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.