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Showing posts from December, 2007

Crummy Parent

Being a parent is fairly difficult business and some of us are clearly not fit to be one. Minna's Crummy Mummy And Me is a case in example and sadly fact and fiction are not far apart at all.

Thanks to J, I am getting to read modern juvenile fiction and learning to see the world from a child's vantage point. It is so easy to forget how I used to think and feel at her age and sometimes even being able to remember does not help because our circumstances are so dissimilar that the what applied for me does not even remotely apply to her.

Read two poems recently on a similar theme - reflecting back on their parents as adults and the verdict is quite similar to young Minna's in Crummy Mummy And Me - "I don't think my mum's fit to be a parent, really I don't". I would rather that J told me I was a disappointment as parent now than twenty years later when I would have no way left to undo the mistakes.

My Papa's Waltz
by Theodore Roethke

The whiskey on your bre…

Virtually There

J is always brimming with questions about India and specially Kolkata because her grandparents live there. The memories of the time she spent in India as a baby have long since faded and no amount of reminiscing is enough to revive their vividness. She needs to go back once more, spend time so she can form new impressions that will stay on. In the meanwhile, I try to give her a virtual tour - pictures of Lake Market, Durga Puja and the concept of para (neighborhood).

J's yen for India could well be part of a larger trend unique to her generation. I hear about a lot of kids like her growing up in the West, who love the Indian experience to the point that they beg their parents to stay on forever, or in the least leave them behind to spend time with extended family. It is not surprising that some of choose attending high-school in India like this blogger reports.

Recently, I was with a bunch of first and second generation desi parents (and grandparents) and conversation turned to kids…

Exam Meritocracy

Interesting CSM article on how the American school system stacks up against other industrialized countries :

Singapore's Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said it best in a Newsweek interview last year: "We both have meritocracies," he said. "[America's] is a talent meritocracy; ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well – like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America."

Those are also the things, I always thought were missing in the Indian system. The more things change the more they remain the same. We now have the unconventional schools designed to cater to an elite minority with a holistic curriculum is but "exam meritocracy" is still part of our cultural DNA. The kids attending these no…

Little House

J and I watched Little House On The Prairie - a first for both of us and we loved it equally. It got us talking about being brave, taking chances, respect and acceptance of cultures that are alien to our own and finding joy in the smallest things that life brings our way. Had she been older I may have asked her to read this as well.

"Because I have traveled, I can see other universes in the eyes of strangers. Because I have traveled, I know what parts of me I cannot deny and what parts of me are simply the choices I make. I know the blessings of my own table and the warmth of my own bed. I know how much of life is pure chance, and how great a gift I have been given simply to be who I am. ...

"If we don't offer ourselves to the unknown, our senses dull. Our world becomes small and we lose our sense of wonder. Our eyes don't lift to the horizon; our ears don't hear the sounds around us. The edge is off our experience, and we pass our days in a routin…

Least Likely To Succeed

Ashwin was “the least likely to succeed” in our 6th grade class and it remained that way till the 10th. He seemed to wear this badge that was collectively bestowed upon him with a certain gritty pride. He was unfazed by anyone else’s academic or extra-curricular accomplishments having in his mind checked out of the school system and all its stipulations of success. That was then and this is now.

In the last few years, Ashwin has achieved spectacular career success and has also scoured the planet for the whereabouts of at least sixty percent our graduating class. As I write, he is trawling cyberspace, looking up old address books, contacting parents scattered across India to find out those among us who are still unaccounted for. My email address is on his list and I think I know which idiot “outed” me. Since my phone numbers are unlisted and I have not been in touch with any of my former classmates since the end of high school, I think I am relatively safe. Ashwin regularly calls people…

Practical Parenting

Being the best parent you can possibly be is not always easy. You have the best intent and the imagination but have just too much to juggle to translate thought to action - at least as quickly as you would like. One daddy goes the extra mile to make the coolest brown-bag in the class for this kid. Last week, J was down with a cold and went to bed directly after coming home from daycare in the evening.

The house looked like a mess and would take a good hour to set right. Before falling asleep, she had mumbled what she wanted for dinner - her favorite Bengali comfort food. That would take some cooking - in normal circumstances I would have tried to finish up the mismatched leftovers in the fridge but that was not an option today.

In the ideal world, I would have straightened the house first - J visibly lights up when chaos is replaced by order and is eager to assist in making things right and neat. I would have cooked her the meal she wanted, put on her favorite music, lighted the candles…

Year End Listmania

There is always listmania associated with the end of the year. The ten best (or worst) books and movies, ten celebrities that staged a comeback this year and ten that disappeared into oblivion, the top ten archaeological disoveries, hottest fashion trends, the top ten Bushisms of 2007 - and many others.

Before everyone with an internet connection got a crack at putting out their year end lists, this used to be the media's gift to its consumers - a time capsule of various lists that recaped the year that had been. In a field bristling with contending events and personalities, the top ten would naturally be rife with omission and oversight.

Yet without these lists, the year would have come and gone for nothing, there would be no documented history of the high and low points, there would be no looking back at the remarkable moments, pondering the swift passage of time or the utter futility of list making itself.

Today, no two lists are alike and each represents the personality of the…

Desire Path

Learned the English phrase equivalent of pagdandi -it is called desire path. Both expressions are evocative and beautiful. There is the path that was made to be trod and then the one that was trod until it was made. Often the two lay close to each other but the later is more intimate and inviting. But for the former, the later might have never been conceived.

As with most things in life, what we have or are given is rarely that which we truly desire. While a shorter walk may often be the goal, sometimes it is hard to rationalize the need for the desire path - the planned alternative is just as good and gets you there just as fast.

This is not unlike some of the unconventional and challenging choices people make in their lives, giving up the path of least resistance in the process.

Odds And Ends

Read this amazing interview with science fiction writer John Sladek. I have hardly read any SF - I find all the gizomology and futurology way too intimidating to come close to the story itself. But after reading this interview, I am tempted to give one of Sladek's books a shot.

Thanks to being exposed to the retail excesses of the season and some of the theme-park style holiday decorations we see in the neighborhood, J is missing the obvious lack of "holiday spirit" in our household. I could have stood up a tree in the corner of the living room but she would have wanted to go the whole nine-yards and I don't even know what that entails. Truth be told am not too keen on finding out and creating more work for myself.

As a compromise, we snuggled in the couch ate apples and checked out some Epicurious videos on the holiday cooking - chocolate, gingerbread houses, cookies and the like. J loves almost anything to do with cooking so this worked out quite well. As an unexpe…

Unchanged

I met my friend Yvonne after three years yesterday. Though years younger than me, she and I clicked right from the first time we saw each other. She was at the time with a guy she thought might be "the one". Some days when they had an argument she was not quite as sure and wondered if she move out of Justin's apartment and be more independent, seek out different life experiences after all she was only twenty two.

When she asked me for an opinion, I always told her to follow her gut because I did not know what else to say. As I got to know her better, I began to feel protective about her like an elder sister might - Yvonne was exceptionally bright and articulate. I would hate for anyone or anything to dampen her joie de vivre or eagerness to learn.

When she called me and said she was back in town and wanted to meet for lunch I was overjoyed. For some reason, I felt a twinge of disappointment at how little she had changed. Except for the wedding ring, it was the same Yvonne …

The Girls

She calls them "my girls" and is very much in awe of her endowments. When that is the case, people around both male and female can usually tell. The subject of her boobs comes up in casual conversation often and quite effortlessly. Recently she was stopped for speeding on her way to work and got in late. While recounting the episode she asked jokingly if we thought flashing the young cop "her girls" may have gotten her off the hook. There was a lot of snickering when one guy mimed the cop's reaction to the unexpected display.

Her "poor" younger sister who is squat and flat, recently gifted her a silk blouse that flatters her generous curves. Apparently she had bought it for herself but did not like how it sat on her and gave it to someone who could wear it better. It was interesting how this sister is treated as an object of sympathy and condescension even when she has a few advanced degrees and a job that pays very well. Both her kids are in college …

Pictures And Words

If there is television in a public place permanently tuned to CNN, there is no escaping the interminable spectacle of celebrity obsession. Eight out of ten times, I happen by the water-cooler, I am brought up to speed on the latest in the lives of Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. For the longest time, I wondered what useful purpose this continuous stream of information about Spears, Lohan et al served in my life. I was about to find the answer in my own television-less household this past weekend.

J goes "Eww Gross !" anytime she sees an on-screen kiss. When I ask her what about a kiss grosses her out she does not say much except that "it is disgusting" and then curls up her nose in distaste. I figured in the absence of a man in the household and opportunity to see two adults being affectionate with each other, her world view was getting a little distorted. I felt a need to try and remedy her skewed perception.

So I had a conversation with her about how love and aff…

Math Ability

Mrs. Janakiraman's favorite line in our 10th grade math class was "If I can do math so can each one of you. I was never considered good at maths and now I am a high school maths teacher" When we heard that for the first time, we did not know what to make of that statement. She offered no elaboration on the theme so we arrived at independent conclusions about it.

Maybe she meant it was a really easy subject to master and required no special talent, or perhaps being a high school math teacher was no measure of mathematical aptitude or proficiency. By far the worst interpretation was we as a class were decidedly obtuse but there was hope for us yet. She was trying to be our inspiration by being self-deprecating.

At any rate, she made us work hard, follow a well defined regimen to problem solving and managed to completely demystify math before the year was out. There was no room for imagination or creativity but it sure got the job done. Irrespective of our academic abilities…

Relative Stranger

My friend P usually has some interesting dating story to tell when we manage to catch up every couple of months. The latest one begins at a grocery store near her house. The man ahead of her in the checkout line looked vaguely familiar. He was mid to late 30s, desi with gelled hair slicked back. Trying very hard to look youthful, hip and cool and not quite making it. There was no sign of recognition on his face when he glanced at her briefly. For a minute she thought perhaps he looked like someone else she knew but that did not seem to fit.

After he had left the store, she realized that he had contacted her a few times in through an online dating site. The pictures he had up were a good ten years younger and he was much shorter than what his profile claimed. Since she had never responded, he did not know who she was or what she looked like. She thought no more of the incident except that it was an interesting coincidence.

But unbeknownest to her, there was more to come. She was to run…

Whimsical Jewelry

Love the idea of Barmecide fine jewelry. The standard disclaimer might be recipient must have a sense of humor to appreciate this jewelry. For the she-geek or even wannabe there are HTML tag earrings. The old world meets new in this lovely fusion of coconut seeds with silver. There are words of wisdom for those who are fall prey to temptation of such lovely, whimsical jewelry but never end up wearing much of their coveted collection.

The key considerations are color, size and if the piece is a fit for your lifestyle. To that I would age and emotional state as well. Comes a point in the life every woman when those precious boxes of costume jewelry must be given away to daughters, nieces and younger girlfriends - that's the only way the world will get to see them again, perhaps appreciate her good taste.

Sometimes when you see a pair of your favorite earrings from twenty years ago, on another woman, it looks hopelessly out of place and context. In time, they may grow on her, become p…

Rocking Horse Reference

When he had asked her if she had read The Rocking-Horse Winner, she had said "Yes, it was a nice story". She had read it at least fifteen years ago and did not remember much except the ambiance being dark and intense. He said "It is one my favorite stories. I saw myself in Paul the very first time. I still can."

Like her, he had read the story over a decade ago. Unlike her, he had not read The Plumed Serpent or Lady Chatterley's Lover. They had been married a month at the time. She was eager to find out where their love for literature intersected, if they had read the same books at the same time growing up. Being the incurable romantic she was, she wanted to see where the parallel time-lines of their lives had met before they had met each other. Was it possible that he had read Jude The Obscure and Metamorphosis and felt depressed for days ? Had it been right before the monsoons began and the skies had been overcast with dark clouds to mirror her mood ?

What he d…

Seasons And Smells

The smell of Nivea body lotion and fall came to be associated for me after coming to America. It was the only thing that eased the severe dryness of my skin in this season. Other seasons had their own signature smells and most connections seemed to have happened unconsciously in my childhood. Like the smell of Kiku and starched organdy saris spells summer. It is the perfume my mother wore during the day. Cold winter nights smell of freshly ironed zari borders on silk saris mingled with Tosca.

My own smell of summer is lavender - it is also my smell of peace and happiness. Gardenia and jasmine are winter, starry nights and a gentle breeze that makes you tug your shawl closer around yourself. Burning tobacco is that of the man in charge - a father, uncles and grandfathers all of who were smokers in my family. It is a reminder of their presence and protection. Some events have smells too - like the end of a relationship smells of Bvlgari Blue. It is a beautifully sensual smell but I feel…

No Baby Step

Taking baby steps was never J's thing - not even when she was a baby. So she went straight to standing up and walking soon after she learned to sit, the crawling phase just never happened. Needless to say, even before she could balance herself on her feet she tried to dash instead of walk. It was funny to see her grow frustrated with herself each time she stumbled.

She'd get really mad at anyone who laughed at her which made us want to laugh even more. Yet getting her to take one step at a time was an exercise in futility. J had no patience for any of that, she had to do things her way. Not a lot has changed since then. She's not a baby anymore and she does not believe in taking baby steps any more than she did at six months old.

Even before she had completed reading her second Dr. Seuss book, J was bent on reading a chapter book like the big kids did. I tried to tell her why that may not be a good idea but The Green Eggs and Ham was just not cutting it. J informed me that i…

East Is West

The last few days, I have been tuning into to NPR's series Yellow River: A Journey Through China on the commute back home. In one episode, Rob Gifford talks about a group of young people living together in a house and sharing their lives in ways reminiscent of the "Friends" gang. He talks about how little separates the youth of boom town China from their peers in the west.

I was also recently introduced an Internet TV show titled Sexy Beijing. The producer describes it as "A show which follows the ups-and-downs of Sufei, a 30-something singleton looking for love in China. Along the way, we cover topics like feminism, hip-hop, migrant workers, and Chinese romance. One thing that's unique about our show is that it appeals to both Chinese and Western audiences. We also do the show in Mandarin and it's a big hit on Chinese video-sharing site tudou.com"

The blog post titled Money, Love and Numerology draws parallels between east and west just as Rob Gifford…

Shoe Lust

I fit comfortably into the stereotype of women never having too many shoes or bags though I own very few of both. It is more a state of mind thing so direct ownership does not really count. When shoe or bag craving sets in I head over to a couple of shoe and bag blogs to get my fix. Recently, a shoe blogger sought out my blog - Air Jordans. Seems like the perfect antidote for sneaker lust. I figure the karma balances out now.

Hard As Nails

It is quite evident from watching HBO's Hard As Nails that Justin Fatica is a man with a mission, a larger than life sense of purpose and evangelizing style that some would find impossible to relate to. To the outsider watching the interactions between Fatica and his constituents (primarily troubled teenagers), he can easily come across as a bully bent on imposing his world view upon those who lack the will, courage or confidence to voice their own.

The fact that they lack one or more of those traits critical to becoming a well adjusted person, is the reason their teen insecurities take an extreme turn - making them the kind of kid Fatica is out to rescue. They are drowned and possibly drained out by the sheer intensity of their minister's rhetoric - there is little if any room for contemplation and inward growth in how the religious message is delivered. The goal of the ministry is laudable but the means are somewhat suspect.

Surely, there are better ways to bring about a sens…

Rendered Wordless

I was right behind this snazzy little silver Mercedes convertible waiting for the signal to turn green, when its driver apparently decided he had waited about enough, jumped the red light and sped away. I guess everyone at the intersection was just as astounded as I was because no one registered any protest by way of honking. As I went on my way, I wondered if there was a word to describe the sense of entitlement drivers of certain kinds of cars feel when they share the road with plebians driving ultra-boring, sensibly priced Japanese autos and the like.

If there was such a word, it would doubtless go in tandem with the utter stupefication experienced by the said plebians when confronted by overt displays of such entitlement. Maybe someone has sent the Washington Post an unsolicited Mensa Invitational entry with words that express just those sentiments. There are some pretty cool words out there :

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impo…

Inverted Pyramid

The future of management as viewed by its practitioners across the industry is going to be very different from what we going on today. One commentator has succinctly summarized what ails organizations today :
A predominant feature of most organizations today is the top-down approach. Strategy is formulated at the top and is expected to be executed at lower levels of the pyramid. The underlying assumption is that wisdom, new ideas and a roadmap for the future are all the exclusive domain of the C-Suite.Twenty years from now, I see the emergence of the inverted pyramid. Major decisions would be made at the operational level and driven up for ratification to the top. Such inclusiveness is inevitable given the ubiquitous nature of knowledge, the fact that radically new ideas can emanate from anywhere, and an adaptive roadmap is more likely to be generated by those who have a direct interface with key stakeholders - customers and suppliers. The assumption here is that with wealth being dist…

The Cheapest Body

Being in a small town where there is only one game and a half in town for IT consulting work, I can attest to a lot of the trends and observations that this author and his readers talk about.

In my neck of the woods, everyone and their grandma with a smattering of IT-speak has set up shop as a staff augmentation agency. Whenever the game and half in town have a requisition to fill, the battle to fill it gets fierce and bloody. Within minutes, the job posting is up on all the major job boards and there is one by each of these agencies.

From the nationwide chains to the local Mom and Pop shops everyone is in the fray trying to place a body. Being that all shops are not equally rated by the clients, the smaller ones have to piggy back on the preferred vendors to get their foot in the door and submit their candidate. The key to landing a job successfully is to quote the lowest bill rate possible.

You may have twenty five years of experience but do not expect to make any more than the recent …

Likely To Stray

There are signs of male infidelity and being a mirror hog is apparently one of them. The one that I find most intriguing is :

Cheating Sign #1: He Doesn't Pay His Bills On Time

Some research shows that unreliability and carelessness is part of a personality trait called "low consciousness," which is a marker for infidelity. Makes sense. A guy who's careless about his own responsibilities is going to be just as careless about his relationships.

The carelessness about responsibility argument could be extended to other areas in life and likewise point to potential for unfaithfulness. A couple that come to mind are being habitually late and being cavalier about honoring any kind of commitment. Logically, the same traits in women could make them just as likely to unfaithful.

I wonder if there would be a strong correlation between bill pay behavior and the "financial clues" that can lead to trapping a cheater this article talks about. Imagine a spouse setting up and …

No Smile

I awaited my turn by the community microwave at work. A slightly disgruntled looking desi gent was ahead of me with his multi course meal. The containers were of assorted sizes and of decidedly desi provenance. Once heated, the food smelt perfectly divine. The gent took a seat across from the TV and set out the several containers in front of him.

As he started to open the lids, I could not help noticing the plump parathas browned just right accompanied by two curries - one wet and the other dry. Each course came in its own container. There were condiments too in small plastic containers that looked like old Gerber Lil Meal boxes. There was raita in one and pickles in the other.

I waited for my lackluster meal to heat up and marveled at the feast the unfolded before my eyes. I figured the man must have a passion for cooking and eating well or a wife at home who made such lunch hour bounties possible. My money would be on the later. There was a feminine touch about the packaging and pres…

Domestic Drudge

This news story about ditched househusbands feels uneven because the views of the women concerned are not presented. The "wife" in the family is depicted as the underdog who does better than best for the home and the kids and in return for all that is dumped by an unappreciative spouse. Replace househusband by wife and you have the typical senior male exec with a mid-life crisis, leaving his wife of twenty years for his hot young secretary. Both accounts are cliched - the real story is probably a lot more nuanced than that.

When either of the couple turns too "homely" and has their existence revolving around domestic chores, kids play dates and the like they become less than interesting to their partner who has a life outside home. None of the househusbands in the story utilized the gift of time they were given in their decision to stay home, to pursue a hobby or non-career goal.
Instead they seemed to focus on becoming the best domestic drudge they could possibly be…

Paradox Of Plenty

Nice essay on the paradox of plenty in the context of nations blessed with enormous amounts of natural resources and how they remain in the throes of crippling poverty even as countries with scarce natural wealth flourish. The essay defines the "natural resource curse" thusly :

This phrase refers to the tendency of countries whose wealth is based on gold, oil or other valuable resources to ossify into unproductive and uncreative economies, with low levels of entrepreneurship, and industrial and commercial stagnation. This paradoxical phenomenon has many economic explanations, mostly related to currency valuations, investment levels and income distributions.

What applies for nations, cultures and entire geographic regions seems to translate to the individual level too. You often find early childhood promise (bordering on the prodigious even) dwindle to nothingness by adulthood. These children are endowed with an abundance of gifts and talents from birth which "oss…

Telecommute

Despite being able to lounge in PJs all day and finish up a load of laundry while on a conference call, it is probably true that telecommuting will not be the choice of the masses anytime soon. Anyone with a micro-managing, control freak of a boss will attest to that. Then there are those who are passionate about moving to the corner office, getting face time with and thereby recognition from powers that be - their year end reviews and bonuses depend on those opportunities.

Having telecommuted a few times in the past, my personal experience has been mixed. The work day gets off to a relaxed start, I can actually sit down and have breakfast and obviously save myself gas money and the commute. But the days always end up being much longer. As a telecommuter, it feels as if you are presumed to be a slacker unless there is evidence to the contrary.

It is not possible to walk away from the computer and have the messaging service show you as idle. At the workplace it would probably mean a bath…

Old Song

I have heard this song more times than I can remember since childhood but for the first time this evening, it made me cry. Rabindra Sangeet I have been told is more about being able to emote to the lyrics and the tune than sophisticated technique. Being that I had only conversational knowledge of Bengali for the longest time, the pathos or the romance of the lyrics were lost on me.

There is something deeply melancholy about this tune. Yet I had never thought of it as anything but a beautiful song of love before. Today it made me ache for a lost time of my life, for that last time when it had not taken an effort to look forward to every new day with happiness and hope, when there were only endless dreams without the need for grappling with reality itself.

It is amazing how the same song at different times can resonate with feelings of love, longing, loss and pain. I must have not known pain as intimately as I do now and in that I had missed out a significant part of what this song must …

Bespoke Shoes

I have long given up on trying to find shoes that look nice and feel comfortable at the same time. The only time the combination has worked is when I have bought "broken-in" designer shoes from a thrift store - a pair that has been worn enough to make it stop hurting the foot of the wearer but has not acquired the old, worn-out look yet.

I am curious about technology that will help me design a stylish pair of shoes that takes the contours of my feet into account. This is a lot like the Bodymetrics jeans idea - some day, they might be able to hook up those scanning pods to web-cams so the lazy online shopper could have a pair of bespoke jeans or shoes made and mailed to them without having to step out of their home. The idea of thrift store couture is interesting too because random mash-ups from discard bins cannot be mass produced - the outfits will be bespoke in a way. Too bad the concept can't be extended to shoes - at least not very easily.