrooms, and am aware of the nuances that will make you pay extra- an apartment close to the freeway, an apartment overlooking the bay, and stuff like that. I cannot comfortably get into discussions with people regarding the people running for presidential candidacy, but I can confidently act as a home finding consultant in reasonably any part of the city.

Weird habit, I know, but a pleasurable 30 minutes for me everyday nonetheless.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Body Of Knowledge

I experience what I think as, for lack of a better word, an obsession about knowing my body inside out. And I am not talking about the basic details like the number of bones that help me walk or keeping track of the number of milk teeth that went missing due to dental carries. I am referring to the very minuscule and the not so important details, like the individual functioning of my cranial nerves, my tactile skills, the percentage by which my lungs decrease in capacity every time I exert myself, or the angle that my tibia bone makes with the tarsal bones.

I think this obsession has taken wings ever since I got into the habit of roaming aimlessly around the corridors of my department. For I keep running into flyers describing weird studies where they need volunteers. And instead of bullshitting that I participate in these studies because they give me free goodies or pocket money, or because I have the cause of furthering science and research as a noble interest, let me tell you the truth. I volunteer for these studies because I am very keen to know about those silly and unnecessary details of my body.

Like yesterday I found out that I belong to the 20% category of humans whose middle finger will not twitch even if you passed electricity through it. Now what was that supposed to mean? I read about a study where people tie you up to a chair (okay, not really) put electrodes around your hand, and pass electricity through your hands to see your fingers twitch and thereby measure muscle fatigue. Now any sane, rational human being would have stayed miles away from this study. But like the usual me, I had to express keen interest in the noble cause of furthering science and research, and had to volunteer. The very next moment, I see a heavyset, dark man sticking electrodes around my hands. And instead of screaming murder and running away, I find myself staring with fascination into my fingers to see them twitch. Ironically, they kept increasing the current till every finger in my hand was twitching. But this heavy middle finger totally refused to move even a nanometer. Ultimately, I was discarded from the study. But at least I know now that I belong to those 1 in 5 people who cannot make a career out of being a middle finger twitching volunteer.

This is not an isolated incident of craziness. While people tell me that they love their bodies and thus keep themselves away from all these weird studies, I have participated in things like this before. There was a study where all I had to do was blow air out of my lungs as fast and as deep as I could. They were measuring the forced expiratory volume of the lungs or something. So for one whole hour, I kept taking deep breaths and blowing myself out like a balloon every 3 minutes while they plotted how much my lung efficiency decreased over time. Don’t ask me what’s the big deal in that. Now I can add this useful piece of information in my resume, that my lungs had an average of a 10% reduction in blowing capacity after blowing out air for an hour or so. If nothing, I can even make a living out of selling balloons.

Then, I have let dentists pour water on my tooth to see how sensitive they are to change in temperature. I have participated in studies to find out what angle my feet bones make with the tibia. I have found out that one of my cranial nerves, called the vagus nerve is weak in nature, hence I might faint if I ever push too hard. I have learnt that there is something a little weird in my parasympathetic nervous system. And I have answered all kinds of weird interview questions for studies. I once remember how the lady asked me on the phone if I have been sexually active for the last 3 months for a study on caffeine intake and migraine that she was conducting. I proudly tell her that no, I am an Indian woman with oddles of cultural values and all that, and no, no alcohol, beef, or sex for me, thank you. The next moment, she tells me that I am not eligible for the study and hangs up. So much for celibacy !

I am sure you have your own little obsession stories, of things you like to do that would otherwise be considered inappropriate or unnecessary by most standards. And that is why even though we all have 206 bones and 12 cranial nerves and 33 vertebrae, we are all so different.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Dark (and soporific) (K)night

I write this post in a moment of great danger to the genre of idiosyncratic people like me, and as my friend Ali puts it, in a moment of great shame to mankind in general. He thinks that in performing the very act that makes me type this post, I bring utter shame, disgrace, and humiliation to humankind. It is a shame in the name of friendship, and the ritual of watching movies together that forms the basis of strong social ties. If movies can make friendship, movies can break friendship. If divorces were not restricted to disjoining two people tied by vows strictly marital in nature, we as friends would have been divorced and disjointed months ago. I marvel at the infallible spirit of mankind that thumps its tiny fists to protect its social instincts, and dictates that movies ought to be watched together, with close friends, amidst sipping cans of coke and munching pounds of buttered popcorn.

Ali knows I tried hard. He knows I gave it my best. He knows that as the darkness and the chill engulfed the large theatre, I tried my best to keep pace with him, and with the crowd, concentrating with greater dedication than I did while studying physics during the boards. I tried to cheer with the crowd, and clap with the crowd, and whistle with the crowd. But ensconced in the lap of luxury, the purr of the AC and the thick foam of a chair behind my behinds became too much for my soporific senses. I had come with the condition that there is a probability, God knows how un-minuscule, that I would fall asleep in the course of the movie. And that became a turning point in the history of mankind and cinema, when despite all my sincere and hard efforts, I fell asleep while watching The Dark Knight (TDK) in the movie theatre.

Sacrilege. Condemnation. Thus cries out every soul that reads this my readers. But history has witnessed it that no matter how good a movie is, there have definitely been moments, minutes, maybe seconds, even nanoseconds when I have fallen asleep. The reason? I go to see most movies at the end of a long day. My energy reserves start depleting, and even the excitement and the thrill of watching a great movie doesn’t suffice in charging my batteries. I cannot concentrate on something that lasts longer than 30 minutes, the situation made all the more worse by my comfortable surroundings. It’s not that I don’t like watching movies, and believe it or not, I have nothing personal against the movie makers. It’s just that the prospect of staring into an illuminated screen with a darkened background induces my soporific self to wake up. I have slept while watching great movies. I have lost so many friends who stopped asking me out for movie nights because the one time I went with them, I have had the nerve to ask them what transitioned between the hero in his days of sworn bachelorhood to the days when he posed for a family picture with his wife and 4 children ensued by the rolling of the names of the art director and the spot boys and other people I have no business knowing the names of when they realized that I have slept through most of the movie. It is an instinctive call, I try to justify myself. Fishes cannot travel in airplanes, no matter how much they love to see the view below from the window. A fish has to live in water and I have to sleep through a movie, no matter how Oscar-winning material it is. I have slept through Bourne Ultimatum. I have slept through Kung Fu Panda. Hell, I have even slept through Sleeping with the Enemy while my enemy-like friend kept darting furtive glances at me.

And thus I kept my record intact, sleeping through this one as well, amidst moments when I felt Ali elbowing me and nudging me to wake up and kicking me and blowing carbon dioxide into my ears and pulling my hair when nothing else seemed to work. But nothing really helped prop myself up despite the frantic kicking. Resigned, he had to be content with watching the movie on his own for a good 30 minutes. For no matter how much I try to feign interest, action movies do not interest me. I see no point of supernatural characters jumping out of high rise buildings or driving vehicles at the speed of light without risking a ticket from the cop or having to struggle for parking. I don’t identify these situations with my everyday life, where I jump out of the 10th floor balcony instead of taking the elevators, or don’t have a heart attack when I see half my face marred enough to delineate the muscles. Action movies aren’t my cup of tea. Sitting through movies aren’t my cup of tea. Hate me, get mad at me, elbow me, kick me, tickle my nostrils with the tip of your handkerchief, but the next time you tie me to your armpits during one of the movies again, I’ll snore aloud and wake up with a jolt to ask if you think the hero is from North Dakota.