Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Where are the Neantherdal educators who will instead hand out gift certificates to students who use five obscure words a day in regular conversation for a month or come up with the most elegant solution to a math problem or write poetry that gets published in a well known literary magazine?
In our day, we would have risen to the bait same as the F word quota - these kids would too I am sure. If only someone tried.
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Home Thoughts - Carl Sandburg
The sea rocks have a green moss.
The pine rocks have red berries.
I have memories of you.
Speak to me of how you miss me.
Tell me the hours go long and slow.
Speak to me of the drag on your heart,
The iron drag of the long days.
I know hours empty as a beggar's tin cup on a rainy day,
Empty as a soldier's sleeve with an arm lost.
Speak to me...
Monday, August 29, 2005
When Bangalore gets bad press, it seems to get it awful prominently. Must be a dull day world over if NYT could not find another story to feature in the International section of Page 1.
As an Indian, I find a very different way to look at the story about outrageous bribes demanded by hospital staff to let the parents hold their babies. In a country where the poor are as poor as they are and have as many offspring as they do, it is amazing that they can still be so desperate to hold their newborn.
I would read that as an enduring testament of love that poverty does not diminish. For someone making $1 a day to give up $7 to hold their child is a sacrifice that the affluent cannot even comprehend. Without denying the sordidness of the whole business, I still find something amazingly uplifting about the story. At some very basic, intangible, immaterial level those children are lucky - they are truly wanted.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
This summer I have not missed the monsoons. Rain was frequent as it was abundant. When in other years the Gods have not been quite as bountiful, I have pined for home hearing the sound of falling rain on the phone.
Have sat there imagining darkening skies, a tender dampness in the air, the smell of tea and roasted pappad, sparrows on the clothesline shaking off water.
Saturday, August 27, 2005
Friday, August 26, 2005
When enough time elapses between an incident and it's recounting, it seems to me like I am talking about another person's life and not mine. I wrote this over two years ago..
The bus stop at Arlington is a small counter - and its raining hard. I stand beneath the awning while my bags get wet. Make a call to Y - he is on is way but has got his directions wrong so he's running a little late. I stand there and wait. There are two other guys there - also waiting for their ride like me.
Y has not changed much - hardly at all. He does not broach the subject of R (my ex) at all and we talk about the job market and my chances of finding one in DC. He asks about J and asks how she is holding up in my absence. I feel like I'm back in very familiar surroundings and among people I've always known. I bask in a sense comfort that I have missed for a long time.
Their community is beautiful and so is their apartment. Z is standing with a big smile on his face as the door opens. He is such a friendly, adorable kid and befriends me instantly and just a little younger than J. N's mother is an earthly woman who thinks I have done right by myself and my child and there are bright days ahead of me "Inshallah". I settle down into their domestic situation effortlessly. I give N the book that I had got for her. She smiles happily.
In dramatic contrast from the all vegetarian food that I had been on for the last several weeks, I am instantly on an elaborate Mughlai diet of salan, kabab, shorba and what have you. The food is rich, flavorful, oily and spicy. They ask me if I'm okay to eat beef - I say that's fine. I do not to trouble the host with special menu requests. They eat very small portions and I feel like I am the one with a gargantuan appetite and that makes me feel a tad self conscious. They give up the master bedroom for me - and I feel acutely embarrassed. I look longingly at the couch but N does not relent.
I develop a fascination for their rotis - so incredibly soft. I watched N knead the dough to see what was different and hopefully I have learnt in theory what needs be done.
Things move pretty fast after my arrival in their home. Y lines up an interview for me and they make me an offer, I start on the 2nd Monday of April. After a long battle the first major victory and I felt a sense of calm come over me. Holding Z in my arms assuage my maternal longings. We play with his toys sometimes - J is so different from other children - my interaction with this kid for ten days brought in that realization even more.
One Saturday morning we come over to my new room-mate's apartment to check out the place and to see if I feel okay with her. N and Z are fussing over me like I was a their teenager going off to college. I am at once amused and grateful.
I moved in on the 2nd April with my two bags to start a very different life - alone.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
A full-color peacock on the cover should have warned me as should have the pretentious title of The Last Song Of Dusk
This is not a book that I could read sequentially page 1 to page 295. The lushly overripe prose makes that quite impossible. I went through the first few pages, turned over read what the critics had to say. When David Davidar compares Salman Rushdie and Hari Kunzru I have to ask myself "What was he smoking, when he said that ?"
Now Siddhart Dhanvant Shanghvi enters the same league - a league which has nothing in common to my mind. Most of the other praise comes from abroad which I am quick to dismiss. Snakes charmers and the Indian rope trick never fail to work their magic on the occident. Too bad, that we have not done more to credit ourselves than that.
I return to the book, skim through several pages - lingering long enough to absorb the plot. As a reviewer at Amazon suggests, Shanghvi's voice is completely borrowed. I remember too many other writers as I read him. I drop the book midway, knowing that reading any further will only mean more time wasted. I have not even made a passing acquaintance with Siddhart Shanghvi.
To his credit, his mug-shot on the jacket is very nice. Like one reviewer said of Arundhati Roy upon her debut "The diamond stud on her pretty nose dazzles more that her prose" I would say Shanghavi is more eye candy than author. Bollywood surely beckons.
Wednesday, August 24, 2005
I have for the last few days been dealing with an offshore vendor's low end, communication challenged resource symptomatic of the end of contract.
It's quite a bit like the end of an affair. Both parties are disenchanted, one is significantly more disillusioned than the other. We are either bringing in another vendor to support the system or having in-house operations support handle it.
It is like moving on from one relationship to another but gradual fade out is difficult for all parties concerned. A clean break would have been easier but we have a contractual obligation to wait it out, manage the pain of transition.
The new relationship is not as exciting as it might have otherwise been. They are painfully aware of the baggage this relationship brings. They know about the fickleness of our affections and loyalties.
Thinking of the parallels between vendor management, sourcing and relationships is an amusing diversion as I endure the torture of having to work through the transition, pulling teeth all around.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
Like farm animals, the audience suffers from malaises peculiar to their condition. The chicken in the poultry have their clipped beaks and claws, we in our couches have our zero-nutrient TV dinners.
Monday, August 22, 2005
I happen to know quite a few people who would love this tricked out Excel spreadsheet that is actually a tool to search jobs on indeed.com. They already don't care if they have to take calls from recruiters at their desk and e-mail resumes from their work account. However, discretion is always welcome even times are desperate.
The concept should be easily extensible to other products - Visio and Powerpoint come to mind. Then there is ghostzilla to draw inspiration from - the quasi persistent browser that acquires a non-web windows application look. The pressing need to be doing non-work at work seems to be a phenomenon widespread enough to spawn applications such as these.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
This may be useful for me during my phone interviews when sometimes I pick up pace unknowingly in the manner of J completely befuddling and then loosing my audience.
The Sega/Nippon Care Supply Brain Trainer mentioned in the article reminds me of my uncle who took to high school arithmetic and progressed to advanced calculus after retirement to avert dementia. Though his sanity remains unimpaired to this day,it would be hard to say if math played any role in that.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
Today, solitude seems at once easier and harder to come by. You could be in a crowd and alone listening to music on your iPod or carrying on a private conversation on your mobile. You would in both cases be all of social, solitary and mobile - in varying degrees. Alex de Carvalho in his post titled Solitary Mobility vs. Mobile Sociality shows how these are different things but not mutually exclusive .
With converged devices the lines will blur even more. In the end, solitude and sociality would have to reconcile in the interests of remaining mobile. We would be a flotilla of tiny islands connected to each other wirelessly. In a sense a community and yet rather alone.
Friday, August 19, 2005
All of summer I have waited to show J deer that used to walk around when I lived here five years ago. We have not seen even one this year. A swank new mall stands where the woods used to be - the familiar pattern of suburban sprawl. Even while at peace in this case, nature has been squeezed out of room and time to work her healing touch.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
I had picked up an useless little bauble on impulse a few weeks ago while shopping for something else. Not typical of me. I should have held my peace because it was as inexpensive as it was worthless. But that was not meant to be.
Seeing it on the kitchen counter-top was an irritant - like a nervous tick. Each time I saw it, I knew I absolutely had to return it, undo the mistake.
After forgetting several times, I finally made it to the store last evening. Stood in a serpentine queue at customer service with my package along with other people on who perhaps mistakes had dawned like it had on me. I had to wait an half hour before it was my turn - making it longest I have waited for anything at this store.
I did the math in my mind. Half an hour of my time, the half hour delay in getting to J's daycare, not being able to pick up the ice-cream for D who was coming over for dinner balanced against the amount credited back to my account - so miniscule that I would not notice even if I tried.
Was it worth it ? Maybe not in tangible terms but getting rid of a perfectly useless addition to my otherwise simple, uncluttered life was liberating. I felt a sense of calm. The lesson - impulse is so easy to act on and so hard to reverse.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
The underlying assumption seems that consumer empowerment necessitates turning them into suppliers. Whatever happened to the value of an informed and discerning consumer ? There is a glut for the same reason in the world of creative writing. More people than ever are writing today yet not as many voices are even faintly audible. We would not be leaving our grandchildren with the "collected works" of any of these writers because there won't be any. Their oeuvre will likely end with a solitary flash in the pan.
There is such a thing as glut of content because the appetite of the consumer is not inexhaustible. Channel surfing is not so different from skimming RSS aggregated feeds on everything under the sun that interests the reader. Our horizons are expanding at an amazing pace but we are traveling too fast to enjoy the view, absorb what we see or learn anything of enduring value.
Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Nice article on artificial skin for robots so they can feel temperature and pressure just like humans. The last bit suggests that the human skin could do with some enhancement.
"It will be possible in the near future to make an electronic skin that has functions that human skin lacks," the researchers write in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Future artificial skins could incorporate sensors not only for pressure and temperature, but also for light, humidity, strain or sound, they add.Maybe in the future damaged human skin would be replaced by artificial uber-skin opening up a new sensory range for some of us that others will then lust for. Increasingly, standard equipment does not seem to cut it for us humans. We need to have add-ons like botox,veneer,silicone and maybe extra sensitive skin as well.
Monday, August 15, 2005
The mild tone of Richard Bradley's article questioning why the Bush twins are not serving in the military is reminiscent of the pseudo-secularist rhetoric of Hindu intelligentsia in India. They rant just a little and keep it low decibel. Questions such as Bradley's are troublesome in America just as the ones about flagrant double standards in India's practice of secularism.The problem is these questions are not asked with the fervor they are deserving of and that answers are not demanded as the legitimate, "democratic" right of the citizenry.
The differences between the first and the third world seem at once glaring and negligible. The ascent to one or descent into the other state is merely a gradual transition with time - the effects may not be so noticeable in the end.
Sunday, August 14, 2005
There is more than one message in the grim meathook future article - most of it depressing. This bit about the future of cell phones reminded me of someone I knew briefly. Let's call him M.
"They want to make cell phones that can scan your personal measurements and send them real-time to potential sex partners. Because, you know, the fucking Japanese teenagers love it, and Japanese teenagers are clearly the smartest people on the planet."
M has been single and mingling for the last three years and says many relationships did not work out because women wore contoured clothing. When miracle bra, leg firming pantyhose and butt flattering Diesel jeans came off what he saw was farthest from what he had imagined.
Having come thus far intimacy would follow more out of pity than from desire. To M's credit he said he would totally understand it if the woman felt the same about him and did not want to touch him with a ten foot pole. That was her prerogative.
However, being a man he felt he would be demeaning a woman if he rejected her for how her body looked. Needless to say the dissonance was strong enough to end the relationship after that encounter.
I'm not sure a real time scan via cell phone would have helped M. Technology would have to beef up to give him the "real" measures. Maybe the bar-code tattoo will have the lowdown and the trend will catch on.
Saturday, August 13, 2005
I promised to reach A's farm before sunset so we could scout for a place to pitch our tent. This was supposed to be practice for J so she could enjoy the "real" camping trip to the beach we have planned a few weeks out. Dusk was gathering by when I made it armed with comforter, pillows and a cheesecake for dessert. The cheesecake detour cost me a precious half hour of sunlight and we never got to it with all the food A had cooked.
The moment I parked, the dogs leaped in and aimed for J in the car seat. The kid screamed her lungs out in fright as A struggled to get Wheezy and Meister to control their emotions upon seeing their buddy J after a while. W and M retired indoors shortly protesting copiously in their wake. J stepped out semi-paralyzed from the shock of the welcome - all her excitement about coming to the farm evaporated.
By when we were ready to sleep in the tent under the starlit sky J was singing and laughing with delight. A had warned me that the bugs would be loud - she had seriously understated. The citronella candles did not do their thing either. We were too lazy to get up and look for bug spray. J was the only one who got a good night's sleep.
Daybreak was utterly peaceful. The bugs had fallen silent at last. A and J were still asleep when I went out for a walk in the woods. After a while I could not see the farm anymore. I stood surrounded by trees, fallen leaves, wild lichen and mushroom. Sunlight was still bleak. Other than the sound of my foot steps all was quiet. For the briefest moment in many years, I felt disconnected from the sum total of everything that makes up my life. It was a wonderful feeling.
Friday, August 12, 2005
Loved this article on mathematical modeling of courtship and parallels between animals and humans. Extravagant and useless gifts do make an impression - indelible ones if well personalized. The underlying theory for why that is the case makes perfect sense too.
While gift giving and courtship is gender-unequal, men may become more equal than women in relationships should male contraception turn popular. Where a woman is in a relationship only to have a child, a man can withhold that favor unless she is willing to invest more in return. Casual encounters would become easier with the man in control too. Risk would be replaced by sterility.
That is definitely empowerment for men as long as they buy into the idea of contraception psychologically and are willing to suffer the side-effects. For both sexes the shift in the balance of power would take getting used to and there could be new relationship issues that neither knows how to deal with.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
Typically national origin may not be something to comment on, but in this case it gets a little ironical. Lisa is an immigrant from Jamaica, I am Indian. All of senior level management is American.
While the outsourcing jamboree continues with reckless abandon, Lisa has taken it upon herself to stem the tide of critical business process knowledge flowing irretrievably offshore to the point we are dead in the water without the vendor and a few key resources who refuse to commit to paper what they have to memory.
When she got me on board, my brief was to pick the brains of the most critical vendor resources offshore and onsite and document the knowledge that was locked in their heads. Some of them have been mucking around with these systems for five years or more. A brain augmentation may have been an easier procedure. Knowledge is their keys to the kingdom and there is obvious reluctance to part with it.
While Lisa loves it that I know the exactly what to ask can extract information fairly rapidly, it is the same traits that make me not quite as popular with the Indian brethren.
There is an unstated expectation that I would do more to protect their interests and jobs. There might even be a little bit of the Raj hangover in how I am viewed as the traitor to the Indian cause. While they understand I am doing a job, my moral position is questionable - insider, outsider or interloper ?
I have a conscientious objection to being held hostage by any vendor who acquires specialized knowledge and uses it to unfair advantage. Like Lisa , I believe in opening the field to multiple outfits eliminating dependency on one and worse on a select few individuals. Retaining custodianship of business process knowledge in-house is key to outsourcing success - precisely what Lisa is trying to accomplish.
It is interesting that India is becoming a hot destination for MBA interns from top US business schools. It is important for businesses and individuals in this country to know how the other side lives and works. I wonder what the brethren think about knowledge being tapped right at the source and by foreigners.
It seems to me that the traditional Indian instinct to save for a rainy day shows in how over-zealously protective offshore vendors are of their knowledge of the client's critical business processes and systems.
Enjoying the sun while it shines and getting a shot of American entrepreneurship while they are at it may be the right thing to strive for instead.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Being a "real" mother to J is a "dream deferred" for me. I still have many years before I am ready to abandon it as a dream interred. I think it sags like a heavy load maybe in time it will explode in hot tears of grief for the hours, days, years lost, the memories that never came to be.
I reached one hour before my usual time to pick up J. She beamed like a hero as the kids chorused "J ! your Mom is here !!" On other days there is no one left to know her Mom came to get her. Ah ! the sweet triumph of early departure !
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
I particularly enjoyed the article summary where Jonathan Oppenheim points out
"When it is negative, it turns out that you can get my message without me having to send you any quantum particles, and in fact, we get the corresponding potential for future sending of quantum particles for free."
The possibilities are positively intriguing when you translate that to the real and material world.
Monday, August 08, 2005
Each time I stepped near the French window her body turned taut with fright. I decided to leave her to her own devices. J got her doll over and showed her the trapped squirrel saying sagely "Dolly, look what happens when you wander away from Mommy. Never ever do that, okay ?" J and I agreed that the baby squirrel was in a "lot of trouble" and that we had to find a way to get her back to her Mommy.
After I got to work, I called the maintenance people to ask them to help the squirrel. They promised to have it taken care of promptly. When I got back home in the evening she was still latched to the edge of the balcony look down forlornly - thirsty and hungry all day. I felt a pang of guilt.
I rushed upstairs to see her. By the time I got to the balcony, she was not there anymore. Maybe her limbs had grown numb and she had fallen down. There was no sign of her in the grass below. I was relieved she had survived such a long day, that she had not died on me.
I know her petrified eyes would have haunted me had she died. I still remember one wounded bird that had died in my hands twenty years ago. The way her warm body turned cold and stiff, her fluttering heart stilled.
I wondered then as I do now why this it such a big deal - I am not even a vegetarian. Do I have compassion or don't I ? Do I love life or don't it ? Have I taken more than I have given ? I am merely acting out of guilt ?
Sunday, August 07, 2005
The last perfectly uninterrupted sleep I had was at least fifteen years ago. I can't even recollect what it was to be so soundly asleep that banging doors, ringing doorbells, rattling window panes could not shake off my afternoon siesta. I was alone at home and the folks were locked out for over an hour. Today they would merely have to tip-toe up the stairs and I'd be at the door at time of the night. The luxury of an afternoon nap is a distant memory. Reading this study on sleep drives home what I already know about sleeplessness. I am only too well Acquainted with the Night
Saturday, August 06, 2005
I for one would love for J to have a phone so she can stay connected with me all the time. The nine hours that we are apart everyday would seem less onerous. While not the most wholesome thing for a four year old to possess or use neither is a single (and full-time working) parent family. Like they say, evil begets evil.
Friday, August 05, 2005
One year ago on this day, I first got to know H. Two months later, alternating between euphoria and despair the relationship came to an end. He moved on so dispassionately that I wondered if everything we had between us was a grand illusion fed solely by my imagination. H turned me into a teenager giddily in love - reviving feelings in me that had been dead for many years. Like a mind-altering drug he could make me forget the struggle and uncertainties my life was fraught with.I still remember his laughter, the way we talked to the wee hours of the morning every night like we could never tire of pouring ourselves out on the other. Yet in his wake he left me disillusioned with the notion of romantic love, corroded my ability to trust men completely. Even a year later, new relationships bring on deja vu - maybe I am not over H yet.
Thursday, August 04, 2005
I met two former co-workers for dinner last night. We know quite a bit about each other's personal lives and yet there is always so much new to discover. R is adopted and has been trying to contact her biological parents. The mother refuses to talk to her, the father is in denial of her existence. She - the product of a secret affair has shown up like an unwelcome ghost from the past.
L is looking a home by the sea and has found an old outhouse the size of a closet that faces the ocean in Maine. She paints vivid word pictures of how that house will one day become home with a little work, abundance of imagination and love. A room of her very own. L comes from an impoverished family with many younger siblings and an alcoholic father. Peace and quiet have been the persistently absent themes of her life.
The more I get to know people, drawn into the stories of their lives I think of the number of epics that will go unwritten and unread. Both L and R have stories that enthrall the listener as do those of many other people. The whole body of fiction in the world weighs lighter in comparison. I realize that my life is wholly unremarkable in comparison.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
In many Indian cities, life's basic necessities are just downstairs from home. People living on the third or fourth floors have a rope suspended from the balcony with a basket tied to it's end. The newspaper vendor, the milk delivery man, the vegetable and fruit seller and fish monger set their wares in the basket to be hoisted up by the customer from the comfort of her arm chair.
Often apartment buildings have grocery stores, cyber cafes, salons, dry-cleaners, fax and copier services at the ground level. The arrangement is particularly convenient for older people who sometimes even lack the energy to step out of their homes.
Apparently, Wholefoods is borrowing a leaf from our book planning basement stores in NYC and London to get customers come down the elevator to their store. If my Indian experience is anything to go by, it will be a big success.
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
If only real life could bring together people and things of disparate nature as beautifully as this poem does with mud, starfishes and daybreak.
Daybreak by Galway Kinnell
On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and, as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity, they sank down
into the mud, faded down
into it and lay still, and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak
Monday, August 01, 2005
I have to wonder if living a dog's life is such a bad idea after all. The Per Se of gourmet canine cuisine is well beyond what I manage to rustle up in my kitchen on any given day. All in all, I am open to reincarnation as a well heeled pet pooch. Hopefully, my owner will play audio books and classical music in her car so I can continue to indulge in my erstwhile human vices in the canine afterlife.