Saturday, December 8, 2012

13,000 kms and 3 months later...

The following is a bulleted recollection of my days in and outside of grad school. During a spasmodic burst of writing inspiration, triggered by a recent conversation about blogs, I decided to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon and write the following: 
  • Learning a new language is a largely by imitation (of native speakers) and a little by memory.
  • The French can totally understand Tamil. I was talking to my room mate in, what I thought was, rapid Tamil and my landlord answered my question. So, much for leaving him out of the conversation!
  • The prettiest features are usually seen on those from the troubled lands of the Middle East. 
  • Snow(flake(s)) falls exactly and precisely in the shape in which I have seen it drawn. It's fascinating to watch it fall.
  • I can't ski which is obvious. But, I can't even walk on ice. (The last time I would've fallen like I did the other day while accidentally stepping on ice, was when I was learning to walk).
  • A damn good Prof/supervisor can make the sun shine brighter on a cloudy day.
  • I am sure to forget English (at the very least, the spellings) when I start to take French classes (or even Russian - given the uncanny resemblance).
  • Being vegetarian in a country whose 96% aren't isn't actually very difficult.
  • My convictions about writing grow stronger while my engineering intuition wanes. (Given that I never had one to begin with, it's mostly like the Montreal temperature right now! :P )
  • It's difficult to start something here unless you are completely disciplined and committed to it than home or in undergrad. (Abhi thinks otherwise!)
  • Indians are by far the most emotionally attached to their families and home. (My sample space is small and I could definitely be wrong).
  • Writing opinion columns gives you clarity that transpires into all aspects of your life. (Or so, I would like to think! :P )
  • Eliminating uncertainty is impossible. Embracing it might make it more enjoyable. No one knows everything for certain, anyway. 
  • You are more likely to be a shining star and a success story in a field that you are not only passionate about but can conjure great 'gut-feels' almost always. (The two, I think are somehow interwoven and inseparable). 
  • I do need occassional reminding that I do have some 'real estate' in the virtual world. 
  • Indian accent and British spellings rock.
  • Tea can never be coffee.
  • Dollar store's is Canada's Saravana stores. (If you're from Chennai, you know exactly what I mean!)
  • I can't quite tell if baking is the precise science that requires shallow or deep knowledge.
  • McGill's most famous graduate, according to an American political scientist, happens to be Captain Kirk and I now know why my newspaper office building is unofficially called Shatner!
  • "Whether it's sticks and stones or predator drones, war is still a story of humans".   (the aforementioned war analyst - hearing him in person is a LOT more interesting and fun!)
    "Neural networks help in predicting oil prices, stock prices, or in our case, actuator sizes" - Silly alliteration and imagery still hold my fancy and unleash an inexplicable need for cheap imitation.  
  • Star wars and Anakin are my eternal source of mood lifters.
  • Leave alcohol. What about Ritalin?

Monday, August 13, 2012

My First Words


I was meeting her after 5 years. I was filled with more trepidation than excitement. She was
flying to the States where her daughter and scientist-son live, in 5 days from then. And, I worked in
Bangalore. So, my best chance to meet her was that Saturday. I was supposed to meet her at five but
arrived an hour later. She seemed the same to me. Age and time had done her no damage. She was just as I remembered, although I suspect she had changed her glasses for a sleeker frame.

She fussed over the flowers I had brought for her. But, she didn't know that once I saw her I
wasn't living anymore on a little place people call Earth. We got chatting slowly at first and the pace
caught on. She enquired what I had done with my life until then and what I intended to do. I asked her about her notorious knee. She replied that she had had them done and I hoped it was as good as new. My wristwatch was chipping away the hour but time moved backwards rewinding nine years.

We start ruminating over memories and anecdotes I hold dear to my heart. We vacillate
between the current and the past. She talks about RTE with the same vigour I remember from her
classroom lectures. She then tells me what becomes my revelation of the day (or possibly forever) –
“You know, I don’t buy this thing that students from Tamil medium will find it difficult. I studied in Tamil medium until class 12 (called SSLC back then) and went to Stella Maris of all colleges. I didn't find the ride insurmountable although there were hiccups”.

My jaw dropped. She noticed and I launch into an explanation. I had picked up a huge amount
of words from casual interactions with her. I had built such a large part of my vocabulary from her so
much so it seemed I had learnt my first English words from her. ‘Niche’ from her comment in my report card, ‘conspicuous’ and ‘melancholy’ from her encouraging feedback when I was down and ‘camouflage’ from one of her stories that she always had handy. And, now after all these years, she still has managed to astound me. Wow, life does have a way of packing in pleasant surprises – sometimes!

The spotlight is back on me. I tell her I am engineer who works for a consulting firm. But,
very soon, I will be investigating electromagnetics for my Master’s thesis. I also tell her my summer
adventures – as an RA (Research Associate) studying the wave equation and blackholes in Canada, as
a journalist with The Times of India, as a volunteer for the National PDS Survey in the villages of HP
and TN. She is visibly happy and calls herself an empty talker. I beg to differ. I then chime away what I wanted to tell her all my life – She believed in me more than I did. And, that has been my impetus for all the things that I have done.

The time comes for me to take leave. She is worried it’s getting dark. I reassure her that I stay
close enough. I touch her feet involuntarily. She blesses me and asks me to keep in touch. I promise
myself I will as I memorise her email address. I walk out through her wooden door. A strange sensation comes over me. I try defining it but I conclude that it’s beyond my rational recognition. I make my way back home wading through the traffic realizing that I will carry a piece of her wonderful warmth and encouragement wherever I go; whatever I do.

Monday, June 18, 2012

At long last

A cloud comes over a hill and loses its will to move anywhere.

Two large grey monsters with gaping mouths engulf the white space in between. As the space turns to nothingness, the first drops of rain pellets fall. A cool wind breezes through wet hair. Cool, not of the numbing kind. But, its refreshing cousin. The smell of fresh earth hits the nostrils and awakens the spirit. A deep silence ensues that brings to awareness the beat of a heart. Somewhere in those snow capped mountains in front, there is probably hail falling at full speed. A sense of peace pervades the senses. At long last, the ship has come home and laid firm its anchor.

As for the cloud, it sheds its weight bringing life and joy to the alpine forest. And, in that act finds the lightness and will to move again.     

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Seasons

Seasons are four. Or so we are told in school. But, living in the tropics teaches you something different. Furthermore, living in a state that is subject to the vagaries of the retreating (northeast) monsoon means you 'enjoy' a hot and humid summer with precipitation palpable in its absence. For as long as I can remember, a year to me has always been about two seasons - school (time) and summer. Starting from the art camps and dance classes since class 7, summer action has always outweighed school. And, that has continued well into college. School time turned ever more an obscure memory while summers became unsullied experiences of adventure and learning. I have never quite written about summers despite repeated promises to myself about recording them. This post is an attempt to record every non-ephemeral memory worth sharing associated with each summer starting 2009.          

2009 - Journo-neering
Journo-neer - Cheesy? Highly but that was my gchat status for the entire time I worked with The Times of India in June-July, 2009. That fledgling interest I had for journalism solidified and took deep root in the basement of the Times House that houses the supplements section where I worked. Turning up at the office of a quizzical interviewee, little did I imagine I would be answering his questions on how reporters keep getting younger by the day. Covering a local school event turned out to be quite some fun with the school staff and teachers calling me 'ma'am' and showering undeserved attention. Eventually, the Editor cut the story to half owing to space constraints. So much for that!  
Being The Hindu loyalist I don't have any of the stories I reported on and TOI doesn't archive all its supplements online. So, there is no evidence I worked there save the letter the Editor wrote for me. Three years from then, all I remember today is the people I met and worked with (there were engineers who had defected for a career in media), the need to find some creative outlet and the joy that comes with fulfilling that, the way print media works and of course, the heady high from seeing my name published in the paper. My neighbor, on the other hand, will remember me showing up at her doorstep every Sunday morning to collect her copy of the TOI along with the agony I subjected her to, with my happy gush over how little has been edited.        

2010 -  Blackholes and the White North
An aimlessly wandering mind pondered over what to do. It slowly unraveled the enchanting powers of the Internet and quickly got reprimanded by a parental voice. It devised a devious ploy and renamed "gchat time" into "internship search time". Well, all didn't go too badly for that charted the way for a splendid summer. Reflecting on that summer, I think what matters today is not turning twenty at Niagara with fiery pyrotechnics in the backdrop (No, the fireworks were not for me. By a brilliant twist of fate, July first happens to be Canada Day and although it looks like the Canadian Government is announcing my birthday to the world, that is far from reality. However, this fact hasn't stopped me from deluding myself or other innocent souls) or club hopping in Montreal (oh, yes, they needed to verify my passport to check I'm old enough and I didn't particularly enjoy this activity) or debate over morality/amorality/immorality or bake cheesecakes and barbeque meat or simply wade through St. John river or gorge on samosas and Pad Thai at the (tax free) Sunday market or the media interviews that happened after. Admittedly, all these are fun things and fantastic memories not to mention enough fodder for "In those days ...." stories to my grand children. But, in hindsight what matters today is the fact that this was my first exposure to research in an academic setting. That is a vital fact simply because it gave me an opportunity to appreciate what I was learning theoretically in classes and to see if I had a flair for doing this in the long run. In the two years that have transpired, I have taken some wrong turns. But, the lessons from that summer were seeds for a new beginning (and that beginning has indeed come!). In that sense alone, I strongly believe that research exposure during undergrad days is almost as important as acing subjects (that you like). And, I am thankful I had that opportunity.        

2011 - The Engineer turns Economist (or so I'd like to think!)
The things you hear when you're young are the things that define you when you're old. I grew up hearing the importance of surrounding oneself with different kinds of people as a means to eschew dogma and to be able to challenge oneself once in a while resurrecting oneself and replenish one's confidence. 2011 was all about this. Starting out as a misfit among a bunch of vagabond economists, the survey turned out to be a fulfilling affair on a lot of levels - intellectual, emotional, personal and maybe even spiritual. This experience is almost impossible to describe in a single post let alone paragraph. But, lets see ...
Every day posed a new challenge. Human beings shun differences and bond with others when living in hostile conditions. Even with those who they wouldn't have cast a side glance at if they had first met at a cocktail party. Arguments are healthy for the soul. I'll correct myself - Healthy arguments are healthy for the soul. Rural India is a lot more beautiful than you can imagine. A rectangle of a camera frame does it immense injustice. People are by nature good (Locke was right after all!). Some of the busiest people are also the ones that respond to emails the fastest. Jean Dreze is awesomer than I imagined. I do get tongue tied when I finally meet someone I have so adored. (That tongue tied-ness has finally gone and I can talk to him properly if not eloquently and on a first name basis). High school Social Science teachers are a huge influence and mine is someone I worship to this day. My Hindi sucks more than I'd like to admit. I know where I will build my retirement home - Himachal Pradesh, ftw! Writing petitions to the Collector in Tamil maybe fun for you but to the villagers it is a serious enough thing that they thank you profusely and treat you to fresh lime (from the kitchen garden) juice. Finally, train travel is the best, even when you have to sit on the floor in a brimming compartment. 
For more serious and useful information, go here and for a lighter but informative read, go here.   

2012 - Fiction becomes Fact         
This summer (June-July) I will be interning at McLeod Ganj, home of HH the Dalai Lama. I hope to post more of that experience here and I am definitely looking forward to the good tea and chow mein that part of India is famous for. I also have other plans after I get back. But, they are like I said, just plans for now. At the moment though, I am enjoying what's left of the year in Bangalore - a city where dreamers come and learn (or even master) the art of compromise amidst leading chaotically dire lives based on meretricious rewards.   

The true adventure begins now. I am looking forward to the journey and thankful for the year that will help me brace myself when the next bump comes!

Until later!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Wise Words

Borrowed, yes. True and tested, nonetheless!

Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you're alive. If you don't claim your humanity, you will become a statistic.
This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time...I say never be complete, I say stop being perfect, I say let... lets evolve, let the chips fall where they may. 
Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay. 
Sic transit gloria mundi
What is called a reason for living is also an excellent reason for dying
The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy. (Or is he?)

This may look like a concoction of quotations stolen from watching Tyler kill and resurrect Jack, from a 14th century German monk's ramblings, from the misdeeds of  a mischievous Greek or from personal travails. For, all truly wise thoughts have been thoughts already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience. No doubt, Geothe said that. But, that doesn't mean, I didn't!   

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Cheesy times

About four months and some days ago, after a long day at work, I heard a familiar grumble. I assumed it to be the usual at first and did what I would usually do. But, this one had a different origin that soon took a form I could recognize with ease. A craving in the making!

Having been introduced to the wonderful land of cheese cakes roughly two years ago, I have quietly grown into an addict. I started visiting every restaurant available in search of perfect bliss in the form of this cheese laden delight. Starting from that random roadside pastry shop to Under the Mango tree to Leela Palace to Fat Chef, I savoured every single one in town. Nearly.

Under the bright headiness induced by a yellow lamp in June 2010, biting into a piece of delicious, home-made blue berry cheese cake, I declared in a stupid, stoopid way,"Okay, people, you know what? We should all meet up. In five years time. In Paris. In front of the Eiffel Tower. No. On top of it. Will be awesssome, no?". As usual, I got "You are insane!" stares from the group but that evening continues to be one deeply etched in memory. Thanks to Rohit's ipod, we have that on tape and Robin for sharing it!
Featuring Rohit, Robin, Nandini, Anmol, Gaurav, Meghana and myself. Here's to those times we had in the Great White North!



video


video

Monday, April 2, 2012

Happy places

Early yesterday morning, I was with my family bidding adieu to my sister en route to New York. To me, she seemed tired, agitated, excited, anxious, worried (about her little one) and a bit of any other emotion available. Yet, there was a palpable sense of contentment. Not in sitting on the Jet plane bound for a foreign land. But, in being able to fly somewhere over the rainbow where skies are blue and the dreams that you dare to dream do come true!

Ten hours later, I was hunching over a desk with a knot in my stomach. My name was called and I walked for what seemed like eternity to stop again. Somewhere in the third minute of my waiting, I was ushered in to face a panel of four members - a renowned Mohiniyattam dancer who seemed affable instantly (having facebook-ed her the previous day she was one of the two people I could recognize), a former head of Alliance Francaise and a wine-taster (who was the other one I had facebook-ed but his credentials were something I learnt afterwards), a writer-sociologist-pretty-empathetic woman and a keen, clever man with probing eyes and questions who I was to learn was an IPS officer. I hadn't prepared for this encounter but after my last one, I decided to speak my mind than speak what's on their mind.

***

So, you call that a failure?

Uh,.., yes.

You know, you should meet Aruna Roy. We think you will completely reverse your stance. In fact, you'll say, "Failure! What was I thinking?"

...blank...

You are a lot like her...

(interrupt) Thank you.

... as honesty is the first thing you will notice about her. We hope you get a chance to work with her. But, yes, Dalai Lama's monastery would be a good experience for you too before you go...

...(smile, barely)...

...and with that eye for detail you've got, I am sure you will go places. You know, literature is the panacea for all of life's misgivings. I will suggest a book called "Room with a view" by E.M.Forster. On your way back home, hop into a library, find it and read it.

I will. Thank you!

Thank you very much for the honesty and the time. Bye!

Bye!

***

As I walk back along the corridor, I thought to myself,"You will go places?! I wonder what my happy place is going to be...". As that trail of thought got lost in the chaos in my head, I bumped into Sam who suggested we head to Nuts and Spices and buy candy to indulge Sachit. I willingly agreed.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cycle of life

Notebook

Telephone

Mobile phone

Epic phone aka Nokia 1100

More mobile phones

And some more

Even more...

...

...

'Smart' phones

Notebook (?!)

Moral of the story is
If what goes up comes down, it could be gravity or karma. Or marketing genius!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Yours Pinkly,

Assumptions and Presumptions
Pink. No other word I know of has been mired in as much controversy as this. Early on, I announce quite vociferously that I don't run the "I <3 Pink" campaign. That said, I also have to add, and quite categorically at that, that I don't belong to the anti-Pink brigade. My first brush with an anti-Pink being was my friend's brother. I own a baby Pink scooty pep+ and this happened to be the subject of many a disdainful discussion (looks like I still haven't quite lost the flair since my last post!). When I went to the Ramkay TVS showroom to buy, all I had in mind was a bike (fine, scooty) that will give me some freedom to travel at will, with no pain and all peace. The last thing on my mind was to purposefully select a pretty Pink one!

History Repeats
A more recent encounter was at work, with someone I call seedling. Seedling cringes at the very sight of my oh-so-Pink (gel) pen. No brownie points for guessing Seedling belongs to the blue group. Anyway, the irony is my Pink pen writes in blue! So much for not judging a book by its cover! Of course, you can claim that's a blink decision and all!

And it repeats, once again!
On a quiet morning, for the first time in months, I decide to plait my hair and wear perfectly formal clothes to work. Seedling walks in and gasp-asks me about why I am clad in unholy Pink! Holy Pink, I mean holy cow! have I committed a fashion faux pas again?! Looks like the pukish pink was the culprit!

Arguably Neutral
So, with these chance happenings, I began to ponder on what's with all the fuss and mess over Pink? I have always stayed quite neutral on this subject. The more I think, the more I am convinced that Pink simply can't evoke any sense of awe or awfulness in me. It's just a colour! Yes, it is true that the last time I picked a dress for my three year old niece, it was ... Pink! And, the little girl does have ninja shoes the colour of gelusil Pink! But, no, she's not obsessing over the colour. (Oh, yeah, the non-believers will ask me to wait and watch!). Finally, the point - I am Pink-netural!Link
Pink Science
You may think I am seeing Pink elephants if I say that structured research has been going on for possibly decades now to discern the girl-pink association. But, hey, I am in the Pink of good (mental) health for you can read about this research here and about the Pink and blue project. There is also a hunter gatherer theory on sex difference which attributes girls liking for Pink with the early female ancestors capacity to pick ripe berries!! However, there exists a contradicting notion that Pink is actually washed down red and hence was a colour for the warriors. In fact, during World War II, the Japanese pilots indulging in God-wind attacks painted their war planes with sakura Pink in order to symbolise the intensity of their mission. From such beginnings, today, Pink is synonymous with cutesy gossip girls. While some say this is biological programming, there are others that attribute it to a silly marketing ploy. Case in point is the creation of Pink science kits for girls by several toy companies. In fact, Toys 'R Us manufactured a Pink microscope that had poor optic capacities. Did they assume that girls are born with superior eyesight that they can get away with lesser magnification?! One never knows!

Courtesy: tokenskeptic.org

This provocatively Pink microscope has been the subject of many a discussion which you can find here.

Yours Pinkly
Anyway, I decided to come up with my two cents on the subject. What I have done is list the Top 3 reasons why you should be Pink-neutral (irrespective of your sex). Inspired by this cracked.com article and some ego-boost by an insomniac, here goes my list -

#3 Strawberries or Blueberries?
There are studies that indicate women who consume strawberries and men who feast on wild blueberry juice are likely to have good heart condition. Truth is ALL berries are rich in antioxidants which are good things for your heart. What's more, berries don't care if you're on the blue guy gang or the pink girl gang and shower their goodness with zero bias! So, gorge on!

#2 Well, there is no Blue Floyd, is there?!
Actually, there is. But, Blue Floyd is basically on a parasitic diet feeding off Pink Floyd's music and aims at "deconstructing PINK FLOYD'S legendary music compositions to its more primal, elemental form" as a homage. Anyway, for an all boys, commercially hot band with a God level guitarist, Pink is hardly the name. Or maybe, it is the perfect name considering the band name is a tribute to two great blues (uh, okay!) musicians - Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.

#1 Ever heard of Pinkoholics Anonymous?
If you haven't heard of this ultra-secretive community, I am not surprised. These are Pink-neutral men who claim their mission in life is to promote feelings of fraternity amidst the haters and lovers of Pink. They are all over in visible light but hardly go by this name. When you see a guy supporting breast cancer awareness, he's most likely a member of PA. They are sworn to secrecy for life and entry to this club is demonstration of some archaic pagan rituals. While not much is known as to what these rituals are, some prominent members of PA include this famous author and the metro-sexual Nawab in-waiting seen below:

Courtesy:surajmob.in


Moral of the story is

After all, Pink is just a colour!