Wednesday, September 04, 2013


The first day of work was more paperwork than work. Filling out numerous forms, photocopying passport and SSN, visiting international student office and postdoctoral office, attending a faculty workshop, doing online training, and interviewing an undergrad. Then there was going to the bank to get one dollar bills (for parking) and quarters (for laundry). I am slowly beginning to figure out my way around the city, and around the campus. Now I know where to park my car, where to pay, and how to figure out the way to the department without using a GPS or getting lost. I know where to go for grocery, where the bank is, and where the post office is. Slowly, I am beginning to figure things out. The feeling of alienation is not gone yet, and I mostly drive around like a stranger in an unknown city, looking at roads and shops and people. Anonymity has its own merits, when you know that you will never bump into a known face, since there is no known face. A friend tells me that before I even know, those bylanes of the city will be privy to my life and secrets soon. I don’t know if I should believe him.

As a child, the first day at school was always exciting. I'd spend the night before arranging my bag, smelling my new books, polishing my school shoes, and organizing my school uniform. The smell of newness surrounded me- the smell of shoes polish and paper and camel ink and laundered school uniforms. There was this excitement of meeting old friends again. The enthusiasm would ebb eventually, and would rise by the beginning of next year. I felt the same excitement of newness the night before my first day at work.

I still don’t know a single soul here (except the people at work). I intend to keep it that way for a while. Anonymity comes with its own merits, and I don’t see the need to try to unnecessarily bond with people just because they speak the same language or there is a shared cultural heritage. I decided this after someone I have never met and exchanged a few introductory emails with asked me if I am married or have a significant other, adding a postscript of “This is a personal question, don’t take it personally, and don’t reply if you are uncomfortable”. Clearly the guy was more uncomfortable about my status than I was. It was so evident that the Indian community is curious about the evident lack of signs of a male.

In the meantime, I stayed home for more than a week, and used this time to set up home. And I bought a smart phone. 

There I said it aloud. If you know me well, your jaws would have dropped by now. I resisted buying a smart phone for the longest time. I do not have anything against them, but change disconcerts me. I have ordered the same ingredients for a burrito at Chipotle for years, take the same road to work, and like to use the same set of machines at the gym. I didn't see why I needed to follow the herd and buy one, especially since technology is fickle and gets upgraded almost every week. I do have an iPad, but that was after my adviser told me that he would get me one, and even then I waited for 2 months, until he screamed at me and threatened to fire me if I did not get one right away 

When I was doing my road trip and moving here, someone asked me how I would manage without a smart phone. Well, I had my GPS, map, and smart friends, who were on call to help me, if I needed it that is. I was really happy with my red flip phone that was so small, you could hide it in your fist and no one would notice. I could use it with my eyes closed, solely from muscle memory. I am not a text person, and I have a camera and three lenses that I proudly sport around, so I really did not need a smart phone to talk, text, or take pictures. What also bothered me is the way people become around smart phones. Here I would be having dinner with someone, and instead of making meaningful conversation, that person would constantly check the phone that would not seem to stop dinging or droning. 

So what changed?

Everything. I moved here, and my original phone provider’s network sucks here. I could never start or finish a conversation with anyone. I got a land line, but that meant I need to be home to be able to talk. Then one morning, I needed to talk to my mom, but there was no network for 2 hours, and I could not call her. And that was it. Like Eric Cartman, I said, "Screw you guys, I'm going home". I did some research on good providers and ended up at the phone store. There, I realized that the deal I was getting for an iPhone is not that bad. I got mine within 10 minutes. 

Now all I hope is that I do not become one of those people whose phone wouldn't stop droning while making real face to face conversation with people. I have the same phone color. I told you, change disconcerts me. My preferred mode of communication still remains meeting in person, talking on phone, emailing, chatting, and texting, in that order.

I also had a strange dream a few days ago. During my undergrad studies in India, my early mornings and evenings were fraught with private tutorial classes. A necessary evil according to me, everyone went for multiple classes, because content was not always taught well in colleges, because there was often a mismatch between what was taught and what was asked in exams, because a particular professor was often reputed and sought after, and because everyone else did it (herd mentality). So the time I could be learning new skills, reading a book, or relaxing, I was running in and out of these tutorial classes, often at the other corner of the city. All that happened for years, draining a lot of my father's money and my time and energy.

After ten years since all that ended, I had a somewhat scary and hilarious dream. I dreamed that I was back to my Chemistry tutorial classes in Calcutta. I argued that I am done studying, but the professor said that I will need it for my postdoctoral training. Surprisingly, I identified at least 3 other friends, all PhD students in the US, who were in those classes. They told me that since education is so expensive in the US and they were visiting India for a month, they wanted to use that time taking tuition. I never really recovered from the shock, and was only too happy to wake up and realize that it was all a bad dream.

Then there was this saga about assembling a desk. I wanted to buy the simplest writing desk, that I could use to do some daily writing. So I went to Office Depot and chose the simplest of them. They did not have it in the store, so they said that they would ship it directly to my home. However when the delivery guy arrived, I was not so sure that it would be that simple to assemble.

I opened the box, spread out the contents, and got so overwhelmed that I started doing other work. Yet at the back of my mind, I kept wondering what I should do. Should I ask for help? Should I return it and live without a desk? By afternoon, I tried making sense of the manual, but it looked so complicated that I gave up the idea and went off to sleep. The package came with 15 slabs of wood, and 130 of these fasteners (bolts and screws and what not). Had it been my dad, he would have started working on it with all his excitement. But I am not at all a do it yourself (DIY) person. Building and creating and hands-on activities are not my forte. I actually spent the day confused and clueless about what to do.

By evening, I was so annoyed with the mess I had created, and my inner and very sarcastic voice kept saying harsh things. The manual actually shows how to assemble the desk in 20 steps, each step in a page with lots of complex diagrams, and I stared at the manual for a long time. Step 1 took me the longest, but soon emerged a very embryonic stage of a simple writing desk.

After 6 hours of working on it (seriously!!), a few cuts and bruises, an elbow swelling, a little bloodshed, hours spent on my haunches, studying, understanding, Googling videos, and ending up with backache, I was able to assemble it. I actually stayed up the whole night assembling this 90 lb desk. The desk is finally ready. The upper drawer needs some rework, but I am too tired, and it can wait.

If living alone has taught me anything, it is the fact that no work is gender-specific. We hear and see a lot of these, that women are good at certain things and men are good at others, but necessity has taught me to cook, drive, clean, assemble, lift weights, and now use a hammer and a screwdriver as well. It's just a writing desk, not a big deal at all, but until I did it successfully, it became the biggest deal for me. Sure, it took me 6 hours and a few cuts and bruises, but I am glad I did not take the easy way out by returning it. It's not perfect, but I can live with that.

And life goes on, as I slowly try to make a living.


1 comment:

rt said...

I agree with you on stuff not being not gender specific. Congratulations on your job and welcome to the Smart(Accessible) world!