Sunday, February 27, 2011

I Feel Like a Mixer Grinder

When I woke up that morning, it felt like a train rode over me. I had images of a large mass of bulls chasing me, their hoofs springing a blanket of red dust in the air. I watched them charge toward me until I could see nothing. I only felt hundred of pairs of hoofs stamping on me all over. It was not a dream or a morbid fantasy, it was very much a self-inflicted torture. You see, I have never fancied working out in the gym. God knows, I tried, not once, but multiple times over the last 4 years where like a small mass of bacteria, my mass has almost threatened to double itself in no time. I was big boned never a thin woman, but now, I was definitely obese, out of shape (unless you considered being round a shape too), and doing disastrously in my fitness levels. Euphemistically said, I had become a woman of substance. To make it worse, I fancied wearing a pair of shorts, or an off shoulder dress someday without people hurling stones at me for visual pollution. Hence, I tried running on the treadmill. I tried biking and rowing. But there was something claustrophobic about working out in the closed confines of a gym (Another bahana Miss. sunshine?). Not that it meant that running outside was an option. For some weird physiological malfunctioning, I am one of those extinct species who cannot run. Wait a minute before you try to look all enlightened and tell me that it is because I am not in shape or lack in fitness. Both those things are true, but that is not correlated to my running skills. For this has happened even when I was thin and fit. There is some internal physiological switch that turns off when I run. 20 steps, not more, and I begin to feel dizzy. 20 more steps and my jaws begin to hurt. 20 more steps, and I see things getting blacker in front of me. I don’t live to see the next 20 steps. I keel over and collapse on the ground. The bottom line is, I can do sustained moderate workout for an hour or two, but I cannot run for more than 50 steps. My system shuts down and even before I know, I have fainted.
Back to my post, gym has never happened to me on a regular basis for more than 3 days in a row. Then thanks to Facebook, I learned that there was something called Zumba. I had never heard the word before, and it sounded like an African reptile to me. I looked it up and learned that it was a dance class. No matter how unprepared I am for the gym, dancing runs in my veins. I don’t mean the elite ballet or the classical Kathak. I mean dance. Plain, simple, Jeetendra and Mithun da moves that happen in your head when you listen to music. Nothing trained, nothing practiced. My mother still takes great pride in recounting a particular childhood incident back from 1988 when my uncle was getting married. On a hot, June morning in Kolkata, no one was sitting at the wedding pandal except an old relative snoozing, and me being the only other person dancing away to glory to the songs of Disco Dancer and Ek Aankh Maaron. My father had reprimanded me for such, like he calls it, crass, un-lady like nautanki in bad taste, but my mother had beamed in pride. She just realized that I had something rare that no one else had in the family- the dancing genes.
When I read about Zumba, I knew I had to try it. I was not in shape, I was not fit, but it had to start sometime. However, nothing had prepared me for the level of pain I was about to put myself through. I enrolled for classes at the gym, took this opportunity to shop some more on the pretext of buying gym clothes and shoes, and I was there all prim and proper for my first Zumba class. The music began. The dancers warmed up. Then, it all happened. For the last one month, I have spent my evenings doing every kind of move that can be interpreted as domestic activity. Wiping floors in a circle in the air. Kick starting an old motorcycle. Riding an imaginary horse. Gyrating my hips as if I was the flour grinder of an Idli making machine. Starting a manual diesel generator during a power outage. Milking a cow while half bent on my haunches. Sweeping the floor hopping on one leg. Flying a kite. Vibrating as if I have been electrocuted. I have shaken my hips like Govinda. I have jumped and done acrobatics like Karisma Kapoor did in her movies from the 1990s. They made me shake my belly as if I was a mixer grinder or the belly dancer in Mehbooba O Mehbooba. They made me shake my hips as if I was one of those extras dancing to the song “Gutar Gutar” or “Jhopdi Mein Charpai”. I have felt red thinking of the consequences if any respectable member of my species saw me doing such obnoxiously hilarious moves. I have felt like a dancer from the song Appadi Podu or Yammadi Athaadi. I have been stripped of all my dignity. I am a venerable scientist in the making who secretly shakes her hips and booty in the evenings in so hilarious a way that the scientific society would disown her if they were to see her thus.
It has been an extremely painful process, shaking all that lard, just because there is so much to shake. When you have a qamra (room) in the name of a qamar (hip), the moves never go right, no matter how much you try to gyrate to it. They often ask me to defy gravitation and half bend like a frog while I do my moves. It kills my thighs and my calves. They make me hop like a squirrel. They make me jump on one foot as if I was weightless. Sometimes I am Govinda, shaking my well-endowed unmentionables. Sometimes I am Jeetendra (sans the white shoes, white trousers, and white shirts), kick starting an invisible scooter. Sometimes I am a Punjabi frog, leaping, jumping, and doing Bhangra. Sometimes I am a cricketer who leaps for the ball to prevent it from hitting the boundaries, knowing that there is no ball. Sometimes I am that mixer and grinder you use to make dosa batter. Sometimes I am that woman in labor who gets on her fours and kicks and writhes in pain. Sometimes I pant like an asthma patient, clutching on to my chest and heaving in rhythm to Dhak Dhak Karne Lagaa. If nothing, sometimes I am an overweight baby on my haunches, crawling. My ribs hurt as if someone has hammered the life out of them. My belly muscles, well hidden under layers of adipose, hurt as if someone has wrung the life out of them. My thighs cramp as if a dozen ungulates have stomped over me. My booty hurts as if the last 9:45 pm Amtrack train has just run over it. I hurt in places where I did not know there were places. Even the enervated adipose tissue in my body screams in rebellion, it hurts so much (body parts without nerves are not supposed to have the sensation of pain though).
Then why do I do it, you must be wondering. Because no matter how much you dread the physical pain, there is something addictive about loud music playing and you dancing to its beats. Only a person who enjoys dancing will identify with this feeling. After sometime, you numb yourself to the pain. You pant like a dog, you sweat like a pig, you palpitate like an asthmatic, you feel on the verge of having a heart attack, and you love the feeling. Some people attribute it to endorphins and pheromones releasing in the blood stream that makes you feel sexier. Some people attribute it to narcissism, looking at yourself in the mirror, tight hugging gym clothes and all, and you love it. Some make fun comparing it to role playing- playing the role of a mixer grinder, a washing machine, and a broom. I attribute it to a feeling akin to falling in love. You feel energetic, you feel light-footed, you run around as if you own the world, everything around you looks rosy and romantic, and you cannot wait to do this thing that you absolutely love- Dance.
Whatever it is, it gets you addicted. I started with visiting twice a week. It went up to four times a week. This is a lot, given that I am enrolled in many classes and am expected to churn out a lot of quality research work. Then I travel, do photography, and watch movies. I write blogs, and visit friends every now and then. I even do groceries and cook my food most of the time. I sleep as well, sometimes in classes, and other times, at night. This leaves me with almost no time at the end of the day. Yet I feel strange withdrawal symptoms when I skip my Zumba classes. I get cranky and unproductive, and keep doing the dance moves in my head. Those 60 minutes of class is sheer physical torture, and at the end of it, I come home and collapse, unable to walk without a limp. And this is exactly what addiction is. I am no better than a smoker or a person who does pot. I don’t care how it makes me feel, but I have to do it, else I am very cranky and unproductive. The high I get at the end of a strenuous workout, oh my God, makes me feel like I can jump, fly, levitate, conquer the world, and even escape gravity and fly off in space. I don’t know how much weight I am going to lose at the end of this, but I am surely going to end up as one hell of a weirdo who does Govinda somersaults and invisible sweeping steps when no one is looking, and feels great about it.
The grinding, mixing, blending, churning, and sweeping continues……
Added as an afterthought: I don't do these Bollywood numbers I mentioned, these were comparisons merely borne out of my fertile imagination. If interested, check out these two songs that are particularly favorites of mine from the Zumba class:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Expecting Changes

You would find me writing about graduate school, relationship woes, Facebook, or other random things, but that is it about the depth and range of my writings. Had I been a different person, I would have written about different things. For example, you will never see me writing about how pregnant women feel, because I have no insight or firsthand experience with that. Well, now I somewhat do, have the insight I mean. I overheard a woman talking to another pregnant woman the other day, and what she said was interesting.

She said two things. First, whatever can go wrong will go wrong when you are pregnant. She pointed to the pregnant woman’s injured toe as an example. It seems that the pregnant woman had mysteriously injured her toe, and although it was not a fracture, the doctor could not point out what it was. It could be incipient signs of gout, a minor twist, or something else, but no one knows. That is what the woman said, that things will happen to you that have no logic or explanation, when you are pregnant. You will injure your toe, develop indigestion, have short term memory loss, lose your purse, keep your car keys in the refrigerator, and everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

The second thing she said was that whoever you are as a person gets 100 times magnified when you are pregnant. She referred to friends who had typical characteristic traits that got exaggerated. A friend who was obsessive about cleaning became so a hundred times more when she was expecting. She would go around cleaning stuff at random times. Another friend who had a short temper in general and was not a very amicable or a hospitable person acted like a total bee aai tee see eich when she was expecting. She would throw temper tantrums and go around pissing people off. Another friend was a shopaholic and it got so worse during that time that she would spend all her money buying stuff. Another friend, who was a narcissist, would do nothing else than talk about herself when she was expecting. Hence whoever you are as a person gets multiple times magnified when you are pregnant, usually more for the worse than for the better.

I don’t have enough information to decide if I should buy her logic, but I found her theory pretty interesting. The second one more so compared to the first one. What do you think?


Relearning my Sciences

When my class 9 biology teacher Mrs. Khurana drew the structure of lactic acid and said, "This is what causes muscle fatigue.", I had learned how to draw the structure of lactic acid. Post-workout pains were always attributed to the “bad kitty” (Reference: South Park) lactic acid after that. I studied biology and biochemistry for years to follow, and always blamed lactic acid deposition for muscle pain after workout.

15 years later, I relearned my physiology when the advisor said, "Lactic acid is a myth, it is the leaky calcium channels." It seems the tremendous pressure you subject muscles to during short-duration, heavy exercise is what makes them leaky. Over time, the situation gets better because two things happen. We produce more calcium channels, and the calcium channels become more resilient. That is why we ache more when we start working out, but do not feel that much pain after a while. Over time, our body has produced more calcium channels, and they have strengthened themselves. Of course, I am paraphrasing what he said.

Whatever it is, right now my ribs and stomach muscles hurt so much that I am not in a state to care if it is the darned lactic acid or the leaky calcium channels. I will not care even if you tell me that I am suddenly producing excess male hormone testosterone or have generated a tail by mistake.


Friday, February 25, 2011

Out of Question

A few months ago, I talked about how my advisor taught me to write good research questions. When I got better at it, other interesting adventures happened. First, he sent me a research proposal he wrote, and asked me to comment on it. Second, he initiated a conference call with a big shot in the field, and I happened to be a part of the conference call.

The basic problem I have with stalwarts in my field is that I like everything that they propose, suggest, write, or do. That happens for movies or books as well. I do not enjoy writing reviews for movies or books because I realize I have nothing to write except the fact that it was great. If I lived through a 500 page book or a 2.5 hour movie, the reason is that I liked what I saw or read. What it there to talk about that? Who am I to say that the movie could have had a different ending or the book could have had the old woman dying in the beginning and not at the end? First, I inherently believe that authors, directors, researchers, etc. are artists. They have a certain way of seeing life, which is reflected in their work. Who am I to tear it apart and critique it? Second, I am inherently a peace-loving, easy going person. Now many of my friends might jump at this and give references of incidents to prove me a liar. They can vouch for how ill-tempered, cranky, and difficult I can be, but ignore the rippers. Generally, I don’t like to get into conflicts. That explains why debates, politics, and social activism isn’t my forte.

Naturally when the advisor asked me for my comments, I went wow for the millionth time in my head and sent him an honest reply, “This is great”. I genuinely meant it. The document looked similar to the orange and black Kanjivaram sari mom showed me a few years ago and asked for my opinion. Since I didn’t understand much of it, all I had mumbled was the standard, “Wow, looks great!”. I emailed the same thing to the advisor.

Also during a conference call with one of the stalwarts of our field, my advisor kept constantly asking me, “Do you have questions for her?” I looked up the person we were talking to, and went “Holy Shit!!!”. A female Indian rocket scientist!! I was sold. I read with fascination about the work she did on the angular momentum of space bodies. I was shaken out of my reverie when the advisor asked me, “So do you have any questions for her?”

“Of course”, I thought. I want to know how is she so smart, cool, impressive, and had it all figured out in life. Did you honestly want me to ask questions to reinstate my ignorance? It would be like asking Einstein, “Hey dude, what do you think of Physics?” I decided to nod no and keep mum.

This led to another one-on-one session with the man. I am so beginning to be wary of these “We need to talk” sessions. This is what he said:

“You know the difference between any PhD student and a first year PhD student? A first year student is always overwhelmed, afraid to ask questions, comment, jump at debates, critique someone’s work, or voice her opinions. I don’t want you to live like a first year PhD student. The next time I send you some document, I want your critique, and not write a a “This looks great!” The next time we talk to someone in the field, jump in with your questions. I understand you don’t want to say something out of place and look stupid, but you will not. I don’t care what your questions or comments are, but the next time you will not sit quietly and stay mum!”

Sighs. This has been my new exercise ever since. These days, I ask, suggest, critique, argue, debate, and question. I don’t think I do a super impressive job, but the man looks really happy, and I’d rather have him happy than listen to the “We need to talk” conversations. I am surprised at how I am undoing 25 years of programming and training where I was grew up hearing, “Don’t question me, what I say is authority”, from people in various positions of power. I realize not questioning might be a peaceful option in places, but if I am to earn a PhD in his group, nodding a yes and complying is out of question.


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bingo!! I am Bongo!!

When I was about 10 years old, my father made an identity related pivotal decision for me. Not that I was mature enough to understand what was happening; all I remember was protesting, disagreeing, and finally complying. My father decided that it was time for me to read and write Bangla, my mother language. I guess he wanted me to be able to read at least the basic road signs, if not the newspaper or the collection of Bengali books he has. He probably didn’t want me to turn out to be one of those “Bangla ma-er Anglo shontaan” (Anglicized child of Bengali parents, used in an innocuously derogatory context), the ones that went to the typical “tyNash” English medium schools, wore short skirts and rolled down their socks in school, and spoke Bengali with an English accent. I don’t know how to translate the word “tyNash”. Help, anyone?

Anyway, I was averse to the idea of learning Bengali first, for the simple reason that I was at the age where I was averse to learn anything that my parents wanted me to. I already knew English and Hindi, and I was learning Oriya and Sanskrit as well. I was convinced that another language would be a linguistic overload for me. 20 years ago, I was not the sunshine I am today, eager to read, converse in, and learn new languages. G will vouch for how I started from andre pandre and learnt some decent spoken Tamil. A set of “Kisholoy” books were bought, and I remember spending an entire summer learning my “aw aa kaw khaw”. The problem with learning anything from my father was two-fold. He is a perfectionist with a great, picturesque handwriting, and he gets very short-tempered while teaching something. This meant not only was I expected to have excellent handwriting, I would also get some serious reprimanding if I was not learning well enough.

I learnt my “Aw Aa Kaw Khaw” that summer. I even learnt to read Bengali. But things never took off far enough. My writing would be limited to those 3 lines for my grandmother in Patna whenever my mom wrote her letters. Those 3 lines were the customary “Tumi kemon aacho? Ami bhalo aachi. Ami theek kore porashuna korchi” (Rough translation: How are you? I am fine. I am doing well in school). Granny usually wrote back long letters to me, which was an issue because I read Bengali with incredible slowness. I would stumble through the first few lines after which, I would insist mother read it out to me. On weekends, father would expect me to read out the AnandaBazar Patrika to him, and amidst the smell of luchi torkari (poori subzee, the customary Bengali Sunday breakfast) wafting in the air and getting me impatient and salivating, it would be torture to read line after line of Bengali text. Reading the newspaper is boring as it is, and reading it in Bengali was worse.

Over the years, I ended up reading just one novel (Phatik Chand). I would read little excerpts from magazines here and there, but only if the content was interesting and prohibited for me to read (Like the section “kaane kaane” or kaano kaano mein in the magazine Sananda where women complained about erectile dysfunctionality of their husbands or the nosy nature of their mother-in-laws). Those volumes of Bibhuti Bushan, Tagore, and Sarat Chandra at home remained untouched.

I don’t really attribute my lack of interest in learning Bangali toward anything, but if it makes sense, I never grew up in West Bengal, and never understood why people around me were so obsessed about Bengali culture. Every time I visited Kolkata for vacations, I felt out of place, with Bangla channels on television, Bengali movie posters, and the “Vivid Bharati” station playing on radio. I was more conversant in Hindi and Oriya than I was in Bengali. Add to it the fact that I was pretty friendless in Kolkata, and I saw my visits to Kolkata as those lonely vacations when I had to stay home, listen to Bengali radio channels, and talk to everyone in Bengali.

I haven’t watched many Bengali movies. Books are out of question. My Bengali writing still resembles the writing of a ten year old, and I am incredibly slow at that too. I would reply to D’s letters (written with admirable Bengali-ness) with the first two lines in Bengali. My next sentence to him would be in English, saying, “Okay, enough of Bengali, now I need to get back to English”. I have friends who swear by Feluda, Tenida, Professor Shonku, Sonar Kella, and Uttam-Suchitra. I usually end up nodding stupidly in these conversations, trying not to show that I have not seen any of the movies or read any of these books, but giving that obvious look because people know right away I have no idea what they are talking about.

Things surprisingly changed after I moved to the U.S. I actually started missing talking to someone close in Bangla. For the first time in life, I started borrowing Bengali movies from the library. I completed watching the Apu trilogy, and a lot many movies. Rituparno Ghosh and Aparna Sen became my favorite directors after Satyajit Ray. Slowly, I had something to contribute to the discussions about Bengali movies. I started listening to Kishore Kumar in Bangla. However, I have still not read a single Bengali book. My reading is extremely slow, and I don’t get the meaning of a lot of words. My Bengali writing is lousy as usual, with a lot of spelling errors, complicated more so by the talobbo shos, moddhonno shos, donto shos, donto nnos, and the mordhonno nnos (The 3 types of S’s and the two types of N’s). The unWos and the inWos still confuse me, and so do the borgio jo’s and the untostho jo’s. As much as what I say is incendiary, multiple S’s and N’s is a linguistic hazard. I have still not touched the works of Tagore, and don’t know how to sing a single Rabindra Sangeet song. I know it’s no greatness to boast of, but it is what it is. I became more of a Bengali in the U.S. than I was while I lived in Kolkata. I started reading simple and understandable Bengali blogs. I started listening to Bengali songs. Even though I was listening to something as crass as “Bhojo Gourango” or “Le Paglu Dance”, it was Bengali nevertheless. I watched dozens of Bengali movies, and immensely enjoyed them. I wondered how I deprived myself of such pleasures all this while. These days whenever I hear someone speak in Bangla, I feel the strange urge to go up to them and introduce myself. If this isn’t testimony enough, these days I wish I had a Bangla blog, and wrote as much in Bengali as I did in English.

Last week when I got an email about an informal meeting of Bengali students and professors for the International Mother Language Day, I strangely looked forward to the meet. I was there today, and although I did not recognize a single song they sang or a single poem they recited, I was happy just being there and listen to everyone speak in Bengali. I learnt about the history behind the Bengali Language Movement of 1952, which embarrassingly enough, I had no idea about. I felt sad that with my recently acquired interest in world history, travel, literature, and languages, I neither knew about the history of Bengal, nor had I travelled in Bengal or read Bengali literature. I met two white Americans who are visiting Kolkata during the summer, and I was impressed with the Bangmerican English (Bengali spoken with an American English accent) they spoke. They were looking forward to their trip and to eating the “round spicy balls filled with water” (paani puri or fuchka). I excitedly told them what all they should do, see, eat, and visit while they are in Kolkata, and I have never felt prouder of my mother language.

I have not read Bengali literature and I have yet to watch many good Bengali movies. I know my Bengali spelling and writing sucks. But I am thankful to my parents for that boring summer I spent learning to read and write Bengali, because it has established my identity not just as a Bengali, but also as a cultured human being. I have finally learnt over the last four years to take pride in my roots, my mother language, and the culture that I come from and belong to. My soul is finally beginning to connect with my roots.

Wish you all a very happy International Mother Language Day. Too bad I knew when Valentine’s Day was but I did not know that the IML Day is celebrated exactly a week after that. Well, now I do.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Exploring Facebook Relationship Status

Despite a late (and bad) start to a busy (yet inefficient) Friday morning, I have my fellow blogger Kima to thank for my morning dose of laughter. What a brilliantly innovative idea he came up with, followed by some very creative suggestions that had me laughing in the lab till the advisor suspected that I spend more time in the lab doing things not related to a PhD. Anyway, I would urge you to read Kima’s post first. Thanks Kima for a wonderful read.


Facebook Relation Status Possibilities

At-risk population (might die a virgin)

Open to exploring interspecific options

Is in a one-sided relationship with ____

Girlfriend of ___’s boyfriend

Conveniently single (depending on your annual income and your U.S. visa status)

Is competing with ___ for ___

Currently has a professional crush on Dr. ___

In a secret relationship with ____

In a predatory relationship with the prey ____

Is competing with ____ for male attention

Is antagonistic to ____

Selectively permeable

Is currently a host to the parasite ____

Is in a stagnated relationship with ____

Recently broke up and on the prowl

Has turned an egosexual (in a relationship with the self)

Has opted the life of an asexual protozoan

Is in a meaningful relationship with Facebook alone

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Remembering Yoni Ki Baat

Come February-March, I fondly remember the excitement and the gusto with which I would wait for Yoni Ki Baat. I don’t know how I found Yoni Ki Baat (or how Yoni Ki Baat found me). In the past, I have written about my hesitation in performing for this play. Honestly, the hesitation left me the first time I went up on stage for my performance. It was a Eureka moment, a life defining moment for many reasons. From there, there was no looking back.

2008 and 2009, I performed in Seattle’s Yoni Ki Baat. I don’t know if anyone of you was there for the show, or if anyone remembers my performance. I have never been a stage and spotlight loving person. In school, I would be the last person you would see voicing her opinions. The darkness, the sharp stares of the audience I could feel, with the bright lights on my face has always made my knees jelly-like. The whole world staring at you from a dark vista point is not a very comfortable feeling to live with. Stage performance was so not me. Then, Yoni Ki Baat happened.

Was I scared? Hell, yes! No matter how much you have rehearsed your lines, nothing can help those butterflies flapping their wings inside your stomach. You know that your friends and the entire Seattle/greater Seattle community is going to be there to listen to you. In some ways, you are the most important person on the stage that evening. In some ways, the stage is the most important and the defining thing of your life that evening. It is natural to feel queasy, for it is much more than a performance. You know you are about to talk about some really personal and taboo topics. No amount of hand holding and good wishes can dispel the fears that are nagging you. Was it the right thing to do, to be on stage and talk about things that can turn away a potential boy friend if he found out? Is it okay to talk about things you would rather your mother did not hear of? I am reputed to have made some daring stunts on stage, now that I think of it. Do not get me wrong, my issues were not always sad issues. I have had some very happy scripts as well. They were taboo issues nevertheless.

A girl in the 6th grade orgasms in class without knowing what an orgasm is, and believed for years that she had a “happy blackout”. The writer Juno spoke of unfulfilled dreams of motherhood. That was me performing on stage. Sometimes I was a 6th grader wondering what exactly hit my world that day and gave me a blackout. Sometimes I was that twenty-something old woman who wants to experience motherhood. Sometimes I was 27 and unmarried, unable to find a connection between the Jakes and Lukes from Harlequin Romances she dreamt of, and the Kamal Kishores and the Neelkanth Kumars she actually met in life. Sometimes she was a happy yoni, sometimes confused, sometimes angry, and sometimes scared. At the moment whatever her emotions were, she always found her voice on stage, a truthful and authentic voice that belonged to her and never failed her.

I realized in the process of scripting my play, that comically cynical, sarcastic satiric writing is my forte. I wrote about grave and serious issues in a way that had the audience in splits. It just came naturally to me. Here I was talking about how “the common man, even after topping the IIT and ending up as a software luminary, spends his entire life paying off mortgages for a house in the outskirts of Bellevue”, and here my audience was laughing uncontrollably. When I was sad, the audience laughed. When I was angry, the audience laughed. Once, all I had to do was go up on stage to start my performance, and some people (probably my friends who knew me) started laughing J

It was an important realization, that this is perhaps where my voice came from. I found it immensely therapeutic. It is not that I intended to become a standup comedian. However, no matter how I said my story, and how sad my story was, the audience always laughed. I am glad they did because I did not want them to weep, feel sad, or shift uncomfortably in their seats. Yoni Ki Baat gave me a blank canvas on which I could paint whatever I wanted to. And I found my voice in humor. Some of my best writings turned out to be the ones coated with a cynical, satirical overtone.

I discovered my comfort zone in writing scripts. I got hold of my stage fears. I learnt to get there in front of people and talk about things that were important for people to think of. Not only this, I made a set of wonderful friends during the process of rehearsing for the play who are my sisters I will cherish all my life. These are not just friends who I’d watch a movie with or have dinner with. These are my sisters I would call up and talk for hours. They are the friends who know me as I am, know of my fears, and still love me for who I am without the glitter and the makeup. Unconditional love is what I got from them. This is why Yoni Ki Baat has been such a life defining moment for me.

I missed Yoni Ki Baat in 2010. Last year, I moved out of Seattle and hence, I will be missing Yoni Ki Baat 2011 as well. Yoni Ki Baat 2011 is special. My good friend Shahana Dattagupta who I met through this play, and performed with for two consecutive years, is directing it this time. I know I am going to be there in every sense, except physically. If it were not the middle of the semester, I would have flown to Seattle in a heartbeat. But I realize that is not going to happen.

If you happen to be fortunate enough to live in or around Seattle, I would strongly recommend you to go watch the show. My best wishes go out to the participants this year. I know you will be nervous on stage, but it is very important that you get on stage and tell your story to the world. From personal experience, once you are there on stage and the show has begun, you realize nothing can hold you back, and nothing really matters anymore. I went up and told my stories as if nervousness or hesitation had never mattered to me.

Lastly, dear Shahana, congratulations on your new role as a director. You have all my love and best wishes. You have made quite a positive impact in my life, and congratulations on your journey from being a performer for 3 years to being the director this year. Someone out there 3000 miles away will be cheering for you and is very proud of you. Good luck to you and the entire team of Yoni Ki Baat 2011.

Link to Facebook page


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Really liked the concept of this tag.

20 years ago

1. I got chicken pox exactly this time of the year in February, right before the final exams.

2. I thought I would never make it to Grade 5.

3. I stood 2nd in the finals for Grade 4.

4. I started using a fountain pen/ink pen for the first time (Grade 5). What a messy state of affairs it was, compared to the good old pencil.

5. I decided that I would convert to Christianity, become a nun, and spend the rest of my life teaching at St. Vincent’s Convent.

10 years ago

1. I realized during B.Sc that getting into Calcutta University was the biggest career disaster of my life.

2. I thought I had met the guy I wanted to marry. As it happens, I am still single J

3. I had dissected a rat, a few varieties of fish, cockroaches, and a few more animals for the first time.

4. I never remembered panicking about turning 20. This time, I am.

5 years ago

1. Blogging happened.

2. The United States of America happened.

3. Realization happened. I had my most memorable time, teaching Science and Math in a school in Kolkata. I realized I could be a very good teacher.

4. I met the friend I think I am going to write a book about someday.

5. My first time on an airplane happened.

3 years ago

1. My first U.S. degree happened.

2. I performed the play Yoni Ki Baat (South Asian adaptation of the Vagina Monologues) in front of a packed audience in Seattle for the first time. I think I kicked ass.

3. My first U.S. job happened.

2 years ago

1. My sunshine car happened.

2. I learnt to drive.

3. I drove a record of 12,000 miles in 8 months.

1 year ago

1. I lost my first U.S. job.

2. My first Eurotrip happened (Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy).

3. PhD happened.

4. I survived the pain of leaving Seattle.

5. I realized how much joy Baby Kalyani brought in my life. She is my friend’s 2 year old by the way.

So far this year I

1. Passed my PhD preliminary exams, 5 months into my program.

2. Have started using and loving Ike (my iPad).

3. Realized I am really getting better at cynicism and sarcasm in my blog and in my life.

4. Have done some good travel writing, and intend to continue doing so.

5. Have crossed 425 friends on Facebook, realizing that I have no more than maybe 20 good friends and well wishers. What irony!

Yesterday I

1. Was complimented by the advisor for my scientific writing skills.

2.Told him for the first time that I don’t think I will make it.

3. Realized how alone I felt in moments of despair and self-doubt.

4. Cried myself to sleep and woke up with a bad headache.

5. Felt like Kyle with a butt hemorrhage in the "Cartmanland" episode of South Park.


1. I am back to the department, working like yesterday never happened.

2. I realized how much my professional life means to me.

3. I am looking forward to my roomie passing her PhD qualifiers this afternoon.

4. My advisor sat with me and told me that I will be fine.

Tomorrow I will

1. Go for my Zumba class that I missed the last 2 days.

2. Discuss in class what a good movie Dead Poets Society is.

3. Dream of becoming a professor, a scientist, and a writer.

In the next year I will

1. Hopefully visit Europe again.

2. Hopefully have some quality papers published.

3. Realize that turning 30 is not that bad after all.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Good Mo(u)rning Mr. Valentine

It’s that time of the year again, and given the laws of relativity, it amazes me how soon the “this time” of the year comes. Today is THE day, your only opportunity to show how much you love your spouse/partner/girl/boy friend. So what if countries are at war, you are thinking of switching boy/girl friends, you hate your in-laws or you have realized this is perhaps a merger of convenience and not a marriage of love. This is your only chance to publicly show the expansiveness of your love. 

Tonight, there will be gifts, flowers, candle night dinners, and claims of husband taking half day off work, or better still, not going to work at all. Tonight there will be sultry love making, with all your half-baked and malformed teenage fantasies from the Harlequin Romances coming true. How do I know all this? From Facebook of course. Is there a better medium of showoff affluence display than Facebook? There will be 6 dozen “surprise” roses arriving at office during an unsuspecting moment when you are at a meeting and pretend you didn’t even know it is Valentine’s Day. Oh oh oh, I am so surprised, I just fainted. 

There would be bars and standards set in comparison to previous years, or better still, in comparison to what your friends got this year. Like the World Cup cricket, there will be live updates of the different stages and phases of the display of love. “Oh I just got a bunch of flowers at work and someone made sure that everyone in office knew about it before I did”. “Oh hubby is chopping onions and crying, in the process of cooking the “surprise” tandoori chicken for dinner”. “Look there he goes hunting for the matchstick to light the candle for the candle lit dinner”. “Oh now he is at Tiffany’s with his ex-college girl friend, deciding which diamond to buy for me (we are now all friends, you see)”. “Oh, I also got a phone call from someone who is not really my girl friend, but we are great open minded buddies you see. It’s all about being in love with everyone at the same time”. “Look, the husband just confronted the boss and told him how he doesn’t care that he is on pager duty, and he is taking off for the rest of the afternoon”.

Honestly, would you have much respect for a person who refuses to go to work because it is Valentine’s Day? I would actually, I will go swooning at his feet out of respect, wondering if he can differentiate between praise and sarcasm. With a bunch of carnations and an incarnation of Cupid for a husband, the only good thing missing in life would be a live documentation of the amorous life you lead. Facebook comes into the picture now and fulfills and surpasses all expectations of a live coverage of love, longing, hormones, pheromones, and expectation fulfillment in the name of “Surprise!!!!”. 

I was greeted by an email this morning that read, “Have you experienced that deep-rooted longing, the longing for a love that is big, beautiful, and blissful?” Of course I have, I muttered to myself, recovering after falling off my chair. With 5 core courses, 3 days/week workout, research work, homework, assignments, classroom observations, writing a bunch of papers, learning the new NVivo and SPSS software, and modeling logistic regression data, all I feel at the end of the day is a “longing for that big and beautiful love”. Hence I take a shower, tuck myself in bed, play a few rounds of online scrabble, cocoon inside the bed reading the book “He’s not that into you”, and before I know, I am snoring my brains out, and it is morning again, the alarm is shrieking with routine discipline, and it’s time to run to work. Isn’t that big, beautiful love? 

Maybe not. No, really, it is refreshing to see so many people view life and romanticism through a different lens, a lens where there is joy in not just receiving gifts, but in showing it off on a social networking site as well. I don’t know if it is age, hormones, or mental makeup, but who cares? At least you are not wasting and whiling your dhalti jawani setting youth hunched on categorical predictors and missing data handling. And don’t take my words seriously. Long before I saw doctors, I knew I suffered from the “Sour Grapes Syndrome”.

Happy Valentines Day you people. Keep the love alive, kicking, and most importantly, showing! For it isn't love if it doesn't show.


Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Andre-ing Pandrei-ing: My Progress Report (Part 2)

Part 1 of this learning lesson has been summarized here.

February 2010, I spent an entire month at G’s place, picking up bits and pieces of andre pandre. Like a devoted student, I listened to the tape recorder that nags in a loop (also called G) repeat instructions to Baby Kalyani. I learnt them rote, I took notes, I repeated the words, and even found funny associations to remember them. When I went to an event with G and told “Tamil teriyaad” (I don’t know Tamil) to someone introducing herself animatedly, I must have hopelessly failed to convince her that I indeed do not understand Tamil. For she replied to my “Tamil teriyaad” with more animated Tamil talk, shaking her head with utter excitement. All I could do is smile and nod stupidly. I took the safe strategy, nodding my head a certain angle that could be interpreted both as a yes or a no. I can’t tell you how I do it, it comes with practice.

That was last year, when I learnt that “ongo” is a sign of respect (pongo, vango, mango, tango, even Bongo, something that I am). I learnt that papad saapad is eat a papad, and daaru kudi didn’t refer to the two main causes of downfall of men, like philosophers like to claim (alcohol and women). It actually means drink alcohol. I learnt that kakka is shit, and kartaale kakka poniya (sounds like your uncle is a pony) is doing the big job in the morning. I learnt about family relationships (appa, amma, taata, paati, etc.) and about body parts (mottai, kaad, mook, and even pinnadi and munnadi). I learnt about food (aviyal, poriyal, nariyal) and I even threw in an occasional surprise word here and there (like cuppai thotti or dustbin).

I apologize again if you are Tamil and I am exercising your abdominal muscles free of cost by making you laugh at my spellings. Not only am I not Tamil, I also spell things exactly as I hear them (since I cannot read Tamil to be able to know the spellings).

So last year, it was all about discrete words and random concepts. Of course Baby Kalyani sprouted more teeth, learnt to be more vocal about her needs, and learnt to speak Tamerican (Tamil with an American accent). So I had to catch up. Too bad I left G’s place and never really got a chance to pick up more Tamil. However every now and then I kept hearing stuff and making connections. Like a baby graduating to the next stage, I now learnt to form broken sentences by picking up familiar words and connecting them together. I not just learnt to add words to form broken but functional sentences, I also learnt to substitute certain words with other words. Of course, all my vocabulary right now involves something you would say to a baby. The person responsible for this is Baby Kalyani. So while I might not be able to ask your name in Tamil, I can ask you to go change your diaper.

The first thing I learnt in my advanced Rapidex “Learn Tamil with Baby Kalyani” course was how to spell and say the word Tamil correctly. Apparently the spelling is “Tamizh”, and the first few times you try saying it, your tongue will threaten to get entangled in your throat. It sounds something like a guttural Tamidrdrdrdrdrdrdrdr. I now have good reason to believe that whenever the old, paunchy father of the girl in Bollywood movies (who always died due to a heart attack) would scream to the hero, “Battameez, tameez se baat karo”, he actually meant, “You non-native speaker, speak to me in Tamil”.

Anyway, back to showing off my newly acquired knowledge in the last year. Now I know that “yaar de” (that’s how it sounds to me) doesn’t mean “give me a friend”. It actually means “who is this?” (yaaru idhu).

I now know that although “katta kurada” sounds like “kooda karkat” (or rubbish) in Hindi, it actually means “Don’t shout” (Katha Koodadhu). You see, Baby Kalyani is notorious for her screams and shouts, some sure shot techniques she uses to make her voice heard.

I also know that “katthuvaala” is “Will you shout?” and “Pannuvaala” (is not paan waala or the person who sells paan) means “Will you do it again?”. However, I gather than Rickshaw waala or Halwa waala do not mean anything meaningful in Tamil.

I now know that “Vaayla Kai Veppala” means “Don’t put your hand in your mouth”. I also know that “Diaper Maathalam” means “Let’s go change your diaper”. Other disconnected words in my limited vocabulary include “Nimmadi Nimmadi” meaning “peace peace”, something I tell G every time she gets worked up about something. I also know that “ulle po” is “Go inside” and “ulle va” is “come inside”. However, I still don’t know what is come outside or go outside. So I’ll be smart here. Whenever I need to call someone outside, I myself will go outside first, and then ask the person to come inside. Hope that works.

Through ulle po and ulle va, I can fairly track the comings and goings of people these days. I can ask someone “nee enga porey” (where are you going?) and “Hell pogaporiya?” (Will you go to hell?). I know that “pesu” means to talk (something I use in the negative by asking G, “don’t pesu”). I know that “amaam” is not the Chennai brand of Hamam soap, it actually means a yes. I know that “inge vaah” is “come here”, and “vaah bhai vaah” is “come brother come” in Tamil, although it means all praises in Hindi (waah bhai waah).

I know that “pathu” is a term you would use for your husband if that diamond necklace has caught your fancy and you want it for your birthday (pathu is a term of endearment). I also know that the husband will pour water on my plans of buying me those diamonds by saying “tanni kotti” (pouring water). Also, depending on whether you got the necklace or not, you will address your husband as “enna ma” (what dear?) or “mottai karandi” (a spatula on your head).

I know that Jack and Jill now have more brothers and sisters called “Soodu” and “Jillu”, meaning “hot and cold”. I know that “ukkaru” and “nillu” aren’t the nicknames of the twins belonging to the next door neighbor who always upset the dishwasher settings whenever they visit you. Ukkaru and nillu means to sit and to stand. So Neelu is standing can be translated as “Neelu nillu”. And if your dad happens to be a gunda, don’t call him “gundu papa”. It means a fat baby.

I am not done yet. No learning is complete till the activities representing the basic instincts of human beings are involved. Last year I learnt that while kaka is uncle in Bengali, kakka is shit. So kaka kakka means uncle is doing his big job. This year, I learnt something more fancy. I know that kusum means a flower in Hindi, but if you misspell it and leave behind the “m” in “kusum”, it means a fart. I also know how to call someone a buffalo’s ass, but henceforth I will charge you for my expletive consulting if you want me to teach you these words.

As an icing on the cake, I can sing the entire song “Appadi podu podu podu” with no idea about what it means. Check out that song in youtube, the choreography is hilariously representative of someone who has been electrocuted and then been chased by a mad erumai (buffalo). I can name some of the popular Tamil soaps, thanks to Baby Kalyani who has taken a full grown addiction to these soaps like Chelleme, Madhavi, and Basantham.

However, I need to go a long way from my year 2 appraisal, and refine my vocabulary further. Imagine my predicament if I happened to try to impress or date a Tamil man. I am sure that soon, I will need to do better than “let’s change your diaper” and “don’t put your hand in your mouth”. Of course the idea of putting together the words I know and coming up with something romantic is tempting. However, I shall act wise and refrain. For if I were to romantically say, “Come here baby!”, I think it’s a bad idea to put my malformed vocabulary together and say, “Inge vaah papa!”