Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy Diwali, Bollywood?

I always thought that Bollywood would have a healthy collection of songs suitable for any Indian festival, but I am not so convinced anymore. The lack of an optimal number of songs dedicated to the festival Diwali (optimal number n being greater than five) only reconfirms my theory that ours is a sex-driven race, just like any other species in the animal kingdom. Have you ever thought why there are hundreds of songs for Holi, Sagai, Sangeet, Shaadi, Karwa Chauth, God Bharai, or even Nag Panchami (characterized by the sinuous dance moves of a reptile-turned-heroine-turned-reptile cursed by some black robe wearing evil man) but only three songs for Diwali? I would argue that in a testosterone and estrogen-driven society where macro-level phenomenon like preening, grooming, mate hunting, courtship, marriage, and procreation exist in any random order, there is no respectable place for a festival which lacks the insinuations of the primal needs of man, namely rain, color, hormones, or the need to touch, want, and hug. Come to think of it, there are hundreds of songs not just for festivals, but for seasons, be it the cot-displacing brrrring of the winter when the khatiya is begged to be sarkaoed because of jaada, the jeth ki garmi waali dopahar (where the heroine instructs the hero - aake god mein utha thaam le baiyan), or the obvious tip tip barsa spawning season. After all, what could be so inviting about a festival characterized by crackers, ear-deafening sounds, the smell of gunpowder, and a bunch of cranky policymakers unhappy about noise pollution? Images of a heavily endowed woman in a flimsy white sari drenched in the rain running around while a male chases her with Holi colors rings a few familiar bells. However, imagine a woman gyrating her hips with a bunch of sparklers and crackers in her hand, hurling fire crackers at unsuspecting males every now and then and singing “Wanna be your chammak challo”? I fail to imagine the latent sexual overtones in this setting. No wonder Bollywood has never really considered dedicating entire songs to the pursuit of the celebration of light and sound, two very important concepts in an extremely dry subject called physics. Sure there are songs with occasional shots of the chick and the lad entwined, playing around with a bunch of sparklers (remember the song Mujhse Mohabbat Ka from Hum Hai Rahi Pyar Ke?), but a random youtube search for Diwali songs yields three results, one from the movie Home Delivery which is not really a “pataakha” item song in any respect, an old song from the time of Akbar where Mukesh’s adenoidal voice (although very melodious) of “Ek who bhi Diwali thi, ek yeh bhi Diwali hai, Ujda hua gulshan hai, rota hua maali hai” sets off a chain reaction of melancholy potent enough to extinguish any number of sparklers and crackers in the world (let’s face it), and another song from the year 1946, where the heroine’s sad state of mind reminded me of the day I had cried buckets at the scary thought of turning 30 because I was convinced that I was approaching senility and half-life decay at an alarming rate. Surely the Ramsay Brothers show more tactile actions (also known as touchy touchy) and hanky (s)panky (amongst ghosts and haunted spirits of course) than these songs do. Sure, there is one song in Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham where SRK makes the grand Bhagwan Ram like entry, but then again, every song in that movie reeks of showoff, celebration, and affluence. No fault of Bollywood, which is just a reflection of the evolution of human race (or the lack of it), which brings me back to my irrefutable theory that everything in life ultimately boils down to preening, courtship, mating, and procreation. And anything that does not involve diaphanous clothing, the consequences of global warming (bouts of hot, wet, and cold weather, pun unintended), an umbrella, a few bees buzzing over a rose, a cot (khatiya), or even a reptile-dance number to save the mate from the curse of the evil man will never make it to the Hindi silver screen.

A very happy Diwali everyone, never mind the disappointment Bollywood has brought us.

[P.S.: I thank my friend S who made me notice the scarceness of Diwali songs in Bollywood, something that I had entirely overlooked for reasons not quite clear to me].


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Titanic is sinking … and she stays onboard

She had walked from the department to the bus stop that afternoon, feeling the weight of the world weighing down on her shoulders. It was a cold, rainy afternoon in fall, and it seemed nature was crying at her predicament. She reached the bus stop just in time to see the bus leave right in front of her. The frustration of missing a bus becomes manifold when you actually watch it leave right in front of you, knowing that you do not have enough time to run and cross the road. This was perhaps very symbolic for her that afternoon, looking at the bus full of opportunities abandon her. Although she was suitably qualified for what she was aspiring to be, she did not have that powerful piece of document that declared her eligible for the job. It was the same document of citizenship or permanent legal residence that people in the past have killed, manipulated, and married for. Neither her parents had the foresight to visit the US and give her birth there, nor she had the foresight to get hitched to someone local. As a result, despite what she would have liked to think of as spectacular and scintillating academic potential, she was disqualified for the numerous teaching fellowships she tried applying to. Apparently, she did not fall under the category of people America deemed fit to allow to teach and educate their children.
She had always wanted to work as a science and math teacher. That was her forte, her calling. That was what she did in India, and that is what she eventually wanted to do in the US. Who said PhDs were overqualified to teach in schools? She was doing a PhD, training to be a professor, but she also wanted to take a few years off first and go teach in a public school setting. She thought she would immensely benefit from the classroom experience while developing her research agenda as a professor, and she loved teaching anyway. Hence, while most people’s careers took off on an upward trajectory, she was willing to step down and go teach in a school for a few years. Don’t get her wrong when she said “step down”, for she in no manner insulted teaching in a public school as an endeavor fit for the lesser achieving. What she meant is, she was overqualified for the job, and hence thought she would definitely get it. The minimum requirement for teaching in a school is a bachelors degree. Armed with two masters degrees, and a PhD on the way, she knew she would never struggle to find a good school to start teaching.
She forgot something very basic while happily making her future plans. She forgot that she did not belong to this country. She was an outsider, a foreigner. A very unwelcome foreigner in a country where she has been told, “The foreigners took our jobs!!”.
She started looking at teaching fellowships. That was when the truth hit her. Every teaching fellowship she tried applying for specifically mentioned that they require citizens and permanent residents only. They would not sponsor her visa. Desperate, she emailed them, each and every institution, asking if they ever made exceptions for doctorate degree holders. None of the answers came as affirmatives.
There was a clear disconnect between theory and practice. In theory, she was always told by different people, at different point of time that America was in dire need of good science and math teachers who were passionate about teaching. That was when she started to think that she would be a great fit in the setting. Even her professors assured her that visa sponsorship should not be an issue. Clearly, she now knew better.
Her thoughts were mostly sad as she waited for the next bus in the rain. She realized that she did not qualify even for an interview. To deny someone the right to employment by denying them the right to be interviewed, not because of lack of credentials or enthusiasm, but because of the lack of paperwork produced as a result of a random event of being born in the United States was perhaps the ultimate example of social injustice. While America embraced international students with open arms (statistics say so, not I), they were equally reluctant in creating job opportunities for them. No one had taken a look at her academic achievements that she had so painstakingly put in her resume. She was rejected - Just like that. It was an alienating experience. She was neither into chip making, nor into programming, occupations that highly commanded visa sponsorships. She was just an ordinary human being and all she wanted to do was teach. For the first time, thoughts of going back to India seriously occurred to her. Strangely, it was a freeing, emancipating thought. Not that there were any better jobs in India, but she would at least not feel like a foreigner, an intruder. True, millions of people immigrated and embraced this country as their own. Then how could she explain the chilliness, the hostility of the situation she was facing? Certainly there was no pride in living the life of a second class citizen from a third world country, trying to fit in a first world nation. Her ideals were conflicted. She had always wanted to excel at what she did, so that she would be in demand for the quality of her work, no matter where she lived. She wanted to be so good in what she did that the job would come looking for her, rather than the other way around. Clearly, she could have all the respect she wanted, as soon as she could produce proof of citizenship.
Various thoughts and incidents from the past flashed in front of her. She remembered the woman in her late thirties she had met at the Zumba class who had beamed in pride, “Why do I need to work? My husband is a professor. I have married well.” She thought of her friend, whose husband had applied for their green card the moment she married and stepped into the country. None of these women had trouble finding legal residency in the country, and were happily and proudly unemployed. However, when some people actually wanted to work and make a difference, they were denied the opportunity because they had probably not married well. Where was social justice in this God?
She remembered a scene out of a movie she had watched in her teens. The big ship was sinking, and the affluent people left in their lifeboats one by one. Clearly, she was staying onboard, sinking with the ship. After all, she was a second class citizen from a third world country, trying to fit in.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Facebook Follies

Identifying a Facebook moron is easy. They are usually engaged in a predictable and repeated pattern of activities that tend to fall in one or more of the following categories.

1. They write a message on someone's wall informing them that they should check their cell phone voice message because they called them and they did not answer.

2. Someone else's profile picture on Facebook was taken by them, and they comment on it saying, "Wow, great picture. Wonder who the photographer is! Wink Wink!". They might be great photographers, but Facebook morons nevertheless.

3. They are husband-wife in real life and Farmville neighbors or Mafia mobs in the virtual world.

4. They recognize multiple and totally unrelated people in social gatherings like Dandiya or Durga Puja, who they do not know at all (complete strangers), whose pictures they have seen again and again on Facebook. Earlier, people met each other in person and found them later on Facebook. Now, they know faces from Facebook, and meet them later in person.

5. They live and document their entire lives on countdowns. 5 days to the Vegas trip. 6 months before summer vacation starts! 2 hours for the surprise romantic candle light dinner. 3 weeks befoe mother-in-law flies back to India. 9 days for the labor pains to start. And end their announcements with a "Yippiieee!!"

6. They frequently use terms like “awwwwwww” and “XOXOXOXO” in abundance, usually with members of the same gender.

7. They “like” every post you write, every picture you post, and even “like” every comment your pictures or posts earn, but never ever comment. When they occasionally comment, it is never anything more committal than “9ice”, “cool”, or “gr8”.

8. They post forward messages about cancer awareness and about loving their mothers that start with, “I have a request, and I know exactly which ones of you are going to post this ….” and ends with “repost and share this if you are a human, even if for one hour.” Talk about psychological pressure, huh?

9. They post pictures of their newborns still bathing in the amniotic fluid or worse, lying helpless, shriveled up, and without clothes. No offense to mothers, babies, or motherhood, and you might blame me for not understanding the emotions since I have never mothered a baby, but I find it quite repulsive. I wouldn’t be very happy honestly if I found a picture of mine bathing in my mother’s amniotic fluid floating around for people to see.

10. They post messages like “TGIF”. You are darn right, you need to thank God it is Friday, just like you should sometimes thank God that you have a job and are gainfully employed. You might find it a luxury sitting in your plush office and cribbing about the work load on Facebook, because you make work sound like some kind of punishment you undergo five days a week, and not as your means for finding an identity, engagement, and intellectual stimulation. People like me never get to thank God it is Friday, because we work seven days a week, and do it because we love it. Think about well-qualified people who are unemployed, or about daily wage workers who don’t have a Facebook account and hence don’t get to post status messages like, “Thank God the strike was lifted. Now we will get to work and earn our daily wages.”


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A letter to my PhD

Dear PhD,

Today, I have come closest to the point of breaking up with you. I call it a break up because I have considered it a relationship, perhaps a longstanding, serious, intimate and the most meaningful relationship I have ever had. At some point in life, I decided that I want to spend most of my time in the pursuit of acquiring knowledge and wisdom. I could have been a journalist, a doctor, or a lawyer, but I decided I wanted to do hardcore research, and teach as well. Hence, I started training to be a professor. When I was done with my previous job, I had a few lucrative options. I could have found another job in the US. I could have moved to India. I could have done any number of things. Yet I decided to do a PhD. I decided to give it a second chance, since I had already opted out of PhD once a few years ago. Yet somewhere deep down, I hoped that I would once again enter the research arena. So, I chose you over a job. I readjusted to living on a meager salary, roughly one-third of what I was used to earning. I moved cross-country and tried adjusting myself to a completely different city, field, and work culture. The first year, I was on a roll. I finished my preliminary exam and passed my qualifiers 6 months in advance. I had three more steps to clear, and two more years to do it. However, the disillusionment started to set in the second year. The PhD trajectory became a curved tube I was stuck in the middle of, so that I could no longer see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was taking four courses, doing research, TAing, and traveling. I was learning new statistical software, learning to code, and trying to be as productive as I could. That was when I started to burn out and disillusionment set in. I have never been a good test taker, or a person who works well under pressure. Perhaps as it happens in some relationships (I don’t know, enlighten me), I started to question the meaning of it. I started to wonder about how what I learned would fit in the bigger scheme of things. I was overworked, tired, low on sleep, but more than most things, I started to question the value of all of it. So I had the write this post.

I wrote this post because just like a relationship, I still love you, although I have had my moments of doubt. You are my priority, and I will try my best to ensure we stick it out together. I start my day thinking of all the things I could do in research, and go to sleep planning my next day of work. But like all relationships, things are never perfect and happy all the time. We have our lows, or periods of doubt, times like these when we question the necessity of it. I wrote this post so that someday when in doubt, I will read this and know how much I have wanted you, and how important it is for me to do what I am doing right now. I write this so that someday when you and I have come a long way together after years of partnership, I can look back on times like these when I doubted my abilities to do anything meaningful, and know that I was wrong. I will know that although I have had my moments and thoughts of breakup, I would never actually do it. Yes, I am having a low moment right now, especially since I need to teach a class tomorrow and send revisions for papers by the end of this week and a dozen other things, but this moment shall pass. I know I will be back to my old self when you were my priority, and continue to do some kickass research which will make our future meaningful.

With love,

A sincere PhD student.