Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Eating Money

Read this quote in a neat magazine that I found by way of Design Observer :

Only after the last tree has been cut down.
Only after the last fish has been caught.
Only after the last river has been poisoned.
Only then will you realize that money cannot be eaten.

- Cree Nation Tribal Prophecy

That is strikingly simple yet profound. It made me think about what else one might come to realize other than the fact money is inedible. When the last tree has been cut down, a child with a box of crayons would not longer be able to create an impromptu masterpiece. Paper would be strictly rationed perhaps. With the last fish been caught, entire cultural and culinary traditions centering seafood and fishing would be lost. When the last river has been poisoned, we would most likely have the
same poison coursing through our own veins - an appropriate reminder of how everything in nature is interconnected and how our fates cannot be delinked.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


I am super-paranoid mother and yet long to give J the same freedom to explore the world as I had enjoyed in my time. That said, I can completely relate to the motivations of this mother who let her nine year old ride the subway alone. I agree with her when she says :

The problem with this everything-is-dangerous outlook is that over-protectiveness is a danger in and of itself. A child who thinks he can’t do anything on his own eventually can’t.

Even so, I would find it very difficult if not impossible to let J out of sight any time soon. Somehow logic and reason fail me when it comes to making that decision. No number of statistics would convince me that it might be okay to let her wander by herself. I will still prefer to err on the side of caution - even at the risk of becoming the dreaded helicopter mom. To my credit, I restrict the hovering to the playground and mostly stay out of her way.

The world just does not feel as safe as it once did or maybe bad news is reported more extensively now than it was in the 70s and 80s. What we did not know, did not hurt us. Unfortunately, for Ms Skenazy what might have been perfectly natural behavior for a parent back then will be viewed with alarm by many today as she has seen. She notes quite rightly :

Meantime, my son wants his next trip to be from Queens. In my day, I doubt that would have struck anyone as particularly brave. Now it seems like hitchhiking through Yemen.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Fishing Online

The news story about the death of a Frenchman, described as an "avid online dater", under mysterious circumstances reads like a Pink Panther screenplay except this is no work of fiction. Though not suggested directly, the implication is that the death and "avid" online dating are somehow correlated. That could be worrisome news for lot of folks though the specifics of that phrase are not made clear.

Among other things It made me wonder if my buddy C could be classified as such as well. She has a very busy schedule and few opportunities to meet anyone in real life bouncing between work, graduate school and a mean fitness regimen. Her strategy is quite interesting. She logs on to instant messenger services that a lot of dating sites offer not to mention the likes of Gmail, Yahoo and the like and leaves to do whatever she has to get done.

She is most often not even at home, let alone around her computer when the prospects ping her. When she comes back she checks to see who bit bait while she was out. She then responds to the ones that interest her and casts her line out the following day. C tells me there is no way she could graduate even with a B average from business school if she really hung around chatting online. This works out a lot better for her.

I think of her as a remote angler putting her fishing rod out into the shark infested online dating pool. Her system allows her to look engaged in the online dating game quite "avidly" when really she is disengaged. I am sure C is not alone in employing such time and effort saving devices in finding a partner. I think there is a business case for an online dating service aggregator like they have Indeed for job boards.

This would be your one stop shop for all online dating needs. If the aggregator could charge customers a reasonable fee to tap into the different sites all from one place making C's life quite uncomplicated. The service model should have the aggregator paying the individual sites according to actual usage based on who and what the customer is searching for. That should be fair for everyone in the equation. In the meanwhile, I have forwarded this story on to C so she knows to tread carefully as she sets out her fishing rod each day.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Nocturnal Birdsong

I've been in my current neighborhood for three years now and never until this year have I been woken up at midnight by loud birdsong. It starts with one bird with a characteristic pattern of notes and then a couple of others join in what appears to be an interactive session. Their sound is loud and piercing but not unpleasant. Any other time of day it would have been quite delightful but that late at night it is anything but. I've begun to dread that hour because the birds are always exactly on time.

There is the theory that urban birds have resorted to singing at night because the daytime traffic drowns their melodies - traffic in my neck of the woods is pretty light any time of day so I'm not sure it that explains it. The nights that I've lain awake reading waiting for the birdsong musical to end, I've found myself thinking how hard it must be for these birds to be spending their energy singing at night because we humans in different ways have pushed them to behave out of character. Maybe they are desperate to attract a mate, maybe time in running out. It might just be my imagination but I hear a tinge of despair in their nocturnal songs that is quite unlike anything I hear by day.

I wonder if they can get through the day being sleep deprived - I have caffeine to help me. Are the female birds awake at night to listen to all this serenading or do they end up being missed connections that have no Craigslist to reunite them. When I see it from the birds' perspective, my sleep being cut short by a couple of hours seems infinitely inconsequential. I could invest in a sturdy pair of earplugs and all would be well but the birds would continue to beseech their mates in the middle of the night perhaps mostly in vain. Being the guilty species, it seems the least I could do is to get used to it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Romance And Rorschach

J usually tells me the news of the day at dinner time. Romance has been in the air of Ms L's first grade class for a few months now. Over time J's vocabulary expanded to include love, like and crush in context sensitive terms. There is a whole bunch of players by J's account of the goings on. A has a crush on B and B loves C, D and E in that order but C has an old girlfriend back in the town his parents moved from recently. All this complication makes for a tangled and volatile web.

So I asked J how she would feel if someone told her that they had a crush on her. "I'll croak like a frog and hide under the table" she said with a loud cackle that was supposed to be the said frog croak. I am not sure what to make of this response but I'm guessing the prospective beau would be rebuffed and look for more promising prospects. Her buddy B whispers and giggles with the C whenever she gets a chance to sit next to him. C is yet to get over his kindergarten romance and does not pay much attention to B. J thinks C is cute and she could "like" him but never "love" him. J as it turns out exercises caution when it comes to the use of the word "love" though she can be quite wanton with "like".

In the middle of all this "romancing" that happens when the kids are in the cafeteria for lunch, C and J got chatting about what animals they and their family members remind them of. Clearly this made for very stimulating conversation because J could not wait to tell me all about it even as dinner turned cold. C said his Dad is a killer whale because he eats so much. I see his dad at the bus stop everyday and can't believe that - he is very trim and fit. J said her Mom was a monkey because she ate bananas for breakfast every single day.

"What about Grandma, Grandpa and you ? What animals are you guys like ?" I asked. J was a chipmunk not sure why - she did not care to elaborate. Grandma was a dolphin "because she prays like the dolphin swims" - my mother is a Reiki healer. Grandpa was a salamander. She had no trouble explaining the salamander "Because he does nothing and sits all day long" - which is how she's seen him when he visits us here. It is also true that he has no hobbies and struggles to occupy himself now that he has retired from a job that kept him busy twelve hours a day for over thirty five years.

I thought it was an interesting segue from chatting about the latest crushes in class - which needless to say is very instructive for me in more ways than one.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Mock Democracy

Back in the day before I had a mini Obamaphile in the household, I could barely keep my Democrat and Republican definitions straight. I had no idea who stood for what and what if any difference any of it made to my small world. As an immigrant, I am only too painfully aware that political sentiment toward my lot is fated to sway like a pendulum.

There will be carrots by the bushel when we are needed and viciously painful prodding by way of inscrutable and interminably long immigration processes to encourage us to get out of the country. You have to take your chances when you decide to immigrate and make the best of whatever carrot, stick and combination thereof that you find yourself dealing with.

So I never knew who was running, what the polls were predicting and what the spin doctors were frothing. This year, for the first time I’ve been paying a little attention, trying to understand how the country that seeks to define democracy as we know it and indeed takes it upon itself to bring this incredibly precious gift to the oppressed , disenfranchised and tyrannized peoples of the third world - even if it takes a hundred year war to get there. Coming from the biggest democracy of the world, I turned curious to see where and how quality differed from quantity.

First the obvious differences – a two party system versus more parties than anyone can count or remember. Low decibel, graffiti free electioneering versus strident sloganeering from the makeshift stages, traffic obstructions and every inch of public white space covered with all manner of political drivel. I might add that Indian politicians attract huge gatherings at their rallies but almost all of the crowd is paid to show up. Often food and an article of clothing is part of the inducement package. Not sure if similar tactics are employed here in the States but the get out the vote sandwich platter sounds very much like the what they have going on back home.

Sudhir Venkatesh in his book Gang Leader For A Day writes about the gangs in Chicago involved in voter registration in inner city housing projects. Part of the “registration” process involves telling the voter who to vote for. When the “telling” is done by a gang member it is likely to carry quite a bit of weight. It seems to me the word of best fit here is coercion. That’s not unlike what goes on India. For the uninformed, Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City is an excellent resource for learning about the under-belly of Mumbai and its enormous political clout.

The more I follow the news these days, the more I am struck (dismayed really) by the similarities in the functioning of democracy in two countries that should in theory operate very differently. Yet in my mind I find myself replacing all references to Bible Belt with Cow Belt, Rust Belt with Bimaru states and everything else falls perfectly in place. Sometimes the sense of déjà vu is so strong that I forget which part of the world I am in right now.

In a culture fundamentally defined by individualism the electorate is most astonishingly not viewed as individuals but as so many distinct blocks of votes. There are racial, income, class, religious, gender and age based blocks. Back in India I never found this way of treating human beings as herds of cattle very surprising. After all we are an underdeveloped country with staggering poverty and illiteracy levels – not the kind of people one expects to have an exacting sense of self. They are too desperate trying to make ends meet to be able to participate in political discourse and yet it is the exercise of their franchise that keeps our democracy going.

It was okay to lump us all together however it made sense and get it over with. Life had to go on and a living had to be made. The fact that the vastly more developed, prosperous, industrialized and educated America would treat its citizenry no different is eye opening to say the least. As in India, all votes are not equal and states have vastly different powers in influencing the final outcome of an election.

In India the educated middle and upper classes are too small a block to make any sizeable dent to the total vote. Our politicians don't need to pander to us and they most definitely don't. It is far more important to appease the constituencies that have the numerical strength to make a significant difference - our version of the working class lunch-bucket voters who apparently hold the key to elections here.

There is the text book definition of democracy and there is Somerset Maugham’s view on the subject. I remembering writing this passage down in my journal when I read it as an adolescent – it helped me make sense of the utter travesty of democracy that I saw all around me and it still does. In his book Christmas Holiday, the character of Simon says :

"Equality? Equality is the greatest nonsense that’s ever muddled the intelligence of the human race. As if men were equal or could be equal! They talk of equality of opportunity. Why should men have that when they can’t take advantage of it? Men are born unequal; different in character, in vitality, in brain; and no equality of opportunity can offset that. The vast majority are densely stupid. Credulous, shallow, feckless, why should they be given equality of opportunity with those who have character, intelligence, industry and force? And it’s that natural inequality of man that knocks the bottom out of democracy. What a stupid farce it is to govern a country by the counting of millions of empty heads! In the first place they don’t know what’s good for them and in the second, they haven’t the capacity to get the good they want. What does democracy come down to? The persuasive power of slogans invented by wily, self-seeking politicians. A democracy is ruled by words, and the orator seldom has brains, and if he has, he hasn’t time to use them, since all his energy has to be given to cajoling the fools on whose votes he depends. Democracy has had a hundred years’ trial: theoretically it was always absurd, and now we know that practically it’s a wash-out."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Truth In Marketing

Maybe it was the unusual font that made me read the blurb on the box of Toasted Almond Cream Cake I picked up on discount at the grocery store this evening. It said "This sensuous Italian dessert us made with imported mascarpone and ladyfingers, then topped with amaratini cookies and toasted almonds. Almonds are an ancient food that were brought to America from Spain. They represent good luck and since Roman times have been thrown at weddings to ensure health, wealth, happiness, children, long life and romance"

I figured a nice dessert would balance the lack-luster dinner of yesterday's leftovers. But at a more subliminal level I was reacting to the harbinger of good luck and also the connection between the words sensuous and romance in the context of a decadent cake. I thought this was a fine example of copy that suggests positive things to the buyer without actually being untruthful. Since it was on sale, I had no way to tell if the clever use of words would prove persuasive enough even at its regular price.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Uses Of Cinema

Found via Mefi an attempt to answer the question : Why do we spend so many precious hours of our lives watching films? What is it about cinema that it should occupy a place of such prominence in our lives? And why do we even need movies?

The site's usability is very painful but the content is definitely worth a read. As for the grand design of cinema and why it holds us in its thrall :

Cinema, with its ability to document the human spiritual experience, is the ideal medium for this kind of introspection into the depths of our being. However, in practice, film has become the least responsive, the most atrophied of artistic media. There is a notable failure on the part of major countries like the United States, Great Britain and Germany to offer directors dedicated to pursuing the rarely-treaded path of intense questioning and seeking on a SPIRITUAL level in their films. Certainly, there are many talented directors around the world, who have made and continue to make many fine films. But there are very few directors, who have intuited that the medium of film has a much greater potential than what has been realized thus far.

I don't know about uplifting my spiritual level by way of cinema but there is nothing as relaxing as a spot of mindless entertainment at the end of a long day. Good cinema is the next best thing to reading a good book specially when you don't have the time finish that book.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Eastern Parenting

My friend H bought his condo recently and was sharing the experience with M who is close to closing the deal on hers. They are both single and have naturally decided to live in the most happening part of town - a far cry from the sterile and gentrified suburbs where I am stuck because of my need for a good elementary school for J.

I listened wistfully as they talked about their easy access to museums, theaters, cultural events, ethnic food and grocery stores among a host of other things. I talked about how as parents we have to sometimes give up on what we want for ourselves in the best interest of our children. H made an interesting comment in response to that. He said "I think its important for parents to live the life they want to live without perpetually putting their children first. We Asians always manage to make our children feel like we made great sacrifices for them and that they owe us. That's simply not fair".

H is Chinese and has lived in the States since he was about ten years old. He intends not to make a martyr out of himself to further the cause of his kids when he does become a father. He got me thinking about what he had said. As a parent one does have to strike a comfortable balance between being selfish and selfless. It is probably true that Asians are culturally conditioned to be emulate the example of their forefathers and be as selfless as they possibly can be. Often the bar is exceptionally high and they struggle to make it and feel guilty when they don't make the grade.

Not all of us may not tell our children that they need to grovel in gratitude for all that we have given up for them, but the expectation is often implied and to H's point children understand that implication and feel deeply burdened by it. Instead, if we as parents lived the life that made us happy, they could be absolved of the need to repay us for our many sacrifices and austerities. They would be far more likely to pursue their individual right to happiness without guilt. We would be doing them a favor by setting them free.

Maybe that's the reason a lot Asian kids grow up to be either painfully conformist or just go off the deep end. It is the kids with parents like H who are comfortable straddling their selfish and selfless instincts end up getting the best of both worlds - a place where the deference to hierarchy and the will of the community of the East meets the spirit of enterprise and the respect for individualism of the West. While I realize it is a great place for anyone to find themselves , I am not sure how to reach there myself or if I have the ability to do so.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Unaccustomed Earth

Reading the collection of short stories by Jhumpa Lahiri in Unaccustomed Earth is like unwrapping layer upon layer of a much anticipated gift only to find a mundane trinket in the end. Lahiri seems to take perverse pleasure in playing bad Santa who stuffs the stockings of her readers will coal when in fact she could have easily gratified us with a eight beautiful presents. I am not entirely sure why she would want to do what she does with unerring success story after story. Is this by design or an unintended consequence ?

We all know by now that Lahiri's repertoire is limited to the Bengali Indian-American experience and a periliously narrow sliver of it at that. However, as a Bengali I am glad that she brings the trivia of our people on the world stage. But for her, the rest of humanity would have remained oblivious of the existence of chorchoris and pantuas. I guess one must give her credit for being the self appointed ambassadress of the Bengali Indian-American and depicting our tribe as a distinct cultural strain that refuses to be commingled with the rest of India - it is an ambitious goal to say the least.

Yet in talking about her chosen literary vehicle, the short story, one must talk about how she fares. Her limited cast of character and their monotonic cultural background is not necessarily a sin. Many authors share those characteristics with her and fare very well in spite of it. John Updike thrives with his New England set, Barbara Pym with her English village community or closer home R.K Narayan within the confines of his fictional Malgudi.

What makes the work of these authors special is that the stories they tell speak to the human condition universally. The reader does not need to have wallowed in macher-jhol all their lives to feel the tug of the character's struggles and triumphs. With Lahiri, the scaffolding of the story begins to fall apart when you remove the Bengali Indian American theme and props.

While she does attempt a larger purpose and a transcending theme, each time she finishes just a little shy of the finish line. The reader is left exhausted from the mounting anticipation that is left harshly unfulfilled in the end. The callow youth of my college days would have called it a KLPD moment. To have this suffering repeated eight times is quite a bit painful even for the most indulgent of readers.

She tries to broaden her appeal by gratuitous references to things and places foreign to average Bengaliness but that does quite cut the mustard. The trio of stories in part two has Hema and Kaushik bouncing all over Italy, El Salvador, Thailand, West Bank and God alone knows where else but all that serves to do is to overwhelm with detail that has no relevance to the main plot line. As a reader you want to be put of out your misery wading through pages of Italiana and get to the heart of the matter which unfortunately does not really exist.

Being that Lahiri has so much going for her - a beautifully lucid language, an amazing eye for detail and deftly sketched characters set in realistic situations, you wonder why the recipe falls flat. As a reader I am disappointed in my own disappointment with her latest offering and hope Lahiri will find that missing ingredient that it takes to take her from being pleasant to brilliant.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Manohar And Rohan

The story of Manohar and his son Rohan is also the story of the Indian middle class renaissance, a transformation that happened between three to four decades. Manohar was in his teens at the height of the Naxalite movement. He observed from the sidelines but never participated - he did not buy into the ideology.

He had a couple of expensive hobbies - mountaineering and photography but not a day job to pay for them. His other passions included obscure foreign cinema and literature. Unfortunately, none of those interests alone or in combination translated to a paying job. His only vice was smoking but that was part of being an "intellectual" or "antel" as they would say in Bengali.

Graduating near the bottom of his class he was a commerce graduate with absolutely no job prospects. Family members did what they could to call for favors, make connections and the like but even so Manohar remained a "bekar jubak" (unemployed youth in Bengali). Back in the 70s it was common to see youths like Manohar - they came home for their meals and to sleep at night, for the rest of the day they stayed out of sight mostly to preserve what they could of their dignity in the guise of seeking employment. They continued with the education even if they had no interest or aptitude in what they were studying. It was important to stay busy.

At age thirty Manohar found work as teller in a nationalized bank - a job that paid little but was very secure. He would never have to look for work for the rest of his life. It was time for him to get married now. The family got busy finding him a bride. Manohar has just one request of his elders - that they make sure all facts that need checking were checked out before he saw the girl because he would not decline to marry a woman purely on the basis of her looks - that would be too humiliating for her. So he would marry the first girl his elders took him to meet.

Manohar got married to the first girl on the short list of prospective brides. He still works as in the same bank. Rohan, their only child is close to twenty two and very unlike his father. He sports shoulder length hair pulled back into a pony tail. His hair color is as transient as most other things in his life. He is the lead vocalist in a rock band some kids in his neighborhood with had cobbled together a few years ago and they have performed at minor local events.

Girls find him very attractive and he has been in several relationships, suffered and caused some heartbreaks. It’s been a few years since he lost his virginity. What he lacks in academic brightness he makes up for by being street smart. He can talk his way in and out of situations and gets the system well enough to game it. He realizes that his current call center job will burn him out very quickly but he loves the money and the independence it has brought him.

In a few years he will hitch his star to some gig with more staying power - he does not know what it is but is sure he will recognize opportunities when they present themselves. He is highly networked and is always in the know. Marriage is at least ten years away and his parents know to stay out of the match-making business.

Unlike his father he has no real passions and is not particularly good at anything. But he does not let his mediocrity cramp his style - in fact it is not something he is even aware of. Unlike his father he is not bogged down by middle class mores and morality. He lives the life he wants to without any compunctions.

Manohar finds it impossible to relate to this young man who is his own flesh and blood. He prefers to look away from his son's obvious moral and ethical transgressions. He blames it all on generation gap and the rapid erosion of tradition with the opening of the Indian economy. His son with his faux-American accent and world view is no longer representative of India or Indianness as he understood those things. He wonders sometimes if he would have ended up like his son if he had born thirty years later - he hates to admit it but he envies the "dissolute", "immoral", "materialistic" and "selfish" life his son is leading.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cubicle Bully

From time to time, I have encountered some really difficult people in the workplace as I am sure everyone has. In one place that I worked, we had a organization coach who specialized in team dynamics and interaction between individuals. He would coach individuals on behavior patterns that they could change to diffuse tension with others or simply become a happier more productive individuals. It helped that none of us reported to him - direct or dotted line.We were able to take his input knowing that it was unbiased - he had no personal axe to grind. His sole goal was to make the team reach their full potential.

He had taught me some very valuable lessons that worked wonders in the context of the team I was with at the time. Unfortunately, those lessons don't seem to transfer so well. Each team is like a living organism and no two are alike and not all companies see the value of having an organization coach.

So we are left to our own to cope and work around the interpersonal issues we find ourselves in. A bad situation is one in which it feels like no matter what you do you can't win - that is the workplace death trap. Even worse is when you know the only way you can survive will be at the cost of collateral damage to the other person. You never want to do that if there is any other option. With your survival is at stake, you may have little choice in the matter.

The rules of engagement that kindergartners learn should be carried to the workplace. When one kid has a behavior problem and is causing another kid a great deal of grief, it is the teacher's role to step in, pull the problem child out of the mix and restore normalcy in the life of the normal one. A teacher would never expect the two to sort it out on their own or that the normal kid could work her way out of the situation.

In the workplace all adults are treated as equals having similar emotional and intellectual maturity when clearly that is not the case. If two people are finding it impossible to work together the idea is that somehow they can both contribute equally to the situation they are in and therefore have and equal role in solving the problem.

Often this is just not true. Unlike kindergarten, bullies at the workplace get a free ride. Its fairly common to blame the regular person for lacking "people skills" and not being a "team player" if they seek help or intervention. They are supposed to know the way out all on their own, even it the only one happens to be through the bully's cubicle.

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Soiree

She did not recognize the woman with blond highlights on hennaed hair who answered the door at Vaishali's. She wore an orange chiffon sari paired with a beaded halter top choli and teetered dangerously on her heels as she tried to reign in a flowing pallu.

Sheila had to guess the woman was not accustomed to wearing a sari. Once inside, she melted into a crowd that was comprised of clones of her. It was like being on a Bollywood set when a choreographed dance sequence is being filmed - you can't tell one dancer in the group apart from the other except for the color of their attire.

Vaishali's dos were always fancy and elaborate, the food was catered and often there was a musical soiree. Today there was a ghazal singer and most of the guests clustered around him. Arun saw her first and waved enthusiastically. "Unless you are a ghazal fan, let's go outside - its less noisy" he said even before she had greeted him.

"You look wonderful !" she said. The deck was deserted except for a couple of smokers.

"And so do you. As a matter of fact, you look quite lovely" Arun replied with a big smile. "Tell me how have you been ?"

"Work's been very busy" she said and paused trying to think of the best way to summarize her life outside work in the past year (or largely the lack of it) in a couple of words.

"And ?" he asked eagerly.

"And nothing when you net it out" she answered with a laugh.

"I know exactly what you mean. Two highs plus three lows equals zero. Right ?" he sighed. Sheila nodded in agreement. "How about yourself ?" she asked.

"Professionally this has been an amazing year. I'm working on some great projects, have been traveling to the Far East regularly for six months. The money's been good too - can't complain. I'm here on a client assignment. In theory I am still single" Arun said.

"Why only in theory ?" she asked as she reached for a napkin to wipe a small spill on the table.

"I don't stay long enough in India to get to know someone well. My sister introduces me to these random women when I'm in Bangalore but you know those things just don't click. You are both anxious to make an impression because of all these expectations. Then nine times out of ten, the women don't see husband potential in me. They decide they want to be my friend just like you" he explained with a laugh.

"But I guess the more important question is do you see wife potential in any of these women ? You might be more willing to go the distance if you did" Sheila said ignoring the remark about their friendship.

"Maybe I don't. I did meet this Malaysian girl I met in Kuala Lumpur who is really my kind. I think she likes me too. More importantly she gets me. I don't want to go too fast and spoil it but I have to move fast enough to keep her interested in me . You know what I mean ?" he asked.

"Yes, I most certainly do. A few words of wisdom from someone who's been at the receiving end - don't set a pace that you are comfortable with. If you want to get anywhere with her, work at her pace even if its really difficult for you to do so" Sheila said as memories of Jayant came rushing back.

"That is good advice, Sheila. I'll remember that. I'd really hate to blow this one away. Ayu is the nearest I have come in many years to finding a woman I could imagine growing old with and having kids with" he said wistfully. "I turn forty two next month - I can't explore my options forever" he added with a sigh.

"That's a pretty name " Sheila commented.

"Do you want to go back in now ? They have the dance music on and the Bolly-babes seem to be setting those hardwood floors on fire ! Should be worth a dekko don't you think ? " Arun said as he glanced through the French window.

"Sure. You could go shake a leg with them too" Sheila suggested.

"Don't you want to dance ?" he asked.

"No, I'm good. It's a lot more fun watching besides discretion is the better part of valor" she replied.

"How do you mean ?" Arun asked as he held the door open for her.

"After one drink too many, some of us who would not be caught dead on a dance floor throw caution to the winds, groove and gyrate to Bollywood item songs" she said with a smile.

"Stay sober and make sure you drag me out of there before I make a complete ass of myself" Arun said chuckling at her remark.

Vaishali was coming towards them and said to Sheila almost reproachfully. "Where have you been ? Have you had anything to eat yet ? We've been looking for you. Have you met the Parekhs ? Come on, let me introduce you" she said steering her away.

"I'll see you ladies in a bit. Time to make myself useful to the Bolly-babes" Arun said with a laugh.

It was past midnight when Sheila got back home. Arun had spent the rest of the evening with the babes and walked her to the car when she was leaving. "Sheila, I know it will finally work out. You'll meet the man who you will be really happy with. I had given up hope too but Ayu came into my life just out of the blue. If you ever need to talk, call me. " Arun said as he gave her a hug.

"Thanks, Arun. Say Hi to Ayu for me and don't forget what I said about pace" Sheila said as she started the car.

"Yes, Ma'am and I won't forget. As always it was wonderful to meet you again. Good Night, Shells !" Arun replied as he waved goodbye.



Thursday, April 17, 2008

Vilnius by Jane Hirshfield


For a long time.
I keep the guidebooks out on the table.
In the morning, drinking coffee, I see the spines:
St: Petersburg, Vilnius, Vienna.
Choices pondered but not finally taken.
Behind them - sometimes behind thick fog - the mountain.
If you lived higher up on the mountain,
I find myself thinking, what you would see is
more of everything else, but not the mountain.

I love the line "Choices pondered but not finally taken" - it brings to mind the many choices I have pondered but never taken. This is quite a bit different from Robert Frost's regret in The Road Not Taken

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

The last three lines of Hirsfield's Vilnius remind me of a favorite Tagore poem I wrote about in the context of Brian Patten's absolutely amazing A Blade of Grass. How true that you could see more of everything else but not the mountain itself; the whole world but not a dewdrop on a blade of grass. Sometimes it is just as well that choices were pondered but never made.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dream Job

Not sure what the qualifications are to get the job of a human-behavior researcher at Nokia but it does sound like my dream position involving a little bit of everything I enjoy - technology, travel, photography, observing people and writing.

To an outsider, the job can seem decidedly oblique. His mission, broadly defined, is to peer into the lives of other people, accumulating as much knowledge as possible about human behavior so that he can feed helpful bits of information back to the company — to the squads of designers and technologists and marketing people who may never have set foot in a Vietnamese barbershop but who would appreciate it greatly if that barber someday were to buy a Nokia.

Decidedly oblique ? I don't think so. This is pretty straight forward actually. Combine a few of your favorite hobbies and voila the package defines your new job. I guess the only thing left to do is figure out how to repurpose my boring old resume to pitch myself as a potential human-behavior researcher.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Private Speech

J talks to herself all the time and has done it ever since she learned to talk. I never paid to too much attention to it because I seen lot of other kids do it too. I was not aware of the benefits of private speech and always attributed it to the fact that J did what shd did because she does not have a sibling she could be playing with.

The suggestion of encouragement at least directly is not probably not a workable one. Kids get painfully self-conscious if anyone listens to them talking to themselves. It is a private world and the best favor adults can do is to let them enjoy it as such. The moment they know someone may be listening in, the spontaneity will disappear. The benefits (if any) with get eroded because what was private conversation will need to become a public speech.

This article on how the pattern of talking to themselves changes with the age of the child. It also talks about the same behavior in adults is viewed by society

In our culture, private speech is not a valued behavior. Most adults become embarrassed when caught in conversation with themselves. Fry (1992) noted in a rare study of adult private speech that occasionally elderly people talk to themselves, and that it was considered a sign of withdrawal from the social world. This description not only confirms that private speech is occurring in some adults, but implies that it is not socially acceptable, and even considered a sign of mental illness.

My great grandmother had been through some very difficult circumstances in her life and in her old age talked to herself constantly. A lot of these conversations were reenactments of incidents from her past, she would experiment with different responses and alternate outcomes. It was her way of undoing the past, bringing the wisdom of her older years to bear upon her decisions she was ill-prepared to make in her youth.

She was a fiercely private person and would never talk about these things with anyone. Private speech was just as essential for her as it is for a child. Thankfully the family left her alone to battle the demons of the past in her own way and did not respect her any less for it.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Found Warholizer via Mefi today and had to wonder if there was a Rembrandtizer or Monetizer perhaps. I did not have to look to far to find something along the lines. Ransen Software does some.

Apparently we are merely reversing history here in applying special effects to a digital image to imitate the style of a famous artist. We can now make a Dali out of a third grader thanks with a little help from Adobe. The proud parent can show off the masterpieces thus produced on their keychain.

If you are the irresponsible parent, neglecting your two month old to pimp up your bland digital images a la Gauguin you might want to get yourself the baby bassinet version of the kit-in-box to mount on your desktop.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Forgiving A Parent

Anyone who has ever had a difficult relationship with a parent or an older family member they were expected to love and respect, would be familiar with the suffering and guilt that goes with not being able to forgive.

Along with hate for this person comes with the hate of oneself for being like them in the very ways that one finds the most detestable. Short of gouging out parts of oneself, there seems no way to get rid of these troubling traits and behavior patterns.

Even after coming to that difficult decision to let go of the past, there is often the question of who should make the first move towards rapprochement. The younger person is likely to see themselves as the innocent victim having the right to an unequivocal peccavi and apology before they are able to make peace. Often the object of hate and resentment is unwilling or unable to do either and the problem continues to fester much to the detriment of both the hater and the hated.

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the many religious leaders the film The Power of Forgiveness profiles and he has a remedy for this problem. He says :

Suppose you are angry at your father. Many people are angry at their father, and yet if they don’t do anything to change it when they grow up, they will repeat exactly what their father did to them. They will do that to their own children. That is why we have a wonderful exercise of meditation that has helped so many angry sons and daughters who come to Plum Village:

Breathing in, I see myself as a 5-year-old child. Breathing out, I hold that 5-year-old child in me with tenderness. Breathing in, I see the 5-year-old child in me as fragile, vulnerable, easily wounded. Breathing out I feel the wound of that little child in me and use the energy of compassion to hold tenderly the wound of that child.

But then you continue—breathing in, I see my father as a 5-year-old boy. Breathing out, I smile to my father as a 5-year-old boy. Breathing in, I see how as a 5-year-old child my father was fragile, vulnerable. Breathing out, I feel compassion for my father as a 5-year-old boy.

When you are capable of visualizing your father as a 5-year-old boy, fragile, tender, full of wounds, you begin to understand and feel compassion. When the son is capable of practicing understanding and compassion, he no longer suffers and the father in him is also transformed. That moment, compassion is born in your heart. Now it is possible to forgive.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Simpler Times

No news story on Zimbabwe (and there's been a lot of coverage lately) is complete without a reference to its astounding inflation rate. It's hard to conceive what that fantastic number means as far ordinary people being able to put food on the table and keep a roof on their head.

In India, I was so used to having to pay more each month for almost everything that never gave it a second thought. Inflation made prices go up constantly and the your money did not go as far as it did the last time. That was the natural order. You never expected prices to hold steady less go down.

It was quite a shock to find out that runaway inflation was not necessarily inevitable. It took me a long time to get over the fact that a pound of bananas or a gallon of milk did not cost me more each time I went to the store in America. It stayed at the same level for years. I had never experienced anything like it before.

For the first time since I came here, the price of food is rising perceptibly and at a brisk pace. It is impossible not to notice. I know from my Indian experience that is only to be expected given the the steady increase in transportation costs - that's what they blamed it on back home.

You knew that there was no high water mark to this. In ten years a sack of rice could cost you what you pay today
in rent for your house each month . Anything was possible. You would just need to make more money or trim your needs and wants. Financial security was a moving target and you never knew how much you'd need to generate income that could outlive you.

I used to wonder if at some point, inflation would force people to return to an agrarian way of life. Obviously, there would be a lot less to worry about if you could cultivate enough to feed your family in your own backyard.

These days when I fill gas in my car, I find myself thinking what would happen if the cost of gas to get to your place of work and back for a month became higher than a month's salary. You'd probably not be able to keep that job - at least in its present form. Telecommuting would become essential.

Suburban sprawl would have to give way to living huddled together near the urban centers of commerce so one could walk to work in pinch or get on public transport at least. After protesting and striking for a while, truckers would probably give up their line of work to seek something else. Apparently, it may be possible to live in world without trucks and still move goods around. Maybe inflation is not all evil after all if it prompts people to simplify their lives.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Going To School In India

J has always been curious about my childhood in India, specially my school and what I learned there. She finds the differences between her own experiences and mine fascinating. I expected her to love a documentary - Going to school in India which as the title suggests is about kids going to school in India. She took in what she saw with much surprise but not as much excitement as far as I could tell.

The movie covers some very unusual schools - on a boat, inside a bus, in a hut with a roof but no walls, in the middle of a desert and inside a monastery. It is heartwarming to see the efforts being made to bring the joy of learning to poor, underprivileged children around the country. Just like J, they love going to school and it probably has to do with the non-traditional, not to mention goal unoriented approach to education.

A school in Kashmir has the kids collecting leaves, flowers and vegetables from around the lake to discuss what they have found in class. For PE, they race their shikaras. In a small village in Orissa, music is integrated into learning. They learn counting with sticks and make their own abacuses using clay beads. The teacher takes the kids on a nature walk teaching them about their land. On market day, the children are allowed to buy and sell produce, poultry and even toys with real money and if they don't have any they can barter.

The pace of learning is relaxed and the only goal is to encourage the children to return to school to learn more. The enticements range from free meals to making funny hats using only newspapers, a doll face using a coconut or running a school parliament. All the kids in the movie look genuinely happy to be in school. That made an impression on J.

One way to look at this movie would be to say that it sought out some of the most unusual schools in India to convey a message that the joy of learning can be given to children even in midst of grinding poverty. It is a success story of creative thinking and innovation on a budget. The other way would be to call it tailored for a Western audience that views India as destitute, impoverished and backward. The two cities the movie covers are Bombay and Calcutta but the schools are those that cater to the very poor.

As someone who went to grew up in India, I would argue my school did not resemble any of the schools in the movie even by a long shot. To not show my school experience which is shared by millions of other kids is to take a huge chunk of India out while talking about India.

It would only be fair to show the other side of the coin - the Lawrence and Doon Schools of India along with the more tradition bound Heritage Schools and the like with a sampling of everything in between thrown in for good measure. I had hoped J would come to a better understanding of what it is to be a child growing up in India. Unfortunately, that did not happen. She has been mulling about what we saw and will probably tell me her thoughts in a few days. It may be interesting at that point to write about this movie from her perspective.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Out Of Frame

I don't exactly fit into this article's description of the kind of women who are too successful to find a mate but I have yet to meet a desi man who I have not completely intimidated. Maybe desi males have a lower threshold for tolerating women who are not in a need of a marital crutch.

I have found being articulate to be a major negative in being able to have and sustain a relationship. If you as a woman are able to think and critically analyze issues and situations you are a problem. That makes you unfeminine, cold and quite impossible to like. If you have opinions, be prepared to defend them zealously (another telling sign of not being prime wife material). However, if you decide its not important to fight over everything you believe in and let the man win, you are spineless and unreliable - how can he trust you when you'll go along with anything he says. What is an opinion worth if you won't defend it with your life ?

To strike a balance is to choose which battles to fight - that can get tedious and enervating. I used to look at all these disparate symptoms as an assortment of relationship challenges. The truth is they are all manifestations of acute discomfort and inadequacy.

The man tries to imagine me in a typical desi domestic or social situation only to find that I would be a complete misfit. What would his family and friends think of this oddity ? What are the chances of such a woman as myself translating into good wife and mother material ? Finally and most importantly, what are the chances of my growing dependent on him ?

The point of friendship and companionship as the single biggest driver of marriage is complete lost on them. It never occurs to them that a woman who has everything that she needs could still want a man who can be her truest, closest friend for life. That if he is able to offer just this, nothing else really matters.

I could have compensated for my cultural pretensions by being piss poor and uneducated. That way, a man could use money as the controlling lever in the relationship. In the absence of it, he wonders how the command and control structure of marriage could work in my case. The enlightened desi man hates to view himself as the typical Indian husband and tries very hard to be anything but that. While he has the right intent, execution is a very different thing.

In the best case, his methods will be subtle and he will allow much wider latitude but the framework of the average desi marriage will still be what it is. Those of us who have personalities that don't fit that frame are likely to be (or become) alone until we run into an outlier much like ourselves - a man who is just as desi as us in spirit, value system and culture and yet not constricted by any of it.

He could be a man who was raised by a non-traditional desi mother and grew up around other women who did not fit the frame either. Strong male role models who loved, respected and indeed helped such women realize their true potential is doubtless very helpful. To find such an ecosystem in desiland is very hard because the pH would be completely wrong for desiness to thrive in.

Yet these issues are hardly unique to desis - give or take a few parameters, they readily translate across cultures and ethnicties. The more women don't fit into the traditional defined boundaries of their gender, the more men will balk at the notion of partnering with them for life simply because they have no idea what to expect in such a partnership.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Recommended By Crowds

There is so much to read and watch yet so little time. Every poor choice has a cost. It is nice to have a little help discovering what you might find most interesting. Fictionmenu offers just such a service. "This website's main purpose is to help you discover new books and movies".

Having watched or read something that provokes a blog post, what better than being able to write in your handwriting. For a cost, anyone can have a font created out of their own handwriting. Though what I pass for "handwriting" could just as easily be served by wingdings and be just as easy to read.

As far as recommendations go, you can only be as sure as you are of the tastes of the individuals recommending and the efficacy of the technology used to collate and present it. Just because a book fits the description of the kind of thing you like reading does not mean it will be. The net you cast may be too wide or too narrow but never exactly right.

For instance, the combination of keywords such as gangs, sociology and Chicago would never resonate with me and I would miss out on discovering and reading the most fascinating
Gang Leader for a Day : A Rouge Sociologist Takes to the Streets.

I've often been well rewarded by picking up a book quite randomly at the library. It is something I've done for as long as I can remember and my choices seem to have paid better dividends over time though I am not sure why.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Manorama - Six Feet Under

When I read No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency a few years ago, I thought it was a fun little book. What a world of difference locale and atmosphere can make to an otherwise ordinary storyline. Whodunits are dime a dozen but move the action to the middle of the Botswana, add generous amounts of local flavor and you have a something very unusual and almost genre defying. As easy as the recipe sounds, it is difficult to pull it off with finesse like Alexander McCall Smith did.

Watching Manorama – Six Feet Under reminded me of the book at least in ambience. Gul Panag is quite exceptional as the nagging wife of the protagonist – a reprimanded junior engineer, wannabe detective novel writer whose first book has sold all of two hundred copies. Vinay Pathak as the loud but well-meaning brother-in-law balances out the staid and sullen Abhay Deol, the hero.

The movie employs very few of the standard Bollywood props and moves at a refreshingly languid pace. Just like the book, this is a fun little movie with a cast of believable, regular characters set in somewhat unusual situations. Miss Marple, I am guessing would have approved of this village sleuth with an eye for detail. For the rest of us, this is Bollywood but edgier.

Monday, April 07, 2008

American Incompetance

This article on the rise of American Incompetence is worth reading. It also happens to be a very popular view in some desi circles. It helps them account for rampant outsourcing and the success they have enjoyed in the technology business.

In my own workplace experience I have seen the complete lack of accountability to be a far bigger and much more pervasive problem than incompetence. Vendors and suppliers are not held to service level agreements that they signed on. Under-performing team members are allowed to drag down the rest instead of being tasked with meeting higher standards. Management is allowed to slip on dates and budgets endlessly, the cost of their failures mopped up by a lot of needless restructuring and reorganizing of course outsourcing.

In all parts of the organization, people routinely make commitments that are never met. What is more surprising is that no one holds their feet to the fire to make good on those promises. Half and quarter measures are deemed acceptable, quality and cost are cut to make dates after they have moved many times already.

The day on reckoning comes only when folks are pink-slipped - often out of the blue. The sum total of all their omissions over many years get balanced in that one fell swoop. Often the termination of employment and performance are completely unrelated. There are no discernable rules of the games.

All of this does not promote greater accountability in day to day work, it does not correct bad behavior. Instead people learn to distrust and resent not being able to tie effect back to cause in any tangible way. The lack of cohesive management and the sense of directionlessness seems to plague large and small companies alike. No one drives the bus, sometimes no one even knows that there is a bus that needs driving. Chaos reigns supreme and it is zealously defended because it is the only form of job security most people know.

Though a lot of people in their little silos are going a very good work, when you try to bring it all together, things just fall apart. To call that incompetence would not be placing the blame where it rightly belongs. The desi brethren for all their claims to superiority fare no better. It is not as if the work they do results in any miraculous outcomes for the organization.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


While I try hard not to butcher anyone's name no matter how alien and unpronounable the sound is to me, sometimes I end up doing it anyway. It just helps to hear it said right over and over again until I am able to learn it. I often end up not saying a name because I just can't get it right and it feels really awkward to ask the person to teach me over and over again.

Those of us who don't have a natural flair for languages and accents are at obvious disadvantage in social situations compared to those who just need to hear it once to be able to replicate it perfectly.

Forvo seems to be just the thing I have been looking for even though its does not help me correctly pronounce a French co-worker's name that I have been struggling with. I am hoping the database will grow with time and help out pronunciation challenged people like myself.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


I watched a movie called Shopgirl recently. The story deals with the twists, turns and confusions of a modern romance. While it is not particularly great cinema, I did find a couple of sound bites to take away and even ponder over.

Voice-over at the beginning of the movie : She keeps working to make connections, but the pile of near misses is starting to overwhelm her. What Mirabelle needs is an omniscient voice to illuminate and spotlight her and to inform everyone that this one has value, this one standing behind the counter in the glove department and to find her counterpart and bring him to her.

What's true for Mirabelle is true for a lot of singles both male and female. There are wonderful people alone in their own worlds, longing for a companion. Though they live in crowded cities, they never seem to meet their counterparts until the unseen hand of destiny draws (indeed throws) them together. Until that happens, they orbit alone and overwhelmed.

And in the end : Some nights alone he thinks of her.And some nights alone..she thinks of him.Some nights these thoughts occur at the same moment. And Ray and Mirabelle are connected without ever knowing it.

So true of life after a break-up. You think about them and wonder if they have moved on and even if they have, if they don't also think of you sometimes. Some relationships are harder to forget than others. You imagine they find it equally hard to forget you. The thoughts of each other must happen at the same time, specially on significant, memorable days. And like Ray and Mirabelle, former lovers everywhere are often "connected without ever knowing it" .
I have wondered about the significance of such connections.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Coping With Adult Children

Here is a note from Allison Bottke, author of Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children: Six Steps to Hope and Healing :

Our country is in a crisis of epidemic proportion concerning adult children whose lives are spinning out of control—leaving parents and grandparents broken-hearted and confused. This painful issue is destroying individuals, families, marriages, churches, and communities. I believe in my heart that you are reading this message today for a very specific reason.

Do you know someone who has an adult child who is always in crisis? An adult child who brings chaos to virtually every situation? Could this painful issue be touching your life today?

If so, you may find the answers you seek in her book. I asked Allison a few questions about the subject she deals with in this book :

Why do you think so many parents struggle with enabling their adult children?

ALLISON: We don’t understand the difference between helping and enabling, that one heals and the other hurts. We don’t realize that we handicap our adult children when we don’t allow them to experience the consequences of their actions.

How can we determine whether we are helping versus enabling our children?

ALLISON: Helping is doing something for someone that he is not capable of doing himself.
Enabling is doing for someone things that he could and should be doing himself.
An enabler is a person who recognizes that a negative circumstance is occurring on a regular basis and yet continues to enable the person with the problem to persist with his detrimental behaviors. Simply, enabling creates an atmosphere in which our adult children can comfortably continue their unacceptable behavior.

What are some of the most common ways that parents enable their children?

ALLISON: Being the Bank of Mom and Dad, or the Bank of Grandma and Grandpa. Loaning money that is never repaid, buying things they can’t afford and don’t really need. Continually coming to their rescue so they don’t feel the pain—the consequences—of their actions and choices. Accepting excuses that we know are excuses—and in some instances are downright lies. Blaming ourselves for their problems. We have given too much and expected too little.

You say there are two separate yet intrinsically combined things going on when we look at the pathology of enabling our adult children, what are those two things?

ALLISON: #1. We have the issue of the dysfunctional child himself—the product of our enabling. Most often, we are dealing with adult children who have no concept of healthy boundaries as they pertain to their parents and grandparents. Many are dealing with addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography, gambling, and more. Some of these children are involved in illegal activity, while others have been in and out of jail numerous times. Some are abusive to us. Some have jobs while others do not, most have extreme financial challenges. Others are still living at home, and some have even moved their spouse or “significant other” into their parents’ home with them. Many have been in and out of treatment centers, most often at the urging (and cost) of their parents. While we cannot change the behavior of our adult children, we can change how we respond to their actions and to their choices. We can, and must, begin to establish healthy boundaries and rules.

#2. Then, we have the issue of our own personal health and growth (or lack thereof.) For many of us, we have spent years taking care of, bailing out, coming to the rescue, making excuses for, crying over, praying for, and otherwise focusing an unhealthy amount of time and attention on this adult child, that we have neglected our own mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Many of us have neglected other family members as well, as the adult child has taken so much of our energy. Some of us are now experiencing severe financial ramifications from having enabled our adult child. Others are finding their marriage falling apart as tempers flair and situations spiral out of control. What is it inside us that makes us respond in such a way—that makes us enable our adult children?

You say the main problem with dysfunctional adult children isn’t the choice they make or don’t make – but something else entirely. If their choices aren’t the main problem, what is?

ALLISON: Our biggest problem isn’t about our adult child’s inability to wake up when their alarm clock rings, or their inability to keep a schedule, or their inability to hold down a job or pay their bills. It’s not about their drug use or alcohol addictions. It’s not about the mess they’re making of their life. The main problem is about the part we’re playing in stepping in to soften the blow of the consequences that come from the choices they make. The main problem is us. Instead of praying to God to stop the pain, remove the difficulty, or change the life of our adult child, we must rise up and pray for something entirely different. We must pray for the courage to look deep in our own heart and soul—pray for the strength to begin a journey that quite possibly may change our own life—and pray for the wisdom to make new choices in our own life.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Serrano Pepper by Jane Hirshfield

Grief is as with serrano pepper:
first there is actual flavor, then only heat.

Jane Hirshfield's metaphor for grief has been borne out for me each time I have lost a loved one. Each loss has started out being distinctly different from the others, I have mourned that singular aspect of my life that was diminished - pining for everything I shared with the deceased. I would enter their room finding it impossible to believe that they had not just stepped outside for a bit. As I waited, it would sink slowly that I could wait till the end of time and still not see them. They would have to live in my imagination and memories alone.

Their presence felt alive among their personal effects - clothes, books, odds and ends. Then there were things that linked us - the letters I wrote them and the letters they wrote me, the sound of their voice on the phone when they called my name and their touch. Things I would never forget, things of indelible permanence that death could not take away. It was all about specifics - the grief was different from any other.

Yet in time "only heat" remained - a void that would never be filled. As it turned out, one void was not a lot different from the other.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

White Binder

I know I would be severely remiss in my recording of memorable mothering moments if I did not note that the past weekend has been “The Weekend In Which J Comes Into A Binder”. What is the big deal with a binder one may ask and rightly so. So did I.

For many weeks now, J has been asking me variations of two questions “Can I have a binder ?” and “When can I have a binder ?” I think my initial response was “Remind me the next time we are in the store”. Needless to say, neither of us remembered when it counted. But the binder would come to haunt J right after we returned from the store.

She knows nothing irritates me quite as much as having to listen or repeat the same thing over and over. In this household, once is almost always enough. If J needs something and asks for it, she can expect to hear “Yes”, “Never” or the much dreaded “I can’t say right now. Let’s talk about it some other time”.

The last one is tricky. By keeping the deal open-ended, J is forced to revisit the issue and “repeat” her request. Yet there is clearly an injunction against it. What’s a kid to do with a mother who speaks out of both sides of her mouth ? Thankfully, I can trust the intrepid J to repeat herself until she is heard but in very creative ways - she knows, unless I’ve said a categorical “No” the answer is an “Yes” only gratification will be delayed, not instant.

She will fall silent in the middle of an animated conversation and look rather pensive. Naturally, I will ask her what’s wrong. She’ll say nothing is but continue to look woebegone. I will grow anxious ask to know what she is thinking about and she will say “It’s about something that I am not supposed to talk about”.

Having forgotten all about our “let’s talk about it some other time” conversation, I will insist that she share whatever it is with me. “You promise not to be mad at me ?” she will ask with uncharacteristic timidity. At this point, I will promise anything so she can get what's bothering her off her chest and go back to being her usual cheerful self. “Of course, I won’t be mad. Just tell me” I will say. “Well, I am thinking about the binder” J will say very quietly.

And that is how, I was reminded about the binder on Friday evening and I promised I would buy her one the next day if she did not mention the word binder again for the rest of the evening. This is necessary because saying “Yes” to something is never the last you hear about it.

J will let out a squeal of delight, clamber up on me to give me a “tree hug”, write me elaborate thank you notes, exclaim “Thank you, Mommy !! You are the best Mommy in the whole wide world”, break into a jig and that’s just the beginning of the celebration. All this affirmation gets to be overwhelming when I am trying to take care of the mundane business of life – dinner, dishes, bills, errands, mail, laundry and the like. So J held her peace. The next morning we went to the store and picked up a white binder.

For the rest of the weekend, J decorated her binder, told me of her plans for it the next week, month and year. A table of contents and a construction paper charm were made. The binder stayed within six inches or less or her at all times. J will now be able to file all the papers that are important to her in the binder just like the big kids do and her friend B does.

She is thrilled to imagine the possibilities and how she could personalize her binder with her own artwork. Whenever I see J delight in such small things, I pray to God to always keep that special spark in her alive.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Payment Ratchet

Have to love the use of technology to make people stick to a payment schedule on their car. I hope they have an emergency override option that will let the hapless borrower make that absolutely need to make trip before the car shuts down on them.

Wonder what such technology would mean to those who are late on mortgage payments - maybe shut them out of the house one room, one floor at a time. The basement goes out of bounds first, followed by the bedrooms and finally the main entrance. That should crank up the pressure to pay in slow, torturous degrees.

The premise of this whole thing is that somehow these "sub prime people" are just too lazy and/or unwilling to pay but do have a bunch of money. If prodded long and hard enough, they would just overcome their inertia and begin to pay. There is also the subliminal sense that these individuals can and must be manipulated like automatons, that poverty makes them less human.

It might make more sense to strap such devices on to those predatory lenders and physically immobilize them as they try to sign loan documents knowing fully well that it will end in repossession and a lot of suffering for the debtor .