Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Cloud Appreciation

J takes me back to my own childhood when she points at a cloud and exclaims "Look, Mamma ! That cloud looks like a rabbit !" We cloud-gaze together, discern other interesting shapes before they float away. J is distraught that the "rabbit" is morphing rapidly into a "whale".

When I first heard stories from Hindu and Greek mythology as a child, I was convinced that clouds were Gods and the sky was Heaven. I love the charter of the cloud appreciation society - never knew that there were so many of us.

We seek to remind people that clouds are expressions of the atmosphere's moods, and can be read like those of a person's countenance.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Money And She

My friend Estelle has been out of work for a few months and now her unemployment checks have stopped. I watch her teeter at the brink of despair, considering desperate options to stay afloat - keep her house, pay the bills and medical insurance.

I am not sure what to tell her and how to help. She will not admit to being financially irresponsible because she is not a shopaholic. Her thing used to be travel and collectibles and a whole lot of both.

I don't know about women in general but Estelle and money sure don't get along too well. While I can't fully identify with the issues women supposedly have with money, some of it is definitely familiar territory.

For everyone, the complexities run deep. "Money is never just money," Perle observes. "It's our proxy for identity and love and hope and promises made and perhaps never fulfilled."

Marriage, especially, can become an economic testing ground and power struggle. Massive social changes in recent decades have left many couples confused about who is supposed to supply what in a marriage.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Approximately When

An analog wristwatch in this day and age is quite redundant - a fashion accessory at best. Many of us wear them because we are creatures of habit. The digital clocks on the oven, computer, microwave, cell phone and the car dash tell us of every passing minute. There is nothing approximate or languorous about the passage of time anymore. A watch that reads "Around Six O'clock" between 5:57 and 6:03 would do much to soothe the nerves on those overworked and overscheduled days.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

SMS At Noon

D - Been thinking of you. I guess I miss you.
Me - As much as I like you, I can't spend my life in a cave.
D - Too bad ! Because I like you a lot and not in a platonic way.
Me - I did not mean "like" in the platonic sense either.
D - That's a real tragedy right there.
Me - You could say that again or come live in a house like a real person.
D - Shut up moron ! You know as well as I do that I live in a house.
Me - Mentally you live in a cave.
D - I have no home because I'm alone. The wide world is home.
Me - Get in the "together" state of mind and a home will follow.
D - Wish you were here, baby. We would make love.
Me - That would be very nice. It's a cold day here too.
D - Ah ! To have had a woman like you to marry, love and cherish !
Me - The best things in life demand a significant sacrifice.
D - Wish life were simpler.

D and I have known each other close to a year now and have yet to meet in person. It has not happened because we have asked ourselves the question "What's the point ?" and have found no compelling reason.

A year ago when I said, this is not going to work out, D snapped at me "Don't be daft. You know we'd be fab together. You gotta give us a chance. Don't walk away from a chance of real happiness"

I stayed on unable to resist the lure of real happiness - God knows I have missed that for a very long time. In time, we became close friends but our paths still don't converge. We can't even meet half the way without giving up on what is most fundamental to us. We can talk all day about everything under the sun, I can be my most natural self with D and know he likes it that way. In times of trouble, I have instinctively called him and he has been there for me.

He has a voice to die for - specially when he calls me still sleepy late on Sunday mornings. It can make the heart lurch. I tease him that he looks like a popular Indian actor and he says "I used to hear that a lot ten years ago - but not lately" I like it that he knows I find him physically attractive but does not make a big deal out of it.

Sometimes in life you come approximately close to finding "the one" and you still second guess yourself. You can't believe this could be for real. You seek contrary evidence. You know deep inside if you both rearranged your lives in almost torturous ways - it would bring you together and you would never once regret anything you did to make it work out.

Neither D nor I have done that. We have instead sought the path of lesser resistance and sought out "others" instead of giving in to "the one". Its no surprise then that we keep coming back to each other, tired angry, hurt and unhappy with our experiences elsewhere and wish a magic wand would do for us what we are not willing or perhaps able to do for ourselves.

Friday, January 27, 2006

A Well Worn Sweater

The whole Evo Morales sweater situation brings to mind Laloo Prasad Yadav for equally flouting convention and having a "quirky style" to say the least.

If he had indeed become the Indian Prime Minister, his wardrobe may have thrown media into a tizzy just like Morales has. Then they would have to recover from the formidable force of Laloo's rustic political rhetoric.

The Times columnist misses the point of the Morales sweater
completely in suggesting that he acquire something designer yet comfortable.

Until the real reasons for the Morales sweater are known, it is its ineluctable fate to be endlessly "deconstructed".

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Conversations With Anna

I am an unabashed Ikea fan and dearly miss having one within hundred miles of where I live. Several months ago, I read somewhere that Ikea had created a chatbot called "Anna" who interacted with customers online and fielded their FAQs. I tried it for the kicks and was amused at her staccato responses to some of my non-FAQ trick questions.

Looks like some folks have had longer and more meaningful conversations with Anna with absolutely hilarious results. I see the makings of a new genre in literature here - chatbot dialogues. A bot with a richer repertoire of answers could perhaps turn into a Delphi that speaks the Oracle.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Cash Settlement

Every time in my adult life that someone asked to borrow petty cash, I have cringed inwardly. I hate to owe and hate it more to remember that I am owed - I'd much rather give it away and spare myself the needless agony.

Until oblivion takes over, I cannot help thinking "He/she still owes me the money they borrowed a month ago" every time we meet. It gets harder to remind them about the "loan" as time passes until it is actually impossible - typically the two month mark is when I know to call it a "bad debt".

My indecent haste to return any money I've had to borrow is viewed to be in poor taste by the "loaners". They most likely feel insulted.

An application that takes the sting out of social borrowing, lending and sharing of money and bills has been long overdue. I am not sure if BillMonk is for me - but it surely has the woes of people like me in mind.

Monday, January 23, 2006

An Eyesore

Watched Chokher Bali by Rituporno Ghosh and felt the deepest disappointment. Taking artistic liberties is one thing, but to reduce a psychologically complex story to quasi porn is quite another. Ghosh borrows shamelessly from Satyajit Ray's Charulata but does not have anywhere near his genius.

He tries to project Binodini as the sultry siren (which is the farthest from Tagore's Binodini) and waif-like Aishwarya Rai is miscast in that role. For a character that demands a amazing range of emotions, her vapidness is hardly useful. It does not help that her body language is just as deficient. It takes an extraordinary actress (Smita Patil comes to mind) to get under Binodini's skin.

Earlier today I was doodling on retrievr. If my random globs of color defined the Choker Bali Rituporno Ghosh has created, each of the beautiful images that it retrieved could have been Tagore's story interpreted in celluloid by an abler director. Ghosh clearly bit more than he was able to chew - surely his disappointment is greater than ours if he has read the orginal story.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Clothes Horsing

My closet has been in the need of more than a touch of new for a while. This weekend, I finally went out shopping hoping to remedy the situation in one fell swoop. Several hours later, I had not been able to make a single purchase. This has increasingly been the pattern of my "shopping sprees" that happen quite rarely to begin with. Unless I'm willing to pay an arm and leg, it seems impossible to find something that fits me well and also becomes my age.

Fashionable clothes are easy to shop for but finding one's distinctive style is a whole different matter. Some of my girlfriends swear by thrift stores in upscale neighborhoods - they have given up on the offerings of the suburban mall. I have a cultural block about wearing hand-me-downs - so its not an option for me.

All of this makes me miss my tailor back in India who could create perfection from my rough pencil sketches accompanied by a flurry of inarticulate requirements. Reading Margaret Bender's account of her tailor, Mr Singh only accentuates my longing for mine - I could have been wearing a classic Chanel outfit recreated in Luncknow Chikan on chiffon this summer.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Home Of One's Own

I have been reading Nelofer Pazira's A Bed of Red Flowers and am completely riveted. One line from her book will stay with me for a long time. She quotes her grandmother saying "Homeowners have one home, the homeless have thousands". That struck me as an amazing perspective.

I am the age where home-ownership is the norm rather than the exception. Most friends and acquaintances have owned one for a few years now. I on the contrary have no fixed address and am a vagabond in body and spirit.

Reading that line in Pazira's book made me count the number of homes I have lived in the last ten years - fifteen and counting. I have indeed felt "homeless" as one can in a time of great emotional destitution. I know what it is to have a thousand homes and yet not one.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Long Term Views

It's interesting how from the same vantage point, long term views can vary by a wide margin.

There are those who are engaging in
bidding wars over Chinese nannies so their offspring can have the Mandarin advantage - the expected lingua franca of global business of their time.

And there is the man who said
no to Wal-Mart because he did not evision a golden future for this high end product if its manufacturing was outsourced to cut corners and costs. He refused to succumb to pressure from the Goliath.

Jim Wier says of himself "
I could go to my grave, and my tombstone could say, 'Here lies the dumbest CEO ever to live. He chose not to sell to Wal-Mart.' " Most certainly he is not the kind of "global CEO" (presumably also fighting over the Chinese nanny for their toddler) who would seek latitude in ethical standards to do business with China Inc.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Designed Living

A box of spices that looks so good (and so outrageously expensive) is probably not for real people who have to fix dinner while multi-tasking between laundry loads, vacuuming, hollering at the kid to pick her toys up and answering the phone just when the oil is smoking hot.

It belongs to a designer kitchen where the perhaps the only thing used is the microwave to heat food that was ordered in.

My grandmother used empty jars of Horlicks for her spices many of them dating back to the 50s. In a broken China bowl that stood on the window sill, she put some soil to sprout fresh coriander - sometimes fenugreek. The food she laid on the table was ambrosia and she made it look effortless.

In the time of designer Masala Dabbas it may only be fair to require a
compostor in the kitchen to be able to grow one's daily dose of fresh herbs in the kitchen.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Decoupage For Bills

If you have passion around anything including breakfast cereal, you could have a site devoted it, find a band of adherents and sell them merchandize emblazoned with your "religion". Endorsements could follow with luck or translate into an online business - not everyone would think of getting into gourmet rare salts for a living.

Sometimes when the job that pays my bills gets overwhelming, I wonder if any of my favorite things to do could translate into anything remunerative. For instance, I used all of J's 2005 "works of art" to
decoupage a small cardboard box for my incoming mail. The project took me over an hour to complete and left me feeling exhilarated.

Mixed media collage to create gifts and memorabilia is what I've done for ever - but I'd likely fail on most of ten counts on a
venture capitalist wishlist if I thought to take the show on the road.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Some Remembrances

At an elocution contest in high school days, a petite girl with an amazing voice recited Martin Luther King's "I have a dream". The passion she put into her words made up for the cultural context she lacked. The audience was enthralled. J was told about the significance of today at daycare through pictures and posters. Needless to say, I was educated on "peace" and "freedom" at dinner time - and it brought back a rush of old memories.

Also, that evening, someone I would later have a crush on recited an excerpt from "A Stone For Danny Fisher". I found a copy and read it immediately after. It became one of my favorite books at the time - I still remember it with nostalgia though it would be hard to remain objective given the reasons.

A favorite uncle thought I was too young to read Harold Robbins and urged me to read Albert Camus, Graham Greene, Alberto Moravia, Andre Gide and Somerset Maugham instead.

He would go on to introduce me to many authors, memorable books over the years but had it not been for him catching me with "A Stone For Danny Fisher" it may have never happened - at least not that young. If only all events in life cascaded to result in as much good as this one did.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Emoticoned Romance

"Like the steady work of the wrecking ball, our culture's nearly-compulsive demand for personal revelation, emotional exposure, and sharing of feelings threatens the fragile edifice of newly-forming relationships. Transparency and complete access are exactly what you want to avoid in the early stages of romance. Successful courtship-even successful flirtation-require the gradual peeling away of layers, some deliberately constructed, others part of a person's character and personality, that make us mysteries to each other.

Among Pascal's minor works is an essay, "Discourse on the Passion of Love," in which he argues for the keen "pleasure of loving without daring to tell it." "In love," Pascal writes, "silence is of more avail than speech...there is an eloquence in silence that penetrates more deeply than language can." Pascal imagined his lovers in each other's physical presence, watchful of unspoken physical gestures, but not speaking. Only gradually would they reveal themselves. Today such a tableau seems as arcane as Kabuki theater; modern couples exchange the most intimate details of their lives on a first date and then return home to blog about it."

writes Christine Rosen in her thought provoking essay Romance in the Information Age. Having started out as an uninformed consumer of the online dating product and learnt from my mistakes, I could not agree more with her views on what ails the system.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Being King

My childhood friend Himadri's grandfather (God bless his departed soul) would cackle in glee to read how math can rock your world

His favorite line used to be "If you don't know Math you cannot be King". Given his erudition, "know" implied a deep, intimate knowledge of the subject not a passing acquaintance. You had to be able to churn numbers in your head, come up with "elegant" solutions to math problems and not merely use grunt force to "solve" them.

You had to discern patterns in numbers when it was not obvious and discover math where it was least expected. Math had to be your consuming preoccupation .Above all you had to be head over heels in love with the subject. Like a lover you had to pine and long to know every last secret, overcome all obstacles in the way to truly "knowing" the beloved.

We made it to good engineering schools, after going through the ordeal by fire that the entrance exams were. If grandpa had been in unconditional love with Math, we were merely flirting. The relationship was casual, no strings attached and one that came to an end upon graduation.

As for being "King", while grandpa may have been much poorer than us in the material sense, it was not because he lacked what it took as is probably the case with us.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Volcanic Food

I opened this month's heating bill with much trepidation and after seeing the total heaved a sigh of relief. The "system" had managed my expectations beautifully. I was mentally prepared to pay twice as much and would have only winced a little. In these hard times, there are lots of fuel saving tips floating around, but cooking with lava is a off the beaten track. Living next door to a volcano is not all that bad. I have to pay closer attention to recruiters looking to fill positions in Hawaii.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Glowing Pigs

When hell freezes over and when pigs have wings the impossible turns possible. If pigs can now glow in the dark, can their wings be far behind ? Wonder if it will be considered legal and ethical for pet owners to render their animals glow-in-the-dark

Walking a glowing pet at dusk will surely be an illuminating experience and not less fascinating than watching a pig in flight.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Accidental Wisdom of J

"Mommy, your hands rained on me" Referring to my hands wet from doing the dishes drizzling droplets on her skin when I hugged her - so much like rain.

"The moon eats stars for dinner each night" J figuring out why there were fewer stars in the sky on a full moon night.

"You shutdown the computer because shutup is a potty word" Had it not been for J, I would have never thought of that one.

"Flowers talk to little people and not to big people" To explain why it was okay for her to say Hi to them but not for me.

I learn memorable lessons from J all the time. I hope at least some of the things I teach her etch their mark on her just as remarkably.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

New Wings

My friend Patricia Boneo translated a poem I wrote to Spanish. She has given me wings of words - unfamiliar yet beautiful. Thanks so much, Patricia. This is such a precious gift !

Después de tantos recuerdos
Entre el dolor y el amor profundo
Hago un hogar de hogares para vos
Sabiendo que no debo antes de tiempo
Tus labios entrelazados en mi piel
Que revive el deseo muerto.

El amor me ha sido devuelto otra vez
Y vos insistís en la comodidad del hogar,
Cuando pasas y gozas de la lo que te doy
En nuestro hogar.

Me dejas sin promesas
Te acercas a mi
Y también retornas
Todo lo que deseo
No mas ni menos que los otros.

No hay esperanza son lejanas
Ni listas ni preparadas
No me pidas que me muera de amor
Sabiendo que te extraño
Y que no haz de llegar,
quizás nunca.

Díme en cambio
Que haz amado y lastimado
Si dímelo así ocurrió
Como yo te lo digo

Díme que estuviste esperando el cielo.
Y que nos pertenecíamos el uno al otro
Díme lo que sea, no me dejes así, todavía

Paso de emoción en emoción
Porque mis emociones físicas
están fuera de control
gracias a vos.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Faded Glory

My mother has a pearl ring that I coveted since I was a child. Any time she opened her jewelry box, I would try it on. Strangely from being too big for me, it suddenly grew too small - my mother is really petite. The transition happened sometime in my early teens. Around the same time I found out about the cruelty involved in creating pearls. It was a happy coincidence in a way.

I once loved the sparkle of a diamond ring that I wore but not anymore. Maybe I am disillusioned with all that it stands for . Turns out that there are
ten good reasons not to care for them anyways.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Wanting Out

J and L's kids had a blast last evening while we managed to watch Intolerable Cruelty without kid-interruptions. L is on a sabbatical from her successful corporate career. She was married twenty years ago to A who was then her social equal and as such a very plausible partner. While L's career has grown and blossomed in ways perhaps unexpected even to her, A has remained approximately where he was back then. The opportunities she has had has broadened her horizons and fundamentally changed her.

She has outgrown the relationship in every way. A is a good man and L recognizes that, they have two children. There is too much invested in the relationship for either of them to walk away. Yet, L's heart is not in the marriage anymore. She can't see herself growing old with a man she has so little in common with - perhaps they married too young. I have met A. He has the air of a man in much discomfort. He would rather be elsewhere but is not able to take that one final step just like L is not. The children are their glue and as good parents they are trying hard to put their needs above their own.

So watching typical Hollywood fare with L turned steeped with meaning as the story unfolded. I have been through divorce (thankfully a fairly easy one in legal terms) and L has divorce on her mind. While the antics of George Clooney amused both us, L felt much trepidation as well. I have been there so I know the feeling.

On the way home from L's I did not know what to wish for her. That she let fear overcome her desire to break free or that she overcome fear to be true to herself.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


My friend Patricia Boneo sent me this poem to post on my blog. I can relate to the feelings she describes like they were my own. Indeed once they were. I am , grateful to be able to look back at that time and know I am over it.

Patricia Boneo -translated by Ravi Kopra

This solitude is killing me
Tearing my skin it is getting me,
Making furrows so big
Only I Can calm it
With the echoes of the memory
Tirelessly I have been hearing.

I want to fight and hurt you
As you imprison me without pity.
I want to rip off your innards
Choking myself in your silence.

See that I have might to fight,
In this battle I must win
To get what I want

Your presence hurts
And violates my existence.

No one would comprehend
How terrible I feel
With this silence within me!
And you are treacherous
You say nothing to me.

But I sense you everyday,
Wishing it could be otherwise
I keep on seeing you

Poemas de Confitería

Esta soledad que me lastima,
penetra en mi piel rasgándola
es tanto el surco que me deja.
Sólo puedo calmarla
con el murmullo del recuerdo
incansable de lo que fui.

Quiero combatirte y lastimarte
como tu sin piedad me a
Quiero desgarrarte en tus adentros!.
Quiero ahogarme sin tu silencio!.

Mira que tengo fuerzas y lucho
en ésta batalla debo de ganarte
por mi y lo que quiero.

Tu presencia me hace daño.
Tu presencia involuciona mi ser.
Nadie puede comprender
el atroz silencio que existe
en mis adentros. Es que eres
traicionera, no te anuncias

Pero yo te intuyo cada día
cuando espero que alguien que
no sea yo te encuentre.

Patricia Boneo/2000

Friday, January 06, 2006

A Moon Like J

"Look Mommy, it's a C moon today" said J pointing skywards. We talked about how the moon goes from being a C to a D to an O.

J was quick to point out "There is a J moon too" I smiled at that. Even celestial objects like the world revolve around J.

"I don't remember having seen a J moon. When is the moon like a J ?" I ask her.

"Every once in a very very long while, the moon looks like a J" she tells me seriously. I tell her to keep an eye on the moon so she can show me the next time it happens.

She asks me why the moon follows her, whether it is hot like fire or cold like ice. I tell her maybe the moon loves her and wants to be her friend. She is happy to know that and asks if the moon swims in the sky. I tell her I don't know.

I love the way J traipses seamlessly between the real and the imaginary. She's put me in a mood where I can imagine walking in a
garden frozen in eternal spring

Thursday, January 05, 2006

A Superior Life

Never knew that spoons disappeared for a good reason. I had always attributed it to my carelessness. Reading this makes me crave the spoonoid good life because its got to be better than what we've got going out here.

Sometimes the daily grind feels equivalent to being a spoon shuffled between kitchen drawer, dinner plate and dishwasher. Not much of a life any way you look at it.

"We propose a somewhat more speculative theory (with apologies to Douglas Adams and Veet Voojagig). Somewhere in the cosmos, along with all the planets inhabited by humanoids, reptiloids, walking treeoids, and superintelligent shades of the colour blue, a planet is entirely given over to spoon life-forms. Unattended spoons make their way to this planet, slipping away through space to a world where they enjoy a uniquely spoonoid lifestyle, responding to highly spoon oriented stimuli, and generally leading the spoon equivalent of the good life.4"

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Poetry In Motion

Only yesterday a friend was telling me how a child's hand eye co-ordination improved if she used Playstations, Gameboys and the like and how J was going to lag behind her peers for being a stranger to what the rest of her generation was growing up with.

He had made a strong case for why I was the "Monster Mom" and would one day pay for my atrocities against an innocent child.

I thought about it briefly and decided that I'd much rather she try archery when old enough and learn to appreciate poetry in the interim. I am not sold on the questionable benefits arising from zombification of little kids.

I guess I spoke to soon. Even poetry can go through a paradigm shift by when J comes of age
thanks to technology.

"But what if some poems aren't meant to be read at all? What if they are meant to be viewed? What if, like TV, they are meant to be surfed?

I ask in my indoor voice what it means to extract your own teeth

during sleep.


He thinks about the three minutes he stopped breathing in saltwater.

Closing his lids at fish. Wondering why his shirt felt like skin.


I try to explain why gravity always wins. How lightning is

rhetorical. The way "weight takes over a wing" comes to my lips

when I pass a downed powerline.


He speaks softly with empty sleeves. Says a bird losing altitude is a
new kind of rain. Roughly equivalent to the fluid in my ears.


"While the somnambulist explains the proper way to carve the eyes from a pigeon"

This poem is representative of Eric Baus' The To Sound in its ability to frustrate the act of reading. (Even the title of the book has this quality. How does one read "The To Sound"?) Like flipping through channels, the lines briefly intrigue, even send one on a reverie-abbreviated and changed by the next thumb-press. Who needs a story line? In fact, who needs any sense of connectedness at all?"

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Mindful Pitching

Love this simple mantra for the non-soporific Powerpoint presentation - something that I have not attended in a while. Over the years I have seen some big honchos pitch to entertain the hoi polloi while others try in vain to educate worse elucidate. Even so pitching down is by far a lot easier than pitching up.

The audience comes prepared to sleep and almost always does. They tune out your verborrhoea and skip to the end to get the "take aways" so they can leave early.

Reading a presentation out loud instead of "presenting" it is hara-kiri but routinely committed. Bite sized ideas are always better absorbed than a page of verbosity - and this has nothing to do with the intellect of the audience.

If only more people that present would follow Kawasaki's 10/20/30 rule as they do.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Click Bots

Interesting Wired article on click fraud and the scam artistry involved. Very scary for the ordinary internet user that their computer could be hijacked and become part of a "zombie network"

"Probably the most worrisome emerging threat is zombie networks - hordes of linked machines controlled by rogue software. Without their owners' knowledge, these boxes continuously send spam, transmit worms and viruses, participate in denial-of-service attacks, and execute a host of other antisocial tasks."

Paul Graham talks about what makes a
great hacker and others have attempted to get inside the hacker mind. The industry needs to know its adversary much better so it can be ahead of the game instead of playing expensive catch-up.

"If you'd told me five years ago that I would be talking about 'fake clicks,' I would have told you that you were crazy," says John Slade, who leads Yahoo!'s click protection efforts. "Now it's all I spend my time on."

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Banalata And Others

Nearly twenty years ago, Soumitra Chatterjee came our neck of the woods on the occasion of the Bengali New Year (Nabobarsho) to recite poetry. Towards the end of the recital came Jibananda Das's "Banalata Sen". The magic spell of Banalata was cast on me that evening.

A friend sent me a link to some mediocre to decent translations of Bengali poetry instead of the de rigueur "Happy New Year" in an e-mail today.Reading Nator er Banalata Sen brought back memories of a New Year from long ago.