Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Listmania And Of Harmful Books

The list of most harmful books makes interesting reading. One wishes the list makers would have provided a rationale for the choice and rankings as well. I have read five of the honorable mentions and only two of the top ten reducing the total harm done to me via books.

One of these infamous books made it to the best selling books of all time. Not so surprising given that notoriety and influence sometimes go together. In this second list I have read two of ten and not the one that is common to both lists. Then there are the lists by genre by the establishment of which many names are familiar and beloved as well.

When the hoi polloi gets into the fray as in Amazon's Listmania or elsewhere the results are random and completely unpredictable. More often than not I have not read the books that get such honorable mention. I have often used the wisdom of the crowds to guide me to fresh pastures in reading to be most pleasantly surprised.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Neuro Marketing

I am right there with the alarmists over neuromarketing

Seeing the transformation of India post television has been an experience unique to my generation. The variegated indigenous cultures were first homogenized by the government controlled networks and then fully supplanted by a foreign one when the skies were thrown opened. In degrees the people lost their local cultural identities and ached instead to be clones of shiny happy images that were constantly projected at them.

The assault to individual sensibilities that neuro marketing will enable would be like guerilla warfare. We would likely not be aware of what hit us until after the effect. The customized broadcast (or should that be narrowcast) of the future could make us act in ways that are profitable to purveyors of goods and services. to the exclusion of other considerations. Does that not fully de-humanize us ?

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Adda At The Coop

The height of irony is when two displaced Calcuttans meet at The Coop in Harvard Square for adda over coffee instead of at Coffee House outside Presidency College. On the table behind ours were two men from Madras (my guess from their accent) discussing particle physics in sober earnest.

Our conversation veered dizzyingly from disastrous on-line dating experiences, literature, blogging, the frustrations that come with agent and publisher hunting to what it was for M as an Indian woman to be involved in politics and election campaigning in America.

J was trying to get the attention of the woman on next table buried deep in a book. Sometimes she'd look up and smile at J who would then redouble her efforts to win her over. My efforts to distract her with cheesecake proved futile.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Secret Postcards

There is a myriad of intriguing confessions in these secret postcards

There may be something voyeuristic about frequenting this blog ( I do). The urge to know secrets of strangers who in a connected world could well be the neighbor next door. That she could have a secret you would never possibly guess is surely cause for endless fascination - if the hit-counter on the site is any indication

But there is also the artistic element of the post cards. Some secrets turn into beautifully rendered graphic stories. This blog showcases a lot of secret talent as well. Who's to say that is any less important than it's unique theme itself. NYT finds this blog less confessional more collaborative art.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Smell Of Gardenia

I met D for the first time and he smelt faintly of gardenia. We are not close enough for me to know what it is called. The trajectory of smell tracked against relationships of significance has been rather unusual.

A smelt of a flower I did not recognize. We were both young then - in our early teens and gauche - it could well have been something from his mom's dresser. I am sure he smells very different now.

P smelt of himself mixed with a non-descript talc. He and I were just twenty then. I cannot associate his smell with anyone or anything else.

The smell of K changed over the years. The earliest olfactory memory is austere and soapy. He went on to more sophisticated smells over time until finally settling with Acqua Di Gio .

R smelt of Wild Rain when we first met. I fell in love with that smell as I did with him - both equally improbable. Wild Rain on a perfect stranger can still bring back memories and nostalgia though I don't love the smell anymore.

H burst into my life like a tropical storm smelling of Bvlgari Blue. Recovering from the aftermath of the relationship I had to stop my tears when I smelt his cologne in my car. It was a few weeks before it was all gone and the air smelt clean and only of itself.

I knew S for less than six months. My girl friends who knew told me he sounded like Mr Right Now in the wake of the destruction that H had left behind. That S would have served his purpose when my healing was over. They turned out right in their collective wisdom. He wore Freedom by Tommy Hilfiger

It does seem like I am almost coming full circle from an unknown flower and A to gardenia and D.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

A Morning At Times Square

NYC and specially Times Square is replete with memories for me. There is something electric about the crowds complete with quirks that distinguish locals from wide-eyed visitors like myself. As I maneuver J on her stroller through the rising tide of morning commuters, I feel energized. Our first stop is at a coffee shop. J is scared of the big Labrador that a customer has tethered to the railing outside. Once inside, J asks for coffee and I tell her as always that she is too young for it. A banana nut muffin offered as compromise is grudgingly accepted.

J sits by the window absorbing the rapidly shifting scenery of the busy intersection. She has never been in the middle of a city quite as big in her life. We head out again and have no specific goal for the day. I want to walk, enjoy the sunshine and absorb NYC like it were a magic potion capable of seeping through sub-consciousness hoping J would be able to do the same - if she did not fall asleep.

In the next few hours we went past the ubiquitous Duane Reades, convenience stores, cell phone charger shops, e-bay shippers, florists, delis, novelty underwear stores and a bunch of guys shouting at each other in gangsta. I felt glad J is too young to understand the many colorful turns of phrase. As we had our sandwiches for lunch, I asked J if she enjoyed our walk. She nodded with utmost seriousness. I am so happy that she shares my fascination with NYC already.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Mobile Conundrums

Any one who has suffered loud cell phone conversations in public places would know to appreciate a devise like the Babble

Hopefully some geek will take this to the logical next level and generate
white noise from the babble. It's great news that you will not be subjected to the excruciating details of X's break-up with Y and what her sister's mother-in-law had to say on the subject and can get away with some kind of humming sound. However, peace and quiet in the public place would be infinitely more desirable

I few days ago I had a weird cell phone user experience. I was getting into work when a man walked up and said with warmth very uncharacteristic for a co-worker "Where have you been ?" I was positive I did not know him and gave him a perplexed look followed by an "Excuse Me ?" It was all within a few seconds. He had moved ahead.

He turned back, pointed to his miniature ear-pods and by way of apology said " Sorry, I am on the phone" Talk about poor ear-eye co-ordination. I look forward to technology that would alert people around hands-free cell-phone users that they are not talking to anyone in their physical vicinity.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Improved Driving Directions

For the driving directions challenged such as myself Google Earth would be just what the doctor ordered. I have been lost in new cities so completely that I seemed more likely to end up in the next state than at my destination a tantalizing ten blocks away. Direction-challenged-ness I'm sure is fairly common why else could there be GPS navigators in rental cars and directions through SMS

When someone asks me for directions to my place I do very well until I have to decide whether they would have to turn left or right relative to the direction from where they are coming from. Awkwardness could get no worse than when someone calls me from an intersection asking "Now what, left or right ?" and me saying "I'm not sure. But make a left see if you go past an Exxon and a BofA - they you're in the right direction" I cringe inwardly knowing the logical next question could be which side of the street the aforementioned landmarks would be seen. I have to admit not having a clue.

Most of my friends are aware of my deficient directional intelligence and find their way without any help (or is that hindrance) from me. They figure the effect of moving to the South from the North has rubbed off on me - as in "You can ask a Southerner for directions, but unless you already know the positions of key hills, trees and rocks, you're better off trying to find it yourself."

Monday, May 23, 2005

Age Reversals

My friend E once told me that she had an early over-dose of motherhood with raising four younger siblings after their mother died. Having been an adult before her time, E now seeks to escape into youthful exuberance even as she nears fifty.

She has never wanted any children of her own though she loves to be around those of others. There is a certain to logic to living life backwards when fate randomizes its phases with such abandon.

As I read Garrison's Keillor's account of belated fatherhood I wonder if E is not missing a magic that she may still have had in her to enjoy. Babies have such a wonderful way of arresting the age of their parents almost reversing it at times.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Lights in Fabric

Last weekend J and I were over at a friend's farm just outside the city. It was an afternoon of many firsts for J. She saw a horse for the first time, rode on a John Deere, watched a bon-fire and got chased by a friendly Daschund.

By the time the citronella candles were lit and we sat down to dinner, J was exhausted from the excess of novel experiences and wanted to go home. Our hostess gave her and the other kids glow necklaces. The merry bonfire, candles and phosphorent glow necklaces on the playing children made a beautiful picture of flickering lights in the gathering darkness.

When we got home, J's necklaces made an unusual night lamp. I wondered how long the light would last. It was not long. They had dimmed considerably by the next night. Now it is no more than colored strands of plastic. Seeing the glow necklaces I wondered if it were possible to use something like it for real illumination.

Almost on cue to my thoughts I stumble on something even more remarkable than what I had imagined - LED embedded fabric. I wonder when this will become freely available like glow necklaces.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Choice Fatigue

This interesting post how increasingly impossible to sample all that is culturally vogue covers almost the whole ambit of choice fatigue except the RSS feed subscription phenomenon. What is the logical limit to feeds for an individual until they know everything that they care to know about. Maybe the answer to that question is to turn to Siloism from wanton Eclecticism. Even that may prove hard to keep pace with.

Fifty Page Rule

I don't proceed past page fifty of the most acclaimed book if it does not connect with me. This is apparently the rule followed by professional book readers - I had no idea I had it right down to the number. A change of profession may well be in order.

A picture is supposed to be worth a thousand words.Gravity's Rainbow is one of many books that I have not been able to make past the fifty page mark. Even with someone having illustrated every page of the book to elucidate does not make it any different for me. That one book could elicit such intense response from some and none from others is genuinely amazing.

Yet is possible to strike a common chord that resonates with readers at far ends of the spectrum. That to me would be an enduring masterpiece - a timeless classic.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Mothers' Renaissance

It warms my heart unaccountably to know that culture cramming is the not parenting nirvana and that J may thrive even without trips to the museum every weekend. I must be one guilty mom to seek statistical affirmation for my actions when I know only too well how one study can be quickly unseated by another.

It is possible that I will find out twenty years too late that I did J
incalculable harm by not signing her up for all manner of enrichment programs from age two. That instead of jumping on to the Mommy bandwagon to fight the war against pop culture excess and trying to insulate J from it all, I should have done something quite different.

My friend K has a thirteen year old who is a virtuoso video game player - she is proud of his speed and prowess and often tells me J could benefit from a gameboy. I am not convinced that J's three year old motor and cognitive skills need to be jolted out of somnolence just yet - but then that is me. Mothers are due for a renaissance for more reasons than one.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Utopia Meets Real Life

Utopia of our times can be range from magically turning gratuitous globs of unsorted garbage to mulch (caveats abound and detractors counter the claims and say all is not well with garbage-mulch) and using robots to raise children.

The stark simplicity of the life-straw is far more real to me because I have seen too many of those who can "benefit by having the possibility of clean water with this pipe filter". Even if not a hundred percent failsafe, the fact that such design and innovation stems from concern for the disenfranchised is very heart-warming.

Uncommon Ground

Apparently rappers and bloggers have much in common - just another bit of freakonomics at work. Who would have though school teachers and sumo wrestlers could and indeed do have in common. That such amazing parallels can be found in unusual combinations is fascinating simply because it points to a latent unity among creatures and their myriad of circumstances.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Of Custom Scrapbooks

My friend D is a freelance designer when she's not working her boring day job. She is particularly gifted at scrap-booking and gets orders from people who don't have the time left to imagine. While D perpetuates their memories beautifully she can't obviously capture the subtleties of personal emotions. She is one of the many service providers that help outsource our modern lives.

My first acquaintance with the scrapbook came about when I was about ten years old. It belonged to "Grandpa" next door. It was an used cloth bound notebook on which he had pasted newspaper clippings, picture postcards, stamps, letters and photographs. It was a collection of treasured memories for fifty years.

Grandpa was always happy to answer my questions, his face lit up with joy at the pleasurable old memories. It was not long before I started my own scrap book and writing a journal. I loved the way Grandpa had created a time capsule of his life and wanted to do the same for mine. He showed me how the most trivial things can turn significant when viewed in perspective. Whenever I see fancy scrapbooking kits I remember him. His was the labor of love that need nothing more than a used notebook. I learnt from him that a scrapbook is not a craft project, though it requires abundant imagination. It is a story you tell without words.

Ted Hughes once said that writing is about trying to take fuller possession of the reality of your life. Maybe as our lives turn "fuller" we become incapable of taking possession of it through writing or any other means and have to turn to others do it on our behalf. D becomes a ghost writer for the story of another's life. She looks in from the outside to grasp which of their life's minutiae they would value over others. Like a good ghost writer her prose is polished and her storyline never sags. She turns out a book that impresses but does not inspire a wide-eyed ten year old like Grandpa's scrapbook.

I have a box full of J memorabilia that I plan someday to turn into a scrap-book. D has graciously volunteered to take on the project for free. I would not impose on her kindness. I would try to give to J a part of the real me and my own thoughts -whenever I can. If I fail she would still have the box of memories in the raw and know her mother at least tried.

In Passing At Work

Yesterday a friend was complaining about how office politics wears him off and I suggested he find humor in it. There is often a sense of childish insecurity that fuels turf wars and back-stabbing that is deserving of pity not heartache.

Even if there is a serious adult cause for acrimony, the way it plays out in the end degenerates to juvenility. When adults bicker like tots and do not realize how foolish they are being, a detached observer can find reason to be amused. They key though is detachment from the environment. Perception comes from distance.

Reading these interesting conversations snippets that one blogger has been collecting over time, makes me think if there is not potential for something similar at the workplace. It will turn out to be quite amusing.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Aged Champagne

I am no wine connoisseur and can scarcely tell the difference between the good, the bad and the ugly. When J was born, R (my ex) bought this bottle of Moet Chandon to celebrate the occasion. Just when he was about to uncork, I thought it might be a good idea to preserve this 2001 for a significant milestone in J's life. We were both thinking graduation but wondered if champagnes aged well or could even be kept that long.

However, we stored it away. That bottle of champagne has traveled across continents over the years and is like a talisman for me. R and I have long since parted ways making it a living relic of an antiquated past. Everything that was true of the time when we bought is no longer true.

The definition of a significant milestone has changed too. When the right man comes to stay in my life and R has her first real birthday ensconced by a loving family would be the occasion to celebrate with vintage bubbly. I am happy to know that champagne ages well too. I am sure mine will have nursed as it has been with so much hope, love, loss and pain.

Of Broken Home And Other Myths

Myths around single-parenting obviously color the perceptions of normal i.e. married people. While I've often been given a two thumbs up for parenting by other single mothers not so by married women bar a few exceptions. The stereotype of "broken home" is the most hurtful to the single mother.

I would have to resoundingly second this mother. In the television series, "Grace Under Fire," a recent episode showed Grace, a single mom, protesting hotly, "My home is not a broken home. When I got a divorce, I fixed it!"

When women stay on in a bad marriage to save face in society they do their offspring more harm than they do to themselves. It takes nerve to go solo with a child. A woman who does that is deserving of credit even if only for her courage.

She mends a chink instead of letting it turn into an abysmal chasm that would in the end consume her and hers. Unfortunately some cracks can be fixed coming out and not while staying in.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Silent Babel

A silent Tower of Babel seems to be in the making in the world of continuous computing. With pervasion of technology one's sense of self gets determined more and more by intelligent aggregation of perceptions about the individual - the data about us by us could be our undoing. Constant tele-prompting has potential to stunt our capacity for spontaneity and independent thought. We could find ourselves turning into a collage of images - unreal and illusory.

"The continuous computing information field is sensitive to your physical body; it's convenient and portable and can even monitor your biological functions. It allows you to extend yourself and your unique identity into the infosphere, for example in the form of digital photos and videos and instant messages.

It is especially cognizant of your associations -- family, friends, and the organizations you belong to, through always-on communications channels, group collaboration tools, and the like. It is aware of your location and offers you services appropriate to your setting at any given time in your day.

It understands your preferences and applies group intelligence to help you to find the information and products you want -- for instance, through tagging and social searching. And it its rhythm reflects the chronology of your life; it keeps your calendar and it recognizes that you are a human being moving through time, not a collection of files and folders in some static realm of cyberspace."

The Edge Of Things

A manual winder for a cell-phone gives a new meaning to "truly" wireless. This is interesting use of low-tech to power the very high tech. However, when the trusty commode starts to bristle electronic sensors and worse, personal hygiene turns into a somewhat of a cause celebre.

This brings to mind lines from Robert Browning's poem -
Bishop Blougram's Apology
Our interest's on the dangerous edge of things.
The honest thief, the tender murderer,
The superstitious atheist, demirep
That loves and saves her soul in new French books--
We watch while these in equilibrium keep
The giddy line midway: one step aside,
They're classed and done with.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Immigrant Nostalgia

In her interview to PIF magazine the poet Naomi Shahib Nye said in the context of travel writing

"Sometimes while traveling in Mexico or India or any elsewhere, I feel that luminous sense of being invisible as a traveler, having no long, historical ties, simply being a drifting eye..but after awhile, I grow tired of that feeling and want to be somewhere where the trees are my personal friends again."

The first generation immigrant who is filled with longing for the land of birth after decades abroad probably feels much the same. Except theirs is a displacement and not a journey and trees that were friends once may not be there to welcome them upon their return.

It is just this kind of nostalgia that the Carribean poet Olive Senior talks about in her poem - "Blue Foot Traveller"

That world no longer exists.
Yet from the architecture of longing
you continue to construct a bountiful edifice.

This is not exile.
You can return any day to the place that you came from
though the place you left has shifted a heartbeat

The immigrant experience is universal even if expressions are very different. In the words of screenwriter, director Milcho Manchevski
- Today, when migrating is fueled by globalization and fast development in technology, displacement, exile, homelessness and nostalgia are common experiences. "..we no longer have roots, we have aerials..we no longer have origins, we have terminals."

Innovation Versus Blamestorming

Innovation to keep jobs home scores significantly over blamestorming. The drivers for higher cost of goods of services in America are addressed at tangent even if work-arounds are not explored. There is abundant room for innovation in that area.

Salary compartors provide the basic numbers that get crunched in outsourcing contracts. What it costs to hire ten resources with a certain skill-set home versus offshore drives many decisions. What remains unexplored is - Why is there such a significant difference and what individuals and corporations (that would be a stretch) can one do to close the gap.

A few random ideas come to mind based on real-life experiences of having survived in cities in India and the US on various income levels over the last ten years.

In America, the big hits to the paycheck in come from a few sources. Rent/mortgage, daycare (if applicable), car-loan/insurance (add gas, toll and parking charges if that is significant), medical insurance, utilities in slightly differing orders.

Renewable energy sources to power homes and offices seems the logical move to shave the energy/utility bill. Instead of using electricity to bring light in dark living spaces, using natural daylight bulbs seems a good alternative.

Exurban and suburban sprawl makes the daily commute the struggle that it is. Telecommuting turning more mainstream is likely help. If offshore teams can work remotely and be successful, the same logic could extend to onshore teams. That the translation is fraught with so much anxiety is remarkable. A defined deliverable and a firm time-line to meet it seem a fair and universal measure of worker productivity.

The rising costs of medical insurance can be argued to death in futility. As with everything else the key may be to seek creative alternative. The field seems wide open for remote diagnostics and consultation.

A doctor in Ukraine with appropriate accreditation could diagnose a patient in Alabama and prescribe medication. It should be a choice available to individuals who are willing to take their chances outside of an office visit. Making it legal to bid on the price of a prescribed drugs could drive down costs significantly.

Analyzing the root cause of the phenomenon rather than agonizing over the after effect may be what it takes to find a sustainable solution.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Material and Values

Madonna may have spawned generations of "Material Girls" with a little help from their parents. An elementary school teacher trying to stem the tide may not be quite enough.

J's three year old friends at daycare wear brand name clothes and some even wear make up ! Surely Mom had to help with the perfectly applied eye-shadow. That a woman would think it necessary to embellish a face so innocent is baffling to me. If J asks to wear some I tell her "You are beautiful even without make-up. God makes all little girls just perfect." She seems very pleased to hear that.

Being a child's role model is challenging in today's world. Powerful yet subliminal lessons are learnt from a trip to the mall, watching a TV commercial or parents' social interactions and spending patterns. These could be in direct contradiction to the values the teacher is trying to instill. With the signal to noise ratio being so low it is difficult for a child to discern any useful message.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Eliminating Grayscale

As I read this beautifully written account by a man whose mother once dated a serial killer, a chill ran down my spine. I thought about the perspective of the woman herself - the minutiae of being in love and traveling with a man on a killing spree, the transforming power of this relationship, the ghosts that stayed back long past the man himself.

At an infinitely less horrific scale many of us discover the worst about our once significant other upon the demise of the relationship. We find out that we were lied to, cheated upon, that there were undisclosed skeletons in the cupboard, that they were not who we thought they were.

This story is like an epic that magnifies the human condition a million times until it transcends the ordinary. By fusing all indeterminate shades to black or white, it renders human nature shockingly two dimensional, provoking intense unease.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Wounds From Favorite Poetry

I have read some poetry over and over again my love for it almost blind. There are poets of repute that I have never read, or read but have not resonated with.I have not sought out more beautiful poetry than what I already love. New loves have come by chance but it's like Sheryl Crow's song - "The First Cut Is The Deepest"

Robert Frost said "Its absurb to think that the only way to tell if a poem is lasting is to wait and see if it lasts. The right reader of a good poem can tell the moment it strikes him that he has taken a mortal wound - that he will never get over it. That is to say, permanence in poetry as in love is percieved instantly. It hasn't to await the test of time"

Fragments from some my "mortal wounds" come back to me as I read that

"Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae" - Ernest Dowson

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine;
And I am desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, hungry for the lips of my desire:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock - T. S. Eliot

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.

Saddest Poem - Pablo Neruda

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
Write, for instance: "The night is full of stars,
and the stars, blue, shiver in the distance."
The night wind whirls in the sky and sings.
I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.
On nights like this, I held her in my arms.
I kissed her so many times under the infinite sky.

Grace By Death

Have to wonder if students being excused by bereavement will be a trend that will catch on elsewhere. After all, grace marks would be welcome equally world over.

There is something about the idea that is repelling if not abhorrent. Particularly the notion of tagging a number to a type of loss. Is there indeed a scale to measure relative mental anguish ? Equating four dead pets to a dead parent is ludicrious.

If ever there was a time for
spirtual makeovers on reality TV, this seems to be it. That may be the way to prevent needless blood bath of guinea pigs and gold fish to edge one percent over the competition.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Avant Barmecide Feast

At the height of sartorial refinement the Emperor had no clothes. The moral of the story can be fairly nuanced but the obvious one is to warn against excesses of vanity and conceit. Reading about avant cusine brings to mind a couple of stories and for different reasons. The Emperor's New Clothes and Barmecide's Feast

"I experienced this flavor epiphany with a ball of pumpkin seed oil, a liquefied olive and pouches of softened butter that floated in a potato skin consomme. By remaining intact and independent, these pouches provided spikes of richness that would not have been possible if the butter had merely melted into the soup."

In the future as avant cuisine challenges the imagination more, it may be possible to have satisfied hunger in the mind alone - the weight-watcher's dream come true. The menu would be about sights and smells. Emeril-like chefs would rhapsodize over essence of foie-gras, the air of mousse and other sensory delights that you will be served. You would still be expected to pay a king's ransom for the haute experience. Leading lights in the business are showing the way

All of this is exactly as Sara Dickerman of Slate cautions

"Historically speaking, such baroque food isn't the best indicator for a society's fate: Apicius wrote recipes for flamingo tongues and stuffed dormice shortly before Rome burned, and France's revolutionary deluge followed Louis XIV's marathon feasts by a mere few decades."

Aside - While on the topic of foie gras could not resist this amusing definition from Anthony Bourdain's book

FOIE GRAS: The fattened liver of a goose or duck. Unfortunately, an endangered menu item with the advent of angry, twisted, humorless anticruelty activists who've never had any kind of good sex or laughed heartily at a joke in their whole miserable lives and who are currently threatening and terrorizing chefs and their families to get the stuff banned. Likely to disappear from tables outside of France in our lifetimes.

Celebrity Face

When Arjun fell with a thud on my new neighbor's freshly planted flower-bed life-changing events were set in motion. We were in our early teens at the time. Mrs. Pai had been watering the plants that summer afternoon.

She strode over purposefully and grabbed him by collar of his shirt. I recoiled reflexively fearing she would slap him next. From where I stood I could not see the expression on her face though grief, indignation and outrage or a combination thereof seemed likely.

Just at the moment she set her eyes upon him, it happened. "By God, you look exactly like the young Dev Anand !!" she exclaimed her voice quivering with excitement. The pulverized plants and the question of his unauthorized presence in her garden were completely forgotten.

I crept outside and was soon joined across the fence by Mr, Pai. Arjun looked rather bewildered at the turn of events. "My wife is a big fan of Dev Anand" Mr Pai said by way of explanation and apology for her transfixion at his face.

I stared at my childhood friend with new eyes. The resemblance was as unmistakable as it was remarkable. I knew this guy for years and had never noticed. That the obvious should have to be discovered by Mrs Pai defied logic.

Later that evening at a classmate's birthday party I remarked "Anyone ever notice the resemblance between Arjun and Dev Anand ?" A lot of eyes turned on him accompanied by expressions of astonishment. He was officially the Dev Anand look-alike from that day on.

In time, Arjun would go on to acquire the gait, speech and mannerisms of the star he resembled. It was almost a fortunate coincidence that he was a natural on stage and often had the lead role in school theatrical productions. Arjun and academics had a troubled relationship even prior Mrs Pai's discovery. Now the two were formally divorced. He did end up in Mumbai years later even if not on silver-screen. Overall, I think he never reached his full potential at anything.

I have a co-worker who resembles Richard Gere with a smile to match. Having known Arjun, I wonder if it comes naturally or was acquired over time. Every time I see him, I think Richard Gere. No one seems to know his name or even care that they don't. Gere-look-alike has over-taken the real person that he is.

Our collective attitude towards this man reminds me of how Mrs. Pai's chance observation changed our perception of Arjun and his life. To have one's identity hi-jacked by a celebrity face seems to be a cruel punishment of destiny.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Literature and J

After the 22nd reading of Goldilocks and the Three Bears in two weeks I am one exhausted Mommy. I enquire of my precious J, what makes this book so special. She tells me "The three bears are good and Goldilocks is not"

Clear as mud to me "Why don't I read you the Ginger Bread Boy story now ?" I entreat as she pushes her favorite book back on my lap and orders "Read it, Mommy" I latch on the Ginger Bread Boy with equal determination.

"Why don't you like that story ?" I ask "I don't" she replies. I don't want to ask leading questions and muddy the waters but she leaves me no choice at this point. I cannot take any more Goldilocks - I am past super-saturated.

"Who is good in the Ginger Bread Boy story ?" I ask "The little old man and the little old woman" she replies. We walk through the entire cast of characters and find no other heroes. The germ of a theory about J's literary sensibilities is shaping in my head but I seek further corroboration before I can claim "We hold these facts to be self-evident in the mothering of J"

I move on to the next story that she does not care about "How about the Three Billy Goats ? Who is good in that story ?" "The smallest Billy goat" The other two goats and the troll are villains per J. She does not pronounce her verdict on the middle goat quite unequivocally - so here is a character with some shades of grey. The biggest Billy goat and the Troll are comparable in their villainy.

My last ditch effort to escape Goldilocks "How about the Princess and the Pea ?" She responds "I don't like anyone in that story and I don't like the story " She obviously does not see the point. The characters are uniformly bland. They do nothing worthwhile with their lives, except look for a "real" Princess who will be sore from sleeping on a pea hidden under twenty feather beds. J wants the characters to get a life presumably. This story is flat out boring I have to admit.

A theory emerges from empirical principles .

A story with a higher hero to villain ratio is scores over one with a lower H/V ratio.

A hero is defined as one who does no evil even when presented with the opportunity to do so (The three bears leaving Goldilocks the shameless interloper unharmed).

A villain is defined as one who habitually flouts rules or bullies the under-dog or is plain avaricious (Goldilocks, the troll ,the cast of characters in Ginger bread boy who want to eat him)

A hero could turn a villain by bullying a bully back (Big Billy Goat challenging the troll to a fight).

Saving your own skin to jeopardize another's in not a heroic quality (middle Billy Goat).

Honoring intellectual and other property rights above all (the little old man and little old woman bake the ginger bread boy making him their property to dispose as they see fit)

To cut a long story short, I read Goldilocks for the 23rd time as well.

Enabling Fairytales

In fairytales of yore, Prince Charming showed up on his white horse and after some ado, he and the Princess lived happily ever after. Growing up was about first believing in such happenstances and then knowing better. Proxi-dating, may well change that.

Allowing concessions to modern times, it requires Prince and Princess to have bluetooth enabled phones and be within fifteen meters of each other. The rest will likely follow like a charm.

Speed would be of essence in this operation. A multitude of matches could pop up within the locus of a mobile individual. Attention spans would tend to be short and distractions abundant.

While help is at hand for the Prince to conduct a seduction at high speed (this link may not be safe for work), not so for the Princess, the would-be seducee. Evolution seems to have stalled at the rather primitive book of Rules.

Nonetheless, fairytales are back with a bang : "Imagine, you are crossing the street when the girl/boy of your dreams passes before you, your phone buzzes and their face appears on your phone's screen.."

Monday, May 09, 2005

Infinitely Over-lapped

Reading the last line in the news item on white collar job burnt out in America due to outsourcing hit a raw nerve

"We can be the ones who put in the overlap time," Gupta said. "These types of schedules are baked into India's DNA. We have to earn our money somehow."

Having played on both sides of the out-sourcing game I know the score. I have had team members in US show up past 10:00 a.m. EST with the Indian side waiting on them to start a status meeting. To add insult to injury these slackers are Indians who are aware of concerns that are implicit with a woman in India staying at work well past mid-night.

I have called the woman to make sure she had transportation arranged and that she would be safe going home at that late hour. I have felt a storm of guilt rage inside when I heard her say meekly "Yes, I will be fine" I happen to know that she lives with her in-laws and has a one-year old. I want to tell her I've been there done that and I know it's anything but fine.

When the pattern of late morning (EST) meetings seemed inevitable I contacted the offshore program liaison to voice my concerns about the woman being required to stay that late for her ten minute update to the team. "Can you guys have her conference in from home ?" With offshore unwilling to pick the tab for international calls from our end that was my only option. He told me they were exploring the possibilities. Needless to say nothing changed or moved past "exploratory".

Outsourcing outfits do themselves a great disservice when they decide "We have to earn our money somehow." It is reflected in every aspect of the engagement. They agree to meet impossible dead-lines, do not re-negotiate effort estimates when scope is significantly changed fearing retribution, agree to put in all the over-lap time - in a nut-shell do anything it takes to earn the client's business.

By the time the deal is inked their availability 24/7 is a foregone conclusion. Cost being the only differentiator between different vendors can make the game dangerously cut-throat. The victims are obviously much further down the food-chain than the deal-makers themselves.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Eco and Kunzru

Years ago, I started to intersperse reading two to three books of different genres in parallel as an interesting diversion. Over time it has become a necessity. I no longer enjoy reading a book in isolation unless completely riveting. Then there is also the matter of time being scarce.

The latest mix has been On Literature by Umberto Eco and The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru. Not a very fortunate combination as I was to realize soon.

Eco's book has a chapter Wilde: Paradox and Aphorism. Reading A Picture of Dorian Grey in my teens had left me mesmerized by Wilde. Lord Wotton's wanton aphorisms and paradoxes seem as witty as they did years ago. Eco's reversals lend them several new meanings.

"Sin is the only real color element left in modern life" is reversed to "Virtue is the only real color element left in modern life" by Eco.

The most intimate chapter in this book is the last one - How I write. Eco offers a fascinating insight into what goes into the creation of his novels.

"First Of All Construct A World"

The fact is that I believe (or at least I now understand better, after four attempts at fiction) that a novel is not just a linguistic phenomenon.

He talks about writing The Name of the Rose when he spent a whole year without writing a line "Instead I read, did drawings and diagrams, invented a world. This world had to be as precise as possible, so that I could move around in it with total confidence."

"From The World To The Style"

Once the world has been designed, the words will follow, and they will be(if all goes well) the world and all the events that take place in it require.

"Constraints And Time"

Constraints are fundamental in every artistic operation. A painter who decides to use oil rather than tempera, or a canvas rather than a wall, is choosing a constraint; likewise the composer who opts for one tonality at the outset (he may then modulate it all he likes, but he has to return to that opening tonality..

And do not think that avant-garde painters, composers and poets- who seem to avoid those constraints - do not construct others. They do, but you may not be obliged to notice them.

And finally on "Joy and Sadness of writing Eco says

The beauty of writing a novel is not the beauty of the live match, it is the beauty of delayed transmission

Trying to go back and forth between Eco's luminous wit and erudition and Kunzru's slack, faltering quasi-epic was tiresome to say the least. There are more unnecessary and unmemorable characters in Kunzru's four hundred odd page book than there are useless bric-a-brac in a Dollar General store.

He has moments of inspiration when he shows depth of perception and excellent facility with the language. The book is hurting sore for a good editor. If pared to the fundamental story line, trimmed of distractions and volume halved, the Impressionist may leave a half decent impression.

Agile Mothering

I am a big fan of Agile. Numero Uno I have seen it work very well. It thrives on chaos which is the nature of the corporate beast. Systems and process that need perfect environments to work are more than likely to fail.

Business will not know their collective mind until after the product has been delivered. Requirements will evolve and devolve over time. Show-stoppers will turn nice-to-have and vice-versa and a successful program is one that changes gears without missing a beat.

Executive sponsor attention span for their pet projects is shorter than the proverbial gnat's. Without visible progress and results in the short-term that diminishes further. Budgets get hacked arbitrarily and without prior notice.

Elegant code and design exist more in theory and less in practice - there is never enough time to follow prescriptive best practices that get written about in white-papers and scholarly tomes. Contract programmers are a fickle lot - here today, gone today. Agile takes the bull by the horns and attempts to make the most with what little can be assumed for the duration of a "sprint".

At the end of a short iteration there is a tangible end result. Business likes seeing how far the dollar has traveled and in how long. Their interest in the project gets stoked frequently pre-empting amnesia. Chances are in a "program portfolio rationalization" effort the Agile project will remain blessed.

One Agile practice that I particularly like is that of roles being mutable. The formal title is too short-lived for anyone to get hung-up on it. It can be empowering to be managed and manage by turn. There is increased empathy for demands of particular roles within the team. In a competitive market a team member with a versatile skills and ability to change hats seamlessly is likely to survive the most number of "smart-sizing " efforts.

I didn't realize when I brought a little Agile home with me. It started out as a game J and I played. J would be Mommy and I would be J for a little while. I would make the same crazy, unreasonable demands of her as she does of me. J mothers me after her own fashion.

Demands are always met when J is Mommy - that is obviously what she expects from me. While the message is amply clear I can't use it. Interestingly, if I start being a very difficult "J", she will ask to end the game and go back to being our real roles. J recognizes the challenges of mothering J equally and does not have any more answers than I do.

While I have not found smart solutions for moods and tantrums, I have gained amazing insights into how J thinks. Since she mimics me faithfully, she shows me what I am doing wrong from a child's perspective. Playing J helps me see myself as a three year old does and no parenting lesson can be more valuable than that.

Two thumbs up for Agile !!

For Me on Mother's Day

I wrote this on a mother's day when J and I had been far apart for a while and my heart ached beyond belief. I wished for togetherness and a wildflower for a gift. This year I have both. Ms W helped J and her class make flowers with finger paint and construction paper for Mother's Day. I feel utterly grateful for delayed gratification.

A Mother of Another Kind

A mother of another kind mea culpa,
I have forgotten the smile, the touch and the kiss that made my world go round
instead my heart is etched with many sudden memories
seared by despair and agony of a soul ripped in two.
That a time will come when I will hold you close to me again,
that we will go for a walk hand in hand on a bright summer day like today.
That on such a day you may be wearing a straw hat with a satin ribbon flapping in the wind
That you may stop to pick a wild flower and say "For you, Ma."

Such is the soft dream stuff - my "prana" my will to live.
Should a thrifty fairy to grant me two wishes instead of three -
I would ask to live my days to the last
To see you ever joyful and serene.
And on a dark winter night, should I be alone,
I be able to reach you - rest in the warmth of your home and heart.

But, I will not cry nor be sad this summer day
when the flowers give their best,
and the grass is greener by far than hope new born.
I will instead send out a prayer to Him who has counted all my heartbeats unto now
and knows how many more I have left.
I will ask him to hear me and one little angel playing
in the courtyard of my childhood home - hear our dreams of togetherness.
I will ask him to save the debt of my "Karma" for another life
and give me this one to just be a mother of the real kind.

Published as NM (my pen-name)

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Craigslist Bangalore

A curious post under "Missed Connections" in Craigslist Bangalore left me rather bemused.

To the non-resident Indian I just saw this evening around 7:30 pm. sorry I didn't say hi. I'm the other NRI you saw this evening. I think we were both surprised. Are you working, living, visting?"

I used to live in Bangalore at a time when the hordes in Silicon Valley were selling homes, deserting their fancy cars in airport parking lots and scurrying homewards for jobs. NRIs abounded aplenty but I don't recollect them being branded with visible signs that called out to their displaced diaspora status.

Interestingly, the young college kids looked like they would have blended in perfectly well with NYC or Chicago cityscapes. Not to say that they looked out of place in Bangalore either.

Have to wonder if lately that has changed and the government of India has mandated an 'N' tattooed on the forehead of "NRIs" in lieu of extended tax holidays , PIO card and the like. Too bad for me that I haven't kept up with the news. For some reason "Imperial Hubris" comes to mind reading this CL post.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Sensory Immersion

Crowded public places can at times be devoid of character. Indistinctive cityscapes, people talking to their cell-phones, listening to music, the ebb and tide of traffic leave behind blurred rather than clear impressions of a place. Increasing our immersion in our surroundings by engaging multiple senses is an interesting notion in itself though the benefits (if any) are largely suspect.

We no longer remain a nameless, faceless anonymity in the milling crowds when we participate in voluntary surveillance like the loca project. The city does not remain without character when we allow it to create music based on our interactions with it.

"a system that creates electronic music based on sensing bodily and environmental factors. Mapping these to the real-time processing of concrete sounds, Sonic City generates a personal soundscape co-produced by physical movement, local activity, and urban ambiance. Encounters, events, architecture, (mis)behaviours - all become means of interacting with or 'playing the city' "

We could potentially play back the sounds of the "City and I" into an eidophone to render that experience two dimensional.

Balanced Media Diet

With so much consumable media at our disposal it is only natural that media diet should become a subject of study. One PR exec's recent experiment with blog-only news diet parallels trying to survive on hors de oeuvres alone. At the other extreme trying to read every news paper in the world on-line seems to be the ultra-high carb alternative.

Until recently conventional wisdom dictated that TV should be watched in moderation or better still - not at all. Couch-potato was once synonymous with looser. Not any more. We are being told that TV can make you smarter

Couches outfitted with wheels are now traveling in what appears to be an extreme image make-over exercise.

So what would be a well balanced media-diet ? Help should be on it's way in the form of media dieticians. A perfect pro-am niche. Until then our minds will go through cyclic weight loss and gain as we trudge though the excesses of infotainment trying to contain our desire to know more, know a little about everything, keep up with world events, popular culture and everything else in between.

We would veer giddily from high-carb to no carb, all fruit and no water, ovo-lacto vegetarianism to find the one silver bullet of a diet that will keep us in sane mental health.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Baby In Bath

I dread the online encounter post-mortem call to M that I seem to do on auto-pilot. Typically the call is made on a Saturday noon when J takes her nap and all the world is at peace. M knows right away what this is all about and has admitted to reaching for caffeine because my horror stories make her want to retch otherwise.

I get straight to the point " The man's handle was SpeedDaemon and I responded to his contact. Plead guilty to acting out of boredom and not acuity."

M sighs in exasperation and asks "Where the heck do you pick these zombies ?"

I reply vaguely " You know here and there" knowing that specifics will provoke M to recommence her Dating for Dummies Refresher Course By Phone. She has in the past provided me inspiration for the Dating Guide For Desi Dudettes. Educating is in her genes.

"The dude wrote an intelligent blurb, looked very respectable, works for the government. We exchanged e-mails. Has a daughter a little older than J. Seemed to dote on her. Asked me if I wanted to see a picture. I said sure" dramatically pause at this point for maximum, effect on M

"Well ?" she asks

"He sent me a picture of a pretty seven year old girl in a bath tub covered only in bubbles. The title of the picture being "My Little Bathing Princess" I felt strangely queasy at the choice of picture he chose to share with a complete stranger " I say

"What happens after that ? " M is deathly serious now

"Well, we chat some on-line. He tells me that his ex is fighting tooth and nail to cut him off from his daughter. Claims that she is being vindictive because the alimony deal didn't work out so well for her. The picture of the little girl in tub keeps coming back to me as we chat. He asks if I have a picture of J" second pregnant pause at this point.

"You didn't share any pictures did you ?" M considers me very retarded so I am not surprised at her question. I take no offense either.

"No. Instead I try to find out a little bit more about the deal with ex and daughter. The picture as it turns out was taken when the little girl last visited him. I don't want to think what I am thinking but I can't help myself. It makes me want to throw up" I say

"You really think ?" M asks.

"I don't know. I asked him what went wrong with the marriage - whatever he said was not enough reason for a stay-at-home mom in her late thirties to suddenly file for a divorce. The timing of the whole thing bothered the hell out of me" I said

"Wow" M exhales deeply

"He wanted to meet up" I say

" You did not !!" exclaims M.

"I figured I would like to see the dude in person to see if I could sense any over-powering creep factor. It's important to me, M. I have a daughter too. If I do get hitched with someone I would first need be sure J will be safe with him. How can I tell ? This guy looks and sounds so regular" I say in defense

"So how did that go ?" M asks

"Well, I met him at lunch hour in a public library at the other end of town. Parked several blocks away and walked over. We talked for about twenty minutes. The strange thing I noticed was the aura of harmlessness about him - you know the kind you think would not hurt a fly. Only that it was so strong that I felt totally repelled. Even if that picture thing had not happened, I would have backed out right after that meeting." I say

" So do you think you'll be able to tell about J's safety from meeting a guy ?" M asks " I feel fortunate that I don't have that to worry about" she adds

"I don't know, M. I just believe that J and I are in God's hands. I leave it at that" I felt more resignation than I could convey in words.

Cryonic Afterlife

Demonstrating proof of after-life using the body's hydrochloric acid to power batteries seems quaint if not juvenile in comparison to actually planning on coming back from the dead. Both essentially long tail phenomena at this time, though the desire for immortality is as old mankind itself.

When cryonics goes commercial anyone who could afford the service could in theory take a shot at immortality. That would not exclude the twenty life-term serving serial killer either. The Terri Schavio conundrum of cryonic future could get a lot worse. The ethics of convicting a criminal eternally would be in question and as would be the jurisdiction of courts over an individual's right to immortality. Litigation is already turning spiritual in anticipation of work ahead.

It is as Langdon Winner says in his book Autonomous Technology

"...A crucial turning point comes when one is able to acknowledge that modern techniques, much more than politics as conventionally understood, now legislates the conditions of human existence. New technologies are institutionalized structures within an existing constitution that gives shape to a new polity, the technopolis in which we do increasingly live. For the most part, this constitution still evolves with little public scrutiny or debate. Shielded by the conviction that technology is neutral and tool-like, a whole new order is built -- piecemeal, step by step, with the parts and pieces linked together in novel ways, without the slightest public awareness or opportunity to dispute the character of the changes underway. It is somnambulism (rather than determinism) that characterizes technological politics -- on the left, right, and center equally"

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Two Poems By Faiz Ahmed Faiz

The theme of love is eternally recurrent in poetry and yet each poet gives it a new slant. When I read "Before You Came" by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, I am amazed that the obvious can be so compelling and be stated with such beautiful simplicity.

"Let Me Think" by Fiaz may be about the pain of alienation of one exiled. To me it seems the aftermath of a lover's refusal to heed a poet's entreaty "Now you are here again - stay with me. This time things will fall into place;" and in as such exiles the beloved from her heart.

In the reader's imagination and state of mind two poems from far ends of a poet's oeuvre come to exist in perfect harmony like they were paired to convey a fuller, deeper meaning. Being able to read meanings other than one intended is perhaps the greatest pleasure of reading poetry.

Before You Came
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Before you came things were just what they were:
the road precisely a road, the horizon fixed,
the limit of what could be seen,
a glass of wine no more than a glass of wine.

With you the world took on the spectrum
radiating from my heart: your eyes gold
as they open to me, slate the colour
that falls each time I lose all hope.

With your advent roses burst into flame:
you were the artist of dried-up leaves, sorceress
who flicked her wrist to change dust into soot.
You lacquered the night black.

As for the sky, the road, the cup of wine:
one was my tear-drenched shirt,
the other an aching nerve,
the third a mirror that never reflected the same

Now you are here again - stay with me.
This time things will fall into place;
the road can be the road,
the sky nothing but the sky;
the glass of wine, as it should be, the glass of

(translated by Naomi Lazard)

Let Me Think
by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

You ask me about that country whose details now escape me,
I don't remember its geography, nothing of its history.
And should I visit it in memory,
It would be as I would a past lover,
After years, for a night, no longer restless with passion,
With no fear of regret.
I have reached that age when one visits the heart merely as a courtesy.

(translated by Agha Shahid Ali)

Freedom and Women

Growing up in an Indian hick town with cosmopolitan pretensions was a mixed blessing. Everyone knew everyone so you had to watch your step. Good and bad news traveled at equal speed. A kid that did well in school became a local celebrity, the neighbor's uncle's mother-in-law knew his score in the last math test and made sure to inform everyone she knew. If a teen had a crush, the pressure from news mongering would uncrush it in short order - one less worry for the parents.

On the upside, you just had to walk twenty minutes from where you lived to sample almost every culture in India. Even in the dark ages pre-MTV, we did not have to play catch-up with style and fashion because women went home to metros they grew up in during holidays and brought back it back with them. I did not have a single friend that spoke the same language as I did at home.

For as long as I remember I never went anywhere un-escorted. All failing the trusty milkman would follow me on his bi-cycle with cans jangling until I reached my destination safe. I could go only as far as I my legs would carry me and curfew was in effect from the moments street lights came on. I yearned for freedom with every pore of my being - actually escape. It may well be symptomatic of growing up in a place like that. My high school buddies are in scattered in several different continents and none are in mine. The freedom urge must have been fairly strong to have caused such wide spread dispersion.

Girls in their teens had highly sensitive receptors for eve-teasers, perverts and the like. We would know the roads to avoid, read body language at twenty paces and make detours on the fly. Even with such sophisticated defense mechanisms we often found ourselves frequently and unsuspectingly "eve-teased" - the blanket euphemism whose only purpose is to dampen the seriousness of the problem.

There are still towns like mine around the world where women have to pay a price for freedom. The non-contact jacket is the logical evolution from pepper spray. Interestingly when we were in engineering school my buddies and I had thought of something very similar and our first concern was abuse of the devise by men and next someone coming up with a mechanism to discharge it remotely. We obviously missed an opportunity just like years later I missed yet another.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Third Date

Published in Serenelight

Shiv is fond of saying that he is left where magic realism meets Haiku and remembers having mentioned this to Joie. Consider, "My wife drives to the pharmacy for Advil. Dark is the night and in it she melts. Her side of the bed turns cold like death."

He was meeting her for the third time, sitting in a shaded corner of Tia's Tapas Bar on Lover's Lane. The sky is brilliantly blue and the heat unforgiving.

Her eyes follow the movement of his fingers as he spoons some of his Jalapeno Souffle on to her plate. If he has signaled intimacy she has noticed.

"So did she never come back again ?" she asks twirling her straw in the drink.

"No, never. It's like I said - she seemed to have melted in the night. Almost like those stories about alien abductions. Maybe she was one of them " He looks up and laughs heartily. "I could hold forth on the endlessly fascinating topic of what is to get it from an alien. Talking of which - she was wildly adventurous in bed."

"Is that why you miss her ?" Joie asks matter of factly.

"Part of why not wholly why. We're not here to talk about her are we ?" Shiv says

"Maybe and maybe not. Sometimes the past provides context for the present relationship" she says " I would not declare this date a complete disaster just because we talked about her" she adds with a laugh.

"I have to admit that I am more curious about her since she left than I was ever before. Disappearing like she did turned her rather mysterious - even tantalizing" Shiv says.

"Is that a good thing ?" Joie asks

"Not particularly if I wish to move on. Don't you agree ?" Shiv replies.

"Maybe she wanted to have your attention" Joie says thoughtfully.

"You think so ? Goes to prove how little you know about the person you have been married to ten years until they leave" Shiv says with a sad smile "And we dated three years prior. To your point, I don't think I was inattentive enough to drive her to such desperation. But who knows"

"So what is it about me that interests you ?" she asks breaking away from a train of thought.

"Hey, that almost sounds accusatory" he laughs

"Do you want an honest answer ?" Shiva asks.

"Yes, why not ?" Joie says as she sips her Sangria.

"You are intriguing. I needed something more puzzling to unravel, a character that would draw me in, challenge me more that my wife - post disappearance that is. Somewhat like solving a cryptic cross word puzzle to take a break from a bout of intensely inconclusive thinking. The energy flows in a different path providing relaxation. Does that kind of make sense ?" Shiv asks

"Perfectly. I'm not sure how I should feel about that" she says

"Try enchanted maybe." He smiles.

"I would except that I think you are an escapist. Instead of trying to detach yourself from her allure and mystique you are looking for a sensory overload that will numb your senses." Joie says.

"That's one way of looking at it. I don't think I am trying to escape. When someone leaves after thirteen years like she did they leave a void behind. All memories are depleted from the shock of it. I can't escape emptiness, I can only hope to fill it." Shiv says "Would you like to go somewhere after lunch?" he asks

"Where would you like to go ?" Joie asks.

"You have a crumb on your lip" Shiv says "Where ever you like. Some place quiet where we could talk would be nice" he adds

Joie wipes her mouth with the napkin "Gone ?" she asks

"Not yet. Just displaced" Shiv laughs

"Now ?" she tries again

"No. May I ?" he offers. She shrugs ambivalently as she checks her bag to see if she is carrying the powder compact with a mirror. She is not.

The firm touch of his finger on her lower lip is too short to leave a sensory after taste. She finds herself looking at the coppery brown stain of her lipstick that his finger leaves on glass. He notices. "Nice shade. Works great with the color of your eyes" he observes.

"Thank you" she smiles. "Would you like to go to a park ? I have a favorite spot by the lake that's really peaceful" she asks. Shiv picks up at the tab completely ignoring her protests. "I am trying to guilt-trip you into asking me over to your place for dinner" he jokes.

"Do you come her often ?" he asks Joie as they sit down on a wooden bench.

"Yes. I love to watch the teals come home at dusk. Anything I read sitting here remains with me for a long time. Strange because my memory is like a sieve and I struggle to remember" Joie says

"Can I ask you something ?" he asks

"Sure" she replies

"Do you think it is possible to overcome fear of loss ?"he asks

"Yes. Maybe you would have to loose a second time and be aware of that fact that you are loosing. The big part of fear comes from having being unprepared to loose. Haiku meeting magic realism cannot be very life-like" Joie says.

"Joie, I feel like I have found a real friend in you. If I overcame my fear I would fall in love I know" Shiv says reaching out to hold her hand.

"Shiv I am not at the right time in your life for love. You need a conscious loss before you can love again. Having overcome many losses already I am now ready for love. You and I don't intersect. We are the right people for each other but at the wrong time" Joie says sadly. "I need to get back now. I didn't realize it was so late" she says glancing at her watch

"Does that mean I won't see you again ?" Shiv asks as she gently frees her hand from his.

"No, it means I will see you many more times. We will be in love, you will be ready for loss because you relate love to loss. In the end you will choose loss. It will set you free." Joie says with a smile.

"Wouldn't you be hurt ?" he asks.

"I think I will leave with beautiful memories. Like my lipstick on your finger and on a glass of wine that's not mine - memories that will be borne over to their resting place through love and loss" she replies.

"No good night kiss, Joie ?" Shiv asks as he draws her close to him.

"Don't you want my allure to persist longer ?" she teases as she frees herself " Good night, Shiv."

Joie melts into the night
Departed Love seeking
To intersect with Loss.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Downstream Ripple Effects

When I read about Apollo Hospital being India's rising star in the horizon of medical-tourism, thoughts turn to my dear friend B who made a trip to India for medical treatment making a detour at some tourist hot-spots along the way. For months after her return she could not get over the beautiful drape and hues of the sari and the sticker shock of rock bottom medical service charges in top-flight Indian facilities.

Hers in an interesting story. Divorced at age fifty she continues to support an improvident ex-husband out of a sense of misplaced responsibility if not guilt. Her retirement went up in smoke when the bubble burst forcing her out of her sea-side cottage back into the corporate quagmire and yet she calls the most expensive florist in town to deliver orchids to her aunt on her birthday.

Among a lot of other things, B is a victim of the perma-parent trap. She truly believes that she needs to make the down payment on the home that her daughter and son-in-law want to buy, pay for their Christmas shopping. This after having bank rolled their fifty thousand dollar theme wedding.

B needed to see an ophthalmologist and could not afford his bills with her skimpy medical insurance coverage. Day after day she squinted at the LCD display of her laptop trying to get the days work done. She obviously could not afford to consult a specialist for carpal tunnel syndrome either.

B is a good woman with a heart of gold. It's just that she does not know to look out for herself . Sometimes she talked about her fiscal dire straits and I would blurt out "If you stopped being everyone's fairy God-mother you'll be just fine" She would smile and say "I figure they need the money more than I do. God will take care of me when I run out so I'll be fine in the end" I could not possibly argue with such faith.

It's interesting how the ripples of global economic upheaval are felt downstream the human level. Her ex-husband was an X-ray technician who got laid off when someone in India could do remotely what he did for a tenth of the price. When B came back from her Indian medical-tour she had saved the "family" several thousand dollars. That money will pay her un-employed ex-husband's bills for several months which is more than his social security benefits can do for him.

Until B can afford to see a doctor within twenty miles of home, and her ex-husband can make a living out of his hobby of restoring old furniture not much will change in the pattern of their lives or that of million others in similar circumstances. A step in the right direction maybe the concept of micro-medical insurance being piloted in India.

Psycho-geographer Buddha Walking

Instead of down-town streets of the modern world, where it originated, I imagine walking down the streets of an ancient city in India ( Varanasi comes to mind immediately) like a psycho-geographer would.

My meme is a simple "First right and Second Left". I see myself wandering unawares into temples, shops, ghats of the Ganges, court-yards and lives of unknown people. Mind mapping Vishwanath Gali could be a psycho-geographer's dream
come true.

Let's say I take a photograph at each stop borrowing from the beautiful idea of degree confluence. I repeat my tour at various times of the day, over days months and years. Other walkers like me do the same. We have no stated objective besides repeating our patterned walk over and over again.

At the end of ten years should we consolidate all our data would order emerge from apparent chaos ? Perhaps it would turn out that on every third Tuesday, at ten past one in the afternoon there is a always a woman in purple at a singular coordinate.

What is a woman in purple on every third Tuesday afternoon ? could well be a Koan ( A question in Zen Buddhism that cannot be answered logically; a technique used to test consciousness and bring awakening
) even if not profound as "What is the sound of one hand clapping"

Maybe the answer to that would need a heightened awareness of the walk itself. Psycho-geographer would need to turn Buddha walker

Something about this train of thought leads me to correlate Yoga turning hip-hop though the situation I describe is more about returning to roots than departing.