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Showing posts from February, 2009

Pink Slip Literature

Though I am a veteran of many job changes, I am yet to write any kind of memorable farewell email.Unless I suddenly take leave of my senses I probably never will. I stick with the well-worn, yawn-inducing cliches and don't say too much. I have however, come across some interesting mails from others who don't set much store by prudence or caution.

These mails get your attention and get talked about by the water-cooler. I used to wonder what might provoke someone to leave a job with a resounding last word.Apparently they are in good company.This article talks about the emergence of a new art form - the farewell email.

The farewell e-mail has suddenly become commonplace, a new art form in the electronic age. Yet like so many aspects of the Internet era -- how to unfriend on Facebook, how much to reveal on a personal blog -- the technology has gotten ahead of the etiquette. There are, quite simply, no rules.

The last time pink slips made so much news was probably when the dot-com bub…

Notes From Myself

The oddest things turn up when you clean up documents you haven't seen in many years. My recent digital spring-cleaning lead me to a couple of notes I had written in early 2003. I could vaguely remember the context of both but the exact emotions or my frame of mind at the time of writing are lost now.

#1

The trees are shrugging of the rain making
a tiny shower on me – a woman walks her two
dogs ten paces ahead of me – she turns back
and smiles “Good Morning” – her face has aged
very well – I glance at my watch – I have five minutes
to reach the bus stop – I break into a sprint.
A young woman is waiting for the same bus – she is
picturesque – in Prada sunglasses and jet black hair.
I tell myself those who have known no great pain
will not know of a great passion either – I may
look like a walking wreck, but I have been to the
other side – twice and lived to tell about it.


#2

I have been visited, the curves and crevices of me
explored – I am Newfoundland no more or can
ever again be. No Marco Polo w…

The Virtues of Thrift

Being FOB desi, I tend to view frugality as a virtue rather than a vice. As I read this NYT article on the consequences of the Japanese cutting back on their spending and growing their nest eggs, I tried to see how that was hurting those who were practicing thrift. The demand for goods and services would be depressed and so would prices which from a buyers standpoint should not be such a terrible thing.

What the author tries to emphasize is the effect on the job market - there is lesser stability and not enough jobs to go around because people refuse to spend their money to buy. It seems that if everyone is willing to settle for a diminished lifestyle, having lower expectations from how much they can earn from a job or even how long they can hold on to one, thrift would not be the cause for a national disaster as it is frequently made out to be. The author writes :

Now, as exports dry up amid a worldwide collapse in demand, Japan’s economy is in free-fall because it cannot rely on domes…

Fictive Rights

Had it not been for Slashdot picking up on this news story about the Indian Supreme Court censoring bloggers, I would have thought it was TOI being sensational and reporting irresponsibly as usual. Unfortunately, they do seem to have their story right this time. It would be a very sad thing to have this 19-year old kid lose his right to freedom of speech and the right to express an opinion - it would be the beginning of the end.

The little that I remember from reading my Civics text book in high-school, those rights are guaranteed in the Indian constitution - or so they lead us to believe in the over-simplified text that they had us memorize and regurgitate at school. The kid in the middle of this fracas was under the same impression as well.

Apparently, our education is lacking and we don't have our fundamental rights straight. Should the worse happen and the criminal proceedings do get under way, I wonder if that would give the courts carteblanche to go after every blogger who vo…

Glimpse Of Heaven

Without questioning the merits or consequences of using one's own children as subjects of scientific experiments, one line in this article made me pause :

Clarence Leuba, a psychologist, wondering if laughter in response to tickling was learned or innate, forbade tickling of his infant son and daughter, except when he tickled them, wearing a mask to hide his expression. (It is innate, he found.)

Even at a few months old, children will respond to funny faces and tickling with gales of uncontrollable laughter. There is possibly nothing nearly as rewarding to an adult as being able to make a baby laugh like that.

It seems that the psychologist and his family made quite a personal sacrifice at the altar of science. Infancy is so incredibly precious because it is so short lived. It would never be possible for them get back to the time when tickling the soles of their infant's feet could instantly reward them with a huge toothless smile - a glimpse of heaven.

Word Meanings

Image
Here is the entry for the word passionate in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
Main Entry:pas·sion·atePronunciation: \ˈpa-sh(ə-)nət\ Function:adjectiveDate:15th century1 a: easily aroused to angerb: filled with anger :angry2 a: capable of, affected by, or expressing intense feelingb:enthusiastic , ardent3: swayed by or affected with sexual desire
synonyms see impassioned — pas·sion·ate·lyadverb — pas·sion·ate·nessnoun I had to look this up during a long chat with a desi girlfriend K, who is single and active on the dating scene. She wondered about the use of the word passionate in a lot of personal profiles posted by desi guys.

K has always associated the word with its second meaning per Merriam-Webster i.e. capable of, affected by, or expressing intense feeling. She asked me whether that was the meaning I would assume as well and I said I would. Apparently the Indian gentlemen she has encountered on the dating scene always imply number three - i.e. swayed by or a…

Stoking Entrepreneurship

My parents live just outside "proper" Calcutta as the locals would describe it. The location is relatively idyllic in comparison to the city itself and that was a key factor in their decision to buy a home there. While they have managed to escape the chaos and bustle, they have also had to give up some conveniences. One of them happens to be easy access to domestic help. The help has been both intermittent and unreliable for several years now.

Recently (and much to my relief) that has changed. An hour from where my parents live, further in the countryside an enterprising young man has set up shop to train and place domestic help. The average trainee/employee at this operation is a farmer's wife looking for some extra money when the crops don't do well or the harvest is disappointing. The proprietor trains these women in the fine art of house-cleaning. Huge amounts of dust and soot are part of Calcutta's atmosphere and the bulk of anyone's domestic chores invol…

Bartering Online

Love the idea of a web-based barter system for goods and services. It seems fairly basic at this point :
To participate, an individual would start out by applying for an exchange account, VanWyhe said. In the beginning, that person would have no currency but could receive some exchange units — called Trade Dollars — by taking training to understand the system or by volunteering with organizations that have accounts. An individual could also receive currency by doing some work for a neighbor or bartering possessions, VanWyhe said. With time, some enhancements would seem logical if not inevitable. A exchange rate calculator for instance that tells you how many square feet of lawn mowing equals three hair-cuts so buyers and sellers don't have to worry about getting a fair deal. Similarly being able to exchange Trade Dollars for real currency would be helpful in certain situations.

A barter that could seriously challenge the value of regular currency would need to involve big ticket, co…

Dying Languages

Though this Guardian story does not list all the 2500 languages that are likely to become extinct soon, I would not be surprised if it contained quite a few from the Indian sub-continent. The author does point out that India is at high risk of having its languages lost :
Perhaps unsurprisingly, two of the countries where the risk is greatest are India and Brazil, which are undergoing rapid economic transformations. "[These trends] often bring about the loss of traditional ways of life and a strong pressure to speak a dominant language that is - or is perceived to be - necessary for full civic participation and economic advancement," said Unesco.
It is just not the words or the manner of speech that is lost but a entire way of thinking and organizing one's thoughts is gone along with it too. If the state of contemporary Bengali literature is any indicator of how a language fades out, it would begin with a decline in the readership of books and journals. Then comes the point…

Dating And Marriage

Would-be "dates" have been taken by complete surprise by me saying that I have no time for or interest in dating. For one thing, a long drawn out getting to know each other period is the surest way for me to get bored with the process and the man involved - I know that only too well. However, putting a "realistic" time-frame around the dating process, I understand equates it to an arranged marriage not to mention puts too much pressure on a "final" decision which is naturally anathema to the dating-minded. Things have to be allowed to proceed at a leisurely pace and at some point the decision will become self-evident is the popular theory. I just happen to disagree with that theory.

So they have obviously asked how I expected to get to know someone well enough to marry them. After all, marriage is a serious, life-time commitment. It is not a job that you can be wrong about and just leave to find another without having much to lose. They would expect one su…

Music and Perspective

Heard the music of Somali Rapper K'Naan some time ago on NPR and it has lingered on since. I most definitely don't like rap music but loved K'Naan's sound and his take on American rap:

"Where rocket-propelled grenades are fired around you on a daily ... a guy bragging on TV talking about how gangster he is?" K'Naan says. "For us, it's more a source of entertainment. It's more like a comedy or something we watch. Say, 'Oh wow, that's kind of cute of American gangsters.' But it isn't hardcore, it isn't that bad. Let's get things in perspective, you know?"

How true ! What is the most dangerous way of living for one person is a source of comedic relief to another. Maybe, the little rap I had heard till now did not strike any familiar chord as much as some of K'Naan's songs did.

Then a few days ago, also on NPR I heard another singer Eleni Mandell whose style is completely unlike K'Naan's but I felt a stro…

The Pursuit Of Fun

Any given weekend when the sun is shining brightly, the kids in my neighborhood are outside making the most of the good weather. That I might have a problem with that would make me the worst kind of curmudgeon - specially since I am the mother of a young child myself.

Now, imagine if you will that in my neck of the woods the sun is shining nice and bright all day long almost 70% of the year and the temperature is pleasant enough to remain outdoors until dusk. Imagine also that the kids age between 3 - 13 years old and outside having a fun time for 7-8 hours of the day. More often than not a bunch of parents are having fun right along with them. Throw in the long summer break and the spring break and do the math on the sum total of fun hours and maybe I won't be such a horrible Scrooge after all.

My point is the pursuit of fun is perfectly reasonable but within reasonable limits. If you treat each warm day as if it were the very last one of the year, set out a picnic table and loungi…

Stumped By Grammar

My grammar has always been lacking and I have yet to make any effort to correct this gap in my education. I never knew that there were en dashes and em dashes let alone that they were to be used for different reasons. I did know of a blog named Emdashes but the significance of the name never registered with me until now. There are some lapses in our education that we learn to work around and live with - grammar is one of them for me.

I am surviving for sure but the quality of my life is definitely lacking for not being able to string together a paragraph with no grammatical errors - that makes me a pseudo-literate almost. Depending on the standards a piece of writing is held to, I would make closer to failing than passing grade with my poorly structured language. In my defense, I would say where I went to high school, grammar was not considered awfully important. They believed that if you read and wrote enough, it would come to you naturally.

The Kiss

A month, a remodeled kitchen (for Jayant) and a change of job (for Sheila) had passed when they returned to her place after dinner and a movie. They had stopped for some groceries on the way home. She let him unload the packages from the car as she went inside to straighten up the living room. It was already late so she did not know if Jayant would even step inside. Then on an impulse she went into the bathroom to brush her teeth and freshen her makeup.

When she came out, Jayant had everything put away in the fridge and was taking his coat off. She sat a little away from the end of the couch and as if on cue so did he. It was like the scene from the last time they had been together was unfolding with a slight variation. He stretched his legs in front of him, his body language much more relaxed than it had been the other time. In a pause during their conversation he looked at her and said “You look very beautiful”.

Sheila smiled and asked “You mean right now ?” "Yes . You look hap…

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Reading this NYT article on the culture of entrepreneurship in campuses would probably give reason to consider if entrepreneurship is absolutely good and specially if it comes at the cost of an incomplete education.

Today's college-goers have grown up seeing the the wonders of Google and Facebook come to pass and those who made it possible were very young - just like themselves. That it is possible has been proven many times over so its not surprising that young people are enthused about throwing their hat in the ring.

While many hats will get thrown, only a very small percent of them will emerge winners whose success stories everyone else wants to emulate - in many ways this is not any different from the Gold Rush. The rest will fizzle out in a few years and leave the entrepreneur with a failed business venture and no education to pursue a career for the rest of their lives.

Sure they can always return to school and complete their education and join the workforce or choose to dabble…

Learning History

History is one of those subjects I think I love but have not been close enough to find out how much or if at all. Is it infatuation from a distance that will vaporize upon contact or is it more serious. Reading history from books written like texts is not appealing but then neither is historical fiction. I am not sure how it is that I want history to be served so I can enjoy it and remember it - the ingredients are right but its cooked all wrong. Growing up in India, I had watched Bhartat Ek Khoj - Discovery of India by Shyam Benegal on Doordarshan. It was a fantastic.
I wished someone would do what Benegal had done to world history - make it come alive. This was somewhere between fact and fiction and it made history accessible and enjoyable to everyone. I have found some interesting history sites like EyeWitness to History and The Flow of History - both offbeat approaches to discussing history. Maybe it is nostalgia more than anything else, but I still looking for something that remi…

Bailout Season

With the financial meltdown, catastrophe, disaster etc upon us all, it is good to hang on to your sense of humor to help you cope with the unrelenting stream of bad news. Bailout jokes are dime a dozen these days, but I haven't seen too many verses set to the tune of popular Carley Simon numbers.

Even those on the culture fringe of society have not been able to stay unfazed by all this bailout talk - they are proposing a bailout of poetry :

Cultural leaders have come together to announce a massive poetry buyout: leveraged and unsecured poems, poetry derivatives, delinquent poems, and subprime poems will be removed from circulation in the biggest poetry bailout since the Victorian era. We believe the plan is a comprehensive approach to relieving the stresses on our literary institutions and markets.

Artists have likewise come up with their own bailout plan - not nearly as dramatic as the bailout manifesto of the poets, it is based on bartering art for goods and services in times when …

Undie Campaign

The pink undie protest underway in India - a neat way to fight the good fight - has been making news. It is refreshing to see women show moxie in a culture where they are usually taught not rock any boats or make big waves. Even ten years ago, it would have been really tough for a group of women in India to say :

Join Us on February 14, Valentine's Day, the day in which Indian women's virginity and honour will self-destruct unless they marry or tie a rakhi. Walk to the nearest pub and buy a drink. Raise a toast to the Sri Ram Sena.

More power to the sisterhood and may their tribe increase. One hopes this campaign is a precursor to many others and is able to give the average woman in India the confidence to claim her right to live in freedom in the country of her birth. The fact is, being "forward" has nothing to do with pub-going or moral laxness. It is a state of mind that can come packaged in many different ways. I want to believe that The Consortium seeks to mock t…

Spending And Saving

This article on the paradox of thrift is wonderfully jargon-free and a pleasure to read just for that. Mathew Yglesias makes his case about how everyone becoming thrifty and building a cushion can actually hurt the very cushion that folks are building :

The result of this is an overall fall in the average level of income. And that means that even with the share of income being saved going up, the actual level of savings can be going down and we can truly end up in the toilet.

Having grown up in India when it was a still a middle-class virtue to squirrel away as much as possible for the future, I think Yglesias does not give thrift the credit it deserves. Our parents and grandparents saved everything they possibly could for all their working years. For them, no luxury was too small to give up, no indulgence indeferrable. They spent the best part of their lives building this cushion on which to rest on comfortably in their old age. With inflation constantly on the rise, the size of this …

Fallen Heroes

I am usually hard pressed positive youth role models for children in America. The buzz is often around celebrities like Miley Cyrus and I don't find their example to be particularly empowering for kids - specially for little girls. Then as was there was Michael Phelps.

When J returned to school after summer break last year, Phelps had unseated every other young celebrity kids are familiar with. Even the Jonas Brothers had lost a little bit of their cool ans sheen. Phelps was their hero and very rightly so given his spectacular achievement. I can't remember how many entries for the year's Reflections Project themed "Wow!", had Phelps for the subject.

Clearly he had captured their imagination. It was highly instructive for them to learn how hard he had worked to achieve what he had - that is exactly the message you want to convey. Phelps had helped many a parent illustrate their point about hard work being the only way to achieve anything worthwhile and durable in …

Freeing Women

Like many pre-interent era desis whose concept of America had been an amalgam of images from books they had read, movies they had watched and news that made headlines in India, the reality of my experience living here has often been, for better or worse, not quite what I had expected it to be.

I had unquestioningly assumed that women have a much better quality of life in American society than what they do in India. While in some aspects, that assumption has been more than borne out, that as I come to find out, is not the whole truth.

That birth-control and abortion are political hot-button topics came as a huge surprise when I first came here. That in the land of the free, women are not at liberty to choose is a contradiction I still find impossible to reconcile. That equal work does not result in equal pay and women are consistently paid lower than men in for the same job was another such contradiction - but that is now resolved.

Modern Childhood

When J is bubbling over with news on our drive home from after-school care, I am usually able to share her excitement - it is what melts all the aggravations of the day away. That is the rule and then there is the exception.

Her buddy D who is a first grader and had revealed to J only a few hours previously that she wore Littlest Pet Shop bra - with padding to be absolutely clear about the nature of the said article of clothing. Apparently, D had flaunted her bra strap for J and some others to check out. Another first grader K was also "into this bra thing" as J put it.

Being the backward, culturally challenged FOB mom that I am, I was not sure J had got her facts straight and made sure to Google the kindergarten lingerie item that she had mentioned and was shocked to find that it did indeed exist.

Fact checking, done I was left struggling to come up with the most appropriate reaction to her excitement over her new found wisdom. Clearly both D and K had ascended the heights of …

Pilar And Ugliness

I remember reading For Whom The Bell Tolls when I was thirteen mainly because it was the first book ever to make me cry. I did not know then it would also be the last book to do so. A few days ago, I found a DVD of the Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman movie adaptation of the novel and decided to watch it. I wanted to return to my childhood perhaps replicate that unique experience.

The movie felt nowhere close to the book or maybe I am glamorizing the past. With my elevated expectations, it was just another war movie and not even the best I have seen of the genre. Whereas at thirteen, the characters that etched the deepest mark on me were those of Maria and Robert Jordan, this time I paid attention to Pilar. I vaguely remembered reading these lines when I heard her character say them in the movie :

"Look at the ugliness. Yet one has a feeling within one that blinds a man while he loves you. You, with that feeling, blind him, and blind yourself. Then, one day, for no reason, he sees y…

Dots Or Not

Ignorance can usually be bliss until the ignorant take upon themselves to connect the dots as I feel strongly tempted to do when I read three articles I read recently on the US economy and China's role. The WSJ article notes that there is a limit to how much US debt foreigners will buy and just because they have signed up so far does not mean they will continue to do so for ever.

.. confidence is derived from the fact that the arrangement has gone on for some time, and that our creditors would be unwilling to face the economic turbulence that would result from an interruption of the status quo.

But just because the game has lasted thus far does not mean that they will continue playing it indefinitely.

The NYT story is about Chinese spending more abroad and touring foreclosed properties around the US for bargains. That sounds a lot like a scavenger hunt except this is no party game at least for those who once called the foreclosed properties their home.

The last article talks about th…

Scenes From A Movie

I watched Buddhadev Dasgupta's Kalpurush recently and was underwhelmed. That said, a few recurring images in the movie made a strong impression.

The lead character, Sumanta (played by Rahul Bose) is this man who is not anyone's idea of a success and most definitely not his wife's.His lack of self-worth and confidence continually diminishes the "man" in him. It is to the point where he accepts the loss of conjugal rights and his wife's blatant unfaithfulness with the same equanimity as he does his life's other failures.

While Bose "plays" this character with complex emotions sincerely he never quite "becomes" Sumanta as he must to do it justice. Even so, with his listless shuffle and tendency to talk too much, he creates a believable image of Sumanta - we have seen men like Sumanta in real life.

Then there are the couple of scenes in the old-fashioned College Street bookstores that are priceless. Sumanta walks in and asks the proprietor…

Solo For Fifteen

This Salon article about one woman's unplanned celibacy for fifteen years drew a rash of comments from readers. I think it is impossible not to react to something that is so devoid of adornment or attempt to hide what is obviously not a pleasant subject to discuss. The author's candor alone makes this piece of writing hard to ignore. Then there is her take on sex without love. Kit Naylor says :

I know I could walk into any bar in town and leave with some guy willing to come home with me for a one-night stand -- but that feels so sordid and ugly to me. I have known what it is to enjoy sex with love, in the context of a committed relationship -- comfortable, familiar, married sex, if you will -- and anything less than that feels sad to me. I would rather sleep alone than give myself away.

I have often compared random sex outside a single permanent relationship (which may or may not mean marriage to everyone) to diving into the different dumpster each night to forage food when you …

A Two Faced Story

Greed has many masks but just one face. The news of TARP banks laying off American workers to replace with H1-Bs will provoke a lot of anger and righteous indignation (as can be imagined). The entire desi IT community (which is a large part of the H1-B pool) will be tarred by the same brush with the locals looking upon each one of us as the cause of all their unemployment woes.

It will scarcely cross their minds that we have widely varying levels of skills, education and talents so heaping blame on the collective is a pointless exercise. Our "Coming to America" stories are as diverse as we are as a people - and many of them are quite tragic. And that is just the desi half of the immigration story. The other half is fully made in America, and enabled by the very people who rile against it.

There is something fundamentally wrong about a system where the cost of the goods and services are out of reach of the average person, if all of those employed in producing them are local emp…

Holograms And Maya

It has been reported lately that the universe may actually be a hologram and this article adds that the brain may be one too. It is fascinating what you get when you combine the two facts together - namely the holographic paradigm :

But the most mind-boggling aspect of Pribram's holographic model of the brain is what happens when it is put together with Bohm's theory. For if the concreteness of the world is but a secondary reality and what is "there" is actually a holographic blur of frequencies, and if the brain is also a hologram and only selects some of the frequencies out of this blur and mathematically transforms them into sensory perceptions, what becomes of objective reality?

Put quite simply, it ceases to exist. As the religions of the East have long upheld, the material world is Maya, an illusion, and although we may think we are physical beings moving through a physical world, this too is an illusion.We are really "receivers" floating through a kale…