Sunday, December 31, 2006
Molly O'Neill writes about genesis of food porn - "prose and recipes so removed from real life that they cannot be used except as vicarious experience". I can't agree more with the "vicarious experience" part. Reading about what makes a perfume so exceptional is often all I need - I'll gladly skip the part where I actually try (or worse buy) one for myself. It's easier to read about the next thing extolled in equally lush prose - it gets cloying and suffocating fairly quickly even without having smelt the real thing.
Likewise, who wants to taste wine that is described like it solely aims to insult your unsophisticated palate ? You wonder why it should be so hard to use ordinary language everyone understands to describe things that regular, every day folk will want to buy instead of using lurid prose that puts them off.
Saturday, December 30, 2006
A friend was joking a few days ago that she had her husband tailgate a car because she was watching the movie they had playing inside and she did not want to miss the best part. Knowing her, that must have been a sweeping exaggeration but I sure get her drift. I wish they would keep some devices impossible to use while driving or even inside a car.
Surely, we have survived and been doing quite ok without a portable scanner thus far. Our lives are complicated enough even without a slew of gizmos on our car vying for attention. Back in the day when cars were a novelty, driving one was a fun enough task in itself, no other props were required to keep the driver or passengers engaged. Besides, they did not bristle with so much technology to aid the driver's job, causing boredom and hence distraction.
Friday, December 29, 2006
The "fun" team events I have had to participate in since I started working after college were never as much fun as they were infantile. I used to think that the real world of grown-ups that I had graduated into would be significantly different than that of a child or a teen. It was surprising to realize that the concept of fun for a bunch of middle aged managers was no different than that of their school going kids. It was a disappointing to the point of feeling cheated out - made you wonder what the big deal about growing up was about if nothing changed fundamentally.
I wondered at what point in life (if ever) it was that people actually grew up enough to be called "grown up". Outside the corporate world, it is much harder to see such blatant celebration of childish behavior in the name of having a fun work culture. I have asked friends and coworkers if they saw it the same way. To a lot of people, having fun is synonymous with letting go of adult hang-ups and inhibitions and acting out like a child - they see nothing wrong with it.
To them, banishing "infantilism" from the workplace would be like being forced into labor camp. Google may have taken things to the extreme, but is hard for any corporate types who have been used to coddled and fussed over at work much like pre-K children being rewarded and incented for good behavior, to function effectively in the real world outside. What is ironical and sad is that while the celebration of childish and childlike (very different things no doubt) is so popular, problem solving never benefits from childlike freshness, igenuity and simplicity of approach. Oddly, it takes the more strait jacket adult way of a brainstorming session for that.
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Following the instructions, I was able to get the text message with an URL link to follow. However, that defines the limit of my m-savvy. I wasn't quite able to replace the current aural irritant that I have for ringtone with lovely birdsong as I had wanted to.
The techies at work will snicker at my abortive attempt at mobile hipness but I will need to enlist their help if I want to get to any kind of bird to sing out of my cellular. Getting with the m-program is not an option at this late date even when techies routinely exhort me to RTFM
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Then are books on love that are not entirely about that. To gift your date Geek Love or Before, During and After could make the object of your affections wonder if they should leave before things went any further south. However, if they were tuned at your own ( even if somewhat bizarre) frequency they would actually "get" it and your relationship would have effortlessly progressed to the next level - that one book could end up being the definitive sign that they were "the one".
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Two years ago, she lost her hearing completely. That New Year when we spoke, we knew it would be our last phone conversation. Her special hearing aid made it very hard for her to be on the phone - time was when we had chatted all day on weekends. That would remain a fond memory of a time that would never come back. I knew she had this rare disease that besides causing her immense pain would make her body to atrophy a little at a time.
I knew would lose my friend to her illness a little bit at a time, until she was all gone. Yet, in that she would be physically alive with her mind active and bright as always, it would be hard to accept her as gone from my life. In some ways it is probably easier to lose a loved one to death. With Meredith, I would have to fight the urge to call her number and to send her an e-mail - its takes a huge physical effort for her to write.
As another year comes to an end, I pray that we remain connected in our hearts forever, as sisters in spirit if not by birth and that some day they find a way to block out her pain.
Monday, December 25, 2006
“Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.
I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make our country great (not to imply that India is necessarily greater than any other country) and without regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishee.
By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms: This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.
Disclaimer: No trees were harmed in the sending of this message; however, a significant number of electrons were slightly inconvenienced.
Cheers!!!”Its interesting, that another friend decided to be J's secret Santa this morning and surprise her with some kids music and a jingle bell bracelet. J found out last year that Santa is "pretend" so I was not sure how she would react to seeing something marked "To J, From Santa". J said "Maybe pretend and real are the same thing" in a bit she thought of some folks who could have given her the gift and have had Santa be their courier.
A few hours later she concluded "Maybe God decided to give me the gift because I was good". She has been satisfied with one or more of the ways she found to account for the surprise from Santa. I offered no input because she did not need any. I learnt that the magic of Santa lies in a child's imagination and is not dimished by her knowing that he is "pretend".
Sunday, December 24, 2006
What's more I would not be able to replicate it another time - the temptation to try some new variation on the theme would be too strong to resist. I have been on a baking spree the last couple of weeks - its an exercise in discipline, persevering and following directions to the end - the Zen of cooking.
The one time, I tried to put my own spin on a crusty French bread was an unmitigated disaster. I know I have long ways to go before I can turn even remotely creative with my baking. It is a goal worth striving for because needing a cook book or a recipe to me has always been about needing a crutch - its what I need until having understood the difference between the letter and spirit of things.
A recipe is another person's interpretation of food and how it tastes best, a spur of the moment change to most or all parts of it is when I am ready to start calling it mine. When I have changed it enough to no longer know what to call it is when it truly becomes all mine - that's when J will say "Mommy, make the thing you made the day R and his mom came with his baby sisters". I can come close to what she is asking for and the part that will turn out different will be a pleasant surprise.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
When I met my old manager for lunch a few weeks ago, she had recently returned from a two week business trip to India. The agenda was to size up the different outsourcing vendors who were in the fray for a sizeable multi-year contract. The relationship with the current vendor was souring rapidly. I asked her about her impression of India and of the businesses that she had gone to assess for fit with the company's needs.
Most of the positives were around the great tradition of Indian hospitality and how she had been treated like a queen. Maybe that scored even higher than it would have otherwise done because she is African American. She must have been pleasantly surprised that our colonial hangover does not predispose us to elevate fair skin over dark.
I hated to burst her bubble by telling her about our national obsession with fairness and products that claim to enhance it. I did not tell her that desis are savvy enough to look past skin color when business deals are involved specially if the customer is a woman and a gorgeous one at that.
Being her first trip to the country, she had not known what to expect but having been able to fly too and fro between a number of cities left her impressed. She had not counted on travel within the country being as simple. She could not stop gushing over the hotels all of which were among the best in the city in question. Between airports, chauffeured cars and the swank office complexes, she had tasted the best slice of the Indian pie - she realized the experience had been far from holistic.
As far as the actual purpose of her trip, she was not quite sure if she had accomplished what she had set out to. The facilities had been visited, the big honchos and the line managers had been met with . Did she feel more comfortable about recommending one outfit over the other based on her on her impressions ? She did not know. She was considering making a follow-up trip in 2007. I asked her what the high points of her trip had been. "The food and the jewelry" was her immediate response. I noticed the three strand pearl necklace she had on. "I got this from Hyderabad" she told me.
She may fare better on the second trip if she is able to sift out the many distractions that India presents to a foreigner visiting for the first time. Familiarity may however promote too intimate an understanding of the country and its unique challenges that could come in the way of dispassionate decision making.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Reading about how this lizard species is able to reproduce asexually when there are no males around made me think of the options that some in the animal kingdom have that humans don't at least as of yet. Ironically, the genetics of asexual reproduction would inevitably result in male offspring.
Perhaps that is a way to ensure that sexual reproduction retains its worth as it would be the only way to perpetuate the species. If one day they figured out what it took for the human female to reproduce asexually, it would eliminate the need for the warm bodies that men are so afraid of being reduced to. Sex could become purely recreational. Maybe societies would turn matriarchal to encourage the birth of female children - something that would still require a man.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
They remember J's birthday and show up with home made cakes that are too beautiful to eat or send her so many presents that she falls back asleep trying to unwrap all of them first thing on the morning of her birthday. They remember she prefers “real” jazz to smooth jazz and buy her music she will be sure to love.
E, our self-appointed "Activity Director" will send me links to everything J-friendly happening in our town and follow up with reminder e-mails and phone calls to make sure laziness does not overtake my good intentions. Yet for all that, none of them think it is specially hard for a single parent to raise a child. Sure without the village that it takes (and which I am blessed to have around me), it would be but one person even if it were the spouse does not become the deal breaker in the business of raising a child.
There is huge difference being care taker parent who does what it takes to get a child from infancy to adulthood and a “true” parent. I define a true parent as one who strives to discover the best and the worst in their child so they can enhance the inherent good in them and nip the bad at the bud. Their goal is to help their child be a humane, sensitive and self-aware human being. Whether that child ends up being a trophy that they can proudly exhibit is of no concern to a true parent. Being that good and bad are highly subjective terms it is highly likely that two parents cannot even agree on the operating definitions.
My parenting style is very unconventional both by desi and western standards. It would bode ill for my success as a mother to have a partner in raising J, who did not agree with me or worse had ideas that were in stark opposition to mine. I have seen parents in similar circumstances who either fight tooth and nail to have their way if their passion for parenting is strong enough to do so or give up and "settle" for some meaningless middle ground or worse. There are a couple of things that are wrong with this.
If one parent is convinced of the right of their case, to have to cower down to spousal pressure does not make them a strong role model to the kids. However, if they engage in a constant power struggle and open warfare to prove the merits of their ideas and do not give in until allowed to implement them, the kids are likely to view marriage as a state of constant strife which seals the fate of their own relationships as adults.
I have seen both fathers and mothers give up on their dreams for their children for the sake of peace in the household. While such compromises do not significantly impair the relationship of the couple, the kids lose out big time. I have had the singular misfortune of knowing several parents with great potential raise non-descript to downright obnoxious kids. It makes me wonder if they would have not fared a whole lot better if the aggrieved parent had taken a stand and decided to go solo if that’s what it took to do right by the children.
Children thrive the most when parents work in perfect tandem and don't differ in child rearing philosophy and practice. When one of the parties is decidedly radical and will not be convinced that the mainstream school of thought is superior to theirs, the two cease to able to function like a seamless team and the kids will make best use of the dissonance to do as they please. A child is also helped most by viewing both parents as strong role models for their sex which tends to possible only when both have the proven ability to take a stand when their ideals are challenged but are not forced to do so as a matter of routine.
In the last five years, I have never had to succumb to pressure from a partner in any decisions involving J. She is not confused about what she is expected to do, between what is important in life and what is not. Despite well meaning advise from all quarters on how I should help J "fit in" and "blend in" with the other kids, I have taught her that it is important never to be like anyone else, not to compare herself or compete with others but to constantly strive for perfection in whatever she does. She knows that we do things differently and our way is best suited for our needs and for what is unique about J. To many men raising a child who will grow up to be an outlier is imminently avoidable not to mention concerning. As a responsible father, they would feel compelled to thwart my efforts in that direction.
To have her ask for roti and subzi to take to school for lunch day after day is a small but symbolic sign that she does not care about running with the herd. When kids ask her what it is she eats and she tells them they would not understand. The best gift I could give her as a mother, is to have her grow up to feel confident about what is intrinsically hers, to feel comfortable in her skin while having the capacity to feel empathy for those who are nothing like her. To have a world of her own, where she can be happy for no reason and would not need props either material or social to validate who she is. Yes, it would be dream come true if I find a man who believes in the things that I do but so far being a single mother has been just what I need to work towards my parenting goals and see J grow up a content person.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
You want to believe there was a point in time when there was brio and zest about them, that if they were to undo the series of events leading up to the present moment and do things right this time, they would be a couple that exuded an aura of happiness about them.
The common thread through this entire series is how evident it is that the two are far apart in spirit while in physical proximity. It proves some things I have always held true about relationships. It is not how much time you spend together that counts or matters, it is how close you feel when you are far apart. It is not how scintillating your conversations can be but how you can sit across from each other silently savoring the other's presence. It is not what you do together but how much you think about the other when you are each doing your own thing. It is not how long you have known each other but how intensely you have lived and felt your togetherness.
Finally, in any picture of the two of you the spark would be unmistakable.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
The pinnacle of my mommying is being able to keep up with J's homework, know the names of her friends and teachers and do the weekly catch-up of what went on at school. On a very lucky weekend we may even get an art project done or catch an open air concert. Though, I don't fit the demographic of the typical Mom lit protagonist, I am definitely curious about the modern mommy angst - particularly if they are the kind that lack the wherewithal to tool around the burbs in SUVs getting the kids through their over-booked schedule of activities.
If mom lit is the sequel to chick lit, the most realistic next step from there is solo mom lit. God knows "happily ever after" is more exception than the rule for marriages today which makes sure there are enough of us around to make for a readership quorum of the genre.
Monday, December 18, 2006
I recognized the music and the name of the violinist from long ago this morning on the radio. When I first heard the Anne-Sophie Mutter recording of Mozart's Violin Concerto No.5 in my teens, there was no easy way to find out any more about her than what the bio on the jacket of the tape recording had. Today it was a breeze. Browsing around, I found her responses to the Marcel Proust questionnaire which in turn led me to discover the "infamous Proust Questionnaire" itself.
From a beautiful piece of music that has sentimental significance for me, I wandered off to Proust and reading some of his answers got me thinking in ways I would not have otherwise thought. J has been reading "If You Give The Mouse A Cookie" the last couple of days in which the mouse goes off in completely unexpected directions when in fact he had started off being given a cookie.
Unlike the mouse I did not come full circle to the cookie (in my case the Mozart concerto ) but instead went off trying to find a particularly haunting cello piece by Yo-Yo Ma I heard for the first time a few months ago and never checked to see what it was called. I am yet to find it but I have not quite given up yet. Also How Proust Can Save Your Life is back on my to-read list.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Someone has posted a flyer for a holiday gift wrapping service on the whiteboard
in the break room. In signature green, white and red the flyer promises to take the
stress out the whole business of gift giving this holiday season. Better still one
could enlist the services of a professional holiday shopper.
In all cultures there is a time of year when gifts are exchanged with friends and
family. While the tradition has existed since time immemorial, the material
excesses of modern society makes it increasingly hard to honor and celebrate its
Simple and symbolic tokens of love no longer make the grade.The lack of time and
energy to nurture relationships is compensated by elaborate and expensive gifts
that require the services of a professional gift wrapper no less to be good enough
for the recipient.
I used to find it tedious to go shopping during the Pujas and Diwali back home,
watching holiday shoppers in the malls here is downright depressing. I can't help
think about the maxed out credit cards that will take the rest of the year to pay,
the corners that will need to be cut on essential expenses to compenstate for
splurging during the holidays. It reminds me of cash strapped families spending
beyond their means on Diwali and suffering dearly for it.
A few years ago my friend K mentioned that she waits for her annual tax refund
to pay the debts she piles up over the holidays. Knowing that, I felt guilty about
contributing to her financial dire straits when I accepted her Christmas gift.
Having since moved from her town, I am no longer on her holiday shopping list
and very grateful for it.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
What desi men lack in size they make up for in imagination even if not directly. Gifting a woman lingerie created from fresh flowers may just be what it takes to distract her from his under-endowment and issues thereof. The little sound bite from Sunil Mehra at the end of the BBC news article, is a painful reminder of what ails desi males in bed
But Indian men need not be concerned about measuring up internationally according to Sunil Mehra, the former editor of the Indian version of the men's magazine Maxim.
"It's not size, it's what you do with it that matters," he said.
"From our population, the evidence is Indians are doing pretty well."With apologies to the poet Alexander Pope, you could say, for inches and centimeters, let fools contend."
Mehra would have us believe that the efficacy and indeed entire purpose of the organ in question is to be able to impregnate. Small wonder then that desi males don't respond terribly well to performance reviews and end up wondering why they should be held responsible for pleasuring the woman - surely God would have provided her with the wherewithal for it had he deemed it necessary. For crying out loud, he is able to get it up what more could she want ?
Surely, Mr. Mehra you could do better than that for your constituents. Help them hold their own in a time of globalization when desi women have easy access to a lot more than desi.
Friday, December 15, 2006
Came across the word journeyman after years today. The last time was probably in the 80s when I read Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, the story of Michael Henchard - the journeyman hay-trusser. The article talks about the revival the trade is undergoing today but to a lot of us who are consultants in the IT business being journeymen has always been part of what defines our work.
Unlike them we trade our skills for more than hospitality or a paycheck - we seek change for the rich diversity of experience it brings, for the long term professional associations and sometimes just for the thrill that comes with change of scenery.
As one journeyman is quoted in the article "Travel not only broadens the mind, it expands the skills base, humanity and cultural awareness. It is travel, rather than manners, that makes the man."
A co-worker who I enjoyed working with relocated recently. Watching him go through the familiar motions of preparing for a move made me wistful with longing for change. I have been in the same city for two years now. While I enjoy the stability that it provides my life outside work, I am too used to the adrenalin rush of change to want status quo for ever.
I'd much rather find a new gig in an industry I have never worked in before, challenge myself to translate my unrelated experience to be useful in new circumstances, learn about their business, learn to thrive in a different work environment and get to know a bunch of new people. Along the way there will be new friendships made and new places discovered.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
That J knows to read an analog watch thanks to Mrs. H, is a charming but relatively useless skill. It would have sufficed for her to be able to tell time from the many digital clocks all around her. Likewise, beyond being able to pay for cotton candy and lemonade at a fair with her bag of dimes and quarters, counting "real" money will not be of much use to her.
I would love to introduce her to concepts of economics but know so little about the subject myself that I worry I would do a bad job teaching her. The local library does not seem to have what I am looking for or perhaps I have not been able to articulate my need well enough to find it. It turns out that MR readers have some great recommendations just for what I seek. In fact there are so many good ideas that I am not sure which one to pick or where to begin.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
For old times sake he has responded to these missives and discovered that they had both never forgotten or fully moved on. The woman is now married but does not feel the deep emotional connection with her husband like she had once done with Sarat. She wants to talk. He hesitates but agrees to listen. Every once in a while when her pent up emotions need a receptacle, she reaches out to him. Then one day the inevitable happens. She asks him "If I were to leave my husband would you give us another chance ?"
The flame collector pulls back in fear because he is no marriage wrecker. He was once her friend and lover. He tries to be somewhere safely and in between the two now that it is over at least logically. So I asked him " How does it help you to form such deep emotional bonds with women and then not have it work out in the end ? Why don't you leave much sooner ? Why don't you just invest less of yourself until you know its for life ? Why do you go out on a limb and get hurt ?"
He says he gives a relationship his best because that is the only way he knows to give and is glad for the old flames who remember him with such fondness. He is glad to be part of their life's happiest memories. "But does that not make you the marriage wrecker you don't want to be ?" I ask. "I don't seek them out after they're married. They are the ones who come back to me because they married for all the wrong reasons and don't have much in common with their husbands".
He has been flame collecting all his adult life and will likely stay single for many more years. He is waiting to feel that special connection he felt for the first love of his life at nineteen." Anything short of that, will be settling" he says.When the leaves swirl down, his phone will ring and beloved voice from the past will say "Sarat ?" and he will relive the passion they once shared. The oldest flames will die out in time, their ashes blow away in the wind bringing peaceful oblivion. I tell him he needs a touch of Vasant (Spring) in his life. "Maybe we should start with renaming me" he laughs.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
One a far more humble scale, I have snickered along with the booing crowds.
The singer in question was middle aged man who had chosen to perform a
particularly demanding piece of Hindustani classical music. His voice gave up
on him on the intricate "alaap". The crowds went berserk and shouted "Go home,
old man". Even as the boos rose to a crescendo, the singer did not stop. He
completed his recital ignoring the disruption. The audience grew even more
rambunctious being unable to make him leave the stage like they wanted.
Later, I wondered about the right and wrong of what happened that evening.
The audience who pays to watch a performance is within its rights to complain
if the artiste does not meet their expectations. Whether booing a performer off
the stage is an acceptable form of protest is entirely questionable. The booed
singer is between a rock and a hard place when the audience takes to taunting
their effort. To acknowledge it and walk away like this tenor did would have
been bullied, to plug along like nothing happened would be no less humiliating.
He has to pick his poison and live the consequences of his choice.
The connection between a performer and the audience is at best a slender thread,
finely tuned and precariously balanced. Once snapped, the mood is ruined for both.
We said that the old man had no right to subject us to that abomination of Raga
Shree but he may have argued if we were true aficionados we would have shown
more sobriety, given him a chance to regroup instead of intimidating him.
Paying for a concert ticket did not give us the right to heckle someone who had
spent years learning the art to entertain us for less than an hour. Maybe as
consumers we extend the right to berate a plumber who bills us but cannot plug
our leaky faucet to a musician who fails to delight us with his music - we forget
that there is a world of difference between the two.
Monday, December 11, 2006
A few days ago, I was griping to a friend who works for Microsoft about a product that is causing me some suffering these days. After a long discussion in which both sides had some valid arguments, he said with exasperation "If you hate MS products that much, why don't you take your business elsewhere ?" I retorted that I would be not waste a minute to switch to the Google OS whenever that happens. "So stop whining until then. What's the point when the market offers you no better choice ?"
According to him, Google has the wealth of Croesus and the best talent in the industry to boot, so what prevents it from building the OS that will put Microsoft out of business and give whiners such as myself something to rejoice over for a change. It is hard to argue that.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
I remembered lines from James Shirley's poem Death the Leveller while watching the HBO telefilm Tsunami - The Aftermath
THE glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against Fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings:
Sceptre and Crown
Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.
There is the lull before the storm, when rich tourists and the poor locals go about their life like it was going to be another ordinary day. Then the tsunami strikes its short, decisive yet fatal blow bringing people who until then had nothing in common together in loss and mourning. While tragedy of such scale can bring out the best and worst in people, the film focuses mainly on the positives.
A man desperately searching for his missing wife and daughter lends a hand to save a dying man , a journalist looks beyond a photo opportunity and takes a picture of an unidentified body before it is cremated are among the many moments where the human spirit is shown to be ennobled by tragedy rather than being dwarfed by it.
A dear friend who was traveling in Sri Lanka at the time, had managed to escape the tsunami by a mere twenty four hours and only by chance - death had not chosen him. This movie made me count my blessings once again that I did not loose a loved one that day like so many others had.
The tranquility of the sea before and after felt like a metaphor for life itself , every day begins with sunrise and ends at sunset - always predictable and same. Yet within those few hours events occur to alter the course of individual lives or the destiny of an entire nation.
Often the warnings of doomsday prophets are ridiculed just like the "Thai meteorologist, whose earlier report detailing the inevitability of a tsunami hitting the affected area was ignored." Sometimes, in allowing ourselves to be deceived by the apparent ordinariness of the day, we suffer extraordinarily.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
V and I had been friends for ten years before the end of my marriage and the start of hers undid it. I miss talking to her, sharing my life’s highs and lows with someone who got me. She lives within a couple of hours from my town, is doing well professionally as I had always expected her too. The husband lives half way across the country. She stalled on starting a family because she wanted to go to b-school first.
She used to carry a Dennis clipping in her wallet for years and say “ I’d love to be mom to a kid like that”. She called it her talisman and good luck charm. No one who knew her would believe that she would not want be a mother even in her mid thirties. There was always another goal, another milestone, another level of independence, self-actualization to achieve before that.
When I saw her last, it seemed like she was wetting her feet in the marriage, trying to assess if it was indeed for the long haul. I respect V for her many talents, her fine intelligence and her magnificent drive to accomplish goals in her life. V was always unstoppable.
Arriving at V's
I arrive in Philadelphia an hour ahead of time, tried to call V but she was not on her phone. Leave a message and began to wonder if they’d show up at all. My faith in people wavers irrationally these days. I can trust V with my tax documents and know that she will get the job done but I am not so sure if she’d pick me up and take me home. I decide to wait an hour. There is no place to sit – it is too crowded and my bags are rather big. I stand there and wait watching people come and go.
I wonder what her husband will be like whether he would appreciate me staying over. I have not told V that my plans are extremely fluid and I have no idea exactly how long it take for me to find sponsorship to work. She does know though that my business visa will expire in three weeks and that comprises the entirety of my window of opportunity. We all know that the job market is at its all time low and it would take a miracle to get an employer to sponsor me in a time when layoffs are rife and outsourcing is the mantra for business to stay afloat.
They arrive a little late – but I’m relieved that they even came. He (S) is a complete disappointment – visually unappealing and to top that he has a bleak voice. He reminds me of the man that I was forced to leave in more ways than one and that is a very disturbing thought. His car is very untidy and unkempt – another similarity with R(my ex). I am seeing V after a couple of years – she looks wonderful. Marriage has given her skin a lovely sheen, her burgundy Nine West coat that looks perfect on her. Her fashion sense has improved dramatically. The new hair-style becomes her. I am almost about to reverse my first impression of S – surely he must have helped in this amazing transformation.
We drive up to their home – V keeps up a lively conversation and seems happy and content – or should I read that as relieved. She is now a permanent resident and she did it on her own without any help from S – that must bring satisfaction. The house is in the poorer part of town. They have an ancient futon in a shabby slip cover and an old chair in the living room – the signs are getting more and more ominous. There is squalor and impoverishment writ all across. But they stop by en-route to buy a couple of dozen bagels and an assortment of spreads from Panera Bread in what feels like a complete misfit with their lifestyle overall. I can’t tell immediately where that’s coming from but I would discover very soon.
Old Friendship New Discoveries
V has plans for me already. I’m not sure why she’s done this – its not like her. Back in the day we could have relaxed with some chai and caught up on the past two years. We go out to watch “Chicago” at a movie-plex nearby with two of S’s female friends who are now V’s friends. It’s all rather cozy and V is being made very welcome into S’s circle of friends and the city of Philadelphia. I get the sense that they’re observing her and thinking to themselves – how little she knows – I wonder how much she knows about him or his past or even his present.
He looks like someone with a lot of history, closed doors and dark little secrets veiled in that bleak voice. I feel sorry for her already and there is no earthly reason for me to feel that way - I tell myself that my judgment is colored and does not count at all. V is distracted throughout the show and keeps mumbling about the water that’s leaking in her basement. She checks her cell phone frequently to see if S or the plumber has called. She also says “Chicago” is highly over-rated and she sees nothing great about it. S's friends love it and I find it quite fun despite the many preoccupations I have.
Something or more than something is bothering her and I can feel it, I find it difficult to have any conversation with her at all. I think we’ve both outgrown each other. I know in my heart this friendship is really all over – we’re just going on from the sheer force of habit but it won’t last a lot longer. And honestly I am too tired to even care. I don’t feel close enough to her anymore to ask her what’s wrong though I can tell a whole lot is.
The first few days go pretty well, I have a place to stay and continue my job hunt and I get to eat home style vegetarian food. It’s a major relief after Philly cheese steak and chicken sandwich for five weeks that I had to survive on at the client’s cafeteria. I could never shop enough provisions to cook at the motel because I had no idea of long I would be staying. Mike, my manager in the US knew my situation and was trying to stall my return to India so I would have a fighting chance to find sponsorship to work. N, my boss back in India was pressuring him to wrap up the assignment quickly so I could take charge of my newly expanded team. Every extra day that I got counted and timing was running out rapidly.
I ate almost a pound of turkey breast the last evening before getting on the bus because I did not have the heart to just throw out the food and had nothing to carry it out in. But there was more than that as well - I was depressed to the point that I did not feel like eating four meals a day and made do with just a couple. But it was such a gross feeling eating so much meat at one go that the veggie food was the welcome andidote.
Overstaying Without Plans
I find fairly quickly that they expected me to be gone in a week – bags and all. These were bags I had left behind at V’s when I had gone back to India with J a few months after she was born. Back then, I had no definite return plans - I counted my blessings to be able to escape a marriage that was killing me. I tell V and S that I am not sure how the deal with the one employer who had agreed to sponsor will pan out. Having put my money and time into it – I want to stake it out a few more days. I try hard not to be in their way, locking myself upstairs as long as S is around the house. I make myself useful in the kitchen, generally try to blend with the background and be as unobtrusive and helpful as possible.
However, not having been trained in the art of being a butler Islip up sometimes and get too busy in my own world trying to make sense of my life's mess. One memorable incident is V telling me not to mind the sounds coming out of their bedroom at night. She proceeds to describe the creaking sounds their bed made. I am not sure why it is necessary to impress upon me that they were married and had sex - is that not a given ? It leaves me quite dumbfounded.
This is shortly after her tirade about how I had misrepresented my real intent of the stay - apparently they had thought I was vacationing with them before returning to India. She berates me about how I should have had firm plans about leaving before I came. I beg for three weeks which is the most my visa would allow.
I am woman of slender means. I have saved up on the small daily allowance my company provided for my business trip and have some money in a bank from two years ago. My survival depends on being able to manage my limited resources well until I find work. I remember how she did not look convinced when I said "You do realize that I have a one year back home and a job so becoming an illegal in this country is not an option I am considering."
Having managed expectations of difficult clients, bosses , husband and in-laws I had not counted on this one being exceptionally tough –but by God on the tenth day the dam burst and V gives me a real dressing down. It is couched as a well meaning and friendly advice but the simple summary was “You’ve overstayed our hospitality and you better find out when you’re getting out of here”.
She is clearly acting under duress and I have no heart to even be upset at her. Later that evening we have a more detailed discussion with S and they think I should consider moving to a woman's shelter for the rest of my stay. They will be glad to give me a ride to the place. "I don't think I would qualify for a woman's shelter. They are for women facing a domestic situation threatening their lives."
The Fringe Existense
I am unable to comprehend how that could have seemed an option to them. I want to tell V that "those women" are not lepers, you too could be one of "them" very easily - that "they" were not fringe people and neither was I. All we needed was to be given a chance to regroup and pick up the broken pieces of our lives. "They" just like you had once been married, possibly even happily so. I hold my peace instead. I let V bask in the ivory tower of marriage.
I have been dealing with her mood swings on a daily basis even before this happened. There were days when she’d get her own breakfast and not even bother to ask me to help myself.
I usually went upstairs with a glass of water which I assumed was gratis. She’d do the same at lunch time and her mood was so foul that I did not dare to ask her what was wrong. I feel like a beggar having to slouch to the fridge and pick up something to appease the raging hunger – obviously she does not think it was worthwhile cooking for one such as myself and I eat whatever was left over in any order – I have to merely sustain myself to be able to continue the fight that I have started. I wonder if my cause is indeed worth all this.
The attic where I sleep at night does not have any heating and it is the middle of winter. Some nights I put all my coats, gloves and socks in many layers and still shiver. I mention the room heating or the lack of it once and V says it is working just fine – they will toast alive in their bedroom if it is turned up any further. I pray to God to spare me coming down with pneumonia or worse. The last thing I want is to fall ill and be at their mercy.
Every time my energy flags or I feel like I could go no longer, I call my mother – just to hear her voice gives me strength and to hear J say “Mammam” makes the impossible seem suddenly within reach. Between the two of them, even from ten thousand miles away - they keep me going. Every day is a lifetime and every inch is a light year.
And yet there wer times when I felt that I could not live in that live wire tension anymore and would ask if I had done had upset her – I just wanted to feel like a human being with some self respect and dignity – I was amazed at how low I had stooped and I wondered at my feelings for the man who had caused this to happen.
Is it not natural for me to feel murderous with rage ? Why did I not feel anger any more ? What had suddenly been sapped of my system ? Anger in it’s latent form is like coiled energy and I have none of it left – it was all dissipated a long time ago. I am like a snake without venom and I feel the need to build some up. All at once I realize that I can never do it again –it is gone for ever. I don’t have the any strength left to even get angry. Most of those conversations ended with me crying until I could cry no more - I am desperate, I am lonely and I need someone to tell me that it will work out for me - that it will all come together in the end. V asks me to stop and get a grip on myself.
In sharp contrast to this mode of operation was another in which she and S were genuinely trying to help me in any way possible particularly getting me job leads, taking me out of myself – talking to me , trying to think of various options and how I could build my future. Those were warm, friendly discussions and took place in the kitchen or their living room and I felt like I was an integral part of their family.
They had just started living together after a year of being married and never once did anything that made me feel like I was in the middle of someone’s honeymoon. At those times I felt blessed to have such wonderful friends. I did not feel like a guest at all and S would go all the way to make my dosa just right so I’d take a second helping. They introduced me to their friends and family and I felt nice and included.
This was so like the pattern of abuse in my marriage. One day R would be the most thoughtful, generous and loving husband a woman could want – it was living a Hallmark card moment in real life. Within hours the same man could be a viscous monster who could drain everything positive from our relationship turning our verdant garden into a stony wasteland.
The day I left, V said to me "I hope you will let me know when things ease up in your life - when you might someone again. I don't want to be the person you think of only when times are bad." I said "Ofcourse I will, V. We go back a very long way to ever forget each other".
Thinking of V
Over the years, I have thought of V specially about the state of her marriage that concerned me even back then. When things have been rough, I have thought about my nights in her cold attic and consoled myself that I have been through much worse and survived it. As much as she did not want to, V will remain associated with my life's lowest nadir and the three weeks in her home will remind me of the strength and resilience I never knew I had until the odds had so fully stacked up against me.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Ten years of decayed love
float in her eyes. She looks
at me like time were still.
Her shoulder blade like an
ivory sword cutting, hurting.
I tell her to take care, look
beautiful again, first love
of my life, my wife, mother
of my sons. We exchange
bitter words without passion.
I turn home a sad dreamless
man - she breathes reconciliation
dares not say we be together
again but her eyes do - she
knows I hear too. Maybe she
does nothing and I cue wrong.
We both wish for time to wrap
on itself, give us back a decade
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Whatever it was should be the gold standard for penalizing kids elsewhere who like his kids go Limewiring and YouTubing. The punishment for adults would be an easy extrapolation.
Maybe everyone in the business recognizes that illegal downloads are not such a bad thing after all and going after the illegal downloaders is just a way to keep sue happy corporate lawyers busy and earn their keep.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
We had a healthy count of mechanical engineers in our graduating class. A lot of them went into IT directly and the majority of those who started out in manufacturing drifted into IT over time. Even ten years ago, being employed in the manufacturing industry spelt a kind of career death knell that everyone tried to avoid. It won't be surprising if the destinations of exported manufacturing jobs face the same hardships that the industry in US is facing today.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Everyone has a favorite word or expression and now there is a way to connect with others who share the your peeves and passions
Kids seem to have a natural talent for coming up with the most amusing analogies and ascribe the strangest meanings to conventional similes as this set of images of idioms prove. Wordie should go one step further and have people come up with alternative similes - maybe fifty different spins on as dead as a doornail.
Surely there are things deader by far than a doornail - as dead as a recomposted zombie chicken for example - a dire testimony to the complexity of modern times.
Monday, December 04, 2006
If not anything else, it would make us less predictable and boring in our choices. I loved reading A Confederacy of Dunces and it seems like I'd most likely hate The Baby Book - until I read it and dislike it, the theory won't be proven but it is intriguing all the same. I wonder what parameters go into the decisioning logic.
It takes a conscious effort to try something different at my favorite restaurant specially when the ingredients in the recipe don't appear to jive to me. I don't want to risk being disappointed when I could leave perfectly delighted. An unsuggestor might say "Its nothing like your favorite thing on the menu but you will be amazed all the same"
The only time I have ventured outside my preferred color palette in my wardrobe was when I was gifted something - but for that I would have never known that aquamarine looked rather nice on me.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
The pool of institutions in India that gives their graduates the wherewithal to get a decent job is a little bigger than what this NYT article will have you believe. However, the report is directionally accurate. Post independence the class divide in India has been about having a placeless English accent or a thick local one. The opportunities that come to the former are orders of magnitudes apart from those that do to the later.
Local state governments, for various political reasons and misguided efforts at bolstering national pride make English inaccessible to students up to high school level. Once these kids get into college, the language handicap proves too much to overcome and they never make it to the uber-class level despite having comparable merit.
The bulk of recent graduates being from the lower class causes frustration to be rife both among employers and employees. Whereas, the specific job skills required to be successful at a call center or BPO operation are very simple and easily teachable, overhauling the cultural conditioning that comes from lack of exposure to an westernized school system and English language often proves impossible. Parents lacking the means to send their children to a decent English medium school can seriously limit their future employment prospects.
The exceptionally talented of the under class do make it to the big companies, may write world class software as well but they would not rise to any significant management levels in the organization - their oral and written communication skills would prove woefully inadequate. It is not cool to present in a local Indian language even to an all desi audience.
The language gap in India is a manufactured problem to a large extent. If we had the sense to allow the multitudes to speak and write in a language they were most comfortable in instead of making them feel like pariahs in the corporate world for not being fluent in English, we would have made better use of our talent pool.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
My current consulting gig involves a shared workspace because the client is big on the benefits of collocation. It has been a fun experience for the most part because the team has at least one stand-up comedian and several wannabes. The decision makers are within earshot and all it takes is a holler to get their attention and answers. As with all good things, there are some downsides as well. The guy who sits closest to me has been curious about my marital status for the past several months that we've worked together .
He is the sophisticated desi who went to IIT but is not obsessed over his alma mater like a lot his ilk are, has informed opinions about things technical and otherwise but is not abrasive or arrogant. V is a competent, courteous professional who has lived and worked around the world and has seemingly benefited from his exposure to different cultures.
A couple of days ago he took me by complete surprise by asking "Does your husband follow cricket ?". This was the first time that he asked me any kind of personal question - he has never so much as enquired about J. I did a double take before managing to say "I don't know, I am divorced". Having known V as long as I have, I expected him to say "I'm sorry" or some such and move on to the next thing. Instead he exclaimed "Divorced ! I would have never thought. You don't look like it. How do you manage by yourself and raise a child alone ?"
I asked "Why is being divorced a big deal in this day and age ? Lot of people are and they get along just fine - specially in this country. Raising a child alone can be very satisfying and fulfilling. I don't think of J as a chore or burden at all." V had apparently still not recovered from what he had heard and repeated "I can't imagine someone being divorced and raising a child alone". I had to repeat myself slowly this time so he got it "Like I said, its getting to be very common and raising a child alone is not as difficult as you think it is". It took him a while to shift gears and find something else to say.
The tension between us is palpable now that the state of my matrimony (or the lack of it) has been fully disclosed leaving nothing to conjecture. The one thing I look away from that conversation was "You don't look like it". I am not sure what he had expected to see in a divorced woman that he had apparently not found in me - obviously that had contributed to his shock and incredulity at the news. When I look in the mirror, I sometimes notice tiredness from constantly being overworked and under-rested but other than that I don't see myself any different from when I was single years ago.
Marriage had drained my vital energy, transformed me into a person that I was not - I no longer looked or felt like myself. My confidence in my abilities was at its all time low and declining. In my pictures from back then, I have this sad expression of someone who has been trapped and yearns for freedom. I recognize that look in many married women around me. It is the look that exuberant new brides unstoppable, unshakable and unwavering in their hopes from marriage sometimes acquire in five or six years.
I think V would have felt vindicated if I looked miserable, frustrated and despondent in a way even trapped wives do not. Maybe he does not get how not having a husband could make so little difference to me - atleast going by external appearances. It must have bothered him greatly that I was getting along just fine without one. I have to wonder if that made him think about his worth to his wife who fortunately stays at home to raise their six year old.
Friday, December 01, 2006
I was forwarded a joke recently about a smart alec desi who offers his new Rolls Royce as collateral for a $5000 loan to a bank in NYC. Two weeks later he returns the amount and $15 interest and takes his car back from the bank's underground garage. Turns out that the dude is a multi-millionaire with the smarts to figure the best way to park a car for less than $20 for two weeks in NYC.
At first I laughed at the ingenuity and but the car park, NYC and desi dude trigged some not so pleasant recollections. Five years ago, my cousin Sumi graduated from Wharton and was dating a desi classmate. The boy was the kind of son-in-law that scores high with the family. Good looking, polite, smart, articulate and friendly. He had found work in Wall Street and Sumi's family lived one of the nicest parts of NJ.
I remember seeing this big black truck on their driveway when I was visiting with them one weekend. It belonged to Vineet, her boyfriend. Inside, they were sitting on the couch watching TV as my aunt was getting dinner ready. Introductions were made. Vineet had made a great impression on the family. That weekend he helped Sumi paint her room. I was a little shocked to see that they slept in her room at night with the parents and visitors at home.
My uncle noticed my unease at the arrangement and commented "These kids are so Americanized that its no big deal to them. We have learnt to take these things in stride". I was embarrassed that he had thought it necessary to provide me an explanation or excuse for Sumi's behavior and wished I had been more opaque in my reaction. I was amazed at the selective "Americaniztion" of this utterly Bengali family who lived like they were still in Calcutta after thirty years of living in the US. Once inside their home - particularly at the dinner table, you would be hard pressed to remember that you were not in India.
I had chance to meet Vineet at breakfast the next morning with Sumi fussing over him, making sure that he had eaten well. We chatted about his new job and his new found independence living and working in NYC. He had a small studio in the city and kept his car parked at Sumi's because he did not need it except for the weekends. I could tell that this whole arrangement with her was a matter of convenience. He was getting friendship with "benefits" and free parking just for being nice to her and her totally gullible family.
Had I been closer to my aunt and uncle I would have given them my read on him but that was not meant to be. They were already planning Sumi's wedding with him like it were a foregone conclusion. I would hate to dampen their enthusiasm with my skepticism. My aunt said to me "They will be married by next December. I need to make a shopping trip to India. Sumi won't have the time to come with me".
I asked her if she had met Vineet's parents yet. "Oh, he has not told them anything about her yet. They are very conservative people so he has to break it to them gently" she explained. Her naiveté left me paralyzed with fear. I had no idea how they would deal with the bursting of their bubble - I hoped it happened sooner than later so they would hurt less.
Two years later, Vineet moved to Boston and out of Sumi's life. Like her parents, she could not fathom why everything changed as soon as he left NYC. With the black truck gone, there was enough room for my car on the driveway. Inside Sumi was recovering from heartbreak and her parents from profound disappointment.
Like the desi of the joke, Vineet had found the best deal for long term parking just outside NYC with home cooked food on the weekends and a live-in girlfriend thrown in for good measure.