Showing posts from March, 2006

News From Home

I am a huge fan of Good News India ever since I discovered it. Their tag line summarizes it all "News from India : of positive action, steely endeavour and quiet triumphs ~ news that is little known" The site reports stories about ordinary Indians who have worked within the flawed and imperfect system, with little more than their unflagging committment to their cause to keep them going.

There is the story of Lakshmi Thathachar for instance who is using Sanskrit as his tool of resurgence. He believes that "Sanskrit-learning can lead to viable, contemporarily relevant careers." His is one of the many wonderful testaments of hope that touches the lives of the most marginalized in India.
For a decade now, most of the "good" press about India in the western media has been around the hugely successful IT story. Like all high-profile stories, it ends up being a distraction from much else about India that is newsworthy.

That a woman in Nagpur has found a way to recy…

New Kid On The Block

It was that time of year when existing vendor relationships are studied, analyzed and evaluated. Familiarity breeds contempt, unhappiness and dissatisfaction even when you are one of the outsourcing heavy-weights from India. One morning, the powers that be let it be known that the Indians had been ousted by a Brazilian outsourcing company and that the transition would be completed in the next sixty days.

While desis are very familiar with one Indian vendor being replaced by another in the bitter bidding wars for a large outsourcing contract, being shown the door by the Brazilians was somewhat of a surprise. My interaction with the team from Brazil has been limited but I sense a certain lack of confidence among the outgoing Indian vendor resources as well as the American employees.

They had achieved a certain rapport over the years. Indian festivals were celebrated in the cafeteria, miniature Ganesh and Nataraj idols adorned the desks of American managers. One woman had a colorful dupatt…

Crossing The Border

Coming as I do from a family of refugees from Bangladesh displaced by partition and settled in India for a couple of generations, immigration legal, illegal, enforced or by choice is always of interest to me. My ancestors were driven out of their homeland and had to start their lives over in a new country. Years after the 1947 refugee crisis was over, the tide of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh to West Bengal rises unabated.

The semi-porosity of the international border and the government's studied indifference to the problem only helps these people who desperately seek a better life. Once in India, they form a formidable vote-bank that no political party can afford to alienate itself from. They derive their strength in their large, undocumented numbers and just for that reason the free flow from across the border will never stem. Anyone who has spent time in West Bengal knows that an impoverished neighbor and electoral math involving illegal immigrants is a lethal combination. …

Infinite Choice

If programmable beverages become common, the coke wars would become a thing of the past. Choice fatigue acquires a whole new connotation when we start to have at our disposal,

a programmable cola bottle with buttons for lemon, lime, vanilla, and cherry flavors as well as a caffeine button allows for thirty-two potential choices of soda.

Add to that being able to order online a "mass customized" pair of jeans sewn to fit us as perfectly as our skin. Mall hopping to find that elusive pair of jeans with the perfect fit - with or without that can of soda to keep us going - will become quaint old habits.

Bad Genes

J has always been a very perseverant little person. Last evening she finally managed to turn cartwheels on the couch after three months of concerted effort. I celebrated her success with her even as I realize her athletic career (beyond reasonable doubt) is ab initio void.

I spent the school years reading under the shade of a tree as my friends sweated it out on the basketball court. R's (my ex) solitary claim to sporting fame was that he played a mean game of chess. J's tenaciousness can't possibly overcome the odds of such terrible genes.

My mother wrote me off at seven when I straggled to the finish line twenty minutes after prizes were given away to the winner and runners-up of the lemon-and-spoon race. She expended no further energies on my athletic ambitions and instead made me a junior member of the local library. She was wise to cut her losses early.

In the life of every mother there comes to pass such moments of epiphany.

Coming Of Age

Earlier this morning D and I were have a light-hearted conversation about our coming of age experiences. He told me about his first sexual encounter at seventeen. She was his teacher. I was quick to be outraged "You were a minor. That makes it molestation" He burst out laughing "Hell no ! It was a welcome rite of passage. I got laid not molested. And I was more than willing"

Made me think of me at fourteen when I told my mother about a PT teacher touching me inappropriately and how she and my dad showed up at school to complain to the principal. How following my example, several other girls and their parents followed suit and how the principal fired the PT teacher within a month. All of us girls felt vindicated as did our incensed parents.

Whereas D's experience gave him the bragging rights among his friends who to quote him "wanted a piece of the action", I felt humiliated and victimized by mine and pretended it was a bad dream. So many years later, it…

Formed Memories

There is something about Handel's Harp Concerto in B flat that I can't get enough of it. I have always loved the sound of the harp, but that's not what this is about. Memories of my childhood home, listening to Rabindrasangeet on vinyl records come rushing even as the first movement begins.

I can't trace it back to a particular song but given the influence of western classical music on Tagore, it is entirely possible he composed something inspired by this piece of music. These are the tenuous strands of memory that slip out of one's reach like so many skeins of silk.

Yet sometimes, memories for the future are subconsciously made. One of my very favorite songs of all time, Rukh Jaana Nahin by Kishore Kumar turned even more so after my marriage. I played it countless times on the keyboard R gifted me on my first birthday as his wife.

So many years and upheavals later, that song has turned into my personal anthem - every word profoundly meaningful. When I first heard it,…

A Baby Star

J and her friends at ballet class performed for the parents today. They've been learning for about two months now. The only discernable difference (at least to my eyes) was that the kids moved around less chaotically than they did at first. There were as many camcorders as there were parents - except two of us who had old fashioned non-digital cameras.

The other woman was the mom of the only little boy in the class. Hers was a high-end Nikon with telephoto lens and works. After the class, she gave me some pictures of J she had taken on a previous class. "She is such a pleasure to shoot. So photogenic and such a beautiful face!" gushed the photographer. "I will send you the pictures I took today as well". Thanks to ballet class, J will have a portfolio by a professional photographer.

While it was not much of a ballet or even a dance performance we did catch a glimpse of our children's personalities and inclinations. There are some fast and eager learners who i…

Plastic Over Paper

The chirpy checkout girl at the local farmer's market asked me "Do you have a bagging preference this evening ?" The inordinately long time it took for me to answer her must have made her wonder if I had understood the question.

She stood there waiting politely for my preference be declared . I said "Plastic will be fine" feeling that was the wrong choice as soon as I had made it.

I am always in a quandary when asked to choose between paper and plastic. What exactly makes one a better choice over the other ? At what point does wholesome turn unsustainable ? Is it right to assume that the consumer has access to all relevant data points to make an informed decision ? Is it reasonable to expect they be able to process such data in all of thirty seconds that the bagging assistant allows for the task ?

Yet, I made a decision that contributed to a landfill hoping in return a tree somewhere gained an extra lease of life. Maybe in truth my plastic will be recycled and tha…

Cubicle Mate

T and I are office spouses by the 3rd test of spousal relationship between a guy and a girl in the work place namely:You're a guy and girl who frequently (like every 15 minutes) engage in invective-laced vent sessions on how idiotic your bosses are. And continue griping during the lunches and breaks.Guilty as charged.
We laugh at each other’s jokes and sometimes the third person in the conversation has to play catch up and we enjoy that bit. He is married to a woman he obviously adores – it shines in his voice when he answers her calls in the middle of meetings. For my part, I have either been in orbetween relationships for as long as T and I have worked together. Up until now, I never thought of T as anything but "that guy at work with a quirky sense of humor"With T around workplace aggravations turn bearable – exactly what a real spouse is supposed to do for life. So I guess, the moniker “office spouse” is not so far off the mark after all.

Of Finite Deeds

I was thinking about how out of infinite resignation rises a tentative will to challenge status quo. How I try one last time knowing fully well that "the last time" is like the horizon - a line that recedes as I approach it. I fall back , get hurt yet don't stay down forever. Every pain heals in the end to reveal new hope. A very long day, and these thoughts must have lead me to Maria Rilke.

by Rainer Maria Rilke

Out of infinite longings rise
finite deeds like weak fountains,
falling back just in time and trembling.
And yet, what otherwise remains silent,
our happy energies-show themselves
in these dancing tears.

Ideal Bot

Anyone who has felt a twenty four hour day is not nearly long enough would love the idea of a digital butler - described thusly "a digital butler that roams the Internet, intuitively knowing your likes and dislikes, retrieving perfect strands of news and information that you never would have discovered through old-fashioned surfing. That's the holy grail of personalisation and automation on the Internet."

Some things on my wish-list would include - finding the lyrics of a song often recalled but never fully remembered, long lost friends, news of technology in incubation, travelogues about uncommon places, new words and interviews with favorite writers.

Belated Shrek

From J's earliest babyhood parents of all stripe have been telling me that my love for J is entirely questionable if she has not watched Shrek, that her childhood would be remarkably empty for the want of that experience, that I would regret my decision to my dying day if she grew up to be the one kid in the known universe who had not watched Shrek. Now that she is getting ready for kindergarten, I figured it was time to introduce her to the cultural icon of her generation. We watched Shrek this afternoon at the long last.

If the message of the movie was to look beyond superficial beauty and love the person inside, it was lost on both of us. The ending was deflating for me in that the beautiful princess had to turn into a fulltime ogre to become Mrs Shrek.
Its wonderful that Shrek remained an ogre but wouldn't the lesson be more convincingly taught if Fiona turned forever beautiful and still loved the ogre. My take away at the end of the ninety minute plus hoopla was that ugly p…

Mutating Logo

In most corporations of any reasonable size, the branding gods have to bless all online and print content that their customers will see. The tone and voice of copy must be reviewed for consistence, colors must be chosen from a branded palette, fonts from a tiny set of approved families and so forth. Needless to say the process is tedious and has little room for creativity. The end result is as boring as it is conformist.

The fact that Google is almost God and chooses to mutate its logo so frequently flies in the face of conventional branding wisdom. As an end-user, I am excited by Google's everchanging stripes. Instead of taking away from its brand equity, it adds pizzazz. What's more it catches the customer's eye.

The reason Google is able to play so many variations on its theme and yet not stray dangerously away from its identity is simplicity. There is not a ton of copy that needs to be rejigged each time the logo acquires a new look. Google's branding strategy clearl…

Ersatz Mozart

Only earlier today I was listening to Bob Mondello talk about recycling of Shakespeare for teen consumption by Hollywood. It was a portent perhaps. I have been looking forward to the Magic Flute performance ever since I got my tickets a month ago. It would be the first time that J would be watching a western classical music performance and I was excited on her behalf.I was one enraged consumer when I discovered that we would be subjected to a Disney-fied interpretation of Magic Flute complete with smart-ass jokes. That was not what the ad for the concert said. J was dismayed and told me several times "Mommy, I wish we had not come here". She was close to tears. I shared her sentiment but thrifty single-mom that I am, having paid the monies, made us sit through the torture. There were plenty of kids in audience. I observed that they were enjoying it and for the most part got the humor. In our TV-less household J does not have the advantage of complete media immersion that the…

Oil Standard

To see the cost of things in near real time equivalent barrels of oil is disturbing. Maybe that is exactly the point - to disturb. A credit card balance, the sum total of your savings and the iPod Nano you have been lusting are all only so many barrels of oil.

You wonder if should allow your reserves to lower, if you should want less and conserve what you have - better still add to your stock. You wonder what might happen if oil prices spiked so high that it pushed life's smallest desires out of reach and finally if indeed one day it was the "Oil Standard" instead of the "Gold Standard" for trading all goods and currencies.

Created Home

An uncle recently bought a home in India after spending four decades in the US. They intend to move back for good within a couple of years. He and is wife have an extensive friend circle and are very social people. They figure spending their old age in India will be more comforting. The relatives back home view the decision with puzzlement and concern. Can they catch up from where they left forty years ago ? Why would they not want to stay in the country they have lived so long - where their kids are ? Wouldn't they miss familiar faces and surroundings ?

Maybe if the Indian community in America had something like Nikkei Concerns,(In the early 1970's, aging Issei (first generation Japanese Americans) had nowhere to go to receive culturally sensitive nursing care. In response to this need, seven Nisei (second generation) mobilized the Japanese community to develop a nursing home to meet the cultural, social, language and dietary needs of elderly Nikkei.) their longing for roots w…

Most Unfavorite

In which J's vocabulary takes me by surprise and makes me ponder my life's purpose.

"The winter coat is my most unfavorite thing" she declares this evening on our way home.

"What does unfavorite mean ?" I ask

"The thing that you don't like at all" J explains.

It's been warm and summery after a long time. J was in her summer clothes today and exuberant to be freed of her "unfavorite" coat.

Listening to her made me wonder what my most unfavorite thing was. I don't think I have one - there are too many contenders tied for the top slot. To have just one "most unfavorite" is Zen. It signifies peace, tranquility and emotional well being - the things that really count.

Imaginary Storyline

I finished reading Anjali Banerjee's Imaginary Men yesterday. Interesting genre - 50% Mills and Boons 25% Chick Lit and 25% Expat Desi Lit. Part One of the book should have been titled "Totally Clueless In and About Kolkata".
Being a local, the cringe quotient is so much higher for me. Hopefully the non-Bongs among us desis would have felt half way better. She totally does not get it and does not have anyone on her editorial/review/research team that does either.
Coming from an MM Kaye in Far Pavilions many trespasses are forgivable. You figure she does not know better. Allowing Banerjee similar latitude is hard because she is a local at least in part. Maybe a case of misplaced expectations here. Take-away from Part One is that Banerjee is very seriously fixated by the geckos on the walls of Kolkata homes. They pepper her sentences like sev on bhelpuri.

Once back in the SF Bay, Banerjee is more in her element. She talks like a normal person in a language and idiom that is c…

Strange Detour

P has been on my mind for years. His last words to me came to haunt me much after he spoke them - "I hope you fall in love with someone as difficult as you are. Then you'll know how I feel". I have loved only "difficult" men since and pine for simplicity. I call it the "Curse of P" on my life.

Many times in the last ten years I have longed talk to P one last time to let him know I treasured how he felt about me, that I always wished him happiness he would not have found with me. That I had loved him equally. In some corner of the world, I imagine an older, wiser P surrounded by a loving wife and a couple of kids - the picture of perfect domestic bliss. I know no one more deserving of happiness than he.

Yet, P has vanished without a trace. I hesitate to reach out to him through our batchmates from college. It would embarrass both of us - we were both fiendish about privacy. I have trawled Google time over time but my precious Akoya pearl never surfaces.


Two War Movies

Watched Roman Polanski's The Pianist and Stanley Kubrik's Full Metal Jacket in the last week. I have enjoyed other Polanski movies but The Pianist was a disappointment. One jarring note in the movie was the physical appearance of a family in the middle of the Holocaust. Not a hair out of place, in glowing health and almost too well dressed for their horrific circumstances. Just that was too much of a distraction from the storyline making immersion impossible. I was expecting something memorable like Schindler's List but this was not even close.

Full Metal Jacket will be a movie to remember for both its theme and treatment. The "Jungian" duality of man that the protagonist feels and lives was portrayed amazingly well. The morphing of normal men into killing machines at bootcamp in the first part of the movie was more gut-wrenching than the second part - the reality of the Vietnam war itself.

Craft Capital

A while ago, I had bemoaned that crafts and hobbies do not alas the bills pay. I spoke too soon and now stand corrected. There is a thriving market for it - if the site's appearance is any indicator. It seems like just the tag "hand-made" comes with a steep price tag.
Consider for instance this very ordinary looking "handcut" paper flower embellished with "hand-sewn" beads is worth four dollars plus shipping. Now that's some serious return on investment.
Some of the stuff that the kids in J's daycare turn out can be quickly transformed into even more pricey "child hand-painted" and "child handcut" cards and more. I am going to be more scrupulous about preserving J's endless stream of "art work". The fees to set up shop seem very reasonable but who knows what the fine print might be hiding. With a little help from J, I could be in the business of making money and not art very soon.

Music Of Money

J has an informed opinion on music and her verdict on playing the market is "Its too noisy. Don't play that music. Stop !"

Playing the Market is based on patterns found in the stock market, economic indicators, and related algorithms. The resulting tracks range from minimalist orchestral pieces to raw industrial audio arrangements.

There goes my hopes of J picking the fiscal reigns in this household. Looks like we are two of a kind here. Maybe I should have found a better way to introduce the subject to her. We were listening to the Irrational Exuberance / Great Depression track.

"Irrational Exuberance / Great Depression" is a composition for piano that reflects the investor psychology that drives the stock market and the overall economy . Notes and expression changes are determined by the historical patterns of the Consumer Confidence Index. The background sound is a piece of musique concrete featuring the processed sounds of an antique ticker tape machine.

Architecture Creed

Where I work these days is a shop that uses both MS technologies and J2EE. The mix is unwieldy but it is fated to stay that way for a while. Like religious fanatics adherents of one would die before they converted to the other.
Thought to check around for punditry's informed opinion on the subject of .NET or J2EE so I could make sense of the techies. One discussion thread that started in 02 and is still alive and kicking. At some point the debate degenerates into a cheap slanging match but other than that its quite an interesting read.
What I found most significant about the discussion is that it remains inconclusive after all these years. I can see why conversion from one faith to the other is so impossible. I am very glad not to have any opinion on the subject.

Accidental Blogger

If I wanted to stop by at all my favorite blogs on even a semi-regular basis, I'd have to quit my day job. Unfortunately reading blogs and even commenting on them is not a line of work that pays - at least not for a lot of people.

For those of us who are avid commenters and would like to keep track of all that we have said to everyone, everywhere at any time coComment is a great tool.

Comments are a rich and expressive medium and in no way less important than the post that provokes them. To that extent, the aggregation of all of an individual's comments could be well be a blog without intending to be one. That would make one the Accidental Blogger perhaps.

Distant Endorsement

I love reading Margaret Atwood and her novel idea of the long distance autograph device. Sure it takes away from the novelty of the in person experience but makes up for it by possibilities it opens up.

If the robot or device were to become commonly used and turn into a standard computer accessory, it could be a way for all manner of celebrities to make money. Singers signing on CD covers, sports people on gear associated with their sport, artists on limited edition prints for their works and so on. All this apart from the more prosaic but extremely useful function of signing documents without requiring to be physically present. Quite amazing.

Dumb User

This morning I feared that my two year old laptop had given up ghost. The techies I know have predicted doomsday for a while now. It would not boot up no matter how much I coaxed it.

Ten years have elapsed between my engineering degree and me.Back in the day I used program in assembly language all in days work.Today I was no behaving no better than the broken-cup-holder stereotype.

My dumbing down has been a slow but steady process and I fear the worst is yet to come. In the end all it took was to pull out the battery pack and push it back again - securing it with scotch tape for good measure.

Rarely if ever has the sight of the Windows logo caused me as much euphoria as it did this morning. Later in the day I asked around to see what might be a fair market value for my machine on eBay or Craigslist. I am almost half ready to sell unless laziness gets the better of me.

New Clean

Back in the day when stainless steel had not yet overtaken my grandma's kitchen, the maid used a piece of brick about the size of a cake of soap, ash from the her coal cooking stove,tamarind and lemon rinds to keep her brass and copper utensils clean and shiny. The concoction was very effective.

Dish cleaning detergents were considered quite unnecessary and even harmful. Without trying too hard she was being green and eco-friendly -it was her natural way of life. Whereas grandma's clean did not cost her anything , now it does. Though similar in principle and action, it is a whole lot more sophisticated and is called Sandclean.

Blade Of Grass

Read this beautiful poem about the beauty of simple things that go unnoticed and unappreciated which reminded me of a favorite and popular Tagore quote in Bengali

"Bahu klesh kori, bahu poth ghuri, dekhithe gyechi porbat mala, sindhu, dekha hoi nai shudhu chokkhu meleya, duar hoithe ek pa feleya, ekti ghasher shisher opor ekti shishir bindu"

Which crudely translated in English means :

"Much have I toiled, many roads have I traveled to see mountain ranges and the ocean. Only I have not cast my eyes to see, one step away from my door, one drop of dew on one blade of grass"

A blade of grass
by Brian Patten

You ask for a poem.
I offer you a blade of grass.
You say it is not good enough.
You ask for a poem.

I say this blade of grass will do.
It has dressed itself in frost,
It is more immediate
Than any image of my making.

You say it is not a poem,
It is a blade of grass and grass
Is not quite good enough.
I offer you a blade of grass.

You are indignant.
You say it is too easy to offer gr…

Snooze Deterrent

I often try to squeeze in reading a few pages ( I promise myself it will be no more than twenty pages or minutes which ever happens sooner) of a book before going to bed. On many days this is a very poor choice because I really need to sleep instead of read - every pore of my body is begging me to shutdown.

To compensate I'll hit the snooze button in the morning to get another fifteen minutes of shut-eye. Another bad choice right there. Then once I get to work, it will take five cups or more of green tea to keep me functional through the day.

So a "A Series of Unfortunate Events" is set in motion the moment I break my twenty page or twenty minutes rules ( as I inevitably do). As nifty as it is, the snooze deterrent alarm clock is not for me.

Playing The Field

For men who can't keep up with their philandering help is now at hand in the form of Girlfriend X , a relationship management software with a difference. This could well be the killer app the online dating space has been missing. I am assuming the companion product aka BoyfriendX is atleast in its beta and that with some tweaking one or both could meet the needs of non-heterosexuals.

Nirvana for the time and resource strapped modern Casanova could not be defined any better than having - a dedicated accountant who constantly evaluates your Booty Yield so you can determine whether any particular woman is worth the time, effort and money that you’ve invested.