Saturday, April 30, 2005

No Point of Reference

I had not heard of Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap when I picked up the book at the local library. The author's name stood out from the crowd. If it had not been for the tiny blue elephant on the cover I would not have made the association to Asia. At any rate I was intrigued. As an outsider to Thai culture, I cannot judge the merits of Lapcharoensap's depiction of local characters and culture. A Thai reviewer at Amazon obviously has a problem with both.

"I notice there are no Thais raving about this book. Like Rattawut, I've spent some time state-side, so I know what the score is. But I dont think these reviewers have got a clue. Rattawut's characters are shallow, and the kind of thing any Beach-goer could've thought up. The device of the slippery pig as a metaphor of Thais escaping the farangs (in "farang")was just too crass to be true. Even on page one the mother wasn't having a conversation, she was making a soliloquy. OK for Shakespeare but not cool for a modern so-called realistic novel."

Knowing the score sometimes can come in the way of an otherwise enjoyable reading experience. Ryu Murakami's Coin Locker Babies to me was absolutely extra-ordinary - a book that I will remember for a long time. A Japanese reader would be able to judge if the Murakami's rendition of dystopia was fantastic enough to obviate the need of being in touch with reality of modern day Japan.

Amit Chaudhuri waxed eloquent on a wet floor mop and the strands of his mother's falling hair gathered by the domestic help's broom in Afternoon Raaga. I had to attribute that to the utter paucity of his imagination. He obviously had no real story to tell.

The narrator's mother bargaining with a Chinese girl for a pair of Armani sunglasses in the title story Sightseeing may well have been in the same league as Chaudhuri's mop and broom prop to create ambience for a Kolkata household only in this case I have no point of reference.

I completely enjoyed reading Lapcharoensap and look forward to reading more.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Too Soon To Play God

This article describing the immaturity of genetic engineering as a technology is reminiscent of the state of early information technology except we are talking about endangered human lives instead of a piece of malfunctioning software. This is like creating a storm shelter with Lego and hoping all will work out well.

That bacteria can now simulate computers and create simple patterns is an amazing achievement for the field of molecular biology but not very sophisticated computer technology. Attempting to understand God's lexicon at this point is almost as pointless as trying to reach out to intelligent life elsewhere in the universe through inter-galactic e-mail service providers.

The Corporate Psychopath

I could not agree more with this analysis of the corporation as a person. Seeking therapy for just three of the whole bunch of character flaws could put Gartner, Forrester, Giga et al out of business.

- They are impulsive, and show poor control over their behaviors
- They cannot form long-term plans that are realistic
- They are impulsive, and irresponsible

The whole slew of high-end management consulting firms who thrive primarily because corporations have

- Grandiose sense of self-worth
- Need for stimulation, with a proneness to boredom

Kamikaze mammoth projects are untaken, millions are burnt and lessons are not learnt because

- They do not accept responsibility for their actions - another caused it

I wonder how psychopathic character would map to Gartner Hype Cycles in technology services and development which supposedly goes through Technology Trigger, Peak of Inflated Expectations, Trough of Disillusionment, Slope of Enlightenment, Plateau of Productivity. I have rarely if ever seen the last two phases of the cycle come to pass. That sounds like a manic-depressive to me.

Identity Crisis

"Mommy am I a boy ?" asked J one night as she was getting ready to sleep. Of all questions I have been asked before this was the most intriguing. J the alarmingly over-acclaimed would-be-heartbreaker-Lalique-doll-like-perfect-beauty and a boy ? "Did anyone say that you were a boy ?" I ask

"No" she replies "Then why do you think you are a boy ?" I am now completely befuddled. "Because I play only with boys" she says as if the conclusions thereof are fairly obvious. "And why do you do that ?" I persist knowing to proceed very gently now that we seem to be getting to the heart of the matter. " Because girls don't want to play with me and boys do" she says with a tinge of sadness in her voice.

I don't know exactly how to tackle that issue and try address her concern about being a boy instead "J, are you a boy or a girl ?" She takes a while to think through that before deciding "Girl". Even before I can second that opinion she adds "But girls don't play with me, so I am a boy"

This conversation with J was proceeding like my typical work day where I have to deal with highly technical types who segue from one incomprehensible issue to the other. To estimate the size of the latest snafu, I tell them to dummy that down for me and stop where one thing ends, allow me to absorb it and then go on to the next thing.

Only J is not going to able to de-link. In fact her inability do so was exactly the problem at hand. "J you are a girl. If other girls don't play with you it does not make you a boy." I allow that to sink before proceeding. " I like playing with the boys and they want to play with me too" she says. "Even then you are a girl. Who you play with does not matter" I explain.

I can see she is having a very hard time understanding that. She is the age when Mommy is omniscient so she believes me against her better judgment. I ask her if I can talk to Ms W and Ms K to ask the girls to play with her. J nods her eager assent.

"Tommy told me this morning, he doesn't like me" she says as I tuck her in. So we're not done with the days battles yet. This is not a question. It is a problem statement. I have to think very hard to come up with a suitable rejoinder for J in face of such full frontal assault.

" You should tell him, 'Well, Tommy that's your problem' when he says that. Remember to give him a big smile too" I tell her. She bursts into laughter when I tell her we will practice that now.

I am Tommy and up the ante some "J, I think you are really yucky. I don't want to play with you" She replies "Well, that's your problem" and cackles so hard that I have to tell her "J, I said smile not laugh like a hyena" She's all about more role play and laughing like a hyena and soon falls asleep tired and happy.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Reading Old Letters

"There is one thing about you that troubles me. You have everything a girl could ask for (at least apparently) and yet you do not look happy. There is a sadness about your eyes. I fear I may not have it in me to give you more than you already have - if that is what it takes to make you happy.

I am very attracted to you. I am aware that the sense of connection I feel with you is rare and I will most likely not feel it with another. Yet I question the merits of pursuing our relationship to it's logical end. I feel very confused"

R wrote to me seven years ago. It was approximately summer from what I remember. Our parents knew each other through a mutual friend and we were a perfect match. I was sitting curled on the couch the afternoon my mother handed me his picture.

In the infinitesimal amount of time that it took for me to flip it over to the right side, I had in my mind visualized a face. A face in no way similar to anyone I knew but an amazingly clear one.

R's face was exactly how I had seen it in my mind. A fleeting sense of panic came over me as I sensed a deep Karmic connection with the man who smiled at me from the photograph. It was a theme that persisted through and after our marriage.

"I never knew my eyes looked sad. Do they really ? No one has a perfect life even if that is the outward appearance. I have known sadness in my own way, differently from others maybe. I will not quantify , qualify or even compare on scales absolute or relative.

To me, a relationship is not about one person trying to make the other happy but about the two people being happy just to be together. You will need to feel at peace with your decision whatever that may be. While the connection is very significant it may not provide you the entire rationale for pursuing this.

I am more fatalistic than you are.I will allow a course of events to unfold unhindered. What happens or does not happen is then God's plan for my life. I will accept it gracefully and without question"

There was a lot else I wanted to write - tell him about the photograph incident in particular but thought it would be unfair to bias him. R called to say good-bye. I remember his last words to me "I know I am loosing a dear friend at least maybe in time I will realize that I have lost much more than that" We had decided to make a clean break so we could both move on.

"I apologize for intruding upon your life. Everything in the past year and half has been going reasonably well for me though there was a sense of something missing. I was engaged to be married. I met her not long after we parted.

The closer we were getting to marriage the more I found myself thinking about you. When I told her she was extremely upset. 'Why do you want to marry me when you are so obviously in love with her ?' she asked me.

I told her I was not in love with you because I honestly did not think that I was. Our relationship changed though. She believed me, we were still engaged and getting married but it was just not the same thing. When I decided to call off the wedding our families were very disappointed. I am sure that she was terribly hurt. I am not proud of myself but in the end I could not see myself spending my life with her when my heart was obviously not there.


I started to realize it was you who I had wanted to be with all along just that I did not trust myself enough. I will understand if you don't want to start over, if you feel different about me than you once did. I will walk away and this time I do promise not to return. I would know that I tried and from there like you once said before it is Destiny. I will accept mine gracefully.
"

When I replied to him, I had in essence started twining our destinies together. We loved to write to each other and it made the physical distance between us seem trivial.

"Sweetheart, I think sometimes that you deserve much better than me and that I don't deserve you at all. My biggest fear is that I will take away from your life than add to it" He wrote to me a few months before our marriage.

"Maybe for me you will become who or what you think I am deserving of. Is that not the transforming power of love ?" I reply.

"When I do become that, I would not be the man that you first fell in love with even though he was not deserving of your love. I want to improve myself in everyway yet there is a part of me that resists. It is like change will efface my identity. You will change me. I know it for a fact. I fear that almost as much as I desire it" He wrote back to that.

Our marriage was everything R feared and desired. He was the best friend I never had, the most sensitive and romantic lover a woman could desire. He excelled professionally and academically - change had turned him invincible.

To compensate for that he wanted me to remain forever the half-hesitant, cloistered, gauche small town girl he had fallen in love with. I had forsaken my right to evolve with time. I was his preserved in amber wild flower charm, a jewel he held close to his heart - beautifully devoid of life.

"A piece of paper cannot the sever the ties between you and I. In my heart you will remain forever my wife and the mother of my child. You may choose not to recognize that relationship and move on. I wish you could have been happier " He told me when we last spoke several years ago.

Being A Rock

Except the usual suspect, permanent scarring from childhood abuse, not a lot else is being said about the genesis of asexuality in humans. Maybe as the A-pride movement gathers momentum and gains visibility efforts to know more about the phenomenon will follow.

I discover that Paul Simon's "I am a Rock" is considered a song with asexual song lyrics. It's interesting because this song became my favorite around the time my marriage was ending. It does not resonate with me quite as much anymore. It is a beautiful song in that it talks about the individual state and not a relationship. A healing touch for one whose sense of self has been weakened.

Maybe the neurobiological triggers that drive trust, love and lust go awry from the shock and emotional stress of a break-up. I remember feeling cold, lifeless and hard like a rock. One day while watching the then toddling J try to dance to Cher's "Believe" on an impulse, I got up and joined her.

She looked at me in wide-eyed astonishment and would not let me stop. The rockiness started to melt. That song, and dancing with J did something wonderful for my triggers. I started to feel warmly alive after a long time.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Future Imperfect Plans

If ever Googlezon becomes a reality I would know that I am finally through with technology - for life.

That may be the point to say, thus far and no further and turn to a place like Ithaca where they print their own currency and live in what seems to be an enchanted little commune thriving only on goodwill of the neighbor and bartering.

Maybe by then hybrid cars would have gone mainstream and homes will be fully solar-powered

Having fully disconnected from the inter-connected world, I would like to read the news - hopefully served in edible paper

Does not seem like a bad life at all when I think about it.

Bio Modeling and God's Laws

The Forbes gives us the ten laws of the modern world and enough by way of example for to explain the temporal world as we see it around us. A much more pain staking effort to read God's mind appears to the aim of Bio- Modeling

"Even the simplest living organisms perform a mind-boggling array of different processes, which are interconnected in complex ways to ensure that the organism responds appropriately to its environment. One of the best ways of ensuring that we really understand how these processes fit together is to build computer models of them. If a computer model behaves differently than the real organism, we know that we've neglected an important component of the system."

If every distinct process was thus modeled we would have in essence uncovered God's lexicon. Assuming Albert Einstein was right in saying "God does not play dice with the universe" there is then a logical possibility of understanding His laws too.

Imaginary Relationships

It was only a matter of time before someone thought of imaginary relationships to fill in for an absent real one or perhaps even escape from reality without the feelings of guilt. This defies categorization - it is not even a virtual relationship where both parties are mentally engaged to each other. Technically this could not even be called infidelity. Amy Sedaris and her twelve year relationship in imagination may have well catalyzed the business for imaginary girlfriends.

The fine line between real and unreal could get very blurred with there being real women behind scenes who will be in pretend-love with their real clients. This deal can get more complicated than owning a virtual pet that was the rage some years ago.

Out of Availability is described as " Girlfriends in this category are booked to capacity and cannot accept new orders at this time." Overbooked as in how many pretend-personas she can divide herself into until she is saturated ? I wonder how capacity is determined.

That the service plan should include "When your time is up you can break up with her for whatever reason you decide, and she'll write you a final letter begging you to take her back" speaks volumes for why they are in business to begin with.

Apparently there is not quite the equivalent market for imaginary boyfriends. With popular stereotypes about women fundamentally wanting a home and family with a Mr. Nice that is not so surprising. This may be a niche opportunity that could end up tapping hidden demand obscured by myth and stereotype.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

An Alphabet Jinx

When three bad on-line encounters occur within a month of each other, one seeks a way to help break the jinx. I never indulged in pattern recognition for a pastime until I started to spend an inordinately large portion of my work day with Business Intelligence architect types. The effect rubbed off on me unawares and with disastrous effect. Whoever said a little knowledge is a dangerous thing had envisioned me reaching wanton, unwarranted conclusions unsupported by data or evidence.

I did not have to look too far to find the connection between the three men in question. All had names starting with K. For ease of understanding I will refer to them as K1, K2 and K3 in chronological order of their acquaintance with me. The lesson learnt was obvious. "Move on to the next letter in the alphabet" I would be hard pressed to explain why not "Move backward to the previous letter in the alphabet" instead. It must have been a subliminal thought around progress being about movement forward.

K1 - Articulate by e-mail. Gives me his number asks me to call if I feel comfortable about it. I call and instant deflation occurs in the form of a high pitched squeak from the other end right at "Hello". Intelligent conversation follows, I try to tune out the voice and focus on the content. Proves hard but not impossible. K1 is an opinionated individual. I have no problem with that having plenty of my own. K1 seeks to supplant all other opinion to further the cause of his own. I compliment him on something he expressed very well in one of his e-mails. He responds "You have obviously not met any articulate men in your life if that impressed you as much as you say it did" I am dumb-founded. I decide to pass. He mails me later in the day saying he enjoyed our conversation, I reply "Likewise" and there ends the matter.

K2 - Like the picture he has on his profile. There is a carefree abandon about him that strikes a chord. Nice smile too. We e-mail some. No sparks fly. The man earns his daily bread, takes self-improvement lessons as in attending a part-time MBA program and tries to keep fit as time permits. I have no issues with that heuristic. Asks for my number. K2 passes the "Hello" barrier with flying colors. Terrific voice ! Decide to meet for the de rigueur coffee. The man that greets me resembles his picture like I resemble Greta Garbo. Must be a neat Photoshop trick I figure. The conversation is bland like infant food gone cold. He holds up my hand to look at the ring on my finger. He proceeds to tell me about his last serious relationship breakup specifics included. I am counting sheep as I sip the bottomless cup of coffee. I get an e-mail from him about a month later "I lost touch with you somehow. Wanted to say Hello". I have no suitable comeback to this one.

K3 - At the time of meeting K3, I had not yet wised up to the dread "K-factor" or I would have desisted. Requests me to call him in his opening e-mail. The profile was quite exhaustive plus he was located in the vicinity so there was not much to be gained from e-mail-stalling. I call. Voice is okay, conversation is going, going, gone deep south. I am willing to bail right away. K3 has lots to unburden. I am being his therapist for free and under duress. I know all about his unsatisfactory sex life when he was married, that he attended a top tier engineering school in India, a second tier grad school in the US, owns a house, lost some major green in the stock market crash, is currently suffering from hemorrhoids. I am pummeled by randomly unsavory information for an hour before I can slide in my "I have to let you go now" through his word torrent. He e-mails me constantly for weeks until one day he stops.

After K3, it would have taken the courage of Attila the Hun to pursue another K prospect. Being that I don't have so much as a speck of Mongolian blood in me, I moved a few letters up the alphabet instead. It feels a lot safer around here.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Personalized Mobile Alarums

In my neck of the woods, it's rare to find someone that's not sniffling from allergies once spring is in the air. A mobile pollen alert a la Vodaphone is just what we need around here. Possibilities for other forms of sensors and alerts obviously abound.

To use a service like that there is a privacy trade-off though. From knowing "Where I am" which already makes us a little nervous phone companies would be a closer to knowing "Who I am". My allergy profile would be on their database.

It may be argued that our privacy is already severely if not irreparably compromised with Google's
thirty five year cookie. It is now generally agreed that "You are what you search" and there was no covenant made not to act on such intelligence.

Google sits atop a platinum mine of data that sales and marketing types would sell their souls to get a hold of. What's to say that souls are not being Dutch auctioned as we speak ?

At least with a mobile pollen alert we'll be sneezing less and enjoying the season more.

On The Subject Of J

When J was just a few months old, I would wait for her to fall asleep before I made a comment about her perfect eye lashes to my mother. She is the only person I would make such a comment to. I have always been circumspect of anything I may have to say on the topic of J fearing I will not be objective being blinded by a mother's love. It is only when an outsider reaches an independent conclusion that I feel vindicated.

That said, I have a problem with a surfeit of positive affirmation that is all over J. She has been told to her face that she is "exquisite", "beautiful", "doll-like" and possessed of "perfect features" among a lot else. While she may still be ignorant of most of those adjectives (thank God for that), she sure gets the drift.

One morning I actually requested Ms K and Ms W at her day care to refrain from gushing over her appearance constantly. They seem to be in perfect agreement with me that J is posed with the risk of turning into a one-dimensional bimbette. I figure I have put the fear of God in them and go to work a very smug and complacent person indeed.

When I arrive to pick her up in the evening, Ms W tells me with a conspiratorial smile "You mark my words, your little J will grow up to be a heart-breaker. She is so beautiful already!" At the time of speaking J is playing hide and seek with two cute little boys entirely oblivious of the future that is being predicted for her.

I am almost about to remind Ms W about the conversation we had not so many hours ago but decide against it. I may in the end get Ms W to desist but I have no control over strangers in grocery stores, my friends, my would-be drinking buddy S (would-be because we have been talking about hitting the neighborhood ale-house "one of these Fridays" for weeks trending months without acting on it. But that is a whole another story), the librarian, my co-worker who upon meeting J and could not stop rhapsodizing over her "perfect beauty" for a good ten minutes. Give me a break, people. The child is only three years and something !

She got back to work and made haste to spread the word on my poor little J like the proverbial wildfire. Before I knew it I was flooded by demands to either bring her into work or show them pictures of her. Thankfully J did not have to weather the maelstrom of praise, "oohs", "aahs" and "wows" that accompanied the viewing of J's online album. Not once did anyone see it fit to compliment the photographer on a job well done. I have to admit that I was a tad hurt by that.

J puts me in a terrible quandary when she looks in the mirror and asks innocently "Mommy am I looking pretty ?" In other circumstances I would have said "Of course you are, child" and left it at that. With so much public brouhaha on the topic to contend with I have to append that. "Remember to be thankful to God for making you the way he did. Being beautiful is not an accomplishment, so never take pride in it. You have to be a good human being first. Physical beauty can fade very quickly if you don't have a beautiful heart" J is busy playing with my makeup and has completely tuned out my disclaimer/addendum. It is like I had never even said it. Talk of wasted words. That was quite a few wasted.

In my head I replay what I just said to a three year old and pity myself for having completely taken leave of my senses. Did I really think she would understand ? An over-zealous single-mother trying to build positive self-image in a girl-child is a tough act in the best case scenario. Mine is the case straight from hell. I know the road ahead will be long and arduous.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Sheep Creating Poetry

Randomness is fairly rife in my life at this moment. Men have come and men have gone, relationships of consequence have not been formed. When I read about how "randomness and uncertainty is at the center of how the universe is put together" I have no trouble scaling that down to the microcosmic level - me. I also come to the sobering realization that nothing about my life will ever makes sense to me because I don't have clue about laws of quantum mechanics.

That a herd of sheep could rescue me from my pitiable ignorance fills me with hope except for a niggling detail of execution - getting hold of a herd of sheep to spray words on the backs of. However, a good Samaritan has taken the care of that and given the likes of me a new kind of IChing.

It is a nifty little sheep randomizer - poetry generator. Now I am being the impossible to satisfy end-user. I wish I could pick my own words as well so the sheep could talk specifically to my situation instead of spouting wisdom of a fortune cookie at a Chinese take-out.

Postcards from the Womb

A video in full color of the fetus in-utero as memorabilia for the parents feels so totally unnecessary. While the discussion on protecting the health of the woman and her baby is very much in order, isn't there also the issue of the unborn's privacy and right to have some peace ?

I look at the fetus being a victim of the parent's reckless hedonism which does not bode well for the postpartum future. These are probably the same parents that will take the show on the road outfitted exclusively in designer labels and flaunt them like they would their material goods.

The act of a father filming child birth to me is equally repugnant. It would take a man completely dispassionate about the pain of a woman to be able to do that. What is surprising that most women do not view it as such - we have been conditioned to believe that child birth is a magic moment and that the man in our lives is doing us a favor by recording the event in full color for us and perpetuity. Having bonded in physical pain as much as in pleasure, having felt her pain in his heart and soul is truer, higher magic to me.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Motherhood Measured in Dols

Reading an article in Salon on women increasing choosing C-section to avoid the pain of a normal delivery reminded me of my ninety year old grandmother.

She bore nine children of which eight survived. Each birthing loosened her gums a little more until she turned completely toothless at forty. Her dozen plus grandchildren don't think she is an exemplary mother at all though we readily acknowledge pre-mature toothlessness is a sizeable sacrifice for motherhood and otherwise.

Though the article focuses on American women, much of it applies to women elsewhere in the world. For different reasons, women are finding it easier to opt out of natural childbirth and go the C-section route. It is called "Empowered Pregnancy"

I find the connotations of empowered rather confusing in this context. Motherhood desired can be deeply gratifying. It can be humbling to those who have waited long. It restores their faith in God and proves that it takes divine intervention to give birth.

Being a mother is an immense responsibility and often leaves a woman feeling overwhelmed and helpless. It is also the time when a troubled marriage or a relationship can suddenly end. Power is the last connection one would make with the high-strung, emotionally vulnerable creature the strongest women are reduced to when they are pregnant.

Women have been conditioned to believe that suffering the pain of childbirth qualifies them to become "real" mothers. Doing any less is acting out of selfishness and does not bode well for her future as a mother. She is told that her child will suffer all life because of her selfishness. She opens a Pandora’s Box full of unnamed and dangerous consequences the moment she opts out of a forty eight hour labor to have a C-section. To me that argument is fundamentally flawed.

Physical pain is temporal and on the grand scale of sacrifices that motherhood demands it scores low. When J was born, I refused to take any pain medication so I would know what it was to have a completely natural childbirth. Like most mothers, in a month I had not even the recollection of that blinding, unlike-anything-else pain.

I will remember the pain of raising her alone, of seeing her childhood slip out of reach as I earn a living for us - for an eternity. My grand children may hold the same views about me as a mother as I do of my grandmother - it is their prerogative. What I do know is dols (unit of measure for pain) of pain suffered at childbirth would not impact their verdict on me. I know we did not credit our grandmother for that or she would surely be Mother Earth personified.

Whuffie, God Genes and Serendipity

The rip and burn culture has some interesting side effects on it's unsuspecting victims. When I read about Whuffie and the concept of Karma Currency, I did not imagine that I would relate that to the studies on the God Gene.

Given my predilection for mixed genre playlists, that I would make such odd connections is not odd at all. With the media psychoanalyzing Dubya's iPod, it may be a while before iPod therapists turn a mainstream profession. Till then all of us can indulge our ear worms by stuffing them all in one place in a fully random order.

I concluded earning Whuffie would have a beneficial influence on the individual's God Gene. As a corollary to "sum of all gross Whuffie is non-zero" the God Gene can be perfected infinitely, allowing humans to reach their full divine potential.

Being fundamentally of non-scientific temperament and having only a passing acquaintance with philosophy, simplistic conclusions like this one help me internalize concepts that would have otherwise remained out of my reach. So what if it takes a rip mix, burn exercise to reach there. What's to say that's not as good a learning medium as any other ?

Friday, April 22, 2005

Indian Flower Children

Estelle brought a whiff of fresh air into our sterile cubicle farm the moment she arrived. Much common ground was discovered as we started to get acquainted which is surprising given how different our cultural backgrounds are.

She is a Buddhist, flower child with a wild, colorful youth, practices Vipassana meditation and has backpacked to many obscure places around the world. From running away from home to be at Woodstock to trying mind-altering drugs and everything in between, Estelle has been there done that. Life in the 90s and the new millennium is incredibly staid and boring compared to the best years of her life. We were talking about how I typically enjoy the company of her generation much more than I do that of my own. Some of my best friends are decades older than I.

Estelle says (as do many others of her generation) that there was something magical about that time they were growing up. It was impossible to remain untouched by the winds of revolution all around. Young people believed that the world would change and that they could make a difference. Our generation is enervated in that we pursue our own dreams with a dogged determination but have no desire to start any fires. We have accepted status quo as the state of social reform.

I seem to see that pattern in Indian immigrants in America. The wave of the 60's brought immigrants of a particular stripe. They were dreamers who dared to take a chance on America leaving home and the secure confines of a government job or academia without the slightest idea of what future in their adopted country may hold.

Unlike today's immigrants they were setting foot where very few of their kind had been before. It called for a pioneering spirit - the mark of a true blue immigrant. These people worked unbelievably hard against unbelievable odds to make the American Dream come true.

With informational technology opening floodgates it did not take any strength of character or even special academic talent to come to America. While there still is a super-strata of highly-qualified and talented individuals who are in this country to achieve long cherished goals - professional, academic and personal, the vast majority of the 90's immigrants have no idea why they are where they are.

Like flotsam left ashore after a sea breaker they have been stranded in a country and culture they feel no real affinity to. They stay on in America almost only from inertia. This is the demographic of the immigrant sub-strata that lends color to the popular perceptions held about Indian immigrants.

The Indian American from the 60's may not technically be a flower child like E but it is amazing how much they have in common in thinking and value systems. To be around them is to breathe freedom as it once must have been.

In having flouted conventional wisdom of latching on to the man in my life and instead starting over as a single mother in an alien country, I have like the 60's generation made a leap in faith, believing that my life and J's will be better in a free country. Having made similar choices there is mutual empathy, something my peer group very rarely feels..

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Google, Walmart and Swadeshi

When Wired draws ominous parallels between Google and Wal Mart, it is like saying "absolute power corrupts absolutely". But the case against Wal Mart and now Google could be a lot more nuanced than that.

In a time when Wal Mart bashing is getting to be as politically correct as Microsoft bashing, some intelligent counterpoint provides much food for thought.

"Walmart is an example of how ruthless capitalism has always worked. US consumers have proven time and again that want cheap goods more than keeping their neighbors employed."

The same reasoning explains the dragnet charm of America to illegal migrants who will not stop even at sewing themselves into car seats to get across the border.

"The great danger of Wal Mart's success is that the low-price mantra will infect every segment of our commerce and society to the detriment of quality, service, and even our own humanity."

This echoes Gandhi on his Swadeshi movement of which he said:

" What I object to is the craze for machinery, not machinery as such. The craze is for what they call labour-saving machinery. Men go on 'saving labour' till thousands are without work and thrown on the streets to die of starvation.

I want to save time and labour, not for a fraction of mankind, but for all. I want the concentration of wealth, not in the hands of a few, but in the hands of all. Today machinery helps a few to ride on the backs of millions. The impetus behind it is not philanthropy to save labour, but greed.

The aim of 'swadeshi' as such, is a call to the consumer to be aware of the violence he is causing by supporting those industries that result in poverty, harm to workers and to humans and other creatures.
"

He could have easily been talking of the evil consumers perpertrate on themselves in shopping Wal Mart !

"The standard of living for Americans will decline relative to most other countries. The process of globalization affects a leveling of the standard of living in all countries. Neither governments nor personal outrage will be able to long divert the course of this accelerating process. Wal-Mart is just a visible participant in the change.


Rich countries with high production costs will be forced by economic pressure to accept lower wages in some sectors of the economy. Poorer countries with lower production costs will improve their circumstance. Those of us who wish to oppose this process will be economically disadvantaged if not exhausted. The rest of us will have to work a little harder at accepting change and making the process as painless as possible."

Brilliant argument grounded in the laws of conservation of mass and energy.

Jean Couture Analytics

My co-worker and I were at the printer station when I noticed the Versace label on his jeans. He is one of those quiet, unobtrusive types that seem to make it their life's purpose to blend with the scenery. But with a label like that he had done his cause much disservice.

Atypically for me, I exclaimed "Great pair of jeans !" . He quipped about how he was having to downsize his life and put his cat up for adoption to pay for it. We had a good laugh at that one. What ever type of person it is that wears Versace to work on casual Friday, this man is not it.

Even with ever increasing emphasis on knowing your customer and targeted marketing, outliers like him would be hard if not impossible to reach out to. Odd personality quirks may not generate volume in sales but a series of unexplained spikes is good revenue all the same. Whereas when the customer is known, lost opportunity is measurable - in this case one can only guess at the numbers.

Here would be a prime example of the use of non obvious relationship awareness

Tech Support Caste- Khidakayas

The Onion has the new word of the moment - Khidakayas . The caste, "varna" or "jati" they talk about has been refered to elsewhere poignantly and memorably as the e-slave

Having been part of e-slavery operations in India not too long ago, I would have to admit that tech support personnel, call center executives, medical transcriptionists and the like are a sub-cultre or "varna" just like Onion says. A few years in the business and they morph into unrecognizable forms. To that extent they form a caste by evolution.

A large number of their tribe came to exist after the dot-com boom had ended and with that prospects of a career in the First World. The uber-slave more often than not is a prodigal returned home after years of working in the US and elsewhere around the world. I used to be an uber-slave once.

The client uses one such as myself as the conduit of information back and forth between on-site and off-shore teams. We may be bestowed with the appropriately vague title of "Project/Program Liaison" which in English translates to "Sundry Fix-It Person With Very High Work Releated Stress." Back in the day they did not install emergency defibrillators outside the war-room like some companies do now. Highly recommended for the older uber-slaves back in India.

I have even been asked to influence a man's wedding plans because he was putting dates in jeopardy as he readied to tie the knot. I am ashamed to admit that I tried - my excuse being I needed to keep my job. The man quit and HR had a very serious conversation with me on flagging team morale and employee attrition. What gives ?

The e-slave is well heeled, flush with cash, rents a nice place in the nice part of town, drives a Ford Ikon at least if not much better. For some odd reason more men than women have the ridiculous blonde streaked hair. I never got that one. Needless to say they know more about Americana and baseball trivia than someone like me. The neatest skill they have is the ability to turn that cute accent off and on at will.

There is something terribly schizoid about their life - about being Ramalingam by day and Ron by night, living in a virtual space and time zone. After a while we all lapse into Ron for ease and conformity and more than an identity is lost in the process.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Coders on Slave Ship

I double checked the dateline on this story to make sure it was not an April Fools' joke. This gives a whole new meaning to near-sourcing - to have coders on a slave ship at sea not ninety nine miles but just three tantalizing miles from LA. That is the best of all possible worlds.

A few practical concerns about this project cross the mind. Given that bodies have been shopped from around the world and remain afloat (that sounds particularly gruesome) on international waters , would that mean they would have to live their off-sweat hours on board the cruise ship ? I am guessing it would be illegal for them to set foot on any piece of land in the vicinity.

With that, apartment and strip-mall ships should logically follow suit to set shop upon international waters giving the marooned coder-cutters a sense of community if not the ground beneath their feet.

I already have visions of pizza and lo-mein delivery boats paddling up to Amuthavallil aka "Amy" aboard the "code ship" at the lunch hour. I did not fail to notice the emphasis on Indian woman coding talent. I will pretend I did not read too much into that despite the fact that these women would be all at sea with their foreign over-lords and masters.

Two thumbs up for imagination at work !

Pixels of Awareness

The splatter of blooming dogwoods in the newly greening woods, a stick figure woman with a mop of curly hair jogging along the sidewalk like a come to life Barbie, two girls chattering in a boxy Volkswagen convertible their hair flying in the wind, a jay-walking old couple, a yellow school bus climbing uphill like a buoyant sun, a biker snaking gracefully in and out of my lane ,a nesting duck in the bushes, a flawless blue sky - such a rush of beautiful images in momentary awareness of my surroundings this morning.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Smoke Signals and a New Pope

When I saw an odd bunch of people huddled solemnly around the TV in the break room this afternoon my heart missed a beat fearing some terrible news again - like the Tsunami. While fixing my cup of tea I figured they were waiting for white smoke to signal the new Pope. Like a bunch of children hoping to catch Santa in the act - excited but very serious about their mission.

Since the smoke was a while coming, I returned to my cube without actually seeing it. Blogosphere was already humming about it. Some interesting observations I came across were comments made on Airbag's post

"I might consider not being atheist anymore if I could just see one picture of a room full of cardinals blogging away."

"Pope 2005 Blog? I think the Vatican missed a really good opportunity for smash hit reality TV show. Who wouldn't want to tune in to a see a group of Cardinals running an obstacle course through jungles of Borneo? Talk about appealing to the masses."

"Al Gore is still demanding a recount of the smoke signals."

Then there were rumors of someone having "popesquatted" BenedictXVI.Com to sell it to pornographers. Who would have guessed a brand new Pope could hog so much air-time and bandwidth on day one?

Hoodia and Hunger

There is obvious irony in succor for affulenza coming from starving Kalahari bushmen. This NYT article on nature's hunger buster and debates around it's efficacy misses out only one small detail. Maybe , just maybe God put the Hoodia Gordonii where he did for a reason. Also maybe it is best for everyone that it be left there.

That some illiterate impoverished people may be sitting atop a goldmine has already got them a lawyer which is fairly ominous . BBC reported "... if the Hoodia works, the 100,000 San strung along the edge of the Kalahari will become overnight millionaires on royalties negotiated by their South African lawyer Roger Chennells."

Between that and Chennells dream "I envisage Hoodia cafes in London and New York, salads will be served and the Hoodia cut like cucumber on to the salad." billions would have been made by everyone in the game except by the San. The hapless bushmen would by then not have their Hoodia anymore to stave off hunger. Maybe greed to have and consume all goes just thus far and no further.

Matchmaking Evolution

That in the days of yore how a woman roasted pappad was all it took to tell what kind of wife she would. The very notion of seems bizarre today. Yet such folk wisdom was all it took for marriages in the past to happen and remain glued. It may be argued that women were not independent, they lacked the options they have today but that may only be part of why those marriages worked. In a time of trademarked and patented matchmaking systems involving twenty five dimensions of human personality, the trusty pappad would no doubt have to crumble and bite dust.

Today, incumbent relationships suffer from wanting to peel off layers of the partner's personality in twenty five dimensions and more until all is laid bare. The premise being you can never tell and what's more never trust until you get to that point.

That seems a fairly shaky foundation to begin a potentially life long relationship with. With the burgeoning online match-making services turning increasingly sophisticated that seems to be the choice of millions on their quest for happiness and companionship. There is no longer such a thing as following your gut and surrendering to predestination.


Our approach to relationships is like that of an informed consumer. We are cognizant of our choices and will not get into something without making sure there is not a bigger better deal out there. We will bide our time until the "prefect" connection happens. Settling for anything less than perfect is short changing ourselves.

After all is said and done and the "click" finally happens, the initial euphoria of connecting with the soul-mate does not take too long to be replaced by ennui. The spark of life in a relationship is the slow process of discovery, together with measures of shock and surprise.

We succeed in talking all of that to death even before we get to being one. So where grandma and grandpa at ninety even and odd enjoyed being silent together, our generation wearies too soon of having nothing left to talk about.

o what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive - first in believing what makes us happy is inherently different from what makes most other people happy and then in believing we will know the whole truth about our partner when we don't know it about ourselves.

When compatibility is reduced to science it opens up the possibility of many possible partners instead of the one pre-destined one. In consciously making our final choice, we exclude all other possibilities. What is to say that "the one" was not lost in our misguided exercise of free will ?

Monday, April 18, 2005

A Porcupine Fable

"A troop of porcupines is milling about on a cold winter's day. In order to keep from freezing, the animals move closer together. Just as they are close enough to huddle, however, they start to poke each other with their quills. In order to stop the pain, they spread out , lose the advantage of commingling, and again begin to shiver. This sends them back in search of one and other, and the cycle repeats as they struggle to find a comfortable distance between entanglement and freezing."

I read this Arthur Schopenhauer fable on porcupines many years too late. Past a certain age one ceases to learn from fables instinctively. Learning turns more into an after the effect correlation of personal experience to wisdom such as this.

When I read Aesop's fables to J, I do not have to interpret for her or talk about lessons in morality. Like any other child, she absorbs on her own. Though the perfect age to learn through the telling of a fable, she is too young for this very valuable one about porcupines.

To tell her before she has been mauled by love even once would protect her from needless agony. Yet not having known that pain would leave her life's body rather light. Maybe for J when the time is right, a mother can quote E.E Cummings and hope she hurts just a little bit less for it.

"be of love(a little)
More careful
Than of everything"

Language Amnesia

J's native language skills are retrogressing rapidly. I find myself slipping into English to preserve continuity in our conversation and chide myself for falling into that trap. I have seen legions of Indian kids born and raised in this country completely unfamiliar with their native language. A sad thing considering many of these kids are so bright and articulate. It is as much their loss as it is for the future of the language itself.

Ms K at J's daycare and I were having a chat about how children from other ethnicities seem to fare much better with their native languages than Indian kids do. We were both drawing from past experience and examples around us. Ms K believes that children go through a phase that may last up to a few years when they feel self-conscious about speaking in a language that their peers do not.

Possibly Indian parents bail out at the time and start speaking to the child in English. If this continues for a while, a significant gap results between the child's maturity of expression in English and that in their native language. No child wants to return to a childhood lisp when they are fluent in the language they use most. The resistance to learn at that point is too much to break down.

Her advice to me was to keep talking my language with J until she responded in kind - almost reflexively. One idea that I particularly liked was to tell J "Let's play a game where you and I don't understand English all Sunday". While I have not tried it yet , J is likely to be receptive to this one. Whether the game will have the desired effect is quite another thing.

The first week of the exercise was hard on me and the lack of incentive did not help. At the end of week two J was curious to know the names of different colors in our language. Lately, when I tell her it makes me sad that she does not speak our language she will recite the numbers one to ten, throw in a couple of colors while she is at it saying "Look Mommy now I do" in her perfect Southernese.

While I am not about to give up, I wonder how many years Ms K had in mind when she started me on this Quixotic mission.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Octet on Rejection

I have at the end of a relationship been told how much he respects me, how he will always remember me as a dear friend. Emphasis already being on the past, when we are not quite broken-up yet - officially at least.

It would be better to be told he was leaving me because I totally repel him. A qualified rejection is an easier decision to come to terms with. I never understood how I could remain a dear friend, worthy of respect yet not be loved. Specially, when once there was an such over-abundance of that feeling.

Like Seth, I am left to wonder "Why is it true my ample self-affection Will not suffice to buoy me in rejection"

Octet - Vikram Seth

You don't love me at all? O God. O Shit.
You still 'respect me.' Thanks. I value it
About as much as one who's asked to use
A second hat when he's in need of shoes.
Since, I discover, my own self-respect
Is quite enough to keep my spine erect
Why is it true my ample self-affection
Will not suffice to buoy me in rejection?

Hazed For A Sandwich

I was at the neighborhood sandwich joint for a tuna sub for J and I. The teen that was taking my order stood there like a retard with a loaf of wheat bread smeared with tuna and kept staring at me. "Is that all that goes into it ?" I asked incredulously "Whatever-else-you-want-with-it" he slurred.

This is just the kind of pebbles-in-mouth-uniform-intonation mumble that drives me up the wall. "Isn't there a standard recipe for it ?" I asked. It had taken a good five minutes to reach a common understanding about the type of bread I wanted.

Customers were lining up behind me. The teen shrugged his shoulder and mouthed something that I totally lost. He was doing nothing to the tuna smeared bread. "I don't see anything labeled in there so how I can tell what you have ?" I said pointing to a row of opaque plastic bottles of dressing. He named all ten of them without so much as pausing to catch his breath.

J was following this with curiosity looking at the teen and at me by turn. She could tell Mommy was getting real mad. "You know what, since I can't understand a word of what you're saying and you don't have a recipe, just thrown in whatever you like and I'll pay you for your trouble." I said in obvious exasperation. The silence around me with pregnant with deep, undecipherable meaning. I realized I could hear only myself. J inched closer to me.


That shook his speech out of the slur-mumble mode. He actually said "Would you like some tomatoes ?" just like a normal person would. I was even given the typical how-would-you-like-it spiel. He was perfectly articulate now. The transaction was completed in mere seconds.

This is the kind of racial hazing I have been through many times before and am building an immunity towards it. I figure I can't be troubled by a high-school drop- out who is convinced he is not making as much he should because a colored female immigrant took his rightful entitlement away from him.

I guess it is too much to expect that he have any awareness of the Indian educational system, or know how kids there work their tails of for all the high school years to get through the competitive exams for top of the line engineering and medical schools. His notion of numbers and ratios would fail him if I told him that several million candidates compete for a few thousand seats.

Back in my time, failing was not an option because there was no diversity in career choices that paid the bills. We worked very hard to be where we are and the legal immigration channels that people like me go through in the US deplete us of the little life we've got left. If he had worked a tenth as hard as I had he could have been graduating from a top tier school in his country with employers wooing him with signing bonuses.

The fact that he and the system could not work to the betterment of his life has nothing to do with me would be more than he can comprehend. I feel strongly tempted to ask "Wanna trade ?" If he can stay at my job for more than a day, I'll give it away to him freeing myself to flip burgers from now until eternity knowing my life's real purpose was thus revealed unto me.

My only concern about the message J gets from being witness to such incidents. I don't necessarily want her to grow up with a chip on her shoulder.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

To Read Later - Reading List

I have a reading list consisting of highly acclaimed work that failed to evoke any response in me on the first reading. It includes notably The Gulag Archipelago, Ulysses, The Clockwork Orange, Allen Ginsberg's Howl, Gravity's Rainbow among a number of others.

This morning, Anil's Ghost by Michael Ondaatje made it to my list too (I did not fare any better with his English Patient either). I am at page 118 and have not seen the point. There is beautiful language that catches the attention often. Ondaatje is a word-craftsman without doubt. Anil is fairly interesting as a character but not riveting. I feel mired by the technical details of her job.

The backdrop of Sri Lankan civil war is so strident that the story pales before it. If past a third of the book I don't begin to feel oneness with the narrative and the cast of characters the book has all but lost me.

What is more the "suggestion-of-incest" prop has already been used to lend that special aura. This has become the sub-continental writer's devise of choice and a done to death one at that. One glaring example of overkill that comes to mind is The Blue Bedspread by our very own Raj Kamal Jha.

Each addition to my "Later" list marks a disappointment because I know I will never have the time to revisit. Life does not typically allow such luxury.

Prevention Zealotry

When J visited her new pediatrician for her recent physical, she told me in her practice they checked cholesterol levels for all their patients. I looked at her in astonishment. J is only three ! Yet, the worst was not over. I almost fell off my chair when I heard the reading.

J would have to go on a diet post-haste. No more whole milk, cream cheese or eggs. J sat beside me smiling coyly at the doctor as she played with beanie babies. I wanted to burst into tears. J is at the twenty-fifth percentile in the weight charts. Now I was going to have to starve her until she fell right off it. What the doctor was prescribing for J sounded like an ultra-lite version of South Beach meets Zone diet. I had decided to seek a second opinion even before I left her office.

Once home, my resolve had already weakened. The HDL and LDL counts were too powerful an adversary and numbers do not lie. I found myself telling the daycare center to stop serving her whole milk. I did not feel at peace with having age-old wisdom on children's diet displaced by two life changing numbers.

I found a way to explain my situation with J in an article on powerful medicines which included an excerpt from Dr Jerry Avron's essay where he says

"...One early attempt to measure the benefits that come from medications and other health care interventions was based on the notion of 'human capital', and flowed directly from industrial cost-benefit analyses. A decision on whether to repair a machine or retool a factory would start by calculating the future productivity expected from the equipment, given its age and condition...We've all confronted this kind of choice with our cars or refrigerators or computers, though usually not with our grandmothers."

I had only to extend the car and grandmother analogy a little further to see where this was coming from. Children like J were being treated like manufactured goods on an effective preventive maintenance schedule.

Why wait forty years to detect and then put them on Lipitor when Mommy can go South Beach on her three year old for the cost of a cholesterol screen. Getting value out of human capital can get no easier than this. For some reason, I don't believe that J and I are winning in this game.

Break-Room Leads and Social Networks

Anyone who has job-hunted in the recent past knows the value of inside information. Job leads are more likely to be found in the break rooms of hiring companies than on nation-wide job-boards.

When A asks B about her weekend and B tells A she's hurting for a business analyst so bad she didn't remember having a weekend. Turns out that HR has a ninety day lead time to fill the position by when her project would be in the red. Week and weekend would coalesce into one - the quasi-static state of joblessness. B is probably not social networked. If A is and he spreads the word around , he'll be doing two people a favor and earning some good karma along the way.

In his essay on social networks , Rob Peterson says

"I believe that Social Software is a vector a return to an old culture.When I say old culture, I mean the culture that fits the essential nature of humans and that fits nature itself. I imagine a return to the custom of being personally authentic, to a definition of work that serves the needs of our community, and to a society where our institutions serve to enhance all life.I see signs that that we are going home. See if you can see what I can see."

While I was all about tapping the hidden job market when I started out social networking, the personal element about the interactions made the experience unique. In the end it was not about a new gig, but the pleasure of making the acquaintances sometimes friendship along the way. I see what Peterson sees.


Friday, April 15, 2005

Poetry by Children

My English teacher introduced me Cadbury's Book of Chidren's Poetry turning poetry completely real and accessible. These kids were not writing of The Lady Of Shallot or Lord Lochinvar. Our worlds were much the same. Their vocabulary was no bigger than mine and yet they had perceived something that I had completely missed.

Reading that book turned me aware of my thoughts, the flow of life around me and suddenly poetry was everywhere. I wrote the first tentative verses stumbling with familiar words in their new context like it were a foreign language.

Between feeling and expression there is an asymptotic gap never quite meeting except at infinity. Sometimes a child will reach infinity with the ease of a genius like Pablo Neruda.

Years later I would be charmed by Poetry in Motion in the Metro on the way to work. At a time when I was hurting so much that I was desensitized to any feeling except pain, a chance verse would make me want to be alive once again.

A Salon Story

After postponing my visit to the hairdresser for several weeks, I finally made the trip last evening. Historically no hairdresser has understood what I want done, so of late I pick salons at random, the cheaper the better. A male with waxed arms, nail color and lipstick welcomes me.

A little dazzled by that classy touch I quickly scan the rate charts to make sure things were within my ball park. J and I wait my turn flipping through magazines trying to spot J's "most special favorite" (pink), "special favorite"(yellow) a slew of just "favorite" colors. This is usually how we spend the lobby-wait-time of our lives.

The gentleman with waxed arms is talking to a blonde who is doing almost an interpretational dance trying to explain the magic she wants him to work on her hair. He is leaning back with his arms crossed, a half smile on his face, making appropriate noises to indicate comprehension and agreement. If that is what takes to get the message across I know I will not be able to do it.

In the chair next to the blond is a guy getting a buzz. The hairdresser is petite woman lip synching and swaying to a Roberta Flack number playing the background as she snips, clips and razes. I get a sinking feeling as buzz tends dangerously close to bald. Blonde is faring quite okay but then I have no idea what her stated expectations were.

I know what will happen next and am willing to bolt out of the door. Buzz will be done sooner than Blonde and I will be on the hot seat with Roberta Flack karaoke. Almost on cue J starts to whine "Mommy my tummy hurts. I am very hungry. I want my dinner right now". I know that is a sign of absolute boredom but right now it is a means of escape for me.

I could sneak out saying the baby is hungry. Before I can act on my thoughts, Buzz is paying for his scalping and walking out. She announces my name and motions me over for my turn.

I sneak a look at Blonde, she is glowing from her soul communion with the hairdresser. J and my handbag are perched on a chair behind me. She watches me quizzically through the mirror. Karaoke is all done even before I know it. She holds up the mirror for me to admire her artwork. I commit the ultimate faux pas. I tell her to go at it again and fix the many problems I see. I even forget to smile.

She returns to my hair with gusto. Her scissors work like gardening shears through the bramble of my hair. J is looking rather concerned at this point. I assume the back view is much worse than the front. The woman is now crooning along with Flack savoring every minute of her vengeance. I look in the mirror when we get in the car and gasp in horror. J restates the obvious "Mommy, you look yucky"

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Airbrushed Perpetuity

My friend A is terminally ill with a disease that is working on her with a quiet determination. Having been acquainted with near-death for so long she has no fear of it anymore, instead she lives in the present with a passion I have rarely seen. When she first found out about her condition, A had a professional photographer shoot a portfolio for her.

She could have made it to a Vogue cover with those pictures. It was her way to arrest the atrophy of her body. In her mind she sees herself perfectly beautiful like those airbrushed pictures. "I see the most perfect physical form that I could ever have. It makes me want to strive for other forms of perfection that are still attainable" A explained to me once.

Recently another friend who is a professional photographer told me about an interesting assignment. A couple wanted faces of a celebrity couple on the cover of a popular magazine replaced with theirs. This was their tenth wedding anniversary gift to each other. We were talking about the rather unusual idea and wondered what may have sparked it.

For very different reasons maybe, but like A they were seeking perfection in life, acting out the culmination of all other dream and desire. Connecting a joyous celebration of life and togetherness with impending death left an upleasant after taste in the mind.

Mixed Tapes

There is this line from the movie "High Fidelity" that stayed with me "Now the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do's and don'ts. First of all, you're using someone else's poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing." It is a lost art form that no one in the time of iPod shuffle has any use for.

I have many mixed tapes from the growing up years replete with memories. The most cherished of them being a gift from P. Extreme, juvenilia maybe but there was so much to read in the sequence and selection of music. It let me imagine everything that was unsaid in our four years together and its defining moments.

Being the discreet gentleman that P was there were no vocals, only classical instrumental music. I realized I was in love with him. He had used someone else's poetry with amazing effect.

As a parting gift he asked me for a collection of "music you love most". I agonized days and hours creating my ninety minute desert island mixed tape for him, music that he would always remember me by. Words would have failed me.

Urban Mythology and Folksonomies

Some ideas are so obviously beautiful that you wonder why no one thought of it before or if in fact some one did and you just did not know. The walls of a city have so many stories to tell us that no tourist guidebook cares about. The [murmur] project gives them the voice they are missing.

In Toronto history is flagged with sign-posts carrying a phone number that cell phone users can call. They will hear real people tell stories about that place as they saw and knew it. You can hear this while you are passing by.

This is perhaps not the history that will go down it the text books blessed and sanitized by the establishment. It will be more a record of urban mythology helping people form intimate connections with places. Given the simplicity of the idea it could be widely adopted.

Somewhat unrelated but the idea of letting users tag web sites creating what Wired calls folksonomies is another way of breaking down the hegemonic "system" of classification and allow natural entropy to establish order over time.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Perils of Indiscriminate Outsourcing

Tomes have been written by many an industry pundit on the quest of the silver bullet for maximum ROI through outsourcing. Fact is there is no silver bullet (at least everyone agrees on that one) and what is more very few companies manage to get the formula even close to right.

Increasingly BPO outfits have capabilities to take on much more than grunt work and customers are aware of that. With almost any kind of project becoming fair game for an outsourcing vendor, one misguided engagement can result in long drawn out suffering for the customer.

Suffering as in below par performance of the offshore vendor, service level agreements being fraught with ambiguity besides the usual suspect - budget overrun. Typically starting at level three production support it is not long before offshore resources take over core business processes eliminating any possible competition from another vendor.

It would take a sizeable Knowledge Management project to transfer knowledge from the vendor back to its source. By when a vendor is that deeply entrenched in an organization chances are that the customer be left with little choice but to continue engaging them. The numbers in the game by this time are not nearly as attractive as they were at first. The vendor will push thus far and no further knowing there is threshold to tolerance. The customer continues to loose out nevertheless.

A typical knee-jerk reaction to a situation like that is to lay-off some of the more expensive (typically highly experienced) technical resources on-site and transfer the whole operation offshore. To management this may be the only way to increase vendor accountability and make the engagement profitable to business. Maximum damage is now done.

Vendors may come and go over time, but core business competencies have been lost several times over. The hidden costs in outsourcing are in the time dimension that are very often overlooked in overzealous deal making with a line of sight limited to short term returns.

Musical Memories of Movies

A gramophone playing Edith Piaf's "Te Es Partout" in a French town square is the image that stayed with me long after watching Saving Private Ryan. The mood of gentle melancholy it created was the finest signature for the movie.

Background score and theme music is a little different because they actively strive to achieve that effect. When successful, there is a certain audio-visual harmony about the movie that enhances the pleasure of watching it.

The violin quartet "Pur una Cabeza" in the Scent of A Woman recreates fragments of the evening when I watched the movie each time I hear it. Music like that has a kaleidoscopic effect. I know that I will be surprised by the medley of memories that will come back.

A Letter for Roshna

Published in DJ

Roshna,

I am writing this to you - or should I say it is my wish and desire that you should read what I am writing to you. Long after my ashes have filled their urn and the wind blown them over the Ganges. Long after that I would still long for you.

A collage of images comes back to me as I write. My brother Amar at eighteen, with a shock of hair on his forehead giving him a brooding poet's air. My oldest brother Ananth, in the final year of college, getting ready to leave home. We thought some Ivy League school in America would be his destination; he surprised us by taking off to France. It would have been adequately dramatic if Ma had pawned her wedding jewels for his passage. She had instead taken out a gold loan from the bank. Gold to fuel the dreams of the dreamer - that is hardly inappropriate.

Ananth was never one to explain his decisions. We accepted his actions after their effect knowing he knew best. With him gone we had to deal with Amar's cocaine addiction alone. Ma and Papa and I - three of us and still so alone. We did not tell Ananth. Ma said that he needed to stay focused on his research. Ananth, the man with a provided alibi. A man who lived only by free will - not meant to be contained or tempered.

I see Amar with his mouth frothing over like the foam of the sea that he loved so much. Some lines from a poem he wrote years ago came back to me when we got him to the rehab center.

Ocean don't leave me tonight
Let your tide rise, foam in my
Mouth, spill my poison upon
Sand.. bloody your salt water
.

Ma and Papa waiting in a narrow corridor, sitting at far ends of a long wooden bench - too devastated to comfort each other. Ma wrapped in a black shawl, her hair a tumbling cascade of black chaos, Papa smoking one trembling cigarette after the other - me pacing between them trying in vain to seek balance for our splintered family.


Just then, Ananth must have woken up beside Yvonne in the nude, resting in the comforting curves of her, heard her heart beat in his left ear- maybe. It was the picture that came to my mind - of a sunny day in France where nothing was short of perfect..


We took home the mangled ruins of my poet, physicist brother. We lay him upon his bed, dressed in white like he were a body bound for the crematorium. We stood around him waiting for signs of life more obvious than his beating heart. He showed none. His lashes closed tight upon his sunken eyes with eerie finality. I put on his favorite Mallikarjun Mansur tape and let it play. We stepped out of the room leaving the door open behind us. I turned back and saw him smile at me.


Ananth sent pictures of him and Yvonne from their road trip to Spain. It was my first encounter with spaghetti straps and navel piercing. He had his arm thrown around her with a casual yet proprietary air. At sixteen I had to wonder if this was not manhood what was? The only real one we had in our family of four males.


But, Roshna I was young then and that is my excuse. I did not know what drove Amar to crack and Ananth to Yvonne, just like I did not know what would one day drive me to you.


Papa and Ma would hang on to the words dribbling through the choppy international calls Ananth made sometimes. They would dissect what they had heard or thought they had, inject the serum of profundity where none existed - desperate to hold on to any wisp of hope.


Ananth was attending graduate school in Paris and after a year he dropped out. I hear Ma's cries ululating in the air of our home..Raag Kedar overlaying her voice. Amar was holding up well. He had receded into an impenetrable shell but we all felt safer for it..


Both my brothers had been star students in school. They were artistically gifted too. They had the Midas touch - shining at whatever they did. They made my parents very proud and to be honest Roshna, they made me a little nervous or was it jealousy ?


I was not gifted like them - more the stolid worker bee who trudged along not giving up until the end. I was never one to give up. I would labor as long as it took for my labors to bear fruit; sometimes even after - because I did not know otherwise.


I was noted by my teachers to be "diligent and perseverant." The word "brilliant" so often attributed to my bothers was never used to describe me. My parents did not have big hopes of me like they had of my brothers. They helped me accept my limitations and so I did. Among my parents' children, I was perhaps "differently-abled" though no one ever couched it in those terms. We did not know then to be politically correct.


Ananth stayed on in Europe. We were never sure what he did for a living or rather how he eked one out. At twenty four he was without a Masters and married. The bride in the couple of pictures he sent us was not Yvonne. We came to the sobering realization that he had moved on. We as a family strove to gouge him out of our memory and consciousness with middling success.


Amar mailed the new couple a tape he in which he had mixed Raga Madhuvanti with French wedding songs to mesmerizing effect. The bride Chantal, responded with a thank you card smelling of something distinctively French. My brothers were always attuned to each other. I was always the outlier as were my parents. It must have harder on them than it was for me to not be able to synchronize with the children they gave birth too. I cannot tell when or even why the thread that held things in motion snapped.


There are other images too - my mother sitting at what used to be Ananth's desk, leafing through school reports, old photographs, letters he wrote to us when he was in college. She bore his loss, or was it absence, stoically. Papa sat on his reclining chair staring silently into space.


Amar was not in mourning like the rest of us. He had no reason to be perhaps. He stayed in his room, played music, wrote poetry. Papa gave him sedatives when his pain turned unbearable. I have never seen such a primal agony of need nor such abject misery in the act of deliverance from it. He was recovering, however slow and painful the process. While he did not have a sense of how much time he had lost, of the career he could never have, he was getting a grip on himself.


We dread his recovery - what if he tries to escape again?


Many nights, Roshna I have heard my father sob bitterly and my mother comfort him like a child just like she once comforted us - especially Ananth, He was the hyper-sensitive one running to Ma for emotional succor when others would have fended for themselves.


The sound of my father's sobs reverberates in my head when I least expect it making me want to run away from myself.


Why Roshna, am I telling you all this ? Why should it interest you to know about my brothers Amar and Ananth ? I see the square on the wall where the picture of our perfect life used to hang. As I write to you, I trace the border of dust with my fingers smudging it closer to where we are today. Have I been able to create a picture in your mind of a family of five - once perfectly happy and then not at all ?


Ananth taught me to fly kites, repair toaster ovens and to wolf-whistle. What he did not teach, I taught myself - to walk like him, smile like him, gesture with his arms flying around when he was excited about something. Yet I would never be Ananth - the man who followed his dreams to the end of the earth, lived by his own rules without regret or apology.


I see Amar whimpering like a child as leaves out of his notebook fly out through the window. Clouds are knotted tight in a darkening sky, rain falls like lead pellets. Ma and I run to save his writing from turning into rivulets of royal blue ink. Amar uses my father's old Schaeffer pen to write. We scoop paper in our arms and turn indoors to lay them on the floor. Papa holds Amar to comfort him.


We leave him alone to sift, gather, crumple and throw. Later, Papa will flatten out balls of paper strewn around the room and file them away. We will hesitate at first to breach Amar's privacy but end up devouring every word and be consumed by guilt and shame when we are done.


We are sitting together as a family for dinner after many years. Amar is happy but not euphoric. We are terrified of euphoria though happiness scares only a little less. Papa is telling him about me - that I've been accepted by a top ranking engineering school - that I will be leaving home the next week - that we are all happy for me. Happiness is our theme for the evening. Amar pauses and smiles at me - I cannot tell what he feels - then he gets back to his food.


Ananth had surprised us by a phone call earlier that morning. Papa had told him the same things and Ananth had said to me "Good going, Kiddo. Don't mess up a nice thing." That was all. I had pondered over that cryptic message all day. Ananth the iconoclast, trading a brilliant career for a string of European lovers culminating in a Parisian wife and a Bohemian life telling me to stick to the hide-bound ? Maybe to go beyond was not for one like me - ordinary, pedestrian and conformist.


Amar is teasing Ma - telling her that the overdone chicken is a "work of art, inspired genius" . Just like the old days, he is the life of the conversation. Except he does not have Ananth to complete his thoughts and sentences, jousting bon-mots with ripostes - with elan. Our dinner table conversations were Amar and Ananth performances that we participated in ever so obliquely, relegated for the most part to the role of an enraptured audience. Today we were audience to a soliloquy. We missed the part of us that was missing.


In having told you as much as I have, Roshna, I realize how little I have told you before and I have known you for a year. The best year of my life. I see you standing with a group of friends beneath the spreading branches of a Gulmohar, like a host of chattering tropical birds dressed in vivid summertime colors.


I think of you as a splash of key lime in ice cold water, the arch of your body slanted against the tree trunk like a bow string held taut by an invisible arrow. Amar could have serenaded you with words and music . I only have my eyes and through them my thoughts try to reach you, touch and feel you. Could I ever go that far, Roshna ?


You may wonder where I am going with all this and what the point is to this unfettered rambling ? From the fetters of hero-worship, to those of self-pity through that of love .. what a long chain of links. For a long time, Roshna I was pursued by the feeling I am getting nowhere - with my life, with you, that I would be one among the many men before and after me that have been in love with you.


For years I would be a cog in the wheel working a dead end job, earning my bread. I would have broken no new ground, astounded no one, died one day a handful of ashes. I wondered how Amar and Ananth would fare, would my parents count me a success in relative terms or a failure for not being possessed of genius like them?


I remember the glowing faces of my parents at Ananth's convocation, the thundering sound of applause at his valedictory speech. The many prizes, plaudits that he received with the equanimity and grace of a man comfortable in his skin, quietly conscious of his greatness. Amar gave him a high five I can best describe as fiery and they embraced. My parents and they completed a luminous orb of fulfillment. I was the spell that would break the magical moment.. I knew my place and stayed there.


Ananth had slapped my shoulder saying, "Come on, Kiddo, let me show you around," and pulled me out of my little comfort zone. Both my brothers loved me - just like big brothers love kid brothers. There was nothing cerebral about that..


Amar addressed a lot of his poetry to a woman named Aparna. I did not know her, but in his words she came to life:

You turn your smoldering eyes to me
the whiplash of your flaming hair
sears my face. You know to leave
wounds to persist like fear of death.

I visualized a woman with long raven hair flowing like silken yarn, the quick movement of her slender neck, the anger in the lash of her wind swept hair on Amar's face and the scars beyond what met the eye. Her face remains painted in memory from words that told of her to her:

They drizzled you with liquid gold.
What the oval of you face would not
hold touched the ground beneath your
feet, to bedazzle. Step on my heart with
your golden feet, impale me, Aparna.
I will look up to the sky and see twin
stars shining in a darkly cloudy sky ,
dawn bursting through your pale
pink lips, curved like a dulcet note.

I fear to talk of love to you Roshna, lest I borrow from where I should not. When I hear myself in my head I sound like Amar without his lilting cadence and it makes eldritch music. I wanted to love you as myself but I do not exist in truth.


Who am I without my borrowed idiosyncrasies, words, thoughts and wisdom? How much in the last hour have I told you about me , Aloke ? Indeed what is there to tell? So Roshna what should you find to love in a shadow that will melt away one day?


Absence sometimes is the essence of a person - when their presence is make believe like mine. In having negated everything that I am not you will be left with what I fundamentally am. In loving you I turned curious to know myself , emerge from shadows and turn to face the sun.


Tell me Roshna, who do you see? Could you be in love with me? Would the bowstring tautness of your body ever snap under mine? Would I make you happy and proud? Tell me, am I a better man than my brothers? Who am I?


I chose to die an artistic death, Roshna. Leave you with an image to remember me by after many others have faded. Take my ashes in your hand, fling them into the wind, watch me scatter upon your world. Stand beneath the Gulmohar tree and I will fall in raindrops upon your upturned eyes. My love will permeate your soul, your skin and bones. Then, Roshna you would have known the true me, known I have loved you like no other man will. Take me away, Roshna.



Aloke