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Showing posts from October, 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 t…

Bookends

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 r…

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 - no…

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 consi…

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 smok…

Unter-Parent

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…

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 …

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…

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 worl…

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 i…

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 …

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 sch…

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 i…

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 …

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 …

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 di…

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 l…

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 ad…

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…

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 no…

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.

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 !

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…

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 observ…

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.

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 conversat…

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 myGoodDeed.org. "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 e…

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.

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…

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 w…

Petrichor

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.