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Showing posts from December, 2006

Purple Prose Reviews

As much as I enjoy reading reviews and critiques, I often myself struggling against the riptide of purple prose that a lot of write-ups about food, wine, perfume, music and art tend to be. Like many, I have wondered how these writers crank out their crap. It was amusing to see some of the stuff that the tool generated.

Molly O'Neill writes about genesis of food porn - "prose and recipes so removed from real life that they cannot be used except as vicarious experience". I can't agree more with the "vicarious experience" part. Reading about what makes a perfume so exceptional is often all I need - I'll gladly skip the part where I actually try (or worse buy) one for myself. It's easier to read about the next thing extolled in equally lush prose - it gets cloying and suffocating fairly quickly even without having smelt the real thing.

Likewise, who wants to taste wine that is described like it solely aims to insult your unsophisticated…

Driving Distractions

Standing at a stop sign behind a car with a DVD playing for the back seat passenger, I found myself trying to watch the screen - just idle curiosity combined with boredom I am sure but it could be dangerously distracting had the both cars been in motion .

A friend was joking a few days ago that she had her husband tailgate a car because she was watching the movie they had playing inside and she did not want to miss the best part. Knowing her, that must have been a sweeping exaggeration but I sure get her drift. I wish they would keep some devices impossible to use while driving or even inside a car.

Surely, we have survived and been doing quite ok without a portable scanner thus far. Our lives are complicated enough even without a slew of gizmos on our car vying for attention. Back in the day when cars were a novelty, driving one was a fun enough task in itself, no other props were required to keep the driver or passengers engaged. Besides, they did not bristle with so much technology t…

Fun At Work

The "fun" team events I have had to participate in since I started working after college were never as much fun as they were infantile. I used to think that the real world of grown-ups that I had graduated into would be significantly different than that of a child or a teen. It was surprising to realize that the concept of fun for a bunch of middle aged managers was no different than that of their school going kids. It was a disappointing to the point of feeling cheated out - made you wonder what the big deal about growing up was about if nothing changed fundamentally.

I wondered at what point in life (if ever) it was that people actually grew up enough to be called "grown up". Outside the corporate world, it is much harder to see such blatant celebration of childish behavior in the name of having a fun work culture. I have asked friends and coworkers if they saw it the same way. To a lot of people, having fun is synonymous with letting go of adult hang-ups and inhi…

Ringing Birds

My cell phone ringtone is bland, boring, lifeless and only serves to increase ambient noise pollution whenever the phone rings. I keep the volume very low out of consideration for everyone in its vicinity. Now to have an endangered Brazilian bird chirp each time someone calls is an idea I totally love even though I am not sure how I am helping the cause of the species.

Following the instructions, I was able to get the text message with an URL link to follow. However, that defines the limit of my m-savvy. I wasn't quite able to replace the current aural irritant that I have for ringtone with lovely birdsong as I had wanted to.

The techies at work will snicker at my abortive attempt at mobile hipness but I will need to enlist their help if I want to get to any kind of bird to sing out of my cellular. Getting with the m-program is not an option at this late date even when techies routinely exhort me to RTFM

Love And Books

While I have never gifted The Unbearable Lightness Of Being to anyone I have been in love with, I can see why it would present a particularly tempting choice specially when your love is still new and cloaked somewhat in mystery if not mystique. Maciej Cegłowski makes a great case against Milan Kundera and also points readers in the direction of Slavic writers whose work is better suited for scoring a point with their date.

Then are books on love that are not entirely about that. To gift your date Geek Love or Before, During and After could make the object of your affections wonder if they should leave before things went any further south. However, if they were tuned at your own ( even if somewhat bizarre) frequency they would actually "get" it and your relationship would have effortlessly progressed to the next level - that one book could end up being the definitive sign that they were "the one".

Sister In Pain

I thought of my friend Meredith, reading this BBC article on how a certain genetic mutation could cause the sense of pain to be blocked. Physical pain has been a constant in her life for many years now. She has journeyed from one treatment to the next, from one doctor's office to the other hoping for no more than containment. Having exhausted the limits of conventional therapy and wisdom, she has learnt to cope with pain in the most unusual ways. When we first met, I was as amazed by her wisdom as with her tranquility in the face of such terrifying odds. All my troubles seemed trivial in comparison though she never once trivialized mine over hers - she gave me infinite hope just by being.

Two years ago, she lost her hearing completely. That New Year when we spoke, we knew it would be our last phone conversation. Her special hearing aid made it very hard for her to be on the phone - time was when we had chatted all day on weekends. That would remain a fond memory of a time that woul…

Stumped By Greetings

I got the following holiday greeting (borrowed from TOI) from a very dear old friend and am not sure what would make for an appropriate response to this. I think I'll just have to be my boring and politically incorrect old self and call him on the 1st.
“Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced with the most enjoyable traditions of religious persuasion or secular practices of your choice with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all.I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have help…

Licentious Cooking

To me a picture (specially a few moving ones) is worth a thousand words if the words are those of a recipe. I find it hard to follow recipes beyond getting the measure of things and a general sense of where the ingredients are directionally headed once combined. The rest is all improvisation. Chances are what I end up creating is nothing like what the recipe intended for it to be.

What's more I would not be able to replicate it another time - the temptation to try some new variation on the theme would be too strong to resist. I have been on a baking spree the last couple of weeks - its an exercise in discipline, persevering and following directions to the end - the Zen of cooking.

The one time, I tried to put my own spin on a crusty French bread was an unmitigated disaster. I know I have long ways to go before I can turn even remotely creative with my baking. It is a goal worth striving for because needing a cook book or a recipe to me has always been about needing a crutch - its …

Vendor Hunting In India

When I met my old manager for lunch a few weeks ago, she had recently returned from a two week business trip to India. The agenda was to size up the different outsourcing vendors who were in the fray for a sizeable multi-year contract. The relationship with the current vendor was souring rapidly. I asked her about her impression of India and of the businesses that she had gone to assess for fit with the company's needs.

Most of the positives were around the great tradition of Indian hospitality and how she had been treated like a queen. Maybe that scored even higher than it would have otherwise done because she is African American. She must have been pleasantly surprised that our colonial hangover does not predispose us to elevate fair skin over dark.
I hated to burst her bubble by telling her about our national obsession with fairness and products that claim to enhance it. I did not tell her that desis are savvy enough to look past skin color when business deals are involved speci…

Virgin Birth

This is the perfect time of year to read about immaculate conception even if in the context of Komodo dragons. I often hear men complain how women past a certain age just want a "warm body" that they would use for reproductive purposes. Beyond ensuring that he has the ability to impregnate her, she has little interest in him as a person.

Reading about how this lizard species is able to reproduce asexually when there are no males around made me think of the options that some in the animal kingdom have that humans don't at least as of yet. Ironically, the genetics of asexual reproduction would inevitably result in male offspring.

Perhaps that is a way to ensure that sexual reproduction retains its worth as it would be the only way to perpetuate the species. If one day they figured out what it took for the human female to reproduce asexually, it would eliminate the need for the warm bodies that men are so afraid of being reduced to. Sex could become purely recreational. Maybe…

Raising J

I get a lot of "how do you manage to raise a child alone ? It must be very hard" from relative strangers but rarely if ever from my friends. One would think people closer to me would have a greater appreciation of the hardship that my situation seemingly entails. After all, they are the ones I call first in a crisis, they have volunteered to come home and stay with J for the night so I could go into work during a major production release.

They remember J's birthday and show up with home made cakes that are too beautiful to eat or send her so many presents that she falls back asleep trying to unwrap all of them first thing on the morning of her birthday. They remember she prefers “real” jazz to smooth jazz and buy her music she will be sure to love.

E, our self-appointed "Activity Director" will send me links to everything J-friendly happening in our town and follow up with reminder e-mails and phone calls to make sure laziness does not overtake my good intention…

Close Yet Far

Slate has this series of pictures themed "Bored Couples" which brings to mind people I have seen myself likewise uninterested in their moment together, like "two hearts living in two separate worlds" to borrow from Elton John. They have made me wonder if they had always been this bored with each other or if their relationship lost its spark from long years neglect and nonchalance.

You want to believe there was a point in time when there was brio and zest about them, that if they were to undo the series of events leading up to the present moment and do things right this time, they would be a couple that exuded an aura of happiness about them.

The common thread through this entire series is how evident it is that the two are far apart in spirit while in physical proximity. It proves some things I have always held true about relationships. It is not how much time you spend together that counts or matters, it is how close you feel when you are far apart. It is not how …

Solo Mom Lit

The PTA mommies that volunteer at J's school fill me with unspeakable guilt. A few months ago, I was stuck in with a room full of them and squirmed with acute discomfort. Everything about them accentuates what I lack in the model-mommy department - the perfect coif, the French manicure, the oodles of time to spend reading to the kids, assisting the teacher with craft projects and organizing the bake sale. And that is just the start of their fantastic resume of mommy-accomplishments.

The pinnacle of my mommying is being able to keep up with J's homework, know the names of her friends and teachers and do the weekly catch-up of what went on at school. On a very lucky weekend we may even get an art project done or catch an open air concert. Though, I don't fit the demographic of the typical Mom lit protagonist, I am definitely curious about the modern mommy angst - particularly if they are the kind that lack the wherewithal to tool around the burbs in SUVs getting the kids th…

Mindful Wandering

I recognized the music and the name of the violinist from long ago this morning on the radio. When I first heard the Anne-Sophie Mutter recording of Mozart's Violin Concerto No.5 in my teens, there was no easy way to find out any more about her than what the bio on the jacket of the tape recording had. Today it was a breeze. Browsing around, I found her responses to the Marcel Proust questionnaire which in turn led me to discover the "infamous Proust Questionnaire" itself.
From a beautiful piece of music that has sentimental significance for me, I wandered off to Proust and reading some of his answers got me thinking in ways I would not have otherwise thought. J has been reading "If You Give The Mouse A Cookie" the last couple of days in which the mouse goes off in completely unexpected directions when in fact he had started off being given a cookie.
Unlike the mouse I did not come full circle to the cookie (in my case the Mozart concerto ) but instead went off t…

Stressful Giving

Someone has posted a flyer for a holiday gift wrapping service on the whiteboard
in the break room. In signature green, white and red the flyer promises to take the
stress out the whole business of gift giving this holiday season. Better still one
could enlist the services of a professional holiday shopper.In all cultures there is a time of year when gifts are exchanged with friends and
family. While the tradition has existed since time immemorial, the material
excesses of modern society makes it increasingly hard to honor and celebrate its
true essence.Simple and symbolic tokens of love no longer make the grade.The lack of time and
energy to nurture relationships is compensated by elaborate and expensive gifts
that require the services of a professional gift wrapper no less to be good enough
for the recipient.
I used to find it tedious to go shopping during the Pujas and Diwali back home,
watching holiday shoppers in the malls here is downright depressing. I can't help
think about the maxed …

Compensated By Imagination

What desi men lack in size they make up for in imagination even if not directly. Gifting a woman lingerie created from fresh flowers may just be what it takes to distract her from his under-endowment and issues thereof. The little sound bite from Sunil Mehra at the end of the BBC news article, is a painful reminder of what ails desi males in bedBut Indian men need not be concerned about measuring up internationally according to Sunil Mehra, the former editor of the Indian version of the men's magazine Maxim. "It's not size, it's what you do with it that matters," he said. "From our population, the evidence is Indians are doing pretty well. "With apologies to the poet Alexander Pope, you could say, for inches and centimeters, let fools contend."

Mehra would have us believe that the efficacy and indeed entire purpose of the organ in question is to be able to impregnate. Small wonder then that desi males don't respond terribly well to performance …

Thriving On Change

Came across the word journeyman after years today. The last time was probably in the 80s when I read Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, the story of Michael Henchard - the journeyman hay-trusser. The article talks about the revival the trade is undergoing today but to a lot of us who are consultants in the IT business being journeymen has always been part of what defines our work.

Unlike them we trade our skills for more than hospitality or a paycheck - we seek change for the rich diversity of experience it brings, for the long term professional associations and sometimes just for the thrill that comes with change of scenery.

As one journeyman is quoted in the article "Travel not only broadens the mind, it expands the skills base, humanity and cultural awareness. It is travel, rather than manners, that makes the man."

A co-worker who I enjoyed working with relocated recently. Watching him go through the familiar motions of preparing for a move made me wistful with lo…

Economics For Kids

J is learning to count money at school these days but does not understand credit card transactions. In a country where swiping plastic is the de rigueur way to buy goods and services, it might be a good idea to teach kindergartners how it works. You can't start educating kids about the perils of credit card debt too soon.

That J knows to read an analog watch thanks to Mrs. H, is a charming but relatively useless skill. It would have sufficed for her to be able to tell time from the many digital clocks all around her. Likewise, beyond being able to pay for cotton candy and lemonade at a fair with her bag of dimes and quarters, counting "real" money will not be of much use to her.

I would love to introduce her to concepts of economics but know so little about the subject myself that I worry I would do a bad job teaching her. The local library does not seem to have what I am looking for or perhaps I have not been able to articulate my need well enough to find it. It turns …

Flame Collector

My friend Sarat is a self professed "collector of old flames". In Hindi, his native language, his name translates approximately to Autumn - the season of bright colors and falling leaves many parts of this country and of a nip in the air and sunny skies back home in India. He has had former girlfriends remember him nostalgically and send him surprise e-mails.

For old times sake he has responded to these missives and discovered that they had both never forgotten or fully moved on. The woman is now married but does not feel the deep emotional connection with her husband like she had once done with Sarat. She wants to talk. He hesitates but agrees to listen. Every once in a while when her pent up emotions need a receptacle, she reaches out to him. Then one day the inevitable happens. She asks him "If I were to leave my husband would you give us another chance ?"

The flame collector pulls back in fear because he is no marriage wrecker. He was once her friend and lover. …

Audience Etiquette

One a far more humble scale, I have snickered along with the booing crowds.
The singer in question was middle aged man who had chosen to perform a
particularly demanding piece of Hindustani classical music. His voice gave up
on him on the intricate "alaap". The crowds went berserk and shouted "Go home,
old man". Even as the boos rose to a crescendo, the singer did not stop. He
completed his recital ignoring the disruption. The audience grew even more
rambunctious being unable to make him leave the stage like they wanted. Later, I wondered about the right and wrong of what happened that evening.
The audience who pays to watch a performance is within its rights to complain
if the artiste does not meet their expectations. Whether booing a performer off
the stage is an acceptable form of protest is entirely questionable. The booed
singer is between a rock and a hard place when the audience takes to taunting
their effort. To acknowledge it and walk away like this tenor did would h…

Flawed Case

Russell Roberts wrote this essay six years ago but I stumbled on it just this evening making it new to me. He applies the case against Microsoft to Tiger Woods to hilarious effect. It makes the reader consider the somewhat flawed logic that goes into challenging the monopoly of one company by the use of legal muscle.

A few days ago, I was griping to a friend who works for Microsoft about a product that is causing me some suffering these days. After a long discussion in which both sides had some valid arguments, he said with exasperation "If you hate MS products that much, why don't you take your business elsewhere ?" I retorted that I would be not waste a minute to switch to the Google OS whenever that happens. "So stop whining until then. What's the point when the market offers you no better choice ?"

According to him, Google has the wealth of Croesus and the best talent in the industry to boot, so what prevents it from building the OS that will put Micros…

Leveled By Death

I remembered lines from James Shirley's poem Death the Leveller while watching the HBO telefilm Tsunami - The Aftermath

THE glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against Fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings:
Sceptre and Crown
Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.

There is the lull before the storm, when rich tourists and the poor locals go about their life like it was going to be another ordinary day. Then the tsunami strikes its short, decisive yet fatal blow bringing people who until then had nothing in common together in loss and mourning. While tragedy of such scale can bring out the best and worst in people, the film focuses mainly on the positives.A man desperately searching for his missing wife and daughter lends a hand to save a dying man , a journalist looks beyond a photo opportunity and takes a picture of an unidentified body before it is cremated are among the many momen…

A Cold Attic

V and I had been friends for ten years before the end of my marriage and the start of hers undid it. I miss talking to her, sharing my life’s highs and lows with someone who got me. She lives within a couple of hours from my town, is doing well professionally as I had always expected her too. The husband lives half way across the country. She stalled on starting a family because she wanted to go to b-school first. She used to carry a Dennis clipping in her wallet for years and say “ I’d love to be mom to a kid like that”. She called it her talisman and good luck charm. No one who knew her would believe that she would not want be a mother even in her mid thirties. There was always another goal, another milestone, another level of independence, self-actualization to achieve before that. When I saw her last, it seemed like she was wetting her feet in the marriage, trying to assess if it was indeed for the long haul. I respect V for her many talents, her fine intelligence and her magnif…

Standard Visitation

Ten years of decayed love
float in her eyes. She looks
at me like time were still.
Her shoulder blade like an
ivory sword cutting, hurting.
I tell her to take care, look
beautiful again, first love
of my life, my wife, mother
of my sons. We exchange
bitter words without passion.
I turn home a sad dreamless
man - she breathes reconciliation
dares not say we be together
again but her eyes do - she
knows I hear too. Maybe she
does nothing and I cue wrong.
We both wish for time to wrap
on itself, give us back a decade

Unit Of Measure

How amusing that the children of Warner Brother CEO download illegal music too - just like everyone else. The details of the punishment are a family thing and were not disclosed. Clearly they are not doing time like Martha Stewart or that would have made news.

Whatever it was should be the gold standard for penalizing kids elsewhere who like his kids go Limewiring and YouTubing. The punishment for adults would be an easy extrapolation.

Maybe everyone in the business recognizes that illegal downloads are not such a bad thing after all and going after the illegal downloaders is just a way to keep sue happy corporate lawyers busy and earn their keep.

Unglam Jobs

It is commonly believed that manufacturing jobs have long been extinct in the US and there is no hope for them ever being revived and yet jobs go begging without any takers. Once the mainstay source of employment for the masses, manufacturing has been de-glamorized enough to become what no young person starting out in life will touch with a barge pole. It does not help that media has greatly exaggerated the reports of its demise. Why would someone in their early twenties embark on a career in a sunset industry.

We had a healthy count of mechanical engineers in our graduating class. A lot of them went into IT directly and the majority of those who started out in manufacturing drifted into IT over time. Even ten years ago, being employed in the manufacturing industry spelt a kind of career death knell that everyone tried to avoid. It won't be surprising if the destinations of exported manufacturing jobs face the same hardships that the industry in US is facing today.

Linked By Word

Everyone has a favorite word or expression and now there is a way to connect with others who share the your peeves and passions

Kids seem to have a natural talent for coming up with the most amusing analogies and ascribe the strangest meanings to conventional similes as this set of images of idioms prove. Wordie should go one step further and have people come up with alternative similes - maybe fifty different spins on as dead as a doornail.
Surely there are things deader by far than a doornail - as dead as a recomposted zombie chicken for example - a dire testimony to the complexity of modern times.

Not Likely To Like

Liking a particular genre, writer, meme or theme results in a increased familiarity with same and related set of things at the cost of missing out what you may have never thought you would like. We need the UnSuggestor for more things than books in our lives.

If not anything else, it would make us less predictable and boring in our choices. I loved reading A Confederacy of Dunces and it seems like I'd most likely hate The Baby Book - until I read it and dislike it, the theory won't be proven but it is intriguing all the same. I wonder what parameters go into the decisioning logic.

It takes a conscious effort to try something different at my favorite restaurant specially when the ingredients in the recipe don't appear to jive to me. I don't want to risk being disappointed when I could leave perfectly delighted. An unsuggestor might say "Its nothing like your favorite thing on the menu but you will be amazed all the same"

The only time I have ventured outside my p…

Placeless Accent

The pool of institutions in India that gives their graduates the wherewithal to get a decent job is a little bigger than what this NYT article will have you believe. However, the report is directionally accurate. Post independence the class divide in India has been about having a placeless English accent or a thick local one. The opportunities that come to the former are orders of magnitudes apart from those that do to the later.
Local state governments, for various political reasons and misguided efforts at bolstering national pride make English inaccessible to students up to high school level. Once these kids get into college, the language handicap proves too much to overcome and they never make it to the uber-class level despite having comparable merit.
The bulk of recent graduates being from the lower class causes frustration to be rife both among employers and employees. Whereas, the specific job skills required to be successful at a call center or BPO operation are very simple and…

Missing The Look

My current consulting gig involves a shared workspace because the client is big on the benefits of collocation. It has been a fun experience for the most part because the team has at least one stand-up comedian and several wannabes. The decision makers are within earshot and all it takes is a holler to get their attention and answers. As with all good things, there are some downsides as well. The guy who sits closest to me has been curious about my marital status for the past several months that we've worked together .He is the sophisticated desi who went to IIT but is not obsessed over his alma mater like a lot his ilk are, has informed opinions about things technical and otherwise but is not abrasive or arrogant. V is a competent, courteous professional who has lived and worked around the world and has seemingly benefited from his exposure to different cultures. A couple of days ago he took me by complete surprise by asking "Does your husband follow cricket ?". This wa…

Park, Ride and Date

I was forwarded a joke recently about a smart alec desi who offers his new Rolls Royce as collateral for a $5000 loan to a bank in NYC. Two weeks later he returns the amount and $15 interest and takes his car back from the bank's underground garage. Turns out that the dude is a multi-millionaire with the smarts to figure the best way to park a car for less than $20 for two weeks in NYC.

At first I laughed at the ingenuity and but the car park, NYC and desi dude trigged some not so pleasant recollections. Five years ago, my cousin Sumi graduated from Wharton and was dating a desi classmate. The boy was the kind of son-in-law that scores high with the family. Good looking, polite, smart, articulate and friendly. He had found work in Wall Street and Sumi's family lived one of the nicest parts of NJ.
I remember seeing this big black truck on their driveway when I was visiting with them one weekend. It belonged to Vineet, her boyfriend. Inside, they were sitting on the couch watching…