Friday, November 30, 2007
There is a connection between some couples that spark between them an arc of completion. They lack nothing when viewed individually but when you see them together you realize what had been missing. The whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. My uncle and aunt are one such couple I know. Together they have certain aesthetic and emotional balance that is obvious even to a complete stranger.
Unlike a lot of couples who fate conspires to bring together like mismatched Lego pieces that can never quite mesh, they seem to be perfectly complementary. L and her husband also reminded me of the way my ex and I were. Everyone we met assumed we were dating and we felt that was cool. We thought we must look happy and carefree, still not weighed down by the responsibility of matrimony.
Each time I introduced him as my husband, something felt odd and out of place. It would have been much easier to just introduce him by name and not have to assign a relationship with me. He seemed to remind himself of my position in his life each time he called me his wife. That arc had never sparked. We were the two Lego pieces thrown together that did not belong together. This is not something time can heal, mend or undo. The fit was completely wrong.
Sometimes people start over, willing to take another chance on destiny to see if the dice will roll right this time, connect them to their true complement where the fit is comfortable. Others stay on, often unaware of what is really missing. For L it is being peeved that her husband will not allow her to work a slower-paced, lower-paying government job so she has time and stability to have kids. They don't have a dog because he does not care for them. L adores dogs. The list is probably much longer, I have known her only for a few days.
In time, the kids will come. They will work out a middle ground that leaves both slightly discontent and exhausted. The marriage will feel more a work in progress less the sweet labor of love. They will both shift, slide, duck and dodge trying constantly to find that comfortable state that some couples have naturally. They might always look like they are dating and not quite married yet.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Perplexed by my life as Midas was in his world of sudden metal,
surprised that it was not as he'd expected, as he had asked.
I wonder how one may overcome the perplexion that comes from looking at the outcome of dreams and desires of long ago. Wishes made fervently without fearing consequence or causation. Wishes fulfilled in complex and unimagined ways.
Wishes with outcomes that make you wonder if you really have the power to wish your wish or if the unseen hand of karma forces you to make them. I love to think of her Midas reference as a metaphor for the loveless, lifeless prisons we sometimes find ourselves trapped in our single-minded pursuit of that one thing that makes our lives worth living.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The powers that be are only able to denounce what is happening there but not able to back talk by concrete, measurable action. So there are NATO observers who are placed on the ground to oversee and report on a fragile ceasefire but have no mandate to prevent the slaughter of the innocents. The aid of food and clothing to the indigenous African people who have become refugees in their own land, assuage the collective guilt of those who have chosen indifference to active participation in resolving the crisis.
The narrator contrasts the coverage on Darfur on popular media to stories on Martha Stewart and Micheal Jackson. Darfur is no more than a momentary blip for the major news channels. Yet high school kids in Illinois hold a candle-light vigil for the displaced and dispossessed of Darfur, intrepid reporters like Nicholas Kristof risk life and limb to go out there and report the story, protesters in Washington DC force the government to take action instead of dispensing platitudes.
Paul Freedman's film is about an extraordinary human tragedy, the politics that make Darfur possible, the power of ordinary people who influence change and finally how media can help diminish physical and emotional distance of the rest of the world from those who are suffering a great injustice.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Maybe a parent with a child like Rotten Ralph wrote the stories to teach them how to be good I guessed as I smiled. J is very proud of being a "good kid" and will call attention to it whenever she can. When she said she could make up a story too with animal characters, I challenged her to make up one about me where I was an animal.
"What kind of animal would I be ?" I asked. I was hoping she would say a dolphin. Recently for a class exercise she had written that her imaginary pet was a blue dolphin who lived in the swimming pool. So I was guessing dolphins were her favorite animal.
"You would be a puppy" she replied.
"What would my name be ?" I asked "Arfy" she said
"So tell me a story about Arfy" I pressed eager to see what she would come up with.
"Well, Arfy is a little puppy who really wants to go to school but cannot because she is too young" J says at first. Then she changes her mind and has Arfy start at school. "When Arfy goes to school she is sad because she has no friends. The other dogs bite her and snatch away her food at the cafeteria. Their teacher gives all the other puppies except Arfy a write-up"
"What happens to Arfy after that ?" I ask "She comes home and her owner is very happy. She buys Arfy a big bag of doggy treats for being good at school. But Arfy is still very lonely. She does not have any friends. Then she meets a friend from long ago and she is very happy" J concludes her story.
"Who is Arfy's owner ?" I ask "I am" J replies.
I wondered what all that really meant. J's impromptu story gave me plenty of food for thought. She had made me the classic under-dog and cast herself in the role of the savior.
Monday, November 26, 2007
It's worth remembering that, in a literary context, another word for "parasitic" is "critical". Blogging is, at its essence, a critical form, a means of recycling other writings to ensure that every molecule of sense, whether real or imagined, is distilled and consumed.
The nice thing about millions of people reacting to events of the day is the teeming variety of perspective it brings to the readership. Back in the day the only way to air one's take on news, views and op-eds was writing letters to the editor and it was considered completely respectable and indeed a literary art-form.
Blogging is not much different except that no voice is left behind, the bottle neck of editorial discretion to publish to ignore a letter no longer exists. We have a vibrant democracy and therefore the incessant clamor of voices that are mulling endlessly over news and events that have been digested several times over in a infinite parasitic food chain.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
She calls him her “work husband” in jest, a lot of co-workers call them a “work couple” also in good humor. They go to lunch together, he waits for her to finish up her last email so they can walk together to the parking deck. They flirt with each other openly. She is married with no kids. He is married with three children,a little shy of forty and gorgeous in the manner of Brad Pitt and George Clooney.
The day Ray started on our team, we could sense the immediate spark between him and Vicki. She is a vivacious brunette in her mid-thirties. It takes some getting used to her brashness but once you get past that, she is a wonderful person with a genuine interest in understanding people beyond their roles and what it takes for a them to work well together. Spunky and feisty are the two words that come to mind when trying to describe her personality.
She grew up in Maine and he some place in Louisiana on a farm. They are as different as chalk and cheese in terms of personality but physical chemistry very rarely has anything to do with that. They are both smart, articulate and professional and having that much in common is sometimes enough to incubate an office romance. Needless to say, they look great together.
I notice the way Ray’s face lights up when Vicki walks in the door and how she’s constantly looking for excuses to work sitting close to him. They always make each other laugh. It is all reminiscent of high-school and college romances and would have been utterly adorable except for the nagging fact that they are both married to other people. Whatever, they have between them may not prove enough to break up either marriage – at least I hope such is the case – but these are the destabilizing forces which when added up over time could push things past the tipping point.I have worked with both Ray and Vicki individually in the past. They are inherently good and decent people – definitely not on the prowl for an extra-marital high. Life would gone on without event or incident had they not been thrown together by fate. The fact that they take the attraction they have for each other in stride and even acknowledge it jokingly is probably proof that they don’t want to be either serious or secretive about it. Yet I can’t help wondering what it all means for Ray’s wife and Vicki’s husband. Do they know as much we co-workers do ?
Knowing would definitely a good thing but how they deal with it would depend on the state of the marriage and individual personalities. One spouse may decide to join the chorus of good natured ribbing about the office-spouse while the other may feel anger, insecurity and jealousy. There is no right or wrong way to handle such things and one response is not better or worse than that the other.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
The stories of Hindu Gods and Goddesses were an integral part of my growing up. I knew the parables, layers of meaning and the rich symbolism that is associated with our rituals and festivals. I took for granted the pool of knowledge around me that I could dip into at will, without needing to learn or retain anything. The Google search on Hindu mythology was in the collective memories of several older family members who were always happy to retell a story I had forgotten in parts. It was comforting to know that the stories were in a safe place from where they would never be lost.
Whatever, I gleaned from listening to them must have been skin deep. When I start to explain the symbolism of Ganesha's elephant face to J , I find myself floundering and hesitating. The stories do not flow effortlessly the way I had heard them in my childhood. I am additionally challenged in trying to translate the nuances of Bengali into English in my retelling. The bare bones version of the stories have stayed with me but the rich tag cloud of context and cross references to other mythological characters, places and events has all but dissolved. J has to make do with with mismatched leftovers when she really deserved a rich feast.
When I hear a familiar name some connections around it flicker back to life in my memory ever so briefly but not long or deep enough to really tell a story in a meaningful or interesting way. I wonder if it is too late to try and make a permanent home for these stories in my own memory. Maybe I have a responsibility to replenish the pool instead of always borrowing from it.
Friday, November 23, 2007
Unless you are hiding under a rock, it is impossible to go through a day these days without hearing a reference to the "inconvenient truth" of our times. The glaciers in Greenland are melting, the seasons have all gone awry, it is hotter than it used to be everywhere in the world. There is no good news, no silver lining to the doomsday clouds of climate change.
After a couple of very busy weeks and weekends, I am now home and have the time savor the trees. But the leaves are shedding rapidly - they swirl and scatter all day long and its not even windy. The bright yellows are all gone, the oranges and reds are turning dull brown, many branches are already bare. It is like nature relented at last to our plea for a fall like fall is supposed to be but is too worn out to stay as long as she once used to.
These lines from the poem First Snow makes me think of a very tired Earth :
So the snow has to fall, sleep has to come.
Because the mother’s sick to death of her life
and needs silence.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Then I got a homeopathic prescription for her that worked like a charm. There were no immediate miracles but in time, J was able to battle the allergies completely on her own. There has been no Albuterol or Claritin in the household for nearly two years now. I don't know about placebo effects and other scientific debunking of the homeopathic myth but I have seen it work time after time for J.
As a parent, I would choose homeopathy over the regular "scientifically proven" medicine any day as it frees me of the guilt of making a child dependent on medication because I don't have the wherewithal to mother her like I ideally should. Whereas she needed the nebulizer more and more, she needs her homeopathic medicines less and less over time. Maybe science and rationality fail me when I need to assure myself that I am not cutting corners with my child's health and well-being for the lack of time.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
Elsewhere she talks about the joy of finding together time with her husband without guilt about neglecting the kids who can be with their grandparents. This sentiment will resonate with most desis because we are culturally conditioned to put the needs of our kids far ahead our own. Though a small perk in the grand scheme of things, its importance cannot be denied.
Being that Desis love to plan with care and execute with caution, an R2I shopping list comes as no surprise. We are decidedly a clannish people, if there is any cause, group, name or calling we can band under we will do so with alacrity. So there are specific schools for "R2Ier kids"
There is such a thing as "lifesyle-sickness" used to describe the longing to drive on US-1 while sitting in Chennai traffic. Its quite the turn of phrase and completely different from the other kind of lifestyle sickness - as in cardiac disease from poor diet and sedentary lifestyle.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Objects like these are signs of a society taking its leisure very seriously. Only when life's basic needs are met many times over can people branch out to address frivolous wants, create new ones as they go, indulge themselves and their loved ones with unique, personalized creations. For those whose lives are in complete disarray, the cute overload factor of a whimsical penguin teaboy might not even register - a plush animal may fare slightly better.
Monday, November 19, 2007
There are three kinds of love: the love that comes out of charm, the love that comes out of comfort, and Divine love.
The love that comes out of charm does not last long. It comes out of unfamiliarity or out of attraction. In this love, you lose attraction quickly, and boredom sets in, like most love marriages. This love may diminish and bring along with it fear, uncertainty, insecurity and sadness.
The love that comes out of comfort and familiarity grows. You are more comfortable with an old friend who is a familiar person, rather than with a new person. But this love has no thrill, no enthusiasm, no joy or fire in it.
Divine love supersedes all other love. Divine love is always new and the closer you get, the more charm and depth you experience. Divine love brings comfort, familiarity and enthusiasm. There is never boredom, and it keeps you alert and aware.
I have been told more than once that my expectations from marriage and relationships are quite unrealistic and likely to do me more harm than good in the long run. It seems that I have been seeking (and failing to find) the third kind of love. It describes exactly what I have never experienced. I am familiar with the feelings of fear, uncertainty, insecurity, sadness, lack of thrill and enthusiasm while in "love" which appears to come with the territory of mortal love. Sometimes, words of wisdom don't help you come any closer to the answer.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Watching this movie, just before Thanksgiving definitely makes the act of buying turkey for dinner distasteful to say the least. Somewhere between the horrors of the slaughter house depicted in gruesome detail in this movie and the high resolution images of braised chicken with rosemary in Food and Wine magazine, the plight of the helpless animal is lost on the average consumer. When they pick up their skinless, boneless chicken breast from their local grocery store, they are not able to connect their purchase to the unspeakable cruelty that went to make it available to them in its convinient and sanitized form. The process washes its many sins and omissions and presents an end product that looks beyond reproach.
I can vouch for the shock factor of animal activism literature from personal experience. I was once handed a flyer at a metro station in DC with pictures and statistics about living conditions of chicken. After that, I could not see chicken in any shape or form without having a horrifying flashback. For months thereafter, I did not buy, eat or cook poultry.In time the impression wore off and I returned to my old habits.
Newkirk is probably right in trying to jolt people out of insensitivity. Instead of vandalizing a Gaultier shop window in Paris, PETA may get more bang for their buck if they handed out their material to the Wal-Mart shopper on the way in. That the organization does not use its substantial clout and ability to whip up controversy to create an impact where it would be most immediately realized makes you wonder about Newkirk's real agenda. Does she really care about animals or is she a personality cult who wants to go down the annals of history ?
Maybe Priscilla Feral is right is saying : They [PETA] have trivialized animal rights. They have exploited racism, and women in campaigns, using people as props to project animal rights, and you can't do that. You can't sensationalize an issue involving a lot of pain, a racist issue for example, and expect to advance an ethical cause in doing so. The means don't justify the ends."
Saturday, November 17, 2007
In my mind, he was a very handsome young man with the savoir faire of the classical romantic hero - the kind that left a trail of broken hearts in their wake. I envied the woman in his life to whom he whispered sweet nothings in that killer voice. I must have been a year into this voice lusting phase when I saw a picture of my news reader in some magazine. He was an average looking, slightly chubby middle-aged man - not nearly the Amit Ray of Shesher Kobita come to life that I had in mind. I was ever so disappointed to have been forced to connect voice to face and thus abandon my favorite fantasy.
While that picture spelt the end of my first romance with the baritone, the spell of a seductive male voice stayed on specially in how it sounded when someone laughed. Some relationships were formed or broken on the strength or weakness of the man's voice alone. I love listening to the radio to this day and prefer some commentators over others because I find their voice particularly attractive. It makes the stories they report more compelling and worthy of attention. I still find myself imagining the ideal man when I hear a perfect voice.
Their picture on the station's web-site may take me by surprise but I have learnt to brace and cope with disappointment. I tune back to their program glad to enjoy the sound of their beautiful voice without all the visual distractions. In time, the reality of the picture is supplanted by that of the voice. In my imagination, he can still embody male perfection. Even so, I wish their pictures were much harder if not impossible to come by, leaving the best things in life shrouded in mystery and therefore endless possibility.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Forget about retail therapy, the grouchiest among us probably suffer from full blown retail phobia. The idea of circling round and round the parking lot until I find a spot is enough to kill any enthusiasm that I might have mustered to check out a big sale at the nearby mall. Judy being slave to fashion, cannot afford to have a wardrobe several seasons too old like the rest of us. Increasingly, she finds herself shopping online and avoiding the mall.
Judy may be part of a larger trend here - even for the conspicuous consumer shopping is not nearly as therapeutic as it used to be. The author of the FastCompany article, talks about malls creating the French market and Moroccan bazaar ambience to engender a distinctive shopping experience. However, without the authenticity of place and time, that would resemble a theme park and possibly make shopping even more irksome.
It is bad enough to deal with the deathly monotony of retail chains without compounding the evil by introducing an ersatz foreign theme around its periphery. Now, we'll have to compete for parking with both shoppingistas and carnivalers. A visit to the dentist to get some root canal work done sounds far more appealing.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I don't know if I agree with Poliquin's line of reasoning but it is definitely provocative. Maybe even a well reasoned argument will fail to make people see what they would rather not. For those who are opposed to the war in Iraq, in this defense of the strategy and why it is a success would not seem very convincing. It is almost like fabricating an alibi to fit the evidence.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Another reason why EA English appears like a dream language is that it is often slightly out of context. As English fragments lacking a cultural frame, these elements stand out in any East-Asian environment. The words are there in front of our eyes, but we do not immediately recognize where they come from. It is as though they are spat out by a madman who does not really expect to be understood, who just says what he says, letting us more or less guess what he really means.
It is this disconnectedness that makes EA English fascinating for EA-readers. Often the words are there as if they had sprung out of the deepest layers of somebody's linguistic consciousness, layers in which words are not primarily items used in real life but rather intimate companions of our ruminating childlike fantasy. These words and sentences might have no sense in the real world but somewhere they certainly mean a lot to someone.The quaintness of Indian English is not referred to specifically in this essay but Pico Iyer chronicles its abundant charms in this NYT article.He observes :
I came away feeling that Indian English is not just a savory stepmother tongue to hundreds of millions of Indians (more Indians, after all, speak English than Englishmen do), and not just an invaluable memento of a centuries-long mishmash, but also a grand and distinctive product of a culture as verbally supple and full of energy as any I know.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
As the author points out, the norm in the West is to expect to go to bed on the third date and it seems as if an arranged marriage allows the very same outcome only you are married by then. Traditionally, there is an initial meeting between the prospective bride and groom, if all goes well they meet another time to get engaged and then the third time to marry and therefore go to bed as a couple. There is a reason for the third-date sex rule.
The need for physical intimacy to precede emotional closeness seems to be the unifying thread in both customs in both cultures. Whereas in the former, several older family members have had a chance to meet the individuals getting married and assess the strength of the match, in the later the two are on their own and without guidance. Often times in India a shrewd uncle or grandmother will size up the prospect and veto a match and the family with comply simply because they trust their wisdom.
Marriages suffer where tradition is forced to make way for "modernity". Extended families are not privy to the match-making and decisioning process. The bride, the groom and their parents make a commitment without input from anyone else. The relatives find out only when the marriage invitations are sent out. This mode of operation is typical in a nuclear family and is a departure from tradition that ill-behooves the success of the marriage. The couple is missing out on the wisdom of those who have known them since birth and yet have no vested interest in finalizing the match.
Likewise, when engagement periods are extended to allow the prospective couple to "get to know each other" in the Western style, the strength of tradition is eroded to the detriment of the final outcome. Most people have a certain mental image of a life-partner. When they meet someone as a prospect they are about to tell at once if what they see is in stark dissonance with that mental image. In a dating situation, people will forge ahead hoping that time will bring out some hidden aspects of the other's personality that will render their initial impressions invalid.
This is a recipe of failure and heartbreak. Time brings out many things good, bad and unexpected but what it can never do is alter who you seek as a spouse. In arranged marriages, families might force the choice without lending credence to that vague feeling of discomfort. Families can be a pillar of strength in arranged marriages and also the weakest link. While it is healthy for them to bring their collective wisdom and life experience to bear on the decision, ultimately the individuals must be free to follow their own instincts.
The increasing rate of divorce among Indians both home and abroad can be attributed to the anachronism of the arranged marriage system - a social custom that has failed to meet the demands of modern times. But that might not be wholly accurate. The arranged marriage requires the active participation of an array of people and not just the individuals getting married. The priest, the astrologer, the match-maker, friends, relatives, neighbors and much more. It takes a village. Increasingly, one or more of the key players are not willing or able to play their part.
Back in the day, the nature, temperament, vice and virtues of the prospect could be verified by several independent sources. It was no shot in the dark. Of course, mistakes were made and lives were ruined but it was more exception than norm. Much before boy met girl, several senior family members had met and interviewed them and arrived at their conclusions.
Some of them had weighed in on several dozen weddings in their lives so their experience was invaluable. They wore no rose colored glasses of romance so they saw things that a couple in love is very likely to miss. When we stick to a tradition without the wherewithal to do it right, we are set up for failure but that does not make the institution itself any less robust or dependable.
When you are on your own, you must make mistakes time after time until you get it right. The village is not there go shield you from the hurt, pain and disappointment. Dating is one way to make these mistakes, going through an arranged marriage without the support systems in place to do it successfully is another. Instead of dispatching the arranged marriage to the dark ages where it belongs, maybe we should revive the ecosystem in which it can thrive.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Needless to say, that piece of information dampened my enthusiasm for the sampler and I grew somewhat distant from the hoop, thimble, needle and yarn. Old loves fade but probably never completely die away. Every once in a while I find myself browsing through Sharon Boggon's quilt squares wistfully.
I am no longer sure about what Freud said about embroidering women turning hysterical. I used to find it very relaxing. These amazing samplers make me think about picking up the project I dropped nearly twenty years ago.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
He volunteered no other information and after a while, his two kids were out of the running in the race to the top. While other parents bragged out their kid doing a Peace Corps stint, or making it to the national level as the most promising young entrepreneur of the year and such like, he sat by the corner safe as the father of two unremarkable and unpromising kids. The kids have done very well for themselves and never had to contend with desi peer pressure.
I have always flinched inwardly as desi parents of my generation parade the accomplishments of their wards at your average Diwali party. This is in no way different from what I grew up with in India. Your mother's friend's father-in-law would accost you while you were trying to stage a quick getaway with your tenth gulab jamun to find out if you had really scored 98% in chemistry as he had heard from the neighbor.
The key results area for the desi kid has changed over time. Parents are now able to be vain about their leggy thirteen year old winning some minor pageant but will make haste to point out that she also won a science award at school recently. Being the uber-geek is no longer good enough because the coveted spot in an Ivy League school demands a robust, well-rounded resume a la Kaavya Vishwanathan. Desi parents have gotten with the program as far as non-scholastic enrichment. The kids are on the hook to bring a lot more to the table than a 4.0 GPA and most if not all are up to the challenge.
I feel nervous around these highly driven kids who remind me of animals trained to fight to the finish. I have taken that older desi gent's advice very seriously as far as J and feel protective of her when she finds herself in such highly competitive company. She is the one without the gaffs in a cockfighting pit. I have to assure her that not acknowledging her publicly does not mean I do not appreciate her and that she is not inferior to everyone else.
There is a time and place for everything and also the right audience. I just don't think random strangers I run into at a desi gathering need to know any more about J than she is a six year old attending first grade. All I want is for her to enjoy whatever she does and try being better at it today than she was yesterday. Perfection is a good enough goal to pursue and that does not involve external competitors. I tell her the story of Arjun's Lakshya Bhed to emphasize the importance of focus and the need to tune out distractions caused by thinking about what others are doing. I have noticed that each desi encounter occasions yet another retelling of this story.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Ms. L, J's first grade teacher told me recently that J among a lot of other things, is an "astute" student. My ex was too and I suspect she gets this trait from him because "astuteness" was definitely lackling in my early education. I am glad for J, because it may be a while before I can fulfill my dream of home-schooling her. Until then, she is on her own and the more she "gets" the system, the better it is for her.
As a child, I never "got" the system and never fared that great. My survival instincts probably kicked in by the late teens and I started giving the system what it expected, instead of fighting it. I would have loved to study at Shantiniketan , got myself holistic education as was Tagore's vision . An ideal education would have been one that would help me live a graceful, meaningful life.
Somehow that "ideal" as attractive as it was, fell short in achieving the goal of financial independence. Whatever potential I had was killed by the time I got out of engineering school armed with a degree to join the ranks of code coolies. It seems like all I have to show for my existence is the ability to pay all bills without fail - a very sad excuse for a "meaningful" life. I have always had the empty feeling of being literate but completely uneducated.
I would hate for J to waste away as I did. Listening to Robinson's talk fills me with a great sense of urgency to get J away from the system before it rewards her too much for her innate "astuteness". She may no longer want to take a chance and take the road less traveled.
Friday, November 09, 2007
For the first time in many years, I fell prey to a tempting promotional offer which would shave $30 a month from my high speed internet and phone bill for twelve months. The call center ordeal extracted much more than that in a few hours. I would be writing this long rant about my nightmarish encounter with twenty different reps in the course of a few hours but for Leslie.
My nerves were completely frayed when Leslie answered the phone. Even before she could complete her greeting, I demanded a credit to my account since my services were non-existent and the imbeciles at the call center had no idea how to fix the problem. I had been bounced through different levels of tech support each as incompetent as the other. I was furious and my decibel levels were high enough to make J cower in one corner of the couch.
Even in the middle of my incoherent ranting, I was able to sense the "realness" about Leslie. She was not the typical call center worker who switches to autopilot to deal with customers having a meltdown. She was not dispensing scripted platitudes like "I do apologize for your poor customer experience" every opportunity she got. In a firm but polite voice she asked me if she could run some diagnostics on my system and proceed from there.
I could tell, this girl knew her job from her confident demeanor. We worked together for the next hour and a half, as she tried everything possible to resolve the problem remotely. At some point, my anger had given way to friendliness. I found myself joking about my experience with her company's call center. She laughed and empathized as a real person might but with her professionalism uncompromised.
So complete and undivided was her attention to solving my problem that it seemed for the duration of the call, I was at the center of her universe and the only thing in that mattered was to see my services restored. She seemed to have silenced the normal din of my humdrum existence with her focus on her job that also involved my participation. From being irate and largely out of control, I had calmed down and was happy to have a conversation with a customer service rep. I knew fully well it may still take a technician to come home to fix the problem.
At the end of the call, I told Leslie how much I appreciated her efforts to help me and would love to provide her supervisor some great feedback on her wonderful work and attitude. It was a great feeling to tell her manager that Leslie was a stellar rep who had gone above and beyond to help me. Her manager thanked me for taking the time to share that and promised a kudos for Leslie maybe even a gift.
I could tell that a call like mine was not something he took everyday. He was clearly a little overwhelmed but in a positive way. Leslie made me think about what made her such an exemplary customer service rep. She understood the technology really well and must have learned what she had out of interest. She could talk at length about how the technology of her company differed from that of the competition and that is not part of her job description.
She has a passion for technology, problem solving and for doing the best she can to help a customer which is much more than just doing a job. Leslie is the kind of person who works at a call center because she loves doing what the job entails. She strives to make each call a positive experience for the caller. If my own example was any indication, she must make a lot of disgruntled people happy all that time and she probably finds that very gratifying.
Finally and possibly the most important is her ability to feel like a human being dealing with another. She is able to transcend the script and bring her high emotional quotient to play. Dealing with an irate customer is not very unlike a doctor or nurse dealing with a very sick and cantankerous patient. A good bedside manner is key to success. Leslie was able to diffuse the tension very quickly just as a good healthcare provide is able to calm a patient down.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Are you saying you skimmed Proust? Yes, of course I did! I prefer to say that I live with Proust. He’s a companion. Sometimes I go to Proust and I seek advice for my life. I open it and I skim some pages. That is to live with books. It’s important to live with books.
Now I can skim more books even more voraciously and not feel any qualms about it. I would be indulging in the non-scientific, walk-in-the-park style of reading which I have believed to be the best course for everything except technical journals and cookbooks - the two genres I find the hardest to deal with.
There are books that are hard to like when reading from start to finish and yet I have an interest in finding out what it is about. As a work around I start at a random place read forward and backward to gate a sense of direction and context. Then, I may skip a hundred pages, find another spot that seems worth stopping at and do the same. This works particularly well at bookstores when I want to check out five books within a few hours.
Every once in a while after skimming random samplings of a book, I know I will have no peace until I have been from one end to the other. I will actually "read" this book. As I grow older, fewer and fewer books hold my attention or interest. I seem to have at once become a demanding and impatient reader. As a result, I can't devour long novels like I was once able to but on the upside, I have grown interested in a whole lot more than just a good story.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Salsa as the reviewer points out is a desi-fied "Friends" with the action taking place in Mumbai. The women are depicted as willful, wanton and determined to have as much or more fun than the boys. Female empowerment is about sexual gratification without emotional involvement and prioritizing career over marriage and family. Despite the cliches and hyperboles that riddle the movie, there is some truth in what is being portrayed.
Then there is Kalki of Matrubhoomi, the modern day Draupadi married to five brothers and turned into the resident sex slave for them and their father. Her father is paid five hundred thousand rupees and five cows by the father for the grooms. You prefer to believe this is a futuristic dystopia movie and not what is actually happening in India today. Whatever your personal values, you would much rather all Indian women were at liberty to lead lives that even remotely resembled that of the Salsa gang. That is the utopia Manoj Tyagi is peddling.
The incongruence between the nymphomaniac Neha asking a man if he was any good in bed before agreeing to date him and Kalki shackled to a teether in the cow shed alongside the animals and being subjected to interminable rape is unbelievable. Even as a born and raised in India desi, I have a lot of trouble keeping my version of India straight in the face of such contradiction. It is hardly surprising that the Western world resorts to convenient stereotypes.
Yet India must not be alone in such glaring cultural anomalies. Any country with an older native civilization that is imposed upon or influenced by a very different foreign one is likely end up the way India has. Parts of the country, sections of society have moved far ahead of the others to a point where is no point of reconciliation between the two. Therefore, as astonishing as it seem Neha and Kalki co-exist at the same point in time less than a five hundred miles apart. The former spends her nights at clubs and bars the later in a cow shed.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
"The luxury industry has changed the way people dress. It has realigned our economic class system. It has changed the way we interact. It has become part of our social fabric. To achieve this, it has sacrificed its integrity, undermined its products, tarnished its history and hoodwinked its consumers. In order to make luxury "accessible" tycoons have stripped away all that made it special. Luxury has lost its luster"
From being available to the select and privileged few, luxury has gone to being available to anyone who is willing to pay for it or settle for a good imitation. Wearing or carrying a designer label is no longer enough to set the haves and have-nots apart.
I saw an telling example of this recently at the parking lot at work. This woman stepped out of her car looking like a walking brand endorsement. She had on a signature plaid Burberry trench coat and was carrying a light blue Chanel bag. When she walked past me, I noticed the the prominent Gucci sign on her sunglasses. She was doused in Chanel 19 and left a cloud of fragrance behind her.
Despite all the external trappings of richness, she did not appear particularly wealthy at least to a casual observer. Affluence brings in its wake a quiet, understated yet unmistakable confidence that is hard to miss. This woman did not have that air about her despite designer labels dripping from every inch of her. You noticed her only because of the brand name overload. Dressed in generic clothes she would blend effortlessly into her surroundings.
Maybe that's all luxury labels are good for these days - create a brief illusion of richness that may just as quickly fade away. No wonder, the savvy consumer prefers a good imitation to the real thing - the illusion is just as good, also as brief and transient but it costs a lot less. Whether buying fakes is ethical or good for the luxury industry is a whole different question and most likely does not keep the middle-class slave to fashion awake at night.
Monday, November 05, 2007
Recently, he was around my neck of the woods on a business trip and swung by to spend the weekend with us. J was overjoyed to see him - I think she reminds him of her grandfather. He asked if I was seeing someone and then why not. The next several hours we chatted about relationships and marriage, what worked for his generation and what it takes now.
Uncle K is married to his high-school sweetheart. He recounted how his daughter once asked if he was happy in his marriage and he had to admit he had about eighty percent of what he wanted and twenty percent was missing. To him that was good enough. He was willing to live without what he did not have in return for everything that he could. I would expect Aunt B, his wife to share those same sentiments.
She has always been a home-maker and an excellent one at that. The kids are doing well, Uncle K is the bread winner and is able to provide the family a high standard of living. The arrangement is common with a lot of people his generation. The marriages are not made in heaven, what is missing from it could be as high as fifty percent and yet life goes on, the families remain unbroken.
Back in their time, marriages were always for life unless there were some very serious - often life threatening issues that prevented it from being the case. The workplace in India had very few women, so the options outside home did not really exist. The women that men interacted with were not unlike their wives in any significant way - or at least such differences were hard to spot in the limited social interactions that happened between them.
Everyone was someone's wife, managing a home, taking care of the kids perhaps nurturing a hobby or two on the side. A man did not have occasion to meet a woman who was his peer in the workplace, an intellectual equal if not superior, as comfortable in a man's world as she was in a woman's. He had no reason to believe that he had a reasonable chances of getting what was missing in his marriage by looking elsewhere.
The women typically without independent means to sustain a lifestyle that marriage afforded them were happy to live with the limitations and vexations of their situation. No one had raised the bar significantly higher around them. There was no real incentive to abandon the comfort and security of marriage to see what the other life had to offer. Since it was largely unknown and unventured territory it was viewed with much fear and suspicion.
Both sides of the equation has changed beyond recognition in our time. Women are increasingly educated and financially independent. They are a major part of the workforce. The good old hausfrau is a relic from the past. The long work hours, a variety of social and business networking opportunities gives both men and women a chance to know people who are completely unlike their spouses.
Every once in a while they meet someone who is all that they seek in an ideal partner. Just to know the ideal exists can be a strain on the marriage. The less than perfect spouse grows just a little more irksome. Discontent leads to different outcomes depending on the people involved. Some may decide to move on to greener pastures, some indulge in a "harmless" little fling and yet others will stay on even as their relationship decays from lack of nurture. All of those scenarios are harmful for the institution of marriage and a well bonded family.
So, I was telling Uncle K that a eighty percent good and twenty percent bad formula is set up for failure in this day and age. The external pressures on marriage can easily build a fracture line along the twenty percent mark. For something to work for the long haul a couple needs close to hundred percent good. Only then can they be safe from the destabilizing forces of the world outside that they need to contend with everyday.
Since the bar is so high, the wait is much longer often fraught with anxiety and hopelessness. You want to do it right so you won't be forced to do it over. Good enough is no longer good enough - it has to be near perfect. You want to look forward to coming home at the end of the day to a person who brings something to your life that nothing and nobody in the world outside can. Sometimes, that can be a fairly tall order.
And Uncle K asked So where does love and mutual dependence fall into the scheme of things in this brave new world ? I had to admit I did not know. Love and marriage have probably become a little decoupled in our generation. We are able to love and we are able to marry but the two don't always exactly confluence. We reminiscence about the lost loves of our past and we make a good faith effort to love who we marry.
We don't plunge into marriage because we are madly in love. Many of us would have an older relative who married someone entirely unsuitable in their youth because heart overrode all reason and judgment. I have no acquaintance male or female of my generation who has married "irresponsibly". The process of weighing pros and cons that comes naturally to us as we grow older has a sobering effect on "love". We allow the initial euphoria and giddiness to wear off and then decide on a rational course of action. The sum total of happiness or unhappiness in relationships is probably constant irrespective of time, only the choices vary.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
As you chuckle at the Onion video, you think about what does happen in real life. A working couple or a single mother swaddles up her two month old and packs a bag full of clothes, diapers and bottles of pre-expressed breast milk to leave baby at a daycare center for eight to ten hours. They could either do that, miss the best part of their baby's babyhood, continue to pay the bills and fulfill the dream of parenthood or flirt dangerously with poverty by trying to get by on one income.
For the single mother the later is not even an option. A lot of women choose to delay parenthood until they can afford to take time off and still not compromise their quality of life. By when they are ready, motherhood might have passed them by.Parenting is already near-sourced today so Onion is only taking the logical next step by Bangaloring the service.
Sometimes real life seems to meet satire too close for comfort. It is not much better than being confused between reality and gaming, or for that matter deciding to live your life like it were a work of fiction as one man has decided to do so FBI might take him off their watch-list - he is living the premise of The Truman Show.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
It takes the luminous words and wisdom of Jane Hirsfield to explain how a scale so unevenly loaded still balances. I find these lines from her poem titled The Weighing from her book October Palace immensely beautiful and inspiring.
The heart's reasons
even the hardest
its whip-marks and sadness
and must be forgiven.
So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.
The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.
Friday, November 02, 2007
I talked with M after years today and got of the phone feeling nostalgic about those long ago days when we spent an entire Saturday chatting as we went about our day in different ends of the country. I was hurting from being away from J, not knowing what the future held for us or when I would be able to see my child again. M would tell me that the waiting would end one day, J and I would be together again. She believed that I would overcome with a certain infectious passion. Her faith would rub off on me and I would feel optimistic once again.
M and I had met about seven years ago on an online message board. After exchanging several emails, we exchanged numbers and started to talk. M is about fifteen years older than me and defines an optimal blend of best friend and big sister. With her no topic is out of bounds or taboo. Until I knew M, I did not know how amazingly liberating that could be. There are things that I have heard myself speak out loud for the first time ever with her. There are things only a woman can fully understand, conversations that I feel blessed to have had with her because I may have never had them otherwise.
She is disabled from a variety of illnesses that date back to medications her mother took when she was pregnant with M. While her body is ravaged by pain and decay, her mind is razor sharp and profoundly intuitive. Her biggest gift is her ability to listen to you and understand what you leave unsaid and why. Yesterday, we were talking about how her growing deafness is making it hard for her to earn a living. She is a phone sex service provider. She got into this line of work around the same time as we first met online.
When she told me of her new profession, I had to suspend disbelief so I could fully understand her rationale. Being bound to a wheelchair, finding gainful employment outside the house was not an option for years. Now alternating between chronic pain and fatigue working at the desk at home was turning just as impossible. Yet there were bills to be paid until body and soul decided to part ways. Being a phone sex service provider allowed her to work whenever she was able to have a phone conversation that involved graphic talk about sexual fantasies.
I asked her how she was able to do it and she said being in this line of work to gave her a great appreciation for women who slid into prostitution . Desperation and lack of options can be powerful forces to contend with. For some women it may be crushing poverty, lack of education on one side and encashable youth of the other. Morality becomes a text book concept far removed from reality when the confronted by fear of hunger and homelessness.
She felt humbled by the choice she had made – it enabled her to descend from a moral high ground and empathize with women who like her were not able to earn an “honest” living. I asked her about a typical day at the job. Apparently calls were routed to her from her agency so her privacy would not be compromised. A man would be on the other end breathing heavily ready to climax within three minutes of having erotic conversation with a nameless faceless woman. Even in the throes of "passion" they made sure not to exceed three minutes of talk time so they did not have to pay extra for their audio sexual gratification.
Then some would become regulars and just want to talk about their fears and fantasies with her. These were the men who put food on her table. Most were intensely lonely, unable to connect with real women emotionally and harbored secrets that were too dark to be shared with a "real" person. Seeking therapy was too unmanly for them.
M had become their confidante and they were willing to pay just for her to listen to them. I suspect her amazing capacity for empathy has a lot to do with it. To her each phone call was a learning experience. Each man had his special demons that were quite unlike anybody else’s. Most of them were trapped in a suffocating real life role but it was the role they would continue to play because preserving appearances was important.
I asked her if she felt any shame or guilt about what she did. M said it troubled her that she found her “clients” repulsive and fascinating by turn. She was grateful for the money that allowed her stay out of the soup kitchen but could not help thinking about the "real" women in their lives and how devastating it would be for them to find out.
Yet in a perverse sort of way, she was keeping their men in check – in her they had found an outlet for destructive energy – like a lightning conductor M carried away the deepest, darkest secrets to where they could never be found again. Did she feel empowered then I asked her ? As empowered as a very rag doll may feel after being tossed into the trash she laughed. She was their treasured comfort object for the duration of the call and the lowest form of vermin right after they hung up. It was an intense love-hate relationship. Sometimes she felt numb.
All this was when we had a last conversation a few years ago. Yesterday, I asked her how she was coping with her loss of livelihood. She said, she was grateful to have her hearing taken away. It would be atonement for what she had never been morally comfortable doing. Maybe, it was God’s way of challenging her to find another way to keep body and soul together or simply let go and allow divine order to take over. She is too proud to ask anyone to help.
Ever the optimist, M said, who knows, if I starve for a few weeks in the middle of winter without money for food, medicines or heating, one morning I will get up and feel no pain in my limbs again. God might grant me another chance at life. In the meanwhile, I think about dying beautifully every day – so I am not caught off-guard when that happens.
With most people such a conversation would be painfully morbid but with M it is not. She lives each day radiating hope so it touches everyone who comes in contact with her. I am sure all those hopeless men who called her for the virtual gratification of phone sex came out of the experience transformed in some fundamental way.
I like to think that she helped them slay their demons so they could learn to love someone. Maybe because of the innumerable ways she has enriched my life, it is impossible for me to think of M in negative light. I want to believe that angels come disguised in the most unlikely, improbable ways to challenge our stereotypes. I pray for silence to bring beautiful things to her life.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
With his Babudom and the Brits gone by the time of her birth, he took comfort in the fact that his grand-daughter had peaches and cream complexion just like a regular Memsahib. Her given name was a celebration of her exceptional color and was fated to become the pre-dominant theme of her life.
She grew super-obsessed with her "fairness". The man she married against vehement opposition from the family was almost as light-skinned as her - and that was possibly his sole qualification. To this day relatives do not fail to mention that he attempted the Chartered Accountancy exam seven times before retiring hurt. She could not bear the thought of marrying a dark-skinned man for fear that the offspring may turn out dark too. To her that was fate much worse than death.
Luckily, her daughter is "fairer" than both parents and has like her mother married a man exceptionally "fair" by Indian, Bengali standards. The extended family finds him decidedly obtuse and believes she would have fared better in finding a partner if skin-color was not such a huge deal-breaker for her. She has a child too who is light skinned enough to pass for Caucasian. In their single-minded pursuit of a particular skin color both these women gave up on a lot of other things. Seems likes being a "genetic have" comes at a considerable cost.