Thursday, October 25, 2007

Between Maths and a Hard Place. :)

It is a rare honour sharing study rooms with Maths people on one side and Plant people on the other.
Mathematics people are one of their kinds. They will accept reality as real only when they break it down to a million tiny pieces first and prove that each one of them is real enough to be called reality. Their everyday conversations are garnished with words that seem to walk out proofs and postulates.
You overhear conversations like," If there was even a slim probability of that pretty French girl going out with me, I just reduced it to a big zero by goofing up the Fermat theorem when she needed a solution".
Mathematics men make you feel like they are looking for holes in everything you have to say. So when you have a conversation with them you can see both their eyebrows going up and down without each other's consent. They are always more than willing to help you for they always look for a "problem". So if you approach them with something you cannot figure out yourself they will pounce on you and use all the available white boards to clear your doubts. Initially they will ask you if you are with them on the solution and wait for you to nod. As the problem gets juicier (and you get bored), they will turn completely oblivious to your presence and go on solving it on their own. You get up and leave and come back in the evening to pack up to find your maths guy solving the same problem with dishevelled hair.
They would want you to prove everything. If you even casually say, " Oh God! Help me", one of them would croak in a clipped voice that can only mean that he is either a Mathematician or a Brit, " Can you prove that there IS a God?”
Maths women never get their eyebrows done.
When a Maths woman talks to a Maths man the conversation seems to take you out of your everyday torpor. Better still if there is a potential romance involved it puts the mating calls of all the animal, bird and insect species to shame. A Mathematics Man wooing (excuse me for using that word but it so goes with Maths) a Mathematics Woman by showing off his intellectual prowess is something that has yet to be taped and archived by the National Geographic. It is so melodious and methodical. The way their markers go "swoosh-swoosh" on the whiteboard and they prove to each other that they are not just capable of solving this problem but many more that they might face together.

On one hand I have these " We are atheists till X equals God" people and on the other I have the Plant Group.
They all work with plant genetics. So they believe in the "Ultimate Creation". They assume a lot of things that the Maths people want to shred apart and verify. They are awed by the Devine architecture and are merely trying to imitate in all humility. One day as I was busy trying to figure out what to read, one of the plant guys descended on me with the air of a "senior" PhD student.
He asked me if I had decided what project I wanted to work with and I replied that I was slightly confused.
Then he asked me if I had made up my mind about who is going to be my guide and I said I was slightly confused.
He asked me about the kind of work I really like and I was confused. He asked about the area I was curious about and I was still confused.
Then he told me how he always knew what he wanted to do because God helped him choose at every crucial point in his life. He went into this long ranting lecture about how God helped him choose Genetics over everything else.
Then he asked me about my faith and belief in God. I replied, "Hmmph I am slightly confused about that too"
The whole room went into a spontaneous laugh and I turned genuinely crimson that day.
Their decisions just grow out of their heads like the mint green worm-like plants that grow out of their flasks. Plant Men walk around the Graduate Room looking like messengers of God. They never bang their fists or jump up and down when they get something right. They never go back in circles, squares and pentagons to question everything again and again. They always have their minds made up. Plant women don’t really seem to have an urge to prove their equality to anyone. They are kind and affectionate and of course even they have alarmingly resolved minds.
I take a course with this Nigerian Plant girl and I asked her about her research. She looked through me into a distant Horizon and said;" I always knew I wanted to do something with Bananas".

Sometimes I think I am better off being confused. It is such a choking feeling to have fixed opinions on everything and if I figure out everything this early I would probably lead a very boring life. Then I think if I am confused, I should also be able to tear apart and question all that confuses me like the Maths people. I should be able to make sentences like, " If we presume a hypothetical scenario..." or "In this event it would be wise not to assume.."
Or at least be as sure as the Plant group and know that God (or Nature) has a plan for everyone and my life is not entirely my own responsibility. :)

I must confess that sometimes I am secretly glad to be trapped between these two disciplines. For watching them be themselves gives me a lot of time away from my own confusions. :)

Saturday, October 20, 2007


My flatmate Shruti promised to sweep me off my feet one Saturday morning.
She promised me that she would take me to a place in Brisbane that serves the best French Toast in the whole world.
That morning oozed into my room from the half broken blinds ( which our landlord refuses to take off) today and after a semi-serious jog by the river I nudged her into taking me to the place.
That is what the interesting name is all about. The place is called Anouk and seriously it did sweep me off my feet.
It takes about ten minutes of wait on the pavement to be able to secure a table in the cafe.
It smells like well-cooked bacon, cappucino, cheesecake and crisp toasts all at the same time.
You can see a neatly labeled dessert counter which seems to get you a bit grumpy about your steely resloves and fitness fixations.

As we sat down with our first round of Earl Grey and Cappucino the waiter laid two plates of Brioche on the table.
One plump slice of golden brown French Toast with raspberries and mint on top. Garnished with two slices of succulent musk-melon and powdered sugar.
The Earth stopped spinning for a while and my mind went to all my favorite childhood memories.
It was indeed the best French Toast I have ever had in my life.

Another reason for staying away from junk and keeping away from carbohydrates on weekdays.
You can appreciate good food and let the artist and the poet in you out.Every bite fired up a love affair with my brain and made me grateful for all the forty-five minute jogs by the river!
I was looking for art in Australia for a very long time. I think I just found where the Artists really dwell.

We walked all the way back to the city and popped into a bookshop that sells rare books where I picked up John Donne for $9 for a bit of good poetry always goes well with good food. :)

PS: Please excuse my sense of photography AND for those of you who have been cribbing that I dont send home enough pictures now you know why! =P

Monday, October 15, 2007

The People I Meet : Robin

Well it is time to experiment with some caricatures. I have been a fan of some of the writers who describe people. I think it is a great skill to be able to paint a person using words. This is going to be some sort of a series. Please forgive me however for making this blog a potpourri of various things.


Robin is my next-door neighbour. He comes from South India and speaks singsong English.
There is something really peculiar about this man. I talk to him everyday trying to pinpoint what it is but it cannot be put into words.
He is tall and he is skinny with oiled hair that goes in about every direction that hair could go if you never bother to keep it neat.
His voice travels through a series of valleys and mountains before it reaches you. Sometimes when he is trying to be particularly emotive, it turns into a squeak. At others, it slides down a glacier and disappears into an incoherent mumble.
When you approach him with a bright "Hello Robin!!” he tilts his head at an awkward angle and gives back a damp "umm hullo" with downcast eyes.
He works in the railways. His job is to make drawings. From what it looks like, it must be a really boring job but you can find him trotting off into the elevator every morning at eight and trotting back exactly at five. Then he deposits himself on the couch and watches television indefinitely. He was too lazy to walk out of the non-smoking apartments so he used to smoke out of the window. Then one day, the landlord came in with a written complaint and asked him to get out of the premises if he wants to smoke. This kind of slowed down his smoking but he is still seen going down the fire exit with a pack of cigarettes and a mug of coffee a couple of times a day.

I believe people are like compounds and elements. We have our own reactivity and energies.
Some of us are highly electronegative and some of us are volatile. Robin would certainly fall into the class of inerts. He is just there. You can use him as a harmless and reliable carrier material whenever you want to. He will not opine, interfere or assert. He will never pick up a fight or even get along really well with anyone. He will just be around but sometimes he might turn out to be a big help. He is not detached for being detached needs some attachment too. He just is.

We often end up having a chat with him.
Being away from home makes you think about your parents very often. We all have rosy ideas about getting our parents to visit us. On one of such days we all were talking about our plans to get our parents to Brisbane. We asked Robin if he ever plans to get his parents to stay with him.
He went into this long contemplative silence. Then he said that he would prefer going back to India than ever bringing his parents to Brisbane for a long time. He has an unusual dream for a man like him. He wants to own a restaurant back in India where he can invest all the money he makes drawing plans for the Australian railways.
We asked him why he was so reluctant about getting his parents here and after a long intellectual looking gap he said, " What if I get them here and one of them dies? Then I would have to look for a place for burial"
Three minutes of complete silence and all of us burst out into peals of laughter.
Then we told him that the rate at which he smokes, it is more likely that his parents would have to look for a burial place for him.

He is a woman's nightmare coming true. He has already decided that none of the tourist haunts anywhere in the world is worth spending time and money on. He spends his weekends coiled up on the couch in the living room and only bothers to get up when he is hungry. He never goes out. He never works out. You get up in the morning and go for a jog. You come back and vacuum the house, clean the dishes, do the laundry, call up your parents and speak to them for an hour, you make your bed and go out for guitar lessons, you come back and cook dinner and all this while you will find him doing exactly what he was doing in the morning. Sleeping. He comes out of his shoes and they just wait there for Monday morning so that their rightful owners can get back into them and take them along the same pavement to the same building at the same time.

If by chance (yes it is really only by "chance") you meet him at the grocery shop and walk back, he would insist on crossing the road following all the traffic rules even if all the white people take it a bit easy. When you ask him why he is so finicky about it, he would reply in a solemn voice," Saee they would call me a bloody Indian if I cross it in a wrong way". As a matter of fact, no one will. None of us have ever come across anyone who would want to call us that!!
He talks about his early days in this country and he does have some really shocking stories to share. Stories about being left out and alone. Then making it on his own and being grateful to God. Finding his own way that led him to the kind of life he wanted to live. A life full of peace and pirated Tamil movies. Where there is no one to stop him from being himself.
At times you agree with his take on life. At times it puzzles you.

I meet him on my way back from the jog sometimes and he asks me what I am up to. Irrespective of what I say his reaction is always the same," You are the rich Indian girl with an attitude". I try to fathom what it means but then I always give up. Even if I tell him that I cleaned and mopped the kitchen floor today he still insists on calling me the "Rich Indian Girl with An Attitude".
I am amused by the word "Indian" in the description.

Robin is the kind of guy who teaches you that you can live your life using the bare minimum energy from what you can produce eating your food. He teaches you that you can exist on the screen-saver mode for all the forty-eight hours of the weekend and shake yourself to life only when your input is going to help your bank balance. He teaches you that there are back alleys and secret tunnels around your existence that can take you beyond the urge to move around and have fun. He teaches you the joy in being in a state of rest or of uniform motion as and when applicable. You realize that the peaks and valleys that you add to your everyday life by running around listening to your stupid iPod or by comparing the rates of vegetables in the grocery shop next door to the ones you get in the farmer's market are essentially not essential even though they make you feel like you are doing something really valuable with your life.
He makes you feel good about yourself when you are having a good day because you sympathize with his coiled-up-like-an-overfed-python state and he makes you feel really sorry for yourself when you are having a bad day because of his coiled-up-like-an-overfed-python state. In any case you are variable. He never changes.
Sometimes you wish you could inspire him but sometimes he almost inspires you!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Chicken Curry For Graduate Students

To make out-of-this world chicken curry on a bright Saturday morning beating all the odds that plague the poor
Graduate Student.

Chicken legs, yoghurt, lemon, whole pepper (about 7-10), grated coconut (half a cup), bay leaf, cinnamon,
Ginger- garlic paste, salt, red chilly powder, lots of tomato paste and three onions (vertically chopped).

Procedure: A] Marinate
For a kilo of chicken take around 500 grams of plain yoghurt. Add a spoon full of turmeric and about 2-3 teaspoons of ginger-garlic paste to it. Squeeze half a lemon and mix well. Wash the chicken and apply the above mixture evenly to all of it and leave it aside. This has to be left alone for at least twenty minutes so please make sure that you are well fed before you begin.

B] Spices
I believe that one should always make one's own spices. So I do not recommend the ready made chicken curries that you get in the markets. Take an average sized frying pan (hopefully non-stick but anything works if you are creative enough). Add about two tablespoons of oil to it. (Please refrain from using extra virgin olive oil. =|) When the oil heats up, try throwing a few mustard seeds when they crackle, carefully put in all the groups of spices individually and shallow fry them. Put in the pepper (and stay away from the frying pan as you do it because sometimes it pops up and goes into your eye!), the cinnamon and the bay leaf. Remove all the spices when they are light brown. This procedure gets out the flavour and you can smell them distinctly in the curry. In the oil that is left, fry the onion till it becomes light brown and squishy (Sorry, I really did not have a more accurate word than this). When all the oil is lost in the onion and the spices put in the coconut on the pan. Please watch it very carefully. Coconut oozes oil. So please do not add oil in the pan to fry coconut.
When all the spices are lined up in a plate (and you have realized that the 20 minutes of leaving the chicken alone are over) chop a tomato and in the heated pan, put about two teaspoons of oil again and fry the tomato and onion.

Challenge #1: Lack of blender.
Ideally the spices should be blended into a paste by addition of water. However not all of us are fortunate, rich or resourceful enough to have a blender around. It is okay to put in whole spices. I call it the "exotic" curry. Where you never know what is going to crunch under your teeth next. Sometimes it is pepper and sometimes cinnamon. :)

C] Cooking
Add in the marinated chicken to the tomato and onion and add the spices and the tomato paste. Let it cook for a while (under pressure if possible and if you are really hungry) When it is cooked (try forcing a fork through to check), add about 3 teaspoons of chilly powder and salt to taste. Please do not add a tumbler full of cold water if you need volume. Make sure you balance it with a thickening agent like tomato paste or coconut. It is an insult to the food if you indiscriminately add cold water when it is cooking.

Challenge# 2 Lack of time and the energy to do all of this in one go.
You can fry the spices and make a paste and refrigerate and only do the marinate and the cooking when you want to make it.

Challenge#3 "What is a bay leaf?" ..Innocent questions. Please go to the nearest Indian shop and ask the owner. He/she would help you to get everything that you need.
( Please do not fall into their traps and buy the larger packets because they are cheap. Both of us know that you are probably going to make this only once and then the spices are going to lie around over the kitchen counter)
Alternatively for my friends in America, you can just "Google it up" and get your answers. But please do not freak out the storeowner by calling it "Cinammomum tejpata".

Ideally you should garnish it with coriander leaves and serve it with tomato and onion salad.
With cardamom flavoured rice with saffron. These, I agree are luxuries. So just pour in plain rice in a bowl and have curry with it as you Gtalk with someone in India. :)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Happy Birthday PurpleMoon!!!

3rd October 2007

Although my readers cannot trace back the proof of this occasion ( owing to the fact that I keep renovating my page all the time) back home, in my lab in Pune, on the computer connected to the GC/MS system I have a folder by that date which was created in 2006. :) ( And that is an amazingly long sentence)
Initially I started writing because it was a much needed distraction from work. When you are a chromatographer and work on a Gas Chromatograph you get time between runs. I used to use that to write. Then I processed the chromtograms and went back to processing my blogs between the next two runs.
I cannot believe it has been a year.
To me, PurpleMoon was something close to an escape. A reverie that helped me color my life the way I wanted it to. To be able to remember the good things and to be able to bring out the pastles and the lights from the blacks and the greys.
I had written in leather bound journals with an ink pen before. I had written poems in an artistic hand. I had dozed off into books on the majority of Sundays that I ever saw since I started reading.
Writing was a new escape and being taken seriously was like an unexpected destination!
I think PurpleMoon has helped me grow beyond the limits of one chronological time unit.
When you look for escapes and they work out better the reality you wanted to escape from, it kind of gives you the feeling of being even with Destiny. :)

I have been through the Writer's block and learnt my Anger Management with some serious critique too. I have also had the pleasure of replying to my humble share of fan mails. I have loved it all and I think now that I am a poor graduate student, I might end up improving my writing skills when I am in the mood for some serious procrastination ( which seems to engulf me almost all the times these days)

I thank all my loyal fans for their constant feedback. :)
Now, before I sound like this self-concieted writer let me end this.
I wish PurpleMoon a very Happy Birthday and I hope it keeps me alive and positive like it has for the past twelve months.