Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Parameters of Beauty

Yesterday afternoon, after attending a friend's birthday party at a Chinese restaurant, my friend Sergio and I decided to finish it with a cup of Mocha each. We sat down on those ridiculously comfortable chairs facing the street and I knew that it was time for a long contemplative discussion. It is always related to India because there is so much to talk about India in various ways. I have grown accustomed to be the focal point of group discussions because I come from India. Sometimes I even find myself Googling things up because I have been bowled over by specific questions that I have no idea about ( What is the exact population and area in square kilometers of your city?)!!
So I had braced myself for one of the tough ones. He sighed a big sigh in his mug and looked at me. Then he said, " I am curious to go to India and find out how beautiful Indian women can get. Although I personally think, without offending you, that the Indian race is not particularly on top of the world beauty rankings. I mean looking at you I can say that Indian women can be pretty ( Aha!! *Bow*) but I have never seen a handsome Indian man in Brisbane."
Then he sensed that I was getting a bit too full with the latent compliment so he asked me to come back to the ground state and take part in the discussion. He went on to say that Indians were wise, philosophical, tolerant, sincere, content, calm and meditative but far from being handsome.
Just a few days back when we were watching youtube videos from each other's countries, I showed him a Bollywood song with Shahrukh Khan and he was shocked at how a guy with such an out-of-place-big-nosed-ugly-face could make it so big in Bollywood.

To be honest I had never analyzed Shahrukh Khan for his beauty and I was introduced to this whole superficial analysis of looks when I came here but I was pretty sure that I would eventually find a few handsome men on the street to prove him wrong.
We were very close to the Indian market and every few minutes, we could see an "All-Indian" family trotting along to buy groceries.
I guess I was plain unlucky or Sergio was right. Not even a single man that passed by could qualify as "handsome" on global standards. We sampled some twenty odd men on a scale of 1 to 10 and we did not even have an average of 4. I was angered and frustrated. Then we began walking towards the university and decided to take the longer route to find more Indians. On every corner we found a few but again, none of them scored well on the Greek's beauty scale.
I thought of Rhitik Roshan, but then I remembered that he is often described as the "Greek God" of Bollywood.
The middle-aged Indian men abroad can be identified with the way they dress. No matter which country they are in, they will always dress like they are in India and one of the unique features of these middle-aged men is that they would sit in a bar with their beer mugs and gossip about their respective bosses just the way they would in India. Once we overheard such a piece of juicy gossip and my friends wanted me to translate it for them. I was doing well till the time things got to the point where they started identifying the gossipees using their mothers and sisters. After that I had to do a short lecture on phonetically correct Indian swear words. My international friends have dutifully included those in their arsenal of abuses when life turns its back on them.
At the end of the day, after a long contemplation I was really sad to agree with Sergio but even with their funny noses and a tad too oily brown complexion, Indian men are not behind in regaling the Aussies with their cute peculiarities.
We have an 'Indian Accent Competition' in the post grad room sometimes and unfortunately I never win it even though I am the only Indian on board.
Sometimes I go for a Yoga class with all of them and it is as cult as it gets. :)
Whatever we are on a 'Global Beauty Scale', when you get to know somebody well, all this analysis suddenly turns murky. So when I gradually turned from 'The New Indian PhD Student" to "Sergio's Indian friend" to "Saee", I realized that apart from everything that I am, I also happen to be an Indian and a really happy one at that!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Research Research!!

As my readers must have noticed, there is a pronounced spiritual influence in my writing over the last few months. I was a bit upset about this turn and scared of getting my readers bored but I realized that there is a reason for this sudden hypsochromic shift .
Research does that to you. It is funny how getting a research degree can make you turn into a completely different person.
Behind every positive result, there are at least about a dozen negative results and failures. These include everything from old instruments to forgetful administrative staff. Behind every experiment there is a long painful wait either for chemicals or reaction conditions.
So at the end of a particularly "bad results" week you find yourself asking the same set of questions that you did the last time you went through bad results.
1) Why am I here?
2) Would it be better if I were in India doing a job and getting married?
3) Why do I wake up early and walk so much if I am not certain of positive results?
4) Is this floating around like a cloud my destiny?
5) When will I get a job that lets me get a taxi whenever I feel like?
6) Life can be so easy and so difficult at the same time!
7) Should I just take a break this weekend so that I turn a bit more positive?
8) Am I over rating myself when I think that I can finish this well?
10) I haven't seen aai-baba and ajji in such a long time!
11) I wish I were in India right now!

Some days this goes on all day. Every solution you make has the potential of being dangerously lined with your tears and exactly at that point, you get a really good result. You get something that you can almost see printed proudly in your thesis and the day turns around for you. It happens at such a right time that there is no denying that it must have a Divine intervention. God waits for you to get at your miserable best and then throws a piece of chocolate at you. It is annoying and reassuring at the same time.

What is remarkable about this cycle is the fact that it never lets you get too full of yourself. It never lets you believe that you are riding on a high tide. It never makes you feel that you are important. You have almost no control over what might happen next. All you can do is keep yourself well-read and well-fed to take your next result. Even the positive results are not all sugar and cinnamon. One positive result opens up five different roads to further studies and then you have to choose your own by traveling a bit on each one of them.
By the time you are half way through, your research puts you on a leash and takes you wherever it wants to go. You just have to make sense out of what you get. :)

You can find a really interesting "thought for the day" ( which has been there for the last four months) in our chemistry lab. It says, ' Every dipole has its moment' and every time I read it I tell myself I am a dipole too!
I don't know where I am heading but everyday I know a bit more about myself and every positive result gets be closer to being best buddies with God. :)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

God's World

Happiness is a state of mind.
We are here and that is the only truth.
It is fascinating how even the thought of God inspires poets and musicians to make addictive art.
I recently came across some of my favorite Meera Bhajans on Youtube.
I grew up listening to Lata Mangeshkar sing these tunes. I still do not understand the language but they make me feel happy about being a little lost.
Life is a helpless interval between two helpless ends. How we spend it depends on how much faith we have in ourselves.

In these Bhajans, Lata's voice, Hridaynath's music and Meerabai's lyrics are all a part of a larger plan. The power that puts it all together like this and helps me find it in a foreign land to write about it is definitely God. :)

All our ambitions and inspirations are little drops in an eternal bowl of hope called God.
The distinction between happiness and grief, love and hatred, wealth and poverty disappears when we think of the ultimate reality.
We are all well-protected in the God's world.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

If wishes were horses...

Why isn't my life like a Bollywood movie?
Where everything is simple and mysteriously resolved
Into simple cartesian co-ordinates.
I go to college wearing the most expensive range of clothes
Impeccably matched and accessorized.
And not even in a centimeter of all those reels
Am I worried about research and where my thesis is heading
Instead I am found happily gallivanting around trees
With a metro-sexual tough guy who rides around on a Hayabusa
If we are too bored with the mundane realities around trees
We switch to a dream sequence and time travel to sing better songs
Just to make it believable we have a villain
Who comes close to taking me away from my hero
But even when I cry and wail out of heart ache
There is no trace of my water-proof mascara
On the inch long coating of make-up on my cherry cheeks
My hero is an amalgamation
Of Da Vinci, Keats, Bill Gates and the Governor of California.
(Mercy! How do you spell his name?)
He writes sonnets and beats up people at the same alarming rate
And I can conveniently change from a bikini into a saree
( And act equally coy in both outfits)
It all ends in wedding bells (off course!)
And (without studying) I get a PhD too
And irrespective of the fact
That we spent most of our college years
Behind two flowers touching each other to mean "something"
My beloved arrives at his wedding in a Mercedes
And we live happily ever after
The music melts into your mouth
With the popcorn and the diet soda
And everyone goes home happy.
Why isn't my life like a Bollywood movie?
Why do I have to iron my clothes
And make my lunch?
Why do I have to learn to make peace
With the fact that
Trains will never stop for me
And even when I am dead tired
I will have to carry my own bag ( with the macbook)
All the way back home?
Why are my songs not accompanied
By an invisible orchestra when I sing in the lab?
Why don't I have an intuitive, telepathic dog
Who brings me happy news when I am about to give up?

But I still,in some Bollywoody way
Believe that one day my beakers would suddenly explode
With a Nobel-prize winning elixir
And I will live happily ever after =)
And even if it isn't like that
I will call whatever it is
a Happily Ever After. =)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Confessions of a Geek

It is really funny how you tend to forget sometimes that people around you may not have the same taste in certain things as you do. I am never really reminded of the "geek" inside me unless my geekiness clashes with normal people. At the university, I am in a safe atmosphere that never lets me realize that I am weird in some ways because everyone is around here!
It is completely normal to overhear a near emotional fight between two people ( in a silent study zone) because they do not agree with each other on the US stand on Israel. It is also not outrageous to have someone in the group who survives on complete organic food. There are people passionate about working towards enhancing the dietary nutrition in Africa by using genetically modified and fortified fruit.
Sustainability may be the newest "fashion word" in the corporate arena. Where people talk about sustainable living over a platter of expensive lunch in some ritzy restaurant that comes with a gigantic carbon footprint but in our post-grad room there are people who honestly live towards a sustainable life everyday. They refuse to buy cars even when they can afford it and come to work on their push-bikes with funny helmets!
So each one has his own here and I am no exception.
When I go home however, I realize that I am a bit too much sometimes.
Like I have this compulsive habit of singing when I am in the kitchen and it is all good when I sing in Hindi. Sometimes though when I am a bit lost in my own world, I switch to Marathi and Bengali and Riju rolls her eyes in exasperation and goes," It was hard enough taking you in Hindi. Now please don't squeak in a language that makes you sound like a three year old".
Riju and I have turned into You-tube junkies recently. So when I start watching a Satyajeet Ray movie, I realize I might seriously offend her.
Last night, in my evident joy over finding Meera bhajans on youtube, I navigated to some Indian classical music. I was listening to it for a good five minutes when I saw the expression on Riju's face. She calmly declared," I have given a lot to this friendship already but if you are making me listen to this, I think you are taking it a bit too far. We have to reconsider our positions".
In the end we try to find a "mean" between my extreme choices and her pink songs with rainbows and fluffy white clouds. :)
When we have people over for dinner and they ask me what I do, I start off neatly by giving them a summary of biomass related work going on all over the world. Just as they begin to fade into their screen-saver modes, my flatmates come to their rescue with a refreshing change of subject.
The good side of being geeky is however, is that there is no one around you can really "compare" yourself to. So it reduces the unwanted stress over other people going in a desired direction unlike you. There are certain roads that you can successfully over-rule because you know they do not go with your eccentricity. :)
Another good thing is that after a long day in the lab, when you get a taste of the real world, it makes you want to go back to the lab first thing in the morning the next day!