Thursday, August 30, 2007

Smart Kid

My reaction to the news of a seventeen year old kid hacking the iPhone to where it can operate with any wireless service provider was one of unabashed admiration. More power to you, kid ! I'm sure a lot of folks shared that sentiment. People usually like a David versus Goliath style contests and to root for the underdog.

I am no Apple acolyte but I love the aesthetics of the iPhone. To find out that it only works with AT&T - a provider I would go to great lengths to avoid, was very disappointing. It may be a matter of time before the kid and others like him are able to set up shop to sell unlocked iPhones for a price. For a generation that has come to view their right to all things open source as self-evident, enforcing intellectual property would need considerable imagination. Unleashing a crack legal team upon violators may be one of the worst ways to do it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Old Friend

While clearing up my mailbox last evening, I found this note sent to myself with a poem by e.e cummings. The date is Jan 26 2001. I am no longer able to recall why this poem felt specially significant at the time. I do remember having found out about a week earlier that I was pregnant and feeling delirious with joy. The mail is sent from my work address at 11:51 A.M which would be my lunch hour.

As I read this again after six years, I love it just as much. It is like meeting an old friend after a long time. At first you awkwardly seek the comfort zone you once shared and can't seem to find now. After a while, habit takes over and the time that you spent away from each other turns immaterial. You are able to find the person you were when you last met.

not even the rain, has such small hands.
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands

--e.e. cummings

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Best Sites

There are some nice new discoveries for me in Time's list of the 50 best web sites for 2007.

GrandCentral is a great idea for managing the three of four phone numbers many of us have. A "free one-number-ringing-multiple-phones routing service" presents the perfect solution for the confusion we are faced while deciding which number to give whom.

SimpleWeather is nice just for reason the name suggests - simplicity. There is way too much clutter in typical weather reports for a common person trying to make some simple decisions based on what the day may be like outside.

My favorites
LastFm and Etsy made the list. Joost might be what I can tune into on those rare occasions when I miss having a TV at home to watch the news. All the advantages, little to none of the nuisance that the boob-tube is about. My favorite has to be CellSwapper. They should have something along these lines for people to get out of all sorts of onerous contracts - apartment leases come to mind easily but I'm sure there are plenty of others.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Life In A..Metro

Watched Life In A..Metro . My expectations were set high as it came recommended by an assortment of people as "not your typical Bollywood flick". With that said, I was quite unprepared for the on-screen Jatra as this turned out to be. What's up with the shaggy haired dudes that break into song willy-nilly and completely drown the dialog with their noise ?

I had to turn on the subtitles so I could follow the story-line. Not a big loss really when I think about it being that the essence of the story is "In metro India, people are sleeping around in daisy chain formations" The sleep deprived call center workers are in the thick of this action and family units around them are collapsing like so many packs of cards. Up until this point, you bear with Anurag Basu, even with that cacophonic band that breaks into "song" whenever. You hope he will have something useful to say by closing credit time.

That expectation turns out to be somewhat misplaced. The sub-plots are riddled in cliché. Shipa Shetty is love-lessly married to a cheating husband. She comes that close to succumbing to temptation but goes back home to be the ideal desi wife who forgives and forgets all. The husband however does not hesitate to walk out on her as soon as she tells him about her fling and returns home only when his mistress dumps him. That's just the kind of role model, young Indian women need to feel equal and empowered in marriage.

Irfan Khan decides to bolt out his arranged marriage in full wedding regalia to follow the true love of his life. What about the hapless bride and commitments previously made to her ? Just a minor detail I am sure but that must be exactly the kind of man that would make a terrific husband. Basu even throws in a live-in older couple for good measure to drive home the message of death and decay of the institution of marriage in India. As a pantomime of modern life in India, this is a reasonable fare. But to be called serious or good cinema would really be pushing it.

Not sure if it was Basu's intent, but a lot of desis seem to believe that the story is an accurate portrayal of society in urban India today and not merely a lift of the 1960 Hollywood movie "The Apartment". We may be the third world but surely we are not 50 years behind the west.

Some have decided to divorce their wives because they worked in call centers before marriage making the matter of their morals a foregone conclusion as this movie depicts. In fact, Life In A...Metro gets cited in their rationale to end the marriage. Now that is an achievement for any movie to become the Kinsey Reports of its times, even if its audience is the Bollywood-crazed desis.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lite And Heavy

I am more fanatic than fan when it comes to Spielberg. The possibility of an objective review coming from me is distinctly remote so I won't even try. I loved Catch Me If You Can for all the reasons that make any Spielberg movie so special. The story is of course fascinating. With the title score, John Williams introduces an ear bug that will stay with you for days afterwards - it is the kind of music you remember and instantly recall. Just the music and the Pink Panther-esuque opening credits makes this a movie to remember (it features among the twenty five best typographical title sequences). Everything thereafter is a bonus.

Then a few days later, I watched Million Dollar Baby thinking it would be a hard movie for me to like because of the theme. I have neither any interest nor understanding of boxing. How completely wrong I was ! Though so overtly about boxers and boxing, it is quite astonishingly not about any of that at all. It could be the story about a woman who has nothing in the world except one burning passion - which is to be a boxer, a man who wants to redeem himself, about friendships, love and betrayal. You watch, you are overcome by sadness and you remember.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Death By Toys

A child playing with toys and a man hanging himself to death are possibly the most unrelated actions and yet recently the two met briefly in the wake of Leo Mattel recalling some toys manufactured in China. It would not be impossible to see this event as a act of God. Maybe it is time for adults to stop plying children with endless number of toys that become their first acquaintance with conspicuous consumerism.

Maybe if the fear of lead based paints grows widespread colorful toys will be shunned and imagination will get a chance to thrive again in the lives of children. Children have such an amazing capacity to amuse themselves without any help from adults or toys. It is a shame that we choose to stunt this inborn faculty instead of allowing it to blossom. We take away from them their ability to be happy without anything material when we suffocate them in material excess in the form of a roomful of toys.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Disneyfication Of J

Back in the day wild horses could not drag J to watch a Disney flick. She totally detested Shrek. Lion King fared only marginally better. The general theme was one of disinterest and boredom. Those were the days when she listened to Brahms and could recognize Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

J was the also the one who made me listen to jazz and swing and start enjoying it. But for her I would have never known the music of John Coltrane. We watched Paper Clips together and for days afterwards she asked me questions about the Holocaust and tried to imagine the number of people measured by a paper clip for each victim. The idea of reducing a human life to so trivial an object was unconscionable to her. That was then and this is now.

A combination of factors including but not limited to a stint at a below par day care center, friends with Disney themed bedrooms and DVD collections to match have been the undoing of J's musical tastes and much more. She no longer perks up at the sound of good music as she once used to. She has no recollection of musicals and concerts we have been to within the last couple of years. I know I am a demanding parent but the child has never let me down. It has always worked out.

Since being subject to continuous play of Happy Feet, High School Musical and Over The Hedge, something has fundamentally changed for my child. I have this wholly bizarre conspiracy theory about how Disney et al are out to pulverize the brains of the children so their minds can be controlled and manipulated as desired by purveyors of consumer goods and services even when they become adults.

My friend D called me a "super crazy mom" when I told her about the conversation I had with J about the deleterious effects of watching Disney flicks at the rate nearly forty hours a week. This has been a sensory overload for her to say the least being that there has not been a television in our household for the last four years. I told her that she was suffering from loss of memory (as in not being able to recall the Ravi Shankar performance we had watched two years ago and the Latin Jazz concert about a year ago) because her brain was being pulped slowly and steadily by Disney fare.

If she did not stop while she still had her chance she would enter a persistent vegetative state and would have to be institutionalized. Needless to say, in that state she would not be able to recognize family and friends or even know what her name was. Before long J was shedding copious tears and looking seriously concerned about her future.

I know this is one time-strapped single mom against the system but I am not ready to throw in the towel yet. Since the time we watched
Supersize Me, J has not asked to go to a fast food joint. The fear factor is high enough to keep temptation at bay. I do indulge her occasionally but it is nowhere close to "industry standard"

I will need to watch for change in patterns after the brain pulping conversation and hope for the best for both of us.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Seeking Balance

You know that balance has been wanting in your life when you have gone from eating out seven to eight times a week to once in seven to eight weeks, for having airport lounges being an extension of your living room to not being on a plane for close to three years. Yet the lack of balance does not disturb you in ways that you might expect to, there are no forces of adjustment at play and that creates the illusion of equilibrium.

The signs of unrest and discontent are so subtle that you almost miss them. You are routinely disappointed by the food when you do eat out and your own cooking is death by ennui. You tell yourself you would have traveled more if vacation time was more abundant and airfares were not so ridiculously high.

You look at the picture of a peddler pouring tamarind syrup from an urn with a spigot on a Cairo street in
Mediterranean Cookery by Claudia Roden. It fills you with wanderlust and longing for soul food at the same time. It is a sign perhaps of wanting to root for comfort and branch out into the unexplored for adventure.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bought Out

The irony in this Herald Tribune article about fears of overseas funds buying up America, is undeniable. For a country that has played big brother pretty unabashedly for the longest time, it is naturally distressing to have other countries usurp that role. If not anything, the new order will take some getting used. The story reads quite a bit like a Michael Moore diatribe minus the histrionics. The scenarios being considered are :

...what would happen if China took over a U.S. pharmaceutical company and pressed for changes in prescription drug programs. Likewise, what would the reaction be if an Arab government demanded a bailout or tax break for its company in return for supporting peace talks in Iraq or Israel?'

You have to wonder if this "buyout" of America will generate the kind of backlash outsourcing of manufacturing and technology services jobs have. The only difference is the blame cannot be shifted to a nameless, faceless foreign workers in a third world country who work for really cheap because they do not aspire for a first world lifestyle.

Maybe the buyout has already taken place only the effects have not percolated down to where it becomes self evident even to the average person who depends on CNN and Fox News to tell them what is going on in their world and what they should be worried about.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Clean And Uncluttered

A jumbled mass of wires and cables sprout in my living room. I have tried to obscure them the best I can but it is still quite an eyesore. One of these hubs that look like a stylized potted plant would be just the remedy I seek. This combined with a pair of slippers that mops and cleans as I go (a carpet cleaning function would be a perfect addition), and the feng shui of my apartment would greatly improve.

Ofcouse, the toys and artwork (random pieces of colored paper) will not pick themselves up and J's friends will ask to eat five different things in the span of fifteen minutes or less leaving bowls of uneaten and half eaten food all around the house. But then I wouldn't be earning much "good Mommy karma" if I was not constantly cleaning up after brats - mine as well as the ones she brings home.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Dead Weight

In the story Town Car from the collection Wall Street Noir ( a nice collection of short stories exploring the dark side of how business gets done on Wall Street - in many ways the opposite of the CNBC edition) , David Noonan writes.

The last thing he wanted was a girlfriend with nothing to do, calling him six times a day, sitting in front of the TV all night wondering why he couldn't spend more time with her,carefully watering her boredom until it bloomed into glorious hysteria. Heather was too busy for that shit.

These are the thoughts of a man who has a trophy wife at home and all the trappings of a normal life. Heather is his mistress and he compares making love with her to working out a couple of hours at the gym. This also happens to be his alibi for when he is visiting her.

While Heather's being too busy to turn hysterical for love and attention works great for this married man, the sentiments would find resonance with a lot of others who are emotionally unavailable in their relationships. They seek the comfort of having a significant other in their lives but are unable or unwilling to invest emotionally in this person.

It really aggravates them when the aggrieved party expresses their desire for more out of their relationship, sometimes to the point where breaking up is the only recourse. The dead weight that renders emotional involvement in a relationship impossible can be a myriad different shapes and is only sometimes a spouse.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Shampoo Blues

I feel the sharpest pangs of homesickness whenever I am buying a bottle of shampoo. This is what coming to America has reduced me to - using shampoo for my hair regularly. Back at home it was always soapnut for the rinse and the pulp of fresh hibiscus leaves for conditioning. That was the perfect combination for my hair.

The only time the regimen changed was while traveling - I would have to make do with Sunsilk. How I miss the abundance of soapnut shells stored in a large red container in the pantry and the verdant hibiscus trees in the garden. What used to be a very inexpensive hair-care routine in India costs too much here for one thing, besides what it takes is not readily available in my neck of the woods.

Having used shampoo only in emergency for most of my life, I tend it view it with a great deal of suspicion. The ingredients read like a list of reagents in a chemistry lab that you would handle with care and caution. Definitely not what you would want to bring in contact with your hair and scalp. But here I am doing just that every single day and wincing each time.

No Impact Man has a formula for soaps, shampoos and detergents that can be made at home from mostly natural stuff. Elsewhere there are other herbal shampoo recipes. The basis for most is castile soap and I have seen this sold at the local health food store. Maybe there is a cure for shampoo aisle triggered home-sickness after all.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Imagining God

I was a child when I first started to imagine God as an infinite living organism. The universe was the body, the planets cells and human beings sub-cellular and smaller structures. It made things easier to grasp and make sense of. Part of me has never relinquished this idea. I still find it a good way to make sense of my own life and the world that I live in. When someone said Tat Tvam Asi before, it never quite registered. With God modeled after an organism in my head it became an obvious conclusion.

It now made sense that a butterfly fluttering its wings in the Chile could start or stop a tornado in Japan, that you could control your fate and fortunes by wearing gem stones that channeled planetary vibrations to your benefit. The laws of Karma fit in perfectly as well. It would have helped enormously if I had a good foundation in biology, the analogies could have been much more meaningful. I had to make do with the woefully little I knew.

When God sighed, everyone felt depressed, stock markets plummeted, wars erupted, natural calamities befell people. And then just as suddenly God may have had reason to smile and we might feel irrational exuberance, the dot com bubble would start to grow larger and reflect the colors of the rainbow, millionaires would be made every minute in Silicon Valley.

To remain in the best mental and physical health made it easier to feel the sense of unity with the larger body of which we were a part. When physical or mental illness took over, we malfunctioned and acted contrary to expectations often to the detriment of the whole. This
alternate hypothesis has humans as sub-routines of a large complex computer program someone has written and is controlling. Maybe that is another way to conceptualize God.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Wireless Electricity

The proliferation of wireless consumer electronic goods has intensified our need for unfettered mobility. The last tether that holds us back to the post is the power outlet. You still need to charge your fancy mobile devices. With wireless electrcity, we may have our wish for unlimited freedom to roam with our gizmos before long.

Imagine never having a battery die at an inconvenient time again. Even better being able to take a mini fridge and stove to a camping trip so you don't have to compromise on food just because you are several hundred miles from civilization. As long as you are within the wireless electricity network, the quality of your life will never suffer again.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Meal Ticket

I know quite a few single mother on the edge of despair and destitution because their ex-husbands refuse to pay child support. Your heart aches for them as you see them struggle to make ends meet, see that smile on their child's face that only an unexpected surprise can bring. There is a price tag attached to everything in their lives including that coveted angel smile. You want for them to be able to let go and relax for a while, enjoy the childhoods they nurture with their sweat and blood yet never really particapte in.

The passport renewal law that enforces payment of overdue child support is wonderful news for at least some women. According to the news article, there are several other instruments to make sure that the payments are made but as with any law there are loop-holes and men manage to escape their parental obligations for the price of a shrewd attorney.

Women just tire of fighting tooth and nail for what is rightfully due to her children and give up. They end up making decisions driven entirely by lack of money that hurt their children. Then there are women who will use their children as bait to extract as much as they can from a man they have grown to hate with more passion than they ever loved. I have known some women of this kind as well. No matter how much the father provides, it is never enough. When a family disintegrates the children inevitably suffer but nothing is nearly as painful as being reduced to a meal ticket for a parent.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cheese Making

I never fail to remind J that there is a time and place for everything. It is possibly the line she will remember me by when I am dead and gone given how frequently she hears it. Instead of having her breakfast she will break into a song and dance number from High School Musical well past eight on Monday morning. She will insist that I watch and applaud the performance instead of screaming at her to finish her milk and cereal.

Her sense of occasion is seriously lacking but then so is mine. Consider for example, a person walks into the grocery store with the express purpose of buying detergent because they are fresh out of it and laundry is only half way done. However instead of heading straight for detergent, they wander over to the natural foods aisle and go berserk upon finding goat milk on sale for a dollar a gallon. They at once proceed to stock pile so they can turn it to huge quantities home-made feta cheese. That person would be me.

It would not concern me in the least that I have zero cheese making experience. What is more, I would not be bothered to find or follow a good recipe because following instructions is not one of my better skills. I prefer to play it by ear, seat of the pants style specially when it comes to cooking. I remember my mother make cottage cheese at home, this can’t be any different. Since, this cheese making enterprise was not planned for during this week, I really have no time for it. I realize I have to be creative and work it into my schedule.

So while J regales me with Bop To The Top for the fifth time in a row and pretends her breakfast is a Barmecide's feast, and I get dressed for work, I start to boil the goat milk on the stove. Between corralling J back to the countertop to her breakfast, ironing my clothes and fixing my hair and makeup, I manage to keep an eye out on the milk so I can curdle it with lemon juice at the right temperature. I did read about rennet being a key ingredient in making cheese but was prompt to dismiss as a minor detail.

I tell J that we are going to have home made feta cheese and she lets out a squeal of delight because its her favorite kind of cheese. At this point she has abandoned the song and dance along with the breakfast and is very anxious to help me make cheese. She is trying to drag her chair into the kitchen so she can watch the goings on up close. All this at eighty thirty in the morning.

I know I have a nine fifteen meeting in a building where parking is tight. Why I would embark on feta cheese making at this hour on Monday is a question worth considering. Not being the one to leave a task half done, I finish up with the milk and note that it has completely failed to curdle. The chances of this thing turning into any kind of cheese look remote at this point.

I am fashionably late to my meeting but feel a deep sense of satisfaction about my accomplishments in the kitchen earlier. So what if things did not go as planned or expected, I know I can squeeze something that will look like cream cheese with some effort later in the evening while I am responding to the last few emails from work, getting J to eat her dinner, helping with her music lesson and running some chores on the side. There is never a time and place for anything in my life. I don’t have to look too far to see how J is the way she is.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

It Was Like This

The words of this poem have not left my mind since I heard it read by Nancy Pearl on NPR yesterday. So profound yet so simply stated, so beautiful yet not in the least ornate. The remarkable lucidity of her expression must mirror the intensity of Hirshfield's feelings. Nothing less could produce such sparkling clarity of thought.

It Was Like This: You Were Happy
By Jane Hirshfield


It was like this:you were happy,
then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent - what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness -
between you, there is nothing to forgive -
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.

It doesn’t matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Taking On Bollywood

Like some other readers who have commented on Tyler Cowen' s take on Hollywood's attempt to take on Bollywood on its own turf, I disagree with Cowen's reasoning. The slicker, better made movies coming out of Bollywood these days have modern (westernized) themes.
 

The cast speaks Hinglish for the most part and the audience is not complaining. At the confluence of American and Indian culture lies the improbable yet appropriate McDonald's lamb burger with curry that Cowen refers to. The desire to westernize is strong enough to reach such odd compromises and that might by key to Hollywood making a successful foray into the highly lucrative Indian movie industry.

Mainstream Bollywood has always been about hyperbole and not any realistic or accurate depiction of Indian society. There used to be parallel cinema for all of that artsy nonsense. A family oriented crowd pleaser has a formula that is varied upon but rarely abandoned. How hard is it for Hollywood to put that time-tested formula to work and jazz it up with some nifty special effects.

It is possible Hollywood would never get the cultural vibe of the Indian country-side, but that does not appear to be the target market. There would be no need to find a local story to appeal to the urban population. I find it very easy to see a Priety Zinta and Vivek Oberoi in the desi-fied version of Notting Hill for instance doing extremely well at the box-office.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Four Birthdays And A Lesson - Part 1

In response to my comment that I prefer to stay away from the mainstream desi because they don't know how to mind their own business, a friend forwarded me this speech by Narayan Murthy, highlighting a quote : A westerner can be friendly without being intimate while an easterner tends to be intimate without being friendly. This speech is essential reading for any desi who wonders what ails desidom at large. As for the Kipling quote that Murthy refers to and corroborates by his own experience, I could not agree more. I should know having been at the receiving end of much unsolicited intimacy from desis both here and in India.

I was working in Bangalore at the time, my parents with me to take care of J. I had bailed out of my marriage with a four month old and was back home trying to start life over. That was easier said than done. There was not a moment's respite for me or my family from reminders of what I did not have - namely a marriage and a husband. The vegetable seller was just as curious about my state of affairs as was my boss at work. Considering that the former was illiterate and the later attended business school at INSEAD, it was amazing how alike they were in their mentality vis a vis my situation. I had to believe it had to do with the only thing they had in common - being Desi.

J was turning one and I wanted a nice birthday party for her. I was new in the neighborhood and did not know a lot of people. There were some acquaintances from my old days in Bangalore. They knew me when I was single and were genuinely saddened by what had become of my marriage. It was a small, intimate gathering of old friends and my family and a garishly colored birthday cake (the baker had pulled out out all stops knowing it was the first birthday and completely ignored my request for icing to be baby pink and white).

My attempts at making new friendships with parents who had young kids had been entirely unsuccessful. As such, J was the only child on her first birthday. We took her to the temple. I remember being overcome by sadness on the way home. Her world had shrunk indescribably because of my decision to leave my husband. I feared that we would in time become an island inhabited only by the two of us, the sea of humanity around would barely touch us. This was not the life I had hoped or prepared for upon my homecoming.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Miracle Bra - Naina and Pradeeps' Story


Miracle Unvisited

"Us Indians are a marriage happy people. There is religious, social and the parental sanction to copulate with a perfect stranger on the wedding night. The elaborate rituals and the furious pace of events leading up to marriage makes the couple delirious. What under normal circumstances would be unthinkable seems perfectly reasonable in that condition. A truck load of jasmines and tuberoses were used to decorate my sister's bridal bed. These flowers are supposed to be aphrodisiac and are standard issue for weddings" Naina wrote to her friend Ginger in the wake of her sister Rajani's marriage.

She recalled the hickies on her neck and the sindoor smudged across her face as she emerged briefly from the room to go to the bathroom in what seemed a state of stupor. She had met her husband for the first time just a week earlier. The next morning Rajani changed colors like a chameleon to become the shy and demure daughter-in-law helping in the kitchen. The ravages of the previous night were well disguised by concealer. Ginger was an exchange student who had spent a year with Naina's family when she was in the ninth grade. They had stayed in touch ever since.

Two years later it was Naina's turn at delirium. Pradeep was on a three week trip to India to finalize a bride from a short-list of three. This parents had moved mountains to whittle down a list of twenty one prospects to "a manageable size". Naina was the second stop on his busy itinerary and he had looked no further. The wedding preparations that had been in a holding pattern in both households until that moment, were jump-started at once. A marriage had to happen in a week and there was no time to be lost.

So there she was in a state not any different from Rajani's after the deed was done. The smell of jasmine in the room was overpowering. It had been amazingly simple considering they were strangers to each other. Maybe it was the combination of fasting, praying, incense, sandalwood, flowers and the wedding mantras. Maybe they were destined to be man and wife forever so there was nothing unnatural about being in that state. While the physical consummation of marriage had been a breeze, the first post-coital conversation was quite a different matter.

"So do you think they're too small ?" Naina asked in a low voice.

"It's a basic pair - just about a handful. Works for me" Pradeep replied in a conversational tone.

"You mean you don't care they're not bigger" she asked somewhat incredulously.

"On a wife, that's a good size. I won't have to deal with men staring at your chest all the time. Mind if I go out for a quick smoke ?" he said as he fumbled around for his pack of Camel Lights.

They made a trip to the American Consulate to get her dependent visa stamped the next day. Naina had wanted to resume the conversation that night but it did not feel right. She did not want Pradeep to think the size of her mammaries was her life's most consuming concern. He was still awake but silent.

"What are you thinking ?" she asked.

"Oh nothing much. It will be hectic moving to the new apartment right after we arrive in Detroit. Good thing I don't have a lot of stuff but its a Friday so I won't get much help from my friends" he said.

"Why are you so quiet ? Did I do anything to upset you ?" he asked with some concern after several minutes of silence. It turned out easier to make love than to break conversation ice.

The flight was long and the layovers even longer. Pradeep's friends showed up during their lunch hour to help with the move. They had the weekend to get over jetlag and set up their new home. Pradeep returned to work on Monday leaving Naina behind with cable TV and internet for company.

In the months that followed, Naina had acquired a driver's license and some friends who like her were stay at home Indian wives. Ginger was excited to have her stateside and promised to come see her on the next long weekend. Pradeep's social circle had given her a warm welcome too. She was settling down in her new life and in her housewife role until one afternoon when she found a Victoria's Secret catalog addressed to Valerie Jennings in their mailbox.

Miracle Visited

Naina had seen Pradeep set other mail addressed to Valerie Jennings back on the mailbox with “Not this address” so the mailman could take them the following day. It was still several hours before he returned from work. Naina figured it would not hurt for her to browse through the catalog putting it back there to be returned. And it was that afternoon, she discovered the Miracle Bra.

She wished there were before and after images so she could ascertain the exact extent of the Miracle but it was evidently a pièce de résistance of the asset enhancement business. Why else would it be be a trademarked Miracle. She knew she had to see one of these things up close. With a credit card, she could have ordered one right away.

Her thoughts went back to the night of their wedding when Pradeep had decreed “Works for me” with such understated finality that it had been their last conversation on the subject. She knew he would not be excited about the Miracle. In fact, as she thought about it she realized she had no idea what his reaction might be.

Their relationship that had commenced in the bridal chamber had in the last several months acquired some other hues. There was a budding friendship along with playing at being a married couple to the world outside. When they were alone, they would let that mask drop and try to discover each other’s personalities, likes and dislikes. It was like jumping head first into a bottomless pool and then trying to fathom it.

Considered from a western worldview this relationship was all backwards. There was never any time spent getting to know each other before making a lifelong commitment to be together. Friendship was just beginning to catch up with physical intimacy. It would probably take them the next several years to forge a strong emotional bond. By then, the marriage would be old and they might even have become parents. It seemed to defy logic and reason to embark on such a thing and put a lifetime at stake.

Yet this was the time-tested way in India. It had worked for generations and was still the most popular way to find a spouse and not because people lacked the freedom to make independent decisions about their life. Both Pradeep and Naina came from very liberal families; their parents would have gladly accepted any partner they chose on their own.
No miracles were mentioned that evening in the Verma household and the catalog was trashed on second thoughts. In every new marriage comes a defining moment when the couple comes decisively closer or a wedges a little distance between them - in this case in the form of a trivial secret. Pradeep chatted about his day at work as he sat at the kitchen countertop watching Naina make tea.

“You know I’ve been thinking about going to grad school. This fall I would qualify for instate tuition ” Naina found herself saying as she handed Pradeep his cup.

“You could do that. Do you know what you want to major in ?” Pradeep asked. If he was surprised he did not show it.

“I was thinking Computer Science. That way I can get a job. Grad school is too expensive to attend for recreation” Naina replied. Her husband agreed. And a second income would be nice he added. Conversation moved on to other things. In a few week, like waves washing over sand dunes, Naina's desire for education and employment had been overlaid by the clamor of mundane, everyday things at least in her husband's mind.

Ginger came to visit them on the Memorial Day weekend as she had promised. While the girls caught up on a million things, Pradeep felt left out. It occurred to him that his wife had more things to share with this woman than she had with him. He had never seen her talk so animatedly since the time they were married. He was seeing a side of her that had he never known to exist.

It was when she and Ginger went shopping, that Naina had her chance to try on the Miracle Bra. Looking at herself in the mirror she wondered if men would stare at her chest instead of making eye contact. There was only one way to find out.

Miracle Revisited

Going by her demeanor that evening when she had briefly mentioned going back to school and finding work at some point, Pradeep had no way to be prepared for the events to follow in the next couple of years. Crippling morning sickness did not cause Naina’s GPA to waver at graduate school. She held steady at 3.9 and was among the first in her computer science class to land a job. Both sets of parents had visited and had been shown around the States in the couple’s non existent spare time with a colicky infant in tow.

The rhythm of their life had changed dramatically from the idyllic days when Naina first came to Detroit. Her day now started at 4:30 in the morning. She fed the baby, packed up everything he would need for the day and got ready for work. She was usually at her desk by 6:30 a.m. barring a major traffic snafu. Pradeep left for work around 11:00 and dropped their son off at the baby sitter’s on his way. Naina picked him up on her way back at 2:30 in the afternoon. Her husband got home past 7:30 in the evening.

This tag-team parenting was working out great for their child but not so well for their marriage or Pradeep’s career. He had to downgrade his job from a management position to that of an individual contributor so he could work the hours he needed to. There was no longer an evening tea time. On most days they were too exhausted to catch up on how the other’s day had been. Dinner was already on the table when Pradeep walked in the door. To him, that signaled the end of the day and it was the only time he saw his wife. He would be half asleep when Naina put the baby next to him in their bed at 5:30 in the morning. On a good day he would be flirty and for a moment it was like the early days of their marriage again.

“You feel big. What have you got on ?” he asked one morning

“Just a bra. What else ?” she replied nonchalantly.

“Let me feel it” Pradeep insisted.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Let go, I’m getting late. I don’t want to get stuck in traffic” Naina said as she struggled to pull herself free.

He walked up to the kitchen with her as she packed her lunch and breakfast.

“How long have you had it ? he asked her. He had not noticed the difference until now. It was winter and Naina usually had her coat on when she came in to lay the baby next to him in the mornings.

“Oh, I don’t know. I bought it a few months ago I guess. Why ?” Naina said. She found it hard to look at him in the eye as she spoke.

“I don’t understand the point. I know they’re not real and it does not even matter to me. Why would you do it anyway ?” he asked sounding genuinely perplexed.

“Can’t I just do it for myself because I wanted to ?” she asked as she picked up her car keys and got ready to leave.

“ You like the attention this gets you from other men who don’t know they’re not real ?” Pradeep asked. There was the mildest whiff of accusation in his voice.

“ I have not thought about that and right now I don’t have the time to discuss it. I really do have to leave to make it by 6:30” she said as she closed the door behind her.

After close to three years, the discussion around adequacy and importance of the size of her bust had resurfaced and with some vengeance this time around. He called her at work asking why she had not told him.

“What’s to tell, Pradeep ? I’m not sure why this is such a big deal. It is an article of clothing and not an affair I am having with another man. Can’t this wait until you get home this evening ? ” she whispered anxiously into the phone.

“I feel like I don’t know who I am married to anymore. This bra just does not jive with your personality at least as much as I know of it.I still don’t get why size would matter to you when it does not to me. You had asked on our wedding night and I told you exactly what I thought.Nothing has changed for me but something obviously has for you” Pradeep replied.

That evening, his tone was more assertive. He was talking about how a mother wearing Miracle Bra was an inappropriate image for their son to grow up with. Besides, the very thought of his wife padding her assets for the benefit of the world outside made him cringe.

“ I like you just the way you are naturally. You’re perfect. You don’t need any help. You know you are worth more than ten of those Victoria’s Secret models put together. Please don’t demean yourself” He tone was firm, polite and pleading all at the same time.

She continued to load the dishwasher and said nothing in response to all this but did wonder “what if” this conversation had taken place three years ago just before Pradeep had excused himself for a quick smoke leaving her alone in a room redolent with the smell of jasmines.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Bottled From Tap

Those of us who with withstood the withering looks of bottled water drinkers as we fill our cups and bottles at the community faucet can now feel vindicated. It is a good thing that Aquafina is disabusing its customers of their illusions about the source of their water but more likely than not, their customers will not care.

Aquafina tastes different than tap water and taste is an acquired thing. If people like it enough, they won't mind paying for it.Despite the "full disclosure" chances are customers will stick with what they have grown to like or move on to better things like Evian and Perrier if they are passionate about not drinking tap water.

Bottled water is mostly about convenience - sometimes it is just hard to come by a faucet just when you are dying of thirst. When grabbing a bite on the go (for cheap) you will need to pay for water or go thirsty. Unless more public water faucets are made easily available, Aquafina and the like will continue to make their sales. Maybe that's what corporate control of water is all about - keeping a public amenity tantalizingly out of reach of the public.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

On Gratitude

I had chance to browse through Celebrating Silence while waiting on J to finish her music lesson. The quote on Gratitude really got me thinking. The concept of saying thank you was alien to me until convent school teachers made sure I learnt my manners.

Thereafter, I have said (and felt) thankful in the world outside but cannot recall any time I have formally thanked my closest family. I used to wonder why "Thank You" feels so contrived and awkward at home with those I loved most when it comes spontaneously for perfect strangers. I may have found the answer I was looking for.

Gratitude


To thank someone implies separation. Thanking means there are two. If you are deeply thankful, it means you deeply feel the separation. Deep within there is no need to thank because there is oneness. But you can thank superficially. Thanks are like ripples on the surface of water.

When you say "thank you," you complete something. You are finishing a transaction, a relationship, a process ."Thank you" is like "goodbye." You can complete all transactions at a surface level, but deep inside there is only oneness.

Thankfulness always exists in relation to something else. Yo do not thank for nothing at all. you thank for something. But in this case, something is less than nothing.

At the deepest level, thanking has no meaning. Does one hand thank the other hand? The deeper you go, you see there is no "other" to be thanked.

- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in "Celebrating Silence"

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Dark Chocolate

Up until recently, I fought my chocoholism by avoidance. Avoidance of candy aisles in stores, of cubicles with come-hither candy jars at work. When on occasion, I succumbed I could go through half a pound of chocolate fast enough to scare myself. J has watched me transfixed as I've made a gigantic slice of Black Forest cake my dinner. When you abstain from your vice of choice for eight months in a row, such catastrophes are almost inevitable.

I rarely bought lacking both self-control and portion-control that it takes to make a chocolate a harmless indulgence for sensible adults. In fact, my utter helplessness in the face of a full bowl of candy often made me question my general competence as a parent. J will squirrel her supply of Halloween candy to last her for the rest of the year and still have plenty left over.

Then a few months ago, I discovered 90% premium dark chocolate and life has not been the same since. Much smaller portions satisfy my intense craving for a cocoa and I can eye an overflowing bowl of M&Ms at my coworker's cubicle with as much interest I as would her supply of paper clips. This has been an unbelievable transformation.

I have always liked dark chocolate but 90% cocoa is a whole different animal and I am totally loving what it has done for my tense and uncomfortable relationship with candy gratis and otherwise not to mention my wavering confidence in my child rearing abilities.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Cruel Joke

I am quite sure the supply chain and vendor management types had read the buzz about their would be strategic partner before making them one. Closer to the ground where the action is and the account manager places her four "on-site development bodies" for one fiscal year the picture is not nearly as rosy.

We get to deal with the said bodies ( a distinctly macabre term that I find hard to get used to even after so many years in the industry) every day and often wonder what we may done to deserve such punishment. Give them the simplest problem and they can turn it into a two hundred hour effort.
"That is besides integration and end to end testing" is the standard disclaimer that applies with all level of effort estimates. We analyst and project management types freak out and hit the roof in choreographed unison which is met with ill concealed contempt. To placate us the "lead" development body offers "We can reduce that by fifty hours if no documentation is required".

We ask about duration and are told it will be three weeks maybe four. We rush to remind him that there are four bodies offsite too working in tandem so there is twenty four hour coverage. The sun never sets on the development shop. Isn't that the Holy Grail of the outsourcing model of operations ? That makes it a six hundred and forty hour week. "Everyone is working at capacity" the lead tells us. "On what ?" we question in hysterical disbelief. He pulls out his well worn list. It is the same list of tasks that has been around as long as they have been and never seems to end. This bus will catch on fire he warns us should they stop working on the "urgent fixes". Though many of us privately think that would be for the best, we do not say so.

At first we would give them the benefit of doubt. Maybe they really know what they are doing. They are the techies. We would hold our peace and stay out their business. In time, the confidence proved dangerously misplaced. We got some serious attention from C-level execs on one notable snafu. That was our epiphany. Directors with C and Unix skills from the mid-80s rolled up their sleeves to see WTF was going on with the application.

The more we found out the more we wished we had not opened Pandora's Box. A couple of key themes emerged from this “deep dive” exercise. We had been given a set of eight bodies (for really cheap though thanks to unstinting efforts of the supply chain and vendor management types) who have the combined total IQ of hundred or less. But that is the good news. The really bad news is that they have absolutely nothing by way of common sense. That area is beyond darkness and void.

Their logic and reasoning is bizarre to the point of being surreal. Yet for reasons we don't fully understand (or even want to), the organization perseveres with this crew of eight who never understand what is required of them, continue to produce goo-gobs of completely indigestible code, compensate for their extraordinary ineptitude by working very, very long hours. We are told they are so cheap that we could add half a dozen bodies offshore to "beef up" the development team.

We ask why we can't use the same amount of money to get one seasoned local programmer onsite who can actually get the job done. The answers we get make little sense but we know about a turf war raging several levels higher. Some people want other people to fail spectacularly and so they are being given enough rope to hang themselves with. With the weight of these eight uncommonly obtuse development bodies death by hanging becomes inevitable and that is the exact rationale for keeping them on payroll. The rest of us are quite dispensible.

As for the buzz, we still wonder what that is all about. We check the dateline on the story to make sure it was not an All Fools Day joke. Someone surmises it must be an attempt at an emerging genre called Outsourcing-satire. We worry about our own sanity and wonder if depletion of common-sense could be contagious. It is generally acknowledged that our business analyst has been acting very strange lately.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Favorites Blogs

There are still a lot of folks who are not into blogs and don't get what the fuss is all about. WSJ has a great reading list culled from the favorites of twelve commentators that might interest this kind of person enough to check it out.

There are some blogs you visit regularly just for the links to other interesting blogs. I usually start my day with Kottke and love his new dynamic list of recently visited sites. I used to like his content when I first discovered him some years ago but increasingly it is his reading list that keeps me returning - maybe it is the only draw at this point.

Washington Post has a list of reader's picks - many of which are plugs by individuals for their own blogs and in as such not very credible. The Forbes top ten includes the who’s who of blogosphere which renders the list predictable and boring. Guardian's is a little more interesting. Cataloging the vast and constantly expanding blogosphere is difficult if not impossible - everyone who reads blogs has a list of favorites and there are lists of lists.


Even so, most navigation systems around blogosphere are like measuring the ocean with a thimble. There is always an undiscovered gem that never made it to any list of repute. It turns up in the results of an odd Google search. You find and you keep your secret treasure.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

People Power

In the late seventies and early eightees, clusters of "uemployed youth" shooting the breeze was a common site on the Indian roadside culvert. Though they did not bother us kids, adults found them very annonying. I had once overheard a conversation in our living room that went "Someone should come up with a way to harness the energy of these louts. If not anything they could pour water from the sea to a human powered turbine to generate electricty"

While I was not quite able to picture this fantastic operation, I caught the general drift. It was all about making this idling sea of humanity expend their calories to some productive end. The gentleman's wish has now come true thanks to the efforts of MIT.

A Crowd Farm in Boston's South Station railway terminal would work like this: A responsive sub-flooring system made up of blocks that depress slightly under the force of human steps would be installed beneath the station's main lobby. The slippage of the blocks against one another as people walked would generate power through the principle of the dynamo, a device that converts the energy of motion into that of an electric current.

Clearly, the disgruntled bhadralok was onto something, he just didn't know how to make it work.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Kissing

Apropos of what had seemed like a strong emotional connection at the time, I had meant to send someone this link on the therapeutic effects of a good kiss but desisted. This was to become a pattern between us - his response to something I had done or said spontaneously would be completely rehearsed and several days in coming. In response, I stopped being natural. I had sought this man out while still hurting from an emotionally intense relationship that had every sign of being "the one" but (inexplicably) had not worked out.

So here I was with someone who was totally the wrong type for me - cold, dispassionate, withdrawn to the point of being emotionally comatose. That was all I had capacity for while the wounds were still raw. He never realized that my heart was elsewhere. For me, it was just perfect to have him around to talk for a bit a few times a week and not need to get involved in the conversation or with the person. He provided no more than ambient noise and distraction in my life but it was what I wanted most. I had the time I needed to recover.

But when I was done healing, I sought more out of this thing we now had going failing to accept that he was not going to morph into my kind of man just because I was now ready. Given his personality, he was already doing the best he could. While he was the perfect rebound guy he was not the one for the long haul. Knowing how hard it was for him to articulate his feelings, I thought it best to spare him the treatise on the kiss and let it just be. Some things are best left to die without the nurture of fond reminiscence.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Atypical Hero

Many have bemoaned the lack of strong role models for young people these days and that there are no real heroes anymore. Reading about Charles Simic made me wonder we should teach our children to think of this poet laureate as a hero. Not simply because of the honor that was bestowed upon him. He was born in 1954 making him as old as some of their grandmothers.

Compared to the demanding pace of success where dot-com millionaires were made at twenty five and under, this achievement would not even qualify to be called one - to arrive late is to have not arrived at all. Yet some things in life are worth waiting for. Children need to be told that instant gratification is for Ramen noodles and Snickers bars from the vending machine. It does not a poet laureate make. What you don't spend the best part of your life achieving and earning is not likely to bring real or lasting happiness.
Simic says of his poetry :

My poems (in the beginning) are like a table on which one places interesting things one has found on one's walks: a pebble, a rusty nail, a strangely shaped root, the corner of a torn photograph, etc. ... where after months of looking at them and thinking about them daily, certain surprising relationships, which hint at meanings, begin to appear. These objets trouves of poetry are, of course, bits of language. The poem is the place where one hears what the language is really saying, where the full meaning of words begins to emerge. That's not quite right! It's not so much what the words mean that is crucial, but rather, what they show and reveal.

How blessed to have one's calling to be able to ponder over the ordinary things from daily life and being able to find extraordinary relationships between them.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Faked Brands

My mother and I often trade used bags when we visit each other. It is an easy way to alleviate "bag boredom" without having to go shopping for new ones all the time. This time she gave me a fabric and leather one in tan and brown. It is very roomy but chic and ideal for taking to work. A designer knock-off bought for really cheap from some roadside stall in India, it looks like a cross between a Chanel and a Gucci number.

From a distance it is hard to recognize the pattern on the fabric. Up close you can tell that it looks like neither and is a fake that is not even trying too hard to pass for the real thing. There are no brand labels anywhere. This could pass for an inspired by thing rather than a faithful imitation. Its amusing when women stop to ask me if it is a Gucci or a Chanel and then that priceless look on their face when I tell them it is neither. Used to be that reproducing famous brands was difficult and fake could be spotted a mile away, not any more.

J needs a new backpack before school starts and we were looking at the offerings at the store. Since High School Musical is her current most favorite thing she naturally wanted the one with a picture of the cast on the front. I told her firmly that we were going to have to stick with generic stuff and would not pay to endorse any brand, product or a label. She had no idea what I was talking about and was rather crestfallen. It did not help that her friend was with us at the store and vociferously seconded J's choice of the High School Musical backpack.

We ended up picking something really plain and customized it. I showed her how she could use appliqué, beads and paint to make her backpack look completely different from what anyone else has. I think I may have convinced J that she is now the proud owner of her very own designer line. With luck, she will find the idea appealing even as she grows up in a society where name brands and designer label are worshipped like Gods.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

As You Like It

The exotic location and multi-ethnic cast of Keneth Branagh's excellent adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It bears testimony to the timeless quality of the play. It is hard to watch this film and not be reminded of Peter Brook's Mahabharata. The epic is about the eternal conflict between good and evil. It made perfect sense therefore to use a cast from around to the world to convey the universality of the theme.

Love and romance is as independent of geographic location as it is of time. By taking the play out of the rigid confines of both, Branagh makes it more accessible to a much larger audience including those who are unfamiliar with Shakespeare. Even if the lines don't ring familiar to everyone the theme of love and romance surely will.

The characters seem very comfortable in their rendition of Shakespeare in unfamiliar surroundings and context. There is a distinctly modern sensibility and a casual vibe about the film despite the florid language. The scene celebrating the coming wedding of lovers and everyone's return to the court brings about a joyous and colorful finale to this imaginative variation on Shakespeare's As You Like It.