Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tea Time Word Play

A: “After you have spent an entire Sunday doing statistics homework, every other choice in life seems like a “reject” or a “fail to reject” decision!"

B: “But are you “confident” enough to take those decisions?”

A: “Well, should one make personal decisions based on statistical significance or a 95% confidence interval?”

B: “I think one must consider the T(ea)-value before any decision, especially when it is this cold. If there is no T, then there would be zzzzzzzz”

A: “Yes, the null hypothesis (Ho): [If not “t”, then “z”] shall have no alternative hypothesis (Ha). This is proven with 100% confidence, fully supported by the Ch(a)i square test”

P.S. B: "A word of caution though! Taking the Ch(a)i square test indiscriminately often leads to dangerously high p(ee)-values, which can cause you to fail the null hypothesis."

Graduate school can do a lot to your madness quotient J


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Things not to do in a PhD

Theorem 946:

Never ever, not even in a desperate attempt to impress your advisor, submit an assignment before time. If you read my last post, you’ll probably know what this post is going to look like. A list of 50 schools. 7 straight hours of solid work. An assignment due Friday (tomorrow, as I write this post). Tuesday morning, I confidently walked into my advisor’s office, all smiles and ready to make him realize I am the best, the most dedicated gem of a graduate student he just found. I knocked at his door, entered with the pile of printouts from last night’s hard work, and looked at him. I had even prepared a little word document with the summary of work I had done, more to show off than anything more.

“So you wanted this data on Friday. I thought I’ll finish it earlier for you to take a look at”, I beamed.

Did he go through those papers? Hell, no. He didn’t even touch them. Instead, listen to what he said-

“Great. I now want you to go through those papers, each and every one of them, pull out the data I am looking for, put it in a table in the word document, classify it, code it, and bring it back to me.”

I could only stare at him in disbelief. He was talking of 10 more hours of work. I don't know which one I felt more, immobilized and paralyzed.

“Hey, thanks for doing those. Good job. How many schools’ information do we have now?”

“50”, I answered unenthusiastically.

“Great. Do the same for the other list too. You don’t mind, do you?”, he handed me a list.

“Of course not. I’ll do it”, I smiled sarcastically, closing the office door behind me before he could assign me more work. It was then that I looked at the list.

The list had 70 more schools.

This is one of those posts I’ll gladly send to PhD comics to make a comic strip out of.


Monday, November 15, 2010

A random day in my life

Disclaimer: Pretty random and boring post

I just took the 10 pm bus and reached home. That makes it a little more than 13 hours spent at the department. I had two core classes and I was almost ready to head home at 3 in the evening. But I have spent the last 2 days of the weekend agonizing. Last Friday, my advisor gave me some work that I dreaded doing. I almost wasted 2 days wondering how I would ever get that work done. You see, people say a PhD is great because you get to think innovative and discover something. All that is fine, but those glorious moments of innovation and discovery happens with a saddening low “once in a blue moonish” frequency. You spend years doing a PhD and you think you innovate something everyday? For 95% of the time, you do rote work, work that your advisor wants you to do and not necessarily what you want to do. It is not a bad thing at all, it is all a part of the training process. A PhD is not just about mastering a small area in your field, it is more about how well you can work with your research team, meet deadlines, develop interpersonal skills, communicate with others, work proactively, and think of ways of doing things that will make you look smarter and hard working. For all of you who think researchers work in isolation, spending all their time alone in labs, you are wrong. PhD is very much a social process.

So what rote work was I assigned this time? My advisor gave me a list of schools and asked me to find and print particular details about their school of medicine program. When I looked at the list, there were some 60 schools. Remember those days when you were just done with your GRE and were in the process of choosing schools and sending them suck emails (emails asking a professor if he has funding and is accepting students because you might just be the brightest student he could bag)? How I hated those days, going through school website, website after website, jotting down every tiny detail. It was a laborious, monotonous, thankless job. Now I was back to doing that. I had to show him results by Friday this week, and I had already spent 2 days in inertia, overwhelmed about how and where to get started.

This was not going the right way. With the finals approaching, I had to get this thing out of my life and move on. I decided to stay back and finish at least half the schools. Website after website, I skimmed through every detail he wanted with mechanical precision. There was nothing innovative, nothing to use my brains for, just a combination of commands (search, click, copy, paste, print) repeated hundreds of times. Slowly the surrounding sounds got lower, classes got over, people in the building left for home. But I worked, school after school, website after website, my back aching and me longing to come back home and sleep. No music this time, no chatting, no wasting time getting distracted, I worked on this for 7 long hours. Finally I was done, not half way through, but in its entirety.

I was so relieved after finishing it that I went on a feeling of high. I sulked for 2 days wondering how I will get it done, but it took me only those seven solid hours to get it done. I am sure tomorrow when he sees what I have done, he will smile, say thank you, and give me some more work to do. That is what everyone above you in authority does, isn’t it?

I know all this in theory, but what I like is the realization that obstacles are mostly in our minds. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist or are benign. Yes they are very much there, sitting and intimidating and overwhelming us. But once you let go of that inertia and start working on what you need to get done, even the most boring and monotonous work will be done. Those 7 hours were horrid, but now that I have put it past me, I feel so much lighter.

Not all days are productive. Some days I end up not getting a single bit of work done in the entire day. Friends, distractions, phone calls, and movies get in the way. Those are the days I feel so horrible about myself, so guilty, and so low. It’s like going on an eating spree when you are supposed to be watching your weight. Yet some days you drag yourself to the gym, and no matter how tiring those few hours of workout are, you come out feeling so good about yourself. Similarly for those days that are spent in inefficiency, it is days like this that give me a high. Some amount of solid work done, something to show to the advisor next morning, and I start feeling great about myself again. I know this is like the sine curve where efficiency will be followed by bouts of inefficiency. I know a few days from now I will be feeling low again, blaming myself for not working hard enough. Yet today I know I will have the best and the most relaxing sleep, because something that was due the following Friday has been completed by Monday evening.

Just a random day in my life as a graduate student.


Sunday, November 14, 2010

5 Years

It’s a nostalgic day for me. It’s Children’s Day alright, but today is also the 5th anniversary of my first job. Yeah, remember those days when I had recently started blogging? Those posts amuse me, embarrass me, even confuse me. It all seems from a different lifetime, things have changed so much. I was changed so much. This was my first real job, no, not pocket money earned through tuitions as a student, but a full-time, real job. I was 24 then. Ambitious, starry eyed, with full of energy and enthusiasm, ready to face anything in life head on. I was in love with life then. I am still in love, but it’s a different kind of love now, and a different kind of life now. Nothing bothered me then, not even the measly amount I earned back then (I am told I was the lowest paid), not the fact that I was a teacher and had to be serious with the students, or the fact that teachers didn’t have much of a social reputation compared to say engineers or doctors. Every morning I woke up at 5, all dressed and ready to face a new day.

Things were always eventful in school. Children were always up to something. I loved the math and physics lessons I taught. I would eagerly wait to grab the marker pen and start scribbling on the board. I loved the fact that as I spoke, so many children, all young and impressionable, listened to me and enlightened themselves. I loved the fact that my children (well, most of them) enjoyed science and math. I loved the fact that I was so much thinner and younger. Children couldn’t hide their curiosity to know my age and if I was married. I once told them I was married and had five kids at home. You should have seen their faces.

Eventually I learnt the names of everyone in my class. I even knew the handwriting of every student in my class. It was my only job where work never seemed like work. It seemed like fun. I have worked in different positions ever since, a toxicologist, a graduate student, a research assistant, but my best memories come from my job as a teacher. Then why did I leave my job and move to the U.S., you may be wondering? Because I was young and wanted to see the world. I hadn’t really planned my job as a teacher, it just happened. I had finished my masters, applied for a PhD abroad, and had a couple of months till I heard back from them. I was basically sitting at home doing nothing. It was then that my job happened to me. By the time I had started working, I already had big plans in life for the following year.

Have I ever had second thoughts about leaving my job and moving? You would be surprised to know that the answer is a yes. There was a brief moment when I seriously wanted to ditch my plans of moving to the U.S. and continue working as a teacher in Kolkata. But then, they paid me too less, and I was too eager to see the world. Life gave me an opportunity to go explore the world, and I grabbed it. I don’t regret my decision once. It was the best decision I could have made under those circumstances. But even today, my job as a teacher remains my favorite job. Working as a teacher gave me a whole new perspective about what I was capable of doing, and what I loved to do. This is why even after 5 years, I fondly remember my first day in school.


Social Desirability

Once in a while, I read stuff and come across an interesting word or phrase that amuses me. It makes me feel that I always knew what it is about, but never had a term coined for it. Social desirability (and social desirability bias) are two such terms.

So what is social desirability? Rather, what are the actions you do, subconsciously or otherwise, to gain social desirability? Ever saw that group picture of yours where you strangely look a little constipated? That was because the moment the photographer was about to click, you decided to tuck in your tummy in hopes of looking slimmer. Did you end up looking slimmer? Well, you really don’t want to know, do you?

“So how many times a week do you frequent the gym?”, asked someone. You tend to overestimate the frequency, unless you know you don’t frequent the gym at all and hence say something like, “Gymming doesn’t show results. People who gym are wasting their time”. Do you happen to run more frequently these days because your annual body check up is due in a few weeks? Remember when the woman at the drivers’ licensing office asked what your weight was (to put in your state id) and you told her how much you used to weigh 5 years ago? 

Ever tweaked your height by an innocuous inch? Ever mentioned on Facebook how much you enjoy running when the truth is you just started running after 3 years of procrastination? Ever wore that “Proud to be an IIT-ian” tee shirt around on your visit to the city, only to reason that every other piece of clothing you had is in the laundry? (It did earn you some glances from women, didn’t it?)

Height. Weight. Fitness level. Salary. Caste. College. We do it all the time, sub-consciously or conscious-innocuously. How it leads to social desirability bias and screws the data collection for social scientists trying to study human behavior through self-reported measures is a different story altogether. I am not saying it is a wrong thing, or one must not to do because someone you don’t remember anymore once told you years ago that honesty is the best policy. What amuses me (and made me write this post) is the realization that others do it, and I have done it too, not realizing until now that the phenomenon had a name.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Five stages of moving your stuff

In the last 4 years of my living here, I have moved four times. It was a different protocol each time. The first time I had so little stuff (and sadly even less money and manpower) that a friend made 2 trips in his car and I was done moving. I had promised then not to increase junk. But like the old and clichéd adage of promises being meant to be broken, my stuff multiplied and reproduced on its own through a series of visits to the garage sales, malls and stores. The next time I had some money, I suspect the potential manpower I might rely on could develop sudden neck aches or temporary lumbar immobility contingent on my move, and hence I hired movers. However, preparing for a cross-country move was a different game.

First, it was not a newly recruited Microsoft move, where the company paid for the movers and the transporters. It was a poor graduate student moving. What I had and wanted to take with me was what I had to pay for and arrange to move myself. I tried asking my advisor-to-be if I could get some moving costs reimbursed, even partially, to which I was promptly reminded how lucky I was to get a research assistantship in this lousy economy in the first place. It’s a different story that the measly amount of money I make as a student is barely anything to boast of. So the protocol was simple. I make a list of things I want to keep. I donate the rest to Goodwill. I contact shipping companies and car movers for lowest quotes. Unlike what I was told earlier, some companies do let you ship stuff in your car. 150 lbs seemed a lot at first, but I soon discovered otherwise.

So here goes my theory about the five stages of moving stuff cross-country.

Stage 1: I love my stuff and I’m not giving you anything

You go through your stuff and discover this strange and newfound love for everything you have. The chocolates and the boy friend are long gone, but the chocolate box he gifted you five years ago still remains. The queer looking irregular heptagon shaped wooden table your senior left you when he moved (which you thought looked odd anyway) doesn’t look that queer anymore and you want to hold on to it. The cheesy coffee mug you got on your birthday that you were secretly hoping to recycle someday doesn’t look that cheesy anymore and you want to hold on to it. Pots. Pans. Plants. Pictures. Potpourri. Paintings. The grandma handbag you bought for one dollar at the garage sale. The shabby looking comforter set from Walmart. The free tee shirts that no longer fit you (and never suited you in the first place). The hideously out of fashion long frilly skirts you got from India. The dinner set with patterns straight out of a chessboard. Suddenly you develop a deep, spiritual love for all these things and you do not want to let go.

Stage 2: You look up for quotes of shipping companies and realize that the price of shipping is more than the price of the articles

Life is all about optimization, let us face it. Since you cannot take everything with you, but neither can you throw all you stuff, you turn philanthropic and now spend a month asking your friends to come over and take your stuff. You organize an open house, even promise them free chai and samosas if they took your stuff and relieved you of your junk. You are even willing to home deliver. Of course, hardly anyone shows up, and you are left with whatever stuff you had before, plus a big plate full of samosas you need to recycle now.

Corollary 2a: Craigslist. You do manage to sell some stuff on craigslist, but that is after a lot of effort of putting up ads and pictures, answering emails about the specifications, color, and condition of the furniture (the details you have already provided in the ad but don’t want to seem rude when they ask again), answer phone calls, deal with stingy buyers who bargain beyond shamefulness, miss parties and stay at home sulking because someone promised to come pick up your sorry looking couch but never showed up, and finally realize that you have only made 35 dollars and 29 cents selling the sorry looking couch and the rug, and ending up having to give the TV, rocking chairs, and the glass table as free items to the person who just picked up the couch and the rug.

Stage 3: The Classification mode

You segregate things as belonging to one of the following categories:

3 a. Absolutely essential and cannot be replaced category: Pressure cooker from India. Old letters from friends. Photo albums. Your progress report cards dated 30 years ago. The bikini set you bought for personal inspiration, hoping you’d be able to get into it someday.

3 b. Absolutely essential but can be replaced category: Self-improvement books. Aerobics DVDs. Things you never use but keep them because possessing them makes you feel good about yourselves.
3 c. Hangar category: (Can be purchased anywhere for real cheap): Hangars, Sandwich Makers, and anything and everything you get in Walmart.

3 d. Router category: (Don’t need it, but is expensive to replace and you might need it someday). Includes the router itself, the DVD player, and those polka-dotted thongs you cannot even use as a hanky, let alone use them as thongs.

3 e. Should have disposed long back category: The ill-fitting salwar kameez you wore in India till you moved to the U.S. and developed a better dressing sense. That heart shaped chocolate box from the ex. That hideous looking bedding set. The superman tights you picked up on sale for Halloween. The porn-collection you stole from your boyfriend’s computer when he wasn’t looking.

Stage 4: You go back and forth changing categories

Some “should be replaced” become “cannot be replaced, are you kidding?”. You are reluctant to let go of that clothes iron you got on a black Friday sale because it reminds you of the effort you put standing in line from one in the morning on a cold November night. You transition between philosophy and materialism, from “man was born empty-handed and will die empty-handed”, to the philosophy of materialism that says possessing goods makes you feel less depressed and shopping is the best anti-stress kriya. Perhaps anything that can fit into the car must stay. That hideous wall décor doesn’t look that hideous perhaps. Oh and I think I will hold on to the boyfriend’s collection of “you-know-what” I stole from his computer.

Stage 5: Throw it all

You dump everything except that bikini set that didn’t fit you in the first place, and decide to buy everything afresh. You are sick of classifying things as essential and non-essential, and holding on to non-essentials as if they were essentials. You realize it is not worth the hassle of packing, moving, paying, and lugging everything up and down the old place and the new place multiple times. You realize you have better taste in shopping and better expendability now, and need to show off your brand new stuff to your new friends anyway. You are tired of eating in those old dinner plates that can be used to play chess too, sleeping in those same orange checkered sheets for years, and need a reason to release your negative energy by going shopping and camping in the nearest shopping mall during the weekend. So you leave everything behind, master the art of letting go, move to the new place, buy new stuff, and the vicious cycle of buying, accumulating, and throwing stuff continues till you move again.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

One Year of Homelessness ‎

Written on September, 2010

I have never been a homesick person. In fact, I admire people who set out with a backpack and explore the world. There is a thrill in eating out of packets and sleeping in a tent compared to dining with expensive china and sleeping on a comfortable mattress day after day. However, my perception of home and what it means to me has changed drastically over the last year.

Last September, I realized that I was in for a big change in life. My apartment lease didn’t get over for months. Hence, I sublet it and moved to G’s empty house (G was traveling then). I had G (and other friends) graciously open their arms and their homes to give me a place to live. For the next 3-4 months, I lived at G’s place. It is multiple times the size of my apartment and more comfortable. But, it wasn’t my home.

Earlier this January, I moved back to my apartment to spend a month selling furniture and other stuff, and got back to sleeping on the floor again. My apartment didn’t look like a home anymore. There was no longer a nook with my favorite books and a relaxing chair, a place where I could sit and eat dinner, or a bed where I could crash. Random strangers who contacted me on craigslist showed up, left me some money, and marched out with my favorite stuff without so much as a blink. The year before, after I started working, I had spent quite some time and money getting expensive furniture and little things to decorate my home. Now I was packing my life into little boxes and giving away whatever more I had.

Come February I was back to living with G. Baby Kalyani gave me company and kept me happy. I once again had a bed to sleep in, a family to live with, and everything I needed. My life still was packed in little boxes. It was home in a different way. It wasn’t my home. In March, I moved to my architect friend’s house while she travelled. I had a housemate this time, a cat I volunteered to take care of. I had to feed her, ensure she was safe and comfortable, and clean cat litter (a first time experience). I missed human company, and the evenings were depressing. I longed to have my own place. Seeking company, my fear for the only other life in that house (the cat), changed into gradual acceptance. One fine day I had slowly picked up the cat and cuddled her. I was still not a big fan of quadrupeds who licked you as a sign of love, but with my cat’s mommy gone, we learnt to accept and enjoy each other’s company.

April onwards, I was in India for about three and a half months, but it was no longer home for me. It was more like a place where my parents lived. I refused to call it “my home”, much to the annoyance of everyone. I had transitioned from that phase where my family’s home used to be my home too. True I grew up in that house and had many memories associated with it. Yet I was living elsewhere for the last 4 years, and after having made a home for myself somewhere else, I no longer saw Kolkata as home. As usual, my father propositioned me shifting base and moving to Kolkata to live in “my home”. Although I was thankful, the idea wasn’t very tempting. Although I was practically homeless then, Kolkata wasn’t home either.

For 2 weeks in July, I set on a globe-trotting experience. I visited four European countries, lived in a different city almost every day, a different country every few days, and every night, I would sleep either in a different hostel bed or in a train on my way to the next destination. Some mornings, I used to wake up confused about where I was. Try waking up in a different place every day and you would know what I mean.

By August, I was back to Seattle packing my stuff for the big move. The last few days, I mostly lived at G’s home, but sometimes I would stay over at other friends’ homes too. Packing and moving took me a while. Finally sometime in mid-August, I moved to my new home. It didn’t seem like home at first, having lived in 17 homes, 8 hostels and 5 trains the last one year (just random numbers). But things changed eventually.

The first thing I did was make a list of basic things I would need, and spent some time shopping for them. This included a bed, a desk and chair, a book shelf, china, lamps, stuff for the kitchen, and so on. These were the basics, yet I did not wait to find something used on craigslist as most students would do. I went ahead and bought them new. This depleted my bank savings substantially, especially since a used bed on craigslist could cost you $20 but a new one from a showroom would cost you at least 30 times more. Yet something in me refused to use something that someone else has used before. The day I discovered bed bugs in my room, or woke up with a back ache every morning, I would realize that my time, effort, and money wasn’t worth it.

I made a new beginning for myself, getting everything I needed for my student life. And it was the right thing to do. In 2 weeks time, I had furnished and decorated my room from scratch, making multiple rounds to shops and stores, choosing and bargaining and deciding, assembling furniture toolkit in hand, learning to use a hammer, screws, and nails without cutting myself, learning to read manuals and follow instructions, deciding on themes and colors, making multiple trips to stores to compare price and quality for bedding, and so on. It was an arduous, but a fun project nevertheless. Although I am way lazy to go shopping and buy stuff, I did this because one year of living in different people’s homes had taught me the value of getting my own little corner, nook, and space, my own little room that I could call home. If you have ever been homeless, even for a while, you will see how it changes your perspective about having your own little space. Why homeless, try going on a week-long vacation to Hawaii. The day you come back and step home greeted by the familiar sight and smell of your mess home, you will say, “Wow, it feels great to be back home”. That is what our personal space does to us, give us a sense of belonging, and a sense of security and familiarity, so much so that even using the faucets or the bed in someone else’s place will seem “different”.


Saturday, November 06, 2010


I walked slowly up to the long corridor of memories. This place had seen good days, and it had seen bad days. There were days of pain and grief and anguish, and there were days of joy and dreams and laughter etched on the walls. The long walkway led to the door at the far end of the corner, the same heavy, strong door that now remains closed all the time. I slowly walked up to the door, my feet made of lead. This journey has always been painful.

I slowly touched the door, the metal feeling cold and lifeless to my hands. The air seemed damp and musty. I tried pushing the heavy door a bit, and it creaked and squeaked. I pushed it a little more, aghast at all the noise it made for nothing. What an ordeal it was! This place reeked of death. I gulped, knowing what I was about to see at the other end of the door, but not quite prepared for it. I opened it wide enough to be able to see the other end of the room. There at the corner she was, as always, crouched on the floor the same way she has always been. It seems she was oblivious to the creaking of the door, or to anything else going around in the world that made sense. She was stooped on the ground, wearing a flowing white dress, her hair unkempt and flying wildly around her face. She had a piece of her dress in her hand, nice to touch, all shiny and satiny, and was scrubbing it with all her might. It seemed like she was trying to get the stain off the cloth, and was working at it diligently, so much that she was unaware of anything else. She must have sensed my presence, my discomfort, for she looked up to see me, startled, her brown almond eyes dilating and liquefying. She looked at me with an expression difficult to decipher. One could not guess what she wanted me to do with that pleading look in her eyes. It seemed like she was trying to reach out to me, like a scared child, for empathy, for understanding, for closure. Yet she spoke not a word.

She looked at me for what seems like ages, that same look that I have seen on her beautiful yet slowly ageing face every time now. Then as if she had never seen me, she went back to work. She went back to business, to scrubbing the corner of her dress she was holding on to dearly, as if I had never existed. She scrubbed with all her strength, with every muscle of determination. I pleaded her to stop doing that and look at me. She did not. I knew I had lost her once again.

I closed the door behind me and scampered out of the corridor, eerie apparitions with little fragments of her face exploding all around me. I could not face that look in her eyes, the fear and the pain that was so palpable and that left me so helpless. There was no way I could stay there and prolong my misery any longer, I needed some sunshine on my skin, I needed some fresh air to breathe, I needed to make a resolution to never come back again. I half-walked, half-ran, not sure if the ghosts had stopped chasing me. I didn’t realize I was crying. Something about her face broke my heart every time I saw her that way. I used to know a different face a lifetime ago. Not anymore.

I was out there in the sun, panting, gasping for breath. I closed my eyes once and there I saw the image of her scrubbing her dress, trying to get rid of the stain that perhaps no one else saw. I have seen her the same way, in the same room, crouched on the floor and doing the same thing for so long now. And I know that I am never going to have my closure for as long as she does it.

She’s been doing that for four years now.


Friday, November 05, 2010

Edging towards Ageing

I was driving towards New York. It was this long drive that took me around 5 hours, and I was not even half way through. I wanted to see if I could drive that long without taking a single break. I zoomed passed all the freeways, my car consistently running 20 plus mph for every specified speed limit. This was what freedom and liberation must feel like, I thought to myself, Neeraj Shridhar screaming loud decibels from the songs of Love Aajkal in my car stereo. I got off a particular freeway to get into another, and the GPS showed a stretch of narrow, single lane, non-freeway road in between. It was a quiet day with barely any traffic. Good news, since that meant I might reach my destination sooner. I sped and zoomed for a while on the road, being the lonely driver that I was, till I saw a vehicle at a distance. It was in the same lane that I was in, and it could be an optical illusion that before I knew, I was right behind the car.

It seemed the car was moving really slow, although there was no traffic in front of it. It was an old car, and I tried to look through its rear glass to see who was driving. I looked at my odometer and here I was a good 15 mph slower than the speed limit (I usually drive 10-15 above the speed limit). It was frustrating, I tried signaling to the driver, I tried indicating, I tried to signal with my headlights, but nothing worked. I tried not to honk as it is rude, but I was so tempted to. I looked in my mirror and there was a steady queue of cars trailing right behind me. Who was this person driving the car ahead of me? If he had to drive slow, why didn’t he pull over and let us pass? Being the sexist that I am in certain things, I was so sure it was a dumb woman driving. It was a single lane narrow road and there was no way I could speed past the car as it was a hilly road with less frontal visibility. The car continued its snail’s pace for about 10 miles of that narrow, countryside road before it slowed down and pulled over to let me pass. I was fuming by this time, not knowing what kind of a person would drive so slow and not let me pass.

As I sped past the culprit car, I craned my neck to have a look at the miscreant driver who wasted so much of my time and slowed me down. There I saw an old man, all wrinkled and shriveled, clearly in his 70s. Something in my heart just tightened at this sight. I felt guilty that I had been frustrated at this old gentleman who could barely maintain the speed limit. Clearly at that age, it was a difficult task to drive, let alone drive in speed. It pained my heart to see him alone, something very characteristic of this country. Why would an old man in his 70s have to drive alone? Because it is a lonely place to be in at age 70, and still have to do your work on your own without help. He sure must be honked at and signaled whenever he drives. But, what can he do about it?

Scary enough, I imagined myself at that age, 40 years down the line, trying to drive my car with a line of cars honking behind me. Old age sure is a scary thing to transition into, when your faculties and your friends fail you, when you are left to be on your own and no one cares about your existence anymore. It’s scary to think that someday I would be frail, dependent, a nag, a constant complainer, a person lacking in judgment, ignored, unattractive, slow, a traffic hazard, senile, cantankerous, absent-minded, angry, forgetful, lonely, burdensome, out of touch, hard of hearing, have poor eyesight and judgment, useless, crabby, whiny, a hot ginger tea-drinking drinking arthritic, heavily bespectacled, liver spotted, fat, fumbling, frustrated, ineffective, slow, short tempered, out of shape, wrinkled, rambling, set in my ways, mean, childish, crotchety, complaining, alone, stubborn, incapable, decaying, humorless, pitiful, meddling, advice giving old woman. I could mention more adjectives if this doesn’t explain how I am going to turn out to be 40 years down the line.

Old age is a socially constructed omen. The society likes to paint rosy pictures of cute children holding their mommy’s hands, of industrious men wearing suits and making business deals, of teachers enlightening students and of lovers holding hands by the lake. But the society is not always inclusive of the older people. As I write this, I wonder who constructed the term “old age”, and how exactly do we know at what point we transition into old age. Is a 35 year old single man too old to get married? Is a 40 year old woman too old to try having a baby? Do we ever turn too old to fall in love? Why is it that we are always “too old” to do something? Too old to learn new tricks? More importantly, how exactly should I prepare myself for old age? Should I treat it like an investment policy and make lots of friends so that I am not left alone when I am senile? But then I am assuming that these friends will stand by me when I am old and frail. Maybe I can get married, but there is no guarantee that my husband will stick around long enough to cope with my failing memory and missing dentition. I will be like a baby once I am old, dependent and needy, only this time I will not have my mother around me to take care of me and help me grow.

Dear old man, I apologize for being impatient while you drove slowly. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to drive and take care of yourself at that age. I can only write this post on this blog, because some day I will be in your shoes, driving slowly, and someone less than half my age will get restless and worked up. This is how the world works. In chains and cycles.