Showing posts from September, 2006

My Serious Valentine

Listening to a string quartet arrangement for My Funny Valentine made me wonder if there were likewise Hindustani or Carnatic renditions of mainstream music from India. It is amazing what a classical interpretation can do for a song with a catchy tune. I found the experience comparable to turning a regular floral arrangement into ikebana or introducing a gourmet slant to conventional cooking.

While semi-classical forms are accessible and easy and on the ear, they end up taking away the piquancy and edge from the real thing. Jazz aficionados will therefore not be satiated by smooth jazz. The nice thing about doing something like My Funny Valentine a la string quartet is that listeners with no previous affinity for classical music will come to appreciate the form in its original state sans easy listening compromises.

Homeward Bound Desis

A lot is being said and written of the reverse brain drain these days. The prodigals are coming back to India to live in cordoned off gated communities with manicured laws and white picket fences. If it were possible, they would have de-toxed the air around them until it were sanitized like that of the first world.

When the dot com bubble burst, those that could not survive the recession and the tight job market went back home - there was nothing glorious about that homecoming. They were merely creatures of circumstance. The homeward bound desi of today is of an entirely different stripe. They have made their bones in the US, earned both money and accolades for their work but do not want to miss out of the feverish gold-rush like excitement that is the IT industry in India. It is like being in Silicon Valley in the late 90s.

More than grunt work is happening in India (or so the expats would like to believe) and they want a piece of the action. The salary equation is roughly years of exp…

Confessional Blogs

As a woman blogger, reading about the rising number of confessional blogs by women makes me wonder if I may part of that demographic - I have been guilty of griping about dating misadventures and abended relationships but that is how far confessional I have been. In The Observer article, Rafael Behr says of women who write confessional blogs :

They trawl for men, display their most intimate secrets on the internet and turn their diaries into essential reading for thousands. Stephanie Klein, queen of the confessional blog, explains why more and more women are making their personal lives public.

The confessional blog is a genre that is more likely to get attention that most others and with some luck a book contract or a TV show. It is good marketing for a wannabe writer and does not involve the stack of rejection letters from publishers and agents. Not sure why a confessional blog written by a man would not be of interest to the reading and publishing public.

Eventually, one morning, so…

Of Hysterics

How true that while distress, trauma and dysfunctional behavior are still very common, the term "hysteria" to describe the condition is no longer popular.

Hysteria seemed to be a vanished 19th-century extravagance useful for literary analysis but surely out of place in the serious reaches of contemporary science.

There is something quaint and antiquated about the word though the idea is now represented by a range of euphemisms that are meant to be more politically correct and gender neutral.

Unofficially, a host of inoffensive synonyms for “hysterical” have appeared: functional, nonorganic, psychogenic, medically unexplained.

Clearly, killing the messenger has not helped.

Throughout that cloud of shifting nomenclature, people have kept getting sick. “The symptoms themselves have never changed,” said Patrik Vuilleumier, a neurologist at the University of Geneva. “They are still common in practice.”

Child's Play

I have on occasion asked J questions she has no way of knowing the right answer to and have gone ahead and done what she said I should do. Comes a point in a long and painful decision making process when the problem gets more convoluted than it was to begin with and is now beyond your ability to solve.

Most often the "J solution" has worked out well for me and I feel comforted in knowing I have someone to turn to as a last resort. I am relieved to see that getting children and child's play to answer questions is not a crazy idea I thought up - recently it won Christie's big business. Maybe we should look to children more to save us from ourselves.

Heart Of The Matter

J, as has been noted before is predisposed towards hearts. They dominate her art work, beginning attempts at composition i.e. "I "heart" Miss Christinia and Mommy" and her thoughts. It probably started a year ago when my father had an unexpected heart attack - in the five years of her worldly existence she never saw me quite as distraught. I had at the time by weirdest coincidence met someone who had attended med school but was now in the business of peddling cardiac drugs.

She must have overheard us discussing my dad's situation and the slew of medical jargon that went along with it and perhaps understood what had happened could have been life threatening. Every morning she included "Please make my grandpa well soon" in her prayers which God was kind enough to do. The crisis ended and life turned normal again. J asked me endless questions about the function of the heart and could not have enough of an animated tour of it that I had found for her. We h…

Passion And Caste

A few years ago, an American coworker, Dave had made an interesting observation on the career progression of desi IT professionals. "In your culture, a developer is considered to be lower caste than a project manager. So whether or not they have the talent or inclination everyone wants to graduate from being a low caste developer to a high caste manager. That's not how Americans see things. I have been a developer for the last twenty years and I will continue being a developer for the rest of my IT career. "
This man had an encyclopedic knowledge of Unix and C. There was scarce a problem that he had not solved before or could not solve in short order. One would expect the company would recognize how valuable he was and not trade him for five cheap bodies from India with six years of total experience between them. But that is exactly what happened. His billing rate was considered too high to be supportable long term and he was let go. I have not been in touch with him but …

Democratic Luxuries

There is too much of a good thing when a luxury brand is marketed well enough to become democratized. Quite some time ago, I sent a link to the then new Bag, Borrow or Steal to a friend of which he said:

It is interesting. One of those Netflix ideas applied to a bag. Just an idea executed upon and that there are takers possibly. Who knows? Millions of better ideas abound.

I was not convinced that this was not a good idea. Sure there were better ideas but this one held promise. I could see plenty of middle class women of slender means wanting to trade up. I replied:

Where ever there is a woman with multiple maxed out credit cards,nanoscopic savings, and an unstoppable yen for things designer there is a customer. I think they've hit a veritable gold mine. It may not be long before thrift stores carrying classy labels go online. This gives ordinary women a chance to teeter in insured and post paid Manolo Blahniks - nirvana would appear easier to attain than ever before.

His rebut…

Workers All

Every morning I join the ranks of knowledge workers at my client's sprawling facility. We appear uniform in most respects as we enter our cubicles to lay out the tools of our trade - laptop and blackberry- hang our coats on cold or rainy days and set the lunch pail in the community refrigerator. The day begins identically for most of us - we check out Inbox (for the rest of the day we will try in vain to stay afloat above the rising tide of messages), check voice mail messages on the mobile and desk-phone.

There will be regular meetings and unplanned one-offs. The workforce will disperse between these to code, design, architect, analyze, manage, strategize and direct. Sometimes we converge by the coffee machine to catch the headline news while waiting for the brew to fill the pot. Lunch is micro-waved and most often eaten at the desk.

The life of a factory worker is very familiar to me having grown up in a small industrial town in India. I watched the workers cycle down the street…

Pre And Post Roll

Not only is there money to be made of videos posted on YouTube but the post-roll ad is apparently more lucrative than a pre-roll one. When watching a movie, its better for the viewer to have the story going along with the opening credits. Audiences with short attention spans will likely flip channels if five minutes worth of credits does not also start to tell them what the movie is about or in the least introduce the dramatis personae. Previews of other movies before the "feature presentation" can be very annoying for the same reason.

It is easy to see why a pre-roll ad may not a good idea. Closing credits in cinema is likely to interest the audience if the movie itself was. It is like lingering over a good wine - you want to savor the last dregs, go over the best parts in your head. You may want to know who composed the theme music, what locations were used for shooting, designed the sets or the costumes. Unless the main content is compelling enough its post-roll real esta…

On New Love

Sheila is a neat freak and almost always deletes her e-mails as soon as she's read and answered them. In the time of Gmail that would make little sense but she's a creature of old habit and never really got the point of unlimited mail storage. There is an exception to the rule though. There are several hundred undeleted mails to and from Yaman from three years ago. Sometimes, she reads them again trying to relive the moment, to think like the person she must have been then or have been transformed into from falling in love with Yaman.

In one mail to him, she wrote :

How does one learn not to see the new in the light of the old ? Is it a problem unique to sentimental fools such as I ? Do I merely glamorize the past because it makes me feel less cheated - gives back my life its lost body ?

I think I'm just too scared to try in earnest - giving the relationship my very best, be the perfect lover and friend to the beloved - because that is the only way I would know to give. I fea…

Lunch Duty

I volunteered for cafeteria duty at J's kindergarten on her birthday. Seeing my deer in the headlights look, other parents and teachers came over to show me how I could help. There were little packets of milk and juice to open, silverware and napkins to hand out but to ensure the kids finished everything on their plate was not part of my brief or anyone else's for that matter.
So at the end of lunch break, a huge mountain of food made of pizzas, fruit with whipped cream topping, granola bars, juice and sausages formed in the trash bin. On an average every third child was throwing away more than half of what they had either brought or bought ( though sometimes the difference was hard to tell) for lunch. That the teachers who were monitoring them said nothing of the waste was simply astounding to me.
Here was opportunity to teach these impressionable young children about conservation, living green, sharing the planet's meager resources - the basic math of waste at least - as i…

Signs Of Things

Despite his quirks, Anmol is a versatile and interesting conversationalist. Sheila realizes one evening while talking to him that they have been on the phone for four hours, and its been five months since Gagan introduced them. Though they are yet to meet in person, neither feels any great sense of urgency to do so - it is almost like the fragile spell of their acquaintance hovering tentatively on the fringes of friendship would be broken if anything were hastened.

They were talking about how sometimes signs of things to come are conveyed through unremarkable incidents on ordinary days. How the moment comes to assume significance out of its original context and only much later. Sheila could think at least of one such event from her past. "Tell me about it like you would tell a story without you in it - relate it like a dispassionate observer might" said Anmol. "Why ?" asked Shiela. "I'll explain after you tell" he replied. So Sheila did between bites o…

Less Is More

Shunya e Buke was recommended to me an "absolutely must see" an introduction to the "brave new world of Bengali cinema" which I have not kept up with. It may be a while before I get a chance to, but the story line has me hooked already. For a western audience it may be hard to fathom how the issue of the padded bra and the deception thereof could surface only after matrimony. Maybe if they turned the clock back several decades, it may even strike a chord.

We are treading here the slippery middle ground between the arranged marriage where it is quite impossible for the couple to check each other out and the "love marriage" where everything is possible by mutual consent. The couple in the story though marrying for love proceed about it like it were "arranged" - a stretch on the imagination in this day and age but not entirely implausible.

Nevertheless, the issue at hand is one of deception rendering the marriage insupportable. The fear of the miracl…

Journal Keeping

For fans of Susan Sontag, the discovery of her private journals can be nothing short of thrilling. It is their chance to know the person inside the writer, life events that prompted her to make an entry. Her thoughts on keeping a journal would resonate with anyone who has done it for any length of time.

On Keeping a Journal. Superficial to understand the journal as just a receptacle for one's private, secret thoughts - like a confidante who is deaf, dumb and illiterate. In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather - in many cases - offers an alternative to it.There is often a contradiction between the meaning of our actions toward a person and what we say we feel toward that person in a journal. But this does not mean that what we do is shal…

Out Boted

If the predictions of when artificial intelligence will overtake human intelligence, our children may become victims of out-boting (i.e. have their jobs taken over by intelligent robots) just like this generation has been of out-sourcing. There won't be a third world country like China or India to blame for the loss of employment. Instead of having to abandon their line of work, they may be able to enhance their physical and mental abilities by introducing nano-machines into their bodies blurring the distinction between man and machine.

Fusing man and robot, even if it eventually leads to manufactured forms of self-awareness, would not, according to Kurzweil, do anything to diminish humanity. “Our machines are not distinct from us,” he says. “They are already extensions of us, even if most of them are not yet inside our bodies and brains. The human-machine civilization is one civilization. Evolution now is primarily technological, and this is how we will continue its exponential…

The Sad Cafe

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe is my first exposure to the black comedy movie genre not counting The Royal Tannenbaums and the like. The combination of Carson McCullers, Vanessa Redgrave and Ismail Merchant is what made me pick up this movie and I really liked it.

Like "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" (the only McCullers book I have read) this is a difficult story to understand and keep up with. It holds your interest but you are not sure you and the author are quite on the same page at any point. That to me is the draw of McCuller's writing.

The bloody fight scene at the end of the movie was amazing in how it managed to convey so many different things to the viewer. I was shocked to find myself going from laughter, to tension and then finally a deep sadness. The movie is reminiscent of A Streetcar Named Desire and Baby Doll for the southern gothic element but the characters of Sad Cafe are wackier by a light year.


Read a Salon article on virginity - It was once a badge of honor. But to the surprising number of adult women today who have not had sex, virginity is nothing but a curse - sad but true testament of our times. Whereas deflowering a teen virgin is still the ultimate male fantasy, not so deflowering a 30 year old one. Her psychological health is in question for having held out for that long even it was for the best reasons. No man is willing to do the honors and deal with the emotions that will come in its wake. The mystique of virginity was a "man-made" phenomenon from a time when it was possible to command and control women by fetishising their virginity on one hand and degrading them sexually on the other. Since there was no social or religious sanction for cohabitation outside marriage, men did not have the option of leaving the morning after and never calling back again. He had to stay and in as such he had to "own" the woman he stayed with. Virgnity before marr…

Alternative Assitance

There are two assisted living communities within a five mile radius of where I live. J's daycare used to be next to one of them. Every Halloween they took the kids trick-treating to there. J's stash of candy lasted her many months. A few times during the year the "grandparents" came to over to read to the chidren. I wished they would go a step further and have the kids "adopt" a set of grandparents, bring them home to a new "family".

I've never been inside either of them but from the outside they showed no signs of life. The commuity bus stops by at the local grocery stores sometimes. Seeing these old people makes me wonder about their lives in the fortress like communities. Do they savor each moment of a superannuated life when they finally have no responsibilities or do they merely wait for death to come ?

I once knew someone who lived in Sun City West in Phoenix. Her description of the daily life of people around her was nothing short of ter…

Married And Looking

What better petri dish than Craigslist's Casual Encounters for a little social experiment - the results are fascinating but not wholly unexpected. I had always wondered about ads posted by married men who said they looking for a "discreet intimate relationship". How many bored suburban housewives and nymphomaniacs are out there to fill such a huge demand for their goods and services ?
As luck would have it, I ran into one such man online. When he first contacted me, I did my preliminary due diligence - included but not limited to Google, Zabasearch, Yahoo Groups - to ID who I was dealing with. There were inconsistencies. He was out there "as unhappily married and looking" in the adult oriented mailing lists and groups but as single on the more mainstream dating sites. Being that I was curious about his type, I went ahead and accepted his contact and started to chat online.
He was posing single, 6'2" tall, athletic with dark hair and brown eyes. I asked t…

Dead Horse

Growing up in India at the time of the Khalistan separatist movement, ULFA extremism in the North East, Operation Bluestar, the massacre of Sikhs, the Union Carbide tragedy in Bhopal, the assassination of prime ministers, the bloodbath in Kashmir, the Rath Yatra and its aftermath were random spikes in our normal lives. We were jolted for a bit and then went back to the business of living - in the case of people my age that meant keeping your nose to the grindstone until you made it through a decent college and were able to earn a living.

Maybe the frequency at which tragedy hit our people had numbed our ability to react to individual events. As I write this today, I find it hard to recall all of the many disasters natural and man-made that took place between the 80s and 90s in India. I am sure I don't mention at least fifty percent in my list. My left leaning relatives in Calcutta would say that human life is too cheap in India and we deserve our fate for our political apathy and s…

Magic School Bus

Like a flapping gosling
she hops on the bus, her
ponytail bobbing. She
looks for her "usual" spot,
and finding it taken,
hesitates before choosing
another across the aisle -
by the window. That Mommy
could not appear on
this side does not
cross her mind being as she was
relative to window, road and Mommy
disposed exactly as they
had been yesterday.
Mommy hurries across
to wave goodbye but
the bus has left by then.
Is this a parable
for a time to come, when
relative to each other
we would be where we
expect the other to be.
Yet by when we discover
the physics of relativity
the moment would have passed,
the smile in anticipation
would have turned a moue
of sudden despair.

Excuse For Speed

If this Swiss driver did not have to pay a fine for speeding, his excuse would have warmed many a desi heart. In my town, dowager cows sat in large groups in the middle of the road.

In the peak of summer it was not unusual to have a power-outage at night. I remember being able to see the bovine island only when the headlights of the car shone into the limpid pools of their sleep heavy eyes. The remarkable thing about these animals was that they did not stir an inch no matter what was hurtling down their way. It was up to the driver to navigate around them - swishing tails, projecting horns and all.

We had an abundance of jaywalking goats too. They ignored the traffic and the blaring air horns just like the cows did. Dogs and cats were remarkably different in the sharpness of their reflexes as their survival depended on it. Unlike the cows and the goats, they were strays and more valuable dead than alive.

Driving in my town was quite a bit like going on an African safari (we did have an a…

Hiring Drama Queens

Drama queens are other high social maintenance individuals apparently don't make good employees and should not be hired.

Finkel's body of research builds upon accumulating evidence that demonstrates that self-regulatory strength is a limited resource that fluctuates markedly, depending on prior willpower exertion, exhaustion and stress. The five experiments demonstrate that when individuals exert self-regulatory strength in dealing with inefficient or difficult social interactions, their energy is sapped and they have fewer resources available for separate tasks performed moments later.

Wonder why it would take research to establish a self evident truth. People routinely quit jobs unable to take the stress of tolerating their obnoxious bosses. Hopefully they consent to an exit interview and tell it like it is. If the pattern repeats itself a few times, the boss from hell is let go.

Just knowing that (as we all do) proves that drama queens make normal people suffer in the workpla…

Two Women

My co-worker Amy, is curious about India but draws a line at trying "candy covered with silver foil" better known as kaju katli to us desis. She was born and raised on a farm and still lives there commuting 20 miles each way to work, has traveled very little but has a wide variety of interests. She is married to a trucker who loves art exhibitions, museums and concerts. In summary, she is does not fit a stereotype and I enjoy talking to her.
At lunch a couple of days ago, she was telling me about the murder of Jassi Siddhu as reported in TV. Obviously, she had got several key facts mixed up. The tale as she had interpreted it, was one of a medieval and feudal India where women were routinely killed to save honor and maintain purity of caste. I had the surreal feeling of listening to Mrs G discussing the circumstances that led to Rani Padimini's jauhar in my eight grade history class.
I thought I was giving her a patient hearing when she said "What are you grinning abo…

First Day At Kindergarten

One lime green trench coat, five lime green knitted tops, six Coach pocket books, one Cartier watch, two generic tees, no pulp orange juice, coffee, Kleenex, one Jackie Onassis look alike minding her makeup as she wiped her tears, one red pashmina throw on a black pant suit, three fading blondes, slivered smoked salmon, mini bagels, pine apple chunks, five brunettes with blond highlights, one Filipino woman, two daddies in business formal, one Chinese couple and me. That was the composition of the Boo Hoo breakfast for kindergarten parents at J's elementary school this morning. Everyone knew everyone and their grandmother forever but they tried very hard to make polite conversation with me.

I put her on the school bus with a prayer for her to reach safe. One other mom said she was glad it was a woman bus driver - made her feel safer. Seeing the bus leave felt at once like the severing of an emotional umbilical and the freeing of a bird from a cage. The parting with my baby now all…

Oe And Vonnegut

Reading this amazing speech by Kurt Vonnegut (wish there was a full transcript or an audio recording) reminded me of a Kenzaburo Oe quote. In the concluding chapter of his Japan The Ambiguous And Myself, Oe had said of his role as a writer :

As one with a peripheral, marginal, off-center existence in the world, I would like to continue to seek - with what I hope is a modest, decent, humanistic contribution of my own - ways to be of some use in the cure and reconciliation of mankind.

Vonnegut states the obvious in that speech but in a way that prompts a standing ovation. That is perhaps his "modest, decent, humanistic contribution". Oe talks about the future of Japanese literature and how rock stars like Banana Yoshimoto and Ryu Murakami are not the purveyors of serious Japanese literature. Of himself he says :

I am one of the writers who wish to create serious works of literature which dissociate themselves from those novels which are mere reflections of the vast consumer cultu…

Point Counterpoint

A girlfriend forwarded me this article in Forbes on careers and marriage asking me "Whadya think ?" Very provocating question given that I fit into the exact demographic that Michael Noer is advocating men should avoid. I am professional and do have a career that pays more than $30,000 a year. I have been married, have a child and am now divorced. Some of his characterizations of my sample set in the population are not wholly accurate. He says for instance :

...recent studies have found professional women are more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat and less likely to have children. And if they do have kids, they are more likely to be unhappy about it.

That I think is a very broad brush depiction of women with careers. There are many career women who take long sabbaticals to raise their babies, work on less challenging assignments upon their return to the workforce so they could remain available to their children. When someone allows their career to define their ident…

Being Busy

“I am busy right now, can we talk later ?” Andy was saying to his phone. A high pitched voice protested “But I need to know if we can go to the store today. We need to buy the party favors and order the cake. These things take time” Sheila guessed it must be his wife. He cut her off mid-sentence with “I’ll call you back”. This was the first snippet of conversation that Sheila had overheard across the wafer thin wall that separated their cubicles.

Chidanandan aka Andy was the onsite liaison for the offshore testing team. Sheila saw a lot of him during the production readiness and rollout phase of the project she was managing for the client. Something about his wife’s voice caught her attention – there was a certain edginess to it. She wondered why he didn't turn down the volume of his earpiece a notch - it made her an unwitting intruder in his domesticity. It could have been embarrasing if the exchanges had not been so completely bland.

She imagined a bored housewife sitting cros…

Rules Of Engagement

Caught up with M after several months. Was interesting conversation as always but one thing she said stood out. She has been dating a guy on and off for several years now. They like each other enough to travel a thousand miles to meet up a few times a year and have like M puts it "crazy sex" for a weekend. Between meetings they keep in touch casually but date other people. Not particularly important but both M and this dude, Ramesh are desi. She is born and raised in Canada, he has lived in the US since he came for grad school. M has been married before, he has not. She is glad to have him around and satisfied with the arrangement they have worked out over time.

He was visiting with her the past weekend and the sex was not what it used to be. To quote M "This weekend, it felt like we were in a bloody relationship. Sunday morning, he said that he felt guilty about taking advantage of me. I was like, dude, I don't feel that way at all. So what's your problem ?"…

In The Beginning

On seeing the goat and the shalwar clad people in the picture, I first thought Goatonapole was the all desi Flying Spaghetti Monster church. Not quite so as it turns out. The central tenet of this philosophy is described thusly

As in the beginning there was no Goat or Pole but only unity, so in the end there will be a new being which is neither Goat nor Pole but is at the same time both, a being that is both whole and self-knowing, a being that encompasses the whole of the universe. This is the Goat's aim and Goatonapole in its essence.

There are way too many entities jockeying for the "in the beginning there was" position. The FSM is just one of them. Time Bete will have you believe there were no diapers.We are familiar with In the beginning there was nothing. God said, 'Let there be light!' And there was light or In the beginning Brahma was the Universe, then he created the other Gods. If you are an atheist you might contend in the beginning there was zero and th…