Friday, September 30, 2005

Religion And The Pill

Tomes have been written about how the Pill ushered female sexual liberation and fundamentally changed the moral mores of society. Reading about the man who invented the pill and how his religious beliefs shaped it's making is no less than fascinating.

Makes you wonder what he may have done different had his beliefs been different and how those decisions may have impacted women's health, sexuality and society at large. We may have ended up having a Pill very different in principle and action.

It seems fated that the Pill should be invented by someone whose course would be guided so strongly by his religion, like it were the unseen hand of God guiding womankind's destiny.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Innards Of Technology

As technology evolves, layers upon layers of abstraction are built on it until inner complexity turns transparent to those using it. The user is therefore able to find more sophisticated uses for it than would have been possible in its nascent stages.

Often a generation passes between the birth of a new technology and the attainment of wizard driven widget-ization nirvana. The tech geezer knows the innards of technology that is now bleeding edge and yet is not quite the alpha-geek.

Quite like how a chemist is not a perfumier -abstraction and imagination are no less important than knowledge in the raw.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Rural IT

Gramit is a new word learnt today. Bangalored jobs could now get Grammited (i.e. outsourced to a rural BPO franchise in India)

The potential for this is big as the hinterland is. As the trend catches on and the numbers grow the distinction between urban and the rural India will start to blur. The stress on urban infrastructure and resources would reduce with villagers turning home to work. All of which seems good news for India.

In the hierarchy of the BPO world, onsite resources are more equal than the offsite ones. The gramits will form the absolute underclass - the cultural challenges could prove very substantial.

I will stay tuned for the first Gramit bloggers to start sharing stories about their new world and world view.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Baby Smile

A three month old baby with the most beautiful green eyes in the world smiled at me today when I went to pick J up at the daycare. I yearned for J's babyhood which seems a distant memory now. I felt sorry for the mother who was missing the angel smile.

Most of us present day parents have gazillion pictures of our children - it is perhaps our way of making up for the time that we are forced to be absent from their lives. Yet the captured moment never does equal the moment itself.


Was browsing through Popgadget - Personal Tech and Innovative Lifestyle for Women, later in the evening. What I would give for innovation that would allow me relive all of the missed moments of J's babyhood.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Flickr Streams

In the real world we don't ask strangers "Show me what's in your bag" or sneak a peek into their fridges. In the online world it is cool enough to blog images of both, comment and tag. The inside of a bag or fridge could be revealing of much about the person - surprises included.

When you see someone's bag populated with much the same things as yours, you could have stumbled upon a kindred spirit. You have to wonder if you could have more in common than what you carry in your bags.

To the extent that "You are what you eat" the contents of a fridge speak for the person that you are.

A community could come together for having just about anything in common - there could be bag, shoe closet, laundry hamper friendships - the scope is infinite as is the possibility of making connections with like-minded individuals.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Gaming

Not being a gamer myself for lack of both inclination and aptitude, I have always been fascinated by those have a lot of both.

For a few months soon after graduating from engineering school I worked for a team of game developers as a tester. Towards the end of the assignment I was elevated to the rank of a junior programmer. The lead on the project was an absolute whiz and also anal retentive.

He would go through my code with a fine toothed comb, expressing shock and disbelief at my appalling programming skills. The little fun I had as a game tester was now replaced by endless re-writes of a few hundred lines of code until "He" deemed it integration worthy. While, I learnt valuable lessons in programming style and practice, I was completely weaned off gaming.

Reading about the how computer gaming could do everything from meeting our emotional needs to spreading democracy makes me wonder if I am not missing out on something quite fabulous.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Infatuation Junkie

Interesting article on the symptoms of infatuation, it's biological origins and how some of us would have the propensity to turn into "infatuation junkies." I have known more than one junkie and believe they have the capacity to induce the "high" they feel in the partner.

"When infatuated, we are thrilled, but not happy, wanting to trust, yet suspicious. There are lingering, nagging doubts about our "partner in infatuation" and their love for us. We're miserable when they're away, almost like we're not complete unless we're with them. It's a rush and it's intense. It's difficult to concentrate. And most infatuation relationships have a high degree of sexual charge around them. Somehow being with them is not complete unless in ends in some type of sexual encounter."

From my own experience, I have found taking a break (as short as a few days to as long as several months) to be a great way to come to a realistic assessment of the relationship and get over the symptoms described.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Commuter Heaven

Reading about the Trans Strap Reader Sling, reminded me of the time I was a regular on WMATA

It seems such an obvious and elegant answer to the reading commuter's woes, that you wonder why no one (including yourself) thought of it before and instead did dangerous things like leaning against the door to read.

Remembering to pick up the transfer before exiting always posed a challenge to me. For someone on a shoe string budget, every dollar adds up so forgetting was not even an option.

Maybe the fine folks at TranStrap will think up an ingenious mnemonic device too.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hypenated Cooking

My cooking has always been very hyphenated. Introducing flavors of the places I have lived in India to traditional Bengali fare was my way of preserving the connection I felt to those regional palates.

After coming to America, the pan-Indian is now hyphenated with Chinese, Arabic, Greek, Jamaican and Italian among many others. I have over the years acquired a sense for which flavors and spices will work in harmony and yet delicately surprise the taste buds.

While the base note still remains steadfastly Indian, the upper notes could be from anywhere in the world. The only time I end up cooking authentic Bengali food is when J misses her grand-parents or I miss home. The "real" thing seems to comfort both of us in equal measure.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Free Play

Spent a while doodling on Context Free though my creations were hardly worthy of the gallery.Playing without knowing the rules was fun because the outcome was unexpected and surprising.

A while ago a mother I met sometimes at J's daycare was complaining that the caregivers just let the kids play supervising only to the extent that no one gets hurt. She expects more structure and organization. At four she wants her child to learn as she plays. She has since found a place that meets her needs better.

I was like J today, playing free and unstructured and enjoying it. I hope she cherishes the memories of the few "lawless" and "freeform" years of her life.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Picture And Narrative

This line from the Wired story on Bush's potty break note was interesting even outside the context of the story itself

"At issue here is not pixels but context; it's not the manipulation of the image that makes it true or false, but whether we buy the narrative being created by the person selecting the picture for our attention."

A picture in the raw no longer speaks a thousand work. It's pixels are tweaked and coaxed until it tells the story the photographer would have it tell the viewer. Very unlike an image formed by a pin-hole camera. The moment along with it's faulty narrative is captured unblemished - the simple truth is told without adornment.

Someone I know had an eye-lift done recently. She naturally looks years younger, but the old laughter lines are gone. Those of us who have seen her eyes twinkle when she smiled would miss that about her new unlined face. Her face no longer tells the story of the person she really is. Depleted of old memories, it now needs a new narrative.

Monday, September 19, 2005

An Immigrant's Tale

H my buddy who also happens to be a recruiter has been following my immigration woes with much trepidation. With the latest round of bad news on the green card front she has turned match-maker with vengeance.

Her considerable network is humming at this time with the news of a very eligible Indian single mom who in her words "is a prize catch!" I tell her to tone down the rhetoric. She says "Its okay to market some. After all I BS not !"

Someone I know in Vancouver has taken the opportunity to propose that we get serious about our "relationship" ( I did not know that we were actually in one even approximately) and consider immigrating to Canada post haste.

When I hear about the ungodly salaries of my friends in India, I am very motivated to return. I have long missed the luxury of a domestic help and a chauffeur. With thoughts turning to Mom's cooking I almost experience an epiphany.

Immigration is a life changing decision in itself. In America, along the long and arduous road to achieving permanent residency, a slew of other events are set in motion.

I have no idea where I will end up being in the next few years but the journey from where I am today to that place and time will most likely be propelled by forces totally out of my control.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Writer's Commune

While I enjoy writing over almost anything else and reading even more than that, the concept of Paragraph does not quite appeal to me, maybe I just don't get it. It seems like Wi-fi enabled cubicle hell driven by peer pressure to be creative.

The membership fees are not targeted to the starving artist either - the kind of writer who is least likely to have personal space, peace and quiet and therefore be most in need of it.

The vision of writers sitting in long rows of cubicles, writing away reminds me of a productive farming commune. Not exactly where one would expect to see a breathtaking collection of rare orchids.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Liberal Conservative

This evening I had a great conversation with a second generation Indian-American woman in her early twenties. Our parents come from a similar cultural backgrounds. They have tried to hot-house some Indian values into her while giving her the American way of life.

R has turned out to be an accomplished, articulate and a charming young woman thanks to her parents. "I am personally conservative yet socially and politically liberal. I often have to struggle to find someone that shares my combination of values" she says to me.

I tell her that I face the exact same struggle. In my view social and political liberalness do not have to translate to personal life and there is no dichotomy. Many liberals that I know cannot fathom that. It is like my liberalness is a sham because I don't apply it to my personal life.

R tells me there are second generation kids who think like her but they are still a minority. I am not surprised that Anil Dash talks about this unique state as well " ..being able to live both as a personally conservative son of immigrants and a politically liberal citizen of the United States.."

Many people of my generation and socio-economic milieu who grew up in India and have since been outside the country have a world view radically different from mine.

Their upbringing was very liberal. Any form of conservativeness was often viewed as an undesirable side effect of religious orthodoxy and shunned with a passion. With that they are true blue liberals, exceptionally well assimilated in America and wonderful people to know - except when personal values conflict.

Then there are those who are conservative all over. I find close to nothing in common with them even though I view myself as "personally conservative".

Friday, September 16, 2005

Unintended Consequences

Fascinating read about a law that supposedly did not make a whiff past the Beltway but had too many unintended consequences.

Twenty-five years ago a law known as Bayh-Dole spawned the biotech industry. It made lots of university scientists fabulously rich. It was also supposed to usher in a new era of innovation. So why are medical miracles in such short supply?

While it sounds a bit like serendipity with the bad far outweighing the good, it turns out that there is such a thing like the law of unintended consequences

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Uncommon Material Goods

When in need of a little retail therapy, I usually go online and without my credit card. A favorite stop is Treehugger - not so much for what is on sale as for the intriguing new concepts in the making - some saleable, some not.

While my own kitchen is stark and minimal, I do gawk at kitchen contraptions that I have no intent of owning. Another place I like is Uncommon Goods which carries just that - uncommon goods.

A new discovery today was configurable jewelry using rare earth magnets. By when I am done, I am amazed at the very creative people who think this stuff up. Makes me wonder where get their inspiration from - how their view of the world is so different from someone like me, we could as well be living in different planets.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Smartie Skirts

When told to tie her shoe-laces J will protest plaintively "I can't. I am only a tiny little four year old" However, when she wants to put on my lipstick she will say "I am big girl now. So I can wear listhick too"

Tired of her big or little as convenient (to her and not me) tricks, I called her Miss Smartie Pants this morning. She said in an offended tone. "I'm not Smartie Pants. I'm Smartie Skirts".

Had she been older she may have bristled against the gender bias and opted for something neutral like a Jacket or Coat.

I find consolation in that raising J while tough is not totally devoid of amusement. The sum total of smiles she brings to my face outweigh all the petty frustrations.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Beauty Kit Relief

Who would have guessed that Katrina victims could be in need of beauty kits ? It's hard to tell if this is farcical, tragic or just stupid and insensitive. Would someone who has lost every worldly good really care how they appeared to the world ? This is akin to "Let them eat cake if they don't have bread" Apparently not much is learnt from history, it is merely repeated in variations of some common themes.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Poster Wisdom

The last poster I owned was fifteen years ago and it said "I must be a mushroom. Everyone keeps me in the dark and feeds me a lot of bullshit". An apt statement of my situation at the time, it never failed to produce snickers.

I must have since outgrown the need to make statements. This gender subversion poster is almost as cubicle-worthy expect that I could get branded a militant feminista.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

An Almost Perfect Weekend

J had a wonderful pre-birthday party that my friends organized for me. We are home tired and happy. Everything about today was perfect except one tiny detail. J's best friend R was not there. His absence was not so much the imperfection as what caused it.

R and J attended the same daycare until a week ago. He has since moved to a new place. His mother left me a note in J's cubby with her number and asked that I stay in touch so the kids could remain friends.

I called her a few days later and she asked us over. She asked "Will your husband be coming too ?" and I said "No. I am divorced" She said "I am sorry" in a tone of voice that did not bode well for the future of this relationship.

I took J to their place. The kids had a total blast. R's father avoided me all evening like a respectable man would a hooker. I figured he was making a strong statement to his wife, assuaging her feelings of insecurity. Back in the day, I would have felt insulted and outraged, today I am merely amused. I feel some pity for the couple as well.

R's mother and I had a conversation that made walking through quicksand appear easy. Both of R's parents come from very affluent backgrounds and attended a top tier business school in India. Professionally they are doing well in America too. A combination I had hoped would make them accepting of situations such as mine.


The visiting grandparents gave me withering looks of disapproval. By the time we were done, I knew they as a family had decided not to have anything to do with me and mine. I was offered a cup of tea and dinner as if on sudden after-thought. They shame the Indian tradition of hospitality.

R clung to J and would not let her go when we were ready to leave. "J's Mommy, can J come again tomorrow ?" he implored. I told him "You can come to J's home too. You are welcome any time" He looked longingly at me and J as we got into the car, refusing to go indoors until we were gone from view.

This morning, I called them and asked if R and his mom could swing by for a few minutes because Y was going to cut her Barbie doll cake that my friend D had baked for her. It would mean a lot to her if her best buddy was there to see it. R's father checked with his wife and declined. They live less than two miles away from me.

Today, J had a wonderful day with my friends - all different ages, different ethnicities and backgrounds. It was a group of ten adults one teen and two children besides J. What was striking about the crowd was there were no Indians besides me and J - almost like a token presence.

I have come to the sobering realization that my social circle will exclude my own kind. Reaching out to R's parents is probably the last overture of friendship I will make within my community.

Despite, the steep price I pay as a single parent, immigrant woman of color trying to gain a secure toe-hold in America, on days like this I count my blessings that I am in America and that I have multi-ethnic friend circle that care enough about me to make this a home away from home.


Saturday, September 10, 2005

Imagination Circuits

Growing up, I made my own toys with household junk and invented imaginary playmates. I could completely immerse myself in the atmosphere of a book I was reading - an unfamiliar zeitgeist posed no problem in being able to do that.

That was the power of imagination, extrapolation of
familiar experience to what was not. Kurt Vonnegut talks about what the loss of the ability to imagine means.

In my somewhat reactionary style of raising J without any intrusion of media, I am trying to build what Vonnegut calls the "imagination circuit" in her head. I am convinced it is a thing of lasting value, that the body of her life would be significantly diminished without it.

I would like her to read a story in a face and not merely see a face. "Those of us who had imagination circuits built can look in someone's face and see stories there; to everyone else, a face will just be a face."

Friday, September 09, 2005

Literature And Love

A.S. Byatt is one of my very favorite writers. Her views on the influence of literature on a person's relationships is particularly significant to me. I have been accused of holding back in love, of never having let go and enjoyed the moment and of analyzing too much.

I have admitted to being in love with the idea of being in love more than with the person in question. I have savored the notion of a relationship that never really came to be - in any tangible sense. Even after all these years and even after knowing how the other side lives, I don't believe I have missed out on love at all. I have loved differently and in a way that was very fulfilling to me.

In her
interview to Salon, Byatt says in the context of people who have not been as immersed in literature since childhood as her.

And people who didn't become rather hostile to people who did because they feel that people who did had something rich. They try to say, "You weren't spontaneous, you weren't human, you only lived in your head and didn't have any relationships." That is sometimes true and sometimes not. And anyway, it often makes for better relationships when you're older because you actually learn a lot about life from books. You learn a lot about love before you ever get there. You learn at least as much about love from books as you do from watching your parents.

The greater the love, the more false to its object,
Not to be born is the best for man;
After the kiss comes the impulse to throttle,
Break the embraces, dance while you can.
W.H Auden - Death's Echo

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Bartering And Healthcare

Bartering art for health care may pave the way for other opportunities to exchange goods or services for health care. Each time I go to the doctor's office, I am apalled at the volume paper-work that is produced and retained, inefficient manual processes not to mention the primitive use of technology.

A company could offer an end to end IT solution in exchange for free health care for its employees equivalent to the cost of the solution. It could be a win-win situation for everyone. Bartering in the world of small business is not so uncommon.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Musical Genome

With so much music around, discovering a new love can be a shot in the dark. Most of my favorites go back ten years or more. Time and great music are clearly passing me by.

Sometimes, a hummable something turns up on FM on the way to work but the impression is not deep enough to linger or turn into an earworm. Then I discovered Pandora - the music genome project. I tried out with two random songs that came to mind.

Love Is All Around Me by Wet Wet Wet did not discover anything that I feel even remotely excited about. 99 Miles From LA by Art Garfunkel introduced
me to Tony Orlando and I liked him.

I realize both songs I chose are replete with memories that make them special. There really is no genome to be isolated or analyzed.

Pandora is a beautiful idea and a great way to make exciting new friends though true love may be harder to come by.As in real life so in music. Then there is Aurgasm - the beautiful, undiscovered music that if loved will love you back.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Starry Night

Van Gogh's Starry Night recreated by over 200,000 photographic images is a thing of amazing beauty. God truly is in the details. Each speck of color is infused with a multitude of life, form and meaning.

I am left spellbound as I discover each image to be a mosaic of other images. There must be something uniquely compelling about a work of art for it to be paid a tribute so rich.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Rape Snare

As a woman, any measure to prevent rape is a welcome news. The concept of the rape snare is intriguing to say the least. There is merit to the argument that a device that injures the perpetrator could turn him violent enough to kill the woman.

However, in less extreme situations such as those posed by date rape, the potential of that happening may diminish. Thinking that the woman may have a snare device on would be a deterrant. While not a silver bullet this is some degree of empowerment. As with any device, potential for improvement and innovation exists if the idea catches on.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

An Inarticulate Age

J turns four next week. The bottle of Moet Chandon will not be uncorked this birthday. However, it continues to be my talisman - someday, its time will come to effervesce, to fill our home with many miniature rainbows. I am willing to wait.

I realize J is at an inarticulate age. While her vocabulary is substantial it is not enough to keep up with more complex thoughts that she is now capable of processing. She is beginning to recognize patterns, that cause and effect are intertwined, that adult behavior is full of contradiction and does not follow prescriptive rules. Often rules are completely flouted without explanation or apology.

The gap between her speech and thought frustrates her. Often she vents it in misdirected anger towards me. She does not want to be disciplined and at the same time is not sure enough of herself to completely disregard my will. I cannot remember what it used to feel to be four - it would have helped me understand her better. The world around her is now discrete and not a blur of shifting images. She has a sense of self, of family and how that is similar or different from others around her.

She never pays any attention to mothers of other children but will stare longingly at their fathers. A few days ago she asked me "I don't have a Daddy right ?" I told her what I have told her many times before. "Yes you do. He does not stay with us" to which she replied "But he is not my real Daddy" implying perhaps a man who remains absent from her life for four years forsakes his right to be her father. I could not agree more. "So when can I have a good Daddy ?" she persists.

I tell her the truth "I can only try, sweetheart. Then it is all up to God." She breaks my heart as she turns to her toys complacent that Mom will make it happen like she does a lot of other things in her life. So limited her experience of it ! "God will send me a good Daddy soon, right Mommy ?" she says after a while. "I'm sure that he will" I say praying for her that her wish is fulfilled.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Live Customer Service

Finding a real life customer service rep can be a finger numbing exercise even after you have made sense of the menu options and how it relates to the problem at hand. Someone has found hacks in the phone system that will take you to a human immediately.

Though sometimes the human you end up talking to makes having a couple of molars pulled out seem relatively painless. Technical support jobs are traditionally viewed as low end and attract below average talent. Back in the day when the customer did not know a CD drive from a cup holder that worked just fine.

Not so anymore. The customer is tech savvy and has questions too sophisticated for the rep fielding it. Patricia Seybold has the right idea when she suggests "Let customers help themselves" in her book Customer.com



Friday, September 02, 2005

Georgia O'Keefe

My first acquaintance with Georgia O'Keefe came about through a feature in Reader's Digest about twenty years ago. There was a certain shock value about her paintings that stayed with me. It seemed like a flower could not be turned any more visceral. Much later I read critics thought they were symbolic of female sexuality and even represented genitalia.

It's interesting to read the different things she said about the flowers that are her most extraordinary signature.

"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not."

"Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven't time, and to see takes time - like to have a friend takes time."

"I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty."

While all of that and more is evident in her work, her somewhat irreverent quote on why she chose to paint flowers over anything else seems harder to fathom

"I hate flowers - I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move."

Last week my friend A and I were talking about places in the United States that attract artists and New Mexico and thus Georgia O'Keefe came to be discussed. She lived there for years and said

"When I think of death, I only regret that I will not be able to see this beautiful country anymore...unless the Indians are right and my spirit will walk here after I'm gone."

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Untold Horror

Sometimes, untold horror is best left that way - untold. When the tsunami struck my first instinct was to thank God that no one I loved and cared about was hurt. With Katrina I have counted my selfish little blessings again. No one I know was in the area. Millions of others have not been as lucky. Next time tragedy strikes I may not be either - it is only fair that we take our turns at experiencing tragedy at a raw, visceral level so when someone else hurts we hurt along equally.