Showing posts from April, 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.


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 extensiv…

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 s…

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 beha…

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 a…

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…

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 persu…

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.…

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 …

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…

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 …

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…

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 dec…

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…

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-behavi…

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 beh…


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.

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 lea…

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 a…

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 shi…

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 t…

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 keyw…

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 litt…

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…


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.


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 alo…

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 re…

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 a…

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 “repe…

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…