Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why I started teaching.

I am a confirmed caffiene junkie.
Every morning as I get down from the train, I take hypnotic steps towards the coffee shop on the bridge. All the coffee-shop owners around the University know me by my first name and some of them have also started talking to me in Hindi now. When I pay them, they say 'Shukriya' in a cute Australian accent. I never add my weekly coffee expenses to know how much money I spend on coffee a month, only because the answer would leave me unnecessarily guilty.I like ignoring that number although I have a faint idea of the neighborhood it falls into.
Anyway, it so happened that they decided to cancel the casual jobs in the laboratory due to budget concerns and I lost my second job. I was brought down to being an authentic poor student living on a scholarship and gradually reality began unfolding herself in the form of depleting savings in my bank account.
So every time I stopped for a cup of mocha or cappucino I used to feel horribly guilty.
There is a sane inner voice inside that used to say," Stop drinking coffee. You don't need a second job if you do". I never listened to it though. Every morning,I used to decide that I would walk past the coffee shop without buying coffee but somehow my shoes took a left turn on their own and my hand pulled out my little coin purse from my bag and the residual guilt was taken care of by the bright "How are you going?" of the coffee guy.
I actually began looking for a second job so that I could have my coffee in peace. My friends asked me to apply in the same coffee shop as I fit the bill of a really chirpy coffee girl. I took it really seriously and mentioned it to the coffee shop owner the next day but he very gracefully turned me down saying," Oh I would love to! All you have to do is get a coffee-making certificate by attending a full time course worth $900". So all my imaginary free coffees were flushed down the river.
I desperately wanted to do something outside the campus. I imagined myself as a waitress,a subway girl, librarian,part-time writer ( get paid to write!!) and sometimes in my greedy reveries even a casual bus driver ( Thank God for not granting it). However most of these exotic fantasies turned out to be happy miscarriages and I was thrown on to the usual PhD student path. I printed my resume out and applied for a tutoring position. After a long painful wait ( that was assauged by regular doses of extravagant coffee) I was appointed a tutor and assigned statistics.
Initially enthralled by the absence of guilt first thing in the morning, I jumped on to all the statistics books I could lay my hands on in the library. However soon I realized that to cope with teaching and research at the same time, I needed some extra caffeine everyday and I had happily assumed that my students would never ask any difficult questions.
Now I am almost always stuck in the university till late at night and people find me walking into walls trying to multi task by walking and reading for my next class at the same time!
I am glad that coffee lead me to take this up. :)
Had I listened to the sane voice inside I would have never found out the joy of teaching.
As a student, I would never go through everything like I do now and sit down with my calculator to go over the silliest of all formulae and sometimes I amuse myself with the metaphors I come up with to explain boring concepts like 'standard deviation'.
I went through a really nervous night before my first class ( and it was worse than going for an exam). I spent hours in front of the bathroom mirror reahersing my opening lines and I bored almost everyone in the lab by doing trial runs of my first lecture on them.
As a result my Mondays and Fridays have come frightfully close to each other and weekends are full of lab-work. Now I do not feel guilty about buying coffee but I am really worried about a whole bunch of other things! What can I do? This is life. All of this just for a cup of coffee!! ;)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Happily Free

What does freedom really mean? 
I read this really interesting article in the Times of India a few weeks back about freedom. 
The wheel is considered to be one of the ground breaking inventions that man has ever made. It took us places and it still does but we would not like to have wheels without brakes! 
Imagine getting a cool sports car that goes from zero to a hundred and fifty in a couple of seconds but does not have any braking system! 
Even the wildest and the most inebriated drivers would not like to have something that does not stop! 
I think after the first few speeding tickets, freedom becomes more of a choice to stop than the choice to go on! 

It makes me very proud sometimes to stand under the Australian sky and say that I am free to do whatever I want! However at times when I am faced with too many choices, I call up my mom and cry on the phone. It is really funny to see yourself in  both the roles. There are moments when you think that life should have just come as a set menu. It would not be so exciting but at least it would be secure. 

This week, all the girls from the postgrad room here had organized a "girl's night out". It started with four of us getting lost and going round in a loop around the motorway because none of us could read the map right! Anyway, when I was chatting with all of them I realized how powerful and free women can be. One of us has been traveling around since she was seventeen. Originally from Latin America, she traveled her way around working for various organizations from Mexico, Sweden and a few other countries finally settling in Australia. It fills me with respect and dreams when I see someone like her. At the same time, all of them thought and spoke out of their obligations as mothers and wives. Some of them had left their babies in daddy's care just for this special night out!

Sometimes, just because you are scared of losing your freedom, you miss out on some of the happiest experiences of life. This is when freedom really ties you down. 
I think being free is a big responsibility in itself. Where you have to constantly think of the consequences of your actions and how your life could change because of the choices you make. Some reactions are irreversible and more often than not it leaves you less innocent! It gets you bored because there is nothing new that you could try! It makes you old sooner and it puts this huge burden on your heart that I cannot even describe in words. 

You need a very flexible ego to be happily free. :) 
Being without one is even better for it makes you look at your sixes and dot balls with equal ( or no) passion. :)

It helps and it hurts but if you just know when to stop, I think it is a beautiful journey!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Biff :)

I have bought myself a 5 movie ticket to the Brisbane International Film Festival .
Although it is not as much fun as it used to be even in the national film festivals in India, it has been a really nice experience. 
The way an Indian reacts to the word "movie" is different than everyone else. Movies are just like the languages in India are, full of flavor and entertainment. 
We watched  a documentary by Brillante Mendoza that follows an ordinary family in the slums of Manila taking care of an orphan until he gets adopted by a wealthy family in the US. It was as easy as being with all the characters. The concept of being a "foster family" was portrayed with complete frankness and fluidity. It made me smile and cry in various places and it also made a mark in my mind because of the uncanny resemblance of the slums to the ones in India. The contrast where you can see high rise buildings going up right behind the abject poverty in the slums makes you think of Mumbai. 
Amongst the four that I have already watched, I loved a Spanish documentary titled "The Chicken, the Fish and the King Crab". This is a really intensive expression of a Spanish chef preparing for something that can be called "The Olympics of Chefs" - The Bocuse d'Or that is held annually  in Lyon( France).
The contestants are supposed to work with Chicken, Fish and a King Crab and make delicacies that please a panel of jury. The best gets the award. 
It was really amusing to watch "food" which is a really trivial issue ( especially for poor graduate students) turn into something that challenges every tiny amount of energy you have!
The rehearsals were hilarious when Jejus ( the lead actor) cooked as though he was cooking in the competition and was reviewed by a panel of Spanish chefs in his restaurant. Every time he has to face a different kind of criticism. Sometimes the sauce is not good enough, sometimes the skins are too thick. They ridicule his sense of art and in the end even criticize the tray that he is supposed to use for the competition. 
The competition in itself is a big event with people from all the participating countries cheering on with flags and banners. 
Since it is a documentary, Jejus does not win the competition in a dramatic Bollywoody way! He comes ninth and happily goes around showing everyone that he is the ninth best chef in the world! 
I really liked the idea because it is refreshing how movies can be made on anything and everything under the sun and still end up entertaining us. 

Being in this festival also gave me the satisfaction of watching movies back to back and actually feeling good about myself because I was "doing" a lot of "culture" :).
It also reminded me of Pather Panchali, Bhuvan Shome, Umbartha, Anand, Masoom, Doghi and a lot more that has gone into me while I was in India. :)
I did miss the typical crowd that you find at such fests in India. A lean man in a khadi kurta with Kolhapuri chappals and a godforsaken shabnam bag. Who smokes every time he goes for a coffee between the breaks. And the graceful middle aged woman draped in a cotton saree with a big bindi between her brows! 

Nonetheless I am glad it made me think of all of this!!