Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Uneven Balance

At the end of very long days and specially if it happens to be an important Hindu festival, I ask myself what J and I are doing in this country far away from family, roots and culture ? There is no family within a thousand miles of us. We get by as well as we could hope to in a foreign country thanks to the kindness of strangers and friends. Yet, I can't but help think of Diwali and the flickering earthen lamps, the smell of firecrackers and the gentle nip in the air just when my neighbors set their Jack-o-lanterns on the patio.

J does not insist on a costume, nor is she terribly anxious to go out trick-or-treating. The day after, she will tell me what her other friends did for Halloween and no matter what she always comes into a lot of candy. In my mind, I am back home in India, imagining J bursting colorful fire-crackers, visiting friends and relatives and the overload of mishti that is part of such socialization. I never paid attention to festivals and rituals when it followed the natural course of my life back home.

Whether of not, I was an active participant, the world around me stopped spinning for a few days until the festivities and celebrations were over. Even a casual onlooker like myself was jolted out of the daily grind and thrust into the flow of things. Today, participation would involve driving thirty miles to the nearest Dussera celebration inside an auditorium. There would be no external sounds or signs of festivity.

The world outside would not stop spinning even for a nanosecond as we celebrate our biggest festival of the year. When we are done, we would drive back home, alone in our knowledge of where we were and what we did there or why it was so special to us. Having always been an onlooker and never a participant, I find it impossible to go the distance to a mere recreation of a festival that feels meaningless without the cultural and social context.

I cannot go through the mechanical motions without the world stopping around me, without everyone attuned to the same frequency, without festival being in the air - like it is here during Christmas. I miss home and I wonder what I am doing here. The day passes, life returns to its usual pace in India. I feel in equilibrium once again - somewhat.

I figure I would have slaved a sixteen hour day there like I once did, J would be back in school coping with a demanding curriculum, there would be an eight hour power-cut in the middle of summer, the tap would run dry just before I got into the shower, the unctuous neighbor would advise me to return to my "husband" and accept my lot in marriage, my married boss would ask me for a late evening coffee at the local Barista to catch up on work-stuff and make me wonder if I should let HR know this was the fifth time in a month and I was viewing it as harassment.

My aunt would pay me a surprise visit and bring my favorite Hisla curry along, my mother would tell J a story from Ramayan every night at bedtime, my best friend P would invite me to spend a day at her house on Sunday and I would be laughing until my sides hurt because P tells the best jokes in the world. Mala, the domestic help would tell J stories about her village in Sunderbans and the magical powers of Bon Devi the Goddess of the forest.

All that on one side of the scale must balance my freedom to be, live my life on my own terms and let J grow up without needing to be a multi-tasking, competition-crushing student-bot. Some days, I can't seem to tell when side is lighter and I wonder about where I am, what I am doing, where I am headed from here. When I close my eyes, I can see a thousand earthen lamps flickering in the darkness, hear the fireflies and smell the sulphuric smell of spent fireworks.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I always browse through books on sale at the library and often find something to take home. These are the books I keep to read on a rainy day when I have nothing else to do and don't have anything else to read and am too beat to stir out of the house.

Usually those are the days when I am out of the office down with a cold or flu. There is no theme or pattern to these books since they are an assortment of other people's trash collected over a period of time. I love arranging them nicely upon my bookshelf once they become my possession.

Anyone who has ever brought home a stray puppy would be able to relate to the feeling of joy that comes from giving a new lease of life to rejected books. My collection includes volumes by Thoreau, Garcia-Marquez and even poetry by Stanley Kunitz. All for a dollar or less. I have wondered why anyone might want to throw way their copy of Walden.

To leave these books unread is to have so many undiscovered worlds waiting to be discovered when you are ready - at least that is my excuse for collecting what I may not end up reading in a long time. Besides, I like the idea of giving to the library even if in a very small way.

fish-bowl bookends would be a great addition. If not anything, it would give me an excuse to buy the goldfish I have long wanted and chance to see the titles I own more often.

Talking of Bookends of course brings to mind the Simon and Garfunkel song - the lyrics short and definitive as bookends must be.

Time it was and what a time it was it was,
A time of innocence a time of confidences.

Long ago it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories, they're all thats left you

Monday, October 29, 2007

The New Wife's Letter

Today is the second day without you. The house feels desolate. I was just going to take a bath ( that was a few hours ago) and I noticed the carpet in the closet felt wet.There is a leak somewhere in the corner and quite a few of your papers got drenched. Have been cleaning up after that.Its over now and its 6:00 p.m.Haven’t you come back from wherever you’d been in the morning ? Was thinking you would call.

And I’d appreciate a reply through e-mail to this one, its been a long time since you wrote to me. Every time I try to put your paperwork in order, I end up spending hours without too much to show for output and this strange wistful mood. I remember having seen a movie called ‘The Blithe Spirit’ many years ago.It was a ghost story as well as a comedy - and it was absolutely enjoyable.You called now.We spoke for a while.You did not like the sound of my voice.

The reason to remember the movie - well the spirit of the dead wife plays tricks with the new one, amusing tricks really - nothing harmful.She’s just trying to have fun at someone’s expense.The lady obviously does not see the spirit but the husband does and he is exasperated with it - “her”. He begs and scolds it by turn - but that does not help too much. The audience is amused at what goes on.She is scattered all over your papers and I often feel a sense of loss when I’m there trying to set my house in order.Do I need to displace someone to make more room ?

There is a logical explanation to this : she remembers you ( which is why I find it difficult to get over her - my life is too tied to yours). It is perhaps because this thing has left a void in her life and she will continue to live in the past until someone can fill it up.And so it proves that whatever it was , had a considerable importance to her - and you.

You had made a gross understatement when you termed this episode a "four day circus" - I remember the term you had used. It was much more than that.When did you speak to her last ? I don't know why but at times like this I feel like I was a hurried salvage bid only after things with her had reached a point of no return. And you tried to the bitter end.Where was I then ? It hurts that I was merely an "also ran" in the scheme of things, so that it was enough for your aunt to veto the first time around.Where was I then ? I used to think that I'm irreplaceable, talk of pride - I have it in extra measure and it feels wounded.

The phone bills, membership cards, shopping bills for cosmetics, female undergarments and condoms - up to about a few months before we got talking about our marriage.In your fantasies - I was not the first “real” woman.She preceded me. That hurts a lot.I would wish it had not been so.She will continue to there in the far horizon of my life (read our) a lingering and bothersome itch till such time as she has a present and a future.

So there is a tenable logical explanation and I propose it myself - then what is this whole brouhaha about ? In love everything is not logic and for someone with a powerful imagination like mine all the less so.It is amazing to me that this has so much potential to disturb my mental equilibrium.Time was when I believed love is about total freedom, complete acceptance and that to possess is to cease to love.Was that just theoretical ? My behavior is quite incomprehensible to me.I feel petty and mean to think that I could behave this way.

Thus the unpalatable truth brings out the worst in the best of us. How could I be exempt ? Its a sad thing that I could not live up to my own expectations. I thought I would be a whole lot more generous.Looks like I’m not.Is this really the “unconditional love” I’m so fond of talking about ? And has a sense of insecurity made you so possessive ? Were you like this always or did she do this to you ? Such questions come to mind.Such questions can be disturbing. Where are the scars that I still cannot see ? Will I ever be able to heal them ?

It’s getting dark outside, and I realize that I still haven’t had a bath.Maybe now ( 7:30 p.m) would be a good time.Have been remembering the name of a book ( or was it the title of some song) “Blood on the dance floor” - all through the afternoon today.Does it sound familiar to you ?

And another thing - while I'm at it. I would never like to have to ask you any questions regarding this, it feels to me like I'm prosecuting a criminal.I hate doing it and I wont do it. I have told you all about my predilections regarding this issue.I don't want us to go on about this.Maybe you should try to give me a very detailed version of the story rather than choking the life and meaning out of it in a crude summary.I trust you and I have faith in me that nothing can go wrong between us - ever.However this question and answer thing cannot work for me.I would rather not need to ask anything.You understand ?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Part Woman

I was walking upstairs and she was walking down when I saw her first. It was past 8:00 in the evening. Her clothes arrested attention for their scantiness. An orange bra peeped from under a midriff bearing green camisole. The low-rise jeans revealed a thong along with a tattoo on her lower back. She had the kind of body that looks great when flaunted. I wondered if this stunning woman was my new neighbor. Then I noticed her face which was as perfect as the rest of her. But even with all that make-up, I could tell she was no more than fifteen years old.

Her attire had sexualized her to the point where it was hard to see her for the child that she really was. I stood at the top of the stairs and watched her walk across the parking lot with the air of a woman used to being provocative and noticed. It was like she was a model walking on a ramp with cameras flashing all around her. Another neighbor was walking his dog and he scoped her out like she were a woman. Since she had gone to considerable length put her body on display, I doubt if he noticed her face before she got into the car waiting for her.

Clothes shopping for girls as young as six or eight is challenging business these days. It appears that you cannot do cute and appropriate at the same time. There is always the sweat-suits, jeans and tees for those of us who cringe at the thought of dressing six year olds like tartlets. More often than not, the little girl will want more varied fare but they are too young to understand the concept of revealing or provocative.

As a parent you need to be cautious about what they are allowed to wear even at that age. If they grow up exposing a lot of skin, doing so comes comfortably and naturally to them as teenagers and adults. The notion of modesty cannot be introduced suddenly when their bodies begin to develop because they may view it as unreasonably restrictive. If a certain article of clothing was appropriate last year why should it be taboo now.

When I saw this teenager being a woman, I could not help feeling sad. There is something beautiful and innocent about the cusp between childhood and adulthood. Awkwardness, hesitation and confusion come with the territory. Wearing make-up for the first time, the first bra, putting on a stylish dress from your mother's wardrobe are small rites of passage that make this age so special.

You try the adult role with some anxiety knowing you can slip back into the known and comfortable contours of childhood when in doubt. In a few years you acquire the physical and emotional confidence to be a woman. Young girls these days are being thrust from girlhood to womanhood without the cushion of the time in between. They are being sexualized even before they have understood their sexuality or how to deal with it.

The true essence of womanhood is lost on these kids as they come to equate it to being provocative. Even as adults they would continue to play at being women because they have not had the opportunity to evolve naturally into it. They would do anything in their power to remain physically and sexually appealing as their whole identity as women revolves around it.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Stale Smoke

A few days ago, in the middle of driving rain I stood with my coworker Lynn in the smoking porch. Sometimes, when I need to run something by her quickly I hang out with her as she takes her smoking break. It is a lot easier than finding time on her calendar. The place was full that day and when I returned to my desk I was reeking of stale smoke.

Growing up in a family where most adult males smoked, this smell was once very familiar and part of my surroundings. It blended with other smells around the house - fresh ground spices, pickles, oil, soap, detergent, camphor, flowers and incense until I could not tell it apart.

The distinct strain of burning tobacco smell and how it clung to me until I was able to shower that evening seemed like a metaphor for my life. It is the tie that binds past to the present even after everything that defined "home" has fallen to the wayside. Those other smells of home are not fully present in my life anymore and neither is that of cigarette smoke for them to confluence as they once did.

Like a scaffold reveals itself after the edifice has gone up in flames, the smell of smoke is reminder of all that once existed to cloud and minimize it. I realized I really hated the smell.

Friday, October 26, 2007


Reading this essay by a woman whose husband is a better "mother" to their daughter than she is reminds me of some women I know who are married to men who completely "out-mother" them. The kids are much closer to the father than the mother whereas the stereotype demands affections be biased just the other way around. Everyone would agree that in an ideal world there would be no bias at all. The child would feel equally close to both parents.

Being that it is a less than perfect world, the scale is expected to tilt in favor of the mother. So when she feels like the redundant parent, she is filled with apprehension not to mention sadness. She wonders where and how she falls short and why her baby would prefer Dad to her. Mothering and motherhood is most synonymous with patience, selflessness and sacrifice. All of those qualities are gender-neutral. Though a woman is traditionally expected to have them in generous measures, many of us fall short.

While we may be able to execute our duties as a mother flawlessly as in making sure the kids eat healthy, dress appropriately for the weather, do their homework, are given the medicines timely when sick and are shuttled around a myriad of activities; we may be less able to nourish and nurture them emotionally. Even after doing better than best in all areas of responsibility to the child, we may still not be able to fulfill their emotional needs. Some fathers can do that quite effortlessly.

From a child's perspective, that is not such a terrible thing. Maybe there is a bit of a role reversal in the canonical sense but they still receive all that they need to thrive. As for the women who are married to super-mom husbands, they should count it a blessing. One super-mom is good enough for any child. The other parent is not redundant at all - in fact they are enablers. Without their ability to multi-task and manage the practical demands of modern life, the "super-mom" would not be able to realize their full potential as a parent. While children may not recognize that at first, more likely than not they will come to appreciate the unter-parent as they grow older.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Potter's World

Who knew that Dumbledore's sexual orientation would make headline news one day. It is certainly a curious thing. The fact that J.K Rowling broke the news is somewhat disappointing. I count myself among her devoted fans even if I am too old to have my innocence outraged by this piece of information about one of the key characters. Since some of her readers are young as eight, she might have spared them the gratuitous adultification.

Like the author of the Salon article, I would have preferred to have something left to the imagination - there is an abundance material and detail to use.

Given the ample -- somewhere north of 5,000 pages -- text that Rowling has already provided, from which her diligent and enthusiastic readers can mine theories and opinions of their own, her pronouncements are robbing us of the chance to let our imagination take over where she left off, one of the great treats of engaging with fictional narrative.

Whether or not her fans appreciate the closure she has and may continue to offer to end the tantalizing ambiguities in the stories, this is the universe she has created and reigns over. By revealing her real intent, she fleshes out Harry Potter's magical world paring away at fantasy. To do so is her prerogative, just as choosing to destroy the world her imagination gave birth to is. Us fans will just have to mourn our loss.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Slum Tourism

Travel and tourism seem to among the predominant themes of Web2.0 starts up in India. Everyone and their grandmother is mapping the place out so that we you can fathom driving directions to something as vague as 132B Rajaji Road, Upendra Nagar, Opposite Ganesh Mandir, 3rd Floor, 5th Door . But for the India-savvy foreign tourist, mapped or unmapped, the backwaters of Kerala, the Mount Abu - Khajuraho circuit are yesterday's news.

They would prefer to see underbelly of urban India instead. To that end, a
guided tour of Dharavi is now offered by Reality Tours and Travels. The instinctive reaction to this idea is one of horror and disbelief. How inhumane and shameful to turn the plight of these miserable people into a spectacle. Amelia Gentleman asks the right question in her article on slum tourism : A new travel experience gives visitors a glimpse into the harsh lives of Delhi's street children. But is it a worthy initiative or just an example of voyeuristic 'poorism',

Yet, those of us who have liked reading Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance or Dominique Lapierre's A City Of Joy , can't claim to be any superior to the "voyeuristic" western tourists. We have visited the same places, heard (even if not actually seen) horrendous tales of poverty, death and decay. From the comfort our our couches, we have been moved by the starkly realistic stories of pain that is beyond our capacity to understand or feel. We have moved on with our lives after returning the book to its place on the shelf not unlike the tourist who returns to the comfort of her five star hotel after checking out Dharavi.

It is all too easy for us to pass judgment.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Aware Staple

It is technology overkill to have RFID staples to track down missing documents. Very likely, it will get used to track a lot more than errant paperwork - employees, spouses, lovers, teen-aged kids seem perfect cases for electronic tagging and tracking. Staple one on an article of their clothing and they are on an electronic leash.

The smart-staple is the kind of convenience that ends up costing much more than its worth. Just like grocery store analyzing shopping habits to pop out a list for the customer is more interference than help. All of this is too 1984 for comfort and what's more we may have several RFID tags in our wallets blissfully unaware that our privacy and personal information is being compromised.

There is a natural limit to how much we can remember and forget; it is a good thing that they are both finite. We are able to glamorize and romanticize the past because memories fade to cover it with a rosy tinge. Being able to register and remember what happens in our world is part of feeling and being alive. When everything is converted to instantly retrievable data, the incentive to remember is lost and forgetting is no longer possible. That's a sad life.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Profoundly Weird

It is common knowledge back home that Bong dudes are prone to being profoundly weird. The gents themselves might describe themselves as "profound" (which is their misplaced belief) but us women know that the operative word is weird. Without further ado, a small sampling of the said weirdness, I have come across over the years.

A - Late thirties, engineering grad from India and an MBA from NYU. Lives in Queens. Conversation turns to life outside work. He says he is seriously into wines. I think that refers to wine-tasting and collecting. Somewhat miffed at that, he explains he makes wines at home and is working with a graphic designer friend on the labels. In the next couple of hours he tries to give me a crash course in wine-making and wine-snobbery and I tune out after the first five minutes.

I keep hoping we'll talk about other things and I am not prepared for the wine-making quiz that comes at the end of the second hour. I make worse than failing grade. He tells me he is determined to find a Bong woman who either is into wine making herself or is able to acquire a passion for it in short order. She would also be able to befriend his widowed mother who lives with him. Both requirements are non-negotiable. I wish him good luck in his quest.

B- Late twenties, engineering grad from India, Masters and PhD in the US. Has a number of patents and papers to his credit. Insists that I Google him to learn more about his professional accomplishments. I try to humor that and move on to other things. He tells me that he is looking for a woman who has demonstrated her ability to be a good mother. As such, only single mothers with well adjusted kids would qualify as potential partners.
My curiosity is piqued.

But the more important requirement is that she be willing to have a child with him and leave when the child is old enough for him to take care of. I ask to know more about "leave" and he explains that he wants to raise the child alone without input or interference from the mother. He is willing to provide a very generous divorce settlement for the woman's efforts. I ask him if he is a pedophile and if I should be reporting him to the authorities. He tells me in all seriousness that he is not. He is merely passionate about being the ideal father and does not want a wife interfering with any of his goals or shifting his focus away from fatherhood.

C - Commerce graduate from India, CPA, late thirties. Works for the government. He has lived in Baltimore after he got divorced. That was three years ago. They were married for five years and lived in San Antonio at the time. Every other weekend, he flies to San Antonio to hang out with the Bong families they knew as a couple. She still lives there and makes it a point not to show up at these gatherings when he does.

I ask if there are not any Bongs in Baltimore that he could befriend and he says he has never reached out to them. He feels like home is in San Antonio where his friends are. So why does he not move back there I ask. Because ex still lives there he answers. What happens if he marries again, would the bi-weekly trips to San Antonio continue. He can't imagine a life without those trips - it is what keeps him going. Spouses come and go, friends are forever he adds. I am totally stumped by Bong-weirdness.

D - Liberal Arts major from India, MBA from the States, mid-thirties. Worked for a number of major FMCG companies before he had an epiphany and decided his true calling was to be a trucker. I asked if this was a delayed quarter life crisis that could just as well have been served by buying a red Corvette. He said he did not believe is ersatz sports cars. It had to be the real McCoy or nothing at all and no it was no quarter or mid-life crisis.

Was there any chance that he would return to the cubicle farm or even the corner office after a few years of being a trucker I wondered. He said he had finally found the job that paid him by the hour, did not involve corporate politics and a cubicle or office. There was no way he was going to trade his hard earned freedom for that flaming pile of poo. He asked me if I would consider being a roadkill collector if my life depended on it. I said absolutely no way. Exactly how I feel about being a corporate whore he said.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Suki's Kimono

J and I loved reading (she read, I listened) Suki's Kimono. Being very close to her grandmother herself, J was able to relate completely to Suki's character who decides to wear a kimono and geta (wooden clogs) from her obachan (grand-mother) to school. The little girl is determined to be herself despite what her friends and sisters think. The day ends with Suki having a good day at school, returning home shining bright and happy.

I took the opportunity to tell J how proud I am of her for eating home cooked Indian food for lunch at the school cafeteria every day. The primary lesson in the book is to teach pride for your cultural heritage. Suki's example is something any ethnic kid in a foreign country will be able to appreciate. There is also a subtler lesson in non-conformism which I really liked.

Suki's sisters Mari and Yumi come back home at the end of their first day in school complaining that no one noticed their new sweater or sneakers - this has happened to J as well. Suki in however the star of her class despite her friends snickering at her outfit. When her first grade teacher asked the class what they did for summer, Suki showed them the circle dance she and her obachan has danced in Japanese street festival.

It takes a great deal of resilience and faith in oneself for a young child to not buck under the peer pressure and follow their heart. The author reinforces what I always tell J - it pays not run with the heard and have the courage to be different. While there may be hurdles along the way, what it gives you in end makes it completely worthwhile.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Abusive Teachers

For any parent of a school-going child in this country the news of rampant sexual misconduct in schools is very disturbing news. If there is zero-tolerance for harassment in the workplace, I am not sure why it would not be the same for schools being that kids are far more vulnerable and in need of much stronger protection. Instead, perpetrators are routinely taken out of one school system and shoved into the next so they are able to carry on their abusive behavior with impunity.

That the powers that be would consider this an acceptable way to reign in a child abuser is incomprehensible and horrifying to say the least. Why would they not revoke the teaching license and put all school children out of reach of the abuser ? The
NEA opines that sexual harassment and abuse are two different things and should be treated differently.

"Lumping harassment together with serious sexual misconduct does more harm than good by creating unjustified alarm and undermining confidence in public schools," says Michael Pons of NEA.

As a parent, I have a huge problem with that statement. I would much rather see the smallest hint of inappropriate behavior treated just as severely as abuse. When my child's well-being is at stake the semantic differences between harassment and abuse is of absolutely no interest to me. I would want the abuser stripped of their teaching license and all children made safe. Anything less is a travesty of the trust that parents place in the public school system and in as such completely unacceptable.

This is a sue-happy country, where it is normal for a man to sue for a million dollars for his lost pants and a woman to sue for spilling her hot coffee in her own lap. One would think school systems would adopt a zero tolerance policy just from the fear of lawsuits and expensive settlements. Apparently, that is not quite the case and I am not sure why not.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dictated By Amateurs

For a book about how the world of Web 2.0 and as a result modern society was doomed, I found the introduction of The Cult of the Amateur funny enough to nearly choke over my brownie. He compares the collective input of bloggers, youtubers and wikipediasts to several million monkeys on a typing rampage.

Unlike T.H Huxley's million monkeys on a million typewriters no works of Shakespeare are being produced as a result of this collective endeavor on the world wide web. Keen finds no signs of intelligence or erudition in this democratic harvest of words and images. He warns us that the true and trusted old media is on the verge of extinction

“say goodbye to experts and cultural gatekeepers – our reporters, news anchors, editors, music companies, and Hollywood movie studios.”

Of the Web 2.0 revolution he says:
What the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment. The information business is being transformed by the Internet into the sheer noise of a hundred million bloggers all simultaneously talking about themselves.

His tirade against the amateur continues to the end of the book at which point he talks about the way out of the mess we've gotten ourselves in. His solution is to reign in the power and energy of the narcissist masses to work in tandem with the establishment and subject matter experts. He exhorts us to do Joost not Kazaa, iAmplify not YouTube and Scholarpedia not Wikipedia.

Not a particularly path breaking idea. Democracy in its infancy is prone be somewhat anarchic but in due season, the very forces that foment chaos will take over to create balance and order. More likely than not Web 2.0 will follow the same pattern well before the sky falls down as Keen fears.

His main concern appears to be the blurring line between the cultural producer and cultural consumer. The notion that meritocracy cannot survive or win in the Web 2.0 world is suspect. Sure everyone will have their fifteen minutes of fame but that should not steal the spotlight away from those who truly deserve it and for the long haul. It may take more effort to be heard above the din but if the voice is distinct enough it will still rise to where it can be heard loud and clear. Even those typing monkeys will stop to listen before they return to blog about it in their teeming millions - and that should help the cause of celebrity.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Doing More

John was a geek twenty years ago until he took a break for few years to be a professional violinist playing at concerts around the world. He taught music lessons and wrote occasionally for a couple of music journals. Now he is back in the IT business again as a freelance organization development consultant. Given his background, he brings a very interesting perspective and is always eager to mentor. He has found a devoted mentee in me.

Sometimes, during lunch we chat about life outside work. He and his wife seem to live a quietly fulfilling life. She sounds like the kind of woman who can both inspire and support a man to achieve amazing things in life - just as John has. I often talk about J and he loves to listen. He often asks "So what's the latest with J ? What has she been up to ?". He tells me I should bring her to work one day because "She sounds like a really interesting kid".

I showed him some pictures of J, I had on my computer today. The first reaction I get from most people who see J's pictures is along the lines of "She's a perfect beauty" or "She's absolutely gorgeous" or some variation thereof. John commented "She has such bright eyes. She is very beautiful almost in a spiritual way". Then he added "You know, she is the kind of child you want to devote your entire life to, give everything you have to give. There is that look about her. You are very blessed "

When I see J, I see a good, loving child who has brought me nothing but joy from the time she was a spark of life in my womb. She gives me strength on the bleakest days. There is a serenity about her that I often find myself drawing from. When someone says she is the cutest little doll, I don't know if they are taking about J because I find it hard to see her the way she is at the surface.

I always thought I was obsessive about being a mother because she is all I have - J gives meaning to my life. I am frantic about giving her more - nothing I do feels enough. That it takes so absurdly little to make her happy, fills me with guilt - I wonder why she does not expect or want more. She is deeply grateful for whatever little I manage to do for her. Maybe that is the look John saw in her picture. Maybe I will never feel like I have done all that could do for her.

There was a sad irony in what John said too. A perfect stranger old enough to be her grandfather was able to sense all that about my child and yet her own father has not seen her since she was three months old. He was able to start life over like marriage and fatherhood had never happened. J's face must not have inspired him to give everything and more.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dinner Tab

Independent women could precipitate a breakup just by picking up the dinner tab while out on a date. I have paid for lunch refusing to go dutch because I find that particularly déclassé in the context of dating. It has made men uncomfortable specially when they've had a drink or two and I have not. It does not help that they get to buy tickets to a movie or concert afterward. I have been called a sugar-mama in jest.

If I am proud to be independent and not in need of a male crutch to support or justify my existence, I should not hesitate to pay for a few things during time spent together, specially when the man has expended considerable time and money to begin with. Paying for a couple of beers and a pizza at that point is no more than a token of appreciation for his efforts. Any man who claims he is comfortable and is in fact attracted to independent women, should appreciate that she actually walks the talk.

Apparently,commonsense or logical reasoning is redundant when is comes to relationships. Needless to say, in my experience those dates have not gone anywhere meaningful so there may actually be a high correlation between whose card gets swiped at the end of the dinner and the future of the relationship itself.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Anywhere But India

I had opportunity to help with transition from an Indian vendor to Softek a few years ago so it is interesting to read about their anywhere but India strategy. Steve Hamm contends "Eventually, whether it likes it or not, Softtek will have to make an Indian play." I am not sure if that is necessarily true. The client in my experience had been through a several top rated Indian outsourcing companies before growing disenchanted enough to consider Softek.

The "anywhere but India" strategy was exactly what had helped them get their foot in the door. Indian companies have a relative
monopoly over the outsourcing business thanks to being early entrants and having access to a large pool of low-paid, English speaking tech workers. As with all monopolies, the customer is trapped in an exploitative relationship for the lack of comparable options. Softek to me is the kind of response that would come in time from the marketplace looking for some diversity and more importantly differentiation (even if location and culture based only) in options.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Discover Your Inner Economist

Tyler Cowen's Discover Your Inner Economist is an entertaining and enjoyable read but I can't claim having discovered something completely new that would help me live a better, more productive life. There are some great reminders though :

1. Don't sign up for an annual gym membership because you'll end up spending more per visit. Most people lack motivation to show up five times a week which is what it takes to make the annual membership lucrative. But people like deceiving themselves and gyms make their money as a result of such wide-spread self-deception.

2. When it comes to relationships, playing hard to get most often does not work because anyone who had read books of The Rules genre can imitate that behavior. Cowen notes he is being playing hard to get with Salma Hayek for a long time but it has not yielded any dividends up to now. I love that example.

3. Calcutta sweets are among the best in the world. Even without having stepped outside Calcutta in their whole lives, most Bengalis take this to be self-evident. It is nice to see Cowen's endorsement.

4. The best ethnic restaurants are in strip malls away from downtown that are not home to any big box stores. He suggests making a meal of the appetizers and side dishes at ethnic restaurants. I almost always do that because it gives me a chance to try several things at the same time.

5. Make people aware of the dollar value of a meeting and then ask the question "Have we achieved anything in the past hour that would justify $1500 of the company's money ?". I love this one. Some system and rigor around this would be great. Incentives for getting more done with fewer meetings, reporting on total cost of meetings and conference bridge lines on a weekly basis, setting goals for reducing costs - the possibilities are endless. I am up for anything that would free up my calendar and allow me to get some work done for a change.

6. Musical taste has a lot to do with class and upbringing. There is such a thing as a musical cosmopolitan. Preferring Radiohead and Coldplay to 50 Cent is not different from favoring one designer label over the other. Uber-premium aficionados will probably seek out highly obscure indie bands. Cowen correctly points out that if a genre is strongly disliked by some people, it will be strongly liked by some other people. In explaining the love of new in music, He says "Music is about identity. It is also about a differential identity. The problem with old music is simple. Somebody else has already liked it."

7.Some best sellers are unreadable simply because I the reader is not the intended audience. Makes me feel better about giving up on Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae. It's on Cowen's list of unread books too.

8. Obsession with degree, title and alma mater is proportional to lack of significant accomplishment thereafter. This jives with experience. Those who have reached a certain level of professional success don't talk about where they went to school or what degrees they have earned. Their achievements thereafter are big enough to overshadow such things. However, those who fail to live up to the promise of their academic pedigree flaunt it at every opportunity.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Motherhood And Dating

There is an unusually high concentration of single parents in my apartment community and with good reason. If you moved in at the right time of year when they have specials running, it can be a great bargain for the school district and neighborhood. The single family homes around us are among the most expensive in town.

The newest, ritziest mall is just down the road with loads of casual and fine dining options. Interestingly, there are several self storage units within a two to three mile radius. This is the perfect place for someone who has had to downsize their life after going through divorce and yet not compromise on schooling for the kids. They can go out on a fun date and still be only five minutes from the kids at home with the sitter.

The folks in the leasing office have tuned into the opportunity that such a demographic presents. They organize singles mixers and Valentines Day parties. The monthly newsletter carries contact information for baby-sitters in the community and ads for the local match-making services. The logical next step would be to open up the community bulletin board for personal ads. A lot of pairings happen over the summer vacation when everyone hangs out at the pool with the kids.

What follows thereafter is probably not the best of all possible worlds for the children involved. His kids hang out with her kids at her place as they chat in the front porch. In a few weeks, the kids might spend all Saturday with a baby-sitter at his place as they spend quality time at hers. This may go on for a while and then the adults decide "its not working out".

The kids have in the meanwhile have grown so close to each other that to separate them would cause pain. So in addition to an ex-spouse picking up and dropping off kids, there is now and ex-relationship going through similar motions. Living across the street from each other, it is impossible to keep the kids apart even if the relationship is over. Both parties move on, yet more kids are thrown in and pulled out of the mix at adult whim.

I have been a spectator observing the goings on for a while. I see an unsupervised eight year old roller blade around the tennis court late in the evening as his mother copes with a break-up. I call to let her know and she thanks me absently. A few months later, I see her with a new man at the pool. He has a son too and Justin has a new friend. They look like a lovely family of four. The couple looks bright, happy and very much in love. I hope for her sake and Justin's this works out. I haven't seen her lately but I often catch Justin playing in the tennis court way past his bed time.

Dating and being a parent inherently don't belong together. In a natural course of events, the two have no reason to intersect as they are time-lapsed phases in a person's life. Yet when the natural order is upset, the impossible must need to happen. You have to struggle extra hard to make it work both for your significant other and the children. You have to question and evaluate your priorities constantly to make sure the choices you make are appropriate.

Until the adults have formally decided to spend their lives together, young kids have no need to be any part of the picture. Whatever their initial reservations about the step-parent, chances are they will come around to accepting them if they see this new person love their parent and make them happy. To go about dating like one would in their single days when an impressionable child is involved is somewhat selfish and irresponsible.

Being a single parent myself, I know only too well the pitfalls of a cautious and guarded approach to relationship and dating. It works as a huge turn off for a lot of people. Men are looking to date women and not mothers. If your child looms menacingly large on the horizon, chances are that the relationship will not even take off let alone reach anywhere. You must brace yourself for many disappointments and false starts.

It is much the same for a woman dating an over-zealous single dad who will do whatever it takes to protect his child from getting emotionally involved with whoever he is dating. She gets the sense that the child is the immovable center of his universe and she can at best hope to be a satellite orbiting around the periphery of their lives. While her impression may be completely wrong, it would be hard for him to disabuse her of it without making significant compromises on his parenting beliefs.

The element of fun and spontaneity are the primary casualties in such a situation. It is so much easier for the other person if they don't have kids to date someone who is single just like them. Unless they are truly invested in you and the children your lives, they would not run the obstacle course they must to form a lasting bond. To settle for anything less would be short-changing oneself and one's child and yet a lot of single parents do that time after time.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Standing Tall

I have seen women in the workplace put on their extra high stilettos to complete the battle gear look before going into important meetings. As the WSJ article Heelpolotik notes, these shoes are often kept by the side of the desk to be used as needed. Height and feeling powerful are correlated :

"High heels indicate power," says Stuart Weitzman, designer of many a power heel. "For some reason, it's a natural instinct for human beings."

This is partly a factor of height. At 5'9½ in bare feet, a pair of heels leaves Kristin Bentz, who runs a fashion-investment blog, towering over many men in a room. "I totally use the shoes for the intimidation factor -- for women and for men," she says.

I have learned the hard way not to wear high heels when meeting one on one with a manager who is vertically challenged - specially if they are male. You can wear ballerina flats for the rest of your life but it still won't undo the damage that happened the moment he stood up to shake hands and had to look up at you. I can easily imagine a woman standing 6'3" tall in her Ferragamos making a room full of men (and women) feeling utterly puny and inadequate.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Cheeni Kum

My curiosity about Cheeni Kum was piqued by the story line which is definitely unconventional by mainstream Bollywood standards. The movie begins with the boss and chef of “ the best Indian restaurant in London” taking a diva turn in the kitchen. The staff, cowers in fear as he works himself into a fury over their lack of professionalism and passion in their job. Amitabh Bacchan’s histrionics in the time of Sholay and Deewar was one thing but as the sixty four year old Buddhadev Gupta (the uber chef of Cheeni Kum) it is quite another.

There is only so much expression-less cacophony that anyone can tolerate. It felt pathetic watching a faded super-star from yesteryears trying to relive the old glory and have only raw lung power left to do so. I was afraid things were going to head further south from this point and wondered if it was worth sitting through the rest of it. Bacchan playing at being a pitiable imitation of himself, namely the angry young man from several decades ago did not sound promising. I am glad I let that moment pass for I was well rewarded for my patience.

Tabu plays a thirty four year single woman visiting friends in London. The movie really gets going when she comes to the aforementioned restaurant with the friend and sends a below par Hyderabadi Zafrani Pilaf back to the kitchen. This time Bacchan hits the roof. The ongoing diva episode, climaxes with him telling Tabu she is a “tourist” without the pedigree to pass judgment on food that came from “His” kitchen. He fires the sous chef for good measure. Apparently, the guy had put sugar instead of salt in the pilaf and Tabu was right to reject it. He eats crow most grudgingly, she takes a fancy for him. From then on an unlikely boy meets girl love story unfolds and holds our attention.

The witty repartees Tabu and Bacchan exchange during their tentative courtship are entertaining, natural and believable. An older man’s awkwardness as he gets romantically involved with a woman thirty years his junior is portrayed beautifully. Bacchan shows his mellow side which is not preoccupied with super-stardom and you like what you see. Zohra Sehgal plays his mother and their short conversation volleys are incredibly funny – the right mix of love, respect and irreverence makes them memorable.

This movie is about a cast of unconventional and somewhat eccentric characters who work well together just for that reason. There is the thirty four year old spinster who decides to romance a man older than her father and have him propose marriage. A terminally ill child who is precocious beyond belief is Tabu’s romantic rival but in a good natured way. Paresh Raval plays Tabu’s father and a dyed in the wool Gandhian. He decides to go on hunger strike like a true Satyagrahi to voice his disapproval of the matrimonial alliance between Tabu and Bacchan.

There is yet more rabble rousing by Bacchan towards the end of the movie as he works on Raval to accept him as the son-in-law. You learn to grin and bear. Bollywood typically rewards tolerance. In this case you have among other things a music score than meanders gently in and out of the storyline instead of being loudly oppressive. Overall, a refreshing little movie though some may say that it is "pile of ingredients that no one had no one has bothered to form into a recipe".

Thursday, October 11, 2007

New Cosplay

The beauty contest is controversial enough but now there is an artificial beauty contest contest in which the contestants must have proof of recent cosmetic surgery to be able to participate. If surgically enhanced physical features is legitimized in beauty pageants, it won't be long before there are contests for Barbie, magna and anime character look-alikes taking the idea of cosplay to a whole different level.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Orchid Fever

It has been a while since I read a completely unputdownable book and this is not even a spy thriller. Orchid Fever : A Horticultural Tale of Love, Lust, and Lunacy is all of that and much more. Hansen introduces the reader to an array of eccentric characters who are unlike each other in all respects except for their obsession with orchids. The witticism is reminiscent of Bill Bryson in A Walk In The Woods and Neither Here Nor There.

Orchid mania meets objective research of the ways of CITES, their bizarre bureaucratic machinery, raids on orchid nurseries followed by imprisonment and lawsuits in this book. You discover that legal and illegal in the world of orchid export are easily interchangeable. You can start out being in violation of law, raided, fined and imprisoned for buying orchids without appropriate permits. But coming out of jail you may stop by to buy some spoils of that very same raid from a bona-fide government nursery where they ended up, and
voilà, you are now all legal !

The chapter titles are a mix of titillation and hilarity - you have no choice but to find out what happens in "Bodice Rippers" or "Fox Testicle Ice-cream Of Kemal". Thanks to Hansen, I will never be be able to look at an orchid without seeing all manner of genitalia in it. The quote by Joe Kunisch, a commercial orchid grower, Hansen starts his book with is an accurate summary of what this story is all about "You can get off alcohol, drugs, women,food and cars, but once you are hooked om orchids, you're finished. You never get off orchids...never".

By the time you are done reading Orchid Fever, you know to err on the side of caution when it comes to buying another pretty orchid for the window sill. Maybe best to stop at one.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Run Granny Run

Run Granny Run, is a documentary chronicling the 94 year old Doris Haddock's bid for the senate so she can champion the voice of the average American who is tired of politics as usual in Washington. The story is inspirational to say the least. If a woman at her age could run for political office on a shoe string budget and walk the campaign trail, there is nothing to stop younger, better qualified people from doing the same. And that is exactly the message she wants to deliver to the American people.

The votes Granny D garners are from people who believe in what she stands for and admire her amazing strength and spirit. In the end, that is not nearly enough for her to win the election but she proves herself to be a worthy opponent of a suave, career politician like Judd Greg. This is a David versus Goliath story about an old woman running for office against a younger man; a veteran politician. It is also a story of how the symbolism of what someone stands for can become so powerful that it overshadows the real person behind it.

Doris Haddock does not have much more than an unshakable faith in her conviction that the average person can have a chance at participating and influencing politics in America. Even after loosing the election, Granny D comes out strong. She is able to lead by example, prove that raw determination can outdo the firepower of campaigns financed by special interest groups. That being able to connect to the average person does not take a career politician - another average person is all it takes. Finally, age is no excuse to for not making an effort to make a difference to society. A touchingly told tale with a very intimate feel.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Overly Creative

Nice essay on why creative people need to be curbed. Author Michael Fallon writes :

You could argue that most people, genetically speaking, do not possess the recessive traits that make creative talent likely. You could also argue that few people also have the perseverance to endure long hours of training, preparation, and hard work that make true art work possible.
Such hard realities aren’t in keeping with the times—when Nike exhorts us to “Just Do It” and Xerox screams “Express Yourself”; when students receive ribbons just for participating in the art exhibition, regardless of the quality of their product;

On a recent trip to a botanical garden, I saw some of artwork by K-2 kids framed on the walls. Not one of them was remotely remarkable and yet they were up there given undeserved honor. Just that would not be such a bad thing expect now the kids in question (and also their families) would assume their innate creativity and talent to be recognized. Fallon observes rightly :

Over and over, today’s culture not only reinforces that everyone is creative, but also that we have to be creative in order to be fully realized and fulfilled beings. We are told we need to have creative work, and that our creativity is the key to innovation at our work. This is true even as the number of cubicle-bound paper-pushing jobs ever seems to multiply, and as fewer and fewer jobs really require much creativity.

Some of these over-compensated "creative" kids will grow up to be "jewelery artisans" like the ones that showed up in my town for a fair organized by a local museum. Most of these folks had made a career and vocation out of non-existent creativity. You walked past stall after stall of forgettable kitsch until you spotted something startlingly beautiful.

Yet to the organizers there was nothing to tell the two very different breeds of artisans apart. Freedom to express creativity is equal opportunity apparently and the true mavens have to work that much harder to be seen and heard even as they struggle to keep from drowning in a sea of mediocrity.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Pain Machine

Just reading about this pain inflicting machine makes the stomach turn. The potential for abuse is obviously enormously high. Bringing modern technology to create a state of the art torture device is a retrogression of a civilized society as the author concludes:

We use the word "medieval" as shorthand for brutality. The truth is that new technology makes racks look benign.

Imagine using this device to control the kid who recently made waves with the
newest cultural touchstone of our pop-cultural lexicon.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Picking Battles

Mrs. Sharma and her family moved next door to us when she was in her early 40s and I was a teenager. She was a stay at home mom and taught music. Every evening kids poured in and out of her house and sound of harmonium and tabla was always in the air. They were a nice family. The husband was quiet and unassuming, the two boys were bright and well-behaved. Mrs. Sharma had the look of contentment that comes to those who have most of their life’s needs and some wants met.

Sometimes during the summer vacation, she would come to our house in the afternoon to have tea with my mom. Often, I joined them. There was one version of Mrs. Sharma that we saw when she was in her in house with her husband and sons. That was an efficient housewife who followed her husband’s lead in almost everything, laughed at his jokes, rarely if ever voiced an opinion informed or otherwise.

Whereas, Mr. Sharma would hold forth on politics and the state of the Indian economy, she confined herself to sidebar conversations about how the boys were faring at school, her trip home to Allahabad where her parents lived or the latest in a long series of altercations with the domestic help. We had come to believe that was who she was until she started coming over for the afternoon cup of tea with us all by herself. We discovered that she had a masters degree in economics and was a gold medalist to boot. The rigorous training in Hindustani classical music was something she had done recreationally. Right around the time she started working on her PhD, she got married. She never returned to academics after that.

She was extremely well informed and articulate in her views about the Indian economy. These were exciting times in the country, with Manmohanics in the works. I listened to her with rapt attention – unlike every other adult who threw in their two cents, she really understood the fundamentals of this endlessly fascinating subject. It was like listening to a very knowledgeable professor. She had many interests outside her subject as we were to find out. Our afternoon soirees were lively and educative. I loved this other version of Mrs. Sharma I got to see only at our home.

I would wonder how a smart, articulate, intelligent woman could transform herself into the complete antithesis of her real personality. More importantly, how could she possibly be happy while not being her natural self. Yet when I met her first, there was nothing about her to indicate any obvious lack of it. There was a certain vivaciousness about her as she explained the underpinnings of the Hindu growth rate, or talked about the poetry of Mahadevi Varma and Nirala. Her eyes sparkled with joy and energy. In her own home, surrounded by her family she looked completely insipid. She was just one of those boring, over-weight married women who had no life outside servicing the needs of their family. But for her beautiful singing voice, she would not have made a blip on anyone’s radar.

Sometimes she would talk about her husband – he was kind, considerate and uncomplicated. He never kept any secrets from her. They always reached consensus before making significant financial decisions. He was also very frail and asthmatic – always had been. Ever so often, he would come back from work completely exhausted and fall asleep directly after his evening tea and snack. Mrs. Sharma had always been high energy and in excellent health.

There was a slender subtext of dissatisfaction of an adult nature that I could sense but did not fully understand. I could tell there was more she would like to confide in my mother than was possible in my presence. While she would have liked me to leave for a while, my mother preferred I stayed on so she would not become privy to matters too private to be shared with a new neighbor. My mother always had a great fear for people unburdening to her in a moment of weakness and regretting it later. Unless she was truly close to someone, she did not want to be their confidante. Neither articulated what they wanted of me and I wavered uncertainly as someone on the verge of adulthood must upon their first contact with adult concerns.

Years later, when I decided my marriage was dead and I did not want to cohabit with the corpse of a once vibrant and joyful relationship, my mother mentioned Mrs. Sharma. While she was completely supportive of my decision, she reminded me that wanting more came at a price. To her, intelligent women like Mrs. Sharma know to pick their battles and that’s the reason they survive in their flawed and imperfect marriages. She was smart enough to recognize her husband would feel insecure if she showed her true personality. It was far easier to pretend to be the woman he would feel comfortable with. In return she earned his complete trust and confidence, was able to raise two brilliant boys and nurture her passion for music. In the final analysis she did not loose out completely for making the compromises that she had consciously chosen to make.

I asked my mother if she would like for me to emulate Mrs. Sharma and change colors like a chameleon to avoid conflict with her spouse. Was that not equivalent to cheating ? How was that any different from someone having an extra-marital affair ? Mr. Sharma had no idea who he was married to not unlike the man who discovers his wife has been having an affair with his best friend for years unbeknownst to him. She did not say much to any of that but I guess she had already made her point.

More years later, one of my good male friends would say that absolute, unflicnching, brutal honesty (which is my style) is more often than not counter-productive in relationships and specially so in marriage. There are some things that are best kept under wraps. In his case, he did not want to hear about his wife’s relationships before marriage and in the same token he had no intention of going in full-disclosure mode about his. Since the past cannot be undone, best to let sleeping dogs lie was his rationale.

When I argued that the person he is today is the aggregate result of those relationship experiences and likewise for his wife. Unless they knew where the other was coming from how could they possibly reach a good understanding of each other. How could trust be compartmentalized - it was all or nothing. He believed the damage done from raking up the past outweighed any advantage gained from getting to know the partner better. My friend had picked his battles too. He admitted his marriage was very comfortable but lacked passion. That sounded very reminiscent of the Sharmas.

Those of us who let their romantic notions about what a marriage should be all about come in the way of practical considerations end up chasing will-o'-the-wisps. Sometimes, there is a promising flicker of light; you rush headlong almost find what you are looking for, but closure is always tantalizing out of reach. Ironically, choosing not to accept the flawed and imperfect marriage is a battle picked too even if not nearly as prudent or wise as to accept such a state for life and try to find happiness in it.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Exuberant Contradictions

Reading James Fallows' essay Countdown to a Meltdown within a few days of listening to a news story on the radio made me think about the exuberant contradiction that America is. One the one hand Amish families forgive and mourn the man who killed their innocent children. On the other, epic wars are wages half way across the globe against an unsubstantiated enemy in the name of displacing dictatorship and sowing the seeds of democracy.

Back home, instead of regurgitating the events of 9/11 on its anniversary each year and making a media spectacle of grief, some people have turned the day into something much more meaningful.

"It was the worst possible day imaginable, and in some ways, a remarkable day, too, in the way in which people responded," says David Paine, co-founder of "We need to rekindle the way we came together in the spirit of 9/11: It would be almost as much a tragedy to lose that lesson."

Sept. 11 has inspired dozens of philanthropic efforts – from groups dedicated to building memorials to foundations designed to improve education in the Middle East. But myGoodDeed has a more universal goal: to turn 9/11 into a day dedicated to doing good – from small, simple things like Lisa Scheive's pledge to help stranded turtles cross the road in Pompano Beach, Fla., to lifesaving efforts, such as John Feal's decision in New York to donate one of his kidneys to help a seriously ill 9/11 worker.

The more ethnically and culturally diverse a country, the more contrariness there is in how people react to what happens in their world. Way back in July 2005, Fallows had predicted among many other things the sharply weakening dollar and the sub prime mortgage crisis. There are the Tom Friedmans and the Michael Moores screaming blue murder from the roof-tops and then there those who are in complete denial of the apocalypse that is waiting to happen to America - often with reasons as compelling as those of Fallows, Friedman et al.

That is contrariness too and probably this country's strongest dragnet for anyone who has ever wanted to hear the establishment and its rainbow coalition of opponents equally loud and clear.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Somewhat Green

As counterintuitive as it may seem, there is a case for global warming too - sort of at least. And for those of us who feel powerless in the face of rising temperature, unpredictable weather, disappearing rain forests and the like we can resort to baking chocolate chip cookies on the dashboard of our overheated car to comfort us in our woe.

If this is not making lemonade out of the lemons life hands you, I don't know what is. Others have put their car
to more "active" use to cooking dinners. I can already picture a hot dinner sitting on my car's dashboard at the end of a long summer day as I drive home cooled by air-conditioning run by exhaust heat.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Artistic License

Just like someone can feel completely alone in a crowd, it is possible to seek and find private space in what is inherently public. Like building and living in a secret apartment in recesses of a mall. This comes at the murky intersection of artistic license and trespassing on public property

the clandestine project was born of a wish to explore the phenomenon of the modern American enclosed mall, its social implications, and his own relationship with commerce and the world.

Extending the same logic, a garden variety burglar may say "the desire to steal from a prosperous individual was born of a wish to explore the nature of a human relationship with worldly possessions; the psychological and metaphysical response to being robbed of things inherently temporal and illusory nature".

It is almost always possible to come up with a grandiose rationale for doing the obviously wrong thing. The laissez faire right to offend that artists often assume, if equally and liberally extended to all individuals would cause serious repercussions. Being given a special privilege comes with an expectation that it will used responsibly. Trespassing upon public property for four years in the name of art is a truly a shame and an "exploration" in freeloading.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Dinner With Bongs

I was at an all-Bengali dinner this past weekend after a long hiatus. The hostess and I had met at the Y where we took our daughters swimming and we've stayed in touch since. She had wondered why I had not reached out to the desi or more specifically Bong community in all this time that I had lived in this town.

I told her quite candidly that I didn't think J and I would feel welcome given that I lack a husband. She encouraged me to seek out the exceptions to the rule and introduced me to her spouse. They are happy with each other and in as such not bothered by the fact that I am divorced. I have generally been able to have form viable social relationships with couples who are secure and happy in their own marriage.

The dinner guests at her house were all in their 30s. Everyone had a kid or two. J had plenty of company and was the only one in her group that spoke no Bengali. All the other kids were reasonably fluent. That did not seem to come in the way of social interaction which took place mainly in English.

Us ladies congregated around the island in the kitchen from where we repaired to the formal living room. Our host came over to see what we would like to drink. Chardonnay was among the choices and I opted for it. This was met with a few reproachful looks from the women and the barest hint of alarm from the host himself. I figured no one wanted a drunk woman without a designated male driver on their hands. I was given the drink of my choice and even managed to embolden some of the sisterhood enough to ask for Arbor Mist mixed with Cola.

The gents headed out with their Heinekens (which was the only kind of beer at hand ) to the deck. We did not see them for the rest of the evening until dinner time. The ladies talked about the preparations for Durga Puja a few weeks away. Some absent ladies were mentioned a lot and not always in a flattering light.

The rise and fall of kurtis as a fashion statement in America was the most profound topic of discussion. Apparently, American women had moved on to better things than kurtis as of last year and as such the woman who seemed to feel some passion on this subject would not be caught dead wearing a kurti to the workplace. Dressed like a fashionable American teen-ager, she seemed to be the reigning style diva of this group. When it came to fashion hers was the final word.

Husbands and marriage were talked about a lot. All the ladies were in considerable awe of their good fortune in being married to men who ate whatever they cooked for them. One woman went as far as to state that she'd have never made it through nursing school if her husband was not understanding enough to cook dinner on the days she came home late. The only time the men and women were together, the husbands joked about how badly the their wives drove and the women laughed along.

One dude went reminiscing about an elocution contest in his eight grade which had won him a prize. The wife looked on enraptured. While quite a few of the men looked like they worked out, not one of the women looked fit. Apparently, no one had the time for it - despite having such super-supportive spouses. I wondered how that did not strike them as odd. The men already looked younger than their wives and no one was in the 40s or 50s yet.

When I meet women who set such a low bar for expectations from marriage, I have to wonder what might happen if they knew they had the right to want more. Not only do they do themselves a great disservice, they make it that much harder for women who expect true partnership in marriage to find a man who has not been conditioned to seek a meek subordinate.

Monday, October 01, 2007


It has always been my favorite smell and recently I found out it is called petrichor. This is the one smell I would love to have around me always - to remind me of childhood and the home I have left far behind - favorite smells can trigger the most pleasurable nostalgia.

Like Mrs de Winter said to her husband in Rebecca
: “I wish there could have been an invention that bottled up a memory, like perfume, and it never faded, never got stale. Then whenever I wanted to, I could uncork the bottle and live the memory all over again.”

That wish can now come true thanks to Demeter Fragrances that wish can possibly come true. Earthworm is a close approximation of petrichor. Then there is New Zealand to bottle the essence of the country itself.