Monday, May 31, 2010

Nosy Neighbor

Nosy neighbor: Where are you headed?
sunshine: Uhh... some shopping. In a hurry.
Nosy neighbor: Okay. Where?
sunshine: Umm.... here and there ... In a hurry aunty.
Nosy neighbor (looking suspicious): Here and there? What will you buy?
sunshine: err..... this and that ... In a hurry aunty.
Nosy neighbor: What time will you be back?
sunshine: Well, are you planning to invite me for dinner?

Nosy neighbor (LOL): You have an amazing sense of humor !!

sunshine: (Sigh !!!): (To self, while running down the stairs): What do I do with people who don't understand sarcasm?

Nosy neighbor: Show me what you get, okay?

SIGH !!!


Nosy neighbor: Well well, where did mom and daughter go this evening?

sunshine: How did you know we were away?

Nosy neighbor: Aunty knows it all beta. The front door was locked.

sunshine: Oh, we just went here and there.

Nosy neighbor: What did you eat?

sunshine: Oh, we just had some momos for dinner.

Nosy neighbor (looking at mom): So who paid for dinner? Mom or daughter?



Nosy neighbor: So how come you are home for 2 months now?

sunshine: It’ll be 4 months of vacation in all.

Nosy neighbor: So are you still paying rent in Seattle?

sunshine: Yes, of course.

Nosy neighbor: Your office gave you leave for 4 months?

sunshine: I’m working from home.

Nosy neighbor (looking confused): What does working from home mean?

sunshine: It means I stay at home and work.

Nosy neighbor: But I don’t see you working.

sunshine: Oh, I work when everyone is asleep.

Nosy neighbor: Call center type job?

sunshine: Yeah you can say that.

Nosy neighbor: So are you still getting paid while you are here?

sunshine: Of course. And aunty, please please don’t ask me how much I get paid !!!



Raj- The Savior

It was a perfect recipe for the biggest goof up. Well, come a certain Monday, I received my I-20 form (the document that allows you to get a visa interview date in the first place). I read it and re-read it for the umpteenth time, happy that things were working out finally. By Tuesday, I had paid the money to the bank, got myself a professional set of photos for the visa interview, compared it with my last set of visa photos taken 4 years ago, and thunked my head multiple times on the wall after seeing the massive havoc adipose tissue has caused to my face ever since. By Wednesday, I was looking at the set of dates available for the interview.

Available days: Monday. Tuesday. Thursday. Friday.

Monday was 5 days away. Tuesday 6. Thursday 8. Putting it off until Friday would surely cause me a nervous breakdown.

And then I remembered. My friend was visiting Kolkata from Bangalore for a couple of days, arriving on Sunday. I really wanted to meet and maximize my time with him. Guiltily, I weighed my options. Ideally I should have scheduled my interview on Monday. But that would mean being sufficiently engaged with the preparations for visa interview that I wouldn’t have enough time to spend with him. Although my foremothers would advice against doing anything crazy for a guy you are not going to marry (which includes postponing a visa interview by 4 days), I pressed the “confirm” button for the Thursday 8:15 am slot. Foremothers’ voices were put on mute for a while.

By Sunday, the Raj Mistry had sufficiently jinxed my plans of meeting my friend for the next 3 days. He decided to work under supervision starting Sunday and hence now I was not meeting my friend at all. The Raj Mistry by the way isn’t your next door Shah Rukh Khan look-alike guy from Karan Johar movies (though the name would suggest so). Amongst all the hilarious names prominently used by Bengalis like Pocha, Nadu Gopal, Joga (Jaw-ga), Keshto, and Poltu, Raj Mistry is what you call the craftsman who makes basic repairs in the house. Some home repairs had to be made at my friend’s place and he called to say he would not be able to meet me during this trip.

So now, I had just postponed my visa interview by 4 days for a reason that was not to be. Did I just hear the sarcasm-coated voices from my foremothers?

Sunday evening, I was bored to death. I tried making 4 different plans with friends but none of them worked out. Without sufficient preamble, getting hold of someone free enough on a Sunday evening turned out to be an impossible task. I wondered if the Raj Mistry was having fun with his chisel and hammer.

Bored, I resorted to my ever available friend- the internet. I logged on to Gmail and barely found anyone online. Need I be reminded it was Sunday evening and everyone was having fun outside? A friend from Florida logged in and I was glad to chit chat. His sister was just done with her visa interview and I asked how it went.

Sunshine: Visa is expensive. I just shelled out some INR 6.5k.

Florida Friend: Are you sure? My sister just shelled out INR 17k.

Sunshine: What !!!!

It turned out that there was a visa fee, and there was a SEVIS fee. They were separate. I don’t really goof up visa related things (or important things for that matter), but it seems senility is hitting me and I had this time. I don’t know how I missed the part where I had to pay the $200 SEVIS fee. I jogged my memory and remembered a friend of mine had done the same mistake and realized it on the day of the interview. The trouble was, it took 3 business day to get the SEVIS fee processed. I had Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Thursday was the visa interview. And here I was nicely sitting at home, happy that visa related things were taken care of, and cursing my friend and the Raj Mistry.

It’s been a while since I had felt such shock, and felt relieved at the same time that I had realized and hence checked the possibility of a goof up right on time. Things could have gone wrong at multiple stages. I could have decided to listen to my foremothers and got the visa interview scheduled on Monday. The Raj Mistry could have not shown up and then I’d be meeting my friend and not be online to talk to my Florida friend. Fate had conspired in a way to get all my plans of going out on a Sunday evening jinxed so that I’d be online and talking to my friend. It turned out, like always, that I had done the right thing but for all the wrong reasons.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another visa interview- 4 years later

The morning of the visa interview didn’t really start on a good note. Things screwed up, albeit in a harmless, comical way. I always prided myself for being a sound sleeper but sleep eluded me the night before. It must have been a combination of the thoughts of my visa being rejected, me having to hunt for a job and a local groom in Kolkata, and the elephantine mosquitoes feasting on my blood that put me through a state of trance, of half wakefulness and half sleep. I woke up long before the shrill, annoying cry of my alarm went off.

“I am going to look my smartest self”, I sang to myself as I poured a fistful of shampoo in the shower. 5 minutes of vigorous head massaging later, there was no lather. I wondered was this a new shampoo that promised healthy hair without lather. A very un-bespectacled me squinted at the sachet. Darn, it wasn’t the shampoo, it was the conditioner. The shampoo sachets were all missing. I had just poured a sachet full of conditioner on my oily hair sans any shampoo. First goof up of the day.

A number of other minor goof ups followed. One actually happened 4 days before the interview, but that will make another sensational blog post soon, I promise. While waiting at the traffic signal, I saw the name of the e-stalker painted colorfully behind a truck. Not a good sign. I was reminded of the person who during a frustrated moment of male chauvinism had told me that he wished I never get my visa approved and stay back. I didn’t know whether to be alarmed, it’s not nice to be cursed at or being ill-wished upon. So even though I asked the person to “Kat le”, I got a little superstitious about it. This of course saved my Facebook friends from the boring visa updates like, “5 days to go, biting my nails in anticipation”, and “2 days to go for the visa. Counting hours”.

I was about 90 minutes early for my 8:15 am interview and decided to kill time by talking to G and hear baby Kalyani babble on the phone. Strolling on the road since the consulate wouldn’t let me in, I was deeply engaged in conversation about the most trivial stuff like Seattle weather on a visa day when the crow decided to bless my freshly laundered clothes. 3rd goof up of the day. I didn’t really know if it was a blessing sent from Heaven or a bad omen.

Anyway, before any more goof ups could happen, I was quickly summoned to the consulate where the lady on duty checked me at various ticklish places, wanting to ascertain if I would giggle and say, “Okay okay, I am here for my visa, mother promise”, or would giggle and say, “Okay okay, I am a wannabe terrorist. There are arms hidden up my armpits”. Soon I was summoned to the same open waiting area I had been to 4 years ago. I particularly noticed 2 people, one who looked exactly like my school senior who I had last seen 14 years ago, and another girl with excess facial hair, probably a first timer, who kept folding her hands, closing her eyes, moving back and forth and praying. I was half-tempted to hug her and assure her everything would be fine, but checked myself lest my sisterly intentions are misunderstood. I wondered what she was so nervous about.

Next I was called to the main lobby, which is nothing like what I remembered from the last time. The seating area had changed, the counters were all this way and that way, or maybe my brain had garbled up and was seeing mirror images. The plasma TV showed Aaj Tak on mute. Things had definitely changed in 4 years. Not to mention the fact that I was older, fatter, balder, but ironically still in the same boat, waiting for the same PhD visa interview that I had been to 4 years ago.

So I decided to wait for my turn and observe the world around me lest I fall asleep. There were students, working professionals, families, and parents visiting their children. Everyone had a story, a purpose of being there in the same room at the same time, and I wondered what each one’s story was. I saw a particular guy wearing an IIT Kanpur Techkriti tee shirt (showing off?) and arched my eyebrows when I quickly checked my sarcastic self remembering an anonymous commentator on my blog who had remarked, “But why do you hate IITians? I am from an IIT too”.

The counters where the actual interview happened were all covered, unlike the last time, so that whether you were granted or denied a visa, the world did not witness your own private moments with the visa officer where you struggled through the paperwork trying to find the document the officer asked for, or tried to convince him why you wanted to study in the US despite patriotism coursing through your veins and how you vowed to take the first flight back home the moment you were done with your course. I once again looked at the people around me, in various degrees of nervousness and expectations, all destined to fly to different parts of the US if everything went well for them today, and imagined them all scattered taking Patel shots at different places in a few months’ time, some grinning in front of the Statue of Liberty, some making a V in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in SF, some in skiing attires and snow shoes on their way to Mr. Rainier, and a group of desi men, all heavily ignored by the white girls despite their desperate attempts, rolling on their own in the beaches of Miami. Friends had strictly asked me to wear a salwar kameez to convince the officer of my patriotism, a desperate measure to tell him I was definitely getting back to India once I was done (if I hadn’t acquired a green card husband by then). I wondered if the visa officer was that stupid to not see through it. The usher droned mechanically to everyone every 5 minutes, “Please keep your documents ON your hands”. I was half tempted to correct him, but checked myself. Like he cares if the documents were on my hands or in my hands.

The room felt like a jail, where prisoners were ushered this way and that way, and spoken strictly to if they went up to the wrong counter or produced the wrong document out of nervousness. No, not a jail, maybe a school, and everyone was supposed to obey these people, follow a strict protocol, and conduct themselves well, because their dreams of visiting the US depended on these men who had the authority. The mangoes I had for breakfast irritated my throat, but I stifled a cough lest I am suspected of carrying cough germs and asked to come back later with another appointment on another day. Needless to say, I was nervous. The school senior look-alike girl had her name called in a while. She was indeed my senior from school. The name and the face was unmistakable. Another insignificant co-incidence and probabilistic game of meeting people you knew in the larger scheme of things.

The visa officers, who I could not see, called people one by one. One had a garbled voice with a thick American accent and I could barely understand the names he mumbled. The other one of course had a very clear and distinct voice, and there was something endearing about the voice. I secretly prayed the second person would call my name. Sometimes, little prayers are answered without God making much fuss. The guy soon called my name clearly and I trotted on my way. One look into his face and I received another tiny shock worth a few millivolts. For there was no white skinned American guy waiting for me. Our visa officer looked our very own Indian, in fact South Indian self. He must have been an American born of South Indian descent. I had barely entered the room when he said, “Promise me every information you have is true and you are not hiding anything”.

I looked confused.

“Just kidding”, he said after a meaningful pause.

So our visa officer had a filmy sense of humor too?, I thought.

The next 10 minutes passed with me answering a multitude of questions, thanks to my visa status changing from F1 to H1B and now back to F1. What program did I join back in 2006? Where was I working after that? What were my GRE scores? Why did I choose to come back to India for a few months and not join school directly? Was I ever out of status in the US? And so on…

Finally, “I will cancel your…… (as he said this, he scratched my last F1 visa. Did I just hear the word “cancel”? My heart sank) …….. last F1 visa and will approve your new visa. Congratulations”.

I has almost stopped breathing. I had made it. Yaay !! I was tempted to kiss his bald head, instead I jived and dived out of the interview room without so much as a thank you before he could change his mind. My day was made. I was especially skeptical about my visa this time for 2 reasons. First, I’ve had this status change from a student visa to a work visa, and am getting back to school again. Second, I am joining the PhD program in a totally different field, something I have never studied before, and it might have been difficult for me to justify my field transition.

I took the metro back home. While taking the auto in the final leg, I saw a picture of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar smiling back at me (his usual expression), as if telling me “All Iz Well”. All is well indeed.

I thought I will sleep peacefully tonight. It’s almost 4 am, and I am still too excited to sleep.

P.S. 1: If you have a visa interview scheduled, good luck. Feel free to ask me questions. And salwar kameez or no salwar kameez, wear your confidence with you. When the officer asked me for my official appointment letter, I realized to my dismay that I had forgotten to get it. One of the many goof ups of the day. Instead of apologizing, I confidently gave him my financial assistantship letter (which is different from the appointment letter). He didn’t even realize it.

P.S. 2: No, I was not asked for documents showing liquid financial assets, bank papers, or asked questions about funding. I wasn’t asked to convince them that I have ties in India and I will be back before they know.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The 3 mistakes of my life : Review

(Minor spoilers ahead)

What are the odds of you picking up the 3rd novel of an author and misunderstanding his purpose of writing since the novel is named “The 3 mistakes of my life”? Pretty good, I would say. However, despite the bad reviews, it was not bad as I had anticipated it to be. In fact I liked it for a number of reasons [but not drastically so], at times better than “2 States” [2S]. 2S, beyond a point, boiled down to nothing more than a very filmy version of boy meets girl from a different community, and the south Indians ripping on the north Indians and vice versa. Come on, when food served on a banana leaf, are you expected to eat the leaf as well? Anyway, I digress here.

Reasons I liked T3MOML: First, it gave me a nice perspective into the life in Gujarat. Sure it was nothing earth shattering, but the characters were a welcome change from the studs who made it to the IITs (FPS) and IIMs (2S) and screwed around with their GPAs and their girls. It was nice to know three very ordinary men for a change who start a business venture and strive to make it big. Not the usual investment bankers and the consultants CB likes to write about, but the owners of a sports goods store. The characters seemed more real this time, with their own fears, Omi fearing he will end up being the priest of the temple, Ish fearing he will never be able to live his dreams [of being a cricketer] through Ali, and Vidya fearing she will end up as one of those doctors who didn’t want to be a doctor in the first place. Amidst all these confused and disillusioned people, there is Govind, focused, ambitious, someone who has a plan in life, both for himself and for his directionless friends.
The events take place amidst a chronology of events that happened for real- the Bhuj earthquake, the Godhra riots. It does not do much value addition to the plot, but helps weave the story in the time frame that is visualized from the perspective of those events. How their lives are affected by the earthquake or by the riots? You would find out as the novel unfurls.

The story has its own off-putting moments, but those flaws are more attributed to CB’s style of writing in general than the story in itself. CB’s stories always involve a lot of drama and melodrama, especially at the end, and this one was no different. A fight scene that lasts for pages gets you thinking, does CB write books keeping in mind that someday a Bollywood movie would be made out of it and he would earn more recognition and money thus? It’s already happened with FPS [3 idiots] and ON@TCC [Hello]. Also, it’s an oversimplified style of narration, something that I wouldn’t attribute as a flaw but more as his own style of telling a story.

Something common amongst all the female characters of CB’s books are the fact that all of them are extremely forthright, liberated, and desperate to make the first move. Kissing [and sex following] are second nature to them, and so is flirting. While Ananya in 2S came from a conservative Tam bram family, yet boozed and ate meat, Vidya from T3MOML leaves no stone unturned to lure her tutor.
In any case, the lack of the words IIT and IIM in his story was a welcome change. Or did I miss those words?

Most wouldn’t agree with me, but I liked the book better than 2S. I like FPS most, followed by this one, 2S, and ON@TCC. The last one was a disaster. It shouldn’t have been written in the first place.
In any case, T3MOML isn’t that great, but is worth a read.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Wat-er you doing?

A house couple of blocks away is the cause of my annoyance these days. At the most ungodly hours of the day, sometimes during late afternoon, sometimes even later at night, the sound of water flowing down the terrace bothers me. This happens non-stop for about 30-40 minutes everyday. So what’s going on?

Nothing as significant as the water tank bursting. It seems the water tank overflows everyday and goes unnoticed at least for 30 minutes.

Now I have never really spotted anyone in the house. Sometimes when I spot the maid sweeping the marble floored balcony, I try shouting and signaling to her about the water overflowing, wondering how come I can hear the loud sound of water flowing 100 feet away and she, living in the same house, cannot. She gives me a blank expression most of the days, as if I have just asked her if she regularly watches porn on television. She stares at me blankly for a few seconds before she goes inside, dangling the broom in her hand.

I am told the owner of the house is a big shot, running several beedi factories.

I am told he owns multiple houses in the area, all three storied or more.

I am told the guy has strong political connections. He is even rumored to carry arms.

I am told he is a Bangladeshi [where Bangladeshi is a general term used for illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who make big money by unfair means and are trying to take over, a sharp contrast to the majority who live here and are tagged “bhadralok” with white collared jobs].

I guess I am being subtly hinted at not to mess with him.

I wonder why none of the so called white collared bhadraloks ever complain.

Dear beedi jalaile Bangladeshi owner of multiple homes, I don’t really care about what you do for a living. I don’t care whether you own a chain of beedi factories or carry arms and armaments. My intentions are pretty clear. First, I would like to box the ears of that maid who is hard of hearing and stares at me blankly whenever I try to tell her to switch off the water supply. And second, I would like to box your ears too, for being this careless, irresponsible brat who isn’t responsible enough to make arrangements so that water doesn’t keep overflowing and get wasted. What, are you shooting for tip tip barsa paani? Ever heard of words like civic sense, water scarcity, and basic sensibility?

The constant sound of water overflowing is more disturbing to me than watching Rakhi Sawant on television. What a sight it would be when you and your maid will hold ears and do sit ups in the middle of the road. Why didn’t anyone think of this plan to make careless people more aware?

Just because you don’t pay for water doesn’t mean it comes for free. It is for people like you that everyone of us is paying a price.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Deceptive Names

Remember Chiraunji Lal Khosla (Cherry) in Khosla Ka Ghonsla? In one of the epic lines from the movie, Chiraunji Lal confronts his father, saying something like “Aap sar se paanv taq Kamal Kishore lagte hain, par kya main aapko Chiraunji Lal lagta hoon?” [Father, you look like Kamal Kishore or a young lotus from head to toe, but do I look something akin to the translation of Chiraunji Lal to you?]. Chiraunji Lal was no old, bespectacled, paunchy, bald man, in case you haven’t seen the movie (Actually his father Kamal Kishore was all of these). He is very much the good looking computer engineer hero. Then why the name Chiraunji Lal?

I found myself asking the same question as I waded through the streets, lanes, and bylanes of Kolkata. First, I observe that the streets of south Kolkata have far more happening names than north Kolkata. I am told that north Kolkata is the original Kolkata while south Kolkata developed much later. So while touring the city, you can see a marked difference in the streets, the houses, and the designing of these two segments of Kolkata. While north Kolkata has more dingy streets, unmaintained, narrow, with tram lines criss-crossing and old buildings, south Kolkata is more posh with broader streets and taller buildings that look much new. If you have been to Shyam Bazar (north), and been to Ballygunge (south), you will know what I mean.

In any case, comparing the two wasn’t the idea here. My post is rather about the deceptive names of the roads here. Forgive me, I am not getting personal or disrespectful here, but when you hear a depressing street name like Raja Khogendro Nath lane, you expect a depressing street alleying into narrow houses that look dark from inside even in broad daylight and have shabby looking petticoats drying off their street facing verandas. In fact there is a category of names- Umesh Chondro street, Raja Monindro street, Bhupen Bose avenue, and other streets named after great men [I wonder why most streets are named after men and not women, but that is a different perspective altogether]. And then there are names that evoke distinct memories. Park Street always reminds me of the most happening area of the city, replete with fine dining, the best Chinese food, and coffee and cake shops, and of course St. Xavier’s College. Similarly, College Street evokes memories of book shops, nearby schools and colleges, the Calcutta University grounds, Coffee House, Presidency College, shops selling medical paraphernalia, and so on.

Anyway, I find some names very fancy and thus deceptive. The other day, we were invited to someone’s place in Diamond Park. As the name suggested, I imagined a happening area, clean and spic and span, the streets shining like diamonds. Neither did I find diamonds, nor did I find a park. I was rather disappointed to see a very typical Kolkata neighborhood with sprawling flats and just a little bit of greenery. The other day the car was stuck in a traffic snarl. There was still quite a bit of water logging after the rains, and the place looked anything but happening. Not familiar with south Kolkata, I craned my neck to read the neon sign on one of the shops that said “Lake Gardens”. We drove quite a bit in the area, but I neither found a lake nor a garden. Residents of the place can enlighten me, and who knows, there might actually be a lake I missed. However, the traffic snarl and the congested roads with people spitting here and there no way lived up to the image of the fancy name “Lake Gardens”.

I wonder what is the history behind naming a street, an area, even a city or a country the way it is named. Can someone tell me the history behind naming places like Amherst Street (that reminds me of Amherst, Massachusetts), Ultadanga (which means an upturned boat), Phulbagan (a flower garden), and thakurpukur (which has no meaning because it means God and a pond. I wonder what God and a pond are doing together)?


Sunday, May 16, 2010

You have all my attention

After juggling between a rather insipid Chetan Bhagat read and another [umpteenth but inspirational] book on weight loss and slimming, I finally laid my hands at the right book, right because it has just the right kind of humor and the right level of satire. It’s not a story, it’s not a gyaan book or a guide book, it’s a rather funny documentary of things we grew up around during the 80s and the 90s. Reasons I liked the book are:

1. Stress was laid on simple issues and not on simple style of writing. Some books are so simply written that it simply takes the fun out of reading them. What’s the point in reading a book if you don’t encounter words whose meanings you didn’t know, facts you vaguely knew of but never really delved deep into, and a unique writing style that makes you think- Wow, I wish I wrote like that !!

2. I like the book because after reading it, the first thing I thought was- “If I ever wrote a book, it would be like this”.

3. GB writes about issues you grew up noticing in your everyday life- Terrorism, NRIs, sexually frustrated computer engineers [and men in general], politics, weddings, the television industry, bollywood movies, and more. His blogs sometimes talk about cricket and politics, both of which don’t interest me much due to my own personal preferences, but the topics discussed here were the right ones to sustain my interest.

4. A collection of essays- a unique style of writing. When I buy a book, I ask myself, “Why should I even bother to read this book? What kind of enlightenment will it provide me?”. If you’ve read it, you’ve just found your answer. I wouldn’t be surprised if this book was recommended next as a text book in educational institutions. Impressionable minds could do with some great perspective on societal issues.

5. It makes me wonder- What is he going to write about next? A documentary on Rakhi ka Swayamvar? The different kinds of psychos wandering aimlessly in the world of internet? The kind of guy you should never marry? Things not to do when in the US? The plight of someone who sits through the songs and acting of Himesh Reshammiya? Time will tell.

Kudos to the GreatBong on a great effort of writing. Thou hast not disappointed thy reader(s). If Prabhuji has found a fan in you with undeniable loyalty, you have found one in me too. Your book was worth my time, money, and expectations.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Strings Attached

"Ma'am thring", I felt a tug at my dupatta and turned back to find a little boy barely a little above my knees in height. I was the assigned invigilator in the exam hall.

"What?", I asked, confused.

"Thrriiiinnnggg !!! To tie my answer paper", the little chap sounded a little impatient.

At that moment, I could have picked him up and hugged him, he looked so cute while trying to explain himself. And it made me wonder- Why does a little child not even old enough to enunciate the word "string" properly has to go through the torture of writing an exam?


Sunday, May 09, 2010

Thousand pics worth how many words?

I am in the process of compiling a folder with all my travel pics for my family to get some vicarious pleasure. I started to make sub-folders for the different trips to various places. One sub-folder was marked “Yellowstone National Park, July 4th 2009”.

I went to my original Yellowstone folder with pics and videos, and realized that there were actually 9 of us on that road trip. It was a 3 day trip and 6 of us had a camera. Unsurprisingly, the folder contained at least 5,000 unsorted pics.

I still remember the chaos it created last year, when everyone wanted to share their pics and have a copy of the other person’s pics. Some of us stayed up the whole night to compile all the pics in one central folder, from which copies were made for all of us. When I got a master copy of the folder, I promised to sort them and keep a few. I must have lost patience midway. I am talking of 5,000 odd pics at least. As you can imagine, I never shared the album with anyone, never uploaded it on Picasa, because I [wrongly] thought that a day will come when I will sit and sort through the pics, get rid of the repetitive ones, and compile an album. No prizes for guessing, that day hasn’t arrived till date.

When I skimmed through the albums again, I realized that it was a lot of repetition. Excited at seeing the old faithful geyser, 6 of us had taken some 50 pics of it from 6 different directions. That made it some 300 pics of a single geyser. There were dozens of places we visited.

It reminded me of earlier days, well, not that early actually, something about 5-10 years ago when digital cameras were not in vogue and I used the good old Kodak KB 10. 36 pics were all that you were allowed, and being on the spendthrift side, I had actually made an entire trip to Chennai, Tadoba, Mangalore and Pondicherry with some 90 pics. 90 was a lot back in 2004. In 2010, it is nothing.

So while the quantity went up, the quality came down. It’s been a year almost and I haven’t found the patience to sort through the pics and delete the ones I do not need. I see myself smiling in front of another range of mountains. I skim through and find at least 6 different pics with the same pose. Pic 1 is that of a waterfall. Pic 2 is of the waterfall and me. By pic 3, there are a few more friends with me in front of the waterfall. By pic 4, we are no longer smiling at the camera but are making faces and making “V” horns behind each other’s heads. By pic 5, we look bored and are no longer standing, but sitting. It’s monotonous to skim through them and sort them. 10 minutes of editing and I am done. I am bored. I have lost patience.

On the other hand, I see online albums of some friends and go wow. The albums look so crisp and well edited, not the same mountain range taken from different angles and having different permutations and combinations of people in front of it. Compiling an album [esp an online album] is like editing a movie. You need to flip through the representative pics and see variety. You need to skim through and get an overall idea of the trip.

So while I write this, I have established a thumb rule for my future trips. If I cannot show one day’s worth of places in 100 photos, I am probably not going to do a good job of editing anyway. I skim through the Yellowstone pics again and feel this inexplicable pain, lethargy, and inertia as I start to delete pics. I do not feel like deleting them. I flip from one to the next, trying hard to decide which is the best one to keep.

So tomorrow I am going to downsize my Yellowstone album. My personal target is a total of 500 pics. That’s a lot still, but do you realize it is decimating 90% of the pictures? Yet I am going to do it. And in future, I hope I just don’t stand in front of a flower, a train, a mountain and take pics incessantly. I hope I stop to actually appreciate the beauty of things around me, smell a flower, take in some fresh air, throw a few pebbles in the stream, do anything but randomly grab my camera and go click click click. And remember my thumb rule. If you can’t show your day’s worth in 100 pics maximum, you cannot show it anyway. A picture is worth a thousand words. You don’t really want a thousand pics to tell your story.

So click on that travel folder you have ignored all this while, go through the pics, and go delete delete delete. Trust me, you don’t need most of the pics. Only a few representative ones will do.


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The right door

4 years ago, I had rejected University of Michigan, Ann Arbor to join UW, Seattle. I don’t really know why I chose Seattle over Ann Arbor, given that I knew nothing about either. Both schools were equally good in my field, and I didn’t really have anything against UMich. I was confused for a while, so I asked a few people. Most said Ann Arbor snows like crazy [I am not much of a winter person], though Seattle rains no less. I think I was more familiar with the name Seattle [thanks to Sleepless in Seattle]. Someone suggested there would be a strong Indian crowd in Seattle, thanks to Microsoft and Amazon. Then it was a big city [unlike Ann Arbor], etc etc. The decision was made for me. I was going to Seattle. It’s like- I had two doors in front of me, one with UW written on it, and one with UMich written on it. I had opened the door to UW.

Good and bad, my life in Seattle has been eventful ever since. I finished school, decided to say “no thanks” to PhD in a year, got myself a job, and started working. I hiked, I learnt to drive, I joined salsa classes, I acted and performed in plays, I joined the local dance group, and much more. However, I don’t know how life would have been had I chosen the door with UMich written on it. Maybe I would have finished my PhD. Maybe I would have learnt to like the snow and started skiing. Maybe I would be married by now. Who knows? My friend tells me the tango dancers network at UMich is amazing. Another friend from the business school speaks highly of the place. These are friends who went to UMich. But I’ll never know what was in store for me if I went to UMich, will I?

Today, I stand at a similar crossroad in life, only more difficult. I have 6 PhD admits with scholarships. Worse, 4 of them are similar ranking schools. I don’t really have a choice of city versus college town, as all of them are college towns. All of them are offering me similar packages. The time required to graduate is more or less the same. It’s like facing the same situation 4 years later, this time, only worse. 4 doors with different names in front of me. Which door do I choose? Of course no matter whatever door I choose, I’ll have an eventful journey ahead of me. But will I ever know what I missed out on? What if after choosing “A”, things don’t work out? I’ll always wonder what “B”, “C”, or “D” had in store for me. I was hoping my gut feeling would come handy and help me make a choice. But my gut feeling isn’t communicating with me. Mother suggested writing down all the names in little pieces of paper and asking baby Kalyani to randomly choose one. On a side note, my bollywood-influenced mother further listened to my plight and told me with all seriousness and sympathy, “I can understand, it’s like having to choose between Ranbir Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor for a husband. Both of them are so good”. I had cracked up on the phone 3 months ago when she told me this.

Anyway, I have kind of made a choice, but I had no reason to disapprove of my other choices. The super good schools that were my first choices all rejected me, and now I am left with decently good schools, and I just don’t know what to choose and what to leave behind. And I know that no matter what door I choose, I will always wonder what the doors I left behind had in store for me. Like my architect friend SD says, embarrassment of the riches. Sometimes faced with choices, you know this is THE one and you will not go for anything else. And sometimes faced with choices, you just don’t know what to choose to make you feel that was the right choice.