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.