Thursday, August 31, 2006

Cover Story

From experience, most men will claim they have been online looking for a wife only the last couple of weeks at most a few months and yet be hard pressed to explain how the age on their profile is lagging behind them by five years. Asking that "delicate" question could deal a fatal blow to the "relationship".

They also generally profess to hate "this process" and will regale you with stories from the days of gut and glory when picking up women "offline" was easy. But as luck would have it, just when they turned "ready" for marriage, their jobs got so busy that they no longer had time to date the good old fashioned way. It's amazing to what lengths they go to prove they are not some borderline lunatic or pervert lurking online to prey on unsuspecting women as they do turn out to be five times out of ten.

To have to resort to online dating seems to be viewed as a sign of being a socially inept loser, specially if they have been at it for a while without any success. The times three rule does not seem to be in effect in the online world - men will claim to have dated far few women than they really have. Picking up someone on the web is hardly a conquest like walking up to a woman in a bar and talking her into a date.

Instead of looking at the positive opportunities that this form of interaction presents, they follow a tried and tested script that calls for a certain cadence of e-mail, chat, phone conversations and in person meetings which rarely adapts itself for the current person of interest. With some differences, much of the same contradictions and angst around online dating might be applicable to women as well. It comes as no surprise that folks have been around for five years and are stilling looking and would be in need of a story to cover up their online meeting with the significant other when at last they do so.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Watery Waste

Perhaps the only positive thing I can say about Deepa Mehta's Water is that it provoked me to list in painful detail all of the reasons I did not like it - that is possibly a better reaction to a movie than to have walked away to get dinner started and not been able to recall the name an hour later. Since the negatives are abundant, I will start with the few saving graces. The opening scene with an adorable girl wearing a nose ring and anklets chewing on a stick of sugar cane. She has not even had the time to register that she is married when her father tells her she is now a widow. She asks him "For how long ?". That was a beautiful and promising opening - except for the disproportionately strong sitar background music.

Mehta as is evident throughout the movie does believe that less is more at least in editing. Chuhiya, the child widow turning hysterical as she refuses to accept the status-quo of widowhood is portrayed very well. The only other plus that comes to mind is Raghubir Yadav in drag though its amazing how little Mehta could make of his prodigious acting abilities. Why is the Hindi so stilted one wonders the minute the characters start to talk ? It does not belong to any part of India. Is this a bilingual movie ? Once you get past that annoyance it dawns on you that the cast is about as professional as a group middle schoolers on their first theatrical production. They shuffle around like a bunch of unsynchronized puppets completely devoid of facial expression.

Our generation came of age along with the second wave of parallel cinema in India. A thinking person's cinema was made by the likes of Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalini, Sai Paranjpye and Adoor Gopalakrishnan. We have seen poverty, corruption, casteism and a plethora of other ills that ail Indian society depicted with gut-wrenching realism - Paar, Arth Satya, Aakrosh, Mirch Masala come to mind immediately, but there are so many others.

Anyone who has watched the pregnant Shabana Azmi and Naseruddin Shah herd their cattle through a river in spate in Paar has been forced to confront truths about India that they may have been in denial of. That is perhaps the role of a movie that purports to bear a social message.

Watching the expressionless John Abraham woo an equally bland Lisa Ray with verses from Meghdutam is a slap on the face of the destitute widows of the early 1900s, who were often forced into prostitution just to have enough to eat. With her unflappable serenity, au natureil makeup and gym toned body Lisa Ray makes widowhood of the 1930s look quite desirable. Mehta does not manage to provoke any visceral reaction from her audience. The music is too loud, often too modern and almost entirely out of synch with the situation at hand. For her, there are lessons to be learnt about an effective background score even from The Tiger and The Brahmin

Quoting from Manu Samhita out of context is a time tested way to horrify a Western audience and gain credibility as an authority figure on all things Hindu - Nirad Chaudhuri had always done it with great success, Mehta borrowing a page from his book is hardly surprising. Manu did not exclusively prescribe restrictions on widows and remarriage, he also laid out very meaningful laws for an ideal society in which no one group was completely disenfranchised.

As with any law, the interpretation by those in power left much to be desired and the widows of pre-independence India were one of its many victims. That said, Mehta's depiction of Manu Samhita as the binding religious sanction for the atrocities perpetrated on Hindu widows shows a very crude understanding of the religion. Manu Samhita is not the Bible of the Hindus. This set of rudimentary edicts, is hardly the entirety of Vedantic philosophy and cannot serve as its proxy.

That Mehta would not have an eye for detail should be expected by now. We see women dressed in garish polyester saris in the 1930s along with taxi cabs. The crowds are uniformly accoutered in spotless white complete with Gandhi topis. There is no space and time transportation - realism at any level is clearly not a priority. This is the cinematic equivalent of serving a half cooked food to dinner guests - unpardonable carelessness.

She is also historically inaccurate in her depiction of Gandhi, but westerners would not recognize Raja Ram Mohan Roy quite as easily so I guess it is okay to swap their places in history. The fact that the story suffers from factual inaccuracies is not such a big deal. One is willing to view it as a work of fiction, perhaps a director's spin on a certain zeitgeist or even rewrite history for art's sake. All of that is perfectly acceptable if indeed it results in a work of art and not in such an immature abomination of it.

So when Time calls this movie a "Triumph" and Ebert and Roeper give it a "Two Thumbs Up" one wonders if they are being condescending or merely facetious. Surely, they cannot be serious. The only other possibility is that the leading lights of Indian parallel cinema did not go nearly as far as Mehta to pimp their work, country and culture to the west and in as such never saw their movies make it to an influential western reviewer’s "to-review" pile. The loss is as much theirs as it is ours.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Newfoundland

Hilarious article in The Observer on the acceptable use of the female erogenous zones for public display on newsstands.

But I do find it surprising that there is a region of the female body called the underboob - I had previously thought I had a complete mental map of all the female erogenous zones. Until the discovery of underboob, I believe I had worked out the perfect formula for identifying them. It was simple, and it was accurate. It goes thus: everything on a suitable female body is an erogenous zone, apart from the following: ears, armpits (esp. unshaven), nostrils, palms. But to return to the underboob and its implications. The sudden emergence of this hitherto unidentified region of skin has introduced a whole new dimension to the study and categorisation of the erogenous zone.

Maybe Lott will take upon himself the task of revising the antiquated map of the female body to include such recent discoveries as the trout pout, the tramp stamp and toe-cleavage. Indeed, there is a
whole raft of erogina that is currently uncataloged and undocumented.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Familiar Number

The number in her caller-id stirred something in memory hard to grasp or recall but there was no mistaking the voice.

"Did you miss me ?" he asked like they had not spoken in the past few days instead of a whole year.

"I didn't know I was supposed to or I'd have tried to be dead on a vine pining for you" Sheila replied. Only MJ would have the nerve to irrupt into her life and lay claim on everything like nothing had changed.

It was his chutzpah that she had found so attractive - a man who reveled in the effect he had on women. "We had such great chemistry and I really did like you. Why did you have us drift apart ?" he asked.

"Because I was overwhelmed by the chemistry and did not think there was any potential for a serious relationship" she replied.

"Why do they have to be exclusive ? You want to spend your life with someone your body does not crave for ?" MJ asked sounding perplexed at her reasoning.

"I don't have to be with someone that my body craves for like you put it. And between us I think the feeling was quite mutual" Sheila said miffed at his depiction of her need.

"Aw come on now babe, don't get all defensive. Of course all I could think how you'd feel making love to. Loved the way your maroon sweater slipped and your bra was strapless. But admit it, your body was begging to be taken too - I could smell it" MJ teased her.

"You could smell it ?" she asked wondering about the slipping sweater. When had that happened ?

"Sure. A woman's body smells different when she wants it. I did smell your lovely perfume too" MJ said.

"Do you remember the name ?" she asked feeling nostalgic about their meeting despite herself. He had smelt nice too but she had not asked him what it was.

"Carolina Herrera 212 - works wonders for you" he answered without missing a beat.

"I have to hand it to you MJ, you are good with women. If I ever get interested in a one night stand I have the number to call" Sheila said.

"You mean like a booty call ?" MJ asked.

"Yes. You have a problem with those ?" she asked.

"Not at all. Totally love them. Specially when they come from someone as attractive as you. But seriously Shell, its not often that I feel so completely connected with a woman - physically and emotionally. I've been with a lot of hot women but its all over after we have had sex. I can't bear to stay - it feels all so pointless" MJ said.

"Been there, done that MJ. That's not a very original pick-up line. Please don't insult my intelligence" Sheila replied, her voice bristling with annoyance.

"You honestly think I need lines to pick up a woman five states away when Manhattan is ten minutes from me ?" MJ asked incredulously.

"You're just jaded from a year of one night stands and hook-ups. I am like a grapefruit soup that cleanses the palate. A few weeks of talking to me will rev you up for another year of fun and games" Sheila said testily.

"Since when have you become an armchair shrink ? Is this what men have driven you to since I was away ?" MJ was laughing uncontrollably.Before she could respond to that he said "So anyways, since you are the only woman in the world who has me all figured out we should get serious. When can we meet ?"

Sheila was amazed at the nerve "What makes you think that you can come in and out of my life at will ?" she asked sharply.

"Are you denying that you find me attractive ?" he asked.

"I am not. But I will not be available for your pleasure at your whim" she said.

"Ah ! my pleasure and whim. Now, were treading dangerous ground. Do you want me to tell you all about the long nights I spent alone wishing you were in my arms ?"he asked.

"For that I just have to watch a porn flick. What's to ask. I don't recall imagination as being one of your strong suits." Sheila snapped back.

"Come on, Shell. Quit being so difficult. You are the one that walked away from a perfectly good thing. Here I am back asking for a second chance for us and all you do is be nasty to me" MJ said half-pleadingly.

"If you last more than a month this time around, I'll consider your case" Sheila said with resignation in her voice.

"So tell me, did you miss me too ? Were you seeing other guys ? Are you seeing anyone now ?" he asked.

"Why don't you tell me about you first ?" she asked in return.

"Sure there have been women, you know me. But nothing for the long haul. I have a date this weekend." he replied promptly.

"Do you have the same effect you had on me on most women ?" Sheila asked curiously.

"Yes, specially when the attraction is mutual like it was with you." he replied.

"I have to admit I have not felt anything even close with another man" Sheila admitted.

"I know. It's very exceptional for me too. I've not forgotten for a minute since" MJ said.

"So what happens if you are not attracted to the woman but she is. Has that happened too ?" Sheila asked.

"Sometimes it has. I can't walk away because that would insult her." he said matter of factly.

"Welcome to the golden age of chivalry, MJ-style. No woman left behind" Sheila commented caustically.

"Actually, I do enjoy the rear entry position with most women. So you are right, with MJ no woman is left behind." he chuckled. "Let's talk some more, babe. Who knows you and I maybe meant to be together. I loved chatting with you as always. I'll catch up with you soon. I got to go now. Dream about me tonight, doll." he added. Listening to the phone click was much harder than she had imagined.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Social Reading

I ran into the music of Boban Markovic Orkestar completely by chance on the same day that I found J likes the sound of classic rock well enough to dance along. Lastfm has been around a while and anyone who enjoys discovering new music would love it.

There is some help for readers looking for books similar in theme or content to something else they have read. While these lists are useful, they are not exactly the "social reading revolution" on the scale of Lastfm. Largely maintained by public libraries and what appear to be a non-profits judging by their .org websites, they lack the snazzy technology that it takes to make a decent social networking site.

Amazon has had the "Customers who bought this item also bought" feature forever, but its not quite the same thing. As a reader I would like a site that has other readers posting favorites, memorable excerpts, reviews, analysis and commentary. For people like me who are avid readers but rarely buy new books, it would be helpful to know if the book was available at the local public library or if someone was selling their copy for really cheap. A book bartering system would be a perfect feature to include. If anyone who reads this post, knows of a place like what I'm describing, please let me know.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Eating Well

I have been reading French Women Don't Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano. Not quite sure what genre this book would fit. Cookbook, chicken soup for something, diet book, memoir or something in between. The blurb describes it as Proustian and that I have to say is a stretch. The blatant francophilia is as excessive as it is cloying but on the plus side no extreme dieting measures are advocated.

At any rate it reads easy, the recipes are for the most part quite undaunting and it has succeeded in putting thoughts of food on my mind. The how-to for éclade de moules in the NYT article reminds me of a Bengali Hilsa recipe that calls for mustard paste, green chilies, turmeric, banana leaves and embers of coal. The result is soft, smoky, spicy and utterly delightful when served with steaming Govinda Bhog rice.


One key message in Guilino's book is about savoring and enjoying every morsel of a meal. To serve food in small portions, artistically arranged - something that comes to my mother naturally and I have learnt from her example -
so the mind is satisfied along with the palate. I may never be able to exalt cooking and serving a meal to the religious experience that she makes of it, even my practice of the art by rote leaves much to be desired.

Depending on how rushed I am, I will cut corners for myself and try to do right by J to assuage my guilt. So while she has her meal laid out just like my mother taught me, I may be eating my whole dinner out of a cereal bowl between juggling a few chores. Sometimes J will say "Mommy you did not have dinner tonight. When will you eat ?" When I tell her I already did, she looks genuinely puzzled and says "But I did not see you eating". She is so right, that would not be the kind of eating that Guiliano would endorse and neither would my mother.

The zen of cooking, serving and eating is a lost cause in our over-committed lives surrounded by tempting cut-shorts, half-measures and conveniences. It takes a conscious effort to slow down and do right by oneself - to enjoy every moment from selecting fresh ingredients for a simple yet wholesome recipe, preparing it with love and attention to detail and finally savoring it well to honor the time and effort that went into creating it. Reading this book got me thinking about how much I have neglected myself.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Device Melange

A laptop in the marital bed is supposedly the third in an unhappy ménage à trois. Worse offenders are Blackberries and Treos because they can be slipped under the covers and be really intrusive. When both partners are guilty of being teethered to their devices and decide to bring one each to bed we have a ménage à quatre - a rather formidable mélange.

Each can be jealous of the other's device but not be willing to give up their own, thus make intimacy four times as difficult to achieve. A situation involving his device (a Blackberry), her device (an iPod) and their device (the TV in the bedroom) is fraught with even more complication - it is tantamount to putting the relationship on autopilot to be able to check e-mail, watch a podcast and maybe a movie.

Like any other kind of addiction, an electronic device addiction is bound to be a strain on the relationship. Maybe in time there will be a Crackberries Anonymous for people who need help getting decoupled from their Bluetooth headsets and re-coupled with their spouses.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Divided Yous

Interesting WSJ article on what the state of your Inbox says about you. Unless the volumes are comparable, there would be significant differences in how people handle personal and work e-mail.

If you are indeed your inbox there are possibly two or more yous depending on how many mailboxes you maintain and what purpose they serve. The social you may be quite a different animal than the workplace you and the blogger you and so forth.

Would a mailbox consolidation exercise then bring some harmony into these several schizoid existences or would the differences be too stark to reconcile amicably ? Its not for nothing that online personas are called Avatars. Maybe to be just a little schizophrenic is a sign of our times and lives.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

That Look

As a teen, presuming to know everything about the human condition I would say "It is a wrong idea to get married to your true love. I would never do it. I would rather be in an ordinary marriage and be in extraordinary love all my life ". Only a teen can be so fatally romantic.

As it turned out my true love A, and I were passionate about keeping the friendship component of our relationship alive and terrified of doing anything that might undermine it. We both thought it wiser marry people it was logical and reasonable to marry and easy to love. He made a wiser choice than I did and for that I feel grateful. We have never been unfaithful to our significant others unless that profound, unspoken connection we have with each other is construed to be infidelity.

When he became a father for the first time a few days ago, he called me almost breathless with excitement. The baby was less than an old. Uncharacteristically in the middle of a meeting, I took the call and talked at some length. B, my co-worker overheard me say "Don't wage war with your wife over the baby's name." Later he teased me "So is your friend trying to name his daughter after you ?" I know B is very sharp and perspective but the question caught me off guard.

Back in my teens, friends would say that I glowed when A was around. May be he still has that effect on me so many years later, thousands of miles apart - even perfect strangers can say he is special.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ads In Textbooks

Textbooks and I have had nothing to do with each other for many years. While it is revelation to me that an algebra textbook could cost $100 and must go through revisions each year (who knew that the subject was evolving so rapidly), it does not hit my budget yet. The idea of using ads in textbooks to make them free for students is certainly novel though do I wonder about the distraction it may cause.

The epithet "dry" that is often ascribed to textbooks may not ring true for future generations who will get to read a couple of lines of witty copy between theorems. Maybe our fears about loss of concentration are unfounded. That colorful ad for a pre-paid cellular phone just before the solution to a problem could end up serving as a perfect mnemonic device.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Packed Close

Reading this article in the Natural History Magazine about the design of homes in a Neolithic town reminded me of the few days I had spent at Varanasi and the awed claustrophobia of walking down Vishwanath Gali. Back in my home town, trash was emptied through a hole in the courtyard wall into a 'gali'. Once every week, day laborers carted it all away. It was more efficient a system than most towns could boast of.

Seeing houses packed like sardines in old neighborhoods is a common sight in India. Sunlight never reaches the some rooms, leaving behind a pervasive mustiness that gets into your bones. The road between rows of houses is a narrow serpentine maze. You desperately wait for it to end and lead to something wide, opener and brighter - like a baby pushing itself out of its mother's womb.

It seemed paradoxical that new neighborhoods that came into existence to meet the needs of a burgeoning population had more open space than these places that had been around for hundreds of years when there were not nearly as many people. Why did people not spread out comfortably when there was land enough for everyone - maybe the answer to that was never quite straightforward - not even in Neolithic times.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Blandly Adult

Children without the benefit of a college education and real life experience say the smartest, wackiest things, come up with clever ideas for projects and create beautiful works of art.Yet with their first introduction into the "real" adult world, most of their faculties seem to suffer.

Teenspeak is hard to decipher, rarely does one see progression in levels of emotional intelligence that may be expected from their promising first grade levels. Overhearing a group of average teens in conversation is depressing for the appalling lack of substance - the personality of individuals seem to have gone through a blender to result in a collective bland pulp accoutered uniformly in Gap and Abercrombie. Not only do adults not reward non-conformance, they don't emphasize the great disservice teens do themselves by "fitting-in". It is mostly a combination of happenstance and individual strength of character that saves a young person from being swallowed by the tide of popular culture and the herd mentality that it promotes.

By when they have gone through college and entered the workforce they no longer have the power to rejuvenate and challenge the wisdom of the old way as a young workforce is expected to do. The output from a group of twenty some-things assigned an "mock" project in a team building exercise demonstrates how far they have retrogressed from their grade level ability to think outside the box. It would be educative to task a group of elementary schoolers with the same exercise and "relearn" from their example.

There are of course exceptional kids who do grow up to be thought leaders. If only every first grader that showed early promise for unconventional thinking or demonstrated some special talent could remain on course into adulthood. If only adults would allow them them blossom naturally.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Gaming For Good

For the last several weeks it had been impossible to tune in to the news and not hear updates on the Israel-Lebanon conflict. As an uneducated listener who has no real understanding of the issues involved, inundated by factoids and analysis by media spin doctors, you wonder why and how it helps for you to stay informed.

Most 24/7 news channels seem to revel in making the common person feel that they should be grateful for having some semblance of a "normal" life in a world that had been overtaken by warring terrorists, natural calamities of epic proportions and HIV pandemics in a burgeoning catalog of gloom of doom. Watching a well-heeled news reader, straining every botoxed nerve on her face, to read her litany of death and despair on a HDTV plasma TV perched high up on a wall in a public place has something sinister and Orwellian about it.

That gamers should take a serious turn and try to save the world "one game at a time" sure feels like the only piece of empowering and good news I have heard in a while.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Male Plume

Most women are attracted to men who are good conversationlists and have a sense of humor. Musical ability is a definite plus. Turns out that all of those attributes are a function of a good brain and as such good genes - the human equivalent of a flashy plume or tail.

Brains are like the Dow Jones index, which is an accessible and generally trustworthy gauge of a complex system because its rooted in a number of important stocks.

So males strut their stuff by crooning, being witty, and speaking well, while the females use these clues to sort out the best one to take home to mom and dad.

Unfortuntaley the absence of a "real" plume may work to the disadvantage of the human female because the male of her heart's desire may have atended charm school to learn his bag of tricks. Those perfect bon mots could breathe their last on the walk down the aisle.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mobile Doctors

I must be coming down with a bout of doctor related deja vu - second post in a row on related topics. Anyone who has had to battle rush hour traffic to make a doctor's appointment only to have to wait a whole hour in the lobby and come back the next day for some test that can take place only on Tuesday afternoons will appreciate the mobile dental services. Younger people who are in good health and have better things to do with their time neglect preventative care simply because the system makes things so difficult.

Back in the day the family physicians made house-calls. They should do that more and come to office parking lots, shopping malls or any other place where large numbers of people can be found, hawk their wares and see how many takers there are for annual physicals on the buy one, get one free special.

If they digitized their prehistoric offices a little and carried WiFi enabled tablet notebooks fitted with
USB credit card readers we could collectively dispense with the services of disgruntled office staff that are the bane of most doctors' offices and live to be healthier, fitter possibly happier consumers healthcare services.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Sleeping Well

A few years ago, I mentioned having difficulty sleeping to my doctor. She asked a few questions and before I knew she had prescribed me a "mild" anti-depressant and a sleep medicine. Seeing my reaction she said I could take Tylenol PM instead of the sleep med - everyday if required.

My need for good sleep turned out to be lesser than my fear of mind altering drugs - I "lost" the prescription after I read up about the medicines in question on WebMd. In time, my sleep pattern returned to normal on its own. Until that happened, I did worry if I was doing myself irreparable harm by ignoring medical advise and letting things run their natural course.

It seemed to me that importance of eight hours of sleep was enough to warrant rather extreme measures when it may turn out that "the eight-hour mantra may have no more scientific basis than the tooth-fairy"

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Two Firsts

These are milestones that J may not remember when she is all grown up. The first song that brings back memories entirely her own and unrelated to mine.

Skidamarinkadinkadink, skidamarinkadoo, I Love You
Skidamarinkadinkadink, skidamarinkadoo, I Love You
I love you in the morning and in the afternoon
I love you in the evening and underneath the moon
Oh, Skidamarinkadinkadink, skidamarinkadinkadoo,
I Love You, I Love You.

It lights up her face up, makes her sing and dance along. "This is Nick's and my favorite song" she tells me and shows me how he used to dance. They go to different daycares now and may never meet again.

The first book J recommended to me - Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs. Ever since Miss C read it to the class, J has not stopping talking about it. Thanks to her contagious enthusiasm, I borrowed it from the library. It is a delightful story and quite unputdownable. I look forward to many more recommendations from J.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Performance Plan

Most parents have the best intentions that sometimes turn out to be very bad ideas. Paying children to improve their grades is wrongheaded for so many reasons that its not even worth counting the ways. A very aggressive and abrasive manager I once had gave me some parenting tips that left me quite speechless. She was taking her high-powered boss-woman image - power-suits, Gucci satchel, Blackberry and all way too seriously.

Her method involved giving children "privileges" for their As - the usual suspects i.e. iPods, Nintendos, Gameboys, personal DVD players were all on the list. If they "acted up" in any way or managed only a B, a privilege would be taken away. Her youngest one at the time of this conversation had just been stripped off every last privilege he had formerly enjoyed. Apparently he was depressed because the oldest one still had all of hers intact.

"But he will work very hard to earn it all back" my boss declared confidently. This was the domestic equivalent of a 360 degree review. You assess your direct report as a C and put them on a performance plan. They have to either inch their way out of the plan or get fired. A lot of times, people with children and mortgages will do what it takes to keep their job.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Learning To Paint

Every evening when I go to pick J up from daycare she shows me all her artwork in a state of feverish excitement. There is profusion of hearts and flowers around stick figures with smiley faces. Sometimes greenery, sky, sun and clouds make an appearance.

Almost all of them have the words "I Love Mommy" on them. My heart brims with gratitude to be remembered and missed all day. It takes superhuman effort to put any of these little love notes in the trash but as their pile grows mountain high, I realize that we also need room to live. I tell myself I don't take for granted that I am well loved.

I notice a lot of the other children are avid painters as well. Though their work is similar in level of sophistication as J's, I find it hard to understand the underpinnings of their art. Kids art is almost always surreal -a lot can be represented by very little, things have layers of meaning. I love to hear J explain her drawings and choice of colors to me. If I knew anything about kid art psychology I may have found reasons to worry as well given the exclusively bright and happy colors, the multitude of hearts, smileys and sunflowers. There is only so much a maxed out single mother can think.

Over time I have come to understand the latent symbolism in them. It is an advantage that I don't have with the other young artists - I have not been educated in their repertoire of symbols. My acquaintance with kids art has grown enormously by and through J. I am to the point where I find it a lot more interesting than a well executed landscape by an adult painter.


We were in a craft store yesterday. The sight of paintbrushes and color made me nostalgic for my own water color supplies that had fallen to disuse at the end of high school. My old paintbrushes must be gathering dust in some forgotten box in my parents' home. I am almost tempted to revive and relearn my lost love for Chinese watercolor. Maybe if I painted alongside J, we could both learn from each other.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Backwaters Living

How I wish Google - The Musical was playing in my town. I totally love the site design and what I read in the review. Everything comes rather late to my neck of the woods so I may be able to see it (if at all) in a few years. Hopefully I would have moved to some place more happening by then.

My friend E, who lives in Boston sent me a newspaper clipping about the Body Worlds exhibition. Her post-it note says "I can't decide whether I would find this fascinating or horrifying but sounds worth checking out. I hope you and J are able to squeeze in a trip up here before the end of this month".

I miss living in a big city. Not that I have ever lived in one. Growing up in India, my metropolitan cousins had easy access to concerts, theatre, exhibitions, film festivals and the like. In my little town, a good concert was remembered for ten years. People would talk of "that year when Bismillah Khan had performed at the auditorium".

My memories were few and savored dearly. I always longed for the vibrant cultural life of a city but loved the slow and intimate pace of life in a small town too much to leave it. It is the same contradiction of desires that has brought me where I am today. A suburb that is easily accessible to a major city yet provides complete insulation from its frenetic pace is what I seek - but to have to trade an arm and leg for that lifestyle is a daunting prospect.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Repressed Desi

Desis are known to have rather curious notions about sex and sexuality. The pati-vrata Sita stereotype is very much in currency but the male of the species neglects to emulate the ideal husband role-model that was Ram. We were not always sexually repressed and there is ancient Sanskrit erotica, sculptures in Khajuraho and Konark - not to mention the Kamasutra that bear testimony to our once uninhibited past. The physical expression of love was considered a natural progression in a relationship between two people - an expression celebrated in joyous variation. It was also the path to attaining higher spritual consciousness.

There were also sage prescriptions for creating and keeping a happy home. Somewhere between the emasculation of women and veiling them behind the "purdah" to preserve their virtue from the pillaging hordes that came with each wave of foreign invasion and the Victorian notions of romantic love that eschewed physical intimacy as coarse and vulgar expression of love, we desis got our act quite fouled up. We assimilated the "purdah" and the serenades below the beloved's bedroom window but discarded Vatsayna and the Meghdutam.
As a civilization and a culture we started out with strong fundamentals, the most vexatious questions of the human existence were already answered. Whereas the rest of the world had yet to stumble, fall and learn we were fortune to have a compendious body of knowledge handed to us. Yet we chose to discard the wisdom of the ancients and learn from nascent civilizations. We were convinced that we were uncivilized heathens that worshipped Gods with multiple heads and limbs and needed to get modernized.

We traded our sexual spontaneity for repression, the celebration of a woman's physical beauty for prudery that required her to turn asexually unattractive to prove her fidelity to one man. We have retrogressed from a liberal past where Draupadi could have five husbands and still have her dignity as a woman and a wife unsullied to a time when
fatwas are issued over mini-skirts. Strangely enough the burgeoning presence of the "moral police" does nothing for the dignity of the average desi women who continue to be molested and raped.

The modern day desi male is aghast to hear a desi female articulate her sexual preferences. He acts out his fantasies with phone sex operators, or cybersex partners but will cringe at the very thought of sharing any of it with his wife. Lord Krishna sets an impossibly high standard for a would be desi Casanova and he rises to the occasion by being physically and emotionally unavailable to the one woman he is married to even as he days dreams
Walter Mitty-like of the thousands he would have ravished had he not been such a "loyal" husband.

A repressed desi makes a confused desi as well. The female is torn between her conditioning to be make a "good, virtuous" desi wife and her desire to express her sexuality freely. The modern desi male does not believe in "arranged marriages, astrologers, horoscopes and the whole enchilada". He wants to date, live-in, test the waters before taking the plunge. And that is all wonderful and western expect that he seeks a desi female to date and live-in with.
Should he find that woman, her very acquiescence to this arrangement is the all proof he needs of her being a slut (i.e. not the kind of woman he could bring home as wife to introduce to his holy mother and holier sister). So we have this hapless duo the "slut" and the free-thinking, westernized, progressive, liberal desi-male who never quite make it to the state of holy matrimony and beyond.

Needless to say, even while the domestic partnership is in effect the sex is not anything to write home about, remember we're desi, morally, ethically, spiritually superior and all that. Did I mention highly repressed and very confused ?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Singed Book

The Caged Virgin by Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the most amazing book I have read in a long time. It was incredibly painful to read the graphic descriptions of female genital mutilations and the lifelong suffering it brought in its wake. Interestingly (but maybe not surprising given the theme and content) enough a few pages of the copy I read had burn marks on it .

J happened to see the marks and enquired about them. I told her what they were. Her comment was "Whoever did that must have been mad at the book. They must have put it in a toaster. But they did not have to. They could have just returned it" I did not know what to say to this and kept quiet. But J was intrigued and the questions came thick and fast.

"Why would anyone be so mad at a book ?" I wondered if it may be time for a history lesson - I could tell her about the many ancient libraries that had been burnt in the past. Maybe a lesson in current affairs would not hurt either - I could tell her about the Google's tacit compliance with the Chinese government to make the resources of the internet only selectively available to that country's citizens. I chose to hold my peace until she was old enough to understand any of that.

"What is the book all about ?" was the next question. I could have told her it was about a woman being brave beyond belief, daring to question and challenge at the risk of losing her life. I hope the world is a better place when J grows up and the Hirsi Alis of her time can speak their mind without being under the scepter of death.

It's not the first time that I have been stumped by J's difficult questions.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Literary Spam

Spammers have lately managed to some positive attention with their intriguing subject lines and excerpts from classic literature in the body. It is easy to ignore the distraction posed by a couple of Viagra and Xanax references and still enjoy the prose. We may owe this new spam genre to effective spam filters a la Paul Graham and Project Gutenberg. Sometimes, there is nothing else besides the piece of literary text in the body. For instance, I got this in my mailbox today.

I did not regard it so much as a clock, as something to look at. And yet when I first saw him I didn’t like him .I asked, waving my hand at the same time to Steak. Men and women surged about the stands hurling money away with both hands. Don’t be foolish, she said, pressing it into my hand. Two shillings, I continued, and a concession which will very likely prove valueless. I like Stan, murmured Eggs, but I don’t value his friendship half as much as Jacks. Do you think I'd run away from that ignorant slob! He looked, to put it mildly, discontented. In that case, I replied, there will be some more adjudicating. As there was nothing of real interest to Stanley in the letter, I tore it up. I was not afraid of Slatter; he was something tangible that could be dealt with. I had finished my meal and was scooping the last vestiges from my plate. Maureen and Daisy hurriedly turned the pages of their race-books .It would be the end of your existence if you were playing at the camp with the boys. It looked like an even chance of my becoming a co-respondent or a corpse. Extra special eggs, waiter, and porterhouse steak. It was a couple of hours later when I returned. Followed sundry items of great interest about Stanley’s grandmother and Stanley’s grandmothers parrot. It is hard to know how to treat a boy like Stanley. The noise of the party was increasing, a thing that I had not considered possible .Champagne is another symbol of achievement.


While it was not too meaningful, I found this excerpt quite interesting. Interesting enough for me to find out where that passage was lifted from. It is probably from the book The Freelands by John Galsworthy. If a product or service was being pitched to me between the lines, I sure did not get that message. The good news for the spammer however, is that I opened the mail and read it in its entirety. So, if on a later date there were indeed a plug for the best Botox alternative or dirt cheap Hoodia chances are I will read that too. This could also work very well as a viral marketing campaign for a new book perhaps by a self published author.

At any rate I will be keeping an eye out for interesting literary spam.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Radiantly Gray

Reading this article on Slate about being chic and prematurely gray reminds me of a Mrs. Surti I once used to know. Possibly the most elegant woman I have come across, she was in her late 40s when I first saw her. Just a little overweight, with radiant skin and unshaped eyebrows she left her almost entirely gray hair undyed. When she walked into a room, people noticed. Maybe it was her understated style - subtle make-up, classic jewelry, beautiful but unpretentious saris.

The only thing that drew obvious attention were her lustrous silver curls. I have never seen a woman make age look more gorgeous and desirable - she stripped youth of its cachet. I wondered if it were possible that she had grown more attractive with age. Though I have never seen her in her younger years, I can't imagine that she created the same impression with dark hair and an hour glass figure - she would just be another beautiful young woman, most of whom would have faded away with age.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Hapless Customer

I am a long suffering Sony Vaio Notebook user. A while back, spyware and adware had rendered my machine almost inoperable. A well meaning sysadmin at my then client's site had taken pity and "healed" my notebook for me. I was most grateful.

Unbeknownst to me, he had also over-written all factory settings without making a recovery CD first. One would imagine that a sysadmin would have more sense than that. Sony no longer supports the model I own and their customer service reps apologize profusely for not being any help to me - fat lot of good that does. They suggested that I look up third party vendors of Sony parts and buy a recovery CD from them. Its easier said than done but I have been trying without any luck so far. I would hate to throw away a perfectly usable computer for not being able to round up a recovery CD - that would be a shame.

It's a pity that ISPs don't to more to protect computers on their network and that hackers haven't found more exciting things to occupy their time and talents with. I do hope tinkering with the innards of consumer electronics gets to me more fun, challenging and remunerative than exploiting Microsoft operating system weaknesses.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Checking In

I have partaken of the guilty pleasure myself and thought nothing of it. What's wrong in looking up an old flame or rash break-up from long ago ? There is definite satisfaction (and vindication) in finding out that they are still single as I have discovered a few times.

Likewise, I have been sought out too. Many years too late, a once-prospect's father pretended to have e-mailed me in error and when I did not respond "really" e-mailed me. Back when his son and I were really interested in each other and were both too young to stand up for ourselves, he had decided to go shopping for a "bigger, better deal" and broken us up. So to have him come back around looking for me was rather edifying for the ego.

There used to be flourishing literary genre around chance encounters with a long lost lovers
when reconnecting to past loves lost, spurned or unrequitted was not as easy as Googling their name. A beautiful story like Maupassant's A Meeting would not be quite as poignant to a generation that has never known a time when Googling was not an option.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Thinking Of J At Work

I often think about the way
we once were - me
the new mother wonderstruck
by your perfectness.
The arch of your brows,
curve of your lashes,
delicate rosebud toes,
the sweet roundness of
your arms
encircled in gold bracelets.
Your toothless smile,
the touch of your fingers,
smell of your skin
freshly bathed and powdered.
How I fretted the passing
of each magic moment,
knowing there would never be
room enough for memories.
That your smiles would fold
upon one other,the years would
confluence to points in time,
the first word would be swallowed
in the deluge of thousand others.
I would try to save every precious
fragment, gather them around
as they spilled over.
I would mourn my losses,
mourn memory's fickleness.
I braid your hair, dress you
for summer sunscreen and all,
watch you walk down the stairs
sure-footed as only four going on
five can be. You look back and ask
"Aren't you coming, Mommy ?"
You and I are twined in the
soul, J. A step behind
or a continent apart, I will
feel tugged at the heart.
I say to you "I am, baby."

Friday, August 04, 2006

Loving Math

I have never heard a whale sing - as a matter of fact not even know that they do. While that is amazing in itself, that the songs could be transformed into these beautiful Mandala like images is even more so. My grandfather swore by mental math making my cousins work on their arithmetic at the crack of dawn, their eyes still heavy with sleep. When I visited, I would be corralled in with them as well.

Even in his late eighties he could help my oldest cousin with solid geometry and calculus without pen or paper - not that they would be any use to him with his nearly blind eyes. We were naturally in awe of his prodigious abilities and felt woefully inadequate. When we asked him how he did what he did he said "You have to learn to love math and see how beautiful a subject it is. As long as you approach math with fear you will not see the beauty and definitely not be able to forge a lasting friendship"

I did not quite understand what he meant by that until I first saw fractal images. I am sure he would have enjoyed the way math transformed whale songs to mandalas - recognizing a kindred spirit who like him approached math without trepidation and saw its beauty just like him.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Benign Addiction

I have a serious reading problem. It is an "addiction" with every negative connotation that exists to that word. I can never have enough, I don't enjoy anything quite as much, it makes me a recluse - it takes strenuous effort to take time away from reading to socialize, while I am at it which can be the better part of a day (time permitting) I am lost to the world and my child, I get irritable and experience withdrawal symptoms when I don't get my fix or something comes in the way to interrupt it, phone calls go unanswered.

I tend to binge, reading several books in parallel. I mean to swing by the library to drop off something and spend a whole Saturday afternoon browsing - God help me if I wander into a bookstore. I have finished reading entire books at Barnes and Noble on what was supposed to have been a fly by to pick up a birthday present for some kid. Needless to say, J is left to her own devices while I am wolfing down whatever it is that I am.

I stopped reading to her regularly the moment she was able to read those Dr Seuss books on her own. Instead I pushed her to read independently and come to me when she needed help with the "big" words. She has accepted her fate with resignation though she recounts wistfully how Caitlin's mom read a story to the kids in her daycare. I am no great raconteur, so its no real loss to her. I am guilty of trying to pitch to J how reading is far superior to being read to.

Reading has always been about escape from reality and about understanding reality - I seem to have an insatiable need for both. My old fashioned parents never thought the problem was serious enough to merit therapy. Back in the day, Mom preferred to warn me of the dire consequences of sitting on my butt all day reading. The horrors ranged from extreme obesity, dementia, loss of speech, sight and hearing, chronic insomnia, multiple organ failure to premature senility. That was usually good enough to shake me out of my print induced coma and get a life.

J does not have quite the same effect when she tries to pry me out of my book saying "Mommy, I want to pretend you are my pony. Come on play with me " While she makes me feel very guilty and selfish, I don't have visions of me as a bespectacled, deranged old crone grown so wide that she can't get out the door, reading by the light of a halogen lamp while hooked to a dialysis unit - that is something only Mom can pull off. My friend D has started me on a "detox" program I think is working. The regimen includes eight to ten hours a week of mindless play with J - and that is the easiest part.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Gold

"Nobody could ever have conceived of a more absurd waste of human resources than to dig gold in the distant corners of the earth for the sole purpose of transporting it and reburying it in other deep holes" - Robert Triffin.

My friend A sent us me this quote by an economist a day after we had a discussion about gold jewelry he could get for his kid sister who is getting married next month. While that remark does makes sense now, the first sight of a jewelry shop window will render it meaningless if not absurd.


Jewelry is about artistic expression and feeling beautiful. A necklace made entirely of sea shells can do both.Gold beads is to sea shells what musk is to vanilla - similar only if you stretch your imagination infinitely but definitely not interchangeable.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Unable To Hook

Unhooked Generation by Jillian Straus is a must-read for singles in their 30s who wonder why they are finding it nearly impossible to get (and stay) married and have a family like humans have done for time immemorial. Her analysis of all that ails Gen-X is spot on. I particularly liked what she has to say on the subject of casual sex.

Many women used the phrase : "I failed at it" - meaning that they had felt they failed at casual sex because they felt attachment afterward. To become attached after sex is to be human - but both men and women of this generation considered this a human failing. I thought to myself, if fucking a stranger and enjoying it is now a sign of success, things have certainly changed: beating yourself up because you can't use your body without involving your soul is quite the twenty first century dilemma.

It became obvious that beneath all the erotic aerobic activity, for many people, casual sex served as a substitution for real emotional intimacy. Having sex is easy for this generation, but connection and commitment are hard.

Often, Gen-Xers have sex quickly and then wait for the emotions to catch up with the physical sensations.

Casual sex has become an inalienable right, a freedom of the young and single that requires no commitments beyond the sex itself. Today, sexual flings, seemingly fun but fleeting, are now dime a dozen. I couldn't help but wonder whether casual sex wasn't losing its appeal due to its sheer availability.

from - Chapter 7 of Unhooked Generation by Jillian Straus.

The book is culled from interviews with 100 Gen-X heterosexuals (yes, there is a token desi, a Purnima who talks about how people of her generation don't just want casual sex but exotic sex as well. They can't decide if they want it with a girl or a guy so they go have threesomes).

At the end of the book there is the Unhooked Dictionary, a handy thesaurus that summarizes the state of Gen-X relationships with such nuggets as : Bling Ultimatum, Disposable Love, DTR Talk (Defining The Relationship), Marriage Heavy, Marriage Lite, Marriage Sabbatical, Multiple Choice Culture and finally the Wilma Flinstone Effect defined thusly: The modern woman's longing for a symbol of a traditional female role. An example would be when a woman, even a feminist, desires a big diamond engagement ring or flowers as a proof that she, as a woman, is adored.

The point Strauss makes in her book (which is a true reflection of the present day) is that people do not want to get all caught up in the emotional aftermath that having sex in the context of a loving relationship (no matter what its longevity) involves. They find that to be a burden, a drag on the heart that must be avoided at all costs. The contract between a couple engaging in casual sex is clear - there is no hope held out by either, there is no heartache to deal with the morning after (at least in theory).

People want the thrill of variety and partners who have been around enough to have sophisticated styles and techniques. Faithfulness does not enjoy the cachet it once did just like virginity is no longer a big deal. Players are useful in their ability to build mood and atmosphere that can elevate a one night stand to a memorable incident.

Girlfriends talk about what a great lay some guy was and miss him only for his body. You don’t get to hear a thing about him except his prowess in bed. When in a “relationship” the same women can bore you to death dissecting and analyzing every last word the man said to them. Grown women turn to blathering idiots asking themselves “He loves me, he loves me not” ad-infinitum.

I guess a lot of that translates to men as well. Comes a point when both men and women want only physical gratification without the trappings of a full blown relationship. Humans will also on occasion skip the appetizer and entree and head straight for the tiramisu. Its not a sensible diet but it can be fun and different - break the monotony of doing the regular thing.

As long as it is possible and permissible to have several sexual partners, people will seek the path of least resistance as far as coming out of intimate encounters with the least number of battle scars. Casual sex is notionally one way to do it - obviously flawed but the other options are not any better either.

Supposedly, every woman that Lord Krishna consorted with felt like she was the only true love of his life. He had the ability to gratify their individual and distinct emotional and physical needs completely. Most regular people don’t have that kind of capacity and in as such are unsuited to taking on the burdens of having multiple partners.

When they overextend themselves (as they often do),the results are telling. They are left wondering why casual sex does not remain as “casual” as they would want it to or why the heart acquires a thick scar tissue at the end of multiple hook-ups. Promiscuity can be fun and even fulfilling but not everyone has the ability to do it right - unfortunately Gen-Xers don’t recognize that.