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 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.