Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mr. Paypal

Most of the times these days, I pay the price of unemployment. And sometimes, I do not pay the price of unemployment. Call it a social faux pas from a friend who didn’t mean bad. Let us call him Mr. Paypal.

It so happened that I was meeting this long lost friend, Mr. Paypal, for dinner. Conversation flowed smoothly (though uninterestingly) in between chomping food. Once we were done, the waiter promptly produced the check (or bill, whatever you say). Impulsively, I reached into my purse for my credit card. To which my friend rather said in a pitch a few degrees louder,

“Don’t even think of paying. Aren’t you unemployed? You need to save".

The sudden outburst definitely had a few desi heads turn in our direction, and me shifting rather uncomfortably. My initial reaction was to protest, not just at the act of paying for my meal, but also at the unfairness that Mr. Paypal has to scream out something so personal so loudly at a public dinner place so very crowded (and the crowd being desi made it worse). I was still able to pay for my meal, I wanted to protest. I did not.

I am sure my concerned friend didn’t mean to insult me or hurt my feelings. But it is funny how sometimes we vocalize things we would rather say in the mind. Aren’t we taught to not call a poor person poor, or a blind person blind? It is considered rude and insensitive, making fun of people’s miseries. On one hand, I was hurt and mildly offended at the (unintended) social faux pas. On the other hand, I agreed that Mr. Paypal was probably showing concern and was vocalizing something that was so obvious- that I should not be spending when I am not earning. It was an uncomfortable, yet a funny situation for sure. Surely he could have been more polished in his approach. Surely he could have kept his voice low. Or surely he could have paid for me and told me in addition that it was a pleasure to pay for my meals (though this is far from the truth).

It’s interesting how sometimes we blurt out the truth without malice, not realizing it could be a major faux pas. Thanks Mr. Paypal for the meal anyway. I know you didn’t mean anything bad.


Monday, December 28, 2009

In Black and White

I met this friend of mine recently, telling her how bored I felt at times, to which she said,

“With the time you have these days, why don’t you write a book”?

I laughed it off as usual, thinking she was kidding. Writing a few blogs once in a while is fine, but a book? Later that night, I got thinking about it. What if I could really use my time writing a book? Would that work? What would I write about?

For years, I believed that I would grow up to be a writer of romantic fiction. I had grown up reading so many Mills n Boon (still do actually once in a while) that I knew the moment I held the pen, words would keep flowing. I thought I could write the same old stuff I read about a tall, well-built Italian dude falling in love with a plain Jane spinster material where sparks would fly and there would be undeniable chemistry. A few years ago, I grew out of the ambition of being a romantic fiction writer.

Coming back to the point, what would I write about if I wrote a book? I could write an autobiography, but then I don’t think I have lived half my life. So if I was planning to write something in the next few years, an autobiography would have to wait.

Instead, I could write about my childhood, since I have lived it all. Like the novel “First darling of the morning”.

I could write about the cultural divide between 2 different countries. Surely living in India and then the US will provide me enough substance. Like the “Namesake”.

I could write about all my travel experiences, given that I travel a lot. Like the novel “The ghost of Che” I have been trying to read for a while.

I could write about the field of public health I specialize in, and everything I have learnt till now. Like Robin Cook concocts fiction in the medical field, I am sure I could concoct something.

I could write a guide book to taking the GRE and the TOEFL.

I could write a stress management book to deal with unemployment and the visa hassles associated with it.

I could write about my teaching experiences from India.

I could write about the idiosyncrasy of the western world and the eastern world.

I could write about the struggles of everyday life, of learning how to cook and drive. Of learning strange accents and dealing with strange people.

Surely ideas are flowing in, now that I think about it.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Weekdays and Weekends

It’s been a week of not going to office now. I somehow realize that the transition between weekdays and weekends is something for the working class in the US. In India, there was not much difference between the two, barring the fact that I went to school and later college in the weekdays, studying, and in weekends, I did the same at home. I will not even claim that weekends offered the luxury of sleeping late, given that I had math tuitions early in the morning. The teacher, in a bid to earn extra money, had scheduled classes at pretty weird hours of the day. Weekends also meant having more time to have meals at home, but that’s the extent to it.

When I worked in India, weekends did mean spending more time at home, but over time, it turned out to be boring. How much can one watch TV and entertain relatives at home? I would eagerly look forward to the Monday mornings when I could go to work again.

Things somewhat changed in the US. As a grad student, weekdays meant classes and weekends meant finishing homework, assignments, and studying for exams. There would be fewer people in the lab and you could spend the entire day without having to see the sun.

My really fun weekends started once I started to work. One of the things about transitioning from student life to work life meant I did not have to bring work home for the weekends. So while back in India father still went to office on Saturdays, I went on to do my own things here. Parties, shopping, dance clubs, hiking, anything not remotely related to work happened during the weekends. Work life demands a certain pattern of your attention where you have to be available 8 hours a day for 5 days, doing whatever you are asked to do (in contrast to research life where you did your own thing). It was good in a way (less responsibility, less exercising the mind) but things often got difficult by Wednesdays. Monday morning I would somehow drag myself to office. Tuesdays acceptance had set in and I knew another 4 backbreaking work days were ahead. Wednesdays often meant middle of the week. People would put up status messages like “After Mondays and Tuesdays, even the week says WTF” (WTF stands for WTF and also the other 3 days of the week). Thursdays were spent chanting “one more day, yes I can do it, one more day”. Fridays breezed through because you knew the next 2 days were yours for whatever you wanted to do. The office would empty by 4-5pm (depending on summer or winter). People would put up fancy status messages on Facebook like “Can’t wait for the weekend”, “Thank God it’s Friday”, and so on.

I have never been busier on the weekends. This summer, I haven’t been home a single weekend. I was either traveling or learning to drive. Instead of feeling rested, I’d go to office Monday morning feeling more tired. Theoretically weekends were meant for sleeping late, but it never happened to me. Even during inclement weather, it was mostly partying and socializing. How I loved my weekends. Starting Sunday evening, depression and tiredness (aka Monday morning blues) would set in. The cycle went on for more than a year.

This week has been disorienting, given that every day is a weekend now. Since the weather is not at its best self, given the rain and cold, I have been mostly indoors. It happened so many times I lost track of the day or the date. Even today, I did not realize it is Friday. I can totally see how the contrast between weekdays and weekends has faded for me and everyday seems like the same to me. I did read books, watch movies, hang out with friends and shopped, but I somehow felt like a bored wife of a rich man, directionless (the worse thing being neither a husband nor richness was in the picture). I frankly don’t miss my job, but miss being employed and engaged. I do have important assignments to finish, packing, selling, finishing deadlines, sorting my life, but am not really rushed. How I empathize with people who have lost their jobs.

Come tomorrow, the weekend will be yet another 2 days for me, of the same color and flavor, with nothing extraordinarily nice to look forward to. I pray that this is just a phase, just a break for me before I venture out into something more meaningful. These are the times I wish I could look into the future.


Deeper (in) Thought

So this hypothetical person I was talking about yesterday popped up in my thoughts again during meditation. This time the trigger was a little more severe, and I was sure that unreciprocated signals do not take wings and fly to the people we want them to go to. We ourselves need to take a proactive step in order to untangle this web of emotions. I had this clear vision in my mind, and this surge of energy when I wanted to just go and do all the things I had procrastinated for days, months, and years. Unsaid things, unshared things, things that needed to be taken care of.

But then in parallel thoughts, I realized that the little problems and issues of our lives are lost in the broader frame of time or the broader perspective of the universe. In a universe where we are dealing with changes like planets changing shape and stars burning till they burn out, our wishes and desires are but as insignificant as a little molecule. In a timeframe measured in millions of years, our years of life (and the lesser years of happiness) are lost somewhere without trace. I realized how I had ignored the two things I was passionate about for years- astronomy and human physiology. There was a time when I read all I could about these two areas, not to get good marks or knowledge, but to be lost in the depth of these subjects.

So during the next few hours of meditation, my thoughts were again lost in issues of unsaid or unreciprocated feelings, astronomy, and the universe. I don’t quite realize how I kept flipping from one topic to the other. I guess meditation screws around a lot with your thought processes. But at the end of it, I was back to my question. Is it safer to not reveal feelings and opinions in the fear of rejection or a lack of reciprocation?


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Deep (in) Thought

Meditation gives you a surge of freedom of expression. It frees the mind of the barriers created by the mind itself.

During 2 hours of meditation this evening, this is all I thought about. Is it okay to reveal your feelings to someone not knowing if it will be reciprocated, or rather knowing it will not be reciprocated? One might argue that if signals have not come from both the sides, the feeling is perhaps not mutual, and it is wise to keep mum. Perhaps anything more than friendship would complicate things, and one would be putting friendship at stake. But then, it is not comforting to die not knowing if things could have been different, or if the feelings were mutual but latent. It is like running the risk of opening a box, not knowing the contents inside. The box might as well be empty, or maybe filled with all the goodness.

Of course one could come out of the emotional bondage and analyze things for what they are. One could go back chronologically and look for signals, any signal, even a slight one. Maybe the feelings were never mutual. Maybe the feelings were mutual, but well hidden. Maybe the feelings were not there initially, but needed a trigger, a sign, an indication to develop. Which brings us back to the original problem. One will never know until one asks.

And like a computer program (BASIC language I learnt in school), like a cascade mechanism, these thoughts wrapped themselves around my head again and again all the time I meditated.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

For the lack of a better word

I remember an incident from childhood when I was 9 or 10 years old. The big boss was supposed to visit us home. He was THE man in father’s office, some sort of the regional manager. I don’t see it these days, but inviting colleagues, especially the ones from the higher hierarchy was something people including my father practiced. While the home was spruced up and the best food was cooked, I was supposed to look neat, smile, and speak when asked to. Not that I particularly cared or looked forward to these meetings, but these “big bosses” were usually from one of the IIMs or XLRI, and it intrigued me to find out what did it take to become like one of these luminaries. On a different note, years later, I find that brand names like IIM, IIT, or MIT has kinda lost its charm for me.

I was always the one in my family known for my better English. The big boss turned out to be a big, obese man in a suit who sweated a lot. While father went in the kitchen to help mother with the food, I was asked to sit and chitchat with the big boss. Soon father summoned me inside and told me in Bengali to ask the big boss if he was feeling hot and wanted more breeze.

Now this has happened to be over the years. A thought goes in my head but when I am supposed to vocalize it, I just blank out. I seriously don’t know how to put the words together to make a coherent sentence. I looked at the big boss, clueless how to ask him in English if he need more breeze. I helplessly looked at the ceiling fan above me, hoping that he would get the clue. Words like “Fan, more or less, on or off, you want more air?” formed in my head, but I knew it was wrong English. Fan, more or less? You want air? I would have laughed (without malice) if someone had asked me that. The seconds seemed like hours and I wished someone would come to my rescue. The big boss got confused with my confused look. Helplessly, I pointed my finger towards the ceiling fan and arched my eyebrows twice. Sign language for the big boss? It was the funniest thing I have done.

Right at this moment, father entered the room and asked if the big boss was feeling hot and if the ceiling fan was helping. Inside, I wanted to shrink into a molecule and vanish. I wondered what the big boss made of a tiny girl pointing to the fan and arching her eyebrows.

And this has happened to be so many times. Just when I am expected to talk, I grope for the right word, desperately trying to come up with an alternative phrase that is still correct English. Last week I wanted to ask my friend when his girlfriend is graduating. Can you imagine I could not think of a simple word like “graduating”. After babbling for seconds, I ended up asking when she is passing out. The moment I said it, I realized how wrong it sounded. To which my friends replied grimly, “Passing out is fainting. Do you mean when she is graduating?”

My embarrassment knew no bounds.


Monday, December 14, 2009


Friday was my last day in office. The weekend was terrible. I was all lachrymose and low spirited. Even the rain and cold didn’t help much. Someone gossiped to another person that my unemployment related status updates on Facebook are mostly to get some unnecessary sympathy and I should get a hold on myself. Like it usually happens in these girly conversations where the speaker always tries to extract a promise of “Don’t tell her”, word reached me sooner than expected. I was livid. Here I was dealing with this shit, and here I was being subjected to some serious moral policing.

Friday night I drove home alright, turned off the lights, and went to bed. Not that I could sleep. After hours of crying and sobbing, a friend was nice enough to take me out for dinner. I came home and cried more.

The same continued Saturday and Sunday. I was tired, grumpy, hungry, and irritable. I snapped a few times at a friend and rightfully got back some dose from him. It was a wrong idea to watch a depressing movie [Jail] and I ended up crying more. I don’t think I ate more than one meal.

Come Monday, I feel disoriented. I woke up at 7 as usual. Only there was no hurry this time. It’s amazing on how many occasions I have cursed myself about waking up early, dreamt of long vacations when I would sit idle at home and not do anything. When it happened, I was far from my dreamland.

I think this is my first day of unemployment ever in life. I mean bachelors led to masters, masters led to my teaching job, which led to US. US masters led to another job. I remember graduating on a Friday and joining the very next Monday. Lack of time was always the problem, never excess of it.

So I have spent all day cleaning my house, scrubbing, dusting, and moping. I realize there is no need to do that. But I need to keep my mind occupied, else I’d go crazy. Too many times the last few days I have been tempted to get my tickets for Florida. But traveling alone I realize is not my forte. I admire my friend who is just back from her 6 week long trip from India and Europe, all on her own. My childhood programming comes in my way of seeking bliss from traveling alone. “Eka eka jaabe na, bipod e pore jaabe” [Don’t venture out alone, you will be in trouble]. So said everyone I have ever known in my life.

I need to do something more meaningful. Try finding more jobs. Apply to more schools. Maybe get into a routine, develop a hobby, participate in an event. It’s insane to sit at home all day, staring at the grayness outside. I am not thinking straight enough to figure out what I should be doing to sort this state of inner chaos. But something has to be done soon.


Thursday, December 10, 2009


Tomorrow is my last day in office. I am on vacation till the end of December. After that, I go back to India.

Surely I didn’t plan it this way. I wished my job would extend a little longer. But 4 months of uncertainty was long enough. And I don’t have a legal and valid visa without a job. Hence, I am left with no other option but move back.

Years ago when I was having difficulty in adjusting to life in the US, I had told a friend that the dream of succeeding in the US is like a baby. I don’t know if my baby will live. I don’t know how long my dream will live. That was 3 years ago.

Sure it lived a while, long enough for me to complete my masters and work for a year. But the dream had to die.

Right now the impact of what is going to happen hasn’t hit me. Very mechanically, I am wrapping up my work in office, planning to sell of stuff, and looking at deals for India. But realization is going to hit soon. I might get into school again and come back. But that is all in the future, and the future frankly looks quite uncertain. Right now the only thing I know is that I am going to be very busy the next few weeks wrapping up my life here.
A chapter in my life will soon end.


Test of Patience

I would never know the reason why admissions committee across the US decided that a masters degree from a US institution doesn’t exempt one from taking the TOEFL. One needs to have a bachelors degree as well as a masters degree from a US institution to be exempted from the TOEFL. What this means is that 21 years of my study in English, including the 2 years of masters in the US was not enough to convince people that I am well versed in English. The TOEFL scores expire every 2 years. Thus I was supposed to take the exam again.

My own alma mater told me they would reject my application unless a new TOEFL score was presented. This was when they had a copy of my almost perfect TOEFL score from 2005.

It was not so much the difficulty of the exam as it was the hassle of taking it again.

First, I was surprised to find that they had increased the fee to $170. Now that is a LOT of money to prove that you can understand English. Second, I didn’t find a single available date in my city for the next 4 months. This meant I had to drive to the nearest city that had an earlier date. The earlier date again turned out to be a 2 month wait. And the nearest city I could take it was in the neighboring state of Oregon, almost 200 miles or a 3 hour drive away. And the only time slot available was 7:30 in the morning.

You get the picture, right?

It wasn’t a test of my English. It was a test of my patience.

The pattern of the test was quite different from what I remembered the last time. First, there were now four sections instead of 3 – comprehension, listening, speaking, and writing. Second, the test seemed lengthier than it used to be. They gave me 5 passages in the comprehension alone, with 14 questions each. That sums up to 70 questions. The listening section had 3 passages with 17 questions each. That was 51 questions already. The speaking test was a new addition and had 6 passages. The writing section had 2 tasks, compared to the last time when there was 1. Difficulty-wise I don’t know, but more than that, it was an exhausting, five hour long exam. It started at 7:30 am and dragged until after noon.

And then they gave me two choices. Do you want to accept your score? Do you want to reject your score?
With a thudding heart, I clicked on the ACCEPT button.

Are you sure? It next asked me.

YES YES YES … I wanted to scream. I clicked on the YES button again.

Congratulations. You have successfully completed the test. Scores will be sent in 3 weeks.
What the …….

This isn’t a test of my English. This is a test of my patience.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

“Friend”ly Distinction

Today when so many people we barely know are “friends” on our social networking sites, I am reminded of an episode long time ago. I think I was in class 4 or 5. I knew a girl in my class who I rarely interacted with. She had her own set of friends, belonged to a different state, spoke a different language, and had nothing in common with me. We sat in opposite corners of the classroom. She was short and I was tall, and thus never even stood close to each other in those queues we made during the assembly. The only time I heard her name and her voice was when the teacher took the class attendance every morning and I heard her “present ma’am”.

It so happened that my father happened to know her father, which we discovered accidentally. My father had to go meet her father for some work and asked me if I would like to tag along and visit my friend. I was not very excited at the thought of it and hence decided to stay home.

The rest of the story, we heard from my father. He was at their place when my friend entered to say hi. My father smiled and asked her if she knew he was her school friend’s father. To which she smiled and said yes, and corrected my father saying “Although she is not a friend, she is a classmate”.

My father was very intrigued with the wisdom of a 11 year old. When I heard this, I was angry at first, but later realized that what she said was not to demean or insult me, she just spoke the truth. We must have barely spoken 3 times in school, sat at different corners, never shared or food, never hung out with the same set of friends, and had nothing in common.

Years later, I still appreciate the wisdom of what she said. We use the word “friend” in very general terms, referring to anyone we meet in the train, work with, go to school with, are neighbors with, or even study in the same class with. You go to a class with classmates, go to work with colleagues, and so on. Friend cannot be a generalized word used to describe classmates, colleagues, or contacts. Someone who is not a friend doesn’t necessarily have to be an enemy. But not everyone you are civil to and in good terms with is a friend.

On the same note, it would be interesting to have categories like classmates, colleagues, contacts, neighbors, relatives, etc. on these social networking sites. True, not everyone is a friend.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The conversation I needed

It’s been more than 2 months and I am still looking for a job. It’s been frustrating, scary, and disappointing. The fact that I live alone in a huge house only added to my depression. Unexplainable, but I have had mood swings. I have cried myself to sleep. I have refused to answer phone calls from friends. I have snapped at friends when I need not have. I have tried to explain to myself that it is just a phase that shall pass. I have tried taking care of myself, almost as if I was another person taking care of me. My innards have experienced every raw emotion- pain, fear, agony, numbness, rejection, and more. I have tried to hold on and keep moving.

At some point, I decided not to give up, but apply to school again. One of the things I needed to do was to call my ex-colleague and school principal to request for recommendation letters. The first call never went through, and the second had so much background noise that nothing could be heard. It was the familiar noise of children in the school screaming. How I missed my other life back in Kolkata.

When the call finally went through, we talked for a long time. I told her how lost I felt here, how disoriented and depressed I was, unwanted in my job. I was amazed at how I had vocalized my fears for the first time, and that too to a person living half way across the globe with who I had shared a very formal and professional relationship.

“You were a very good teacher, and I know you will do well. You will find a job. And even if you don’t, come back. You will always have your job ready for you back here”.

These must have been the magic words I needed to hear, some kind of positive reinforcement, someone telling me I was good enough and more, that I am capable and worthy. Those were the magic words I had least expected from her. After that, I got a strength I did not have before but so very needed it.

I decided not to look back. I decided to apply to schools. If I had done it once, I can do it again. I still live on my own and feel depressed at times. Who wouldn’t? But with that, I feel a strength, a confidence from the knowledge that not all doors are closed for me. It’s amazing how a little bit of acceptance does wonders, and how strength and encouragement comes from the least expected places.


Friday, November 13, 2009

Driving Dynamics

They pass you with speed, they change lanes in front of you without their indicators on. They honk when you slow down a bit, as if they need to catch the train to Mars in 5 minutes. They strum impatiently on their wheels as they wait at the traffic lights. The moment you flash your indicators for changing lanes, they speed up and drive past you. And then they wait for you to get into the lane while they slow down. They signal a thank you with their hands when you let them into their lane. They let you pass, they let you change lanes, and they slow down till you pick up speed. There are all kinds of people you encounter while driving. Studying the dynamics of human behavior while you drive is amazing. You don’t see any of these drivers, but just the way they drive, speed up, slow down, give you (or don’t give you) space can say so much about people. When I didn’t know how to drive, I never noticed these things. We were on our way to Philadelphia when my cousin remarked, “See this guy over there is about to change lanes and come in front of us”. Within seconds, he had done the same. The way the car in front of us wavered slightly told my cousin that the driver is indecisive as to which lane he should drive in. And then there are those stereotypes as to the person driving extremely slowly and blocking the other cars right during rush hours is either an old person, a woman, or a person from our neighboring country in the north (I did not make these stereotypes). The person making last moment, rash turns is definitely a woman, an old woman, or an old woman from that same neighboring country. Though I do not like to stereotype, it turns out to be true most of the time.

Once you are a little comfortable driving, you start to notice these dynamics of human interaction with each other. You can be categorized mean, close minded, or rash depending on whether you let others pass, slow down for others, or drive at your own whims and fancies. And what am I, if you are wondering, I would say I am kind to people most of the time, letting them pass, change lanes, or slow down without bullying them. The only time I get my kicks not letting people merge into my lane is when single drivers have been driving in a carpool lane unlawfully and desperately try to merge in after spotting a cop car ahead.


Monday, November 02, 2009

Who moved my chicken again??

Part 1: Here
Part 2: It so happened that the office had organized a fall potluck. In case your wondering eyebrows are arched as to what I am still doing in office, let me explain. My boss agreed that I get to stay as long as this project I was working on is active, and then basically they show me the bye bye flag. So as of today, I am still going to office and praying that the project takes forever to complete.

As a part of the office team, I was expected to contribute to the potluck. On a side not, I couldn’t hate anything more than an American potluck in our office. First, most people bring the kind of meat that I wouldn’t even touch- beef, pork, ham, turkey. It’s not religious, it’s just a psychological thing that I have not been able to bring myself to eat any kind of meat I did not eat as a kid. And then, I am still not used to eat salad, cheese, tortilla chips and dip for a main meal like lunch. Needless to say, in most office potlucks, I end up eating what I have cooked myself.

So this time they asked me to make something Indian. Something spicy and flavorful, just like the restaurants here, they told me. I didn’t have much time, hence decided to make the simple “murgir jhol” that’s such an integral part of a Bengali lunch on a lazy Sunday. It’s basically the yellow curried chicken that takes minimum effort to make, marinating chicken in yoghurt, frying onions, tomato, ginger and garlic, and then throwing everything in and cooking it together.

It was an instant hit. Everyone hogged in it, shedding tears, thanks to the great spice tolerance. It so happened that I got 2 boxes full of the curry, not knowing how many people I was cooking for. At the end of it, they had emptied one box, and the other one, or rather, 50% of the chicken was still there.

My colleague remarked again and again how wonderful the curry tasted and how her husband and the entire family loved Indian food. Though I was planning to hog on my chicken for the next week, my Indian values intervened and I offered that she take some chicken from Box 2 for her family. Readers, “some chicken” was the operative word here.

I worked till late and on my way back, entered the office kitchen to pick up my dabba. No prizes for guessing why I am writing about it. My dabba was gone. My 7 days of chicken ration was gone.

I was bewildered. My emotions ranged from confusion to anger to hurt. I could not imagine looting the whole dabba when offered “some chicken”. It seemed my fault that I had asked her to take some, instead of me sizing out her portion. I mean I could not make heads and tails out of it, as to why someone would leave no trace of almost 1.5 kg chicken. It’s not that she was known as the glutton officemate. If anything, she was quite middle aged, had a family of kids, and one would consider mother-like people did mother-like things. I remember those numerous occasions from childhood when I was taught not to pick up more than one toffee, 2 biscuits, or one gulab jamun when offered a plateful. I guess it’s the way we are brought up, taught how not to behave like a greedy glutton, live in misery, and not eye those rasgullas that look back at you all tempting and juicy. You would be left salivating like Pavlov’s dog all evening eyeing the goodies, but will not dare to touch those just because mom taught you self-restraint even if you were dying to sprint on the food. And now, all I felt was confusion.

She returned to me my dabba all cleaned up ad washed, with a thank you note. She later told me that her family had loved the chicken. I just wondered what did she do with chicken for at least 15 people.

It’s amazing how we grow up with certain values as a part of our culture. It doesn’t mean the other person who doesn’t share our values is bad. It just means the other person is different from us, and doesn’t identify with our culture. I wonder why we are brought up to live in misery and hunger and not succumb to the demands of the senses, apologize and compromise and learn to be satisfied with whatever comes in our share. My colleague I am sure would have been totally oblivious to my thoughts and confusion, and I know she did not mean harm. But it’s just that what she did was so different from what she would be expected to do.

If only the boss had vanished the chicken and had reconsidered his decision about my bye bye letter after he had it.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An Over Documented Life

I flipped through the seven folders of my weeklong trip to the different places I’d been to during a particular week of travel and holidaying. Beaches, dams, mountains, fountains, parks, falls, trees, leaves, water, sunshine, and nature.

Every day was documented in a separate folder. Day 1. Day 2. Day 3. You get it, don’t you? I’d decided to take advantage of a digital SLR camera I owned, and capture every bit of what I saw. From every angle. Left. Right. Front. The fountain gurgling water in different directions. Four different shots of the same cloud crowning the mountain. The same beach from three different angles.

I randomly selected a particular folder and clicked on it. 327 pictures. 327 pictures to be sorted, selected, grouped, and labeled. A bunch of representative pictures would be facebooked. A bunch would be emailed home. A bunch would be uploaded on Picasa to be emailed to friends. I flipped through random pictures, hoping to remember the name of the mountain. I clicked on consecutive pictures and all of them looked the same. I remembered the “hocus focus” game we played as children where one would have to spot at least 6 differences in the 2 photographs published in the newspapers. One picture had a minor difference not there in the second one. I tried to focus on the 2 consecutive pictures of the mountains. I could not spot a difference. Maybe one was zoomed in a little more. 327 pictures in a day? And 7 days worth of pictures? I involuntarily yawned. Perhaps the picture sorting task could be done tomorrow. Perhaps in the weekend. We will see.

I remembered an era from a different lifetime, not more than 5 years ago. A Kodak KB 10 camera. 32 pictures in a roll. Click. Wait. Take it to the shop. Wait for a few days. Get the prints. Sort them manually. Put them in an album. Store them in the cupboard.

32 pictures. An entire trip. Was it not an era where trips and festivals and occasions were well documented? Of course there was not a second chance if you happened to shut your eyes when the camera flash shone. You could not have pictures of the same object from different angles. But those 32 pictures were valued, prized, cherished. Not dumped into a folder to be sorted later. I remember my parents’ wedding album. My childhood album. No two pictures look the same, yet every picture has been so well documented.

Hawaii trip. 700 pictures. To be sorted later.

San Francisco trip. 200 pictures. Later.

Birthday pictures. 15 of the 90 pictures have the same facial expression with cake smeared on. To be sorted later.

Bits and bytes and kilobytes and gigabytes of pictures. Later.

The irony is, if you don’t sort it now, you never feel like sorting it later. If you don’t upload it now, you never feel like uploading it later.

Message to self: stop clicking in paranoia as if the mountain is going to collapse the next moment. Enjoy the view first. Don’t take more than one picture of the same thing. And remember, the quality is not in numbers.


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Publicly Transported

These days, I take pride in claiming that I drive pretty well. I drive long distances, about some 40-50 miles at a stretch without getting a backache. I no longer fret at the thought that this might be my last day of life since I am driving. I no longer have to dress up in layers for the cold because I don’t have to wait outside for a bus. I save a lot of time, do not have to figure out bus routes and timings. All I do is feed my address into a GPS. This is what I call a hassle free life.

However, last week, I decided to take the bus for a conference in downtown. Downtown is pretty bus-sable from my place, and I would not have to go round and round in circles trying to find parking. I needed to start much earlier and have some extra time because I’d have to wait for the bus. It was getting cooler and I was already dressed in layers. I fidgeted through my hand bag, realizing I had forgotten my music player somewhere. I somehow found a book from the innards of my bag and tried to busy myself with it.

I cherished my one hour journey, realising how much I have missed taking the bus. For one, the bus stopped and picked up so many different people, dressed differently, speaking different languages. Some listened to music, some read a book, and some conversed. I had totally forgotten how much I liked sitting in a corner and observing people, what they did, what they said, where they got up from and where they got down. The bus stopped at so many places, giving me a chance to observe all the street signs and the shops and the people, sitting comfortably and without the tension of looking straight and driving safely. It was a joy ride.

Driving a car might be comfortable and time saving, but I’d prefer the bus any day over a car. It is an eventful life, watching and talking to people, or simply sitting quietly and watching the world go by you. The noise, the smell and the sounds, the traffic, the joy of sitting at a height and watching the world is stimulating to the senses. Some are headed for the office, some for schools. Suddenly I felt more social, participating in the things around me, smiling at the lady beside me, watching the person boarding the bus. By the time I got off the bus, I was smiling to myself. The hustle and bustle around me had energized me.

Slowly you get used to the comforts of a car and forget the eventful journeys while taking the public transportation. For me, I still like to take the bus or the train every now and then. Driving alone is boring. Riding with the world is so much fun.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Need For Speed

I always knew I would be writing this post, but did not know it would be so soon. Driving comes with its own set of experiences and accomplishments. There is a phase of driving when you don’t know whether to kick on the left thing or the right thing to stop your car, and every car pulling up behind you scares the hell out of you. And then comes the stage when you hit on the gas and never look back.

Unless you see lights flashing behind you of course.

I have always scoffed at cars being pulled over the shoulder and getting speeding tickets. They always felt like the school children who the monitors had separated out of the crowd to be made to stand up on the bench and hold their ears just because they talked to much or did not do their homework. Being pulled over by the cops was the most humiliating experience for me. Or so I thought.

And then I graduated to the next level – the level of a seasoned driver.

It so happened that I was on my way to the durga puja celebrations. I was running late because of the usual reason. It took me quite a while to dress up, resplendent with the red sari and makeup, not to mention picking up friends, my new chore as a car driver these days. The venue was a good 45 mile away. I was finally mastering freeway driving and had just gotten onto I-5.

Thrilled to be leaving past the cars behind me, I changed lanes till I was in the leftmost lane, the lane for the high speeders. I was following a bunch of cars. After a few miles of driving, I saw a uniformed guy standing at a distance. I thought it must be the usual traffic guy, directing the drivers to drive to a different lane because of shoulder work going on. Even before I knew, the cars in front of me flew away while I was specifically asked to stop.

And that was my first speeding ticket.

He claimed I was driving at 74 mph on a 60 mph zone. Could be. But weren’t the cars in front of me doing the same? I was merely following them. Or was I a better target because I happened to be the last car in the row? And isn’t 74 permissible in a 60 zone when you drive on the fastest lane? No traffic, no congestion, okay I was speeding, fine. But couldn’t they let me go with a warning?

I was fined $144. Not a great news, given my lay off and financial condition. I might contest it in court. I might defer it for this is my first traffic offense. But I am definitely not intending to cough up the money if I can avoid it.

I realized it was so natural to step on the gas once you are a seasoned driver and not even realize you are speeding. I always thought if I ever got a ticket, that would be a slow driving ticket and not a speeding ticket. Somehow, I am happy I have joined the club of speeding ticket holders. Makes me feel like the rest of us.

In school, I always carefully avoided the group of ruckus creating children who did not do their homework and were made to stand up on the bench, holding their ears. Now I feel I have joined the club.


Sunday, September 13, 2009


7 days ago, I couldn’t imagine in a thousand lives what my life would be 7 days from then. I was happily camping in Montana, never realizing that the next weekend I would be doing things different. For the first time this summer, I haven’t taken advantage of the good weather to do something outdoor. Instead, I’ve stayed home, finishing office work, looking for a job, and most importantly, packing. I am leaving home to relocate to a friends place closer to office, so I can spend lesser time and money on commute. G is out of town and let me stay at her place for as long as I need.

This is the first step I’ve taken towards downsizing and cost cutting. I have been packing clothes, food, and whatever I need. I don’t want to think about my apartment, because I miss it already. I have gone through the vicious cycle of being glum, feeling low, breaking down to tears, and then holding myself up and packing again. I don’t know what I will do with my apartment, maybe put it up for someone to take over the lease, sublet it, let it go, I don’t know. Ironically, packing has been fun during the numerous other occasions this summer, when I have gone hiking, camping, sightseeing, visiting other cities. Packing is definitely not fun this time. It is a sore, emotional issue for me.

I also cleaned the house and sorted out the clothes and shoes that I will donate to Goodwill. I have been meaning to do this for a while, but never really found enough time so far. I think I had acquired far more clothes and shoes than I am going to need. My apartment looks less cluttered now. My life has never looked more cluttered.

I thank everyone for your good wishes and your comments. Its been a difficult 4 days, but it feels good to know that there are people who feel your pain and pray for you though they personally don’t know you. I have cherished reading each and every comment.

Till next time.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Others

While growing up, I have witnessed a steady traffic of strangers aka temporary residents in our house. These were the uncles and aunties who came and stayed with us for a couple of days, weeks, maybe months. Frankly, I never did like the unknown faces that lived in the house, ate with us, and laughed with us. Some of them were office colleagues who were trying to find temporary accommodation, some were distant relatives trying to find a new home or job in the city, and some were even more distant relatives who according to me had no business of staying with us. This is one thing about dad, that he never did turn down anyone, never told a no to anyone. Anyone and everyone was welcome to live with us.

More than two decades later, I don’t think I am doing anything different. First, I hosted 2 people who were interning here and happened to be my cousin’s friends. Then I am currently hosting a new student who is starting school, till she finds a place to call home. 3 years ago, someone hosted me, helped me get used to the ways of the new country, and made my adjustment a lesser bother. I try to do the same by hosting someone at my place every year. And what do I get out of it?

Company. Friends. Observing someone at close quarters, seeing how similar and how dissimilar our lives are. I get to talk about so many things, learn so many things from them. It is not quite as having a roommate, it is better. With a roommate, there is a compulsion of staying together, even though you want to tear your hair or beat your head against the wall every time you saw them. You don’t have to be diligent about taking turns cooking. There are no such rules per se. You can still lead your normal life and have temporary company at the end of the day.

So far, I have enjoyed temporarily hosting people at my place. Yes, there were times when I longed for my own space, longed to come home and not see anyone. But the fun of living with someone has outweighed my solitary life cravings. Maybe we all are lonely, and desperately seeking company in whatever form. Who knows?


Monday, August 17, 2009

I-5 Finally

What you fear the most will come back to haunt you.

What you want to avoid will meet you when you least expect it.

What you don’t want to see will look at you in the eyes.

I could have written about this in my usual humorous, wry, sarcastic, “I don’t give a shit” style. But when I think about it, I am struck by the truth of my above mentioned lines.

For years, I feared to learn to drive. I even shuddered at the thought. Even when I learnt to drive, I was shit scared of freeway driving. I wanted to avoid it for as long as I could.

My summer pals went jogging in Greenlake, and I thought of accompanying them with a book and my mp3 player, just some time to while away from home. Post running and dining, we headed home. This time, I was behind the wheels. Usual drill. No music in the car. No unnecessary talking. No rolled down windows or unnecessary noise. The GPS was set to the “avoid freeways” mode. It would take some 10-15 extra minutes, and a few miles of extra drive, but still, no I-5 for me. I’d take the I-5 on a special occasion, maybe a few months from now, when I had all mastered the skills of driving. I even asked them to double check the GPS. “Avoid Freeway” mode.

I drive an unknown road, and the next thing I see, I enter a lane with the sign “I-5 South only” written in front of me. A signboard it wasn’t, it seemed it was my fate written all over me. A goof up. An unpredictable, brainless machine for a GPS. I instinctively slowed, even wanted to reverse the car if I could. The driver behind me honked. Bleddy impatient man.

I had two options. I could freeze and be honked at and get hit. Or I could pretend as if nothing had happened, and keep driving. Survival instinct, I was so close to doing the first when I did the second. I cautiously took the next exit.

I reached home safely. I parked the car. I shut the engine. I somehow made it to the front door of my apartment. I shut myself up in the restroom.

I began to sob.

I don’t know if it was tears of victory, or tears of relief that I was alive. Later that night, I counted the numerous occasions when this has happened to me.

What I feared the most has always come haunting me. What I wanted to avoid the most has come looking for me.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Flights of Freeway

No matter how tired and sleepy I am, I must document this before I sleep. I smile to myself as I type this. It’s a very special night. It’s a very special feeling. It’s the same feeling you get when you know you are falling in love.

I kept hesitating for days, concocting a lot many excuses – bad weather, bad traffic, exhaustion, and what not. The truth was, even though I had bagged my license, I was shit scared to hit the freeway. I imagined driving my car from office to work, a good 20 miles, the majority of it being on the freeway, and I shuddered at the dozen different things that could go wrong. I could hit something, something could hit me, the possibilities were endless. I felt scared, guilty, and then went into denial till I knew I had to do it.

And I decided to do it.

Back from office, I asked the boys (my roomies) to hand me the car keys. I know what they thought with the look they gave me. But it was time I got rid of my fears and took the plunge.

Office to home, I drove a good 20 miles for the first time, all by myself. It was mostly on the freeway, and it was shit scary. 520 West it was. It’s the first time I drove at a record speed of 65 mph. There were so many times when I wanted to give up and take the next exit. But driving till I reached home would have made me the happiest.

I know I slowed down unnecessarily so many times. I was honked at so many times (I think 6 times) especially while yielding to opposite traffic while taking a left on green. I am thankful to those who were patient and let me merge at Montlake. I know it isn’t that big a deal or that great a distance, even marathon runners run more than what I drove. But the first trip on a freeway is always scary and special (I don’t count the previous 2 mile freeway driving experience with my driving instructor 4 days ago). Maybe someday, I will fulfill my dream of driving to any national park, any beach, without hesitating about the length of the drive. Maybe someday I’ll do a US cross country driving trip. But these 20 odd miles of driving with all the tension and honking and slowing down will always be special.

I am not exaggerating a bit that by the time I had reached home, my limbs were shaking and my back hurt out of the tension released. But little steps, one step at a time. Just thinking about it gives me a high that will not let me sleep easily tonight.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Driving Myself Crazy

I don’t mean to sound sexist, but I have always associated cars with men. Men driving cars. Race cars, everyday cars, sardarjis driving huge trucks. Little boys playing with their huge collection of cars, ramming one into the other. Strong men controlling and maneuvering a vehicle moving at breakneck speed with their hairy, powerful hands. An alter ego of mine liked to believe that the steering is not meant for manicured, pretty hands with red painted nails. A woman coming out of her driver’s seat to open the door for a man is unheard of.

Anyway, these were my excuses to myself for not learning to drive. But come America, you are not really expected to depend for office commute or grocery on your friends. My US trotting trips would have been more fruitful if I knew how to drive. Instead, I waited for buses for hours, not just for the office or grocery, but even while going out on a date, while visiting Disneyland in California, even while exploring the beaches in Hawaii.

Come summer, I hosted 2 interns at my place so that they would teach me how to drive. Sharing my space with two boys is a different story altogether that would make a good few dozen blog posts, but for later. They were friends of friends of course, not random strangers.

As you can imagine, its been an interesting summer for me, living with two guys who have helped me car hunting, giving me advice on things I knew nothing about (car insurance, car maintenance, etc.), and took me for my car practicing lessons everyday. I did take half a dozen classes from the driving school, but the rest, I left to them. There was no respite after a long and hard day at office. They had to take me out to the nearby streets and sit through the process of a rather wobbly-handed me driving.

I am sure that more than me, my roomies prayed I passed the test. More so that I could spare them the “take me out for driving practice” chore at weird times of the day.

I parallel parked perfectly. I backed around the corner more than perfectly. Uphill parking, downhill parking, emergency stopping, changing lanes, everything went fine. I sat through the torture of having a Chinese man as my driving examiner at the DMV whose instructions I barely followed. He deducted 2 points for me taking a slow left turn, never realizing it was my random guess that he asked me to turn left. He took off 4 points because he thought I drove slowly, not realizing that when you don’t follow your examiners heavily accented Chinese, you drive slow. But all that is beyond me.

Yes, and so are the days of asking my roomies to take me to practice, of waiting for the driving school instructor to come pick me up. Gone are the days when friends would ask me how much more time I had before I took the test.

For after 1.5 month’s trials and tribulations, I passed my driving test with flying colors. In the very first attempt.

I am on top of the world. If there was a remake of DDLJ, my dad would take me around those heavily framed pictures of my long dead ancestors and boast about how they drove cycles and bikes, while I am the first person in the family to actually own a car and know how to drive it.

I’m still scared of speed and have not yet hit the US freeways. But passing the driving test has been a huge boost to my confidence.

Not that it makes me wish any less that my fictitious brawny, hairy, chivalrous man with strong hands still drove me around and opened the car door for me.

Thank you everyone for all the good wishes, it all worked. sunshine has one more feather in her cap now. She can drive.


Thursday, July 30, 2009


I accidentally bumped into my exam schedule and wondered why I didn’t find it all this while. I looked at the date my first exam is going to start, and realized exams were just 10 days away. They were to last for a week, and that meant I was preparing for some 5-7 tests. The tests are pretty intense, and it is during these times that I always regret not having studied harder. I calculated the number of chapters I was supposed to study and realized that I had some 25 chapters to finish in some 10 days. Studying 2.5 chapter everyday would leave no time for revision, so I must speed up. I must target finishing at least 4 chapters a day to begin with, to give me enough acceleration. This means I need to study for 14-15 hours a day. I don’t really remember what was I busy doing throughout the year, but I am clearly not prepared for the exams. I also know that if I start to put in all my waking hours, I can manage to finish my target and do well in the exams. I will not aim for getting the highest this time as I do not have that much time. I will rather ensure that I skim through everything so that I do not end up leaving unanswered stuff. I promise I’ll study earlier and harder the next time.

But something in me doesn’t feel right. I feel the pressure, but not really the killing urge to get back to my books. It’s a bright and sunny day outside. Summer is here, and people are out there enjoying themselves. I don’t really feel like studying. I feel like standing on a railway platform, supposed to catch the train in front of me. The train starts rolling slowly. I know I must hop on to the train. But something in me doesn’t let me lunge after the train. I stand and watch as the train leaves in front of me.

I realize I am not prepared for the exams this time.

I wake up from my dream to realize that it is not quite 5am. I still have an hour’s worth of sleep. I hug my pillow tight and go back to sleep.

I am glad it was just a dream. I am glad when I wake up an hour later, I will get ready for office and not for some exam I am not prepared to take.

I wonder why even after one year of bidding student life adieu, I dream of exams approaching.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Driving: instructor versus non-instructor

For weeks, I struggled with the idea of having an instructor versus a friend teach me how to drive. I could afford the former, and I had plenty of the latter. People had mixed opinions. Some balked at how I could even think of coughing up $400 for 6 hours of training. Some felt it is a necessary skill done best with professional help. Of course there is this hesitancy of getting into a friends car and learn driving. I don’t think I would be comfortable if someone learnt driving using my car.

I wouldn’t have thought of a driving school if I was a student. But I wouldn’t have bought a car in the first place if I was a student. If I could afford a car, I could afford driving lessons too. A little bit of market research later, I had signed up for a driving school.

I think that was a great idea. It is like being taught at home versus being taught at school. Of course I hear that great men like Tagore were home-schooled. But if Tagore were to learn driving, I’d recommend he go to a driving school too.

First, you need to be with someone who is more confident and less scared than you are. I am talking about steering something at least a few tones heavy, in the right direction, and at the right speed. You might not end up head on colliding with another car, but even a minor dent or scratch caused by a small accident is not desirable.

The best thing I liked is that my instructor has her own set of brakes. So while for the first few hours I struggled with how to and how much to move the steering, stopping my vehicle during need was one less thing to care about.

My instructor talks to me non-stop. At first it was annoying that she should ask me how sweets are made in India when I am struggling to juggle the steering, indicators, mirrors, brake, and accelerator. I was holding on to the steering tight, as if I was holding on to my life, my knuckles white. I was confusing between brakes and the gas (accelerator). Every time I saw a car behind me, I felt mentally pressurized to do something. She calmly asked me to speed up if I saw a car behind me. I have never felt more helpless.

Eventually you get the hang of it. My instructor had more confidence in me than I did in myself. She encouraged me, challenged me, even pushed me. The first friend who started to teach me drive never let me hit the gas. The second friend almost curled up in a fetal position on the rightmost corner of the car, holding on to the door and his dear life while I drove. Their fears are understandable. But things didn’t work out.

2 classes with the instructor and I had graduated from residential buildings to little streets. I was braking, accelerating, indicating, yielding and parallel parking. I was backing around the curb. I was changing lanes. Freeway driving hasn’t happened yet, but it will not be long.

To cut a long story short, go to a driving school if you can afford it. It is expensive, but it is better than the tension I cause myself and my friends in the process of learning to drive. See it as an investment. No amount of parking-lot driving can prepare you for driving on the main streets. I strongly recommend learning from an instructor rather than be a road hazard. I’d rather lose money than lose friends.

Btw, thanks for the good wishes. I am now the proud owner of a nice car.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The first step

Forgive me readers for the deluge of car posts. When doing or even thinking about something takes so much of your time and attention, this is inevitable. For years, I bore the embarrassment and discomfort of answering the question- “Why I do not know how to drive”. Unfortunately, the truth (Because I did not drive in India and feel that I am too old to start now) didn’t seem good enough.

I follow a personal philosophy, for better or for worse. Resist till you have to relent. For years, I resisted. Then finally this summer, I decided to relent. I finally got tired of asking people for a ride, or depend on others for my love for traveling. I decided to mentally prepare myself to drive.

Usually people decide to learn, learn driving using someone else’s car, get a license, save, and buy a car. I didn’t really think I wanted to spend the energy to ask someone into letting me drive his car. I decided to buy a car.

Having a job and some financial stability makes it a lot easier to achieve your goals. After one month of serious car hunting, I finally bought a car. I bought a car when I still didn’t know how to drive one. As of today, I own a car. I also spent a fortune taking driving lessons. But it has been worth the money and the effort. When I am not taking lessons, I have the flexibility to practice driving in my own car. I am yet to take the road test, but as of today, four driving classes later, I can nicely parallel park, back around the corner, and do non-freeway driving. It did take a lot of effort, but the pain has been worth it. I think it was a good decision to buy a car.

Wish me luck for my test. I really cannot wait to pass the test, learn to drive on the freeway, and take off to some place I have always wanted to. Till then, I’ll be committed to my driving lessons.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Car (e) free

Things that I am told.

What? You still don’t know how to drive?

How many years have you been in the US?

Come on, it is not that difficult. Millions do it. Even women do it.

Don’t you feel like a handicap?

Oh, it doesn’t take more than a few days.

Things that I say.
Yes, I don’t drive.

Yes, you are right, I have never driven.

Yes yes, damn right. I have never driven in India as well. Or Nigeria. I have never handled the steering wheel.

Yes I know the statistics. I know the numbers. I have been here for 3 years now. I commute 20 miles each way to work everyday. That is 40 miles of travel. That is 3 hours of travel. That is travel worth 3 bus changes. And yes, I still haven’t learnt how to drive.

Yes it is not that difficult. Millions do it. And that’s why I am scared. The millions we are talking about are right there on the streets.

Yes, I know it is easier than driving in India. But it still remains a skill I haven’t mastered.

Yes, I do feel like a handicap, happy? I have a genuine fear of speed. Calling me a handicap doesn’t make me feel better, or make me want to jump behind the wheels. It only makes me feel like not answering your phone the next time you call me.

Yes I have a genuine fear of controlling anything that moves faster than 5 miles per hour. If I can willingly commute in buses for 3 hours everyday, my fear must be real, right?

Yes, I fear it because I feel like being in control of a toy that can actually hurt or kill people if I make mistakes. Including myself.

And so goes the conversation between my well wishers and me. Yes I know learning to drive doesn’t take more than a few weeks, and there are millions who do it. I know people mean well. But shock treatment, wisdom and pushing me doesn’t help. What’s in a car, I wish I could fly planes. It’s just that I don’t think I am ready for it yet.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Writing is so much like going to the gym or cooking. You do it enough number of times and you get better at it. You get better at it and you have sufficient incentive of being disciplined about pursuing it. We call it a positive feedback loop. And then sometimes you fly off the loop, something like getting off a treadmill still running, and it becomes so very difficult to get back to routine again.

There was a time when every little thing I found interesting ended up in my blog space. These days, I see things and make a mental note to write about it. And then I do not do it, immerse in guilt, and soon figure out that it is too late to do it. It is interesting how so many of my posts these days are these guilt laden rants about how horrible I feel not writing regularly.

But then, my laptop conked out a few weeks ago, and I figured out that blogging in office is not feasible. I waited for weekends to write something, but weekends would fly by and there I would be left feeling even more guilty. Nevertheless, an honest retry never hurts, right?

So here as I sit and type, cutting down on my sleep hours and running the risk of missing that 6:30 am bus to office the following morning, I want to make peace with myself, and not feel guilty about not dedicating enough time to that one hobby I have pursued the longest so far- writing. In the meantime, the car hunt still continues. Car hunting has put so many ideas in my head, I must document them somewhere. Sometime, I promise.

Anyway, time to shut that bedside lamp off- good night.


Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Chamat-car (A Miraculous Transaction Story)

The economy is making people do crazy things. Or so I think. Simple things are no longer kept simple. Lets say I want to buy a car. Or maybe a home. Not buy a home but maybe rent an apartment. I go look up the web for advertisements on people selling their cars or homes. After spending umpteen number of hours, I finally shortlist a few I like. Something that goes with what I want and is also compatible with the price I want to pay for. Sometimes I stumble upon something I really like. So I email the person or leave a message. Expectations are building. I really like the color of the car and would love to own it. The apartment seems bright and sunny and I would love to go take a look. I wait for a reply expectantly.

Almost always, I get back a reply like this. It seems the owner would love to make business with me. But work, poor economoy, or a harrassing wife has taken him away from me. He was living in Seattle even last week, but now, he lives in some Godforesaken place in Europe, Kenya, even Timbuktu. But is this not to deter me. It seems my dear friend still has an internet connection, and is eager to make business with me. So he starts with a description of the car or apartment, with newer features added to tempt me. He promises things like “doesn’t need maintenance”, “is all insurance covered” or “will not be damaged even if you beat it up against a mountain”. He then shares his personal sad story, about how his wife left him or his boss fired him, or his wife left him for his boss and the boss also fired him, that brings him to Timbuktu now.

However, much to my good fortune, he is willing to work things out. So he has hired this external company, usually eBay, who will be handling the transaction henceforth. What this means is I send all the money to ebay, and he claims that ebay will send me the keys to the car or the apartment, or ship the car itself which is sitting somewhere in Idaho at the moment (why???). There is a 5 day money back guarantee. So at the end of 5 days if I decide not to keep the car or the apartment, this gentleman claims that I can send back the keys and I will get my money back. I don’t get to see the man whose car I will be driving or whose house I will be living in, I do not get to test drive the car, but things are in such a seemingly spotless conditions that it seems there is no need to test anything.

He further claims that the process is risk free. And yes, I am also supposed to reveal my name and my address. I don’t know if he wants my social security number yet. It seems everything will be handled and taken care of from there. So here is how I see it.

I am lazing around a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon, sipping my tea when I hear the doorbell. Suddenly I am reminded that 5 days ago, I had made a payment of some 5-6 grands to a person and an agency I know nothing about. I open the door to see a bright red toyota camry 2 door coupe, complete with sunroof and power controls and a V6 engine smiling at me outside. I rush to hug the car, in the process realizing that this is probably a shade darker than my favorite red. I scratch my chin for a while, finally asking ebay to refund me. In 2 days, I have my money back. In case it is my favorite red, I hop onto it, the tea cup I am holding already forgoteen, hit the gas, and am on my way on a long drive to the XYZ national park, showing off my newly acquired car.

I have one simple question. Since I already like the car and am thanking my stars for getting such a masterpiece for half of what I would have spent, who exactly I direct my “thank you” note to?


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Playing It By The (Y)ear

What a journey from F1 to H1B. An entry into the PhD program ensured that I was “visa-safe” for the next 5 years at least. But fate had decided differently, and 2 years into the program and I was decided I was done. F1 continued into OPT for another year, so I was safe till the next few months. But what next?

What next is a very tricky question. Everyone asks me, "What next?" I wish I had a concrete answer to give. But I do not. My parents always questioned me about things I did not have the answer to. “So when will you obtain security in life? When will you get a secure visa status? When will it be that you will not be worried about your stay in the US?”

Unfortunately, I did not have an answer to these. The “What next?” question baffled me. But what baffled me more was the anticipated anxiety of change in status against my control. F2. H4. It scared me to think that if I did not get a work permit, my stay in the US would be untimely curtailed. It scared me to think of being on a dependent visa status, unable to work. It scared me depending on someone else for my need and greed. It is degrading , being physically and mentally sound and stable and yet not be allowed to work. It wasn’t just about the money. It was also about growing and achieving and contributing.

Marry someone here and you will not have to be worried anymore. Better still, marry a US citizen- they told me. It was a depressing idea, not because of my high moral standards and all, but because no relationship that starts in convenience can end without extracting substantially out of you. I wondered what was the price one paid in return for status security.

I panicked and applied for a PhD program again. If H1B didn’t happen, the plan would be to go back to school again. Fortunately, I heard back a yes from 2 good schools. But you know what I heard back from me? That I did not want to go back to school. That I wanted to work.

And thus continued the tug of war, the war on nerves, the unnerving anticipation, and the hope that things would be okay. Obtaining a job was one thing, getting a visa was another. True, there was no security, no comfort of being a foreigner in an alien country, no matter how diligently you tried to work.

Anyway to cut a long story short, I finally got an H1B visa approval, after months of prayers. Truth be told, it is a relief, but I haven’t yet started to feel ecstatic. News, good or bad, takes some time to seep in. It isn’t being nonchalant. It is just giving yourself time till the news seeps in.

So now I am good, like they say here, for the next 3 years. Like I see it, security and visa stability comes in installments of a couple of years. The next 3 years are secure as of now. Next, we will see when we come to it.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Tax-ing Promise

Dear self,

Promises are sure meant to be broken, especially after deadlines are over and the pressure is lifted. Nevertheless, I’ll try to promise myself, just to keep up to the ritual of making and breaking promises. I promise that henceforth I will keep my important documents in order. Medical bills, electricity bills, tax documents, everything barring those letters trying to sell me free credit cards or car insurance (though I don’t have a car) and sentimental letters asking me to make a donation to the cause of victims will go in a separate box bought especially from Ikea and will be attended to immediately. Tax return filings will not be procrastinated till the deadline henceforth, especially since I have figured out that it can take months of procrastination (3 months in my case) but just one hour of focused effort to get my taxes done. However, big words, you know why? You see, there is this W2 form, an important piece of document that has all the figures related to your income and expenditure except how much you pay for buying clothes every month. Sometime during shifting apartments a few months back, I misplaced my W2 form. To make matters worse, I was supposed to fill in 2 W2 forms this year, the penalty for remaining in school half of the year and then working the other half of the year. I did get dirty looks on informing the office that I would need a duplicate copy of my W2 form, and that too 1 day before the deadline of the tax filing. The second W2 form would need some special pulling strings to achieve, since I didn’t go to school anymore. But all this would mean I would miss the deadline for filing tax returns. Needless to say, I decided to pillage my home to find the two original W2 forms.

Pillage I did everywhere. Cushions were upturned. Drawers were emptied. Cupboards, clothes, drawers, everything was ransacked. The good thing about bathrooms and kitchens and balconies are that I am not really known to keep papers there. But that still leaves the bedroom and the living room to plunder. Shelves, racks, chests, cupboards, no stone was left unturned to find the two W2 forms. Funny, I found ten other documents I was looking for in the process, unpaid electricity bills, receipts from the Kabab place I had dined at 6 months ago, free credit cards from companies I have never heard of, receipts for the Walmart shopping I did 2 years ago, little hand written grocery lists, and so on. I even found the Macy’s receipt for the dress I bought last summer and couldn’t return (because I couldn’t find the receipt then), receipts for unpaid electric bills, and the envelope of my graduation pictures I have been looking for ever now. But the W2 forms were still missing.

To cut a long story short, the W2 forms were finally found, after a couple of hours of ransacking the house, missing out on the evening dinner party, after endless hours of squatting and searching on my knees in the remotest of places (like under the bed), cursing under my breath every time my bones creaked, making a resolution in the process to hit the gym for the endless time now after re-discovering my unsurprising loss of body fitness. Careful me had nicely stored the forms in a big file got from India to especially hold my important documents. The file was again carefully stored in the suitcase, beneath layers of junk like speakers, unused electrical wires, and various little paraphernalia (like band aids, of all things). And why may I ask the thought of checking the suitcase never occurred to me?

Because 2 weeks back, while rehearsing for the play, I had kept the suitcase on one of my dining table chairs, using it as a prop to hold my script at eye level for me to read and perform.

And this post is dedicated to all the hours lost, not just looking for documents, but for procrastinating, fretting, panicking, making my life miserable, and early-ing my process of ageing and getting white hair and sleepless nights for nothing. Age should bring wisdom. Not forgetfulness and procrastination.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Degree of Freedom

In profound hilarity, I am reminded of a scene from DDLJ. SRK is surrounded by the huge life size pictures on the wall, pictures of his forefathers who in their various stages of academic life, had failed in school, which in itself was an achievement. I don’t know why I am reminded of the scene though.

And then for the umpteenth number of time again, I open the envelope and look at the contents inside. I walked the graduation ceremony almost a year ago, but without a degree. Earlier this evening, I received my degree, after waiting almost a year. I read my name printed boldly on the degree. My second masters degree and my first US degree. I am reminded of those number of people I should be thanking otherwise – an advisor who gave me a hard time and literally made me choose between going to school or jumping off the building, parents who were dead against me leaving the city (and not just the country), a set of horrible people I met these last two years who added to the difficulties in life, and so on. And then there were friends, well wishers, motivators, who in their own way inspired and encouraged me. This is a special day indeed.

A degree is nothing more than a piece of paper, with as much credibility as a marriage or birth certificate. But this is the piece of paper that everyone is struggling for. I cannot remember a single chapter from the signal transduction pathway, but I have a degree to show that I know it all. There is finally some light at the end of the tunnel.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Death and its Manifestations

All this while, I was under the impression that Charlie had died a natural death. That one fine morning, he was discovered breathing no longer. Today I came to know that Charlie was euthanized. He had an abnormally enlarged liver, water retention in the belly, had stopped eating or moving, and it was suggested that he be euthanized than suffer. And that got me thinking about a lot of related things about death.

I know this debate of death versus euthanasia is an old one. In fact the various manifestations of death- natural, accidental, suicide, euthanasia, abortion, come with their own set of ethical issues. Of course there is nothing to do for a person who dies naturally, or has an accident. But does a person have as much right to not live as he has the right to live? Is it ethical to end someone’s life who is already in a vegetative state and cannot make decisions of his own? Is it okay to give birth to a baby if one is not ready for it? I do not know the answers to these questions.

What I know is that it must have been really tough for G to decide to euthanize Charlie, making a decision to end someone’s life who you have loved dearly, who has been with you for years, even knowing that this would lessen the suffering. It must have been hard to hold him for the last time before giving him away, knowing that he will never be seen again. It is a depressing thought. I am sure it was a good decision to end Charlie’s pain. But if I was her, would I have the courage to do it? I do not know.

Death in all its manifestations is a concept that still remains fascinating to me. After all, it is more I do not know about than I know about.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Classrooms and Beyond

Sometime in March this year, my kids wrote their ICSE board exams. If you’ve followed my blogs for years, these are my kids who I taught in school back in India a long lifetime ago. Office commute gives me approximately an hour to sit back and think of things, a luxury for me of course, and of late, I have been thinking of my life in India a lot. I was younger, and saw the world differently. I did want to come to the US, yes, but for as long as I worked in India, I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with the kids. I wish I was the one who gave them physics and chemistry lessons before they appeared for their boards.

Now, it is a different workplace I have. I do consulting in public health, which is a very simple way to put it. All I need to function is a computer, of course with the internet and MS office, and a phone. I do not interact with kids anymore, do not teach, and have no fun stories to tell people at the end of the day. I do like my job, especially in this economy, I better like my job. But it is a lot more brainwork and a lot less human interaction.

I’ve completed 5 months of my work here, and in this season of salary slashes and layoffs, I got a hike. I wasn’t really expecting it. For people who have been through the grilling process of applying for a work visa, you will know why today’s date is so important to me. Starting today, my application will be scrutinized by someone to decide if I should stay back to work. It is a disconcerting feeling.

From classrooms to consulting rooms, I have come a long way work-wise. I have learnt new skills and have been put through newer circumstances. My resume looks more voluminous now, with big words thrown here and there. I compare my resume from 4 years back and my resume now, and the stark contrast between the two is so apparent, not in terms of contents, but in terms of the format. No one here cares about father’s name and one’s sex in a resume.

Anyway, I hope that my children do well in their boards and pursue things of their own interest. I still remember the good teachers from my school days (and the bad ones as well) and hope that my children remember me fondly.


In Memory Of Charlie

I am personally not a fan of pets. Seeing them in TV shows is fine, and I acknowledge that they need love and care, but I would personally never take care of a pet. It puts me in a dilemma when someone close I visit has a pet. My host and close friend had a fat black cat, and though my host had opened her arms and house to welcome me, I could not embrace the cat. Yes I’ve fed him, but I’ve shivered in shockprize, a combination of shock and surprise, every time the cat had accidentally brushed its fur on my legs. I heard stories about he losing his collar, and put up with sounds of he scratching surfaces whenever he was hungry. With time, we learnt to acknowledge each others presence in the house, but never really cared much about each other.

However, this post is written out of sadness. After a prolonged suffering due to liver illness, the cat passed away. He was an old cat and I have seen him from my Day 1 of stay here. In fact I saw him 3 days back when I was there at her place. But never did I think that its life had started to be counted in hours, and I would no longer see him.

This is just to say that black cat, fat cat, mad cat, ignoring cat, whatever you were, I will miss you. The house will definitely seem empty and different without you.

I am sorry for your loss, dear host.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cut Above The Rest

I am going to be very wary the next time a person who doesn’t understand my language holds a pair of scissors and points at me. All I had asked for was a little trimming of the locks that had grown so long that it fell all over my face. Just a little bit of shaping up without compromising with the length of it. Instead, it resulted in a massive 6 inches plus loss of my long hair. It took me two long years to grow it, two years of maintaining and combing and shampooing and oiling. And in a moment, it was gone.

I looked at the floor with all the hair that had recently been snipped and sighed sadly. It didn’t strike me that while I pointed at my face, I asked for the front of the hair, ONLY the front of it to have short hair. The rest of it could still be long and flowing and going way past my shoulders as usual. Now, I felt vulnerable, with my neck bare and exposed. That was the look I had way back in college a long lifetime ago.

“It’s just hair and it will grow”- I agree with what you say. But do I want to wait 2 more years to look the same? I can’t tie it, can’t make a ponytail, and wearing traditional Indian clothes is going to be a concern. All for some random unknown woman who had power in her hands and without thinking or asking me again, went snip snip.

You look cute. You look young. You look like Kajol in KKHH. You can wear more jeans and sweatshirts now. You may not look feminine, but you look smart. You look like a little puppy. I really like your new hair. You should straighten it.

People always have their own opinions. Not that it makes the transition any easier. I am still working on getting used to my new look. Every morning I walk in front of the mirror still sleepy, my eyes open wide awake at the unfamiliar person staring back at me. I look at the Dandiya and Durga puja pictures from last year and sigh.

I think it is going to take me a while to start liking myself in the mirror again.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

On Distended Bladders

Nothing feels more painful than bearing the pressure of a distended bladder. All the wrong things happen then, the bus ride gets bumpy, people elbow you accidentally, and passing by the lake watching the water takes forever, further aggravating matters. It takes a lot of will power, muscle power, and clenching power.

Nothing feels more blissful than letting go of the distended bladder. It is like piercing a pin through a balloon and watching it deflate slowly. The relief, the ecstasy, the letting go of clenched muscles while listening to your heartbeat- I am convinced that the involuntary moan sounds more authentic than an orgasmic one.

Just my 2 cents on the pangs of distended bladders.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Shifting Blues

What amazes me about shifting is the sheer amount of junk one is capable of accumulating over a period of time. I remember when I was new to this country and was happily buying stuff in a garage sale just because the concept of a garage sale was new to me and things were so dirt cheap, a wise friend of mine had rightfully remarked- Wait for a year and you will be amazed to see how much junk you accumulate in this country.

The proof lies in the fact that this is the third time I have shifted to a place on the pretext of having a bigger place so that all my things fit, while I should be thinking the other way round and cutting down on the junk I have instead of shifting to a bigger house every year to fit it all.

Greater spending power stimulates the greedy side of the brain, and you suddenly realize that you cannot do without a little private balcony to keep your plants, that you need a breakfast bar in your apartment, an elevator perhaps, and that the carpeting should look better. Ample reason to shift to a better, bigger, and a more expensive place. I know I could spare myself the cynicism since I am the culprit, yet I am unable to forget the fact that while I arrived here with 2 big suitcases 2 years ago, I needed 3 big suitcases just to fit my clothes this time. And I wouldn’t think I’d come as a shopaholic to someone who religiously monitors every sale in the city or mentions shopping as one of her passions in the social networking sites. For all the one dollar and 50 cents stuff I had crazily bought at these wonder dollar stores and wonder garage sales, I had to shell out more than 200 bucks to pay the movers I hired. Yeah movers, you heard me right. My mother is still recovering from the shock that a single person, barely 2 years in the country, has to hire movers to shift to a bigger place, perhaps to accumulate even more junk so that even this place looks smaller.

Anyhow, I have been ruthlessly trying to get rid of stuff, cane baskets I’ll never need, old rugs that don’t match the floor anymore, bulky furniture picked for free in the university areas because people just left them on the streets, and my old clothes from India that I don’t think will fit me ever again.

Time will tell how much more junk I collect in the next year or so. Like I said, it is ironic how some people suffer from scarcity while some people suffer from excess.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009


I have often lain in my bed, looking at the ceiling which is so familiar now. The walls, the window blinds, even the feel of the carpet under my feet feels so familiar. You could blindfold me and yet I could find every little thing you ask me in the kitchen. Or the bathroom. Or anyplace in the house. This is what happens when you live in a house for more than 2 years. When I leave for office in the morning, I lock my house subconsciously. I don’t have to look for the right keys or watch while the key is put into the door lock. I just do it out of habit. Similarly, I exactly know how much to turn the faucet to get the kind of hot water I like. Every switch and knob, every little thing I touch in the house is familiar to me. So many parties have been thrown here, so many important things have happened to me while I was in this house. I always loved the fact that there was this amazing view of the hills from the window and it was a 2 minute walk from the shopping mall. I don’t have to wait to think when someone asks me my address. I can often close my eyes and find my way in the house.

But then despite the things I have loved here, I have looked for better options. I have looked for better houses, just to get those little extra things that I do not get here. I have thought of shifting closer to my work place. I have thought of shifting to a bigger place so that I can entertain more people and have more space for myself. I have looked at other houses and have wondered if I should shift. With me earning, I can afford a little more, and you know how the things the heart craves for are endless. I started in the US in a shared housing, ended up having my own apartment without sharing, and now, I want more. Other houses have offered things different and better, sometimes a bigger kitchen to allure me, or that window facing the sunset, or a balcony where I can put some plants.

With time, a house transforms from being a structure of bricks and mortar, it becomes home. It is where you want to come back to and crash at the end of the day. It is where you want to start your day. With time, our homes become our identity. Despite my love for travel and my globe trotting expeditions, it always feels so good to put that key into the door and unlock it, to be greeted by the familiar smells of the home. I have looked at better houses, but have come home feeling guilty, as if my home is a friend personified and looking for better options would mean betraying my friend. I have wondered if the next tenant of this house would feel the same way about this house. And for more than 6 months, I have been in a dilemma. A part of me has wanted to shift to a better place with better amenities. A part of me has held me back to this place. It has told me that it is too much pain shifting. Told me that I belong to this place.

For more than 6 months, I looked at other homes and held back. I always came home feeling relieved that I decided not to shift. The familiarity of my home always welcomes me. Then one fine day, things happened, a decision was made, a deal was signed, and there it was. I’m going to be here for 3 more days. And instead of feeling happy about my new place, I feel guilty. I feel sad. I am reminded of the various important moments in my life this house has witnessed. My graduation. My first day at job. Unnecessary tension with my adviser. My home has always welcomed me and rejuvenated me.

I am leaving for a better place. And I refuse to admit that a house is merely a structure of bricks and mortar. I feel I am betraying a friend and leaving her for a better friend. I didn’t cry, but I have felt an extraordinary amount of sadness. I have been packing half heartedly. I don’t know why I even got into this whole house changing business in the very first place. On several occasions have I seen things I loved go away from me. This time, it was self-inflicted. I hope 6 months down the line I feel as attached to that place as I am to this one now. But right now, I suddenly don’t want to leave.

I feel miserable, and I just don’t know what to write more.